Cameron kept experiencing the strangest sense of disbelief that the past twenty-four hours were actually part of her life. Yesterday morning Chase had broken up with her, angry and strangely fragile all at once. By the end of the day he'd forgiven her and proposed, and what had seemed like an awful idea became a tiny, grasping thrust of hope into their world. Still, they'd agreed that night to take their time, to make sure this was a good fit.
"Don't worry," she'd murmured into his ear, "I won't make you wait forever." She'd fallen asleep with her heart full and her cheek against his shoulder.
Then this morning Chase had slipped in the bathroom and hit his head hard enough on the edge of the tub to knock himself out. Cameron's leg jiggled nervously as she sat by Chase's bed in the ER. He kept fading in and out of consciousness, never quite coherent enough to answer questions, and she wanted to try to catch him if he started to genuinely wake up. He stirred slightly, and she jolted out of her reverie.
"Chase?" Cameron perched on the edge of the bed, pulling his hand into her lap. "Can you hear me?" He blinked, struggling to focus on her, and Cameron smiled encouragingly as she brushed her thumb over his knuckles.
"Cameron?" Chase croaked at her. He squinted, and she realized the lights might be too bright.
"Hey. You gave me quite a scare," she said gently. Chase's fingers gripped her hand a little as he looked at her oddly, and her medical mind went into action. "Do you feel nauseous?"
"No, I – my head hurts." Chase looked at her perplexedly. "What happened to your hair?"
Cameron laughed. "Nothing happened to it. It's probably just a mess. I don't think I brushed it before I left."
"But - it's blonde."
Cameron blanched, her heart suddenly pounding. "That's not funny," she hissed.
"It's not meant to be." Chase said, looking genuinely confused.
"This can't be happening," Cameron said softly. "This doesn't happen."
"What doesn't happen?" Chase said, an edge of terror creeping into his voice.
"Oh God." She was an idiot. He didn't need to hear that. "I'm sorry, Chase. It'll be fine. We'll take care of you." She squeezed his hand gently, willing herself to stay calm, and reached for the call button on the bed.
The neurologist who spoke with Chase had to admit this was a rather thorough case of retrograde amnesia for someone who hadn't been receiving electroshock therapy. Chase remembered being a doctor, remembered working for House and getting knocked on his ass in the hallway. But he thought he was still a fellow in diagnostics, and in general seemed to be missing a large chunk of the last two years.
She was sitting in the hallway, sort of hiding because attempting to explain to Chase that she was supposed to be there was just going to be more confusing to him. Just when she thought she couldn't be more frustrated with the situation, House loped up and sat in the chair beside her.
"What happened? Chase wasn't dying so you tried to kill him?"
Cameron glared. "He slipped in the tub."
"Suuuure. Tell the truth. It was the headboard. Some kind of embarrassing bondage incident," House said, cane tapping from one foot to the other. "But other than a goose egg, you don't appear to have done much damage."
"I didn't do anything to him," Cameron snapped, then let the flash of anger relent and leaned her head back against the wall. "House...he doesn't remember being fired. He thinks he still works for you. He thinks I still work for you."
House narrowed his eyes, a smirk curling at the sides of his lips. "So he doesn't remember you, either."
Cameron bit her lip and shook her head, glad that someone had finally said it. "No. I think – he just thinks it's weird that I keep checking on him."
"Like you wouldn't have done that anyway two years ago," House scoffed.
"I don't know," Cameron said softly. "Maybe not." House looked at her for a long moment, but Cameron refused to look back, keeping her eyes focused on a poster advising frequent hand-washing across the room.
House got to his feet and tapped the side of her shoe with his cane. "Think of it this way," House said, "Eventually he might get some of the time back. And if you haven't been in there, he'll be a giant ball of neuroses trying to figure out why. So unless that's something you want..."
"Of course I don't want that!" Cameron snapped, more loudly than she intended. House raised his eyebrows comically, and Cameron got to her feet and stomped into Chase's room, closing the door behind her. She peeked at Chase's chart at the foot of the bed, zeroing in on the results of his last mental status check.
"So, doc, am I going to make it?" Chase asked, and Cameron nearly jumped out of her skin, having missed somehow that he was actually awake this time.
"God, sorry." Cameron shook herself a little. "I didn't see – how are you feeling?"
