Sorry it's been a while! The second half of this chapter was a pain to write - I had all these really specific ideas for some exchanges between Cuddy and Chase, but it was hard to transition between them, and I'm not entirely happy with the transitions I did write. Thanks so much to chuck fan 81, KKBK2, Rhastahippy, calianabergman, LisaRom122, and Guest for your lovely reviews! KKBK2 and LisaRom122 - you have good points, I'm so used to people getting killed off left and right that the idea of everybody surviving didn't really cross my mind? Honestly, person in the most danger right now is Foreman, because he's kind of bland and it's harder for me to write his interactions with others. This is getting stupidly long now, so to finish off, love you guys, hope you enjoy, I'm hoping to have Cuddy and House reunite within the next two chapters.
Chapter Three: Peter and Wendy
House shakes his head, frustration written in his furrowed brow, the way he presses his lips together tightly. It's one of those looks he gets when a patient is being particularly stupid.
"This isn't a choice, Cameron. That leg needs traction and splinting."
She stays resolute, curled protectively around her mangled limb. "Uh-uh."
Logically, on some level, she knows he's right. House has excellent medical instincts – she's seen him correctly diagnose a patient with an obscure genetic condition based solely off the way their breath smells, seen him dig up tumours that not even CTs or MRIs could find. She should trust him to treat her leg.
But now, with the memory of the surge of pain from when he exposed the severity of her injury all too fresh in her mind, Cameron can't bring herself to do it. She's afraid of the pain, wholeheartedly regrets every disapproving frown and raised eyebrow she gave House when he took his Vicodin back at the hospital.
Currently, it hurts. When the adrenaline wears off, it'll hurt ten times as much.
She'd rather face that than traction. Traction is the kind of painful that kills people.
And although she'd never admit it, Cameron isn't prepared to suffer through a traction on House's orders, because if House wasn't able to save his own leg, how can he save hers?
"Cameron, we're going to be here for an indeterminate amount of time," Wilson says, with the soothing tone and kind face of the good cop. "The longer your leg stays in that position, the higher the risk of infection or nerve damage."
It sounds like a reasonable point, but House is always preaching about how Wilson can make a death sentence sound positive, so she ignores him.
"Alright." House pushes himself off the tree he's been leaning on and grabs his makeshift cane. "I let you ask, Wilson. Now that she's expressed an opinion I have absolutely no interest in, I'm going to conk her over the head with a rock so we can get on with it while she's unconscious."
Her head shoots up and she glares at him. He meets her eyes, completely unbothered, and smiles.
They both know he's perfectly willing to do it. Consent doesn't mean anything to him. House's patients have unreasonably high rates of post-treatment PTSD, largely caused by non-consensual surgeries or administrations of drugs, and nobody ever cares enough to investigate the matter because without him, those patients wouldn't be alive to suffer. People are going to care about the lack of consent even less outside of a hospital.
Cameron swallows. "You can't perform a traction without weights," she points out, hopefully.
He shrugs. "We'll DIY it. Wilson's a big arts and crafts nerd."
Wilson looks doubtful.
"Oh you, you're so humble," House praises him teasingly, before continuing in a more serious tone. "The main site of the plane crash isn't far from here – I passed it while looking for you two damsels in distress. If we go back, we might be able to scavenge some substitutes for medical equipment."
"The plane probably came equipped with a first aid kit," Wilson agrees. "If we were to find it, it could significantly improve all of our chances at survival."
"Isn't returning to the site of the crash dangerous, or something?" Cameron argues, thinking of all the action films she's seen. "I thought planes exploded after they crashed. Especially given we were already experiencing engine problems."
"Well, if it's going to explode, we should probably collect anything useful that's there while we have the opportunity."
House looks down at Cameron again. She can practically see the cogs in his brain whirring.
"We'd better take her with us."
She hadn't known that getting left behind was an option. Cameron's heart clenches.
"She can't walk," Wilson points out.
"Astute observation, Wilson. That's the kind of thinking that gets you a medical degree. I guess we'll have to drag her."
Cameron cringes, imagining her leg bumping up against all those rocks and tree roots. "That's gonna hurt."
"Wow, you guys are on a roll! If you carry on, it won't be long until you discover a cure for cancer."
They both know him well enough to not dignify this with a response.
"I'm thinking ahead," House says. "It's going to be dark soon. As well as the medical supplies, we're going to have to find shelter and a water source. This place doesn't offer either of those, and if we leave to search for them, it's going to be difficult to find our way back. However, I'd assume it's quite easy to spot a plane in a forest, regardless of the state it's in. Not to mention, I'm sure that plane's made of lots of handy bits and pieces that we could play with. Therefore, let's go." He drags out the 'go', like an impatient child trying to tug his mother away from the friend she's chatting with in the supermarket.
Wilson nods. "Okay."
House blinks, looking a little surprised. "Okay?"
"Yeah, okay, let's do it."
"You're not going to argue against this?" He asks Cameron.
Cameron shrugs. There's no point arguing. It's not like she can stop them, whatever they decide to do – as House so kindly pointed out.
