TITLE: Clockwatching

CHAPTER: Prologue

RATING. PG, for now.

PAIRING: Chase/Cameron

SPOILERS: Nothing solid, but everything up to at least "The Itch" can and likely will be eventually referenced.

WARNINGS: None for this section.

SUMMARY: "Time is too slow for those who wait; too swift for those who fear; too long for those who grieve; too short for those who rejoice. But for those who love, time is eternity." – Henry Van Dyke

NOTES: This is, for the most part, a character study that takes place over the journey of several chapters and several emotions. The concept is something I would truly love to see explored in canon someday. Until then, it exists in my imagination and within the words of this story. Constant thanks to enigma731 for beta, conceptual discussion, and support.



December 24th – 6:25PM

It's somewhat ironic, Cameron thinks, that the atmosphere within the ER is one of laughter and cheer even amidst the endless chaos of holiday traumas and families destroyed. It should be the sort of thing that ruins your Christmas spirit and forces you to believe there really is no such thing as a life lived unbroken, but Cameron's been here for twelve hours now; the fact that she was able to save her latest patient from joining the ranks of holiday tragedies is more than enough to help her forget the sadness of all the others she's lost today.

A year and a half ago, it never would have been like this. Before she was promoted to Senior ER Attending and took over as head of the entire department, Cameron used to remember every name, age, symptom and diagnosis of the people she treated as a part of House's team. But the daily flood of patients down here is simply too much, and dwelling on each one individually is a recipe for disaster. This, she knows for a fact. It only took two weeks in her new position before she ended up on Chase's doorstep completely overwhelmed by the responsibility of so many lives and the inability to save them all. After hours of grieving those she'd lost and those she knew would slip through her fingers every day from then on, Chase's quiet stories of his Intensive Care years helped her to understand the necessity of compartmentalization.

"The bad news is that you never get used to it," he'd said.

But never getting used to it was the good news, as well, because allowing death to affect you is a daily reminder of your ongoing chance to truly live. Chase had made certain she understood the importance of taking the good from the bad, and using that good to get through each daunting day. From that night on, slowly but surely, Cameron had learned how to process the sadness quickly and carry on. She had begun delegating more and pressuring herself less. The dull ache of daily failure still throbs deep within her chest sometimes, but now it makes her even more appreciative of success – and of her own life, no longer kept on hold.

Eighteen months ago, a day like today would have sent Cameron home in tears, wanting nothing more than to curl up in bed and forget that the world existed at all. But now, as she pulls off the bloody trauma gown and latex gloves, tossing them quickly into the bio-bin by the double doors before hurrying down the hallway toward the nurses' station, all she can think about is getting home to her over-decorated apartment filled with her extravagantly wrapped gifts and her soon-to-be-unwrapped boyfriend.

"Someone's pleased with herself."

Cameron smirks triumphantly at Linda, the middle-aged nurse leaning up against the counter and examining a patient's chart. "Crisis averted," she replies as she moves around to start entering data into one of the computers. "And, miraculously, I got it done before my shift ended. Which means…"

"Don't get ahead of yourself, boss. Five-car pileup just out on the main road and – "

"That's the beauty of being the boss, Linda," Cameron interrupts, still smiling sweetly. "I can pull rank and tell you to hand it off to another attending."

Two years ago, Cameron worked straight through Christmas just like always. If you have nothing to go home to, you might as well immerse yourself in the work you love. One year ago, she would have gladly worked the holiday if anyone had called her in. If you're trying to convince yourself that you're not falling in love, it's easier to accomplish if you can escape those memorable occasions. But if you've succumbed to vulnerability – made room for love in your drawers as well as your heart – the thought of spending Christmas apart is nothing short of unacceptable.

