TITLE: Beginning Now (1/?)
SUMMARY: She is an oxymoron, capable of instant metamorphosis from complete innocent sweetness to piercing judgment. A pre-series/first season AU.
NOTES: So, I had every intention of taking like a month off from fic after finishing TRIS, but obviously that didn't happen. I was originally planning on writing another long, future AU novel next, but decided to take a little detour instead. This is a slightly offbeat idea I've been toying with for about three years now: What if Chase and Cameron originally had an FWB-type arrangement in secret during the first season? It's very different from anything else I've ever written, and I hope you'll think it's as much fun as I do. That said, here's a little disclaimer from the start: I'm doing this for fun, and for sort of a break after TRIS. It won't be nearly as long (I'm thinking 10-15 chapters), and the updates won't be quite as regular. I'm thinking I'll aim for about once a week, give or take a few days. I know that's not ideal, but unfortunately I have lots of pesky real-life things going on right now that have to take precedence. Anyway, enough rambling on my part. I hope you enjoy the first chapter!
The day that they meet seems like it will be unremarkable, ordinary, just one more in the string of failed job interviews which are House's latest game of rebellion.
Chase does not believe in fate or love at first sight, or even true romance, really. Fifteen years of watching his parents' marriage slowly disintegrate into ruin has been more than enough to convince him that sex is as serious as he ever wants to get about anyone. Even friendship seems questionable, a risk whose benefits usually do not justify the taking. Fun is what he is good at: casual pleasure with no attachments. Maximum gratification for a minimum of effort.
And so on this morning, as he takes the elevator up to the fourth floor, he is expecting nothing more than the possible entertainment of watching House drive off yet another hapless fellowship candidate, a break from the monotony of another idle day.
He is not expecting the interviewee to be female. Chase has been here long enough to hear that House never hires women for his team. For a moment after he enters the office, he finds himself struck dumb by surprise, standing in stunned silence and taking this woman in: long dark hair and glasses, and a sort of vulnerable sincerity in her eyes which makes him certain House will eat her alive. Not his type, but undeniably attractive in an unconventional way.
"Hi," says Chase finally, shaking himself. He has been staring rudely, allowing himself to fall victim to disorientation. Always a bad idea in this department, he has learned the hard way. He can't tell yet just what kind of game House is trying to play today, but he's already certain it will be different from the usual. He'll have to keep on his toes; even if he is not the one being tested today, these things tend to be rampant with collateral damage.
"You're not Dr. House," says the woman, looking at the floor. She catches her lower lip between her teeth, pressing it bloodless for a moment before letting it go and sucking in a breath.
"You're observant," quips Chase, then smiles to let her know that he's—mostly—joking. There's something about her which makes him suspect she might be offended by harsher sarcasm. Not waiting for a further response, he steps forward and offers his hand. "Robert Chase. I work with House. He won't be here for at least another half hour."
"Allison Cameron." She frowns, biting her lip again, a nervous habit which betrays the confidence in her handshake. "He told me to be here at nine. You're—on his team?"
"I am his team, currently," says Chase. "And he never shows up to work before ten, regardless of what he told you."
Cameron looks taken aback, even more lost than a moment before. "How long have you been here? Dr. Cuddy said House needed to hire a team. She didn't say anything about him having an existing one."
"Cuddy recruited you?" asks Chase, ignoring her question. This explains how she has gotten far enough to interview, and also spells certain doom. Chase cannot imagine House actually hiring anyone at Cuddy's recommendation, and especially not someone she seems to have thrust upon him with the sole intent to even out the department's gender ratio.
"Not—exactly," says Cameron, glancing around nervously as though she expects House to appear from some unknown hiding spot at any moment. "I applied as soon as I heard that Dr. House had an opening in his department. Dr. Cuddy just—said she'd do what she could to help me."
"Don't let House hear you say that," says Chase sharply. "Although he probably already knows."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Cameron crosses her arms, but her face still seems somehow too soft for the gesture. She is not accustomed to intimidating anyone, or perhaps even truly defending herself, Chase thinks.
