DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you to Ann for the beta.
SPOILERS: Up to and including June 2012.
FEEDBACK: To ralst31[at]yahoo.co.uk
A Trip Down Memory Lane
The hospital was on lockdown. An outbreak of some unpronounceable disease or the other had spread through the wards like wildfire, and half the hospital, staff, patients and visitors included, were now displaying symptoms. In other words, just an ordinary day at Shortland Street, or at least it would have been if one of the possible side-effects of the mystery disease wasn't amnesia.
"You're my sister?" Tania looked down at the diminutive blonde, incredulity registering on her blotchy face. "But you're a munchkin." She watched as Libby's face turned scarlet with indignation, her hands balling into fists at her side, and a tirade readying itself on her lips. "Gotcha!"
Maia, in the next bed, looked on in confusion as the two sisters began to squabble, a smile slowly making its way onto her face at the increasing fury being unleashed by the non-bed-ridden blonde. She didn't know who they were, or what the hell she was doing in a hospital bed, but for the first time since waking up, she didn't really care.
"And what are you smiling at?" Libby turned on her older sister, fully prepared to duplicate her lecture, if the need arose, and alleviate yet more of the worry she'd been carrying since the epidemic had struck and her siblings had been rushed into ED.
Maia looked for a name tag but if the blonde was a member of staff, as she'd assumed, she was either too high up the food-chain to need to announce herself to the general public or she'd dressed in haste. "Sorry, I didn't mean to eavesdrop." Not that she could have done anything else, the volume at which the two had been airing their differences clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance of the room.
A crease of suspicion formed between Libby's brows. "What's that supposed to mean?" It was a known fact that a Jeffries woman could not keep her nose out of another Jeffries woman's business if her life depended on it. "You're not trying to pull the amnesia routine too, are you?"
"Come on, Maia, I beat you to it." Tania looked smug, until the befuddled expression on her eldest sister's face dissolved the smugness into a wet, soppy gloop of confusion. "You do remember us, right?" She half smiled, waiting for an echo of her own jubilation at fooling a sibling, but Maia wasn't smiling.
"I have no idea who either of you are." Maia looked from one to the other without a flicker of recognition. "Or, for that matter, who I am."
"Amnesia," confirmed Maxwell. "She's the eighth case so far." Two visitors, three patients, one of the cleaners, and Vasa had all reported either total or limited amnesia as a result of the mystery illness. Physically, like Maia, they all looked fine, with none of the blotchiness or fatigue displayed by the other victims, but mentally they were a mess.
"Typical!" Libby was three words away from dissolving into tears and, therefore, only a millisecond from another tirade. "She has to be the centre of attention." Her upper lip began to tremble and not even the pristine white handkerchief proffered by her husband could keep the tears or tantrum at bay. "This place is cursed! The last time we came back, they ripped out Gerald's heart, and now they've erased us from Maia's life."
Gerald clutched his chest. "There was no ripping," he protested, "It was a precision operation."
"Overseen by Brooke's evil clone," Tania muttered.
"Girls, please," said Yvonne, "you're upsetting Maia."
They all turned to look at Maia, who was more confused than upset, her mind not quite believing that she was related to the gaggle of people who had descended upon her. "You're my brother?" she asked Gerald, slightly confused about his relationship to the others, who'd all introduced themselves as either sister, mother or doctor-slash-friend.
"He's my husband," Libby answered for him.
Maia's confusion doubled and she debated whether or not it would be polite to ask if Libby knew her husband was gay. "You're married?"
"Two years." Gerald's smile was contagious and Maia quickly found herself smiling back. "You were a bridesmaid."
The doors to the room opened and Nicole entered pushing a wheelchair, a half-smile tugging at her lips. "You ordered a CT scan?" she asked Maxwell, looking between Maia and Tania for any clue as to the intended recipient.
"Yes, can you take Maia for her scan and let Dr. George know when the results are ready?" He took a step back but remained in the room, assuming that the family would have a list of questions and knowing he had answers to none.
Nicole smiled reassuringly at the Jeffries and Gerald, even as her own stomach went into freefall as the identity of the latest amnesia victim was revealed. "Hop in," she told Maia in what she considered her caring professional's voice, which was a long way from the freaked out ex-girlfriend's voice that was screaming inside her mind. "JJ is with Vinnie in the cafe," she whispered to Yvonne.
