TITLE: Fireworks

AUTHOR: enigma731

RATING: PG13

PAIRING: gen; duckling fic

SUMMARY: New Year's Eve, 2004. Chase, Cameron, and Foreman get drunk.

NOTES: Set directly after Fidelity in the first season, because it is awesome and I have previously failed to exploit its fic potential.

Fireworks

(6:02.24)

The weather changes sometime while she's interviewing Adam.

The whole procedure takes a ridiculously long time. First he won't agree to talk with his son present. After the boy has been placated in the back room with a video game, the man refuses to admit that he's had an affair with his best friend's wife. Cameron wonders why this whole group is so willing to die for each other in the name of twisted loyalty. By the time he's agreed to come to the clinic and at least be examined, the sun is getting low in the sky and wispy gray clouds hang on the horizon like bloated mosquitoes. Cameron shivers and wraps her coat tighter around herself as she walks to her car.

She's honestly surprised to see that the others are still there when she gets back, House watching the television in his office, Foreman and Chase listlessly flicking a paper football back and forth across the conference table. Someone's burned popcorn in the microwave, and there's still a tinge of smoke in the air.

(5:30.54)

"Is Sleeping Beauty's forbidden prince coming to break the curse?" asks House. He's emerged from his office all too eagerly at the first sign of Cameron's return. Like some kind of weird insect smelling the worker drones returning, Chase thinks glumly. This is supposed to be the good part, the moment when everything's been validated and the effort was entirely worth it. Today it's like the gray light that's descended outside has somehow seeped in through the window panes.

"He said he'd come to the clinic tomorrow to be examined. He wouldn't admit to anything." Cameron pours herself a cup of lukewarm coffee and sits tiredly at the far end of the table.

House nods once, satisfied. "Go away."

"What?" Cameron looks her typical mix of surprised and a bit disappointed.

"Get out of here while you still can," House says ominously. "Unless you want Cuddy to enlist you in the clinic treating broken beer bottle cuts and burns from fireworks all night long."

"It's New Year's Eve." Cameron smiles a little, the realization dawning. It's easy enough to lose track of the days here, like time flows differently inside the hospital.

"Yes," says House. "Go to a bar." And he returns to his office, ending the conversation.

Cameron makes a face as she takes a sip of her coffee, obviously displeased with its taste. Foreman flicks the paper football unexpectedly, and it bounces up to hit Chase in the nose before he snatches it deftly out of the air.

"Want to go get drunk?" He looks back and forth between Cameron and Foreman, expecting one or both of them to make some kind of glib remark before taking off for happier parts. But House has planted the suggestion first, so of course they're willing to consider it.

Cameron sighs. "Why not." She looks at Foreman, and he shrugs resignedly, obviously not prepared to argue with her ideas about appropriate emotions regarding holidays.

(4:45.57)

They are utterly out of place in the bar, their business clothes making them stick out as if they are spotlighted amidst all the jeans-clad college students. It's only half past seven, but already the mood is rowdy, excitement unhampered by the freezing rain which is now pouring down outside.

Foreman passes by the tables and heads straight for the bar in the middle of the room, sitting on a stool toward the left end. Cameron follows, sitting beside him, Chase taking the seat in the corner. There's a television a few feet away from them, currently showing a harried-looking anchor trying to interview the impatient crowd in Times Square.

"I don't get it," says Foreman, not quite ready to be present in the holiday yet. Truthfully he would have left already, except they've walked over and he isn't about to go freeze outside.

"It's a holiday," says Cameron, smiling. "People are happy."

"Not that." Foreman has to struggle to keep the edge of annoyance out of his voice. It's not like she could be expected to read his mind, but sometimes he thinks it would be nice if she could manage to grasp the fundamental characteristics of his personality. "The case. These people would rather die than admit they screwed around."

"They love each other," Chase parrots sarcastically before Cameron can get the words out, and she shoots a venomous glare across the bar at him. Then she glances nervously at her cell phone, apparently still hoping for a call from their newest Sleeping Sickness patient. Foreman doesn't bother to tell her that there's no way in hell he's going to even be thinking about that right now.

"Mistakes happen," says Cameron as the bartender at last makes his way over. Her eyes have that strange, far off look she gets when she's become too invested in a case. "Sometimes you think you'd do anything just to get back to the status quo."

(3:50.12)

"I still don't understand why House feels the need to torture us." Foreman shakes his head, his voice growing increasingly loud with the number of drinks he's had.

Chase snorts. "You think he's bad now? You've been here what, two months?"

Cameron grins, and for a moment Chase feels a twinge of the odd sense of kinship they sometimes share. Work long enough for House and you're bound to forge alliances; it's the only way to succeed. It's nice not to be the one on the outside this time, no matter how difficult the inner circle might be at times. Chase thinks that Foreman ought to be grateful for the ability to complain.

"Chase is about to tell you that you haven't seen anything yet," says Cameron.

"Last Christmas he spiked the punch at the staff Christmas party," Chase offers eagerly. "Pure ethyl alcohol. Got everyone talking like it was some kind of truth serum. A surgeon and a nurse admitted to having sex on an operating table, among other things. Got forced to resign."

"I didn't know about that." Cameron looks vaguely disapproving, but she doesn't elaborate. Chase feels a swell of pride at being the only one who was there.

Foreman laughs. "And what secrets did you spill, Chase?"

"I didn't drink it," says Chase, feeling momentarily self conscious. "My first week, nobody would talk to me except to shoot down my theories. House locked us all in a room with a patient and refused to let us out until we had a diagnosis."

Cameron's cell phone buzzes, and she jumps up like the seat of her stool has suddenly burned her. "I have to take this."

