WARNINGS: season five spoilers, addiction, rough sex
NOTES: I will admit that I have had this idea ever since Saviors, when we all started discussing the possibility of a failed wedding and how devastating it would be to everyone involved. Then Under My Skin came along, and with its messy plotline gave me the perfect opening to branch off of. While I'm really, really glad that didn't happen in canon, I couldn't resist exploring how it might have gone. This is for lynnonpointe and calendae, both of whom had birthdays which I failed to write fic for. I hope this is an acceptable substitute.
God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
-Serenity Prayer, Alcoholics Anonymous
It's an accident when she sees him again.
It's her first day as director of emergency medicine at New York Mercy—her fifth beginning of a new job in as many years. She's just managed to escape to the cafeteria, inhaling the rich and dark scent of coffee, and trying to arm herself with its familiar comfort.
Cameron doesn't even notice him at first. She makes it all the way through the line, has her takeout cup in hand and is reaching for the sugar when they bump elbows. It starts as an annoyance, which turns to a shock as she glances up and finds herself confronted by haunted blue eyes and five years of guilt.
"Chase?" she whispers, surprised by the sound of her own voice. But the moment is over just as quickly as the recognition has come, and he turns to become instantly lost in the lunchtime rush, transient as any ghost.
Cameron is left standing alone, watching the steam drift off her coffee and remembering the decision which has shattered her relationship, her chosen family, and ultimately her life.
A week passes, filled with patients who become a nameless, faceless mass in her once-limitless memory. Cameron holds vigil every day at lunch in the cafeteria, though rationally she can't say why. She hasn't been back to Princeton in the years since she originally left, since everything crumbled and she fled the rubble.
Cameron still has a box of the things that were meant for the wedding—empty photo albums and blank thank-you notes which will never be sent. She pulls them out and looks at them sometimes, late at night when the guilt is worst, like pouring acid on a cut.
She hasn't expected to see Chase ever again, has taken it as a foregone conclusion that the cliff she's stepped off is one she will never again be allowed to traverse.
For a week she sits, waiting with a lukewarm cup of coffee cradled beneath her palms. By the time Wednesday rolls around again, she's started to lose hope that their meeting here was anything more than a coincidence, an accidental cruel trick of fate.
But then she sees him, as clearly as if he was the only one here. He keeps his eyes downcast as he makes his way to the coffee again, pouring a cup and sitting at a table on the other side of the cafeteria. He doesn't see her this time, and Cameron remains seated, watching from afar.
Every Wednesday, it's like clockwork. Chase appears in the cafeteria, silent and almost invisible in the anonymity of so many miserable people.
Every Wednesday, Cameron watches.
He looks worse than she first thought, she decides. He's gotten painfully thin, hair just starting to show a hint of gray. But it is his face that is most striking—a mask of misery Cameron can't help but think she's branded him with.
On the fifth Wednesday since she's started working at Mercy, Cameron plucks up the courage and sits at Chase's table instead of her own, waiting for him to arrive.
He doesn't look directly at anyone, she notices, seemingly lost inside his own body. He doesn't see her until his hand is on the back of his chair, poised to pull it out and sit down. Chase inhales sharply, standing perfectly still for a moment before bringing his gaze to meet hers. Cameron holds her breath, waiting for him to run away again.
"Why are you here?"
"I work here," she answers, trying and failing to keep the tremor out of her voice.
"Great," Chase exclaims bitterly, and turns on his heel to leave.
"Wait." The word is out of her mouth before she's had a chance to think, and she finds herself at a loss as Chase pauses and turns to look at her over his shoulder. "You don't work here, but you come to this cafeteria at the same time every week. Are you—a patient here?"
There's a flutter of something in his eyes, a broken vulnerability that cuts Cameron to her core before disappearing.
Chase shrugs. "You left. Not sure anything else matters, after that."
It's been almost a decade since Cameron worked for House, but she hasn't forgotten the things she's learned. Abandoning her lunchtime watch, she holes up in her office, poring over as much information as she can find. Newspaper articles, personnel files, medical records, until at last she sees what she's looking for.
The next Wednesday, she doesn't wait to see whether her invasion of his table has driven him away from the cafeteria. Making her way through the hospital halls, Cameron bites her lip as she reads the sign which announces that she's reached her destination: Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting, 11 AM.