"I'm ready." Maia's smile was forced, and it didn't take a genius to figure out that she was desperate to get away from her newly introduced family. Not that she didn't believe them; there was something very sisterly about the way Libby and Tania argued, and the woman who claimed to be her mother, Yvonne, had the maternal thing down pat, but Maia was still uneasy.
"CT here we come," said Nicole as she whisked Maia away and towards Neurology. "Dr. George is a first class neurologist," she assured. "She's only been on staff a few months, but she's worked with Gabrielle in Zurich and, according to her, she's very competent, and that has to be Gabrielle speak for totally amazing."
Maia got the feeling that she was meant to know who this Gabrielle person was, but once again, she was coming up blank. "Is Gabrielle a doctor?"
"Yes, she..." Nicole stopped herself mid-explanation, realising how stupid she'd been. "Sorry, of course you don't remember her." There was a slight pause. "Do you remember me?"
Maia looked back over her shoulder. "You're not another sister, are you?"
"No." Nicole felt like she'd been kicked in the stomach by a mule. "You and I, we were, we were friends." It felt like a lie even though it was true. "My name's Nicole."
Nicole arranged for Wendy to retrieve Maia from Neurology while she hid out in the locker room. Visits from the Jeffries were always going to be tough, but having Maia look at her without a hint of recognition was utter torture. After their last visit, she'd convinced herself that she was over Maia, and even though she never quite believed it, the lie had seen her safely through their latest reappearance and was holding fast until the hospital, and now Maia, were struck down by the mystery illness.
"Hiding?" guessed Sarah, as she took a seat next to Nicole on the bench.
Nicole tried to smile, but it didn't quite work. "I didn't think it would hurt this much." She wiped brusquely at a tear slowly working its way down her flushed cheek. "She looks and me and all she sees is a stranger." More tears were hastily wiped away. "I thought nothing could hurt as much as her betrayal, but somehow this feels so much worse."
Sarah took the sobbing woman into her arms and tried to find the words to soothe the pain she was feeling, but there was nothing she could say that would ease the heartache of being forgotten.
"Physically, Maia's in great shape, both the CT and MRI were clear of any abnormalities, and so far all her blood tests have come back negative." Maxwell tried to look positive, but he'd given the exact same speech to Ula half an hour before, and he was no more confident about a recovery this time around. "We're running tests on everyone who contracted the disease to see if there are any commonalties, especially between those experiencing memory loss, but so far it's a little too early to tell."
"So you don't know anything?" translated Libby.
"That's not fair, Libby, Maxwell and the others are doing their best." Yvonne tried to look positive, but it was a losing battle and her face soon succumbed to worry. "Is there anything we can do?"
They were operating in the dark, really, but he wasn't about to cut off the Jeffries' last line of hope. "Try talking to her normally. If she asks about something, tell her, but don't try and force feed her information or you'll just confuse her."
"What about music?" Piped up Tania. "Don't they use that with coma patients to stimulate the closed off parts of their minds?"
"Smells, too," said Gerald. "I read it in Cosmo," he told his wife.
"The sense of smell is very closely associated with memory," Maxwell agreed. "I need to go check on another patient, but if you have any questions, you know where to find me."
Once Maxwell had left, they turned as one towards Maia, who was happily staring out the window, having heard all the news from Dr. George before she'd been returned to her room. Suddenly conscious of the eyes staring at her, she turned to survey her family, the unease she'd felt earlier having lessened somewhat since their rather jarring introduction. "What do I need to know?" It was the broadest of possible questions, but at least it opened the gates.
"JJ," said Yvonne, the subject of her grandson having been uppermost in her mind since Maia's illness. "Your son."
"I have a son?" Maia looked both flabbergasted and elated. "Is he here?"
"Nicole's looking after him." Yvonne had felt better about leaving JJ once she saw Nicole heading his way with a juice-box and portable DVD-player; not that she didn't trust Vinnie and the others, but Nicole had been practically family and that made all the difference. "Do you want to see him?"
