Don't Ask

He's made his life on avoidance. Do well, keep everyone happy, don't expect too much. It's lonely, but it works. The world is flawed, fallen, a façade waiting to show its cracks, inevitably less than it appears on the surface. As long as he keeps this in mind, Chase tells himself, nothing can hurt him anymore. No expectations, no disappointments.

And then there is Cameron. There's an aura of softness about her, of empathy like she's the whole world's lover. He thinks how it would feel for that to be his, if he only knew how to let it. He can't say how or when she first started creeping past his disenchantment. And maybe she was always immune.

She looked like a nervous angel the first time he saw her, sitting hunched over a journal at the glass conference table in the dark, shoulders and hair bathed in the light from the hallway. She'd jumped when he opened the door like maybe he intended to reprimand her, and Chase remembers thinking how strange that anyone would fear him.

"Dr. House hired me yesterday. He said to show up here but I can't find anyone." Soft, like she might break for the right reply to that statement.

"Oh, House?" It was hard to talk to her coherently at first, she was so different from the rest of the world. "He won't be in for three hours. At least."

And he'd let her in, little by little, only it was a mistake. She's just like everything else in his life—flawed and ephemeral and not enough to save him, but instead take everything he has.

"I want more." Words he hasn't dared utter, or even think in too long to remember. And she turns and walks away.

At first, after it happens, he thinks that he hates her, that he wants to do something to hurt her back, only that isn't the kind of thing he does, and even if he knew how there wouldn't be any satisfaction in it. He wants to tell her that he's angry because she's become one more dashed hope. And it's ridiculous; of course she's broken too, but it still stings that she isn't enough. One more person he's lost faith in. One more betrayal of his trust in possibility.

It's strange and intimate, knowing someone else's flaws. A layer of her armor that he's never known how to strip away. He wishes he knew where she keeps the key to the lock over her heart.

It's three whole days of clinic hours and avoidance before he admits that the emptiness isn't going away this time. Three days of blinking back tears over his coffee mug and resisting the urge to slam clipboards against exam tables. Three days of waiting for her to give some sign, any sign, that this is going to change.

He wonders if he's reached some kind of threshold, the point at which equilibrium is no longer stable. He's spent so long running from disappointment, he's forgotten what it feels like to care.

And for once he thinks he would rather be hurt by her every time than accept the loss of her in his life.

What to say to make her know?

I know I got you all wrong, he thinks. I see part of you is ugly inside. I still want you.

But she'll never listen to that. He doesn't think he's strong enough to say it anyway.

The flowers make her realize something, though he can't be sure what. He watches her face for too long a moment as her fingers brush delicately over the card he's attached.

"I thought about what you said." Her voice is soft, tender. The Cameron he's thought was real, but never really known. "I really don't want a relationship with you."

"I know." He tells himself that she's never said what she means when it comes to this mess between them. Why should that be any different now? He thinks her tactics might be worth a try. "I also know you like flowers."

Her eyes narrow, something threatening to break through the surface, but he forces himself to turn and leave. He isn't quite ready to be that invested yet.

Sitting alone on his couch—and when did that get to be anything other than normal?—he flips aimlessly through the channels and stumbles on a late-night showing of The Princess Bride. Chase remembers watching this movie in medical school, and the lingering resentment for a child whose parents read to him when he is sick.

Now it makes his soul hurt in a different way; it's the simplest story of forbidden love, convoluted by farcical turns of fate. He thinks that he would be more than willing to be burned and tortured and even killed, if he could only figure out what to say.

"'As you wish' was all he ever said to her," says the little boy's grandfather, his voice textured like old parchment from Chase's television speakers. "That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying 'As you wish', what he meant was, 'I love you.' And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back."

Say what you can, and mean the thing that is too close to your heart even to have voice. Over and over again until a connection is forged.

Chase spends the rest of the movie staring blindly at the screen, pulse racing.

And an idea starts to form.

"I just wanted to let you know that should you change your mind, I'll be available." The words come with surprising ease, like everything up to this point has been the real trial. "I've decided that Tuesdays would be a good day to do that."

Cameron scoffs and her eyes are dark like soil-flecked ice.

Say what you can.

I see you, he thinks. I still want you

And he doesn't stop this time, doesn't give in. Doesn't stand dumbstruck, watching her receding back in the security-lit parking lot. She's more approachable now, if slightly less alluring. He wonders whether the only way to attain a dream is to see it lying broken first.

She looks hard and sort of alien in the blue lab-light, the reflection of the pipette in her goggles sharp and nasty. Her lip seems to curl just a little as she accuses him of the worst sins she can think of—you're nothing in her world unless you're honest and loyal.

"I think you sabotaged Foreman just to sabotage Foreman," she says, her face contorted in an almost-sneer.

"It's Tuesday," he replies. I still want you.

Over and over again until a connection is forged.

"See you next Tuesday," says Cameron coolly, and there is a little swell in Chase's heart, though he knows exactly how little she means.

It's like there's a barrier between him and the rest of the world, only it had just started to break down within the walls of the hospital. He tells himself that he ought to be grateful, ought to make the best out of this experience because surely four years have given him something to take away. Only his eyes are clouded, grit-sore with bitterness and hurt. It's the blind-siding suddenness of it all that's the worst he thinks, and now there's nowhere at all to turn.

There's this terrible ache in him, this longing for home, but he doesn't know where that is. It's painful like a phantom limb—no pathology, no treatment. He finds himself groping for relief, fingers tangling with each other in the shock of open air.

Trying desperately to outrun the dread in the pit of his stomach, Chase grabs his coat and hat from the closet door and nearly collides with Cameron on the steps. It's the stuff fairytales are made on, only she's no princess and his is a prison of crushed dreams.

"It's Tuesday," she says, and Chase wonders for a moment whether she's finally found his game out. He wants to ask whether she knows what she's saying, but he can't find the words and so he kisses her instead. When she pulls away, there's a terrible sadness in her eyes.

"I'll probably hurt you," she says, and her voice is devastatingly full of history.

"I know," says Chase. He wraps an arm around her waist and guides her gently into his front hall.

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