NOTES: I debated long and hard whether I even wanted to post this chapter, but here you go. I said it in my last commentary, but I'll say it again in case you didn't read that—The opinions regarding disease/medical conditions and lifestyle are as I believe these characters would feel, and not my own. No offense is intended should you happen to disagree.
Chapter Ten: Sanctuary
The inside of the chapel is cool, quiet and dark in comparison to the rest of the hospital. The room feels like it's full of just a little too much air conditioning, like it's been unoccupied just a little too long. Chase stops as soon as the doors close at his back, legs having carried him here before the rest of his mind and body have had time to register exactly what's happened. The chapel is mercifully empty, and he finds himself suddenly exhausted, all the morning's emotions catching up to him in the stillness. He's fled here so that the rest of the hospital will not see his failure, but now there's suddenly no place to hide from himself.
Taking a deep breath, Chase makes his way to the front pew, vision adjusting to the dimmer light. He sits heavily, momentarily resting his elbows on his knees and pressing the heels of his hands against tightly closed eyelids, attempting to exhale the horrible feelings of humiliation and dread still roiling in the pit of his stomach.
He can't say why this place feels like a sanctuary now, or why he's subconsciously chosen it as his escape in this moment. Looking up at last toward the altar and stained glass, he knows he ought to feel confronted with his own shortcomings; his own lack of faith. And yet, when he really thinks about it, all he can muster up is a vague sense of betrayal which seems oddly fitting. He's been questioning his belief for such a long time now, unable to put into words exactly how far he's fallen from the time when it was his unquestionable comfort, the passion to which he'd planned to devote the rest of his life. But now—now it suddenly seems harder than ever to believe that what's happened to him is not random, that there is any purpose to this trial or anything to be learned except that the universe is undoubtedly cruel.
Cameron's hand on his arm makes him jump, and he realizes suddenly that he doesn't know whether he's been sitting here for minutes or hours. He hasn't noticed her taking the seat beside him, nor does he know how long she might have been here watching, and suddenly the sense of solitude is gone, replaced by slight sting of violation.
"Hi," she says softly, crossing her legs and folding her hands neatly over her knee.
"Go away," Chase mutters, entirely too tired to put up a front of composure for her benefit. She'll just try to peel it away regardless, he knows, and he's certain she'll leave as soon as she sees the truth, anyway, finally realizing the mistake she's making. And yet, the part of him that suddenly can't bear to look at the altar in the front of the chapel thinks it's better to just give in now, and get the inevitable heartbreak over with.
"Why?" Cameron asks, not sounding as upset as she ought to.
Chase looks away, preemptive annoyance with her growing in the pit of his stomach and making his head pound. "I don't want to talk about what happened. I don't want your help. And I especially don't want your pity."
He thinks certainly she must react now, must be hurt, must run away like so many times in the past. He is testing her, Chase realizes. Torn between the immediacy of wanting her to leave, and the deeper need for someone—anyone—who is truly willing to stay.
"Who said that's why I'm here?" she counters softly, looking at him sideways and defying every expectation.
"I—you—no one," he manages at last, sighing heavily. "But I'm not talking to you. Just so we're clear."
Cameron shrugs, her face still a perfect mask of calm. "Okay."
Her response makes him feel off-balance, even less at ease in his own skin than he has over the past few weeks. Nothing is as he expects it to be now, and it doesn't matter how many different ways he reads the words that this diagnosis doesn't have to change his life—It already has. The silence stretches between them, the words growing heavier and heavier on his tongue until Chase feels as though these thoughts might suffocate him.
"Nothing's the same anymore." His voice sounds foreign in his ears, and for a second he doesn't realize that he's spoken the words aloud, they've repeated so many times in his head. Chase swallows. "I'm not the same."
Cameron glances sideways at him again, her eyes filled with concern. "You know that's not true. You're a doctor, you know that illness doesn't--"
"Don't," Chase interrupts her sharply. "Don't even try."
Cameron flinches almost imperceptibly, biting her lip. "Okay."
Chase lets out another breath, more slowly this time. The renewed silence seems to sit like a weight on his chest, making his heart beat abnormally loudly in his ears. "He always had a choice," he says at last, softly, trying desperately to get control of what he's feeling, to wrangle the emotions into words. It feels suddenly somehow as though his only hope of getting beyond this is to speak it aloud, to banish the demons that seem to have taken up residence in his conscience.
Cameron uncrosses her legs, turning her whole body sideways this time, as though she's somehow sensed his decision to talk to her in earnest. Her hands flutter nervously in her lap, and for a moment Chase thinks she is going to reach for one of his, but then she quietly settles them on her knee again. "Your patient?" she asks carefully.
