NOTE: This assumes that the restaurant scene in the ending montage of Wilson's Heart took place the day after the end of this fic. Make of that what you will.
WARNING: Season Four spoilers.
Don't You (Wait for Me)
Cameron counts lasts.
Everyone notices first times, celebrates them, remembers them. But there's a last time for everything too, and life has taught her that they are equally precious. There are already too many that she's forgotten.
The last day she spent as a naïve undergrad, with no bigger worry than her calculus grade. The last time she even considered a career other than medicine. The last moment she hoped for a miraculous remission.
Gone. Faded into the mists of ambiguity.
The only way to really be sure she remembers the lasts is to set limits and create them for herself.
She thinks of this as her second life. Or maybe her third. Life after the life that she'd thought was her second chance.
Time divided into life before marriage, the painfully quick process of growing up and transforming her grief into medical knowledge, and now…this.
Her last day working for House. Running away from Chase. Resisting the person she's started to become.
She's losing track again; the rules no longer seem to apply.
Everyone expects her to fail miserably. Pretty, sweet, idealistic Allison Cameron tossed into the wilds of emergency medicine. And not just thrown into the fray, put in front of it and handed a director's baton.
Pretty, sweet, idealistic Allison Cameron who cries with her patients.
Everyone is wrong.
She falls in love with the idea the moment Cuddy offers her the job.
"Severe head trauma, adult male. Car flipped off an overpass. ETA five minutes."
It's her first day on the job, and already the horrors are coming in droves. It's a Friday morning, the light still too gray to look as if it's from the sun, the mist of rain turning the roads deadly.
Later, she learns that this kind of morning will bring her many different kinds of tragedy.
"Prep Trauma One," Cameron orders. "And get a neurosurgeon down here."
Three years ago, she would have frozen.
She talked to Chase once, just after she met him, about working with the critically ill. At the time, she couldn't imagine anyone doing it by choice. At the time, she thought she knew from her one very personal experience exactly what it had to be like.
"Chance to make a difference." He'd shrugged, like he'd chosen his specialty by throwing a dart at some numbers on a wall.
"I thought making a difference was why we became doctors in the first place," she'd argued. "Why intensive care?"
"Chance to make a difference," Chase had repeated.
"It's not a chance to make a difference!" Apathy had always bothered Cameron, particularly when it concerned the things that had made major impacts on her life. "You don't know. It's just—pointless most of the time. Giving people false hope when there's nothing you can do."
Chase had given her a long, scrutinizing glance before offering the barest hint of a smile. "No. You don't know."
And she hadn't. Not then.
The baby dies within five minutes of the ambulance's arrival. Cameron tells herself there was nothing anyone could have done.
"Sometimes it's just like that," says Chase, when she finds him in the lounge on a particularly bad day.
"But it isn't fair!" She sounds like a petulant five-year-old, she knows.
"People die." Chase is calm, as ever. "It's just your job to do what you can. If you can't do anything—well, knowing that is part of your job too."
Cameron sighs heavily.
"Not quite like anything else, is it?" he asks softly. He sounds like he misses it.
The little girl isn't breathing when she's brought in. Found at the bottom of a swimming pool, the call had said. Her parents walked away for five minutes, and when they looked back it was already too late.
The pediatric laryngoscope feels clumsy and too big in Cameron's hands. As she keeps her eye glued to the white of the little girl's vocal cords, she thinks of all the times she's watched Chase do this, yelled at him to hurry up.
Then finally the tube is in place, the ventilator switched on, and Cameron starts to breathe again herself.
Nine hours later, the girl opens her eyes and asks for her mother.
This day, Cameron is certain she has the best job in the world. A chance to make a difference.
The kid's face is an unrecognizable mess of blood and shattered cartilage. Cameron can tell by the way his entire skull moves under her gloved hands that the bone is wrecked; his brain is probably a mass of dead tissue now, lacerated by the fragments.
Still, she picks up the defibrillator and tries to restart his heart until a neurologist can get there to make a final call on brain function.
It's almost a relief when eight minutes pass without so much as a thready pulse.
