NOTES: So this chapter got extremely long, but I figured you guys would kill me if I split it. And it is a hiatus fic, after all, so it's finished just in time. I hope you enjoy. As always, feedback is love.
Instinctively, without a pause for thought or breath, Chase runs. Nothing matters but getting down to the ER as immediately as possible. Not the four floors between him and his target, or the police barring the doors, or the pain in his head. Not the fact that this will almost certainly spell his death.
The door to the bathroom he took refuge in earlier goes by in a surreal flash. If only he'd stayed in there, Chase thinks. If only Foreman hadn't come to find him, or he'd insisted on staying uninvolved, perhaps House would have managed to buy them enough time for Richard to harmlessly expend his strength. Chase realizes suddenly and painfully that House would have known this all along, that it was probably the purpose of the games with Wilson. And now he's ruined it again, destroyed everything important in his life by doing nothing more than trying desperately to hold on.
Cameron is almost certainly dead or dying right now, and the agony of that thought propels him forward. There are hospital security guards in front of the elevator doors, and Chase flies past them toward the stairwell at the end of the hall. This is his fault, unequivocally and unquestionably. He thinks he ought to get away, far away, before he has the chance to do more harm. But it hurts too much to stay still right now, and the only direction he knows how to move is forward—as he always has—toward the feeble hope of a last chance still to make things right.
There are security guards at the stairwell too, but Chase pushes past them roughly, adrenaline easily overpowering them in their exhaustion. He doesn't wait to see if they're following, just keeps running, sprinting down the steps two at a time. At the bottom of the last level, he stumbles and goes sprawling, the sharp shock of pain in his ankle almost a relief as it eclipses his racing thoughts for an instant. In seconds he forces himself up again, pushing the door open so quickly that it smacks into the shoulder of the surprised security guard on the other side.
The hallway is empty, the SWAT team nowhere to be seen, but Chase doesn't even pause to find out what that means. The glass doors to the ER are closed tightly, but he's not to be deterred, not for anything now. Grabbing a chair from the nearby information desk, he uses it like a four-pronged battering ram, driving it into the barrier until there's a smashing explosion of shards raining down from overhead. Chase is vaguely aware of the security guard he's passed shouting at him as he barrels ahead through the hole in the door.
He doesn't make it ten feet inside before being confronted by four members of the SWAT team, guns raised. For a moment he simply freezes, feeling the impact of his mad dash truly for the first time. His head is pounding painfully in tandem with his ankle, his breathing so ragged that little gold pinwheels of oxygen deprivation are dancing across his field of vision. Still, he can think only of Cameron, and that the last seconds of her life could be slipping through his fingers.
"I'm a doctor," he manages at last, realizing he must look to them like a patient newly escaped from the psych ward. "I was—I was working with Dr. House in the—negotiations. I heard someone was shot." Chase swallows convulsively. "I can help."
The officer in charge lowers his gun, and the other three follow, the one standing furthest back motioning Chase toward the nurses' station on the other side of the ER. "Over there. Behind the counter. We've secured his weapon, but—Well, you'll see. It's good that you came."
On rubbery legs, Chase makes his way over to the nurses' station, eyes everywhere at once and refusing to focus on anything. When they finally do still, it is on Richard first. He is curled on his side, eyes closed, body wracked by the violent convulsions of a grand mal seizure.
Steeling himself, Chase finally looks toward the back corner, where he instinctively knows Cameron is, lying completely motionless. Biting his lip in a desperate attempt to stay calm, he sinks to his knees beside her, shakily brushing hair away from the bloodied wound on her temple. He's been too late all along, he realizes, the fact spreading through his body like ice, sapping the strength of adrenaline. A shot like this would be absolutely fatal in a split second.
"Chase?" she whispers, eyelids fluttering open, and he nearly jumps out of his skin in shock.
"How—" he manages, still gaping at her. "He—shot you."
"Not there," Cameron mumbles, biting her lip as her teeth chatter a little. "He had a seizure. Missed." With great effort, she pulls the bottom of her undershirt up to reveal a neat entrance wound, at the perfect angle to have damaged any one of her vital organs, or even a lung. The blood on her forehead is only a cut, Chase realizes, though it's little comfort now.
