PAIRING: Chase-centric; mentions of canon Chase/Cameron; Foreman/Thirteen
WARNINGS: season six spoilers; major character death; addiction; sex; violence
NOTES: This is a future fic based on an AU in which Cameron moved away and divorced Chase in what would be the later part of this season as a result of the fallout from the Dibala case. This is probably the darkest thing I've ever written, at least at the beginning, and I really don't think canon will turn out like this. However, it's both comforting and fascinating to me to play with fixing a worst case scenario. That said, I feel like things have to get much worse in this story before they can get better, because that's a realistic picture of life. But I promise that this is actually a story about healing, and I hope that you'll stick with me until the end, regardless of what might happen in canon.
It's the week before Easter when Cameron gets the call, which seems oddly fitting. Holidays are still the time when she finds herself most haunted by her demons, and a new city has done nothing to give her any sense of distance. Her mother has been planning a family weekend for weeks, the traditional get-together Cameron hasn't had in nearly two decades, complete with relatives flying in. Still, it takes her less than a minute to make her decision after hearing Cuddy's voice. She gets on a plane the same day and directs the cab driver straight to the hospital, though it's well after midnight.
This is the first time in two and a half years that she has even considered coming back, and the sharp bite of the winter night air feels surreal as she gathers her luggage and makes her way up to the front door. Cameron steps into the atrium and pauses, feeling disoriented by the sudden and shocking familiarity. Almost nothing has changed in the atrium, and she has the eerie sense that the past three years could almost have been a dream, that tonight she could simply be on her way in to yet another late night shift in the ER. But the emptiness is just a little too still, and the ghosts of the way she left this place are too close to forget entirely. The light in Cuddy's office is on, Cameron realizes after a moment, though it's far past normal working hours, and she orients herself toward it.
Cameron knocks once, listening to the muffled echo in the late night hush, then opens the door a crack without waiting for a reply. Cuddy is hunched over her desk, completely absorbed in the blue file spilling over the surface in front of her, and she doesn't look up immediately.
"Bad time?" Cameron asks quietly, when nearly a full minute has passed.
Cuddy looks up slowly, and Cameron can't quite read her reaction. The worry lines in her face make her look as though she's aged far more than three years, and Cameron has the sudden sense of being much further away from this place than when hundreds of miles lay between.
"No." Cuddy shakes her head slowly, as though she doesn't have the energy for the emotions this meeting ought to elicit. Cameron recognizes in her the hollow kind of numbness she is accustomed to seeing in people at the bedside of their dying loved one. "I didn't expect you to get here so quickly. It's late."
Cameron frowns, surprised. "You said you didn't think there was much time."
Closing the file, Cuddy gets to her feet, a sort of muted tension seeming to thicken the air between them. "I don't."
"So—what?" asks Cameron, letting go of the handle of her suitcase to cross her arms. "You called but you didn't expect me to come?"
Cuddy sighs. "How should I know? You've been out of touch for almost three years. And you weren't at Foreman's wedding."
Cameron swallows, the familiar knot of guilt tightening in her stomach. Its very presence is enough to remind her of exactly why she hadn't been able to find the strength for a visit then. "That was different."
Cuddy softens ever so slightly, coming around to lean against the front of her desk. Her clothes are uncharacteristically wrinkled, and Cameron wonders how long it's been since she last went home. "It's good to see you again. I wish it was under better circumstances."
Cameron thinks again of the wedding, and the photos Foreman had sent her afterward. But that is done now, simply one more missed opportunity, and it isn't why she is here. "How is he?"
Cuddy is silent for a long moment, visibly trying to find the words. This is a day they've all been anticipating for the past ten years, Cameron knows, but somehow convinced themselves would never actually come. "He's—still House. Liver function's practically nonexistent. Medication's having no effect. He should be in withdrawal, but--" Cuddy breaks off and shakes her head again.
"But?" Cameron asks sharply, understanding the implication at once.
"He's still getting Vicodin, somehow. No one will admit to giving it to him, but it's the only explanation."
"And you're letting it happen?" Cameron asks incredulously, unable to stop herself.
"What else do you suggest I do?" Cuddy shoots back. "His department is the closest thing he's got to a family at this point. I'm not going to bar them from visiting him. The damage is done. He's dying either way. If he'd rather go quickly and pain-free, who am I to stop him?"
Cameron swallows, surprised by the sudden flood of emotion making it difficult to speak. "I should get up there, then."
