TITLE: Valence Theory (1/?)
SUMMARY: He had been unable to quiet these doubts the first time, to follow Cameron to Chicago and save their future together. Now, he wonders whether he is moving toward atonement or disaster. A sequel to The Long Count.
NOTES: This is almost certainly going to be my last fic. I've decided to write it even though I am in the midst of moving to another state and starting graduate school. Because my life is unpredictable right now, I can't promise regular updates like I have with the last few of my fics. All I can tell you is that I'm doing the best I can with what time I have right now. To those of you still with me on this journey, I truly thank you.
February 12, 2013
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
Standing at the edge of the terminal in the nation's busiest airport, Chase feels engulfed in a sea of life, the overwhelming hum of people talking, rushing a thousand different directions to a thousand different corners of the world. There is an odd sense of claustrophobia about it, as though he might find himself swept away in the tide of a stranger's life. He is reminded of his first time in an American airport, waiting for the connecting flight to deliver him the rest of the way to Princeton and the microcosm of House's world.
Now he can think only of Cameron, due to be on the ground in this airport at any moment. He has not seen her since their rushed Christmas Eve dinner; she had gone straight from her family home in Chicago to her most recent assignment in Africa, leaving Chase to return to Princeton with the lingering question of moving. The past six weeks have passed with scarcely any communication. At first he'd been afraid to contact her, afraid that she might have changed her mind and that it might already be too late for him to make the commitment to rebuilding their relationship. By the time he'd made the decision, her team had been unreachable, in the thick of the outbreak.
Now he feels as though he is staring into the unknown once more, having made the ultimate leap without any bottom in sight.
House had, predictably, been at his desk on the evening of Christmas day. Finding the emptiness of the condo intolerable, Chase had walked to the hospital just after sunset, amidst piles of dirty snow and windows alight with family gatherings. He was not sure what it was that led him to the Diagnostics office, but he had been unsurprised to find it bathed in the blue-green glow of House's television, a rerun of General Hospital reflected against the glass of the door.
"Bring me a letter?" House had asked without so much as looking up.
"You're resigning, right? God, it's like 2007 all over again." House had turned around at last, switching off the television with the tip of his cane. "The tactful thing would have been to slip it inside a Christmas card."
"You don't need a letter from me," Chase had answered. "Apparently you can read my mind. And you couldn't care less about tact."
"I knew you were going to leave the moment I sent you to work on Cameron's case." House had smiled slowly, an expression not entirely free of cruelty. "Truth is, you've been halfway out the door since the moment you got married. The divorce just slowed you down."
The three weeks since completing his move here have been filled with anxiety, a feeling of danger verging on the terror he'd felt during the last days of his marriage. It has been all he could manage to convince himself that it is not an omen of things to come, that he simply must surrender to the chaos of transition. He had been unable to quiet these doubts the first time, to follow Cameron to Chicago and save their future together. Now, he wonders whether he is moving toward atonement or disaster.
He almost does not recognize Cameron when she emerges from the crowd at last, head bowed, energy focused on the large, unwieldy suitcase she is wheeling behind her. She has only been gone for six weeks, but her hair has grown longer and somewhat untamed, her pale skin tanned in the harsh sun. She looks as though she might be returning from some tropical vacation, save for the shadows of exhaustion on her face. He finds himself wondering, as he has so many times before, what hardships this latest case have brought her, what horrors she might have had to endure in the field. He feels fiercely protective toward her now, though he is painfully aware of the futility of this emotion. There is nothing he can do, and he alone has hurt her more than anyone else in the world besides.
"Allison." Her name leaves his lips before Chase has even registered his own conscious action; he steps forward as she is about to pass by, lost in her shell of stress and exhaustion.
Cameron freezes, though he's scarcely spoken loudly enough to be heard above the buzz of the crowd. "What are you doing here?" she asks at last, shifting to stand by the wall, avoiding the flow of traffic streaming out of the concourse and toward the baggage claims in the main terminal.
"I thought—Well, I found out you'd be coming back today, and I thought you might want a ride home from the airport," Chase answers lamely. He is not sure what keeps him from telling her everything immediately; after all, she is the one who asked him to move. Yet he knows all too well that she has never liked surprises, is just as likely to react with resentment as joy. And it feels like a failure in a way, moving here belatedly.
"I'm surprised you didn't just stay in Atlanta," House had said, leaning back precariously in his chair. "Although actually, I'm not that surprised. I should've known you'd need to ask my permission. You are still Dr. Daddy Issues. Thanks for the reminder."
"I can't just drop everything here," Chase had protested. "It's eight years of my life."
"Did you come looking for an excuse to stay?" House had asked. "If you did, you haven't learned anything at all."
Chase had been silent, unsure whether that was the reason after all, after everything.
"So you flew here—from Princeton—just to pick me up at the airport?" Cameron asks incredulously, clearly not expecting what he is here to tell her.
"Not exactly." Chase runs a hand through his hair, struggling to center himself. "I actually—just live a few miles away now."
Cameron pauses, her silence growing, becoming impossibly more inscrutable as the moments pass. "I have luggage that needs to be picked up," she says at last, sidestepping his confession entirely.
"Okay." It is the only thing to say at the moment; Chase knows better than to push her now, though her evasion stings.
She does not wait for him to follow, taking off in the direction of the baggage claim sign, dragging her suitcase behind her like a shield. Her gait is quick and deliberate; Chase recognizes this act from long nights at the hospital, when they'd first started working together, and she'd been unwilling to let anyone see her weaknesses. She must be exhausted, he knows, after back to back cases and two days in the air. Cameron has always been a nervous flyer, though he is willing to bet she hasn't admitted that to any of her colleagues. His mind is racing now, flying through possibilities as though trying to diagnose her coldness like an illness. Any conclusion which does not doom his intentions here.
