WARNINGS: spoilers through the end of Season Five (nothing for Season Six, I promise.
NOTES: Believe it or not, I started this fic over a week ago as a birthday request. Make of it what you will.
We're meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us? -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
It takes Chase nearly five months to work up the courage to ask.
In the beginning there doesn't seem to be a point, understanding nothing more than an exercise in painful futility, because this precious and fragile thing with Cameron isn't going to last. He tries to live in every moment, soak in and imprint in his memory the way her hair smells when she is asleep in his arms, the sound of her laughter the first time they wash dishes together and some of the suds land in her hair. These are the things that matter more than why, matter now. Because, though nothing lasts forever in Chase's life, some things last, and those alone are the memories he's managed to keep untainted.
And yet, when days pass into weeks, then months, and still Cameron doesn't change her mind, doesn't retreat behind her walls and destroy their relationship as quickly as she'd decided to let it take root, the questions return, too forceful now to be banished to a corner of Chase's mind.
"Why did you pretend to not want this for so long?" he asks at last, sitting across from her in the cafeteria, the place where their shifts meet in the middle this night.
Cameron is stirring cream into her coffee, watching it pale. It takes her a moment to look up. "What?"
"This," Chase repeats, then realizes how vague he's being, gesturing at the air between them. "Us."
Cameron frowns in the way that shows rough edges the world's beginning to give her. "I didn't pretend. We were working together. I didn't want a relationship with you."
It's a rationalization, a habit Chase has come to recognize as well as the way she insists on organizing his refrigerator by food group. "That's not true," he coaxes, confident enough now to push her a little further than he might have even a week ago. "You want trust. You want a partner. I'm starting to think you might even want a family. And—you picked me. Not just for sex. I know you, Allison. Whatever you do, it's because it's what your heart's telling you is right."
Cameron looks at him in silence, and for a long moment Chase thinks he might have made a mistake. But their relationship is a labyrinth, and he's beginning to see that even trick turns can get them a few steps closer to the truth.
Cameron bites her lip. "I was afraid."
Chase sucks in half a breath. "Afraid—I'd hurt you? I wouldn't."
But she only smiles sadly. "Everyone hurts everyone who cares about them. That's the way it works."
"Is it—because your husband died?" He thinks at first her previous answer is an equivocation, yet another smoke screen masking her true feelings. "Are you afraid of getting close to people because they might die?"
This time Cameron actually laughs, and the bitterness in the sound is startling. "There's more than one way to lose someone. I'd think you of all people would know that by now."
Amber dies, and Chase's world threatens to come apart at the seams. Everyone is stricken with panic, then grief, and suddenly it doesn't matter that he's spent years working in intensive care, watching families be torn apart by the suddenness of death. Because this time, it is his family. They've never really seemed that way to him before. Certainly he's known from the start just how important his job and this hospital were in his life.
Yet now, looking at House lying in the uniform hospital bed, his broken skull bleeding onto the crisp white sheets, Chase finds himself feeling more lost than he did when his own father died.
"Ready to go?" The quiet sound of Cameron's voice from the doorway makes him jump, and Chase wonders suddenly how long he's been standing here, watching the monitor display which signifies brain waves unfathomably slow for House.
He nods. "I couldn't find you when my shift ended. Foreman said you were talking to Wilson?"
Cameron bites her lip and shrugs. There's blood on her scrubs and he isn't sure he's ever seen her look this drained before. "He needed someone to talk to."
"Someone—who understands," Chase guesses, getting up from his seat beside House's bed and taking a few steps toward her.
Cameron doesn't say anything, but something shifts ever so slightly in her eyes, like she's letting him see the weight of this day on her slender shoulders. Her silence is her response, Chase thinks. Taking a breath, he forces himself to turn fully away from House and focus his attention on her. Families support each other in crises, he's always been told. He's never had the experience before.
"And you?" Chase asks. "What do you need?"
"Do you think Wilson got him there?" Cameron asks, breaking the not-quite-silence. She's curled up on Chase's couch, the rain outside making shadowy teardrops on her face in the light coming in from the street.
"To the funeral?" Chase places two mugs of tea on the coffee table and sits, shifting her legs into his lap. "I assume so. If anyone could do it, Wilson could."
"And what do you think that was like?" She sounds very far away, almost like she's speaking to him through the storm outside, rather than right here in his living room.
