NOTE: Last chapter! Thanks for humoring me on this diversion into a less serious plot. :) I know it probably wasn't to everyone's taste, but I hope most of you have enjoyed it! I'm already planning my next project, which will be a different sort of future fic, on an order of length somewhere between this and TRIS. Keep an eye out! Also, a huge thanks, as always, to vitawash24 for beta and moral support.


Epilogue

Chase tells himself that this is to be expected, that no part of his arrangement with Cameron has required commitment, loyalty, or sensitivity. He would not have accepted these things had she offered, he knows. Had she been searching for a real relationship, he would have refused outright, not allowed the possibilities to go anywhere at all. Cameron has bested him at his own game, walking away unscathed. He is the one who has pushed the boundaries too far, and allowed himself to get carried away. It is for the best, he tells himself. He has nearly fallen too far, already let himself get too attached.

Weeks pass, and neither of them mentions that last night of darkness and winter. Cameron is perfectly civil at work, every bit the professional, and yet somehow inexplicably more distant than ever. Chase returns to his usual weekend conquests, to the one night stands with inconsequential strangers he never plans on seeing again. He tries to tell himself that there is no shame in this way of life, that he has defined this path for himself intentionally, to be protected from the sort of pain he's witnessed in his own family. And yet, now it feels somehow empty, pointless, tainted. In his mind's eye, he feels as though he can see Cameron's judgment, hear her chastisement that what he is doing is unhealthy, that he ought to be searching for a real relationship, though she refuses to do anything of the sort for herself.

More than a month has gone by when Cameron shows up on his doorstep again. This time she is later than ever before, coming unannounced, and Chase is thankful that he is by chance alone. There's a smugness in Cameron's eyes which fills him with a strange sense of dread as she steps inside without a word, the subtle stench of cigarette smoke and stale alcohol clinging to her hair. She is dressed in tight jeans and a leather jacket, looking transformed as though she might be someone else entirely tonight. His first thought is that she must have come here from a bar, but that seems so out of character that he dismisses it without a second thought.

"What happened?" Chase asks instinctively, sensing that something must be wrong. And yet Cameron does not look upset; she is smiling, and there's a subtle edge of scorn in the upward curve of her lips.

"Nothing," Cameron purrs, stepping forward and immediately taking hold of his belt buckle. There's a blunt boldness in her movements that he has never seen before, and can hardly fathom coming from her. She removes his pants with such dispassion that he feels captivated, enthralled by the utter lack of intimacy in this moment.

"Wait," Chase stammers, catching her hands. "You said our—arrangement—was off. What's changed?" He has seen her take the lead before, been surprised by her aggressiveness in sex. And yet this still strikes him as something entirely different, wrong, as if she is trying to rebel against the vulnerability he stole a glimpse of the last time they were together in this way.

"I didn't say it was off," says Cameron, easily lacing their fingers. "I said I wasn't giving you anything more than sex. You didn't seem to have a problem running back to your old haunts when I stopped calling. So I'm assuming you won't have a problem treating me like a one night stand right now."

Chase finds himself struggling for a response, speechless yet again before her scrutiny. He does have trouble picturing her that way, he realizes. The reality of their relationship has been brought out in stark contrast to the several women he's spent the last few nights with. He does not even remember their names, yet Cameron has scarcely left his thoughts for a moment. It's been a relief thinking she was out of reach, the boundary carefully drawn out of his control and preventing him from getting too close. But now that she is here again, her face no more than a few inches from his own, he finds that he cannot bring himself to refuse her, to say anything that might make her run again.

"No," he whispers.

A look passes over Cameron's face which says she recognizes his uncertainty. But he has not voiced those thoughts, and he can practically see her conscious decision to ignore that reality. Leaning forward, she kisses him roughly, pushing his boxers down his hips. Chase steps backward out of the tangle of his pants and belt on the floor, and watches Cameron shrug out of her jacket. He peels his shirt over his head, then reaches forward to unbutton Cameron's jeans as she does the same. For a moment he stands still, breathing her in surrounded by darkness. He can feel something shifting and changing in the tension between them this night; they have reached some sort of breaking point, though he cannot yet say quite how or why. This night is at once a first and a last, a transformation undefined.

