NOTES: There is at least one more part to this series, and possibly more. Co-authored with calendaes.
The Pressure of Days
Two weeks pass in a blur. He's not sure how it happens, later, because the time seems to vanish into pain and tiredness and drugs. It's almost like being in a coma again, the days lost to a fathomless vacuum. This is the part he never gets to see; Chase deals in crises, not the slow, grueling work of getting back to normal, everyday life.
When the nurse announces that he's to be discharged in the morning, he nearly asks her if there is some mistake. The IVs and monitors are gone, but even sitting up in bed is a task, the four-foot journey across the room to the bathroom a Herculean effort to undertake by himself. He tries to picture making the three thousand mile journey back home, let alone climbing the two flights of steps to his apartment, and suddenly he finds himself wondering if there's any way he can convince them that he's at risk for complications and needs to stay longer.
He's begun to wonder if Cameron can sense his panic, because she always sweeps into the room right as it reaches some sort of crazy plateau. She's there when he wakes up and doesn't know where he is or why he can barely move; she's there when he gets a call from House asking him to talk to his replacement; and, of course, she's here now when he's absolutely at a loss as to what to do next.
"That's good news," she says, as the nurse leaves. Cameron bypasses the chair, as usual, and sits on the edge of the bed, leaving Chase torn between wanting to lean closer and thinking that he ought to move away to give her more space. He wonders whether she's been listening to the conversation from the hall, or whether she's spoken to the nurses previously, since she seems to know exactly what he's just been told.
"I booked us on a flight tomorrow afternoon," she continues when he doesn't answer, confirming his suspicions.
"Oh," he says, turning his head in her direction. "You didn't need to do that. Thanks."
She frowns. "You're welcome. I've got to get back too, you know." She plays with the waffle-weave of the blanket before moving a hand to awkwardly rest on his knee. "You're going to stay with me. I talked to your doctor and the house sup and they both agree that you need someone with you."
She's right, he knows. His limbs are useless and heavy, even supported by the pillows on his bed, and he'd probably starve if left to his own devices, too tired to even go to the door to greet the delivery person. But there's nothing about this that feels right. He shouldn't impose; she's done enough, more than could be expected by any reasonable person. But she's already seen him at his weakest and she hasn't turned away, so maybe there's something here.
"I--really appreciate that. Thank you. I'll pay you back as soon as I can," he says finally. Cameron smiles and squeezes his knee lightly, like this isn't the most uncomfortable conversation they've ever had. The first of many to come, he supposes.
"You don't have to do that," she says. "Just concentrate on getting better. I don't want to have to break in another new team member. Foreman was bad enough."
Chase tries to laugh, but it comes out as a forced puff of air, almost a cough. Cameron seems to understand anyway, nodding and finally taking her hand back. He's recovered enough now that the silences have become awkward, no longer forgivable lapses masked by fever and drugs. Cameron's eyes are filled with a soft compassion when she looks at him; and finally, sitting at his bedside is the woman he first found himself attracted to, only he isn't sure who she thinks she's tending to.
In truth, the doctor had been reluctant to release Chase into Cameron's care. He still needs near constant monitoring, his balance making walking anything more than a few steps impossible. But if she'd left, he would truly be alone and out of options, stuck in a rehab facility until well enough to make the trip back home and live independently, a process that could take weeks.
She glances over at Chase as they speed through the airport on a motorized cart, a concession to his inability to stand or walk. He looks dazed by the passing people and sights and, she realizes, he probably is. Dizziness is, after all, a leftover from the strain on his nervous system.
"You okay?" she asks softly, leaning in to speak the words in his ear so she'll be heard above the busy airport buzz. Chase doesn't turn toward her immediately, appearing to be caught up watching the quickly-passing figure of a woman with a crying baby in her arms. When almost a full minute passes and he still doesn't respond, Cameron puts a hand on his shoulder.
"What?" Chase asks, jumping a little as if he knows he's missed something, but can't reorient himself to remember what it was.
"I asked if you're okay," Cameron repeats patiently. For a moment she wonders whether she's done the right thing in forcing him to travel so soon, but she's running out of options for herself, and the thought of leaving him here to finish recovery on his own is unacceptable.
When he finally looks at her, the confusion in his eyes is genuine and she wants more than anything for this all to be over. For things to go back to normal, except that she wants this nameless connection to Chase to continue. He blinks at her and seems to remember where they are.
"I'm okay. Dizzy," he manages and she squeezes his shoulder.