She'd rather be dragged along with them than be left alone. And maybe the pain from the traction won't seem as bad if she already has increased suffering from having her leg jostled about on the journey to the site of the plane crash.
"Is this supposed to be some kind of reverse psychology?"
Wilson struggles out of his jacket, then lays it out on the ground. "Cameron can sit on the main part," he decides, "and we'll pull her along using the sleeves. We'll stop every few minutes so that the two of you can go rest, and I'll walk ahead to clear the path so that her leg's disturbed less."
"Sounds good," House says. "We should take work trips into the forest more often. The two of you have never questioned me less."
With some difficulty, the two of them half-lift Cameron onto the jacket. House makes snide comments about her being heavy and says she weighs almost as much as Cuddy's ass. She grits her teeth, tears spilling from her eyes, and tries to contain the agony that's broiling within her.
She wants morphine, and a soft hospital bed with pillows and clean sheets. She wants Chase by her side, holding her hand and lying about how everything's going to be okay. She wants to go home.
House points Wilson in the direction of the plane, and Wilson grabs a stick and walks ahead to clear the path, promising to return.
Cameron turns away from House, her feelings towards him considerably less charitable than usual, and hugs herself for comfort. House, to his credit, leaves her be.
Eventually, Wilson returns. The two men grab a sleeve each, and Wilson looks to Cameron, as though asking permission. "Just do it," she tells him, resigned.
And then they're off, like a bad joke, or some kind of demented party game. A guy with one working leg and a guy with one working arm, hauling an injured woman between them.
Cuddy likes to think of herself as pretty fit – she practices yoga every day, runs several times a week, and has a vegetarian diet.
It's not like her body usually suggests anything to the contrary. House is always giving her masked compliments about her ass, her legs.
So being out of breath from merely walking through a forest is a rude wake-up call. A few hours ago, when they first set off, Cuddy was a few feet ahead of Chase at all times. Now, he's in front and she's lagging behind, tripping as brambles and tree roots scratch at her bare feet.
After a while, the ground starts to slope upwards gently. It shouldn't make much of a difference, but Cuddy groans internally. Her head's pounding, her stomach's growling, her chest feels tight, and there's mud in-between her toes. She's not in the mood to hike up a hill.
Thankfully, Chase comes to a stop before they can get very far up the incline. Cuddy quickens her pace so he doesn't have to wait as long for her to catch up.
"Did you see something?" She asks, faking a yawn to mask just how out of breath she is.
"Sort of. I think we should stop here and rest for the night."
She shakes her head. "We have to keep going… The plane… The others, they might need our help…"
"We won't be of any help if we're dead from exhaustion. And that outcrop of rocks over there looks like a good place for shelter – maybe there's even a cave in there."
He's been looking for shelter for a while, she realises. He's been thinking ahead about survival while she focuses on complaints about dirt and being out of breath. Some leader she is.
"Fine, we can stop and rest," Cuddy declares. She isn't happy with herself for being so unproductive, but that doesn't mean she should argue with Chase's reasonable point. An important part of being an authority figure in a hospital – an important part of being a doctor at all – is being able to recognise when somebody else has a better idea than you. (Although House certainly takes advantage of this, like many of Cuddy's other beliefs). "I'm not sure about that cave, though. We don't know what could be hiding there."
And she's hardly in the right state to run away from predators.
"It wouldn't hurt to check."
"I get that you're Australian, but you're not Steve Irwin. And if you start wandering through random caves in the forest, there's a good chance you'll be ripped to pieces by bears or mountain lions."
"For all we know, this is a neighbourhood park in suburban-ville, Michigan. Doubt there'd be bears or mountain lions there."
"Emphasis on for all we know," she tells him, getting irritated. "We could be in Michigan. We could also be in Maine, or Canada. We didn't have a clue where we were going before, and now we're probably off course anyway because of the storm. Wherever we are, though, I doubt it's just some neighbourhood park – we haven't passed any hiking trails, or seen any trash or fire pits."
She feels slightly better for her observations around their surroundings. She hadn't realised that her brain was noting any of it.
He's quiet, arms folded over his chest as he thinks.
She waits for him to submit, wishing she had her heels so that she could stare him down without having to look up, which kind of ruins the effect.
"Fine," Chase decides eventually. "How about a compromise?"
Of course he won't give up. Cuddy blames it on years of working under House, who rejects his fellows' ideas enthusiastically whenever it suits him, thus encouraging them to be persistent.
"I'm listening," she offers, because she's above acting like House.
"I go up." Cuddy rolls her eyes, already disliking the idea. "I stay away from the cave. I look across, briefly, to judge how deep it is and whether any animals could be hiding there. Then, I come back."
She still doesn't like the sound of it, but she's tired and it's getting cold, and a part of her does like the sound of having somewhere to stay for the night, so she sighs and says, "Okay, go on. It's your funeral."
Chase treks up the hill with relative ease, and comes to a stop by a tree opposite the cave. She watches him squat down and shield his eyes, presumably to better see inside.
Cuddy half-expects something to pounce on him from out of the shadows, but nothing does. Instead, Chase grins and waves her over.
