WARNINGS: Spoilers through 4.13.
Questions of Science
It's this thing—this horrible, awful, formless thing lurking in corners like the unseen monster in a nightmare tunnel. He wakes up to it sometimes in the middle of the night, gasping and sweating, only this isn't a dream. In the dark he can feel it looming over his shoulders, like the solidified weight of his own personal underworld escaped from the darkest and most faithless corners of his mind.
Nice things are the ones which hurt the most in the end. Good things never last. Happiness is just the eye of the storm, and going out into it is the way naïve people get killed. It's been one of the most fundamental facts of his life for as long as Chase can remember, and he's built his defenses accordingly. It's magnificently irrational, a study in reverse psychology, and being a doctor doesn't help one bit.
When a month passes and Cameron doesn't change her mind, he starts to get uneasy again. Every morning that he wakes to find her still in bed beside him becomes one more gone, the finite number in his mind decreasing ceaselessly.
When half a year passes, and then another month, Cameron casually mentions that they've been together longer than she was married. But there's the barest glimmer of vulnerability beneath the cloudless blue of her eyes, telling him it matters more than she'll ever let anyone know. That night, Chase dreams of high painted ceilings collapsing on top of him, and wakes with cooling tears sticky on his cheeks.
When the months continue to slip past without interruption, and the calendar on Cameron's bathroom wall is just one page of neat red x's away from rolling back around to the
night she spent sitting on his doorstep, he starts looking for the end lying in ambush beyond every bend.
The words come into his mind and out of his mouth like bile, spilling into the humid spring air as the acid remains of a sick joke that never had any humor anyway. He realizes his mistake the second he sees the look on Cameron's face, considers where they are and who they're with and exactly what it is he's just said. But then the sharp rebuke he's expecting doesn't come, and the anxiety blossoms into a venom he can't ignore. And so he keeps pushing, past what's acceptable, and past what's reasonable, and maybe past what's even sane. It's like a loose thread, unraveling in his fingers even as he tries to tie it off, until there's nothing left but twisted words and unintentional implications.
Cameron won't look at him when she nearly runs into him later, though she must realize that he's been loitering in the hall after leaving the discussion. Watching her retreating back, he wonders how much damage he's done, and how much closer the inevitable has crept in the space of this innocent afternoon.
She finds him in the locker room later, too caught up in his own bitterness and guilt to hear the door swing open at her entrance. He's been standing there, staring at the assorted junk which has migrated from one locker to the next, and Chase stiffens in surprise when Cameron's arms wrap around his waist from behind. She stretches up on tiptoe to rest her chin on his shoulder, peering into the clutter like it's a whiteboard full of symptoms for her interpretation. He's been expecting a good harsh reprimand from her, or at the very least the cold shoulder, and it takes him almost a full minute to think of a coherent sentence.
"I heard the strike ended," Chase manages at last. He reaches down to wrap his hands around hers, trying to disengage her just enough to turn in her embrace and look at her. But she refuses to comply, and that's the point, he realizes, to keep him trapped until she's had her say.
"It did," Cameron answers, her breath a warm brush against his earlobe that makes him shiver. "I take it bowling last night didn't quite live up to your expectations."
"What?" Chase blurts, effectively giving himself away. Her voice is already tinged with the slight air of superiority that says she knows she's figured something vital out.
"You know I never slept with House," she says, leaning up to breathe the words into his ear, low and maybe just a little bit dangerous. "That was quite possibly the stupidest thing you've ever asked me. So I assume you had some reason to be feeling insecure."
Chase gapes into his locker, unable to come up with any kind of response at all. All this time he's been wanting her to see, but now that she has, he finds himself feeling naked and terrified under her scrutiny.
"Of course," Cameron continues more lightly, "if there isn't a reason, then I fully intend to beat you. So answer wisely." She's grown accustomed to filling his silences, Chase realizes, smiling despite himself at the soft sense of humor it's taken him five years to realize she has.
"Don't beat me," Chase says simply, not ready to talk about it yet. Cameron lets go of his waist at last, and he turns, not quite able to meet her gaze. He knows what he'll see there: soft disapproval at his refusal to share despite her accommodation. But she's learned not to ask.
"I'll see you tonight," says Cameron, turning to leave. "I still have to finish straightening out the aftermath of the strike."
As the door swings shut behind her, Chase thinks she must be the only one in this relationship who's managed to have learned anything at all.
"Turns out you were never in any danger after all," says Cameron when she arrives at his door again. Countless times, but he can't seem to shake the last flutter of surprise that pulls at his chest like feeble fingers whenever he opens it to find her standing there.