"We're almost there, okay? Once we get on the plane you can sleep the whole way home." It's unlikely that he will, but it would be best if he did. She's convinced the doctor to give her enough medication for the trip home, but nothing that is likely to completely take away his pain or what has to be near-constant nausea, judging by the pallor of his face. And then it's urgent, his eyes wide and panicked.
"Cameron, I'm going--I need," he chokes out through clenched teeth. She commands the driver to stop in front of the nearest bathroom and rubs Chase's back in a way she hopes is comforting.
The driver, mercifully, appears to have seen everything at least twice before, and stops without comment in front of a private family bathroom. Cameron gets up as quickly as she can, helping Chase climb down from the cart and then wrapping a supportive arm around his waist. He tries immediately to move with a speed his body hasn't yet recovered, and stumbles, nearly falling.
"Careful," murmurs Cameron, making sure he's regained some semblance of balance before starting to move again. They barely make it inside the bathroom door before he pulls away from her to lean over the trash can, retching violently.
She keeps a hand on his back, cringing as he trembles and shakes, his legs folding under him before he's finished. She lets him sit on the floor for a minute and grabs some paper towels, wetting them down before handing them to him, then taking them back when he doesn't respond. Chase is stares at the floor, hands clenched in his lap, and she can't help but reach for him, washing the tears and sweat from his face. The familiar worry is back and she puts a hand on his forehead. He's fine, she tells herself; it's just the after effects. But seeing him like this makes her even more determined to get him back home.
She offers a hand, supporting nearly all his weight on the way back to the waiting cart. The driver doesn't raise an eyebrow when she pulls them both into the back seat and directs his head to her shoulder, shielding his eyes from the curious stares of the crowd passing by.
"We're almost there," she whispers. "You can keep your eyes closed, if you want."
Chase looks up for a moment, like he wants to say something, then quickly ducks against her shoulder again, evidently unable to face the blur of colors and sounds passing on either side of them again. The driver seems to have sped up the cart, and Cameron isn't sure whether that's for better or for worse.
"Sorry," Chase mumbles roughly against her shoulder. Cameron wonders whether he means for throwing up, or leaning against her, or for getting sick in the first place. But she doesn't ask, because if she doesn't know any different, she can take it to mean for everything that's happened between them, and at the moment it's the option that she wants.
"Me too," says Cameron gently, as the cart comes to a stop at their gate.
Chase refuses the aid of the wheelchair offered by the cart driver, and Cameron doesn't have any choice but to watch him make his way precariously toward the bank of chairs as she drags their luggage behind him. Odd looks seem to be coming from every direction—even she can't ignore them anymore—and Cameron feels the sudden urge to snap at anyone who dares look.
At some point, after the first few hellish minutes on the plane, during which Chase had been certain his head was going to explode, he'd fallen asleep. And now he's awake again, his head in Cameron's lap, body twisted sideways and draped over the empty seat between them. Her arm is over his shoulder and he tries not to move, feeling comfortable for the first time in days. When she doesn't say anything, he turns his head slightly and looks up at her sleeping face.
The flight attendant stops by their aisle and raises an eyebrow. "Can I get you anything?" she mouths and he whisper back, asking for a blanket and a bottle of water.
He's been as quiet as possible, but Cameron stirs anyway, her breathing betraying the fact that she's awake a long moment before she makes any move to acknowledge him.
"Hey," she says finally, her voice slightly husky with sleep. Chase looks up at her again, smiling when he notices that the pattern of the seatback has left tiny pink marks on her cheek. For a moment he wants to reach up and touch them, brush his fingers over her skin just to remind himself that this isn't a dream. Except that it is, when he gets right down to it, and he can't let himself forget that, not if he doesn't want to end up broken again.
"What?" Cameron asks, her look of confusion blossoming into a smile of her own.
"You've got sleep lines," he says, gesturing to her face. Then he grins and teases, "A little bit of drool too, right there."
"Hey!" She pokes him in the shoulder but wipes the corner of her mouth anyway. It's the first moment in a long time that hasn't been tainted by panic or a vague sense of dread, broken only when the attendant brings back a blanket and Cameron helps him sit up. She softens when she sees his face, and seems reluctant to move her arm, even after he's sitting up straight.
"How are you feeling?" she asks, her hand moving to rest at the back of his neck, playing gently with his hair. She traces a finger down the back of his neck and he shivers; her touches have become familiar in ways that he never thought they would be, ways that he's always hoped for. But, he tells himself, it's not real. This is not real. She's taking care of him, like she would take care of any acquaintance. It doesn't mean anything.