"What do you mean? It was a funeral."
Cameron sighs. "Can you imagine not knowing your father was dying? Not getting to say goodbye?"
Chase tenses ever so slightly, but tells himself that his secrets aren't her responsibility to know. And moreover, he probably wouldn't have told her had she put in the effort of trying to coax it out of him before now. "Yes."
Cameron sits up in a rush, looking shocked. Chase can practically see the pieces falling together in her mind as her eyes widen. "You—oh, god, I'm sorry."
He shrugs. "Never told anyone. House knew anyway, but House is House, right?"
Softening, Cameron shifts herself into his lap and rests her head on his shoulder, a gesture at once of comfort and sympathy. For a long time they stay that way, listening to the quiet pattering of the rain from outside, before she speaks again.
"Sometimes I wonder what's worse. Knowing that you're losing someone you love, or having it take you completely by surprise."
Lying in bed, there are two things Chase can't stop noticing about Cameron's room. One is the way his newly-filled drawer no longer closes completely, the waistband of a pair of his boxers caught in the corner so that it sticks out a little ways beyond the edge of the dresser. The other is the framed set of wedding photos on her nightstand, which he's never had the courage to look more closely at.
"You're staring." Cameron slips into bed beside him, wearing nothing but his shirt and socks.
"What?" Chase asks, knowing immediately that she's caught him. "I—no."
Giving him a look which clearly says she doesn't believe him, Cameron reaches out and picks up the frame, handing it to him. She looks younger in the photos, though not quite as young as Chase had expected: even then, there'd been the odd tension in the innocence of her face making her look weary beyond her years. Chase finds himself suddenly choking on air, picturing himself in a photo like this. There are no words to say.
"I—I'm sorry," he manages at last, swallowing as he hands the frame back to her.
"No you're not," Cameron says quietly as she sets it back in its place to watch over her pillow. "If he hadn't—Then we wouldn't be here now. I know that's not what you want."
Chase leans over and kisses her forehead as she settles back into bed. "I'm still sorry that he died. I know—you loved him very much."
"Are you ever afraid of losing me?" Cameron asks, surprising him.
Chase sucks in a breath, instantly thrown back to the anxious emptiness of the surgical lounge hours before, when he'd been certain she was coming to end things with him. "Terrified."
On the last day of their trip to Cameron's childhood home, it rains. The sky has the soft closeness of warm gray velvet, giving the inside of the car hat certain cozy feeling which is rare in the middle of summer. Glancing over at her hands on the wheel, Chase smiles at the soft glint of Cameron's wedding ring, feeling the new slight pressure of his own when he laces his fingers in his lap.
The cemetery is full of the hush of a stormy day, so that it feels as though they are surrounded, though no one else has come to visit. Cameron doesn't bother with an umbrella, letting the drops plaster her ponytail to her back and turn her jeans dark. Chase follows her in silence, standing a few feet back as he watches her kneel in front of the grave, wet grass framing her palms. She doesn't cry, doesn't speak. Cameron simply stays there, perfectly silent and still, looking intently at the headstone, but Chase can tell she's only seeing her own memories. The time feels sacred, and Chase finds himself mouthing a few words of a prayer long since forgotten.
Finally, Cameron gets to her feet and wrings some of the rain water from her hair, then takes a deep breath, turning back to face him again. Chase clears his throat softly, offering his hands, but she ignores them and wraps her arms around his waist instead. Hugging her back, he rests his lips against her forehead and tries to think of what to say.
"I'm going to lose you someday too," Cameron murmurs against his neck, her voice filled with a wistfulness that twists his heart.
"No, you're not," Chase answers instinctively. "I'm not leaving you. Not ever."
Cameron laughs with a soft, breathy sound, leaning back to look up at his face. "Of course you are. Everyone loses each other eventually. You fight. Someone leaves. Someone dies. Sometimes we get another chance...and sometimes we don't. That's—just life. If we weren't afraid of losing people, how would we measure how much we care?"
"Okay," Chase whispers, unable to deny the truth in those words. "But I don't want to live like that. You said before that you wondered if it's better to know when you're going to lose someone or to be surprised. I'm tired of losing people before they're even gone. I think you are too."
For a long time, they stand in silence, surrounded by the dead and the quiet, listening to each other breathe. The falling of the raindrops on the trees makes a sound like the beating of a hummingbird's wings.