"Been better," Chase said quietly, his eyes darting occasionally towards the news on the television in the corner. "Am I really missing two years of memories?"
"Seems like it." Cameron sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, fussing a little with the blanket. She took a deep breath, wondering how she could explain this. "So...it's Tuesday."
He smiled, a little cautiously. "You're not supposed to give me the answers for the mental status exam. That's cheating."
"You know what I meant," Cameron said gently, and reached for his hand. "Don't pretend you don't."
"I don't – " Chase shuddered, and there was an effort in his voice as he spoke again. "You just feel sorry for me."
"No," Cameron replied. "It's been two years, Chase. Things have changed, we're – together now." Chase's eyes widened, and Cameron thought she'd better let the part about being engaged slide for now. She looked at him, all seriousness. "Do you really think I'd do that? That I'd lie to you?"
Chase bit his lip, a little wince that meant shame fluttering familiarly in front of her. "No. You wouldn't. I just feel like...there's a hole where knowing that should be."
"I know," Cameron said gently. "I know, but it could get better. What's the last thing you remember?"
"See you next Tuesday," Chase said flatly, and Cameron blushed as the conversation that was barely a second thought at the time flowed back into her head.
"Oh. Anything – after that?"
Chase wrinkled his nose. "That horrible kid. God, what a little twerp."
Cameron laughed, nodding. "Yes, the horrible kid." She shifted closer, pulling their hands into her lap. "Let me take you home," she said warmly. "I mean, we don't really live together, but I know where things are at your place. I can stay a few days."
"I know it all seems natural to you," he said, so softly and sadly that the sound seemed to twist her heart, "but it doesn't feel right. And from what you're saying it should, but..." His hand suddenly clenched beneath hers, and Cameron turned her hand up, gripping harder as Chase looked away again towards the television on the wall.
"Let me help," Cameron pleaded. "Maybe it will bring something back? Help make a connection?"
Chase swallowed and nodded faintly, and Cameron leaned in to kiss his cheek tenderly. He smiled, looking at her, and then his eyes widened again as his gaze passed over her shoulder.
"What?" Cameron whispered hopefully.
"Cameron - the president's black."
At the first chance she got, Cameron prodded Foreman for information about retrograde amnesia.
"The damage has probably spread into the temporal lobe," Foreman explained, showing her Chase's MRI. "He might show some signs of anterograde amnesia as well, have trouble forming new memories. But most of his older memory should be intact."
While she obsessed over amnesia and what they could do to stimulate his memory, Chase was fixated on filling in the gaps in what he'd missed. He pored over news websites and watched CNN. She saw him touch a picture of the Marysville fire of her laptop, his fingertip sending little waves through the LCD screen.
"We don't have pictures," he said abruptly at dinner one night.
Cameron paused with the fork halfway to her mouth. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Pictures. Of us. Going someplace or doing something together. It's like – I'm looking for evidence of us and I can't find it."
Cameron sighed. "It'd be easier if people still wrote love letters, I guess. But we just text each other most of the time."
"Yeah," Chase said quietly, pushing pasta around his plate. Cameron stared at her spaghetti, thinking regretfully that they would have taken pictures on vacation. And Chase probably wouldn't have smacked his head on her bathtub. On the other hand, his proposal probably would have thrown everything into a mess of doubt and disarray, and they might have stayed broken up. She'd rather have Chase with a few blank spots on his hard drive than not have him in her life at all.
"Wait," she said suddenly, and rushed into her bedroom, opening up the drawer of her nightstand. She pulled out two pictures stowed away inside, which she had planned to frame sometime as a surprise.
She came back and laid them out on the table in front of him. "We have these," she offered. She worried her lip as Chase looked them over, his expression softening as he recognized the pictures that their photographer patient had taken. Cameron had realized only later that Emma had probably left the picture of Chase beneath the camera bag on purpose.
Cameron leaned over Chase's shoulder, putting her arms around his neck. "We don't have a lot of pictures," she said quietly. "We'll have to change that in the future." She kissed his cheek softly before sitting at her place again, and hoped the promise of doing things right from now on would be enough.
Cameron went back to work eventually, since Chase seemed to be in no danger and functioned just fine, but she strongly disliked leaving him alone all day. The surgical department, however, had to admit they had some qualms about reinstating Chase when he apparently had no idea that he worked there. Cameron had an idea, though, and went to House, metaphorical hat in hand.
