WARNINGS: major character death; season six spoilers; addiction; sex; violence
DISCLAIMER: House is the property of David Shore, Fox and co. No copyright infringement is intended.
NOTES: I started this fic seven months ago, because I was amazed by how much the canon spoilers had upset me. I spent weeks being sad about Cameron leaving the show, almost like I had lost a real-life friend, and wondering just how I had become so very attached to these characters. A lot has changed in my life since then, in part because of this process. I've changed my intended career path, gone through two semesters of college, lost and gained several very close friends. Most importantly, I've learned that I don't need fandom or a TV show to make me happy; I am capable of creating my own joy. So now, before I share with you the end of this story, I need to thank a few of the people who have helped me so much along the way.
-First, Vita, my steadfast voice of reason, friend, and beta. Thank you for keeping me sane, putting up with me when I was acting less-than-sane, and occasionally trying to mess around with my automatic thoughts. ;p Oh, and also all that proofreading you did. That was kind of important too.
-Mae, for early conceptualization, idea-bouncing, and ultimately teaching me that I don't need a safety net. You were right. I could and did do it all by myself.
-Kait, for her endless loyalty and unconditional faith in my ability to produce something that didn't suck. And a lot of cracky laughter along the way.
-Finally, my mom, for always embracing my love of fandom and writing, as well as for many discussions of Chase, Hamlet, Macbeth, and ghosts.
And of course, thank you to my multitude of readers who have stuck with me all the way. You have made this a dream come true for me. Since I'm sure you're curious, I'll say this about future projects: There will be no sequel to this particular story. It was a complete vision from the start, and this is where it ends. I would never cheapen that by trying to spread it thinner, or follow it up. I will, however, be back with more fic. Probably in a few weeks. We'll see. I do have a bunch of real-life things coming up that I need to pay attention to. Like, you know, applying to grad school. Of course, knowing the way my brain works, I'll be back here sooner rather than later.
At least once every day, Cameron finds herself disturbed by the dissonance of traffic outside her office windows: car horns honking angrily, sirens screaming by. Every time it happens, she tells herself that she will become accustomed to the sounds of downtown Chicago, that sooner or later she will cease to hear it at all. But it has been six months now since she moved back here, and the noises are still just as intrusive as ever. Partly it's because her office feels too quiet on the inside; there was never time to contemplate the world outside when she'd been working in the ER here. Administrative work is comparatively slow, though no less satisfying on the whole, finally granting her the power to make the changes she's wished for all along.
"You're my last interview of the day," she tells the young doctor seated across from her, assessing the woman's reaction. She seems to radiate youth and enthusiastic idealism. Both of these things feel strangely foreign to Cameron, though it hasn't been so terribly long since she'd tried to cultivate them in herself.
"I hope that will be to my advantage, then," says the woman, obviously trying to put on a brave front. Her name is Ellen Grayson, according to her file, a well-groomed brunette with glasses too mature for her face. She graduated first in her class from Harvard Med, and has been climbing the career ladder steadily since then. The kind of ruthless success story Cameron would have envied once.
"We'll see," Cameron hedges. "Why don't you tell me why you think I should hire you for this position?"
"I went into medicine because I knew I could never be happy in the kind of job where I had to do the same thing every day," says Grayson, sounding much more confident now, effortlessly articulate. "But I've never wanted to choose just one area of specialization, either. That's why I was so excited to hear they'd chosen you as the new dean of medicine, Dr. Chase. I knew you'd want to start a department of diagnostic medicine here. Although I'm surprised your husband wasn't your first choice for department head."
"He's taking some time to work on other things," says Cameron, at once impressed and unsettled that this woman has taken the initiative to learn so much of her history. It's been a year since she changed her name officially, yet it still stands out to her in conversation, catching in her ears like it's still new. "I'm sure he'll be more than willing if the department ever needs a consult."
Chase is surrounded by history. There are stacks upon stacks of books, papers, and hand-scrawled notes piled on every horizontal surface within reach: coffee table, sofa cushions, even a good portion of the floor. Between his reference materials and Abigail's many brightly-colored toys strewn across the floor, it looks constantly as though a miniature whirlwind has torn through the place.