Chase flinches visibly when he catches sight of her standing outside the conference room, looking both shocked and disgusted to find her here. Cameron stays where she is, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed protectively. Chase comes over, and Cameron recognizes silent rage in the tension of his gait.
"What do you want?" Chase hisses, glancing around nervously.
Cameron chokes, unsure what to say. She's been consumed by the need to see him since their first accidental meeting in the cafeteria, to know whether his life has crumbled as far as hers has. Whether this has broken him as well. But suddenly none of that seems to matter, because she's found him walking out of this meeting, and all she can think is that she's the one responsible.
"Right," Chase says flatly, breaking the silence between them. "Guess I won't be coming back to this group. Wasn't helping much anyway."
"Don't stop!" The words come out forcefully, and Cameron shrinks back against the wall, horrified that she's made a horrible mistake and hurt him again before they've even begun.
Chase frowns, but exhales slowly, giving her the chance to speak.
"I want you to—get help. I won't get in the way."
"Then why are you here?" Chase repeats. "Come to see how badly I've fucked up?" He gestures to the sign outside the conference room. "You were expecting it all along. Waiting for me to fall apart, right?"
Cameron sighs, the familiar tug of guilt tightening her gut. "House would say you've been playing with a handicap. Cheated by genetics."
"House is dead," Chase says simply, though she thinks his tone might be a little less bitter.
Cameron nods once, wondering absently whether he went to the funeral she didn't dare attend.
"I won't even talk to you again, unless you tell me that's what you want." Cameron takes a breath. "I just—need to know that you're okay."
Chase looks at her in silence for a very long moment before walking away.
At night, Cameron sits in the empty cafeteria with yet another cup of coffee, using paperwork as an excuse to avoid her painfully empty apartment. The chair in front of her scrapes loudly across the floor, shattering her thoughts, and Cameron looks up with a start to see Chase sliding into it. She raises her eyebrows, wondering why he's here so late, but keeps her mouth closed for fear that he'll leave again if she says the wrong thing. Chase stares at her for a moment in silence before reaching out and picking up one of the empty packets on the table beside her cup.
"You don't like sugar in your coffee," he says quietly, though there's no one else around to hear.
"I do now." Cameron crosses her forearms on the tabletop, wondering if she ever would have found him again had she not started using it. "It's late. Why are you here?"
"The group switched to night meetings." He stares at his hands. "And I'm not okay."
Sitting up straighter, Cameron closes the file in front of her and resists the urge to reach out and touch him. "Can we go somewhere? Just to talk?"
They end up at the late-night burger stop on the corner, eating off grease-soaked cheap paper plates.
"You should finish that," Cameron says after a while, gesturing to the food left on his plate. "You've lost a lot of weight."
Chase doesn't look at her. "You ruined me," he says, quietly and abruptly.
"What?" Cameron feels a flush of surprise, even through the familiar and ever-present damper of guilt.
"You left." He looks up at her through a curtain of shadows.
"You broke up with me," Cameron protests, defensive in spite of her sense of responsibility. "You called off the wedding. You said that I wasn't enough."
"You disappeared." Soft, but still accusing.
Cameron studies her napkin, shredding it in her fingers. "I left so that you wouldn't have to."
"Thanks," Chase snaps bitterly, and the cashier at the counter glances in their direction.
"You said it," Cameron insists. "I gave you everything I could and then some. You said it would never be enough unless I destroyed—What was I supposed to do? I couldn't do that." Memories of the last fight come flooding back unbidden, closing her throat and stealing her breath. Words she's dreamed every night for five years.
"And you were planning for the end before we'd even gotten married." Chase's hand clenches into a fist on top of the table, knuckles white with strain. "Imagine being with someone who only sees you as an impending disaster."
"It was never like that," Cameron whispers, feeling as though she's suffocating.
Chase looks at her, jaw set. "And I never wanted you to leave."
"Sometimes I think I'll never really get away from you." He's standing in her office doorway, and it's pouring down rain outside.
Cameron looks up from her computer screen, surprised. "What do you mean?"