The smile dropped from Maia's face. "Would that be all right?" She looked from one face to the next, but it was clear that nobody had an answer, and that memory or not she would need to make the decision herself. "I want to see him."
JJ sat on Nicole's lap, watching the latest offering from Disney and carrying on a slightly surreal conversation about the merits of red cereal verses green, or at least that's what Nicole thought he was talking about. Every time she saw JJ, she was reminded of how much she missed him and how big a part of her life he'd become while she and Maia were together. She'd never really considered herself the maternal type but somehow, without realising it, she'd grown to think of JJ as her family, and losing him had hurt just as much as losing his mother.
"Nicole?" Yvonne's voice brought Nicole out of her musings, and as she turned to look up at the older woman, she saw a taller figure silhouetted in the doorway behind her.
"Maia? Shouldn't you be in bed?" There was no time for her concerns to be assuaged before JJ had abandoned his DVD and rushed into his startled mother's arms.
Both onlookers stared in dread as mother and son were, for Maia at least, introduced, but whatever they'd feared failed to materialise as JJ started regaling his mother with three days' worth of news. Maia, for her part, smiled and nodded in all the right places, her delight obvious. "Nicole said you hurt your head and couldn't 'member things," JJ stated, looking at his mother with heightened concentration, "She said I could help you 'member," he added proudly.
Maia ruffled his curly locks, a slight look of confusion crossing her face before she turned her full attention on her son. "That's right, monkey, you can help make everything better." He giggled wholeheartedly as she began to tickle his sides, just as she'd done a million times before.
"I'm telling you, this place is cursed!" Libby was striding back and forth in front of Tania's hospital bed, her sister and husband sitting primly on the side, watching like startled recruits as she laid out the evidence. "Maia starts working here and hey-presto, dad dies, Jay is murdered, Tania's husband gets Maia pregnant, I get engaged to a creep, twice, Maia ends up in the loony bin after the whole Ethan nightmare, Mum starts dating Tania's boyfriend, who then dies, a madman infects me with Dengue fever, Maia cheats on Nicole, and then, when we were stupid enough to come back, they rip Gerald's heart out!"
"There was no ripping," Gerald squeaked, once again clutching at his chest and surreptitiously rubbing at the scar beneath.
"Good things happened, too," said Tania, although after hearing the litany of disasters she was starting to think her sister had a point. "I met Rafe," she said proudly, "and you found Gerald, and let's not forget JJ."
"Who is, at this very minute, being faced with a mother who doesn't even know his name." Libby wondered if exorcisms worked on lesbians or if they could claim that Maia was straight and devoutly Catholic now that she couldn't remember enough to contradict. "We should get out of here before the building collapses on our heads."
Yvonne had finally taken JJ to get something to eat in the cafe so that Maia could return to her room for her hourly check. Maia had put up a fight, but without her medical knowledge, she'd lacked the expertise with which to second guess the usefulness of the exam, and she'd finally been dragged away from playing trucks with her son.
"Ah, you're back," said Libby, "We need to go."
"You're leaving?" Maia had grown kind of used to the little blonde and her strange ways, and she felt deflated at the idea of her going. "I thought the hospital was on lockdown?"
"It was lifted half an hour ago." She hadn't paid much attention to the 'please don't sue us' excuses that had masqueraded as facts once the words 'non-contagious' and 'free to leave' had exited Rachel's mouth. "We need to find Maxwell or Sarah and have you signed out, AMA if necessary."
"You want me to leave with you?" In a way it was reassuring, but up until that moment, Maia's entire world had consisted of a few rooms within the hospital and the thought of leaving filled her with dread.
"Maia can't go anywhere," interrupted Nicole. "She still has significant memory loss and -"
"We need to leave. Now!" Libby looked to Gerald and Tania for support. "This place is cursed!"
"Cursed?" Nicole looked sceptical.
"I tried to tell her that good things have happened here, too, but she won't listen to me, she keeps going on about people dying and hearts being ripped out." Tania put a hand on her brother-in-law's arm, "Sorry, Gerald."
Gerald's pale complexion had turned positively white. "Maybe she has a point?"
"There's no such thing as a curse." Sisters dying, helicopters falling out of the sky, lovers cheating, it could happen to anyone, or at least it could happen anywhere, Nicole thought. "Gerald, why don't you take Libby outside for some fresh air?"
