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To Look Out For You

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Chapter 1: The Definition Of Belonging

Belong: Verb; be the property of, be a member of, be rightly placed in a specified position

Sam

Since her arrival in Holby six months previously, there had been many days when Sam had genuinely been excited about going to work at the E.D., almost in spite of herself. However, she could not help but note as she walked through the entrance to her workplace that these days were becoming far less frequent by every passing week. The chance to spend the best part of a year working alongside her husband had been too good of an opportunity to turn down when the secondment had been offered to her, especially after her return from the hellish experiences of Helmand. Yet, despite them now being on better terms than they had been at any point in the two years prior, facing up to the recent shift in their relationship from spouses to just colleagues was becoming increasingly difficult to bear. She was certain that the sense of foreboding she felt on seeing him each day was because every time they shared even a simple moment together, it was even more obvious to her how he was moving away from her and in a wholly different direction to what she had intended on her arrival.

She strolled through the department and made straight for the staffroom to drop her coat and bag in her locker, knowing full well that she could guarantee it would be buzzing with colleagues making breakfast, drinking coffee, and chatting about their previous night’s escapades. Sam had been willingly joining in the post-shift debriefs that had seemed to be occurring on an almost daily basis these days but that was because their focus was mainly work related. She had never been able to comprehend why so many of her fellow medics spent such a considerable amount of their day mindlessly chatting to each other, especially coming into work early just to catch up. She smiled to herself as the thought crossed her mind that sometimes she sounded more like Dylan than she ever cared to admit, but the happy thought drained from her as she entered the packed staff area and was confronted by a sea of people she didn’t really have the energy or inclination to talk to. As usual, she fought her way through the crowded room and over to her locker, remaining with her back to her colleagues as she mentally prepared herself for the day ahead.

Sam considered that it wasn’t as if she didn’t like these people, she had worked with them now for several months and had become accustomed to their ways and processes more than she had ever intended to do on her very first day in the department. Back then she had been quite happy to do things her own way, regardless of the consequences or impact on anyone else, except perhaps Dylan, yet she had tempered that over the past months with a real desire to be part of this team. That was why it felt unfortunate to her now that she had allowed herself to get just close enough to them all that she could see what she could have here if she stayed long term, just at the very point when she had realised all she wanted to do was get as far away from Holby, and two particular people, as quickly as possible.

“Sam,” a familiar female voice called out from across the staffroom. “Did you have a good night last night?”

Sam paused momentarily before turning, hoping as she did so that she kept the puzzlement she was feeling at Zoe’s question from her face.

“You said you had plans?” Zoe questioned and the look in her eyes told Sam instantly that her older colleague had picked up on her complete lack of understanding of the previous question.

“Uh, yeah, it was a really good night,” Sam lied through her teeth, forcing herself to smile to increase her chances in coming across as convincing. “Sorry, I’m a bit tired this morning, was a bit of a late one. You know how it is,” she added with a shrug.

For a brief moment she saw a slightly odd look, bemusement perhaps, cross Zoe’s face and she cursed herself for feeling the need to make up stories the previous day. It had just been one of those shifts where everyone, bar Dylan, had felt the need for team bonding time at the pub before they went home and despite a large part of her wanting to spend time with the few people she genuinely had affection for, Jeff and Dixie for example, she had not wanted to spend a single second longer in Dr Hanna’s company than she had to. Sam knew she could have just excused herself, like Dylan successfully did every single time, but for some reason she had this compelling urge to portray to Zoe that she actually had a life away from the E.D., even though this was very far from the case.

“Sam, you dirty stop out,” a loud Scottish voice boomed from behind her, punctuating her trail of thought. “So, who is he then, this new bloke of yours?”

It was in the momentary silence that fell across the staffroom immediately after Lenny’s question that Sam noticed Dylan’s gruff frame in the doorway, having obviously heard every word.

“Excuse me,” Dylan said curtly, pushing between people to get to his own locker, just in front of where Sam herself stood next to Zoe.

Sam glanced sideways and caught Dr Hanna’s mortified expression before turning back and shutting her own locker door, determined not to make any eye contact with her ex in front of the entire team. A team who were now gawping at the three of them in a hushed state, waiting to see what would happen after Dylan’s untimely arrival. She could feel her heart pounding unnecessarily loudly in her chest and the feeling of time standing still washed over her, as she silently wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole.

“Dr Nicholls?” bellowed Mr Jordan’s voice across the staffroom, causing Sam to nearly jump out of her own skin and snap her head back round towards the doorway. “A word please. The rest of you get to work.”

