WARNINGS: violence, season five spoilers
Note: This fic takes the concept of a hostage crisis from Last Resort, but it isn't intended to be the same one. Pretend you just heard the first spoiler about the episode, and this is what it might have turned out to be. If you try to relate this too much to canon, your brain might explode.
It's the week before Christmas when everything blows up in Cameron's face. She's expected madness—her staff has been warning her for days about the annual epidemic of acute stupidity which floods the ER with strung out patients from Thanksgiving to New Years—but the thought hasn't even cross her mind that it might come from within her own life. And especially not from Chase. He is her constant, the rock to come home to after a day's insanity in the warzone that is the ER. In the past two years she's learned that he's patient, willing to wait for her and willing to play the occasional punching bag. So when he suddenly snaps, it comes as a shock.
"Did all the clocks in the ER suddenly break?" He's sitting on the bench just outside the waiting room, face tensed into a glare that Cameron isn't used to having directed at her.
"What?" She's just finished with a car accident victim who came in five minutes before her shift was supposed to end; just given up after an hour's attempt at resuscitation and pronounced the sixteen-year-old kid dead. Little dark spots of blood dot the neckline of her undershirt where they've gotten past her ruined scrubs, and loose pieces of her hair are plastered to her forehead by sweat.
"You're late," Chase says coldly. "Again."
"Sorry," she answers, taken aback by his tone. "Something came up."
"You forget about dinner?" Chase crosses his arms.
"No." Cameron frowns; they've been arguing for weeks about her decision not to go home for the holidays, like spending Christmas without her family is somehow a personal slight against him. But she's chalked it up to the usual ebb and flow of obstacles in their relationship, and hasn't previously considered that anything is seriously wrong between them. "I told you, something came up. With work."
"Right," Chase says dismissively, like he isn't entirely sure that he believes her. Like it isn't enough proof just to look at her.
Cameron bristles, tired and sad and more than a little unsettled now. "Sorry there was a wreck on the interstate. Next time I'll request that no traumas occur after four pm. It's just dinner. Let's go now."
Chase snorts. "With you looking like that? Besides, we've already missed the reservation."
Cameron focuses on the scuff-marked floor, not willing to let him see just how much that hurts. "So we'll go somewhere else. Or we'll order in. Seriously, what is wrong with you?"
"Me?" Chase raises his eyebrows incredulously. "Forget it. I'm going home."
"Great." It's out of her mouth before she's had a chance to think, her anger finally boiling over in full to meet his. "Would you grow up for five minutes and talk to me like an adult?"
"No," Chase sneers, getting to his feet. "I'm done with this."
Cameron takes a shaky breath, heart suddenly in her throat, feeling more blindsided by this than any tragic accident. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I can't deal with this anymore. I can't just wait around on the sidelines of your life and hope that someday you might have time." Chase looks away, which only increases the panic roiling in the pit of Cameron's stomach. He never has any problem meeting her eyes when things are trivial.
"Fine," she snaps, overwhelmed by the day and the death of a child on her watch and now, after everything, his sudden betrayal. She's trusted him not to take for granted the tiny steps she's scaled like mountains for him, and now, in this moment, he's ready to throw it all away in a second. Her voice is pure acid as she stares him down and speaks again. "If you can't deal with the way my life is, then you can get out of it."
Chase flinches visibly, but he doesn't back down as she's expected. Doesn't apologize for snapping, or tell her that everything will be okay. Doesn't even give her an ultimatum to act on. Instead he just nods distantly, eyes fixed raptly on the childrens' painting of a hand-shaped turkey that's been hung on the wall for the holidays.
"Okay," he says resolutely. "I will."
And then he turns and walks away, leaving Cameron frozen in place to choke on her own breath. After a moment, she turns and heads instinctively back to the ER, taking refuge in the numbness of professionalism. She isn't ready to go home yet, to sit in her empty apartment and play over this exchange a hundred times in her mind.
She doesn't see the nondescript man in the brown trench coat, doesn't hear his complaint above all the other patients as she walks past. Doesn't even notice him at all until it's too late.
Foreman starts in the bar that is barely a block away from campus, because it's the easiest and he's still not entirely committed to this crazy mission. It's just like House, he thinks, to concoct a reason to send all potential help away in the middle of a crisis. Still, he can't be entirely sure that this request isn't legitimate, and it's the kind of situation where assumptions lead to tragedy. Besides, if he's honest with himself, the hospital is the last place he wants to be right now anyway. The general air of barely-controlled hysteria serves only to frustrate him, slowing everyone's attempts to bring this situation to a good outcome.