"I don't want -"
"Who's JJ's father?" Maia asked, seemingly out of nowhere, her question cutting off Libby mid-sentence and making the idea of a walk in the rain sound positively charming. "I'm guessing we're still not together?"
"You were never together," said Tania, her irritation obvious.
"I don't understand."
"He was a donor," chirped Libby, her sudden smile somewhat frightening, as she did her best to camouflage her younger sister's scowl. "Artificial insemination."
Maia had been prepared for a dead husband or even a one night stand, but she didn't quite know what to make of her sister's revelation. "Was I in a relationship?" She couldn't imagine choosing to have a child alone, but then she couldn't imagine much of anything right now.
"Yes and no." Libby wished her mother was there, because she was floundering, and Tania couldn't be trusted to talk about it without spitting. "You and your partner, Jay, had been planning to have a child, but you broke up." She really didn't want to be the one to have to explain the murdered soon-to-be-ex-wife part of Maia's life. "Afterwards you decided that you still wanted to have a child and so started looking for a donor."
"Oh." There was a slight pause. "What am I, a lesbian?"
Following Tania's discharge, the Jeffries clan had finally been persuaded to leave the hospital, and Maia, to return to the IV for the night. Yvonne had promised that they'd be back bright and early, and Maia feared that meant the crack of dawn, but she was too pleased to have a moment's peace to worry about what the next day would bring.
Maia closed her eyes and tried to remember what it had felt like to work in the hospital and be a part of the hustle and bustle rather than just an observer. She could almost imagine herself in one of the light blue uniforms, striding down the corridors, dishing out pills and potions, and God alone knows what, but there was no truth to her thoughts, just fantasies and pretty boring ones at that.
The door to her room opened and Nicole poked her head in, "Hey, shouldn't you be asleep by now?" Satisfied that the patient was awake, Nicole entered the room and sat down in the seat nearest to Maia's bed. "I'm off home, but if there's anything you need before I go...?"
Maia had wanted privacy but somehow, with Nicole, she didn't mind the intrusion. "Could you answer some questions?" Her family had been good about answering everything she threw at them, but after the revelation about her sexuality she'd been somewhat reticent of delving too deep. Not that she'd been particularly shocked to discover that she was gay, but having to ask something so intrinsic felt wrong, somehow, as if memory or not, she should have just known.
"Were you and I ever lovers?" The thought had been nagging at the back of her mind since her family had left, and while she couldn't remember any details, the idea persisted, and she needed to know the truth. "I'm sorry if the question makes you feel uncomfortable."
"It doesn't." Nicole couldn't decide if the question was a good sign or bad, but she knew she had to answer as honestly as she could. "Yes, we were." It seemed like too simple a term to describe what they were. "We lived together for a while, but then we broke up, and you decided to move to Sydney." She'd always wondered what would have happened if she'd managed to talk to Maia before she'd driven away, but no matter how many times she replayed it in her head the result was always the same. "That was about a year and a half ago," she added quickly.
"I hurt you." It wasn't a question. The details might have been erased but the guilt persisted, and Maia knew that whatever had torn them apart, it had been her fault. "I'm sorry."
"You don't even remember what you're sorry about." It wasn't said to be cruel, but Nicole could see the impact of her words. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean -"
"No, it's not." They had made their peace the last time Maia had visited, and it wouldn't help anyone to bring it up again. "I was thoughtless. I'm sorry." She reached for Maia's hand. "We might not be lovers anymore, but we're still friends, and if you need anything, I'll be here."
"I swear, if I didn't think I'd be struck off, I'd nominate the stupid disease for a Nobel Peace Prize," said Sarah, earning a shocked look from Wendy and a baffled one from a newly arrived Nicole. "I was just saying to Wendy," Sarah explained, "that Vasa's like a new woman." Her voice lowered and she leant conspiratorially towards Nicole. "A nice woman."
Nicole laughed; she'd had plenty of ups and downs of her own when it came to Vasa, but even though they'd since become friends, she'd never have thought to use the word 'nice' to describe her. "Nice? Are you sure?"
