NOTE: This is probably the last fic in my canon-compatible timeline. I hope it's a good ending, and I would very much appreciate feedback.
The Mirror Pond
She's seen the world through these eyes before, softened and lightened behind the gauze a veil. The first time she saw hope, saw faith, saw impossibility glimmering in the air just one step ahead and almost in her grasp. She'd been happy on her wedding day, relieved somehow, like the bond of marriage would be enough to banish death's grip forever. Now those memories are eclipsed by the grief she'd woken up to find lying next to her on the morning after.
Standing in front of the dressing room mirror, Cameron feels the strange sense of bitterness that sometimes bubbles up in the pit of her stomach when she remembers. That year is a blur, innocence on hurt on love on dread on bliss until she can't separate one from the others and everything is ruined. Now she fears they'll get snarled up with her future, too.
This dress is too long, the sleeves hanging down to devour her fingertips, and there are feathers sewn into the neckline. Her reflection looks like an ungainly swan, willowy and soft but in all the wrong places. As she lifts the dress over her head, one of the offending feathers breaks loose and sails around for a moment in the gentle draft from the summer air conditioning before coming to a rest in Cameron's hair. She wonders for a moment why she's even bothering to try dresses at all; nothing could be different enough to banish the memories of before. The truth is, she isn't sure whether she would even be having another wedding if it wasn't for Chase's sudden enthusiasm.
She read once in a mythology book that a pure white bird is a sure omen of death. She's not superstitious, but she thinks she ought to have thought of it before.
When Chase says that he doesn't want a church wedding, the first thing she assumes is that he's deferring to an unspoken constraint of her own making. But she doesn't question it, because the truth is they've never done well when it comes to matters of faith. When he says that he already has a place picked out, she swallows her surprise and asks immediately to see it.
The park is intimate and beautiful, tucked away on the shores of a pond she's heard mentioned in street names but never actually taken the time to locate. It's barely fifteen minutes' drive away, but Cameron feels like they've stepped into another world, or perhaps another decade as she slams the car door and breathes in the summer Sunday afternoon air.
Chase stays next to the driver's side door, watching her hopefully as she slowly drinks it all in, keeping the car between them like a shield.
"They celebrated their fortieth anniversary here last year," he says, gesturing to a man sitting in the distance next to his wife's wheelchair. "They used to come here every weekend, but she's been in the hospital recovering from a stroke. And one of the mallards just hatched ducklings, if they're around. They're pretty tame. Get fed a lot of bread, I guess."
"How often do you come here?" asks Cameron, surprised. She thinks she ought to know after four years living with him, but his occasional vanishing spells outside of work are just one more thing she's given up asking about.
"Whenever I need to," he says simply, coming around the car to stand by her side. Cameron glances around the little park again, and has the bizarre feeling that she's glimpsing a piece of his heart instead.
"What do you think?" Chase asks at last, softly, taking her hand.
"I think I need to get to know it a little better," she says. In her memory she can hear the cold patter of December rain on church-white walls, and the monotone of the traffic reports which would determine whether guests could arrive at all. "But I think it'll be perfect."
When she finally finds the right dress, it's like the answer has been staring her in the face all along. It's sheer white satin, with no decorations, starting in delicate straps at her shoulders and falling straight to her ankles, where it ripples gently in the still air like the water lapping at the shore of their pond.
It's almost identical to the dress she chose nearly fifteen years ago, like a ghost swimming up through lost time to capture her attention again. She remembers looking at the reflection of that other dress, thinking it embodied the woman she had wished to become then.
But the first time she'd chosen it out of necessity, out of too many desperate hopes and far too little time. She'd wanted to grow into it then, but she'd already been too late.
Now it just feels right, she thinks, examining her reflection again. Same start, new beginning, and everything's been turned upside down.
"They're watching," Chase murmurs, twisting to sit up a little as the line of ducks waddles by not even a foot from the edge of their blanket.
"What is it with you and being watched?" asks Cameron, adjusting the blanket and resettling herself against his side. "This is what you do at parks."
"Yeah?" asks Chase, raising an eyebrow in mock-challenge. "And what makes you the expert?"
"I did used to do things with my family," she informs him. "Outside, even."
Chase stiffens a little at that, and she wonders whether she's said too much. But he doesn't volunteer anything. When the uncomfortable silence has stretched into nearly a minute, Cameron gets up and goes to sit on the edge of the dock, slipping her shoes off and letting her feet brush the surface of the warm water.
"House asked when he'll be getting his invitation," Chase says suddenly, sitting up on the blanket to watch her. He smiles a little, and Cameron feels the familiar ache of nostalgia. "Then he asked what color dress you'd be wearing."
"Did you tell him the invitations will be going out just as soon as you finish your half of the guest list?" asks Cameron, momentarily irked.
"I told him we're still working on them." Chase folds the blanket into careful quarters and moves to sit next to her on the dock.
Cameron sighs and looks at him sideways. "Come on, Rob, you've lived here for eight years. There must be someone from work you want to invite."
Chase answers her by skimming his toes through the water, sending little droplets dancing up to sprinkle her bare calves.
"At least invite the new fellows," she says encouragingly. "You know them and I don't. And they'll be offended if they get left out."
"The new fellows are helpless and inept," says Chase, though she notices it's not a direct refusal.
"So were we, once," she answers, looking at the water.
"House told me to tell you there'd better be alcohol at the reception if we expect him to play nice around that many people for that long."
"Right," says Cameron dryly. She dips her fingertips in the water and flicks them at Chase's head.
The file of medical records is buried in a disintegrating box under the bed, the pages now yellowed and egg-shell thin. She remembers sealing this box, feeling as though she'd closed her heart inside it as she'd sworn not to be defeated by guilt and grief, to turn them to power instead.