She feels the deep urge to ignore him and stay where she is. Not because she doesn't trust that it's safe, or because, judging by the ache deep in her bones, the short journey to the cave will be incredibly painful, but because she's in charge, and she wants him to know that.
And that scares her. Because it's not rational, or even-minded. It's childish – the part of herself that she tries to hide away in some closed-off corner in her brain, wedged in-between her mommy issues and most of her middle school memories. It's the part of her that House likes to bring out, the part of her that's desperate for control.
The only thing worse than freaking out over not being in control, is freaking out over realising that you can't control your emotions enough to stop yourself from freaking out over not being in control.
Cuddy tries to take one of those deep yoga breaths she rarely bothers with back home in an attempt to calm herself down, but all it does is make her ribs explode with pain. Her arms fly up instinctively to shield her body, and she swallows a yelp.
Okay, she tells herself, okay. She's going to stay where she is for the next minute or so, in order to make it clear that Chase doesn't have any influence over her. Then, she can join him.
And so, within the hour, they're both inside Chase's precious cave. The sky darkened quickly, and is now blacker than Cuddy has ever seen it, regardless of the bright pinpricks of stars. Unfortunately, she's glad that they're not sleeping out in the open, and as a result is already feeling the telltale squeeze of guilt in her chest for the way she's been acting around Chase.
He's crouched in the cave entrance, swearing as he tries to start a fire in a pitiful pile of leaves. She's perched uncomfortably on her knees, watching. Her legs are starting to numb and her head feels heavy, but she learnt quickly after trying to lean against the cave wall that most other positions will only bring her excruciating pain.
"Do you want me to try?" She suggests finally, sick of watching him fail and in desperate need of a distraction.
Chase glares at the pile of leaves, and hands over the sticks he's been using. "Knock yourself out."
Cuddy sets the sticks aside – they're too skinny and blunt – and picks out some others that are more suitable. Watching Chase not only showed her what not to do, but also reminded her of most of the steps for how to do this right. She sets a stick into a notch in a flatter piece of wood and starts twirling.
"You look like you know what you're doing," Chase says, with a note of surprise, which is fair enough – Cuddy's tight skirts and high heels don't exactly scream camping expert.
"I used to be a Girl Scout when I was younger. All that fire starting, shelter building stuff isn't exactly my forte, but I got the badge, so hopefully I can still do it."
She keeps her eyes on her hands, not wanting to see the look on Chase's face as he inevitably wonders why she – the apparently more experienced survivalist of the two of them – was the one who didn't want to stop for the night and rejected the cave as a shelter.
"The closest I ever got to camping was when the local church took all of us boys from the parish to stay by a lake for a week in the summer. We slept indoors and the only fires we lit were candles, with a match. You Girl Scouts probably could have kicked our asses."
"Probably," she agrees. Girl Scout politics often got nasty – she's got scars on the sole of her foot and the crook of her elbow that prove it. They wouldn't have had any problem beating up a bunch of wimpy boys.
"They still scare me a little now, actually, whenever they come knocking on the door to sell cookies. I usually let Cameron deal with them – she thinks they're adorable."
"I was best in my troupe at selling cookies." Cuddy smiles fondly at the memories. "My dad didn't even have to buy any of my stock – which is what ended up happening to most girls," she adds, for Chase's benefit.
They end up going quiet after that. Chase draws in the dirt on the floor of the cave, and Cuddy carries on twirling the stick, which is generating some promising heat.
"I think Cameron's still alive, you know," Chase speaks up.
She was sat next to Chase on the plane. Given he's survived, she probably has too. Then again, by that logic, Cameron should have ended up somewhere near the two of them, and they should have found her by now.
"I hope she is," Cuddy offers. "If none of them are alive, all the walking we've been doing is going to feel like a waste."
"This is going to sound stupid, but… I think I'd know if she was dead. I think some part of me would be able to tell. The world would feel different. Emptier."
It does sound stupid. It's the corny kind of thing House would spend days mocking Chase for. Cuddy's been a doctor for some years now, and nobody can ever tell when their loved one is dead and the world is emptier. Chase believes in it because he wants Cameron to be alive.
But she's not going to tell him that. She understands it all too well. She doesn't say anything at all.
"He's alive too, you know. House."
This time Cuddy does look up, and Chase's eyes are fixed on her all too knowingly. She turns away again.
"What, because if he died, all the birds would start singing and the Sun would start shining and there'd be a double rainbow?"
Not to mention, Vicodin sales would plummet.
"Bastards like House don't die. They're too spiteful. They outlive everyone else."
Except House practically wants to die. And that's now, while he's still at the peak of his career and has at least a few things to live for. She can't imagine him carrying on after Wilson dies.
She can't imagine herself carrying on if House dies.
"If he was going to die, he'd want to do it in an explosion of flames."
As though the word 'flames' is a magic incantation, Cuddy finally manages to create a spark, and cries out in sheer joy, feeding it with some of the kindling. Chase rushes over, eyes alight with excitement.
And in that moment, when it feels like she did something impossible, when her ribs are burning from the sudden movement and a burst of adrenaline is rushing through her veins, Cuddy decides that the next time she's going to see House, she's going to tell him she loves him.