She took a deep breath as she felt her face redden slightly at being singled out in front of her colleagues yet again. The embarrassment of the situation that had just occurred with Dylan was still fresh in everyone’s minds and here she was, being summonsed to see her boss – and all before she had even seen one patient, never mind treated one. That very same husband was still standing by his own locker, so she carefully went to sidestep him to exit the room only to have him move backwards to allow her to pass. Sam knew that their shared look would have gone unnoticed by the majority, but she swore she saw a flicker of disappointment in Dylan’s eyes, a look she remembered far too well from all the previous times she had caused him to distrust her again and again.

“Dr Nicholls,” Mr Jordan’s voice again called from the doorway. “Today would be useful.”

She dropped her gaze and stepped in front of Dylan, passing him without so much as a second glance, knowing she would not be able to keep her emotions in check if she looked back. It was at times like this she wished she had taken Dylan’s name at work after they married, because hearing Dr Nicholls day in, day out was another constant reminder of everything she had lost. In fact, it was second only to physically being in the presence of the one man she had ever loved every single day, but never being able to do more than stand on the sidelines and watch as he moved on with his life.

“I received this last night,” Mr Jordan said as she reached him, thrusting a familiarly marked envelope into her hands. “We’ll talk in my office. Walk with me,” he continued before striding off down the corridor.

It was in the subsequent pause before she almost had to run after him to catch up that Sam stared down at the envelope and felt a sense of dread. It was bewildering, she thought to herself, that for someone who prided themselves on being as fiercely independent as she was, she had this overwhelming need to belong. It was just a shame she had never belonged here.

Nick

He had been watching her sitting on the chair in front of him, her eyes practically boring a hole in the envelope she was clutching with an intense glare on her face. She hadn’t moved a muscle since she sat down in his office some minutes before and at this stage he could not tell if that had more to do with the letter in her hands or the scene he had interrupted in the staffroom.

Upon learning some months prior that Sam was actually Dr Keogh’s wife, he had anticipated that there would be some fireworks in the department. Prior to the revelation becoming public, it had seemed clear to Nick that there was a flirtatious tension between Dylan and Zoe, although this had appeared to be mainly one sided on his own ex’s part, and he was certain that something had occurred between the two of them on the night of the E.D. fire just before Christmas. Yet as far as he was concerned, the pair were far from suited, being so different as to make them becoming a couple feel somewhat impossible. Besides which, he considered, Dr Keogh was still married – technically or not – to the young woman who had currently taken up a vow of silence in front of him, and therefore he was strongly of the opinion that Zoe should not be involving herself at all until the issue of the Keogh’s marriage was determined.

Nick had to acknowledge to himself that he had been far from an angel in his own relationships over the years but having his two most senior doctors commencing something directly in the face of one of their spouses was a situation he could not see being resolved amicably at any stage. To date, his only buffer from having to face this head on before now was that Dr Keogh seemed somewhat oblivious to his burgeoning connection with Zoe and whilst the lady herself was not backward about coming forward in these types of situations, Nick granted her with enough sanity not to just throw herself at Dylan. He could not even begin to imagine how the other man would react in those circumstances, because he had yet to see him show more than the merest flicker of emotion over anything to date. However, it was abundantly obvious to him that the young woman in front of him had deep rooted feelings for this man, and therefore Nick had to assume that underneath the cold exterior Dylan presented to the outside world there was a much more loving and caring individual.

His gaze returned to Sam, still lost deep in thought, apparently quite comfortable to remain in silence whilst she gathered herself together. The woman wasn’t normally known for either sitting still or keeping her peace on any subject, especially where it concerned her own job, so her current demeanour felt slightly jarring. Nick did reflect that it was a positive that she was allowing herself to take this time and consider her position whilst in his company, rather than just rushing to argue her point as she would normally have done.

He contemplated that she had not had an easy time since she arrived in Holby, as he watched her turn the letter over repeatedly between her fingers. It was clear for all to see that Sam was used to playing the hero in any scenario that arose and for the majority of the time, this allowed her to hide her feelings behind a mask of action and adventure. However there had been moments where she allowed her armour to slip, and he had seen the vulnerability she normally kept hidden He had always suspected Sam and Dylan had once been in a relationship from the first day they had worked together in the department, despite Zoe’s protestations that Dr Nicholls was young enough to be his daughter, which incidentally it had turned out was an incorrect assumption. However, on the night of the fire, when Sam had known the danger Dylan was in, she had shown real fear and the army-trained medic had unusually been unable to work in a pressurised situation.

For all his experiences with Sam, both positive and negative, the only time Nick had actually seen her show any real demonstration of feeling was where Dylan had been the route cause. He hated to watch her enjoyment of the job and enthusiasm diminish over the previous weeks, but it had drained out of her regardless as she had watched Zoe and Dylan’s friendship blossom. Her attitude towards Zoe had been skirting towards rude on a number of occasions and whilst he had hated pulling her up for it, he could not permit the complicated personal relationships of the staff to disrupt his department. His heart went out to the girl though, it really did, because now he knew her a little better, he could conclude that the only thing that could break her would be to lose Dylan for good. And that, he had to concede, was a big part of the reason she was running away from them all now, regardless of whatever she was about to say.