"I want you to consider hiring Chase back," Cameron said firmly.
"Did you slip in the bathtub, too? I fired Chase two years ago."
"He doesn't remember being fired," Cameron practically spat at House.
House leaned back in his chair, looking vaguely amused by this whole thing. "And you expect me to what, coddle him through that?"
"He doesn't remember being a surgeon, House. He remembers working for you. And you don't even have to pay him, he's on medical leave, Cuddy can fudge it, I just – don't like the idea of him struggling with everything he can't do everyday." Cameron took a breath. "You have a slot open. It's probably just temporary anyway."
House paused, the smile drifting away for a moment, the way it did when any of them pondered why the team was back to three doctors.
"He's not having any trouble with older memories?" House asked finally. "Knows his procedures?" Cameron nodded. Chase seemed fine in that regard. House mulled it over, fingers templed in front of him as he seemed to weigh her request.
"Might be fun," House said finally. "He's got to pull his weight, though. I don't do hand-holding. That's your department."
"Won't be a problem," Cameron said crisply. "I'll work it out with him. And House?"
"What?" House asked, already turning back to his computer.
"No bouncing anything off the back of his head this time."
Cameron kept an ear to the ground for rumblings in diagnostics, but there didn't seem to be any just yet. Foreman said things were weird, but things were fine, and in that respect nothing had really changed. Foreman also mentioned to her one day that Chase clearly remembered things that he didn't know he remembered, little fragments of implicit memories of his physical senses that survived the damage from his head injury. Foreman said Chase used stitching techniques he'd learned on the surgical staff, but couldn't remember the names of any colleagues who weren't there before his firing. And Cameron knew that Chase didn't remember that they were a couple, but he remembered exactly how to reach across her body to turn off the alarm clock, as if she had always been there.
That was strange in and of itself, because the first time she had gotten into bed next to him Chase had looked at her like she was the one with no memory. She wanted to shake him sometimes, insist that this was how things were, that forever was on the table as a very real possibility now, but he seemed to be permanently stuck at questioning whether this was real. None of Chase's sensory memories had tripped a switch so far, and there was an eerie feeling of being out of sync with each other. Cameron wanted to restore the balance, to feel that physical sense of belonging again. If sense memory alone wasn't enough, maybe she could rely more on the physical memories that were still intact.
"So I was thinking we should have sex," Cameron said calmly, and waited for Chase to finish choking on his cup of tea.
"You waited for me to drink that," Chase spluttered, "and... What?"
"You're supposed to be trying to stimulate sensory memories." Cameron reached over and plucked the mug out of his hand. "Sex is definitely stimulating."
Chase looked at her skeptically, but she could tell he was considering it.
"Even if you don't remember since...you remember before, right?" Cameron crawled into his lap, feeling thrown back in time herself when she ran her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck.
"Yes," Chase said softly, and stroked his fingers lightly along her side, but his face looked uncertain, like he didn't believe this could be genuine.
"You wanted me," Cameron whispered. "And you have me. I promise." She listened to his breath quicken, felt his arms knowingly wrap around her. Maybe Chase didn't recall the moment where she showed up on his doorstep, but he'd never required much persuasion about sex, and Cameron smiled on realizing that certainly hadn't changed. She leaned in to kiss him warmly, savoring the sweet and tannic taste of tea on his tongue, and hoped this, at last, might finally reacquaint him with his memories of her.
The next morning, Cameron waited for Foreman in diagnostics. He and Thirteen were chatting when they walked in, but Foreman's smile disappeared as soon as he saw her.
"What happened now?" Foreman asked as he hung his jacket on a chair.
"My vagina isn't magic," Cameron said despondently, and then thought to herself that perhaps she really shouldn't talk to people on only four hours of sleep. Foreman froze and registered an expression of vague horror before clapping his hand over his eyes. Thirteen stared at Cameron for a moment, then cleared her throat.
"I - think it's a cappuccino kind of morning. I'll be back." She glanced at Cameron once more before pushing through the glass door and heading for the elevator.
Foreman sat heavily in the chair across from Cameron. "I take it Chase still hasn't remembered anything?"
Cameron shook her head. "Nothing. I've been doing everything, trying to have familiar things around."
"Doing things you used to do?" Foreman asked, his eyebrow raised.