"Sweet, even," added Wendy, the incredulity clear in her voice.
"How about Maia?" Sarah asked, the mirth replaced by professional curiosity. "Have you noticed any personality changes?"
"Not really." Despite the confusion, Maia had still been Maia, maybe a little less bossy, but the woman she'd fallen in love with was still very much present. "She asked me if we'd ever been lovers."
"She remembered?" asked Sarah, ready to rush back to the ward and start ordering CT scans and whatever else came to mind.
"No. I don't think so." Nicole shrugged. "If she'd remembered, she wouldn't have had to ask, aye?"
"I guess." Sarah looked deflated; for all her talk about the new and improved Vasa, she was a physician first and foremost, and any hint of a cure sent her pulse racing. "But how did she know to ask?"
Another shrug was Nicole's only answer; she'd been so preoccupied with her answer that she hadn't even thought to ask.
"Maybe she just fancies you," said Wendy, more to ease Nicole's self-recriminations than anything else, her smile faltering at the look of death she received for her troubles. "Or maybe one of the Jeffries said something?"
It was possible, but Nicole doubted it somehow. "I need to ask her." She looked at Sarah. "Or maybe..."
The prospect of discussing an amnesiac friend's lesbian love life was strangely less of a challenge than trying to get her head around the idea of a nice Vasa; besides, she liked Maia, and even though they'd never been close, she'd always felt they could be. "I'll speak to Maia."
In the twenty minutes since Nicole had left her room, Maia had come to certain conclusions about her previous life. Firstly, and this was a biggie, she was a complete idiot, and possibly an utter bitch, for hurting someone as sweet and lovely as Nicole. Secondly, even if she was an idiot, she had good taste in women. Thirdly, that Libby was right, the place probably was cursed.
"You look deep in thought," said Sarah, easing into the seat so recently occupied by Nicole. "I hope I'm not disturbing you?"
"No, not at all." Sarah had introduced herself earlier in the day, so Maia felt at least a little at ease with the late night call. "Did you need to run more tests?"
"Not exactly." She took the plunge. "Nicole said that you'd asked if you and she were lovers, and I need to ask what prompted the question?" It was beyond personal, but as a doctor Sarah was used to asking the tough question, even if they were usually asked of strangers.
Maia didn't appear fazed. "I'm not sure, it was just a feeling really, and then when I found out I was gay, it just kinda fell into place." She paused. "It's like having all these emotional connections but no idea why."
Sarah could only imagine how frustrating that would feel. "Was there anything else? Any other feelings?"
"Only guilt, at hurting Nicole, and a big dose of regret." She thought about mentioning the joy being in Nicole's company evoked, but that was just one confession too far. "Is that a good sign?"
"I'm not a neurologist, but I think it at least proves that the memories are still there, even if you can't access them." It didn't really explain Vasa's personality change, but there was no evidence that the amnesia victims were experiencing the exact same type of affliction. "Did anything in particular amplify the feelings?"
"I don't know, it might have just been..." Maia faltered, a touch of red entering her cheeks as she remembered the feelings that had been evoked by Nicole's touch; passion, love, regret, it had all been there, but she hadn't known if it was a memory or just the beginnings of a silly crush. "Earlier, when Nicole held my hand, it seemed to make everything that much clearer."
The lockdown and incapacity of several key members of staff had resulted in a logistical nightmare for the hospital, and although the lockdown was now over and those afflicted with a milder version of the disease had been cleared to return to work, the schedules were still a mess. Routine surgeries had been cancelled, and those nurses who'd been unaffected by the illness were having to work double shifts to cover for the twenty or so that were still recovering. Rachel McKenna was in a running battle with the DHB, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that a full investigation would soon be launched into the possible negligence of the hospital in this latest medical disaster. Therefore, it was the perfect time for a little unorthodox medicine, as prescribed by Dr. Sarah Potts.
"You want me to do what?" Nicole couldn't quite believe her ears and vaguely wondered if she was, at long last, coming down with the mystery illness herself.
Sarah tugged on Nicole's arm, urging her into the shadows that lined the corridor and broadcasting to anyone within sight that she was up to something. "Kiss Maia," she repeated, for what was now the third time.