"It means—Think rebellious teenager and overly strict mum. House really doesn't like anyone encroaching on his independence." Chase pulls out a chair and sits in it heavily, resting his forearms on the glass conference table. This conversation is oddly exhausting; there's something in Cameron's cluelessness that makes him feel oddly responsible for the trial she's about to face. Up until today, the fellowship candidates House has interviewed have all been more or less the same: brash, overly confident, and so full of ego it's seemed little else would fit inside their heads. It's been entertaining to watch House systematically destroy them, verbally rip them apart until they've left in a cloud of confusion. But Cameron seems honest in her intentions today, genuinely enthusiastic about this job no matter how ill-suited her personality may be. Chase finds himself feeling preemptively guilty for what is about to happen to her.
Cameron glances back and forth between him and the nearest chair, as though she can't decide whether sitting or standing constitutes the more strategic position. But before she can make a decision, House appears at last, pushing the door open with his cane and making his way straight to the whiteboard, file in hand.
"New case," says House, without pausing to so much as greet either of them.
"Dr. House," Cameron breaks in, the words coming out in a nervous rush. She steps forward as if to shake his hand, then seems to think better of it, looking at the floor in front of her instead, already partially defeated.
"I know who you are," says House, with an air of general annoyance.
"Don't you want to—interview me or something?" asks Cameron, looking more confused by the second. Regardless of what she may have heard about House's reputation—and she'd have to be downright oblivious to have heard nothing—she has come unprepared to deal with it face to face.
"Not really," says House.
"Wasn't that the point of my coming here today?" Cameron asks again, a hint of hardness edging her voice this time. Anger, frustration, or a complete façade, Chase can't tell. She isn't as easy to read as he'd thought at first glance, he realizes, and that makes her intriguing.
"No," says House. "The point was for me to determine whether you'd make a good addition to my team. An interview isn't going to tell me that, it's just going to be a waste of everyone's time. I need to know whether you can work on a case. Consider this a trial run."
"All right," Cameron agrees, after a moment. "Are you going to tell us who the patient is, then?"
"No," says House, and there's a glint in his eye which tells Chase this is very much a test, a game in which they are both about to play pawns. Reaching into his pocket, he produces a key. "Not yet. Wouldn't want to bias you. But I am going to tell you to go check out the patient's home."
"You want us to go to a patient's house?" Cameron looks stunned, completely unable to process this information. "Why? Is that even legal?"
"Take Pretty Boy here with you," says House, holding up a worn-looking key. "He can explain on the way. Besides, if you get arrested, he can always have Daddy bail you out."
"So, what now?" asks Cameron, when they are both seated in Chase's car. "House wants us to just—break into this patient's home?" She crosses her arms, looking tense still. Chase had thought that perhaps she might be more relaxed outside of the hospital, but now it seems more likely that this quiet anxiety is her way of life.
"He got a key," says Chase, thinking that at least they aren't being asked to pick a lock, for once. "He might have asked permission." House is testing Cameron, he knows, but he's fairly certain that actual breaking and entering would scare her away in a heartbeat. Everything about her exudes straight-laced rule-follower. And yet, he finds himself once again feeling vaguely protective; he does not want her to fail.
"Might have?" Cameron presses, craning her neck to look out the window. They are only a few miles from campus, in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Princeton. The street is lined with large old houses and equally majestic trees, resplendent with lush summer foliage.
Chase sucks in a breath as he parks along the curb, hoping this isn't about to be a disaster. In the six months he's spent working for House, he's developed a fairly high tolerance for humiliation, for the constant stream of ridicule, learned to accept it as a part of the method which leads to so many unlikely lives saved. An occupational hazard of working in the department. But today the stakes feel higher; if he ends up looking like a fool, Cameron will be here to see. Impressing her seems suddenly of paramount importance, though he tries to remind himself that her opinion should not matter. In all likelihood, he will never even see her again after today.
"House doesn't put much stock in patients' feelings," says Chase, as he turns the lock in the key. It works, he's relieved to find, and the house is dark and silent as they step into the entryway. Empty.
