NOTES: As I've given up on gleaning anything from Season Four canon, this is my own interpretation of it. If you want to place my fics in a timeline, this would be a sort-of sequel to Somewhere Along in the Bitterness, If I Told You, and Damage Control.This was a Christmas special, I promise I'll be back to regular updates on Numerary Logic and The World Turned as soon as the holiday is over.
Cameron has this suspicion, this hunch, this blind faith completely unbecoming of an atheist-scientist-doctor. She's a puzzle missing one of its pieces; something broke when she gave herself up to widowhood but she can't say quite what it was, and now it won't ever get fixed.Most of the time it gets shoved into the background, relegated to an inactive corner of her mind where it festers.
Some days, when the feeling is at its worst, she finds herself paralyzed by fear. And so she makes plans. Emergency plans, strategies, lists and steps. A million ways from A to Z, each possibility carefully controlled.
Except now. She's spent years imagining the day that she would fall in love again, the things she would do differently. An odd second chance, like a rain-check from fate to use this knowledge she's paid so dearly for. She has a thousand contingencies now—what to say, how to act. Proceed with caution. But none of them is right. For the first time in years, she isn't in control of her emotions. Nothing's going according to plan.
The first time it slips out by accident.
An early snowstorm has just hit, and the ER is swamped with victims of an interstate pile-up. Four hours of stitching up cuts and setting broken bones, watching family members dissolve into tears as they're told their loved ones didn't survive. It's with a gnawing sense of guilt that Cameron slinks out to the atrium, though she's been due for a break for over an hour now. She's well beyond several sets of glass doors, but the din of triage still seems to echo in her ears, head pounding with the fading adrenaline. The storm has subsided a little, snow falling in delicate little flurries now, and she tries to breathe in its quiet.
Cameron jumps at the sudden brush of Chase's hand against her shoulder, his breath warm on her neck as he comes to stand even with her at the window, and she realizes that she's cold.
"Here." Chase hands her a cup from the cafeteria, and it takes her a moment to realize through the fog of tiredness that it smells dark and chocolaty. "Christmas coffee. Thought you might need it."
"I love you," says Cameron, absently taking the cup. Chase jerks visibly, and there's an awkward moment of realization in which the cup nearly falls to the ground between them. It's not the way she's meant to say it, but it's been a long time coming, finally aided by exhaustion and the dull vulnerability that comes from unintentionally rending the hearts of others all day. "I mean, thank you."
Chase looks a little sad, but he nods and bends over to brush a kiss against her cheek. "I should be getting back. Surgery's swamped today too."
The second time she says it as an apology.
They're eating Chinese takeout in front of the television at his house, and she notices when a holiday-themed commercial airs that there aren't any decorations here.
"What are you doing for Christmas?" she asks casually, suddenly realizing she's never thought about it before. She knows that Foreman goes home, and that House mooches holiday dinner off Wilson. She even knows that Kutner was planning to spend it with Cole's son, at least before that whole fiasco. And yet, in four years, she's never thought to ask Chase.
"Laundry," he says, eyes on his food like it's the most normal response in the world.
Cameron frowns. "Does that mean no plans?"
Chase doesn't elaborate, so she continues. "I usually go to my parents' house. Do you want to come?" She doesn't realize until after she's posed the question just how much it means to her.
Chase looks up at her sharply, emotions warring in his eyes though the rest of his face is schooled into neutrality. A long moment passes in which the noise from the television is the only sign that time continues to flow.
"No," says Chase very gently. His eyes are horribly sad.
Cameron swallows hard, surprised by just how much it hurts. She wonders suddenly how she could have expected a different answer considering the way she's treated him. The way she treats him still. She wonders for a moment whether this is her curse, this inability to keep hurt contained within herself. She's used 'I'm sorry' too many times; it lost all effect a thousand mistakes ago.
"I love you," she manages, and escapes to the bathroom, food forgotten on the table.
The third time it's a promise.
Cameron ends up telling her parents that she can't afford to come home this year, what with finishing her fellowship and all. She still hasn't admitted to them that the leaving was her choice. She buys a tree from a little church lot the day before Christmas Eve; they give her a discount because it's already turning brown. Half the needles have fallen off by the time she's gotten it back to her apartment, but she decorates it anyway.
On Christmas Eve she curls up on the couch, alone with photo albums and bitterness. The walls in her building seem thinner than ever, and she can hear Christmas carols playing from the television next door. Her tree is withering badly; she can't walk barefoot anywhere in the apartment without getting her feet pricked.
The knock comes around midnight, and she opens the door to find Chase standing there with a tiny gold box in his hands and a strange vulnerability in his eyes. She guesses from his rumpled suit that he's been to church earlier in the night, but now his tie is loose around his neck, and there are spots on the fabric from melting snowflakes.
"Merry Christmas," he says, pressing the box into her palm. He closes the door behind himself, and she doesn't ask why he said he wasn't coming before. "Open it."
Cameron bites her lip as she pulls the top off the box. A delicate gold bracelet falls into her palm, exactly the kind of present no boyfriend would ever buy for a woman like her.
"Thank you," she whispers. She stands on tiptoe to kiss him, then wraps her arms around his neck. Chase seems to melt against her as he hugs back, clinging to something she still isn't sure she knows how to give. "I love you."
Chase pulls back far enough to look her in the eye. He doesn't say anything in return, but he nods at last, slowly. The ghost of a smiles passes over his face.
Much later, she wakes to find Chase watching her from his side of the bed. It's started to snow again, and for just a moment she thinks she hears the phantom sound of bells
"Love you too," he says, so softly she thinks she's imagined it at first.Cameron lays her head on his shoulder and curls into his side.
She has this suspicion, this hunch, this blind faith completely unbecoming of an atheist-scientist-doctor. She's a puzzle missing one of its pieces, but the picture's changed and she's only just beginning to see what it is.
Happy holidays, everyone! (Reviews make wonderful presents.)