WARNINGS: spoilers through 6x17 Lockdown
NOTES: So I don't have a TRIS update for you, but I do have this. Here's the thing. I love Lockdown. I know a lot of people were upset by it because of its outcome, but to me it represents a lot of hope for the future. I'm sure canon will come along and prove me wrong soon, but for now, here's how I think it could go.
It takes Chase a week to make his decision.
Going home alone that night feels like a fresh wound, raw with the scabs pulled off. The clock reads 1:21 AM as he walks in the door of the condo, glowing blue from the end table, a tiny beacon in the dark living room. Tuesday morning, he thinks, and wonders whether Cameron is having the same thought, already back at the airport.
He'd considered asking her to stay the night, but didn't even need to say the words to know that it would have been a bad idea. Instead, he'd walked her out, kissed her cheek once more, and watched her climb into a cab.
She's been a ghost to him the past five months, shrouded in confusion and disappointments. He's built up a wall around his heart, forged of bitterness, anger, guilt. Learned to see her as nothing more than the latest in the long line of people who have walked out of his life, the cold text of divorce papers in the mail. And yet he hasn't been able to sign them until this night, to let her slip away entirely as nothing more than a blissful memory which might never have been.
As Chase strips his clothes onto the bedroom floor, smelling subtle hints of Cameron's perfume on his skin, he knows why he has been unable to pick up a pen, to make the familiar curves of his signature. Now he sees her as the most real thing in his life, though she's tried so hard to hide her heart away from the world.
Climbing into bed – his bed, now, truly for the first time – he realizes that they still have not said goodbye. He thinks it might have been intended in the way her bare skin brushed against his, the pattern her fingers made in his hair.
Still, she has not chosen to speak the words aloud, and he thinks maybe that was intended as well. And so this moment – which for so many nights has seemed like the end – now feels to him like it might simply be the next step in this convoluted dance of theirs.
Her eyes are most beautiful filled with tears.
Monday night, the wind is blowing the fresh breath of spring, and Chase has all of the windows open. He remembers Cameron loved this place for its feeling of open space; now it seems vast with most of his things packed into boxes. He's been holding onto the place for too long, he's realized, even after he'd shipped the rest of Cameron's things out. It's been his own personal brand of torture, a way of rubbing salt in the wound should he get too numb.
In the week since her second departure, he's decided he doesn't want to be seeing ghosts anymore. She isn't going to be coming back, at least not to the life they once shared in this place. The future is the future, a new chapter, a fresh start. It feels like walking off a cliff, though the apartment he's found is barely two miles away, across the street from the hospital.
Taping the last box closed, Chase drapes himself across the couch, turning the phone over in his hands for a moment before dialing. He holds his breath as it rings, watching the sun set in a pink spring sky.
"Hi," says Cameron, and the wariness in her tone tells him that his name is still in her caller ID.
"Hi," Chase answers, letting the words hang in the space between them, at once profound and somehow insignificant. He has not called her in the five months since she left.
"I'm going ahead with the divorce papers," says Cameron after a moment. "If that's why you're calling. I'm not going to change my mind."
"I know," says Chase, surprised when that statement doesn't hurt as much as it once would have.
"Then why are you doing this?" She sounds puzzled, and Chase can picture her expression: lower lip caught delicately between her teeth, brow furrowed.
"Because I like you," Chase answers evenly. It has always been true, though the words have an entirely different meaning to him now. "And now I know you don't hate me. So I thought—Can we at least be friends?"
Cameron is silent for a long moment, her reply cautious. "I don't know."
"Can we try?" He knows now not to push her too far at once; he understands too well her need to protect herself from the disappointment of life.
"I'm moving," says Cameron after another moment, and he thinks he hears unspoken permission granted in that statement.
"Me too," says Chase, relaxing enough to glance out the window again. The sky is dark now, leaving him once again with only the faint illumination of the clock.
"You are? Where?" asks Cameron, sounding taken aback.
"Closer to work." He decides to let her decide the significance beyond that. "What about you?"
"Boston." She pauses again, and Chase wonders what she's thinking. "I got a job offer. And Chicago was never supposed to be permanent."
When Chase calls her again, it's from his new apartment, though he's still surrounded by boxes. He's made the move in a rush, but now unpacking is taking time. Finding new places for all of his familiar things seems oddly like taking stock of his life. He feels more aware than he has in months, and though he can't deny that it hurts when he pulls the framed wedding photo from its box, he's surprised to find that he prefers it to the numbness.