"True," Linda laughs lightly in response, "unless every other attending is already with the traumas that came in while you were working on yours. And the roads are so icy, Dr. Vasquez hasn't made it in yet, which means…"

"No way. I am going home. I am going home to my Christmas tree and my boyfriend, and we're going to eat greasy take-out dinner and watch a cheesy Christmas movie on the couch. So you can just pretend you never said any of that to me, okay? Besides, Dr. Garman is here already, so you have more than enough – "

"Sorry, kid," Linda interrupts with the tone of a mother trying to let her child down easily. "Garman's the only one not currently on a case. Can't handle three incoming traumas with only one attending. Maybe you'll get lucky and they won't be so – "

"No no no, stop!" Cameron jumps in so suddenly and forcefully, she sounds just like a desperate teenager begging for permission to borrow the car for the night as her eye catches the clock on the computer – 6:27 – before continuing to fight back. "My shift ends in three minutes! Three! Please tell me you're joking."

"No such luck, I'm afraid. And they're less than two minutes out. No time to escape."

Lowering her head until it makes contact with the monitor in front of her, Cameron sighs heavily in defeat and groans. "Fine. What are we dealing with?"

"Um, let's see… 39 year old female, Melissa Jenkins, and an unknown passenger – Doe, Lamb – and then another unidentified male from a different vehicle – Doe, Monkey. All three are unconscious. The rest of the victims were treated on the scene."

Cameron's head slowly rises again to meet Linda's eyes, which are clearly looking toward her awaiting directions on how to proceed. But Cameron can only think one thing. "Lamb and Monkey? Have we seriously had so many Does already today that we're on L and M?"

Face falling just a little, Linda shrugs slightly and hands the initial trauma report across the counter. "Merry Christmas to all."

"Dr. Cameron!" comes a shout from across the room, and she glances over to see two other nurses and one of her young residents rushing toward the doors of the ambulance bay.

Cameron jumps up quickly, totally professional again now that duty actually calls, and starts to take off in the direction of the incoming gurney before stopping in her tracks and turning to Linda once more. "Call Chase for me? He's gonna kill me."



"BP is dropping again!"

Cameron looks up at the monitor from where she's examining the patient's abdomen when her resident makes the announcement, as if she can't already tell something is drastically wrong by the frantic and incessant beeping shrilling throughout the trauma room. "Are we sure there's no bleed anywhere? His face is covered in blood, there must be something causing the drop!"

"It's just a head lac," one of the nurses replies as she works to clean some of the blood away "enough to keep him unconscious, but it wouldn't drop his BP like this!"

"There has to be an internal bleed, then. Get me a syringe," she demands quickly, putting pressure on the abdomen again in an attempt to locate any obvious areas of distress.

"Dr. Cameron…" She hears the same nurse from before just as another hands over the requested syringe and sanitizes a small area of the abdomen in preparation of the needle test.

"Charlie, I need you to get ready," Cameron barks at the young resident without taking her eyes from the newly cleaned spot of skin, "you may need to call for an OR…"

"Dr. Cameron, I really think – " the suddenly passive nurse tries once again.

"Just give me two seconds!" she shouts authoritatively, inserting the needle into the abdomen of this unidentified man and pulling back on the syringe, slowly.

"But you should – "

"Dammit! He's bleeding into his abdomen," Cameron yells in Charlie's direction, quickly and carefully removing the blood-filled syringe and turning to place it on the tray behind her. "Make the call. He needs exploratory surgery to locate the bleed. Get him prepped to – "

"Dr. Cameron!"


"I'm sorry, but… It's Dr. Chase…"

The room goes silent, save for the morbid symphony of monitor beeps, as Cameron's eyes immediately move to focus on the face of the man she's been trying to save. What was once completely concealed by blood is now freshly cleaned and offering up the previously undiscovered revelation of identity. Robert Chase. There is no question – no mistake.

Cameron slowly takes two small steps backward, distancing herself just slightly from the tragedy that threatens to add her own name to that list of families destroyed on this day. She can do nothing but stare, terrified, at the battered face of her boyfriend as her chest starts to constrict and all sound fades away. The last thing she hears is Charlie on the phone, alerting someone at the OR desk that their own Dr. Chase is being sent up for an emergency procedure.

And then she runs.