Cuddy nods. "Room 420. And last I checked, the whole department was still there. He's got them on a witch hunt for some other cause. When he's lucid, anyway."
Cameron takes a shaky breath and balances her suitcase against the wall. "Still House." She's almost out the door when Cuddy speaks again.
Cameron pauses, turning back over her shoulder.
"If you haven't already found a hotel, I have a guest room."
Cameron pauses outside the elevator, feeling lost in the long hallway, though there was a time when she traveled it multiples times a day on her way to and from the office. Most of the lights have been dimmed for the night, and she takes comfort in this as she makes her way slowly toward 420, feeling as though she might be able to conceal her true emotions in the elusive shadows should the need arise. The door to House's room is open a crack, and she freezes again, trying to see the inside from her angle. Cuddy's words are suddenly woefully inadequate, and she finds herself needing to know exactly what she is walking into.
From inside, there is silence. She can only see one side of the room, but it is empty save for the IV pole and cardiac monitor, which look foreign and crowded in the corner. Sucking in a deliberately slow breath, Cameron turns at last and forces herself to walk the final few steps into the room, a distance which somehow feels longer than the entire rest of her trip combined.
Her eyes fall on House first—flushed a sickly alien color by jaundice—but only for a moment. Chase is seated alone on the other side of the bed, she sees now, and he looks up immediately, trapping her in the ache of nostalgia and the bitterness of his gaze. For an instant it is as though her intentions for this trip have fallen away into the night, as though she has come to see only him and in this already failed.
The beeping of the cardiac monitor is too loud in her ears, impossibly slow in comparison to her own heartbeat pounding in her temples. Chase looks like an entirely different person, and yet somehow not so changed at all. There's something sharper about the lines of his face, the ill fit of his clothes betraying the fact that he's lost weight. But it's his eyes she can't look away from, dulled somehow as though he is even farther away from this world than House. When he gets to his feet there's a jerky tautness to the way he moves, like his body can't quite remember how to function as a whole, and his hands shake when he snaps shut the chart he's been reading.
"Why are you here?" Chase asks at last, more of an accusation than a question, and Cameron feels herself flinch though she's expected nothing different.
"Cuddy called me." She lifts her chin and forces herself not to look away.
"I told her not to."
"What, you thought I wouldn't come?" She's already tired of defending herself to the people here.
Chase scoffs. "Knew you'd come. Just didn't want you here." With a curt nod in House's direction, he turns and sweeps out of the room before she can collect herself enough to reply.
For a moment Cameron stands focused on the empty doorway, feeling too far behind everything that's happening tonight. It isn't until House clears his throat roughly that she remembers why she's come here, turning toward the bed and trying to center herself once more.
"He doesn't mean it," House says in a voice that is barely recognizable. Cameron moves to the side of the bed, but can't bring herself to sit in the chair Chase has just vacated.
"What?" At first she thinks he must be hallucinating, overwhelmed by the drugs and toxins coursing through his ruined body.
"Chase," House answers, and now the condescension in his voice is obvious. "He hasn't stopped wishing you'd come back for a single minute since you left."
"I didn't come here to talk about Chase," Cameron interrupts sharply. Though if she is honest with herself, the prospect of seeing Chase was at once her biggest hope and the reason she'd been unable to face a visit before this.
"Right." House turns his head toward her on the pillow, and it seems to require a huge amount of effort. "You wanted career advice. Oh wait. You ruined that too when you ran away."
"The two of you should have had a white picket fence and two and a half disgustingly over-achieving toddlers by now. You ran away, and denying it is easier than looking back."
"Let me talk!" Cameron interrupts, more loudly than she's intended, and House shrugs, going silent at last. "I came here because—I wanted to tell you what a difference you made in my life. Both professionally and personally. It was—an honor. There are people who care about you. You should know that, especially now." They are the words she repeated over and over on the airplane, yet now they feel shallow and empty.
"If you don't stop running away, the next call you get will be about Chase," House continues loudly, as though she's said nothing at all.
Cameron steps back from the bed with a start, heart pounding again. "You're delirious. I—should go."
"Cameron." House manages to haul himself upright against the back of the bed, surprising her with the sudden pressure of his hand on her wrist. She holds her breath. "You weren't wrong to leave. But I wish you hadn't."
With those words, reality settles heavy in her heart, and Cameron knows that House is going to die very soon.
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