TITLE: All I Ever Wanted
PAIRING: canon Chase/Cameron; House/Cameron friendship; duckling fic
WARNINGS: Season Four spoilers.
SUMMARY: The world spins and changes, but life always stays the same. Four years later, Chase and Cameron watch House's new team finish their time working for him.
NOTES: This is, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever written. It's a part of canon that I felt needed to be defined, and in a way I've been working on the vision in my mind since last summer. I hope you enjoy it. This is actually a oneshot, but I'm posting it in two parts (expect the second this weekend) to keep your brains from melting. My sanity, several concepts, and a few miscellaneous lines of dialogue belong to vitawash24.
All I Ever Wanted
It was hot, earlier in the evening, one of those not-quite-summer nights when the twilit sky looked too heavy and thunder grumbled on the horizon. Now it's raining outside and the air conditioning is blasting, and Cameron finds herself chilled to the bone as her eyes snap open and the darkened ceiling comes into view. Her gaze wanders to the long, reaching shadows from the corners as she tries to shake off the last threads of anxiety from an unremembered fitful dream.
"Don't jump." Chase's voice, soft from the side of the bed, but it surprises her anyway.
"Robert? What are you doing?" Cameron sits up, realizing he's kneeling on the floor by her side, hands clasped on top of the comforter she's twisted around herself in her sleep. He looks like a relative waiting by a dying loved-one's bedside in a hospital, and Cameron suppresses a shudder.
"Nothing," he says too quickly, unfolding himself and standing up. "I just got off work."
"It's nearly four." Cameron shivers a little and pulls the comforter further up her body as he strips to boxers. "You were watching me sleep."
"I watch lots of people sleep," says Chase evasively. "That's sort of my job. Stand around watching people sleep until there's a crisis."
His words bring a fresh chill to her skin, and she shivers violently, hugging herself. The street light coming in from the windows catches the diamond in her ring for a split second, a flash in the darkened room. Three years ago, it would have roused thrills of excitement and terror in her. This night, she doesn't notice.
"Come here," she says when Chase gets lost staring motionless into the shadows. He peels back the comforter and crawls in beside her, his skin as cold against her back as she feels on the inside. He wraps his arms around her from behind, his hair soft against the back of her neck as he presses his face into the hollow of her shoulder. Cameron doesn't bother to turn; this is long past routine.
"How many today?" she asks softly when his arms tighten around her.
"Six," he breathes, tickling her skin just a little. Cameron takes one of his hands and brings it to her lips, kissing his palm. It must be devastating, she thinks, watching six people slip through your fingers in the space of a twelve hour shift. It's small compared to some of the numbers he's told her lately. She's run out of things to say a long time ago, so instead she nods and gives him part of the comforter she's been hoarding
Cameron learned quickly not to ask. There was a look in his eyes sometimes, those moments when it seemed like she could see through to the hurt at his core. She was certain in those seconds that she loved him, could be more than content to spend eternity with him, if he'd only let her in.
It had been there often in the beginning, this strange vulnerability of his shining through when they'd worked late nights together in the hospital. When he'd asked her to consider him as more than a physical comfort. That night the flowers had appeared on top of her locker. Even when she had been ready to condemn him.
"I need to know," she'd told him once, early on. "I need you to trust me."
"I do trust you," he'd said, the veil already back over his eyes. "But there's nothing to tell."
She'd slammed the bedroom door on him and gone back to her own apartment for the night. She'd thought a lot about leaving him, in the beginning. But she wasn't sure she had the energy or the strength, and it wasn't like either of them had much else to come home to at night.
Now they don't talk about it, and Chase doesn't look at her that way anymore. And they've gotten trapped with this distance, hanging somewhere just short of content, but not unhappy enough to change.
It's just as jarring this time around. Four years have passed, and everything is different, but so much has never changed at all.
Their faces are strangely dark, taut, when they find her in the cafeteria, and Cameron is struck for a moment by a wave of the paralyzing anxiety she hasn't felt in years. The somewhat twisted humor this team has become known for is completely absent today, and it's like she knows before anyone tells her.
"New case?" Cameron asks, carefully meeting Kutner's eyes.
"Car accident victim," says Taub. "Vomiting blood despite the fact that there are no apparent internal injuries."
Cameron narrows her eyes. "And what do you need my help with? I have a class to teach this afternoon." They already know she would find a way out of any of her duties in the Immunology department at their request. The whole hospital is aware of this; it's the reason she has yet to be promoted to attending despite nearly three years of work.