Chase nods. "His lifestyle got him where he was, needing surgery." Cameron's face tenses ever so slightly with what he knows is disapproval, and he continues quickly. "So maybe genetics didn't help. Maybe he had a metabolic condition. I don't really care. He still didn't help himself. He failed to take action until he was practically dead."
"And you?" Cameron asks quietly, not quite looking him in the eye.
"What about you?" she repeats, her voice shifting into the tone she uses when trying to break upsetting news to patients as calmly as possible. "You're a doctor. You waited until you were practically dead on the bathroom floor. You never took action when you got sick. If Foreman hadn't found you…" Cameron takes a shaky breath, visibly trying to control herself. "I'm sorry. I didn't come here to scold you."
Chase just stares at her for a moment, choking on too many different emotions to speak. His immediate gut response is to shut her out again, label her words as an attack, and withdraw. After all, who is she to judge his actions regarding his own health? Who is she to claim to understand? Cameron is not the one living with the unending daily reality; not the one feeling the effects of his choices. And yet, is that not exactly what they do every day, as doctors? Isn't that why he's just gotten so upset at Mr. Emmerson in the clinic?
"That's not what I meant," Chase says at last, deciding to save that debate for another day, when everything around him doesn't feel like it might be about to crumble.
"What did you mean?" Cameron bites her lip, and suddenly he can't stop the memory of kissing her, the desperate tangle of limbs and clothing. She'd seemed almost like a different woman then, hard around the edges but so much more alive. It's almost shocking to have her so close to him now, and yet so changed.
"He got the easy way out. He had surgery. Now all he's got to do is follow the instructions his doctor gave him and everything'll just go according to plan. He'll lose weight. Get his energy back. Have his life go back to normal!" Chase pauses, forcing himself to breathe. His hands are shaking, he notices, and he shoves them into his pockets, though he knows Cameron must have already seen. "But he's not doing that. Instead he wants to keep living exactly the way he did before, and attack anyone who dares point out the fact that his problems would go away entirely if he'd just stop doing it to himself. It's—it's not fair." Shame rushes over him the second the words are out of his mouth; they sound petty and shallow bouncing off the walls of the chapel.
Cameron hesitates for a moment longer, then reaches out and takes his wrist, retrieving his hand from his pocket and wrapping it in both of hers. "This isn't about him, is it. It's about you." It isn't a question.
"That's ridiculous," Chase snaps, every muscle in his body instantly going rigid. This is a conversation that he can't have with her. Won't have with her. She claims to want to help him, he knows, but then she says that about everyone. It's the quality he most admires in her, and also the reason he can't trust this. Empathy is what he wishes from everyone else; from Cameron—it's something different. Something he can't quite put into words, even in his mind.
"It's true," Cameron insists. "Maybe you are talking about the patient. But you're also talking about yourself. You want him to follow his doctor's instructions, you think that will give him a normal life. But what about you? I know you don't want me asking. I know you don't want me sticking my nose in your personal business." She pauses, taking a breath, not looking at him as if that might minimize the impact of her words. "But I also know that you're only doing the bare minimum of what you should be doing for your health. So you've managed to keep yourself out of the hospital so far since your diagnosis. That's about it. Is that really how you want to live? Always just a little bit better than terribly sick?"
The words make Chase's breath catch in his throat; make the ever-present knots in his stomach tighten, like monsters trying to break their way out. She's right, he knows. It would actually be easier if she were yelling at him, scolding, pushing like she always does. But for once she isn't. She is just here, quietly concerned, and when she finally does look at him, her eyes are openly imploring.
Chase swallows. "Why are you doing this?"
"What do you mean?" It's obviously an evasion. "I'm concerned about you."
Chase snorts, bitterness flooding back in a split second. "Don't give me that. You're not concerned. You just have a pathological need to help people."
Cameron flinches, but doesn't move, squeezing his hand and taking a shaky breath. "I care about you. Just because I didn't want a relationship with you doesn't mean you're not important to me. You're my friend."
"Didn't?" Chase repeats, suddenly feeling as breathless as she sounds.
But Cameron forges onward. "You need people that you trust. People who can help you. When I first met my husband--"
"Don't!" Chase snaps, the beginnings of hope he's felt stirring in the past few moments turning instantly to sour betrayal. "That's why you're doing this? Because I remind you of him now? Because I'm sick, so—suddenly I'm interesting? I'm not dying! Not even close!" He's on his feet in a dizzying rush, leaving Cameron staring at him in shock. "Like I'd ever trust you."