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.
All I Ever Wanted
Chase glares at her for a very long moment before speaking again, and she recognizes the look too well. "I just thought you might like getting paid for what you do all day. God knows it isn't your job that you're doing now."
"Well, at least then I'd have some variety between the misanthropic bastard I worked for and the one I have to come home to." The words are out of her mouth almost before she realizes what she's said, and the conviction turns to shame a second later, draining the strength from her limbs.
"Right," snaps Chase. "Exactly what I was thinking." He plucks his keys from the counter and is out the door before she has a chance to take another breath.
Cameron presses white knuckles to her lips and drapes herself on top of his pile of laundry, letting its scent draw the tears from her eyes. Silently, she curses her life for being so brittle that everything can crumble in seconds.
"What's this for?" she'd asked when he'd handed her the bag. It was after Thanksgiving, and still a good two weeks before Christmas, and not any time which particularly justified gift-giving.
"Open it." Chase had shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels a little, watching her through half-lidded eyes. He'd looked almost afraid, like he still expected her to reject anything he presented her with out of hand. And it was still too soon for him to think anything else, she'd supposed.
Nestled between sheets of green tissue paper, she'd found a tiny jewelry box. She'd held her breath as she'd opened it, the beads of the necklace cool as they'd tumbled into her palm.
"It's gorgeous," she'd whispered, watching the shy smile spread over his face. "But I still don't understand what it's for."
Chase had shrugged. "You look beautiful in red."
Later, when she'd worn it to the staff seasonal party, and his fingers had brushed the chain at the back of her neck—just a little too close for professional distance—she'd wondered whether it was his way of finally laying a claim on her. For a while after, she'd made a point of wearing it as often as possible.
Cameron freezes in the entrance to the ICU locker room, stripped of her momentum by the sound of Foreman's voice. She's come here looking for Chase, though she isn't sure what she hopes to accomplish. Talking to him now will probably be disastrous, but she doesn't know whether he's even come home during the night, the combination of exhaustion and sadness having forced her into feverish sleep. Drawn by a desperate curiosity, she steps to the side of the doorway, so that she can see surreptitiously to where they're standing in front of the sink top. Her stomach crawls with shame at the prospect of doing something so blatantly dishonest, but suddenly she can't seem to tear her eyes away from Chase's back.
"I hear House asked you to be the new me." Foreman sounds smug but not quite mean.
"Yeah." Chase shrugs noncommittally. The silence grows uncomfortable.
"He said you said no?" More silence. "I know it's a hard act to follow, but really."
Cameron takes a breath, feeling suddenly ill. Wrong again, she thinks. It's like walking through a maze, twist after twist and dead ends everywhere. Chase has been waiting years in bitterness and vain for some kind of acknowledgement from House, and yet he offered it to her first. Four years, and she's still instantly ready to condemn him for jealousy.
"Come on, Foreman," Chase snipes. Arguing is something they have always done well. "Even you don't want to be you."
"For good reason!" Foreman protests, refusing, for once, to strike back. "I could have headed up my own department four years ago, had I listened to Cuddy then. I've been stuck paying penance. You, on the other hand? You like being miserable."
"Yeah, now I'm the one in danger of turning into House," Chase scoffs.
"You are." It's blunt honesty that's become Foreman's trademark in recent years, and it seems to ring off the locker room's tiles. "Look at you. You've been pining after this job for years, and you turn it down. You get engaged to the woman you love, and what do you do? Spend two years ignoring her as much as possible. Either you're terrified of screwing up, or you've got a thing for pain. Please, please tell me it's the former."
There is another long moment of silence during which Chase scrutinizes the floor before speaking again. "I'm not a masochist."
"Good," says Foreman. "Look, man, there's only so much time anyone can spend watching people die all day before it makes them a little bit nuts."
Chase's head snaps up, and Cameron realizes that the statement has hit a nerve. She wonders suddenly whether his distance really is fear, if he's finally looked too hard and too long at human fragility.
"Take the job," Foreman concludes, not giving Chase the chance to collect his thoughts and reply again. He turns toward the door, obviously ending the conversation. "And marry Cameron before she figures out what a colossal loser you are."
Everything in the next instant happens just a little too fast, and by the time Cameron registers that they are moving, she's already been seen. Chase carefully meets her eyes, and for a moment she thinks she might cry. The look on his face says he knows she's heard everything. He's already made a decision, but she can't say what.
"I was looking for you," Cameron whispers, feeling paralyzed by dread.
Chase nods once, mutely, and walks out.
Cameron doesn't know what she's expecting when she gets home, but her heart is in her throat. It isn't until her breath returns at the sight of Chase's half-folded laundry spilling out of the basket and onto the arm of the couch that she realizes she'd thought he might have moved out sometime during her shift. It's a strange fear, and a new one. It's been years since they've fought seriously, and she's never before seen him as the one to leave anyway.
She's managed to regain her composure by the time she makes it into the bedroom, at least until she sees the bed. The black comforter is pulled neatly into place, at its center a dozen red roses. Wordlessly, she picks them up and presses the bundle gently to her chest. Their scent makes the inside of her nose cold, and she shivers.