"We don't," says Thirteen after a minute, and Cameron sees the hesitance in her face again. "But it's our last case with House. We thought someone should tell you."
Strange, thinks Cameron, to know it's the last. To have the time to notice, to remember it as somehow iconic. She thinks she might always envy them this knowledge. She nods mutely and watches as they walk away.
She'd thought about it for a week before coming to the conclusion that being noncommittal was, in fact, the best way to offer a commitment. The words had come to her lips as they sat curled on the couch, watching a car commercial that had interrupted the evening news.
"We should get married." She'd kept her eyes straight ahead, glued to the screen like she was commenting on the price of the vehicle.
"What?" Chase had gone rigid behind her, his arms suddenly like a statue's, hovering and scared to crush her.
"It's been a year and a half," she'd said. "Or almost two, depending on how you want to count. We should get married."
"I…" She didn't think she'd ever heard him actually stammer before. "Okay. Sure."
A week later, she'd found a tiny silver-wrapped box sitting in a pile of rose petals on her dresser. The ring was a beautiful slip of white gold and teardrop diamond, sliding onto her finger like the old one had still left its mark ready and waiting after more than ten years.
"Allison?" She'd turned to find Chase behind her; she had the distinct feeling that he'd been watching the whole thing from the doorframe, though she hadn't thought he'd been home. "I just thought…if you were serious…"
She'd held up her hand so that the ring faced him, and nodded once. "I'm serious." He'd nodded back, and a long moment had passed in silence.
"House is hiring again," she tells Chase three days later, when she can't keep it to herself anymore. They're in the kitchen, washing dishes silently and side by side. Their hours hardly ever coincide anymore. He keeps pulling graveyard shifts in the ICU, and she wonders whether he is secretly glad of it. The hospital is quieter at night, better to focus in. And there are fewer loved ones waiting outside the glass walls with bated breath. It's become a rarity for Cameron to see him in daylight, and outside the confines of their bed.
"Oh?" Chase freezes with a saucepan in his hands, the look on his face like someone's slapped him. "How did you hear?"
"They told me," Cameron says simply. She wonders whether he is upset over their leaving, or the fact that nobody has thought to tell him directly. She thinks he might have liked to be their friend too, only that would have meant making peace with House.
"I see," says Chase, and picks up a fresh dishtowel. He turns away, focused on his work like the conversation is over. And it should be, only suddenly she's not ready to be finished.
"How did we get here?" Her life now makes sense, but sometimes she thinks she's too spoiled by the surreality of working for House to find anything else satisfying. The world spins and changes, but her life always stays the same. Never quite satisfied.
"What?" Chase looks surprised, and just a little bit angry. "Washing dishes?"
"Here," Cameron repeats, knowing he will understand. "It's been four years. What happened to us?"
"I got fired. You quit." The conclusion is almost an afterthought. "We never set a date for a wedding. Or did we never intend to?" Chase puts the last of the pots back in the cabinet and closes the door a bit too loudly.
"Your roots are showing," says House, the next day. "I'd almost started to forget how fake you look." It's become their latest game; Cameron helping from as far behind the scenes as possible, House pretending not to know. She hasn't been inside the Diagnostics office in over a year.
"I missed you too," she replies, a half-smile tugging at her lips. Being back here makes her sadder than she'd expected, the melancholy of what might have been tugging at her heart.
"Oh please tell me you aren't here for a beautiful family moment," says House. "Because that might be bordering on perverted."
"You told them it's their last case," says Cameron. She's here for a reason, and she isn't going to get sidetracked. She's done that too many times already.
House narrows his eyes. "It is. Don't even think about it if they sent you here to beg for them."
"What?" She's surprised by the suggestion. "No. You're giving them closure. It's good."
House scrutinizes her for a long moment, then nods. "Jealous?"
Cameron turns and leaves without another word, because he is right. That, too, hasn't changed.
The mirror is like a void in front of her, showing the days she's lost to the sudden emptiness of hospital hallways. Her hair is dull, limp, and tangled, little rivulets of water snaking down her chest to make her shiver. Her fingers grope for a comb on her now-messy dresser top, and she thinks disgustedly that she can't remember the last time she had the energy to make things look decent.