Now, it sits propped on the end table so that the day's waning light falls across it from the space between the curtains. He looks at it as he listens to the dial tone, feeling lost in Cameron's smile, forever captured in time.
"I should've known you were serious about the friends thing," says Cameron when she answers. But she doesn't sound displeased.
"Why wouldn't I be?" asks Chase, stretching out on the couch again. He has his back to the photo now, but he can still see it in his mind, in the sound of her voice.
Cameron pauses, and he can picture her shrug. "I don't know, it's just—isn't that what people say to one another when they break up? But they never really do it. It's just a nice idea."
"I meant it," says Chase, jaw tensing slightly. "I miss you."
"That's not what I meant," Chase interrupts, not giving her the chance to shut down, to retreat behind the walls he's been met with so often. "I miss—talking to you. Having someone to share things with, and knowing that you'd care. I've never—really had that before."
"We never really did that much," Cameron says quietly.
Chase bites his lip, thinking. To him it had seemed monumental every time, but the more he looks back, the more he realizes the ways in which they've deluded themselves. "Then maybe that was our problem."
"I started my new job today," says Cameron. This time she is the one who's initiated the call.
"Yeah?" Chase is at the hospital, though it's well after dark, in the lounge waiting for the page that their patient has died.
"I'm sorry," says Cameron abruptly, as though she's just realized who she's talking to. "I don't know why I called you."
"Allison," Chase coaxes softly. He remembers her eyes in the dark of the clinic mid-lockdown, the vulnerability he'd seen in her truly for the first time. "Don't do that. Don't—hide from me."
"I thought it would help," says Cameron softly. Her voice on the other end of the phone reminds him of the shadow-fingers reaching toward him from the corners of the lounge tonight, still unfathomable but slowly becoming less obscured.
"Moving?" asks Chase, when she's gone quiet again.
"Yes. Getting out of Princeton. And then—back on my own, away from my parents. At a new hospital." She pauses again, almost as though catching herself in the act of telling him these things. "Why are you being nice to me?"
"Your new job," he says, ignoring her question this time. "It wasn't what you'd hoped?"
"I left you," says Cameron. It seems sometimes as though she might be speaking from another dimension, her thoughts a sort of code he has yet to untangle, born of too much grief and the need for strong defenses. "I'm divorcing you."
"I know," says Chase calmly, feeling as though it's becoming a mantra. "I still care about you."
"No," Cameron answers, the note of confusion in her voice surprising him. "I meant—I left because I thought—I had no choice. Nothing made sense anymore, and I thought if I could just get away, go somewhere, that it might—" She is quiet for a long moment, and when she speaks again, sounds lost. "Now I'm just alone with it. I miss you."
For a moment Chase thinks about asking her for another try, his heart fluttering wildly in his chest. But it isn't time yet, he realizes. Nothing has changed, not really, and Cameron was right when she'd said it never would have worked.
"I'm sorry," he says simply instead. The weight of her decisions seems to hang in the space between them like a spectral echo.
"Are you still working for House?" asks Cameron, the next time she calls.
"Why?" asks Chase, surprised. He's just gotten back from a mid-summer run, and his muscles feel like warm butter as he reaches into the refrigerator for water, the cell phone pressed tightly to his ear. He remembers suddenly the first time he'd joined her on one of her morning workouts, how he'd felt as though he was being allowed to share a privileged ritual. How surprisingly strong and confident she'd looked that day.
"Don't get defensive," Cameron answers quickly. "I just thought—you said you'd moved. I thought maybe you might be ready to move on from him too."
"I'm still working for him," says Chase simply, though he wonders now whether she might be right, whether he might simply be deluding himself into thinking that being back on the team is the only way to conquer his demons, repay his debts.
"Okay," says Cameron, and the silence from her end of the phone makes him think she was expecting—hoping—for a different answer.
"I never meant to choose the job over you," he says quietly, though she hasn't asked. He's been back over their conversation in that dark exam room countless times in the past three months; suddenly remembering her does not seem like torment, and he feels starved for as many memories as he can dredge up. That he's never apologized to her truly seems a heinous oversight, though he'd felt completely stricken by her presence that day, even moreso when she'd been leaving the first time.
"It wasn't—that, exactly," says Cameron, sounding hesitant for the first time in this call.
"No?" Chase goes to the window and opens it with one hand. The breeze blowing in smells like the sunset.