“You’re choosing to go back then?” he questioned, finally breaking the hush that had enveloped his office at some time before. “I read the letter Dr Nicholls. We were happy to extend your secondment, the army were fine with you staying another six months, and you chose not to take us up on the offer. And worse still, you told them you’d be willing to leave immediately if they needed you.”

“This place isn’t me,” Sam answered so quietly her voice was barely audible. “I’m trained to treat soldiers who’ve lost limbs on IEDs or save casualties from roadside bombs. I make a difference there, I save lives.”

“You save lives here too,” Nick shot back quickly. “You make a difference here too.”

“Treating sprained ankles and binge drinkers? Yeah right,” Sam responded, a harsh tone of sarcasm entering her voice. “All of that stuff, it just isn’t me.”

“You think you’re better than that?” Nick countered. “I know this isn’t about that Sam, we’ve been there, done that and had this conversation months ago and since then you’ve proved yourself to be a bloody good doctor. Yes, you’d probably love to spend every day in resus or being called out to a scene, but I’ve seen you adapt to do some really good work with these sprained ankle and binge drinking patients.” He watched as a look of sadness crossed her face for half a second before she literally shook herself free of it.

“I don’t belong here,” Sam stated, her voice level and matter of fact.

“So, what, you belong in a warzone?” Nick argued. “You find working here so bad, you’d rather just leave?” He paused for a moment, but on receiving no answer continued. “You know when I first came here, I spent all my time consumed with thoughts of going back to surgery. I never wanted to work in the E.D., I was Nick Jordan, Cardiothoracic surgeon and I did everything I could to get back to that. We’re not so different in that respect Dr Nicholls, but luckily for me I realised what I had here before my escape attempt was irreversible. If you get all the way back out to Afghanistan, it will be too late for you to change your mind.”

“I won’t change my mind,” was the simple reply. “I need to be back out there, doing what I am trained to do, what I want to do. The army is part of me, it is who I am. I am not about to turn down the opportunity to get back out there with my team.”

“Fair enough,” Nick answered, knowing that it was pointless arguing the case further when she was obviously in no mood to communicate. He sensed though that the lack of discussion stemmed more from her desire to stop herself thinking about the real reason for her impending departure than it did to do with her apparent disagreement with his point of view. “Do you know when you leave?”

“Sometime next month, I think,” Sam explained. “As soon as I know the date, I will let you know so you can get a replacement,” she added, with Nick quickly realising the concept of replacing her felt more than a little abhorrent.

“Does anyone know you’re leaving?” he asked, to which she responded only with a small shake of the head. “No one at all?”

“No. No one,” she answered pointedly. “I’d rather it stayed just between us until the last minute if that’s alright.”

“If that’s what you want,” Nick said with a sigh, the thought entering his mind that whilst her imminent departure would immensely simplify the department relationship situation, it would also no doubt massively disrupt Dylan. He would not allow his brain to dwell on the thought of what the distance between them would do to Sam, because the idea of her, heartbroken and thousands of miles away in a war zone was honestly too horrendous to think about. “If you need some time off beforehand, to pack or anything, just let me know.”

“Thank you, but I really don’t,” Sam said, meeting his gaze and shaking her head again. “I never really unpacked in the first place, so it won’t take me long to get sorted. I’d rather just keep busy and working right up until I have to go to base if that’s alright.”

“Of course,” Nick responded, feeling a sense of sorrow wash over him as Sam stood up to signal that she was ready to depart, and he watched her leave the office. This beautiful, bright, and intelligent young woman was about to rush off and treat casualties at significant risk to herself, in some ill-fated attempt to escape the seemingly inevitable continued breakdown of her marriage and for that Nick could not help but feel a deep sense of compassion for her plight. However, having just learnt that Sam had never even settled in to Holby well enough to unpack and make a life for herself in the previous six months, he felt saddened at how lonely she really must have been all along.

They were all about to lose Sam to the army, probably for her never to return here again, and all because she was seeking a sense of belonging somewhere. It was unfortunate that what she seemed to have missed was that she was running away from the only person Nick believed could actually give her the home she so desperately seemed to need. Why she wouldn’t fight for Dylan, well he could not begin to comprehend the complexities of someone else’s marriage, but he just hoped that if Sam really did have to leave, she could find something akin to what she was looking for where she was now headed. He wasn’t quite sure why he cared so deeply for her, but in a sense, she reminded him of a much younger version of himself, just as determined, strong-minded and opinionated. He just hoped she would not end up repeating all of his own mistakes. She deserved far better than that.