"Oh, god," he whispers, momentary relief replaced immediately with a fresh wave of panic. She's shivering, he realizes, as he feels the cool skin of her forehead, recognizing the beginning of shock. "Okay. Just—stay with me, okay? I have to get some things."
Cameron nods weakly and drops her hand back down to her side, shuddering a bit more violently. Rushing to the nearest gurney, Chase pulls it over clumsily, trying to keep half an eye on her at the same time. She needs fluids immediately, he knows, and he isn't going to be able to start an IV easily with her lying on the floor. Kneeling back down, he brushes his hand over Cameron's forehead, and she jumps a little.
"I need to move you, okay?" Chase waits for her second nod before slipping his arms under her shoulders and knees, trying to lift her to the gurney as smoothly as possible so as not to aggravate the bleeding. Only now does he notice the blood-soaked fabric covering her arms, and the remains of her scrub shirt in a tangled crimson mess on the floor. She'll need a transfusion, he thinks, but there's no time to call the blood bank now. Getting her settled on her back, he makes his way to the warmer in the corner of the supply room, pulling out several heated blankets and an armful of towels.
Cameron has her eyes closed again when he gets back and starts spreading the linens over her, and Chase shakes her shoulder urgently, desperate to keep her conscious. "Need your help," he says, piling towels to elevate her feet. "Tell me where you keep the IV supplies. And the Ringer's Lactate."
"That side." Cameron gestures to the other supply closet with her head, then frowns. "But I don't need—"
"Yes, you do," Chase interrupts, hurrying off again.
Somehow he manages to find the supplies, almost as though his hands are working on autopilot, thoughts still racing. He can't allow himself to feel relief yet as he slips the IV needle beneath her skin and gets the line started. This bullet could still prove as fatal as the head wound he's had in his mind, possibly in an even more cruel and painful way. They can't know until she's in surgery, and that still seems eons away at the moment. He doesn't hear the ER fill with people behind him, too intent on getting Cameron stabilized. It isn't until he turns around to wheel the gurney out the door that Chase sees them all. Cuddy, with Foreman at her shoulder. House a few paces back, Wilson standing in front of him like a human barrier. Kutner, Taub, and Thirteen. The members of Cameron's ER staff who have been waiting things out elsewhere in the building.
"Chase," Cuddy says gently, in what he knows instinctively is the beginning of a reprimand.
"She needs to get to surgery right now," he says quickly, before Cuddy can get any further. "Someone call the OR. Tell them we're on our way."
But Cuddy only shakes her head. "Dr. Foreman will take her up. You know you can't go."
"It's my department," Chase begins. "I need to be—"
"No," Cameron interrupts, surprising him with the sudden strength in her voice. "You need to help Richard. He's—he's still seizing. Maybe—there's something you can do."
"What?" Everyone turns to stare at her in shock, and it takes Chase an effort to find his voice again. "He shot you. Tried to kill you. You want me to—I can't."
"He doesn't want this," Cameron insists, trying to lift her head. "I saw it. It's—the brain tumor's taken over. This isn't who he is."
"Call the OR," Cuddy orders, and Wilson rushes off toward the nearest phone.
"Please," Cameron pleads, energy fading fast. "Please trust me."
Trembling, Chase leans over and brushes a kiss against her forehead before whispering in her ear, overwhelmed. "I do. And I love you. Please hold on."
Stepping back, he watches numbly as Foreman takes the gurney and wheels it out the door. Nearly everyone else follows, the crowd dispersing almost as quickly as it's formed. Then, Chase forces himself into motion again, kneeling to take Richard's vitals, the only thought in his mind that if this turns out to be her final wish, he'll do his damndest to make it come true.
The first thing Cameron becomes aware of is the quiet. It's not silent by any means, but the noises around her are small and detailed so that her mind has to reach for them to interpret their meaning. Close by, there is the soft beeping of a monitor, comforting in its familiarity. In the background, like a chorus, are more monitors, and the warm murmuring sounds of people talking quietly. It's nothing like the din of the ER, nobody screaming or crying or moaning in pain. It's cold in the room, but she's covered in heated blankets, and for a moment Cameron lets the heaviness of her eyelids shield her from the reality of her surroundings, slowly convincing herself that this is real and the ordeal is over.