"You'd been hiding from me for weeks," she answers, and now her voice is uncharacteristically thick with emotion, surprising him with the speed of her transformation. "The whole time it felt like I was just waiting for the end. Some kind of sign that it was all over, that I really had lost you too."
Chase swallows, remembering the agony of watching her suffer the effects of his guilt, unable to find the strength to tell her the truth.
"I'm sorry," he says, sinking down onto the edge of the bed. He's known from the beginning about her scars, her fear of loss as deeply ingrained as a fatal illness. Yet only now does he see the extent of the mistakes he's made, the way he's pushed this thing between them until it broke.
"I kept thinking you'd come after me," she says softly.
"If I had, would you have talked to me?" asks Chase.
"I don't know," Cameron admits after a moment. "If I had come back, would you have let me stay?"
"No," Chase answers, knowing it's the truth.
Months pass, and the world continues to turn.
Sometimes weeks go by in between calls; sometimes they talk every few days.
On his birthday, Cameron sends him a card with her new address, and a long note filled with what from anyone else would be smalltalk. But Chase recognizes the monumental importance of her inviting him into the mundanities of her day-to-day life. She is working in emergency medicine again, and she loves it. For the first time, she has a close-knit group of friends, some of them colleagues, others not. And she has adopted a puppy from the local shelter, her note says.
In the picture she's enclosed, her hair is short, and chocolate-brown as the dog's fur.
Folding the things she's sent back into their envelope, Chase smiles. There's still the wistful tug of regret in the pit of his stomach, but it is not all-encompassing. He misses her now; he does not resent her this new life filled with the simple pleasures she's never found time for in the past.
Time crawls on, and scars fade. He has learned to accept that he is never going to forget what's happened, the decisions he's made and the actions he's taken. But when a year has passed, he finds that he can think of other things, that sometimes whole weeks go by and his life seems normal, almost happy. Still, there's an emptiness that catches up to him at night, on days at work when there are not responsibilities pressing for his attention.
The fleeting few minutes he spends on the phone with Cameron are the only time he feels fully aware, alive, complete. In some ways, he feels closer to her now than ever before. Impossibly, she seems completely open to him on the other end of a phone line, two hundred fifty miles away.
"I'm going to a wedding this weekend," says Cameron.
It's spring again, and lately Chase has been missing the flowers she once planted in the condo's window boxes. For the first time, he wonders whether moving was the right decision; there is no room for things to grow in this apartment.
"Yeah?" he asks, surprised. They have avoided talking about their own wedding since that day during the lockdown, one of the few subjects which has still seemed taboo. Now, he can only imagine that she's calling because she wants to discuss it at last, because her life has afforded her a convenient opening for this conversation.
"Beth is getting married, finally," she answers.
That Chase knows the names of her friends now is comforting to him. She doesn't seem so far away. "To Steve? Good for them."
"They have a huge church for the ceremony," says Cameron, a note of wistfulness creeping into her voice. "I told them outdoors this time of year would have been prettier. But I guess they want all the bells and whistles, after being engaged for four years."
"You never took any of our pictures with you," Chase interrupts. In his mind's eye, he can see them in their place, stacked neatly on a shelf in the back hall closet. Every so often, he takes them out and dusts the frames. Just one still remains on his nightstand; he has never been able to part with the radiance of her laughter, even through the icing smeared on her cheek.
"You still have them?" asks Cameron.
"Yeah." He doesn't tell her how many times he has debated with himself on that point, how often he's wondered whether getting rid of them might help him move on. He knows he will not act on those feelings. "Do you want me to send you some?"
"Before our wedding," says Cameron thoughtfully, "I never doubted you."
"How do you mean?" Chase catches his breath. The ruin of their marriage has always felt like the fulfillment of a predetermined prophecy.
"You said—that I had doubts. That I was planning for disaster before we'd even gotten married. I was." She pauses, inhaling audibly. "But it was never because of you. I think—I was always trying to protect us from myself."
Cameron calls after she gets back from the wedding, though it's well after midnight.
"Did I wake you?" she asks hesitantly, as though she isn't sure whether she wants to know the answer.
"No," says Chase. He has been sitting up looking at their wedding album and picturing her in her white dress, wondering if she's feeling equally nostalgic.
"I don't know if I loved him," says Cameron, shifting the conversation abruptly, but not too much for Chase to follow. Over the past year, he has become intimately familiar with the shapes of her thoughts.
"Your first husband?" he asks, already knowing the answer.