"Pretty good." In truth, the change in orientation has brought previously unknown sore spots into stark relief, his head spinning slightly. But it's not so bad, not right now.
"That's good." Cameron looks radiant, like the simple fact that he's feeling less awful than before has momentarily brightened her entire world. He wonders how many times she's looked like this before, and what horrors she's witnessed to give her the quiet surety she's showed over the past few weeks. He knows nothing about her, he's beginning to realize. Nothing beyond the shallow observations, the ripples at the surface she's allowed him to see.
Chase takes the water carefully, trying to keep his hands from shaking. Twisting off the cap is a major effort, reminding him just how quickly his limbs have been seemingly turned into rubber. He can see Cameron watching him in his peripheral vision, but he forces himself not to turn and look at her until he finally breaks the seal. The motion sends a twinge of pain through the wrist where one of his many IV's has left a bruise, but the satisfaction of having accomplished even this small task for himself more than makes up for the discomfort.
"Sorry for falling asleep on you," he says at last, because it seems like the right thing to do. "You've probably got work to catch up on."
She doesn't answer right away. "Not really. I—ah—had a lot of time to work on things this last week."
Which, he supposes, is true. Despite his perception that she'd been by his side constantly, he has been sleeping close to twenty hours a day. Who knows how she'd spent the rest of her time alone at the hospital in an unfamiliar city. It makes him uncomfortable again, to think that she's done this solely for him and he resolves to pay her back as soon as he's able. He feels her other hand on his knee and looks back at her. "Sorry. Still a little out of it, I guess."
She squeezes his knee and smiles. "Yeah, you are. It's okay. This is plane time. It doesn't really exist. Three hours are going to disappear while we're up here. So you can sleep or watch the movie or whatever."
"I don't care, as long as—" Chase catches himself and closes his mouth again, because telling Cameron that he wants to spend time with her is most definitely not acceptable, even if he doesn't know which of her rules still apply.
"What?" prompts Cameron, looking at him curiously.
"Nothing." Chase glances out the window, cringing at the sudden light when the sun emerges from behind a cloud bank. "I guess we're paying for the three hours we gained when we came out here, right?"
"Didn't need them anyway." Cameron smiles again and leans forward for the bag under the middle seat. "Do you think you could eat anything? I got some crackers and sandwiches and cookies and things."
He frowns without thinking, but finds himself nodding; his stomach is empty, after all. "Maybe just the crackers." He takes the offered package and starts to nibble, giving ample time for his stomach to decide to rebel. When nothing happens, he finishes the pack and looks over to the open package of Oreos in Cameron's lap. "You going to eat that?"
She laughs. "I was planning on it, yes. But I guess you can have one, if you ask nicely."
Chase raises his eyebrows and grabs for the cookie. "Cameron, may I please have this cookie?" He bites into it before she can answer.
Cameron likes to think that she's in control now, that all her years of training have transformed her from a helpless undergrad struggling with a difficult marriage and a crueler reality. She likes to think that she knows how to take care of people, particularly when they are people she cares about. Sometime over the course of the past three weeks, between sleeping in waiting room chairs and arguing with doctors reluctant to accept her status as their peer, Chase has slipped into that category.
It's late by the time the dusty old cab turns onto her street. She feels like they've been through a warzone, or perhaps lost on a journey home through impenetrable jungles. She can't even begin to imagine what Chase must feel like, with his world turned upside down, and literally spinning off its axes. He's fallen asleep against her shoulder, and she doesn't know what to think about the fact that the weight and warmth of his body against hers has become familiar, even comforting.
"Hey," she murmurs softly, leaning close to his ear as the cab slows. Chase shifts his head against her shoulder, blinking blearily up at her through hair that's fallen into his eyes. Cameron gently brushes it aside, forcing herself to ignore the sudden impulse to kiss him. That isn't what this is about, after all. "We're here."
It takes a few moments for him to be aware enough to push himself up and away from her and a few seconds more for him to start apologizing. "Sorry, still kind of tired." She watches him again and starts when the cabdriver clears his throat.
She helps Chase out of the car, leaving him leaning against the side of the cab. It's a cold night, and she hurries back when the fare is settled and the cabdriver is opening up the trunk. He's still vertical, so that's a plus. It's only when the bags start piling on the sidewalk that she sighs; there's too much for one trip, not with just her and trying to support Chase on the trip to her front door.