She can't say whether she's been drifting for minutes or hours when the sound of footsteps and the rustling of people standing around her bed rouses her from the safety of oblivion. Finally making the effort to open her eyes, Cameron blinks the post-op recovery room into focus until she can make out the faces of Foreman and Cuddy. For a second she can't find her voice, and has to swallow several times against the sharp dryness at the back of her throat before she's able to speak.
"What happened?" she manages at last, hoarsely. Her head and side ache dully, she realizes as she allows herself to take in more, and her arms are covered in thick gauze bandages.
"Dr. Foreman got you up to surgery immediately," Cuddy says quietly, pulling the curtain closed around Cameron's bed, blocking them off from the rest of the room. "You lost a lot of blood, and were in shock initially, but Chase did a good job keeping you stable until the rest of us got there."
"And—the gunshot?" Cameron asks, almost afraid to know the answer, though logic says she'd have been told by now if it was truly bad news.
"It was surprisingly superficial," Foreman answers. "It lodged itself just below your diaphragm. The trauma team removed the bullet, but could find no damage to your internal organs. There's still a risk, but—"
"It looks like you got very lucky," Cuddy interrupts. "That shot was one in a million. We've started you on antibiotics, and we're going to keep you overnight for observation."
Cameron nods absently, the skeptic in the back of her mind struggling to accept the reality of her situation. She's never considered herself a particularly lucky person, hasn't believed in fate or god since her life was shattered fifteen years ago. Yet, considering the circumstances, it seems as though it must be far more than a very fortunate accident that's delivered her to this here and now.
"Dr. Cameron," Cuddy continues, drawing her attention back to the present. "You also have more than forty stitches between the cuts on your head and arms. After you go home tomorrow, I want you to rest. And I mean that. Take the next two weeks off. I don't want to see you back here until after New Year's, at least. And if you'd like to talk about reassignment then, I'm sure we can work something out."
"No," Cameron answers, immediately and firmly. The feeling is an instinct, again defying explanation by the rational part of her brain. The ER is her home now, as certainly as the diagnostics office once was. She isn't ready to give it up, abandon it and all of its patrons—each clutching at their last thread in the fabric of hope—in the care of someone else. "I'll take the time off. But I want to keep my job."
Cuddy frowns. "Cameron, after what happened, everyone will understand—"
"It doesn't matter," Cameron snaps, suddenly impassioned in the defense of her job. "House got shot working in diagnostics. Foreman got amoebiasis and almost died working for House. I could—walk out my front door tomorrow and get hit by a car. The thing that caused this was a tumor, not a human being. That's what I fight every day. And I'm not stopping."
For a moment, Cuddy and Foreman just look at her before he takes a stand. "She's right. It's exactly what I did."
Cuddy looks uncertain, but nods anyway. "Well, if you change your mind."
"Where's Chase?" Cameron asks abruptly, glad to change the subject.
"I told him to go get some rest in the on-call room," Cuddy answers, sounding equally relieved not to be discussing reassignment anymore. "He was—sort of a mess. Your surgery's been over for a couple hours, but I thought you could use the sleep."
"Is he okay?" Cameron insists, suddenly worried again.
"He's fine," Cuddy assures her quickly. "Although you might want to keep him away from House for a while. Chase threw a punch, and I'm not sure House understands the concept of karma."
"Chase punched him?" Cameron stares at her, honestly shocked. "What are you going to do?"
But Cuddy only shrugs. "It was self defense. And a long time overdue, if you ask me."
They are interrupted by a nurse whom Cameron vaguely recognizes, but can't quite remember a name for. She quietly attaches another bag to Cameron's IV before turning to Cuddy. "Report called. The room is ready. Should I call transport?"
"No." Foreman holds up a hand, subtly gesturing for the nurse to leave them alone. "I'll take her up."
Settling back against the pillows, Cameron relaxes into the haze of the new medication, lazily watching Foreman disconnect her various monitors for the move. By the time he's rolling the bed down the hall toward the elevator, the monotony of the ceiling tiles has lulled her back to sleep.