"Isn't that supposed to be what medicine is all about?" asks Cameron, hugging herself and shivering as she glances around. It's the height of summer, a heat wave raging outside, but the air conditioning in this house seems to be programmed for overcompensation.
"Not for House," Chase answers, bypassing the living room to investigate the kitchen. "He likes puzzles better than patients. And they usually don't tell us the information that's in their best interest anyway. Better to act blindly than to bias ourselves on their lies, he thinks." It's strange that they have not even been given a list of symptoms in this case, though he's not about to let Cameron know that. House's disdain for his patients is nothing new, but Chase has an uneasy feeling that today they are here to find something other than a cause of illness. House undoubtedly knows something he isn't telling them. He never does anything without an angle.
"You never said how long you've been working for him," says Cameron, opening the refrigerator and bending down to examine its contents. She is taking this search seriously, despite her obvious reservations about being here.
"Six months," says Chase, glancing over the cleaners under the sink. All organic and hypoallergenic, unlikely to be toxic unless ingested in large amounts. "I guess you could say I'm the survivor from his last team."
"He goes through employees quickly, then?" Cameron closes the refrigerator and moves on to the cupboards, standing on tiptoe despite her impractically high heels. "What happened to the others?"
"You've met House now," says Chase, evading the real question. "God knows why you still want to work for him."
"There's a lot of herbal supplements here," she answers, ignoring him. "These aren't subject to FDA regulation. Could cause dangerous interactions or side effects."
"Yeah," says Chase, distractedly. She deserves to know the truth about House's former fellows, he thinks, especially if she is going to have any real shot at staying in the department for more than just this afternoon. "We had a patient who was involved in a gang. House—sent the others to investigate the neighborhood. They were robbed at gunpoint. Quit that afternoon."
"And you didn't?" Cameron asks sharply, abandoning her search of the kitchen cupboards.
Chase shrugs, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I wasn't with them. And they were all right. Lost some cash, but they weren't hurt."
"Well, it's good to know that you're loyal," says Cameron, the biting sarcasm in her voice a surprise. She is an oxymoron, capable of instant metamorphosis from complete innocent sweetness to piercing caustic judgment. She turns and walks into the living room without giving him a chance to respond.
"Hey!" Chase calls after her, though he's not sure she can still hear him. "I like my job!"
Sighing, he finishes searching the kitchen, deciding not to go after her for the moment. He's well aware that his choices while working for House can be considered less than admirable. Still, if he quits this job, the alternative is likely a trip back home, and the thought of practicing medicine directly in his father's shadow is anything but appealing. He'd been much younger than House's previous two fellows besides, and had never felt any kind of camaraderie with the team. At the time, it had seemed almost a relief when they'd resigned. A chance for a fresh start. Now, three months later, House's games of constant procrastination are getting old.
"Chase!" Cameron calls from the living room, the tone of her voice shattering his thoughts. She's found something.
"What is it?" asks Chase, going to stand beside her, and falling silent when he sees what she's looking at: a stack of magazines and mail, all addressed to Lisa Cuddy. Suddenly this trip makes sense, the secrecy and the deception.
"He sent us to break into Dr. Cuddy's house," says Cameron, sounding at once shaken and indignant.
"Test us, and simultaneously annoy the boss." Chase snorts. "It's sort of brilliant, actually."
"Well, I guess that's my cue to go home." Cameron sounds as though she might actually cry. "You were right. He was just using me to get back at her. I can walk back to campus. My car's not that far away." She turns on her heel and is out the door with surprising speed, leaving Chase to hurry after her, feeling stunned.
"Cameron!" he calls, catching her arm before she can get past his car, surprising himself with the intensity of his resolve. "Don't quit."
"Why?" She turns on him in a rush, flushed and clearly upset. "So the two of you can have some more fun with me?"
"I had no idea what he was doing!" Chase protests. "And because—I'm tired of everyone letting him win. He was testing you. Trying to make you give up. If you come back after this—He just might take you seriously."
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