(2:12.44)

"Where's Chase?" asks Cameron when she returns. Her cell phone is safely back inside her purse, and from the tension lines around her mouth, Foreman guesses the call wasn't what she's been hoping for.

"About to be eaten alive." Foreman motions to the far side of the room, where Chase has been beckoned by a table of blonde sorority girls. He has his back to the bar, hand twisted awkwardly in his hair like he wants to pull a clump of it out. The girls are laughing, but it doesn't seem to be nicely.

"He has a crush on you," says Foreman, and Cameron's head snaps around.

"Chase?" She laughs and takes a long swig of beer, the action seeming exaggerated and unusual coming from her. "That's ridiculous."

Foreman shrugs. "You proved it once yourself, what more do you need?"

"So I weirded him out." Cameron shakes her head incredulously. "That doesn't prove anything except that he isn't comfortable talking about sex."

Foreman pulls his wallet out and gestures at her with it. "Twenty bucks says he goes sub-verbal if you kiss him at midnight."

"That's ridiculous," Cameron repeats. "I am not kissing Chase."

"All right." Foreman sighs resignedly at the thought that he's stuck here until at least midnight. "Who was on the phone?"

"House. Drunk." Cameron frowns, pulls her cell out of her purse, looks at it for a moment and then slams it shut again with a sharp little snap, unamused. Her brow is knit in the strange lines that make her appear far too old for her age, and Foreman has to resist the urge to laugh. It's unkind, he knows, but the alcohol has kicked in and there's something comical in the way she never learns.

"Twenty bucks?" she asks after a long moment.

(0:52.13)

"So during finals week there was a huge ice storm," Foreman is saying, the words coming out with a little more force than usual, as if every one of them is backed by the beginnings of a laugh. Cameron feels a swell of warmth toward him, the first since they've met. His presence has oddly divided the department for the past two months, but now that line is starting to blur.

"What did I miss?" asks Chase, dropping back into his seat and motioning for the bartender to bring him another drink. He downs half of it in one swallow, then presses his knuckles to his forehead for a moment, trying to regain his composure. His hair is sticking out at odd angles like he's been electrocuted, and Cameron thinks about going over there and smoothing it. She isn't attracted to him, not in the least, but she would have to be blind to deny the fact that he's annoyingly good looking.

"Tales of dorm life," says Cameron, taking another sip of her own drink.

"Ice storm," says Foreman a little impatiently. This show is about him now, obviously. "Everyone's gone, in the common room, cramming. Of course none of the doors are locked, because the whole hall knows each other. My roommate sneaks out of the study session, steals everyone's underwear and hangs it outside their windows. The weather's so bad that nobody can see what's happened. We get up the next morning to take our exams, and every room has a frozen pair of underwear stuck outside it. They had to get maintenance out with ladders to knock it down, because the entire campus was stopping to stare."

Chase laughs and holds up his mug. "Here's to your roommate."

Foreman raises his eyebrows skeptically, but then he completes the toast, unusually good-humored.

(0:00.20)

Something passes between Cameron and Foreman, and then she's on her feet. The countdown is about to begin, and the entire bar has gotten very loud. People are gathering around the television screen just to their right, and Chase strains to see it above their heads. He's never bothered to watch the ball drop before, and he feels a swell of excitement at the sense of being part of the crowd.

Someone yells out "twenty" and then Cameron is in front of him, pushed impossibly close by the knot of people forming up against the bar. Chase stays seated, and with the height of the stool they're at eye level. The countdown is at "eighteen" when she takes hold of the sides of his face; her hands are cold from being around her beer mug, and Chase shivers.

He opens his mouth to ask what she's doing, but then she's kissing him and he's utterly helpless. The remaining sixteen seconds of the countdown seem to go into slow motion, the shouted numbers turning into a rushing roar like the ocean in his ears. He can't move, can't open his eyes, can't do anything but tangle his hands in her hair and kiss desperately back. He knows it probably isn't real, that it's customary to kiss on New Year's Eve at midnight, and her eyes were laughing as she got close. But this is Cameron and she is kissing him, and there's nothing mundane about that.

She pulls away at last, and Chase realizes that the countdown is over and people are toasting and cheering all over the room, but time hasn't quite started again yet in his particular corner.

"What?" he stammers as he realizes Cameron's been speaking to him.

"I said Happy New Year," she repeats.

"Right," says Chase, feeling his cheeks warm beyond the glow of the alcohol.

Foreman grins and shakes his head at Cameron. "What did I tell you? Pay up."

Chase gapes as she passes a twenty across him to Foreman and swallows the bitterness that's suddenly sprung up like a bad taste in the back of his throat. It's not like he didn't know they were up to something anyway, he tells himself, and he'll take what he can get.

"Happy to entertain," he mutters, just a bit sourly, and drains the rest of his beer. Cameron and Foreman laugh again, and for just a moment it feels almost like they're a real group of friends having a bit of harmless fun on a holiday.

(0:00.00)

The rain has turned to snow by the time the bar has cleared enough for them to get outside, tiny white flakes melting into the slushy puddles. It looks like the stars are falling.

"New Year's is my favorite holiday," says Cameron, because no one is speaking, and the alcohol is making her strangely sentimental.

"I've never seen the point of New Year's." Foreman stops to face her, and Chase doubles back a few feet to put a point on their triangle. "Schools don't coincide. Fiscal years don't coincide. It's just an excuse to get drunk and delude yourself about your capacity for change."

Chase shakes his head and scuffs the toe of his shoe through a puddle. "I have to agree with him there."

"It's a chance for a new beginning," Cameron insists. "You can never have enough of those."

Behind them, in the parking lot, a group of co-eds lights off an illegal firework, which shoots up with a screech and explodes in a shower of sparks over the roof of the bar. It's echoed by the sound of applause.