The second time Cameron comes to the surface of the drug and exhaustion-induced darkness, she's in one of the nicest private rooms in the hospital. Cuddy must have pulled strings, she realizes, looking irritably at the fake plant attempting to obscure the tangle of cords from the various monitors attached to her bed. It's a kind gesture, she knows, but the last thing she wants at the moment is to be coddled like some fragile flower. It makes the residual feelings of helplessness loom large in her mind again, cold and hair-raising at the back of her neck like the ghost of Richard's gun. A knock on the frame of her open door makes Cameron jump and catch her breath.
"Sorry," Chase says softly, moving over to stand in the corner next to the head of her bed. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay." Cameron swallows, remembering his face in the ER, and the fear in his voice as he'd whispered in her ear. The night is too close again, and suddenly being protected doesn't seem like such a bad thing after all.
Chase clears his throat, clasping his hands behind his back in an oddly formal gesture. "I just wanted to check in, see how you're doing. Your surgery went well. So far your labs have been good, although we'll be following up over the next twenty four hours to be doubly sure there weren't any complications."
"Chase—" Cameron starts, recognizing what he's doing. These are the things he would be telling any post-surgical patient on his daily rounds.
"If there's no change, you can be discharged in the morning," he continues. His voice is deceptively even, but she can see in the tension of his jaw and the muscle that's jumping in his temple that he's terribly upset. "You'll have to change the bandages on your incision at least twice a day for the next couple of weeks. You can shower and everything like usual, but you shouldn't do anything that requires exertion at least until your stitches are out."
"Chase," she tries again, more plaintively this time, but he soldiers ahead, avoiding her eyes.
"So, we'll continue to monitor you throughout the night, and in the morning, the charge nurse will be in to see you about your paperwork." Clearing his throat again, Chase shifts his weight back onto his heels ever so slightly. "Is there—anything else you need?"
"Yeah," Cameron says quietly, purposefully finding his eyes with her own and searching until she can see past the professional façade she's no longer used to having directed at her. "I had a really awful night, so if you don't mind, could you please ask the nurses if they can find my boyfriend? I really need to see him."
"What?" Chase swallows visibly and rocks forward again, almost unsteadily.
"Just come over here?" she asks, voice breaking a little this time. "Please?"
Chase hesitates for another long moment, blinking rapidly, before quickly crossing the remaining distance and sitting on the edge of her bed. He keeps his eyes on the floor, one hand gripping the edge of the blanket. Carefully, Cameron sits up as far as she can, ignoring the slight protesting from the stitches in her abdomen. Physical pain is the last thing on her mind right now, completely overshadowed by the need to have things be right with him. Tentatively, she rests a hand on his shoulder, and Chase inhales sharply, his entire body going taut.
"It's okay," Cameron whispers. "You won't hurt me."
Chase flinches at that, turning very slowly to face her, his eyes almost wild with emotion. For a moment he just sits still, drawing long, shaky breaths. Cameron reaches out again, laying her hand against the side of his face, and everything breaks. In one fluid motion, Chase pulls his legs up onto the side of the bed, wrapping an arm around her and hiding his face in her shoulder as he starts to cry quietly. Turning as much as she can, Cameron hugs back desperately, at once overwhelmed with relief and the sudden enormous weight of what's happened in the past twenty four hours. His breath is warm against her neck, the heat of his tears drawing to the surface the release of emotions she hasn't yet allowed herself to feel until she's sobbing too, hands fisted in the back of his shirt.
"I got you shot," he murmurs brokenly, lips brushing her earlobe. "Thought I got you killed."
"No." Cameron swallows hard, willing the words past the huge lump in her throat. "You saved my life."
Chase shudders in response, a harsh sob slipping from his throat. "I—I shouldn't have—I was going to stay away. Let House handle it. But then Foreman came to find me, and I thought—" He breaks off again and sits up a little to look at her, swiping a hand across his eyes.
"What?" Cameron prompts, suddenly needing to know everything.
"I thought we had a way to save you," Chase answers, voice barely audible. "I didn't even think to—Fuck. I'm sorry."
Cameron shakes her head again, more vehemently this time. "Something had to give eventually. He'd started shooting people already. If we'd just kept stalling—" She closes her eyes for a second and swallows, willing herself not to picture the rest of that scenario. "It was—I don't know. Lucky. Maybe more than lucky. For you to have said what you did when you did—" Cameron shrugs, still struggling with what to make of it. The fear is fading into the background again, leaving in its wake a strange kind of elation, enhanced, she's certain, by the warmth of the drugs.
