TITLE: Simple Things (1/3)
SUMMARY: The news sits innocuously atop the day's completed reports, two sheets of paper declaring that his world is already shifting on its foundations. Post-finale closure.
NOTES: Welcome to my post-finale head canon. You're welcome to join me if you'd like to live here. ;) I promise I won't make you wait too long for the other two parts. I've been writing this fic in bits and pieces since May.
The day after the funeral, it rains.
Chase stands inside the empty Diagnostics office for a while, listening to the sound of the big, late-spring drops hitting the glass. It is the first time in many months that his life has slowed enough to allow awareness of something so simple, and yet he thinks that everything is about to accelerate once more, if he allows it. Time seems suspended in this moment, his life poised at the crest of a wave, prepared to ride it downward.
This office has been his sanctuary countless times before, home, confessional, and prison cell all rolled into one. Now it simply feels too large, conspicuous in its emptiness, as though his own life is yet too small to fill the enormous gaps left behind by House.
After awhile, he finds his way up to the roof, sitting on the wall, and inhaling the scent of wet earth as the drops gradually soak the wilting fabric of his ill-fitting dress shirt and slacks. Watching dirty water run down through the gutters, he allows his mind to wander through a decade in this place, all the countless ghosts and regrets.
He is uncertain how much time has passed when Cameron sits down beside him holding a large black umbrella over their heads. For a long moment she is silent, as though she might be nothing more than a memory. A phantom.
"I hear you're the new House," she says at last, her gaze on the depths of a puddle at their feet.
"Foreman wants me to be," says Chase. The prospect still seems impossible to truly consider, as though the past week has sent his whole world reeling, tipped off its axis by the House-shaped hole at the center of it all.
"Does that mean you don't want to be?" asks Cameron.
"I thought you'd left already," says Chase instead.
"Tonight," she says simply. "I wanted to talk to you first."
"What is there to say?"
"Thank you," she answers quietly. "For the card. And the duck. Sarah sleeps with it every night."
"I'm glad she likes it," says Chase. He doesn't tell her that the stuffed animal is one he'd first seen years ago, and fantasized about buying for their own future child. Those thoughts are pointless now.
Cameron looks at him in silence, and for one fleeting instant, it seems as though she might sense his guilty thoughts, might even share them. As though the rain, with its new-earth smell might somehow be capable of melting away all of the distance of the lost years, the regret. The delicate gold band on her finger. All of it falling away into possibility, blinding as the sunlight which paints the underbellies of the clouds molten silver. And then the moment passes, and is gone.
"I should go," Cameron says quietly, three simple words triggering a deluge of memories: the strangely intimate darkness of the clinic, the cold solidness of the exam table against his back, his fingers in her hair. The sadness in her smile tells him she is remembering too. And suddenly he is struck by the finality of it, this realization that sharing an unspoken memory is now the closest they will ever get. There is nothing to bring her back now, not even death.
Chase nods once, then hesitates. "Why did you come back? For the funeral, I mean. You and House—didn't exactly part on the greatest of terms."
Cameron shrugs. "It's House."
Her answer stings more than it ought to; there is no reason for Chase to believe that she would come back for him, and yet for just an instant, he thinks there was something beneath the surface.
"Take the job," says Cameron, then gets to her feet.
Chase watches raindrops scar the surface of a puddle, and thinks that even if he takes over the department, it will not make him House. It will not make him matter.
"Go be happy," says Chase, and tries to convince himself that what he really means is goodbye.
Foreman leaves the papers on Chase's desk at the end of an uncharacteristically slow day at the hospital. Later, he will wonder whether the lack of referrals was intentional, a carefully calculated gesture to ensure that his team will already be gone for the day, that he will have no excuses, nothing else in which to bury himself.
The news sits innocuously atop the day's completed reports, two sheets of paper declaring that his world is already shifting on its foundations. Chase pulls out the desk chair which still feels just a bit stolen and sits heavily in it, running his fingers over the thin sheets, as though they might disintegrate into fantasy in the dim lamp light. The details are minimal: one email and one airport itinerary.
It has been three months since he spoke to Cameron last, and he wonders how quickly things have fallen apart for her this time: whether it has been quick once more, a decisive collapse, foundations giving way on a moment's notice. Or whether, perhaps, the cracks might have formed more slowly this time, whether the doubts might already have been brewing in her mind when she'd come to the funeral, if their fleeting conversation had been intended as more—a test, a sign.
Chase runs his fingers over the smooth face of the paper, and pictures her neat signature, already etched in the permanence of ink, waiting for his own to complete their separation. Closing his eyes, he wonders whether the loops of her name looked the same this time, whether anything has changed.
The first thing he feels is instinctive bitterness, almost comforting in its familiarity. But this time it does not last, shifting like shadow into tentative hope, the sort of creeping, persistent possibility that steals his breath and tugs silently at his core. He wants this, he realizes, desperately.