The bar is dark, and filled with smoke and rowdy undergraduates drowning anxiety over impending finals. Foreman's head starts to pound the second the door closes behind him, and he nearly turns right back around to leave again, task abandoned. But then he catches sight of Chase, stooped over a mug in the corner, disheveled hair hanging into his eyes. He seems entirely oblivious to the loud argument going on at the table next to his, though Foreman has to push his way past the two athletic-looking boys who have apparently just discovered they have the same girlfriend.
Foreman stares at Chase for a long moment before speaking, trying to figure out what to say. Sympathy has never been his strong-suit; he has no time for self-pity, and Chase is clearly drunk besides.
"House wasn't kidding when he said to look for you in the crappiest bar in town." Foreman takes a step backward as Chase jerks in surprise, sloshing liquid over the side of his mug. "Trying to follow in your mother's footsteps?"
"House sent you?" Chase asks bitterly, straightening quickly and nearly falling backward out of his chair. "Cameron go running to him? She always did have time for that."
"No," Foreman says tightly. It's obvious something is going on with them, which he probably should have suspected the moment House told him to look for Chase in the nearest bar. But playing personal therapist is the last thing he wants to do right now, and Chase has never known how to keep his god damn problems to himself. He's clearly not going to leave until they discuss whatever it is. Foreman groans inwardly; dealing with a drunk Chase was already going to be bad enough.
"Something happen between you two?" he asks cautiously, really not caring to know the answer.
"She broke up with me," Chase slurs, picking up his mug and downing the rest of it.
"You've had enough," says Foreman, when Chase tries to order another of whatever it is he's drinking. "We have to go." But Chase just keeps talking, evidently not finished yet.
"I told her I want more of her time, and she told me to get out of her life." Chase rakes a hand through his unruly hair, making it look like he's just stuck his hand in an electric socket.
"Yeah," says Foreman dryly. "That sounds like the Cameron I know. Come on, we need to—"
Evidently alcohol makes Chase oblivious to sarcasm, because he continues without pause. "She won't take me home to meet her parents, you know. Says it would be romantic to spend the holidays alone with me. Really she just doesn't want them to see me. Not sure they even know I exist."
"Chase!" Foreman explodes finally. They don't have time for this when there's a tragedy in the making back at the hospital. He especially doesn't have time for this regardless. "If you don't want her to get shot, we have to go."
Chase bursts into drunken laughter and nearly tips his chair over backwards again, apparently not believing him. "What?"
"There's a gunman in the ER." Foreman says it slowly, so will know it's not a joke. "He got tired of waiting for a doctor to see him, so he grabbed Cameron and put a gun to her head."
It would be almost comical watching Chase's reaction if the whole situation wasn't so screwed up. His eyes go cartoonishly wide, face flushing before all the color suddenly drains from it. Foreman is grateful that Chase doesn't have a drink in front of him now, because it would almost certainly end up spilled all over the floor.
"Cameron's in the ER?" Chase asks, swallowing visibly.
"That's what I said," Foreman repeats. "With a gun to her head. And she asked for help diagnosing this patient, so get off your ass and let's get moving."
"She called House?" Chase asks, getting to his feet so quickly that his chair falls over with a loud clatter that makes the frat boys turn and laugh. He bends over clumsily to pick it up, and Foreman has the feeling that he's using the motion to hide.
"Yes. And House called us. Are you coming or not?"
"House is going to get her killed!" Chase practically shouts, earning them more stares.
"Yes," Foreman repeats, even though he thinks it's probably ridiculous hyperbole. Anything to get them out of here and back to the hospital at this point.
Chase stands there looking lost inside himself for a very long moment before turning and throwing up on Foreman's shoes.
The IV alternately itches and stings, the loudest currently in a cacophony of discomforts. Chase scratches at the tape, watching detachedly as the skin around it turns bright red. He's inserted countless IVs in his career, yet can't remember the last time he had one under his own skin. There's a strange feeling of distance as he watches the banana bag drip; he can feel it burning against the back of his hand, yet nothing in this moment seems entirely real.
"Has Cuddy called the police?" Foreman asks in the other room. Chase glances up, looking away from the IV for a moment, and trying to focus on their conversation.