"You saved my life," she repeats, brushing the backs of her knuckles against his cheek. "Don't question that." Cameron offers him the ghost of a smile. "And I know rounds are in the morning, so don't bother trying that one on me again. Besides, I'm not your patient."
Chase just looks at her, at a loss for words. He's freshly showered, she realizes, and dressed in clean scrubs, but the dark rings under his eyes tell her he hasn't been asleep as Cuddy ordered.
"Are you okay?" Cameron asks, suddenly remembering what she's been told. He clearly is a mess, and she has the sense that she hasn't seen the full extent of it yet. "Foreman said you weren't feeling well."
"Oh." Chase looks taken aback, almost embarrassed. "Yeah. I just—"
Cameron gives him a look that says she's not going to stop prodding until she gets a real answer.
"After we—broke up—" Chase turns his eyes downward again, smoothing wrinkles in the sheet. "I went out and got really drunk. Foreman came to get me after you called House the first time. That's—part of why they wouldn't let me talk to begin with. It was stupid. I'm sorry."
Cameron exhales a long breath, feeling surprisingly relieved. This is proof that she hasn't been so wrong about him or their relationship after all, though she realizes now that she'll have to look closer at the things still left unspoken between them.
"Are you feeling better now?" Cameron asks, and Chase turns to look at her again, surprised. "I'm sure the nurse would bring you anything you want."
"No—it's—You got shot," Chase stammers, wrapping his arm protectively around her shoulders again. "I have a hangover. How can you even—"
"I'm fine," Cameron says firmly. For the moment it's easier not to focus on her own injuries. "I have the good drugs right now. You can worry about me tomorrow when I'm stuck at home."
Chase nods once, his face shifting again into uncertainty. "So—we're okay?"
"Yes," Cameron whispers, laying her hand against the back of his neck and kissing him very gently. Chase makes a little noise in the back of his throat, entire body sagging against the bed as he finally relaxes completely.
"I'm sorry," he repeats quietly. "I should have just told you how I felt. Shouldn't have assumed you knew."
"Well, Cuddy told me to take the next two weeks off." Cameron runs her fingers through his hair, and he shifts to rest his head on her shoulder. "If you want, we can visit my family for New Year's."
"Yeah?" Chase asks, sounding surprised.
She nods. "My mom would be thrilled. I haven't been off on New Year's Eve in ages." It's a slightly terrifying step to take, bringing him home to meet her family, and one she hasn't dared make since the end of her marriage. But it's time, she knows, as if this hasn't been enough of a wake-up call. It's a confidence she more than owes Chase.
"I'd like that," he says softly, shifting to cradle her against his side.
Cameron settles back into the pillows, letting her thoughts drift in the pleasant haze of the drugs and the warmth of his body. But then one final worry asserts itself, so suddenly and unexpectedly that she can hardly believe she's managed to forget until now.
"What happened to Richard?" she asks, breaking the silence.
Chase tenses slightly and blinks. "He's—in a coma. I did what I could, but his brain was already so compromised—Chances are he'll never wake up."
Cameron takes a breath and nods slowly. This seems almost a merciful ending to Richard's fight, she thinks. He's lost himself in the anger and violence of the tumor. At least this way he'll be unaware of his fate.
"Thank you," she says softly, then almost without thinking, "I love you."
Chase's eyes widen, breath catching audibly in his throat. "Do you love me or the morphine?" he asks at last, lightly.
"Possibly both." Cameron rests her forehead against his, willing to leave it at that for today.
Time seems to drift again, first into silence, and then into stillness as well. Cameron watches the light from the window and the shadows on the wall shift from morning into afternoon, her thoughts on the people who have been lost this night. These families whose holiday table will be one seat emptier, who will ring in the new year overshadowed by tragedy.
Much later, when the shadows have lengthened to their fullest, and Chase has fallen asleep on her shoulder, House appears in the doorway. Feeling his eyes on her, Cameron turns instinctively to meet his gaze. After a long pause, House nods once, almost reverently, then turns and leaves without a word.