"You have got to stop doing that," she says, when she hears Chase push the door open behind her.
"What? Buying you flowers?" There's a cautious optimism in his voice, and Cameron allows herself a small smile, relief flooding through her. "I don't think I've done that much lately."
"Sneaking up behind me," she clarifies.
"Sorry," says Chase. For the fight, too, his eyes add. "I want you to be happy. If that means working for House, then I think you should do it." He pauses for a very long moment, seeming to breathe reluctance into the room. His voice is very small when he does speak again. "If that means leaving me…I think you should do that too."
"Chase," she breathes, and then realizes it's been months since she's used his surname. "Come here."
Chase takes hold of her waist and kisses her very gently, almost tentatively. She tangles one hand in his hair to pull him closer, and he steps forward, the roses pungent and slightly crushed between them. Cameron can taste the secrets on his lips, but for the moment she is content to simply let them be.
"I'm sorry," she mumbles into his mouth. "I love you." It isn't the first time she's said it, but the words ring somehow new.
Chase takes the roses from her hands and sets them on the bedside table. His palm is warm as he cups her cheek, and she turns her face into it, letting her eyes fall closed for a long moment.
The dye fills their tiny bathroom with a scent like blueberries fermented in alcohol, and Cameron thinks that she will have to open the windows before Chase gets home. She's taken one of her long-saved vacation days to do this—to clean up her life and remember just what time feels like.
Her fingers fumble the cap as she struggles to mix the thick liquid in the bottle and a drop escapes, coloring the pad of her thumb a deep purple. Cameron stares numbly at it for a moment, watching as the dye traces the whorls of her fingerprint. She has never tried to color her own hair before, but suddenly this change, like so many of the others, must be by her own hand.
Staring into the mirror, she tips the bottle up and watches as the bleach-worn evidence of years trying to make believe a change vanishes beneath velvet darkness.
Cuddy's decision to send House's two teams of now-alumnae out to dinner is strange and disingenuous. ("A congratulatory dinner," she'd said, "For being the only two teams in the history of this department to stay the full fellowship.") Stranger still is watching Kutner, Taub, and Thirteen. They've found their own table in the corner, and they look positively radiant, huddled together over what looks like a photo album.
Cameron can't help thinking how long it's taken for her, Foreman, and Chase to be all right with one another again. If they are, even now. She wonders for a moment whether it is as simple as closure, or if there's something inherently different about this team.
"He's gonna do it," says Foreman, shattering her reverie. He points toward House's seat at the bar.
Cameron watches as Chase tentatively takes House's hand and shakes it. For a moment they just stare at one another, eyes locked in some sort of understanding Cameron knows she will always be on the outside of. And then the moment is over, and Chase is walking back toward the table just a little too quickly to be nonchalant.
"You took the job?" she asks when he's back in earshot. Chase nods shyly, and Cameron hugs him warmly, ignoring both his noises of protest and Foreman's laughter.
"Congratulations," she says, and then slips off in House's direction. She has her own peace to make tonight.
"What is this, a parade?" House looks down his nose at her, but Cameron thinks that there is no denying the fondness in his eyes.
"A goodbye party, I thought." Her throat is suddenly tight, but it's a different kind of sadness than she's been drowning in. "You don't need me. Your new team won't need me. And I'd like to be an attending sometime before midlife crisis sets in."
House simply looks at her for a long moment, and then nods. "Send me an invitation to your wedding. You'll need somebody there to object."
"You wouldn't," says Cameron, and pulls him into a stiff one-armed embrace.
House freezes for a moment before clumsily disentangling himself. "Do that again and I'll show up with a picket sign."
"What was that all about?" Chase asks when she gets back to the table. He looks confused, but not unhappy.
"Saying goodbye," says Cameron, and offers her wine glass to Foreman for a toast, ignoring the looks of surprise on both their faces.
"Allison?" His voice is soft, hesitant, and for a moment she thinks she might actually have dreamed it. "You awake?"
"I am now," she says, then thinks that's unfairly harsh. "I was before, too."
Chase shifts behind her, not quite touching, the sheets rustling like they have a life of their own. The sky is clear tonight, and a few rays of moonlight dapple the covers as she sits up a little, eyes drawn to her ring. It's suddenly become visible again, lately.
"Will you marry me?" His voice is muffled, like he's speaking into a pillow.
Cameron smiles knowingly, but she doesn't turn yet. "I asked you that two and a half years ago."
"I know. I meant actually marry me. Soon." A long, restless minute passes, and when he speaks again his breath is close enough to rustle the hair at the back of her neck. "I love you."
Cameron's heart catches in her throat, and for a moment it's like time has stopped, like she's back standing in the locker room with flowers above her head, blinded by the gentleness in his face. Like four years and a thousand melancholies never happened.
His eyes are painfully honest when she turns at last. She lets herself be lost in them for a second before dropping her head to kiss the place along his throat where she can feel his pulse.
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