Getting to his feet, Chase folds the pages into a tiny square and slides them into his pocket to rest against the scar that marks his heart.
Cameron looks like a ghost walking out of the nearly-deserted terminal, pale in the late-night fluorescent lighting, her hair framing her face and nearly obscuring the baby sleeping fitfully against her shoulder. She obviously is not expecting to meet anyone here, and for one breathless moment, Chase wonders what he will do if she does not notice him, if he might simply allow himself to disappear from her world once and for all.
But she does see him, almost immediately, altering her path to meet him where he is standing, in a corner near the baggage claim.
"Foreman told you," she says, coming to a stop in front of him. The baby is still asleep on her shoulder, tiny fingers wrapped around the collar of her shirt.
Chase is struck instantly by the intimacy of this moment, the terrible vulnerability of meeting her here, at this point on the path of her life. He wonders what it was like for her, getting off the plane in Chicago three years ago, whether there was anyone to meet her then.
"He made sure I knew," says Chase, though the sound of his own voice feels foreign in his ears, detached from the reality of standing here with her now, closer than he has ever expected to be again. He feels awash in adrenaline, surprised by how desperately he wants to reconnect with her, after three years trying to convince himself that his life has moved on. "I'm sorry if that's not what you wanted. It's just—it's late, and it's raining, and I thought—I've got a spare room, if you want it."
Surprise is reflected in the changing tension of her body, though it does not show on her face. She does not answer immediately.
"I know it's selfish," says Chase, "but I'm glad you're moving back. And I've got no expectations. I just want to help, if you'll let me." For the space of one breathless instant he is certain that this is all a mistake, that he has been right all along in keeping from her his true emotions.
But then Cameron smiles faintly, stepping forward to catch him in a one-armed hug. "Thank you," she whispers against his ear.
Chase's new apartment feels much too large and quiet, as though, even after two years, he has not allowed his life to fill the totality of its space. Looking at the bare walls of the guest room, Cameron cannot help comparing it to his first apartment in Princeton, where she'd stayed countless nights before they'd gotten the condo. It hadn't felt like a real home either, but at least it had suited all the many eccentricities she'd come to love about Chase. This place feels conspicuously temporary, and she wonders why. He's seemed perfectly happy, all things considered, at least in the brief contact they've had. But she is certain that he must think the same of her life, a pretty, insubstantial lie which has left her standing here now, with a suitcase full of regrets.
It's late by the time she's gotten Sarah settled for the night, but she is unsurprised to find Chase in the living room, a dismal news report on the television and a medical journal splayed open on his lap.
"Research?" she asks, moving to sit beside him. It's surreal being here with him now, and yet there is an inexplicable sense of safety in his presence. He ought to be angry at her, perhaps ought to consider this due penance on her part, and yet even that would seem a familiar relief in the mess that her life's become.
Chase shrugs, folds down the corner of the page, and tosses the journal aside, turning to face her. "Did you ever think that you could practice for an entire lifetime, and still never be as good as House?"
"No," says Cameron. "But I never tried to be him, either."
"Did you need something?" he asks, shifting quickly into concern.
"No," she repeats, wondering suddenly whether she ought to be allowing him space instead. "I just—wasn't ready to sleep yet. But I can leave you alone if you have work to do."
"Don't," says Chase, before she can get to her feet. "I'm tired of working."
For a moment they are both silent, the rain pounding on the roof overhead, the weight of the past three years hanging in the air between them.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here when you were in the hospital," says Cameron. She hadn't brought it up when she'd come for the funeral, though she'd been acutely aware of the slight shifts in his movements, the way he'd tried to hide the pain after sitting in a hard chair at the memorial service. It had seemed too dangerous then.
"I didn't want you to be here," says Chase, then softens. "I mean—you were married. You'd just had a baby. It wouldn't have been fair."
"Foreman told me that you asked him not to call," Cameron admits. She hadn't even sent a card.
"It doesn't matter," says Chase. "I'm fine now."
Cameron decides immediately that she does not believe him, but says nothing. That is not her place anymore; the entire world feels unfamiliar to her right now, upside down. On the television, footage plays of a shooting at a shopping mall, and she wonders, not for the first time, what it would be like for disaster to strike in this moment of quiet.
"I saw the wedding photos you sent Foreman," says Chase, a look on his face that she cannot quite read. "You and Steve looked happy. Whatever happened—I'm sorry."
"He had an affair," says Cameron, bluntly. "It started a few months ago and I knew, but—when I finally confronted him, he said I gave him no choice." She isn't sure why she is telling him this now, whether it is a real attempt at honestly, or merely a desperate ploy to convince him that she might yet be capable of real connection, that the ruin of her relationship is not solely her fault this time. And she has not even told him the worst, that she was willing to stick it out until he'd called their daughter a mistake, had implied that it would have been better had she not chosen to view her pregnancy as the miracle it was.