"What, you didn't see the cars outside?" House is standing by the desk in the outer office, swinging his cane like a golf club. "They locked down the ER."
Foreman glances in Chase's direction and lowers his voice before continuing. But it's not enough; glass walls are too thin to keep anything from being heard in the outer office. "Have you called Cameron back yet?"
"Nope." House says it normally, like they're discussing dinner plans, and not a diagnosis that could mean the difference between her life and death. "She said to wait for my team to get here."
"We're not your team anymore!" Foreman cries incredulously, like that's what matters right now.
House makes a face. "You think she wants them on this case? Do you want to get her killed, Foreman?"
Chase stares at his shoes, feeling sick again. He ought to go out there and help, he thinks. But House and Foreman have ordered him to remain right here, and not to move until the IV finishes. He ought to be sober enough to help by now, he wants to say, but at the moment it's too hard to move; to simply shift his weight onto his feet and stand up. It's his fault that this is happening to Cameron, he knows. If he'd just kept quiet a little longer, brought up his complaints over dinner as originally planned, they would be sitting in a restaurant right now.
"I'm dialing," says Foreman firmly, glancing at Chase as though in warning not to move. Chase turns in his chair to get a better view of the outer office as Foreman leans over the phone. The IV tape pulls as Chase moves, making the infusion sting again, and he hisses softly.
"Is everyone there?" Cameron's voice crackles across the speakerphone, only slightly distorted, and Chase feels a feverish chill wash over him. This is confirmation; if he was dreaming, if everyone was somehow mistaken, she would be here right now, scolding House for calling her instead of his new team.
"If by everyone, you mean Foreman," says House, swinging his cane again.
"I'm—here, too," Chase mumbles to himself, disgusted by the drunken sound of his own voice. Cameron won't want him here now, he's sure, particularly not in this condition. He's almost relieved when no one reacts in the other room, apparently not having heard him.
"What?" Cameron sounds surprised, though not exactly panicked, and Chase finds himself wishing suddenly and fervently that he could see her face. "I told you to get your team."
"He is my team," House answers easily, hooking the oversized tennis ball off the desk next to the phone and hurling it toward Foreman, who moves out of the way.
"Go get the others," Cameron insists. "You don't have enough people to—"
"It doesn't matter," a man's voice breaks in. There's something just the slightest bit off about it—filled with tension, but imprecise, wobbling like the soundtrack of an old movie. "We've wasted enough time."
"This is Richard," says Cameron a moment later, the pitch of her voice rising just a little. It isn't much of a reaction given the circumstances, but it's enough for Chase to know it's the gunman who's just spoken. His stomach twists nauseatingly, and he glances at the bucket Foreman's left at his feet just in case.
"Hello, Richard," says Foreman in the slightly condescending tone that always makes Chase wonder how he thinks he's cut out for neurology.
"Tell them your symptoms," Cameron prompts.
"Okay," says Richard's shaky voice, sounding lost now that he's been given his way. "Okay. Um—my head hurts."
"Any fever?" asks Foreman, "Neck stiffness?"
Chase eyes the IV bag, and very slowly gets to his feet, suddenly unable to be in this room with a glass wall between him and the others. He feels terribly far away from Cameron, like she's already been irrevocably taken from him. The glass ought to feel thin in comparison to the four floors and phone line between them, but it's the only obstacle he can overcome at the moment.
"No," says Richard quickly.
"Let him finish," says Cameron firmly, and Chase realizes that she must have heard this entire list of symptoms already. He grabs the IV pole unsteadily and drags it behind him, using it for balance as he shuffles his way slowly to the door.
"My nose runs all the time. And things don't taste right. Everything tastes like—metal." The last word is slightly slurred, sounding almost like it's spoken in a different voice than all the others before it.
"What about medical history?" asks House, as Chase opens the door to the outer office very slowly. He has to brace it with his shoe to get the IV pole through, but neither of the other two men turn throughout the whole painstaking process.
"He has all of his files here," answers Cameron, and there's something different in her voice now, too. Panic, thinks Chase, as he finally comes to a stop a few paces behind Foreman. Whatever she's about to say, it threatens to break through her control. "And he has a diagnosis from Princeton General here, but he'd like a—second opinion."
There's the rustling of papers as Richard apparently pulls the diagnosis from his own file, reading it slowly and painfully over the phone. "Brain tumor. Frontal Lobe." He pauses again before reading the last word. "Inoperable."