"Yes," says Cameron. Her voice sounds strangely muffled, and he wonders if she's crying. "I knew he loved me. And I thought—that I was strong enough to do this for him without ruining myself." She is quiet for a long moment. "After he died, it was easy to look back and convince myself that it was this perfect thing nobody else could compare to. Use that as a reason not to try again. But the truth is—it was mostly just painful, and I wasn't ready. I don't know if I loved him. But—I know that I love you."
Chase catches his breath, stricken by the profound emotions those words have stirred. He hasn't expected to hear them from her, not so soon, and not so freely offered.
"Present tense?" he whispers, after nearly a minute has passed in silence. It's the sign he's been waiting for, all but unconsciously.
"I've been thinking about taking a few days off," Cameron says instead. "Can I come see you?"
"It's almost our anniversary," Chase answers, a thought beginning to form. This is how their relationship is now: offbeat, tentative, and filled with sidestepping, but still moving steadily forward nonetheless. "We never did get to take that vacation to the shore. Why not go now?"
Cameron laughs, wryly. "Isn't that a little backwards?"
Chase smiles, painfully aware that she cannot see. "Since when have we done anything the right way around?"
Chase gets to the hotel early, filled with nervous energy. He's booked one room, but with two beds, and as he sits waiting, he wonders what Cameron will think of that.
She is nearly an hour late, and by the time her knock comes, Chase has begun to fear that she's changed her mind. She looks flustered and anxious, but more full of life than he thinks he has ever seen her before. She has always had a peculiar sort of restraint about her, as though the grief in her past has etched itself into the lines of her face, the way she moves and breathes. But she seems much freer now, despite the uncertainty in her eyes.
"Hi," says Chase, feeling stunned by her presence. It has been more than a year since they last saw each other in person.
"I'm sorry it took me so long," she says, a little breathlessly. "I was afraid—"
"What?" asks Chase gently, threading his fingers into the feathery locks of her hair.
"I've—felt so much closer to you since the divorce. I was afraid that might change if we saw each other in person again."
Chase wraps his arms around her in answer, remembering the way the curve of her body fits into his. She has new perfume, he realizes, but the scent of it still feels oddly familiar, tightening his throat as it washes over him. Wordlessly, Cameron leans up and kisses him once, twice, again, slowly, honestly, no pretense about why they are here this time.
On their last night at the beach, Chase wakes, alone and naked in the hotel bed, to the sound of the ocean at high tide. It takes him a moment to realize that the door to their small balcony is open, another for his eyes to adjust to the shape of Cameron's silhouette, lit by the waning moon. Pulling on his boxers, he goes out to stand with her, glancing at her sideways before settling against the railing. They stand like this in silence for a long time, watching the waves crest and fall.
"I don't want to say goodbye," Cameron says at last.
"Then—don't." Chase catches his breath. He knows better than to push her now, knows that she must learn to break down her own defenses. But he cannot deny the hope.
"I don't know what I can offer you," she answers sadly. "I like my life now."
"I could move to Boston," Chase says, surprising himself. He's been thinking about the possibility for weeks now, but has yet to give it voice. "It wouldn't have to be a commitment. We could just—see what happens this time."
"You would leave Princeton for me?" Cameron sounds shocked. "Your job?" She doesn't mention House.
"I think it's time," Chase says simply. "I'm ready now."
"I'm still a mess." Cameron sounds like she might cry.
"Maybe that's okay too." Chase takes her hand gently, lacing their fingers in the moonlight. She doesn't pull away.
"I want to believe that," she answers slowly. "I'm just—not sure of anything anymore."
"Do you love me?" asks Chase. "Right now. This moment. Do you love me?"
Cameron nods, and the gesture seems to have a sincerity beyond words.
"That's all I'm asking," Chase says softly, knowing now that is the only way it will work. He has spent his life fearing abandonment, and she repeated loss. Now, he realizes, the only way they will be able to trust each other, trust fate, is one small step at a time. "I don't need you to marry me again. I don't need an answer about forever. I just want—right now. Tonight. And tomorrow I'll ask you again. For as long as you want this too."
Cameron is quiet for a long moment, breathing in the salt-soaked air, a smile spreading over her face. "Do you want to dance?"
Grinning, Chase wraps an arm around her waist, closing his eyes as she settles her cheek against his shoulder. Swaying with her to the rhythm of the waves, he feels at peace with the unknown.
Feedback makes finals week so much better!