SUMMARY: When Cameron returns to Princeton Plainsboro, Chase hears about it immediately. A Christmas vignette.
NOTES: I hadn't intended to ever write another House fic, but the idea came to me, and being Christmas, I couldn't just ignore it. I'm not sure what will happen with my other unfinished fics – consider them on indefinite hiatus still. I'm sorry about that, but my life has just gone in another direction. By the way: You might be able to find me in another fandom now, if you know what to look for, and care to try. ;)
When Cameron returns to Princeton Plainsboro just after Thanksgiving, Chase hears about it immediately. Not, ironically, from Foreman, who has hired her back himself. Instead he finds out from Molly, the bottle-blonde nurse who's been making eyes at him since he'd gotten stupid enough to make a regular habit of sleeping with hospital staff.
For two weeks, he does nothing with the information, save for finding her name on the staff schedule hung in the locker room, running his fingers over the ink as though it might break some sort of spell, bring back the past. In a way, her new proximity changes nothing; he has known where she was all along, been perfectly able to contact her had it seemed that doing so might have had any meaning.
She is working in the ER once again, and when the days pass without a single referred case, without so much as a glimpse of her in the cafeteria or the line at the coffee shop, Chase wonders whether she is hiding intentionally, while living in the shadow of their shared past.
On Christmas Eve, surrounded by the empty stillness of his apartment, he decides that he is finished questioning. He knows that she is working, her hours practically burned into his memory. Waiting with his back to the cold wall outside of the ER, Chase remembers holidays at her parents' house, loud and boisterous, filled with a joy he'd never expected to experience, bliss which had seemed transient even then, too ephemeral to hold onto.
Cameron looks tired when she appears at last, nearly slipping by with the rest of the staff trickling out at the shift change. But she pauses when she catches sight of Chase, an emotion that is not quite surprise breaking through the exhaustion in her eyes.
"I was starting to wonder if you'd ever get around to this," she says quietly, shaking her head. "Or are you supposed to be the ghost of Christmas past?"
She looks older, Chase thinks, calmer, somehow. Not unrecognizable, but still profoundly changed.
"You left," he says simply. "And now you're back. And you didn't say anything. I'm not—exactly sure how I'm supposed to interpret that."
"That's sort of the point, isn't it?" Cameron laughs softly at his look of confusion. "Let's go for a walk."
The night is bitterly cold, the ground treacherously icy as Cameron leads the way onto the narrow path that divides the hospital grounds from the university's campus. She comes to a stop on the little footbridge, and Chase suddenly remembers standing here with her years before, watching twigs sail by in the water below.
"You never tried to find me," she says at last, her gaze on the dark current of the river as delicate snowflakes drift slowly down, vanishing at its surface.
"It's only been a few weeks," Chase protests. "And you told Foreman not to say anything to me. What was I supposed to think?"
"Not now," Cameron interrupts impatiently. "I meant—before. You didn't try to stop me, didn't try to get me to come back. Even when I brought the divorce papers, you didn't try to change my mind. Not really."
"You left," Chase answers, feeling a fresh stir of confusion. "You told me that you couldn't love me. Did you want me to stop you?"
"I did then." With gloved fingers, Cameron breaks an icicle off the underside of the bridge's railing, and drops it into the water with a tiny splash.
"And now?" Chase swallows.
"I'm glad you didn't."
Chase shoves his hands into his pockets; he's forgotten his own gloves, and the night seems frigid and vast, even the stars overhead only a distant reminder that this ought to be a time of celebration.
"I thought—you'd changed," says Cameron. "Become someone I couldn't love."
"You were right," says Chase bitterly, wondering how much she has heard about his behavior in the past four years. "Why did you come back?"
Cameron turns to meet his eyes at last, a quiet intensity in her gaze that leaves him feeling raw, shockingly vulnerable. "I was happy here."
"But you weren't going to tell me you came back?"
"It's not about you," Cameron answers, an odd tenderness in her tone. "When I left, I blamed you for my unhappiness. But—it was me. I've gotten so used to expecting the worst, cutting my losses—"
"You never expected our marriage to last, did you," Chase whispers. It isn't a question.
She turns away again, shoving snow off of the railing with the heel of her hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't know what I was doing."
"And now?" he asks. "Are you happy?"
"No," she admits. "But I'm trying."
"I missed you," says Chase, moving to stand closer beside her.
She looks up at him again, sharply.
"What now?" he asks, the words trailing out a white apparition in the cold air. "D'you think we could at least—try to be friends, or something?"
Cameron is silent for a long moment before answering. "No. I don't think it works that way."
Chase reaches out despite himself, resting chilly thumb and forefinger against the warmth of her cheek, and Cameron shivers, goosebumps rising on her skin.
"This isn't a good idea," she whispers, but then in the same breath she is kissing him, misgivings forgotten as his arms wrap around her waist.
"Since when has anything about us been a good idea?" Chase breathes when she pulls away at last, his fingers still tangled loosely in her hair. It is mostly a joke, but there is truth in the words as well, an unpleasant possibility he has never truly allowed himself to consider before: This thing between them might not ever lead to the sort of happy ending he had once dared to envision. And yet it seems far more painful not to try.
"I'll probably hurt you." Cameron bites her lip, her eyes darting to the side again, avoiding.
"I know." Tracing the line of her neck, Chase draws her to him again, memories dancing in the back of his mind: everything that has been, and never will be. At the center of it all the unknown, bright like a star, proclaiming the miracle of possibility, of hope.