"Let me." Chase's hands come to rest on the bare skin of her shoulders, warm against the slight damp-chill in the air. Cameron eyes him in the mirror; there's a distance about him lately, like he's been somehow physically damaged. She can't remember the last time he touched her like this without it turning into meaningless sex. She doesn't know why, but she suddenly feels like she's stepped into one of his fathomless secrets.
"Why?" she asks, surprised. He freezes, and for a moment she thinks this is going to turn into a fight. That would almost be a relief, they've lived so long in apathy. But then he just shrugs.
Chase's hands trail down her arms and pluck the comb from her hands. Cameron watches his reflected image as he gathers her hair in his free hand and pulls it back over her shoulders, leaning in to gently kiss the swell of her collarbone. He holds the comb with as much grace as any surgical instrument, guiding it smoothly through the dull gold snarls of her wet hair. She notices, suddenly, just how much the dark roots have started to show, evidence of the woman she's tried to leave behind.
When he is finished, Chase sets the comb on the dresser in front of her, and lets his arms come to rest around her shoulders, his chin nestled in the hollow of her neck. Her hair makes a blossoming wet mark on the dark blue of his shirt, and Cameron watches it for a moment before letting her eyes fall closed. She feels tired, wrapped up like an aged woman. Like somehow they've already grown old together, and she's missed everything that came in between.
Foreman catches her in the locker room. They have a game now too—sometimes she thinks everything in her life is a giant cycle of cat and mouse. They pretend not to be friends, not to like one another. And yet, she thinks, she's spoken more to him in the past month than she has to Chase.
"Are you leaving?" Foreman asks, though he's obviously planned it this way.
"I have an hour for lunch," she answers, slamming the door of her locker. "I thought I'd go around the corner and get some real food."
"I'll join you," says Foreman, and they don't talk as they walk out together.
The silence stretches until after they've ordered, ambient noise filling the air between them like a blanket of static. Foreman folds his menu, and folds his napkins, and folds his hands on top of both before finally starting up the conversation again.
"You went to see House a few days ago."
"He told you?"
"Yeah," says Foreman. "I found him in his office weeping with joy and he confessed everything to me." He takes a dramatic pause to roll his eyes. "I saw you leaving."
Cameron bites back an acid reply, surprised at the intensity of her own response. It isn't House that she's addicted to now, not really. It's the secret romantic in her now—the one who lives for death's-door kisses and wants to believe that one is bigger than ninety nine when it comes to saving a life. It is this part of her now that can't stop clinging to the hope that next time she will be able to recapture those dreams she's already outgrown.
"What are you going to do now?" she asks Foreman hurriedly when she realizes he's staring.
"I've got some interviews at other hospitals," he says. "Cuddy assured me that blacklisting wouldn't be a problem if I stayed the duration of this team. I was hoping you'd agree to be one of my references again, actually."
"Of course." Cameron forces a smile, caught off-guard by the lump that's formed in her throat over the suggestion of his leaving.
"And you?" he asks, surprising her again. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know what you mean." It's a lie, but they both know it.
"It's time to move on, Allison." And somehow she always forgets that Foreman can be gentle too. "You chose your specialty for a reason. Try doing your job. You might find out you like it."
"Foreman's leaving." She's gotten to be all about the big dramatic statements lately, Cameron notices. It's an old bad habit, but she doesn't have the energy to worry about its sudden resurrection right now. "And you're about to lose another sock."
"I heard." Chase plucks the errant sock from between two sofa cushions and adds it to the leaning pile of laundry he's folding, nonplussed.
"He told you?" She isn't sure why she's annoyed, but this isn't the reaction she's expected.
Chase keeps his back to her, but she can see the tension building now. It's strange, she thinks, that this is what's upset him, and not the simple fact that she's mentioned Foreman's name. Chase is cordial enough toward Foreman, as far as Cameron knows, but he has made no effort to hide his resentment of House and the whole rehiring situation.
"He's my friend too," Chase says simply. He abandons the laundry and turns to face her. "House is looking for a replacement. You should apply." There's obviously something here that he isn't telling her, and Cameron feels her chest burn with annoyance. So many years, so many secrets, and she's getting tired of letting them slide.
"Oh?" she asks, pressing. "Why, so then you can be bitter toward me too?"
Something shifts in his face, tipping past tension and clearly into anger. Cameron wonders for a moment what she's said, but then decides she really doesn't care.
"Are we adding some more topics to our forbidden list? I can't keep track anymore." she continues. It's like something's snapped inside her; the venom's found a target and now she can't stop it from pouring out. "Really, Robert, I'm surprised we talk at all."