"What?" Chase asks as she brushes past, shucking her coat from her shoulders and dropping it onto his couch like that's where it always belongs. It's starting to feel like the only thing he can ever manage to say anymore, and she's still a thousand miles ahead.
"House doesn't have neurosyphilis. He switched the blood samples again. How much do you want to bet he even used the same one as before?" She tries to keep the words light, tries to make them a joke, but the bitterness seeps through, and Chase doesn't know whether it's aimed at House or at him.
"Figures." He practically spits the word, the hurt and rage he's spent a year trying to bury bubbling back to the surface and prickling behind his eyes. Brain cancer all over again, and suddenly he's glad he's spent the day sulking, even if it had nothing conscious to do with protecting himself.
"Yeah," Cameron gives him a questioning look, but doesn't ask whatever it is she's thinking. "It's good, though. Problem solved. No more dilemma. And it helped the team diagnose their patient."
"Great!" The word seems to explode out of the hurt place he's been hiding this whole time, and the force of it surprises him. But then he looks up to find the expression of disgust back on her face, mirroring the one from before, and suddenly the afternoon's reprieve has turned into the calm before the storm.
"Well, there you have it. He's going to be a brilliant ass forever. And you're going to worship him forever, so you can stop acting like you're over it!" The words leave him feeling
empty, and the room feeling emptier, but they've both grown beyond the point of stomping out, so there's nothing to do but pretend that everything is normal.
"Are you finished?" Cameron asks coolly, then sits at the far end of the couch when he nods.
"Do you want me to break up with you?" she asks when two hours have passed in silence. The space of the coffee table is too small between them, and in the background the news blathers on about one catastrophe after another. Chase thinks that he can smell their relationship dying on the dusky breeze reaching in through the narrow crack of the open kitchen window.
"No!" But it comes out too quickly, and it feels unnatural, and he wonders how something so intense can feel so blatantly wrong.
"Really?" Cameron's eyes are the same kind of soft searching he heard in her voice in the locker room earlier, before he gave up the chance to let this blow over without a fight.
"Why would you even ask that?" Chase puts his feet on the floor and sits up just a little bit straighter, feeling the strength of the cushions against his back like armor. It isn't the question he really wants to ask, but it seems silly to think she'll be able to tell him the answers to his own fears.
Cameron shrugs. "It just seems like you might, lately. You've been distant for weeks. And you know I'm over House, so what's the point in bringing it up unless it's to intentionally upset me?"
It's their legacy, he thinks, to forever analyze one another. "I—" Chase breaks off, trying to put words to the formless anxiety, the creature that lives in his subconscious and poisons the rest of the world against him. He can't make himself look at her when he finally gives it a try. "Everything's been good for such a long time now. It just—feels like maybe I ought to get ready for it to end."
For a long moment she just stares at him, her face a mask of incredulity, and he knows this answer has fallen outside the realm of any possibility she's managed to consider.
"So," says Cameron finally, "you've been trying to push me away before I could leave you?"
It sounds silly and immature coming out in her terms, and Chase thinks he might laugh if it hadn't come so close to ruining everything already. "Yeah," he says softly, when he's run out of reasons not to.
"Okay," says Cameron quietly, and gets up to leave the room.
He thinks he ought to have flowers, or chocolates, or at the very least an articulate apology, but none of those things are forthcoming, and in the end Chase creeps into the bedroom with his eyes on the floor, feeling like hiding behind the door might be the best idea. Cameron is curled up on his side of the bed, in his bedroom, like she's planned this as a way of forcing him to talk to her before either of them can get to sleep. She has the Bible he keeps under the pile of clutter on the nightstand out of habit, and she's staring into one of the pages like it might somehow hold the answers to all of this.
"It's Tuesday," he mumbles at last, feeling stupid the moment the words are out of his mouth. But it is, and suddenly the old reminder is the only thing that seems to make sense. Time to let go, to stop trying, to let things lead where they will. It worked once before, he thinks. "And I'm sorry."
"You're an idiot," says Cameron at last. She closes the book and sets it on the nightstand, moving over to relinquish his side of the bed. "But I love you."
The wood floor is cold against his feet as he crosses it to sit on the edge of the bed, and he has the sudden image of a bridge with water rushing by underneath. Cameron reaches up to cup the side of his face, forcing him to meet her gaze for a long moment. Wordlessly, Chase kisses her, then slips into bed and turns out the light.
Feedback is love!