"Did you fly back alone?" he asks, as they come to a stop. The bag claim carousel has just started moving, empty belt spinning. If he can just get her talking, he thinks, he might be able to approach an answer. In this moment, he feels as though they are truly beginning again from scratch, even the progress they made in Oceanview eroded by the tide of the last six weeks.
"Yes," she answers simply, stepping forward to edge her way in front of an older couple as the first bag appears on the belt.
Chase follows, still trying to convince himself to remain undeterred. For the second time in his life, he has made the decision to put everything in his life on the line for her.
"What do your bags look like?" he tries again, leaning over her shoulder a little as she bends forward to look down the belt.
"There's just one," she answers, still resolutely disengaged. "It's black. And I really don't need your help. I did manage to survive airports before you came along."
Chase sighs, taking a step back and watching her. She stands in silence for a few minutes, letting the din of the airport wash over both of them once more. Finally, she makes a grab for a very large duffel, scarcely managing to retrieve it without knocking anyone else to the ground. Cameron turns immediately, heading toward the door without another word, without so much as pausing to put on her coat, obviously struggling with the weight and sheer bulk of her bags, an exercise in stubbornness Chase will never understand.
"You're never going to live happily ever after," House had said, when the silence had stretched to intolerable tension. "You take a gamble on happiness, you're always going to lose."
"My relationship is my relationship," Chase had insisted flatly. This kind of opposition he had come to expect from House, his own weaknesses revealed under the guise of a twisted lesson. "Pretty sure I've said that more than enough times by now."
"But you have yet to follow through and act on it." House had turned to stare back at the blank television screen, a sure sign that a conclusion was coming. "And my point still stands. You got so carried away trying to make this perfect unreality. Then, at the first sign of danger, you gave up and ran away. Accept that you're never going to be Prince Charming. You don't need to pay penance for being human. Then maybe you'll be able to get on with your real life."
With that, he had switched the television back on, leaving no room for a reply. The nearest thing he'd ever offered to closure.
"Let me take one of those," Chase presses, hurrying to catch up with Cameron as they step into the outside.
"I'm fine," Cameron insists, finally pausing long enough to glance over her shoulder at him, though she still dodges eye contact. "Where are you parked?"
"So you don't have two seconds to say hello, but you've got no problem letting me be your chauffeur?" For the first time tonight, Chase feels doubt beginning to win out. He is willing to grant her exhaustion and anxiety, fear even. But she has given no clue that there is anything beneath the façade this time. He thinks again of House's words, feels frustration boiling hot in the pit of his stomach. It feels as though his fate has already been decided, as though somehow he is still being punished for his mistakes three years past. And though he still feels undeserving of true forgiveness, the injustice of Cameron's coldness now is nearly unbearable.
"I don't like airports," she answers simply. "We can talk when we get to your place."
"My place?" Chase gapes at her for a moment, angered beyond words. "Seriously, Allison, what is going on here? The last time I saw you, you asked me to drop everything and move to be with you. Now I tell you I'm crazy enough to have actually done what you asked, and you won't even talk to me? Help me out here, because I'm starting to think I made a mistake."
"I missed you," Cameron answers quietly, reaching up tentatively to touch his cheek. Her fingertips are icy in the winter air, her hand trembling almost imperceptibly. "I want to see your apartment." The day is frigid and overcast, her breath casting delicate wisps in the air.
There is a hint of vulnerability in her now that Chase still cannot quite read, but it is a glimpse beyond the iron shell of her defenses. In this moment, he is struck unexpectedly by how very much he has missed her, how desperately he longs for this to be a happy night. His anger drains away just as quickly as it has come, replaced by a terrible hollow grief, the ghost of everything they have already lost.
"This way." Chase offers a hand to take her bag once again; this time, she hands over the duffel wordlessly, following him as he leads her toward the parking deck. The bag is heavier than he'd imagined, six weeks of trials and buried doubts. A multitude still remains unspoken between them, but he feels as though words are somehow insufficient. Now, he finds himself hoping that his new apartment can be a sanctuary, the birthplace of this new beginning.
Cameron rests her head against the window as he merges onto the highway and into Atlanta rush hour traffic. Instantly Chase feels the tension rise again. He has been in the city scarcely three weeks, unfamiliarity overwhelming every time he is forced to venture outside the relative safe space of his new home. Driving here makes him feel as though he might as well have just moved overseas again, as though everything is moving too quickly around him, a bombardment of threats. That the world has been covered in ice for the past few days only adds to the difficulty.
Years working with the most critical patients have taught him that disasters do not occur in silence or slow motion, that in crisis the world accelerates impossibly, challenging the threshold of perception. He is nearing the exit when the truck driver one car ahead loses control. Chase does not have time to see exactly what has happened, though he is too well aware that the roads are treacherous with black ice. The back end of the truck swings sharply in a deep jackknife, tipping over onto its side, an instant roadblock. The rust-spotted sedan immediately in front of Chase swerves and slows, but is unable to stop, breaking through side of the truck with the sickening sound of metal splintering.
And then there is nothing he can do but brace himself against the steering wheel, Cameron's sharp gasp from the seat beside his more terrifying than the sight of the smoking wreck. In the instant before collision, he reaches for her hand, holding on desperately as the world spins out of control.