Chase shrugs, coming further into the room and picking up the fake pink rose that rests in her pencil cup, twirling it delicately between his fingers. "Every time I think I've given up on you, somehow we end up back at this point."
Cameron holds her breath. "And what is this point?"
Chase shrugs again, focusing on the flower.
"Do you want to get away from me?" she asks after a moment.
Chase swallows. "I don't know."
Cameron flinches reflexively, but doesn't respond to that. "Where have you been?"
"Nowhere," Chase says, sticking the flower back into the cup. Then, "Drunk."
"I miss you," Cameron says quietly, picking up the rose herself, as though she can still feel his touch imprinted on the silk.
Chase snorts softly.
The next week, Cameron waits outside the conference room again, a takeout cup in hand. Chase raises his eyebrows when he sees her, but he doesn't look upset this time.
"Hi." Cameron hands him the coffee.
Chase takes it and sips, eyeing her. "Thank you."
Nodding, Cameron walks beside him down the winding hospital hallway. "Did you drive?"
"No. Don't have a car anymore." Chase avoids looking at her by taking another long drink. "Why do you care?"
"I want to know what your life is like." She doesn't add that she feels the unbearable need to know exactly how much pain she's caused.
Chase laughs sardonically. "No, you don't."
They walk to the doors of the hospital in silence, stopping just inside.
"I did destroy it," she says finally and without pretense.
"The sperm." And what hasn't she destroyed, now? "I—tried to use it first."
Chase doesn't react visibly. "And?"
Cameron looks at the floor. "And nothing. Miscarried at ten weeks. Wasn't meant to be."
He flinches almost imperceptibly at that. "I—I haven't been able to work in months. Be out of money soon if I can't get it together."
"I'll help you," Cameron offers. She knows he won't accept, but the words feel right on her tongue.
Chase hasn't forgotten what he learned from House either. She knows because he shows up on her doorstep just as the last of the daylight is vanishing. It's Sunday, her one day off, and Cameron realizes he must have figured this out, along with finding her apartment.
He looks awful, shaking and haunted by some darkness she can't read in his face. Cameron doesn't say anything as she moves back to let him in, and he offers neither greeting nor explanation, just closes the door behind them.
She gasps softly when he steps forward, backing her up until she's pressed against the wall. His breath is hot against her cheek as he rests his palms on either side of her head, and a sudden and overwhelming wave of loneliness washes over her, as if it's radiating off his skin.
"Help me?" Chase whispers hoarsely against her ear.
Cameron nods, knowing exactly what he means. A needy little sound slips from her throat when he lunges to kiss her messily.
The wall is hard against her back and shoulders as Chase strokes roughly with his hips. There is nothing gentle or loving about him now, every motion filled with raw desperation. His nails dig into her shoulders, and he buries his face in her neck when he comes, sobbing raggedly. Cameron wraps her arms around his waist and holds on.
All she can think is how much she misses him.
A week later, Cameron finds him sitting on the bench next to the hospital entrance as she's leaving for the day. She's been working the night shift lately, and the sun has just come up in a cloud-heavy sky. It already smells of rain.
"What are you doing here?" Cameron asks. It's become a routine question now.
"Waiting for you," Chase says simply. They've abandoned all pretense of meeting by accident.
"Why?" Cameron sits beside him on the bench, leaning in close to keep their conversation private.
"I don't know." When he turns, she's surprised by the intensity of his gaze. "Just—felt like I needed to. We should talk."
Cameron takes a breath, heart in her throat. "Should we? Is there—anything left to say?"
Reaching out very slowly, Chase brushes the backs of his knuckles against her cheek, and Cameron shudders. "Maybe not. And—always, somehow."
Swallowing, she leans into his hand a little. "Don't you think it's a little unbelievable? That—all it took was a misunderstanding for us to end up here?"
Chase doesn't respond, and the moment stretches into silence. Between them lie five years of pain and regret, oppressive like the first rumble of thunder from the storm on the horizon. But now, in this instant, Cameron finds that there is only one question left to ask.
Shaking his head, Chase reaches for her hand and laces their fingers. Glancing at him one final time, Cameron leans back against the bench and rests her head on his shoulder.
Overhead, the heavens open up, drenching them in warm summer rain. Neither of them moves.