"Yes," Cameron said sheepishly. "But nothing works. Nothing. And – " Her voice broke a little, the hopelessness of the situation sinking in for her. "I love him, and I miss him, and without the past two years...he isn't Chase. He just isn't. And I don't know how to fix it."
"Look," Foreman said. "Think of it this way. He doesn't remember that you've been happy together. But you've both made mistakes...and he doesn't remember those, either." He stood up and squeezed her shoulder gently, and the small act of compassion threatened to overwhelm her. "It's a do-over. Don't waste it."
The next evening, Cameron settled down on the couch next to Chase, and took a deep breath. "This isn't working," she said quietly. She heard Chase's quick gasp before she even looked up, and reached for his hand, thinking ruefully to herself that she had never held it so often until now. "I don't mean us, I mean – trying to act like this didn't happen. We can't just move on, and I get that now."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying – let's try again. Take it slow. See if we end up in the same place." She rested her head against his shoulder. "I hate that things aren't the same, but – I'm not ready to let you go."
Chase intertwined their fingers and kissed the top of her head. "Okay," he said softly. He slumped down into the couch to look her in the eye. "I'm sorry it's been weird. It's like – waking up and finding out you got something you really wanted for Christmas – but you don't remember that Christmas happened."
Cameron smiled. "That sounds awful. So we should have Christmas in July."
"And open our presents all over again?" Chase replied teasingly, eyes twinkling, and Cameron grinned at seeing him finally looking happier. She kissed him tenderly, thinking it was almost as sweet as the first time he'd kissed her on his doorstep, almost exactly two years before.
A month later, Cameron carried a stack of clean laundry into her bedroom, where she was packing for a three-day weekend with Chase. They would take the trip to the shore this time, and Cameron was looking forward to it.
"We're going for three days. What is all that?" Chase asked, tossing a pair of balled-up socks in the air. "It's not like you need to bring pajamas," he added with a leer, and Cameron swatted his feet out of the way as she sat on the edge of the bed to sort the laundry.
"Shockingly, I may want to wear clothes when I get back," Cameron replied. "Is there anything else you need?"
Chase sat up and slid off the edge of the bed. "Just have to get a couple of t-shirts I have here," he said, opening the drawer that she'd given him much more quickly this time around.
"Damn," Cameron murmured as she dropped some socks off the side of the bed. Chase put the t-shirts down and knelt to grab the socks for her, his fingers brushing lightly against hers as he handed them over. Then he froze in place, looking up at her with a strange mix of fear and confusion in his eyes.
"What?" Cameron said softly. "Chase? What is it?"
"I remember – " Chase said, his voice barely audible. "I remember us, and – House fired me, and there were all those people, and – I work in surgery...and the drawer, and Christmas and this trip, but not this trip – oh God, I broke up with you." He sank back, sitting with his back against the bureau.
"Yes?" Cameron felt her eyes filling with tears. "Yes? Anything else?"
"I asked you to marry me," Chase said softly. "I asked, or wait - I didn't ask, and – you said yes." Cameron nodded fervently, letting the tears slip down her cheeks. Chase lurched to his feet, stunned and breathing hard.
"I love you," he whispered. "Oh God, I love you. It's all – it's all here." He touched his temple lightly, looking as though he'd been shaken to his core. She slid off the bed and threw her arms around him, hugging him so tightly that she almost couldn't breathe.
"I love you too," she said softly, more certain of her words than she'd ever been. "Wait – let me get this –" she crawled across the bed and yanked open the drawer of her nightstand, then pulled out her engagement ring and held it out to him.
"This time I am proposing," she said, and Chase broke into a smile that dazzled her. "Marry me. I know – I knew before, too – I don't want a life without you."
"As if I could choose anything else," Chase said warmly, and slipped the ring onto her finger. She kissed him and cried all the tears she'd held back for months, through every minute of being uncertain that they'd reach this moment again.
Eventually, she finished packing as Chase rambled on about the memories that flooded his conscious mind. She sat up late that night listening to him talk, hearing their story through the filter of his mind for the first time, popping in now and then to fill in her side of things, little details and wanderings through her mind that he'd never known. She fell asleep as birdsong started to fill the air outside, his memories blending into her own on the edge of her dreams.
(A/N: This story is based on two cases of recovery from retrograde amnesia, described in this article.)