The slice of the knife through packing tape had been her promise never to be caught helpless again. She'd assumed that day that she'd never fall in love again, never have another wedding. Never try to claim a good thing for herself again, because good things ended. Dead was dead, and scarred was scarred, but only one was final.
She picks a night when Chase is working late, tied up at the hospital on one of House's cases which she refuses to resent. The box is lighter than she remembers as she drags it out at last, and it raises a puff of dust that makes her eyes water. Her heart pounds in her ears as she uses a kitchen knife to slit the tape. The file sits in the bottom of the box, the only other things inside a single copy of the old wedding invitation and a funeral notice, the marks a lifetime crushed into the span of a few short months. Cameron scoops the file of medical records into her arms and picks up her bag, leaving the other two pieces of paper exposed in the box as she heads for the door.
It's raining a warm summer drizzle when she gets to the park, her jeans instantly stained dark in the feeble moonlight shining through the clouds. The surface of the pond is speckled and pocked with drops, the reflection of the night sky distorted. She makes her decision quickly, staking her umbrella in the sand on the little beach to make a shelter. From her bag she takes the big mixing bowl she occasionally uses for baking, and puts it underneath where it will stay dry.
The contents of the file barely fit into the bowl, but they burst into flames immediately when she touches the stuttering match to the first page. It takes nearly ten minutes in the wet air for the papers to be reduced to ash, and Cameron watches silently as they curl and shrink. When the last flame is out, and the bowl is cool to the touch, she picks it up and walks out onto the dock, her clothes now fully soaked in the rain.
An earth-scented storm breeze catches the ashes as she turns the bowl upside down, carrying them out onto the water to vanish.
Saturday night and she finds herself lying in bed with a book. Not a medical journal or anything helpful, but the kind of cheap romance novel she hasn't read since college. She looks up when she hears the television go quiet in the other room. Chase has been watching some sporting even she can't identify, but now it's ended or he's lost interest. The light coming in through the hall goes dark, and then there's a long pause before he appears in the doorway.
"There are things you should know about me," he says softly, the long shadows from the hall hiding his eyes so that she can't read his face at all. His voice is tight, but she can't quite place the emotion behind it. "I'm not sure how to tell you, but…if you're going to do this, you've got a right to know."
Cameron watches him in silence, not sure whether he's inviting her to ask or trying to come up with the words to tell her on his own. At last he moves from the doorframe, comes to sit on the edge of the bed, reluctance seeming to radiate from the tense line of his shoulders.
"Anything you want to know," he says softly, the muscles of his jaw flexing taut beneath his skin. He doesn't meet her eyes, but she can read in his gaze toward the closet door his expectation of an interrogation. He looks resigned, she thinks, ready to suffer for her sake what he obviously views as torment.
Eight years, she thinks. Eight years of watching him shackle secrets behind a façade of cool indifference. Eight years of harsh remarks and bitter fights and the damned tightness of frustration in her chest. Eight years and now she's being given free rein to bring them all into the light.
It only takes a second to make her decision.
"I already know what I want," she says softly, reaching up to cup his cheek. Chase flinches before relaxing into her touch, his eyes almost wild with surprise and gratitude when he does look up at her. "You can tell me the rest when you're ready."
And it turns out, in the end, that possibility is enough.
"Zip this for me?" Cameron pushes the bedroom door open with a foot, keeping the back of her dress closed with both hands.
Chase jumps, looking up at her with his hair half-combed, his shirt buttoned unevenly. He has that expression on his face like maybe he's discovered something he shouldn't have, but can't quite bring himself to look away. Cameron is reminded of the first few weeks after moving in with him, and his constant embarrassment at finding her underwear in the laundry, or Midol in the medicine cabinet.
"Thought I wasn't supposed to see you this morning," he says at last, running a hand through his hair so that it sticks up even more.
"Like I'm superstitious?" Cameron answers, thinking again about the feathers. "Besides, what do you want me to do, call Foreman to help me get dressed?" There isn't a wedding party this time; it's been just the two of them all along.
"No," Chase scoffs, and gets off the bed to help her at last. He runs his fingers tenderly up her back next to her skin as he zips the dress, sending a swell of warmth through her.
"Thanks," she says, as she turns to fix his shirt.
Chase jumps again as she starts to unbutton it, looking at her questioningly. "What are you doing?"
"Fixing this," she answers, leaning up to kiss him, "unless you want to look ridiculous."
"Oh," Chase mumbles against her lips, his right hand coming up to catch the strap of her dress which has started to slide off her shoulder. "I guess I am sort of a mess without you."
And they both are, Cameron thinks, a little bit of a mess. There is nothing simple about their relationship, and there probably never will be, and she realizes with a fresh swell of warmth that she wouldn't have it any other way.
The leaves crunch under the flat soles shoes as she takes the first step into the aisle, bringing herself even with the last row of chairs. There's a slight September breeze blowing in off the pond today, smelling of the first hints of rain to come much later on. There aren't many chairs—just enough to define the little aisle, really—but they are all full.
The whole scene looks soft and ethereal behind her veil, the late afternoon sunlight coming through the trees like rivulets of white. She can see House in the first row when they all turn to watch her, sandwiched between Cuddy and Wilson like a fussy child. Foreman is on the other side, his head half-turned to keep one bemused eye on Chase, who looks nervous and expectant and glowing under the little canopy that's serving as an altar. Thirteen and Kutner and Taub are sitting together, with the new fellows in a line behind them. It's a rare strange mingling, past with future and everything in between, and she wonders for a moment whether if she dipped her fingers into the water, they'd come up coated in ashes.
Cameron smiles beneath the veil as she starts to walk. A pair of swans floats on the pond, like the strata of two white clouds on the upside-down-sky in the surface of the water. Their necks are entwined, and they seem to be watching serenely.