"I'm sorry," Chase repeats quietly. "I did want you to be happy."
"Why?" It's an impertinent question, and yet nothing else feels right in this moment. "I mean, you have every right to be angry at me."
"I'm not angry," says Chase, getting to his feet abruptly. "I got something for you."
Cameron glances around the room again as he disappears into the kitchen, searching for clues to the past three years of his life. When Chase returns, he is carrying a gallon of ice cream and a spoon, offering it to her tentatively.
"Seriously?" Cameron feels an instant rush of adrenaline at the simplicity of the gesture. For the first time, the enormity of everything that's happened seems to settle on her shoulders.
"Yes," says Chase, though he still looks uncertain. "I know it's ridiculous. But I thought it might help."
For a moment, Cameron allows herself to smile, comforted by the fact that for the many changes all around her, this part of him is still so very much the same. "Share it with me."
Cameron goes silent for a full week after finding an apartment. Chase has not been so aware of the time in weeks, has become accustomed to losing himself in work, sometimes spending days on a case without leaving the hospital.
But now he is acutely aware of the hours ticking by, the seasons beginning to change as the first cold snap of fall signals an end to the oppressive heat that's seemed to dull the air in Princeton all summer. He wonders whether he's said something wrong, offered too much too fast. Happiness has always seemed elusive between them, slipping through his grasp the harder he's tried to hold firm to it. Chase thinks that perhaps she is questioning just as much, that perhaps she is waiting for him to call. But he has risked too much already, wonders now whether pursuing her has always been his mistake, whether she has ever truly wanted to be with him at all.
On the second weekend since she returned to Princeton, Cameron calls him at last, leaving a message while he is at work. Her invitation is simple enough, and yet he spends the entire night second guessing himself.
When Chase arrives he brings a pizza along, because it feels like a safe excuse. He finds himself unready, still, to admit fully that he wants to be a part of her new beginning here.
Cameron's apartment is in the same complex where she'd lived after coming to work for House the first time, and Chase wonders whether it is a coincidence, whether she's actually looked anywhere else. She is smiling when she opens the door, but her body is taut with palpable anxiety.
"I wasn't sure you were coming," she says quietly. "You never returned my call."
"I'm sorry," says Chase, realizing only now that he should have called, instead of simply trying to guess her intentions as he has so many times before. "But I brought pizza."
Cameron takes the box from him, stepping back to usher him inside.
It feels oddly intimate, being in her apartment, surrounded by boxes. So many of her things are the same; Chase finds himself surrounded by ghosts of a previous life.
After dinner he sits on the floor across from her, handing her things to place on the heavy shelves that wrap around the tiny space. Sarah is asleep in the other room, though Chase finds himself acutely aware of her presence, a constant reminder of the dreams he's had and lost for himself.
Most of the books she's brought with her are textbooks and journals, although there's an entire box of children's books as well, many of which are still years beyond Sarah's abilities. Chase immediately notices the absence of the large collection of paperback romance novels she'd once kept shoved against the bottom shelf, all but obscured by overflow from the other categories. He wonders for a moment what she's done with them, and why.
"When did you move out of the condo?" she asks, surprising him.
"A few months after you brought the divorce papers," says Chase. He leaves unspoken the admission that he'd waited that long, until he was certain that she wouldn't be coming back, wouldn't be changing her mind. All the while holding onto anger, onto blame, clinging to all the many reasons why it never would have worked.
"I'm sorry," Cameron says after a moment. The look in her eyes is very far off, as though she might be staring into the depths of regret. "It's none of my business. I shouldn't have asked."
"It's okay," Chase answers quickly, surprising himself. It is the first time he's spoken these things aloud, shared them with anyone. "I want to know about your life too."
"I moved back in with my parents," says Cameron, decisively, as though this admission is a calculated risk. "Until I got pregnant."
"You didn't have your own place until then?" asks Chase, handing her a stack of colorful picture books, grateful for the distraction. That she would allow herself to remain so dependent for so long seems contrary to everything he has ever known about her.
"I never had my own place," she answers, flipping through the stack of books absently, before deciding on an arrangement. "I lived with my parents, and then when I found out I was pregnant, I moved in with Steve."
"That just—doesn't sound like the you I know," says Chase, gently. All this time, he's been picturing her life as a strategic success, the polar opposite of the mess he's found himself acting out over and over again.
"I wasn't—exactly trying to get pregnant." Cameron puts the books down and pulls her knees up to her chest, looking suddenly very young. "I wasn't in a good place when I moved. Obviously. Getting pregnant was the one amazing thing that came out of a hell of a lot of stupid decisions."