Chase looks over at her and then at the bags. "I can take some. One of the roller bags and my backpack."
She sighs again. "I can't ask you to do that. We can just—I'll pay the cabdriver to wait." Chase doesn't listen and stands up straighter, moving towards the bags and hoisting the backpack over his shoulder, almost losing his balance.
Cameron hurries over to help him, wrapping an arm around his waist. He lets her steady him, but refuses to relinquish the backpack, giving her the look that says he's in control of everything, even though he clearly isn't. Watching their exchange, the cabdriver grabs the two rolling bags, taking them to the front door before Cameron can protest. Sighing, she holds out an extra five dollar bill for him, then helps Chase up to the door so the driver can pull out.
"You—don't have to do this, you know," he says.
Cameron glances at him as she pulls her keys from the bottom of her purse. "You know I do."
"But you don't! I can be out of here after tonight. I can—find someone to—" Chase trails off and shrugs, failing to convince even himself.
"It's just for a little while," she says, not sure who she's saying it to. Cameron tucks the suitcases inside the front entrance and makes a first trip to the elevator with Chase, leaving him leaning on a table across from the door and going back for the rest of the bags. It doesn't take much to get them situated, and soon she's at her front door with Chase following close behind.
Once everything's inside, it's just them and it strikes her that this is the first time he's been in her apartment for reasons other than sex. The realization hangs in the air between them, and she's sure she can see it in his face. Well, that and utter exhaustion. "You okay?" she asks, putting aside her own discomfort to address his.
He swallows and she moves closer, ready to steady him if he needs it. "Just—I need to sit down. Sorry."
"Don't be." She guides him past the couch and to her bedroom, helping him sit down on the bed and going back to turn on the lights. "You want your pajamas?"
"Cameron, what am I doing here? This is your bed. I can take the couch." He looks up at her, confusion and renewed pain evident in the lines of his face. She ignores him and goes for his bag, bringing it back into the room and setting it next to him on the bed.
He looks at the bag. "Who packed that?"
"I did," says Cameron without hesitation, wondering why he's asking. He's been in the hospital the whole time, and they haven't been back to the hotel. But then it occurs to her that he might not remember the night he got sick, might not know what state his room was left in. Suddenly she finds herself hoping that he's forgotten her initial dismissal, her refusal to help until it was very nearly too late.
"I-thanks," says Chase distractedly, very obviously bothered. He makes himself busy digging through the bag, and Cameron wonders whether she ought to leave him alone. But the tension keeps her rooted there, as magnetic as it is uncomfortable.
"It was fine," she says finally, and Chase looks up abruptly. "I mean- you're welcome. But it wasn't any trouble."
Chase nods once, and finally manages to pull pajamas and toothbrush from his bag, evidently too exhausted to protest anything further. He swallows hard once, and glances toward the hall before looking awkwardly back at her. "Could you-help me to the bathroom?"
He stops her at the door, determined to at least dress himself. It takes a long time and he's short of breath after just lifting his arms to pull off his shirt, but he isn't about to put her through the humiliation of actually dressing him. Not after knowing that Cameron saw his hotel room in the state he left it. He doesn't remember much about that night, but the first few hours, before he knew it was really bad, were a blur of pain and nausea, with every room receiving a bit of disgusting decoration. And now there's no hiding.
He struggles to stay upright while brushing his teeth, his balance worse the more tired he is. Cameron meets him at the door when he finally manages to get it open; he realizes he's left his dirty clothes in a pile on the counter, but at least she's saved him from the indignity of having to call her in from another room.
"Sorry," he mutters. "I'll get that--in the morning. Sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Cameron says for what seems like the umpteenth time this day. He keeps expecting the sincerity of it to fade, to turn back into the dismissive impatience with which she regarded him before. But it doesn't change, and she keeps being gentle. It's like some kind of a switch has been flipped, or possibly like he's spent the past three months in janitor's closets with Cameron's evil twin, only to have his sudden sickness free her compassionate counterpart. He nearly laughs at himself for that thought, but it's a cruel twist, being suddenly so close to what he's wanted all this time and knowing that it isn't real.
Cameron guides him back to the edge of her bed and holds the covers aside so that he can stretch out. Chase thinks about protesting again, offering to take the couch, but he's too tired to make it on his own, and asking for her help seems almost worse.
"Go to sleep," she says softly, perching on the edge of the bed and running a hand down his back.