She learns later that the boy has just graduated college, and was hit by a drunk driver on his way home from his party. His friends have been sitting loyally in the waiting room all night.
When the nurses go on strike, Cameron realizes how much she's come to rely on her staff.
She'd grown accustomed to working with only Chase and Foreman. To doing all of their own lab work, all of their own patient monitoring and care.
The concept of working with nurses is a new one, and it isn't until they are suddenly gone that she realizes just how much they are the glue that keep her emergency room in one piece at all times. It makes her feel strangely safe, realizing how many people she has at her back on a daily basis.
"I just treated a man in handcuffs," she says, sneaking up behind Chase in the cafeteria.
He jumps a little, then gives her a look which says he knows that isn't the end of the story. "Yeah? And what's so notable about that?"
"He was in for severe dehydration. Apparently, he said a few choice words to his girlfriend during sex, and she decided to leave him locked to the bed. Naked. He was stuck there for two days, until a co-worker came by looking for him."
Chase raises his eyebrows, apparently impressed. "Mental note. Hide an extra key within reach."
Cameron laughs, and steals a chocolate chip off the top of his brownie.
"Bus crash on Palmer. Multiple traumas, ETA ten minutes."
It's just another call.
Later, she sees House with his blood-soaked hair, and knows that hers will be one of the lives changed by this night.
Cameron understands now. Amber's death is tragic to her because it is close to them. Because Amber is Wilson's girlfriend, and Kutner, Taub, and Thirteen's former colleague. She is House's one-time adversary. To her patients, she is the woman who saved their life.
But how many more losses have there been this night?
This is where the lines blurs, behind the thin blue curtains whose job it is to mask each tragedy from the rest of the world. The moment when reality shifts, from the last seconds of identity into the first of the afterlife in other people's memories.
Cameron understands this, and somehow, layered within that realization is the knowledge that she now shares this with Chase as well.
When the adrenaline has faded, she feels nothing but the tiredness of ending a very long shift, and the hollow sadness of a loss among those she's come to regard as her chosen family. Nothing for the other patients who have died this day, who have left her care with life-changing injuries.
She can't say how it happened, or when her last patient ceased to be a person she could connect to and became a series of problems to solve.
She thinks maybe she ought to hate herself for what she's finally and inadvertently lost, but all she feels is relief.
When she gets home, it looks like the abandoned site of a disaster.
It's been three and a half weeks since they found the apartment; nearly two months since Chase asked her to move in with him, voice taut with that newfound brashness which still smacks a little of a child wearing his father's tie and too-big loafers. Except that House has never worn ties, and Chase's childhood ended thirty years ago.
Cameron throws her bag tiredly in the direction of the couch, then walks around and opens all the windows so the apartment smells like night rain.
Maybe tomorrow, she thinks, they will have a chance to finally finish settling in. But she's thought it every night for almost a month now, and the call always comes.
Chase comes in just after sunrise. Their new lives have put them on opposite tracks, so that she's ahead, and he's always trying to catch up. They're learning, still, to find the middle ground.
Cameron's in the kitchen, making coffee in the pot which was the first item unpacked after the move. She's not quite used to living with another person, and the scrape of Chase's key in the lock makes her jump.
"Hey," he says softly, coming up behind her to wrap his arms around her waist as the coffeepot gurgles another ending.
Cameron turns and hugs him wordlessly, feeling the exhaustion of the previous forty eight hours in the way he leans into her embrace. Chase doesn't complain, at least not when it's important.
"What's up?" she asks after a moment, when he doesn't let go and step away like usual.
"Just…wanted you to know how much I love you." He speaks the words directly into her ear, voice low and intense, fingers playing with the neck of her t-shirt.
"I'm not going anywhere, babe." The endearment falls from her lips like she uses it every night, her greeting for him when he comes home. She doesn't. It's not a reply to his statement, but an answer to the past year, and twenty four hours spent watching someone else's girlfriend die.
Chase nods into her neck. Cameron walks him backwards toward the couch, and lets him pull the pins out of her hair so that he can run his fingers through it.
Cameron thinks of this as her second life. Or maybe her third. Life after the life that she'd thought was her second chance.
There will be others, she is sure now.