Feeling reckless, Chase sweeps her into his arms again, but does not dare take her into the bedroom this time. Instead he sets her down on the edge of the kitchen table, a stray salt shaker tumbling to the floor. Cameron looks up at him from the shadows, breathing hard. Ducking his head, Chase catches her nipple in his mouth, circling with his tongue. She moans deeply in response, goosebumps rising on the smooth plane of her back. Caressing her inner thigh, Chase moves his hand up to stroke her, listening to her gasps reach fever pitch. Cameron cries out softly as he slips himself inside of her, her fingernails digging into his skin as he drives his hips forward to meet hers.

It has been a scant few months since he first met her, since he saw her as nothing more than a hapless ingénue, a pawn in House's latest game of manipulation. They have come miles since that first day, and yet he still cannot quite define exactly what they are to each other. Breathlessly, Chase kisses her again, groaning when she curls her fingers into his hair, tugging him closer. He has missed this, even in the few weeks they have had apart, even in the wake of her frigidness at work. Chase moans into her hair as he comes, Cameron wrapping her arms around his waist as she reaches her climax a moment later. For a long time they stay that way, holding onto one another and breathing hard.

"Where were you tonight?" asks Chase, suddenly unable to be left unaware. He feels the same strange possessiveness toward her that was so striking when they first met, magnified tenfold now.

"I went to the monster truck rally," says Cameron, slipping down from the table with feline grace. She crosses her arms over her chest, but makes no move to retrieve her clothes from the living room hallway.

"With House?" Chase swallows, feeling suffocated suddenly. In the past, she has come to him in times of vulnerability, for a distraction from the emotions she is afraid to experience. But tonight he is struggling to understand, to make sense of this latest revelation.

"Yes," says Cameron firmly. "Like a date. Except not a date. But I think—maybe it was." She sounds as though she cannot decide whether she has come here to gloat or to seek reassurance.

"And you came to me," says Chase, wishing suddenly that he was not standing here entirely naked and exposed. "For sex. Why? Looking for a comparison?" He has not expected this anger in himself; he is jealous, undoubtedly. And yet these feelings are completely irrational. Their entire arrangement has depended on a deliberate lack of commitment. But now the idea of her so much as considering a real date with someone else—and especially House—sickens him.

"I—I didn't think—" Cameron takes a step backward, looking strangely hurt by his response, as though she has not considered that he might actually be angry.

"What?" Chase pushes, bitterness churning his stomach. "You thought you could just walk back in here, use me for sex, and then throw your date in my face?"

"It was just sex!" Cameron throws up her hands, but the tension of her body belies the fact that she is more defensive than exasperated.

"I'm not doing it anymore," Chase says coldly, forcing himself to take a breath. "This is going too far. You should leave." He has been falling in love with her, he realizes, slowly, surprisingly. All along he's been cheating himself into thinking that this meant nothing more than any of his other exploits so it would feel safe to continue. He is not ready for this: growing up, he has been absolutely certain that any attempt at a real relationship would spell disaster.

"Fine," Cameron answers flatly.

Watching her retreat into the night, Chase tries to find the relief it seems he ought to be feeling. He has narrowly dodged a bullet by his own standards, and yet all he feels is emptiness, disappointment in the shell of loneliness he's carefully built around himself. This is not over, he thinks. Now that he has allowed these feelings to creep into existence, they cannot simply be extinguished by one moment's decision.

On the day that they met, Chase did not believe in fate, in love at first sight, or even true romance, really.

Six years later, sitting in an empty condo and watching his discarded wedding ring spin precariously close to the edge of the coffee table, he remembers that moment. Leaning back into the couch, he closes his eyes and pictures that afternoon in House's office, Cameron an endless mystery cloaked in hopeful naivete. Practically since they met, they have been caught in this dance, coming back together time after time only to run away again. It feels hard to believe that things might finally be at an end, that they have both come so very far only to be cut short in this moment.

In the silence, the ring falls to the floor with a clatter.


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