"Are you pulling my leg?" Nicole had done some crazy things as a nurse, but this was the first time a doctor had asked her to kiss a patient.
"Last night, when I spoke to Maia, she said that when you held her hand it amplified her emotional memory." Sarah had tried to repeat the process, but her touch just didn't have the significance of Nicole's. "If we were to enhance that connection, it could give us the breakthrough we need." It was a crackpot idea, but after three cups of coffee and little sleep, it had started to seem plausible.
"You want me to kiss Maia on the off-chance that it will spark a memory." Nicole looked dubious to say the least. "So what, I say 'excuse me, Yvonne' and lean over and plant one on her daughter?"
"No, of course not." If it brought back Maia's memories, she didn't think Yvonne would mind, but Sarah realised it would probably be easier to convince Nicole if she thought she wouldn't have an audience. "Maxwell and Rachel are planning to update the amnesia victims' families at ten. Yvonne is bound to want to attend, and if you offer to stay with Maia until she returns, I'm sure it will keep her from bringing in reinforcements." It was beginning to sound like a battle plan. "Okay?"
Nicole just stared at her for a moment, but then she finally nodded. "Okay."
As expected, Yvonne had welcomed Nicole's offer, and within minutes, the blonde found herself alone with her former girlfriend and unaccustomedly at a loss for words.
"You don't have to stay, if you don't want to," said Maia, mistaking Nicole's reticence for an eagerness to get away. "I can be trusted to be left on my own."
"I know, it's not -" Nicole looked to the door, through which Sarah was meant to be appearing, but so far there was no sign of the good doctor. "When Sarah gets here she'll explain."
"Sarah?" Maia didn't understand why a simple baby-sitting job required explanation and, least of all, by a busy doctor. "What am I missing, apart from my past?" she asked, a smile working its way onto her lips.
Nicole smiled back, and her discomfort eased, until she realised how a simple smile from Maia did more to persuade her of Sarah's harebrained scheme than all of the doctor's words. "Sarah has this crazy idea," she said, her eyes lingering on Maia's lips for far too long. "I'd better let her explain it, aye?"
"Explain what?" For all Maia knew, the pre-amnesia version of herself might have had the patience of a saint, but she was rapidly starting to get annoyed. She'd been stuck in a hospital bed for days, enduring test after test and trying desperately to form a picture of her life from the snippets her family chose to provide. It was infuriating, and although she welcomed Nicole's visits, she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if she didn't start talking, Maia was going to scream. "Just tell me what's going on!"
It wasn't part of the plan, but a combination of nerves and embarrassment propelled Nicole into action, and before she could stop herself, she'd taken Maia's face between her hands and pulled her in for a lingering kiss. The seconds ticked by and with them the nerves and embarrassment fled, until it was just Nicole and Maia, sharing a kiss just like they'd done a million times before.
"Oh, you started without me."
The words acted like a bucket of cold water, and Nicole and Maia fairly jumped apart, neither of them quite knowing where to look.
"Sorry, don't stop on my account." Sarah picked up Maia's chart and began skimming the overnight observations, her attention finally caught by the lack of movement from the women to her right. "Is something wrong?"
Maia suspected there was something seriously wrong with the good Dr. Potts. "Could someone please tell me what's going on?"
Sarah looked at Nicole. "Didn't you explain?" She'd seen the kiss and assumed the two had decided to start the experiment without her, but a quick look from Nicole made it obvious that she'd assumed incorrectly. "Sorry, Maia, I thought you... Nicole offered to help me with a little experiment."
"Like I ever had a choice," Nicole muttered.
Maia pulled at the bedcovers until the blanket was bunched up beneath her chin, a veritable shield against the lunacy of the cursed hospital and its increasingly weird staff. "What kind of experiment?"
"I wanted to see if an intimate touch would evoke memory."
"She means a kiss," Nicole quickly added, afraid Maia would get the wrong idea about just what she'd been trying to achieve. "Yesterday, you told Sarah that holding my hand provoked certain feelings, so she thought a kiss might kick-start memories, or something like that."
Maia looked at them both as if they were mad. "I may not remember being a nurse, but I'm pretty sure that's not in any of the manuals."