Sighing, Chase turns his focus from his dismally blank computer screen to the stack of yellowed newspaper clippings closest to him. In his mind's eye, he can picture House, bottle of Vicodin and glass of scotch in hand, voracious appetite for information—secrets—tearing through every available source. These particular clippings were originally buried in the box Wilson had gifted them at Thirteen's funeral, though the collection of items pertaining to the department's history has easily grown tenfold since Chase began to look in earnest.
The real challenge now will be to compress the pertinent information, to capture the profound influence House has had on so many lives in pages others will want to read. To put back together the pieces of his own fractured history with the department, in the hopes of finding some sort of meaning. His decision to take a leave from practicing medicine is still shrouded in doubt, though this work writing feels more purposeful than his career has in years. For all the ways in which his life is now grounded in happiness, he still lives a haunted existence in the moments of darkness, pursued by the persistence of nightmares, guilt, his own addictions. In some ways this book feels like a final attempt to capture the many ghosts and put them to rest at last.
That this decision has allowed him to stay at home with Abigail is the best part, the reason that makes him certain it will all be worthwhile in the end, though his productivity has dropped considerably since she learned to walk, hours lost in rambunctious play. Today he has accomplished almost nothing, endlessly—if pleasantly—distracted while waiting for Cameron to get home. Hearing the familiar noise of her car in the small garage at last, he folds the laptop closed and gets to his feet, trying to shake off the drowsiness of being lost in thought for so long. Outside the large windows, her garden is in full bloom; Chase has picked a selection from it, placed them in a vase on the coffee table to celebrate this day.
Cameron's eyes go to the brightly-colored arrangement the moment she walks in the door, her face lighting up. She has cut her hair shockingly short recently, and Chase finds that the difference still surprises him every time she enters a room. In her work clothes she looks both elegant and powerful, the picture of a leader. Sharp contrast to the way she has spent the weekend, in ripped jeans, on her knees and shrieking with laughter while playing with Abigail.
"Happy anniversary," Chase breathes, wrapping his arms around her as she leans in for a kiss. He has waited in anticipation of this day for weeks now, a year since their second wedding having flown by at surprising speed. Every day with his family still seems a gift, a miracle, though no longer an undeserved one. In the nineteen months since Abigail's birth, he has learned to accept this as his new reality, exquisite joy and hardship alike.
"Thank you for the flowers," says Cameron, still smiling. "They're beautiful."
"Abby and I picked them this morning," says Chase, taking a moment to breathe in the remembered joy of watching his daughter toddle through the grass, in delighted but futile pursuit of a butterfly. "How was work?"
Cameron shrugs. "Slow day. Or—comparatively slow, anyway. More interviews."
"Any standouts?" asks Chase, moving some stacks of papers to the floor so they will be able to sit on the couch.
"Not sure yet," Cameron answers, looking at the mess, but choosing not to comment. It stands out in sharp contrast to the empty near-sterility of their condo in Princeton; a home cluttered with happy things to match an equally full life. "Lots of people asked about you, though. They wanted to know whether you're ever going to be part of the new department."
"Don't know," Chase answers honestly. It is a discussion they've had before, but he still feels unprepared to make a decision. He is learning slowly to live at peace with the unknown.
"That's what I told them," says Cameron, her attention shifting. "Where's Abby now? She never naps this late anymore."
"She's at your parents'," answers Chase, anticipation stirring again in the pit of his stomach. Having Cameron's parents a block away had been one of the deciding factors in their move, at once a challenge and a blessing as he continues working to win back their trust. "They agreed to watch her tonight so I could take you out."
The night breeze is just beginning to hint of autumn chill, smelling of herbs and honeysuckle as it sweeps gently across the grounds of the botanical gardens at sunset. Cameron inhales deeply, feeling the multitude of responsibilities which are ever-present in her mind fall away until there is only the peace of this moment, and the conviction that they have earned this night of celebration. That Chase has thought to bring her here to celebrate their wedding anniversary seems especially fitting; the yard around their new little house has been one of her greatest joys throughout the spring and summer. This garden by night is an ethereal place, a unique and surreal kind of beauty filled with the moon and the magic of September.