"It's unorthodox, I know," admitted Sarah, "but it's really just a combination of traditional sensory methods to provoke memory."
"I'm sorry," Nicole added. "We'd planned to explain it all to you first, but when Sarah didn't arrive and you kept asking questions, I panicked."
"And kissed me."
"And kissed you, yes."
Sarah wanted to be sensitive to the situation, but she was too curious to hold back. "Well, did you feel anything? Did it spark any memories?"
Maia had felt plenty, but the kiss was over almost before it had begun, and she hadn't had any time to think. "No." She paused, cognisant of the disappointment on Sarah's face but too wrapped up in her own reactions to address it. "Perhaps," she said slowly, "we could try again?"
As she leant against the wall outside Maia's hospital room, Sarah cursed her single life and the absence of a big, strong man in her bed to ease away the tensions her latest crusade had wrought. At first, she'd been objective, waiting for the two to draw breath and discuss Maia's reactions, but as one kiss led into another and her clinical experiment became infected with passion, she'd had to leave. It was almost enough to make a girl switch teams, she thought, a smile slowly forming on her lips.
Tania sidled up to the doctor, a worried expression on her face. "Any news?"
Sarah jumped, a touch of red colouring her cheeks as she realised just where her thoughts had taken her. "Nothing yet." She'd give Nicole another five minutes to work her magic and then see if her experiment had netted any results.
Disappointment clouded Tania's voice, "I'll go in and -"
"No!" Sarah practically knocked Tania off her feet as she rushed to intercept. "Nicole's in there," she gushed, her words tripping over one another, "and she's running tests." It was the kind of vague excuse she might just have got away with if the woman she was talking to wasn't a trained nurse, but Tania saw through it in an instant.
"What's going on?"
Tania turned to enter Maia's room, only to turn back a millisecond later as Sarah dissolved into a loud and wholly unconvincing coughing fit. She scowled at the doctor. "What's really going on?"
Her coughs turning to splutters, Sarah mimed innocence, her foot 'accidentally' connecting with the door to Maia's room in the process and producing enough noise to wake the coma patient in the next ward. "Sorry," she wheezed, her amateur dramatics having taken their toll, "went down the wrong way."
Dismissing her impulse to ask exactly what had gone down the wrong way, Tania pushed passed the obviously crazed medic and into her sister's room.
Nicole hadn't noticed Sarah's departure, her mind entirely taken up with the feel of Maia's lips against her own. It was a sensation she'd once taken for granted, sure in the knowledge that a kiss would be hers for the asking any time she chose, but that had been a lifetime ago, and Nicole wasn't stupid enough to take it for granted anymore. She savoured every sensation and hungrily came back for more. The reason for the kiss forgotten as passion overtook rational thought and the years and betrayal that had separated them faded away.
"What the hell!" Tania stood in the doorway, her mouth gaping as she watched Nicole scramble to her feet, pulling her rumpled uniform back into place as she went. "Did you know about this?" she asked Sarah, accusation lacing her words.
"Know about what?" Yvonne brushed passed Tania into Maia's room, Libby and Gerald only two steps behind her, a concerned look overtaking her face as she noticed the glow on her eldest daughter's face. "Do you have a fever?" she asked Maia.
"It's not a fever," said Tania, a scowl set firmly on her face. "They were kissing." It was the sort of accusation she might have hurled aged ten and been ashamed of afterwards, but at that moment, Tania felt fully justified in her disapproval; if Maia had amnesia, as she claimed, there was no way she should be kissing a perfect stranger, in which case Nicole must have taken advantage; unless, of course, Maia did remember and had been lying to them all.
"Kissing?" Yvonne didn't know whether to be scandalised or overjoyed; she might have had her issues with Nicole while she and Maia were dating, but she'd come to realise how good Nicole was for her daughter and how lost Maia had been without her. "Did the two of you...?" She hoped they'd made up, decided to try again, but with Maia unable to remember her name without prompting, she didn't see how it was possible.
"I thought you couldn't remember," added Libby, "or is this some kind of lesbian thing?"
"Nicole was taking advantage," said Tania, her decision made. "When I came in, she was practically straddling Maia."
"I was not." Nicole looked to Sarah for help.