"What are you thinking?" asks Chase, catching her hand as she pauses on the path. They are standing in the midst of the bonsai collection, and in the darkness it feels almost as though it could be populated by fairies.
"I was thinking that you know me too well, bringing me here tonight," Cameron teases, turning to kiss him in front of the azaleas.
"Well, I have had a few years of practice," Chase answers lightly, then turns more serious again, as though he's just realized exactly what he's said. There is something bittersweet about this occasion as well; they are both acutely aware that this should have been an anniversary celebrated five years and countless hardships earlier. Now, to Cameron, all the fears and doubts feel like an enormous waste, the possibility for disaster paling in comparison to the constant joy that is their unlikely family.
"And was it worth it?" she asks softly, attention caught momentarily by the way her ring glitters in the moonlight as she rests her hands on his shoulders.
"What do you mean?" asks Chase, frowning ever so slightly, his eyes looking far away in thought.
"It took us so long to get here," whispers Cameron, almost afraid to hear his response. A part of her feels it would be better to simply leave these things unspoken, but she knows he must be having similar thoughts, and she aches to know that he has come to the same conclusion.
"Maybe we never had a choice," Chase answers, kissing her ring finger delicately. "Maybe we needed all this to learn how to be happy. What that really means."
"And are you?" asks Cameron, reaching up to touch his cheek. "Are you disgustingly happy?" She cannot help smiling at that particular memory, despite the aching tug of nostalgia it awakens in the pit of her stomach. But she can appreciate it now. It no longer brings grief or despair, but rather the stark contrast between the ease of hopeful naiveté, and the rich layers of real life she has learned to love in its place.
"Not yet," answers Chase, honestly. "But I'm still working on it." His scars are still present, even now beneath his smile. He will always struggle with the past, thinks Cameron, and perhaps also with addiction, as evidenced by his most recent slip just after moving. Never again will he be the man she married five years ago, forever changed by their shared history, together and apart. But he is the man she loves now with all her heart, her husband, her partner in the unforeseen.
Abigail is nearly asleep by the time her grandparents bring her home. It's well past her bedtime, but she wakes up again at the sound of Cameron's voice, insistent on her usual nightly ritual though she can barely keep her head up.
Chase carries her into the nursery, sitting in the rocking chair and settling her against his chest. He hasn't bothered to select any of the many brightly-colored books which now line the shelf at the far end of the room, knowing that Abigail will be asleep well before he could finish any of them. Instead he closes his eyes and begins to rock, centering himself in the remembered tranquility of the garden tonight and the sweet smell of his daughter's feathery dark hair.
"Good night comb, good night brush," he begins softly, letting the words come from memory, picturing the familiar illustrations in the well-worn book as he speaks. "Good night nobody, good night mush. Good night stars, good night air. Good night noises everywhere." The last he finishes in a whisper, the rhythm of Abigail's breathing telling him she is already dreaming.
When he looks up again, Cameron is standing in the doorway in her pajamas, watching silently. Meeting her eyes for a moment, Chase gets to his feet, careful not to wake the baby. Cameron meets him in the middle of the room, wrapping her arms around his waist so that Abigail is cradled between them. They stay like this in stillness for a long moment before she steps back, watching Chase tuck Abigail into her crib.
Following Cameron into the bedroom, he slips out of his clothes quickly, feeling peculiarly as though he might be shedding some of the burden of memory in the passage of this milestone day. Cameron waits until he gets into bed beside her, then turns out the light, letting the moon shine through the curtains.
"I love you," she whispers, shifting with a soft rustle of the sheets.
"I love you too," breathes Chase, curling himself around her so that his hand rests over her heart, the steady rhythm of her pulse mirroring the rocking chair's motion.
Ahead of him this night is deep, dreamless sleep.
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