"It was my idea," said the doctor. "I asked Nicole to kiss Maia."
Three Jeffries and a Tippet turned to stare at Sarah, varying looks of incredulity on their faces. "You asked her to kiss my sister?" Libby knew it was just another symptom of the curse, but she couldn't for the life of her work out how it would lead to another disaster. "Did you go all new-age-y while we were away?"
"I don't understand," said Yvonne, "Why would you do that?"
"They were trying to help me get my memories back," cut in Maia, afraid her family were about to alienate the only two people who seemed able to help. "I agreed to it," she added. The kiss had been like nothing she could have imagined, and while most of her mind had been preoccupied with the taste and feel of Nicole's lips, another, smaller part, had been prised open to reveal the tantalising ghosts of memories.
"Why would you agree to that?" demanded Tania.
Libby rolled her eyes. "Hello! Why do you think?" She shared a long suffering look with Gerald. "To get up close and personal with Nicole." Memory or not, Libby knew her sister, and if she had any hint of a second chance with Nicole, she'd take it.
"Did it work?" asked Gerald. "The memory part, I mean, not the up close and personal bit," he added quickly, afraid that he'd be bombarded with details about his sister-in-law's love life.
In that moment, the anger, confusion and fear of impending catastrophe fled, as they all turned to look at Maia, the first hint of hope rising in their breasts. "I think so." It hadn't been the light bulb moment she'd hoped for, but Maia could feel pieces of her life slipping back into place; faces, names, places, they were all starting to come into reach, and all she needed was a framework on which to construct them.
"You think so?" Libby had wanted assurances, not maybes. "Is this just an excuse so you can keep on kissing Nicole?" It's what she would have done, if their places were reversed, and Nicole was some devastatingly handsome doctor or Gerald with a libido.
"No!" Maia scowled at her sister before turning to plead with Sarah, "Can I leave?" She'd had enough of tests and people looming over her and wanted out of the hospital, away from the madness and back to whatever substituted for normal in her world. And yes, God dammit, she did want to keep on kissing Nicole.
As far as they could tell, there was nothing physically wrong with the remaining patients, apart from the amnesia, and while catastrophic on a personal level, it didn't require hospitalisation. "You'll need to be properly discharged," said Sarah, "but yes, you can leave."
"What if they had sex?"
Gerald, Yvonne, Tania and Sarah turned as one to stare at Libby, all fully aware of what she meant, but not quite able to believe she'd said it. Not that it hadn't crossed all their minds, in one way or another, but it just wasn't the kind of thing you proposed about your sister, daughter or friends.
"What if who had sex?" Maxwell had just finished organising Maia's discharge, and on leaving her room, he hadn't expecting to come face to face with a cabal of Jeffries, Tippets and a Potts discussing someone's sex life. It was almost enough to ease the tensions of the last few days and put a smile back on his face.
"Maia and Nicole," said Libby, as if it was perfectly obvious and he was being deliberately slow.
His smile was consumed by confusion. "Maia and Nicole?" He'd always known Maia wasn't far from Nicole's thoughts, even when they were dating, but he hadn't realised they were back together. "When did that happen?" Poor Nicole, to finally have Maia back, only to lose her to some damn illness.
"It didn't." Libby was losing patience, and employing a less than subtle combination of glare and foot tap, she waited for Maxwell to leave. When he didn't, she tried glaring harder, but even that wasn't enough to eject him from the conversation. "Sarah persuaded Maia and Nicole to kiss, to bring back her memories, and it worked, kind of, at least Maia said she thought so."
Only at Shortland Street would one of your ex-girlfriends ask another of your ex-girlfriends to kiss her ex-girlfriend in the misguided hope of curing a neurological disorder, Maxwell thought, a smile finally working its way onto his face. "So now you want them to have sex?" he guessed.
"No!" said Sarah, Yvonne, Tania and Gerald.
"Yes," corrected Libby.
Maxwell could feel his smile expanding. "Have you told Maia and Nicole?" He really hoped not, because he'd pay good money to be a witness to that particular conversation.
"No," cut in Yvonne, "and she's not going to." She glared at Libby, daring her to go against her mother's wishes and knowing deep down that it wouldn't be enough to deter her middle child.
To Be Continued
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