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For Better, For Worse

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Prologue

Friday 7th January 2011

The two of them sat in an unnerving silence inside the freezing cold car, watching the comings and goings at the secured gate area in front of them with a false appearance of interest. Sam could not stop herself from chewing on the sleeve of her over-sized grey hoody and resisted the temptation to turn her head towards her companion, determined to stay strong and resolute as she mentally readied herself for her impending departure from by his side.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you in?” came the voice from beside her, and Sam felt herself furiously shaking her head as her face reddened with the warmth of embarrassment.

“No, I think that would be a bit, um…” she started, before trailing off unable to finish the sentence. “Thank you for bringing me though, you really didn’t have to,” she added, trying to keep the on-off polite conversation going for longer than it had done throughout the entire length of their cross-country journey.

“I said I would, didn’t I?” Dylan responded tersely. “Stay safe out there,” he continued, before pausing for a few seconds. “Make sure he takes care of you,” he finished brusquely, causing Sam to wince at the tone and implication behind the incredibly pointed words.

After a moment of hesitation, she found the courage to vocalise a thought that had been stuck in the back of her mind ever since she had received notification of her return date. “Do you want me to remove you as my next of kin?” she queried, suddenly finding a reason to stare purposefully out of the passenger window into the snowy nothingness, so as not be tempted to look in her husband’s direction. “You know, just in case something happens. I’m sure you won’t want them bothering you,” she added, risking a quick glance towards him in spite of her better judgement, noticing he was still glaring straight ahead, eyes unfocused on the scene in front of them.

“What? And replace me with whom exactly?” Dylan asked harshly, obviously infuriated, and Sam found herself floundering for a suitable or satisfactory response. “They can still phone me Samantha. We are still married,” he stated matter-of-factly. “Technically speaking at any rate.”

Sam shut her eyes and briefly hung her head in shame, as she forced herself to answer him. “Yeah, technically.” She pushed herself to undo her seatbelt and turn in her chair so she now facing her husband and eyed his body language intently. “Listen Dylan,” she started, noting with alarm quite how vulnerable she sounded as she spoke. “None of this is your fault, I’m the one who messed up and you shouldn’t be the one who has to suffer.” In response, Dylan slightly lowered his gaze, the weight of her words apparently heavy upon his shoulders as she continued. “You’re not happy; you haven’t been happy for ages. You must know as well as I do that you aren’t suited to being a country GP,” Sam said, her tone becoming more serious and urgent as she gained confidence in her words. “You don’t have to worry about me anymore, go back and get yourself an E.D. consultancy, do something you want to do for a change. Forget about me, forget about us.”

“Sam,” Dylan curtly started to respond, a warning tone in his voice.

“No,” she replied, cutting him off before he could finish dismissing her concern. “I need you to know you have my permission to move on, not that you need it. Please just promise me you will at least think about it. I screwed everything up, not you, and you deserve to get your life back, I owe you that much at least.”

Dylan cocked his head to one side slightly and met her gaze, nodding his head gently in an acknowledgement of her words. Sam looked away, took a deep breath, and opened the car door, before jumping down onto the icy ground. She moved to open the rear door of the vehicle and bent down to lure the scruffy dog camped out on the back seat into a tight clinch.

“Goodbye darling,” she whispered into the dejected looking mutt’s ear, blinking back tears as she breathed in the familiar canine smell, knowing it was likely to be for the last time. “Take care of him for me you daft thing.” Sam gently ruffled the dog’s messy coat as she gradually released her and busied herself with hauling the rucksack from behind the passenger seat up onto her shoulder, groaning slightly at the load as she did so. She walked round the back of the car and found herself face to face with Dylan, who had clambered out of the driver side door and was standing leaning against the side of the vehicle, deep in contemplation.

“Look after yourself Grumpy,” she said in his direction, her voice so quiet that she wasn’t even sure she had said the words out loud.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” was the comment that automatically escaped Dylan’s mouth. “Try to come back in one piece alright?” Sam nodded, but before she could offer a further answer, she found herself being pulled into a heartfelt embrace, her lips meeting her husband’s in a fleeting symbolisation of compassion and farewell. “Samantha,” he began as the two of them separated and his hand briefly met that of his wife. “I’ll see you in….” he continued but stopped on seeing her shake her head sadly.

“Goodbye Dylan,” she responded, moving her hand away from him and trying not to notice how her voice shook. “Good luck, with everything,” she added, barely able to force the words out given the overwhelming burden of guilt placed squarely at her feet. “I’m sorry,” she ended, before turning away and trudging as rapidly as her military booted feet would carry her across the snowy tarmac towards the entrance to the army base, the emotions in her heart far heavier than the bag upon her shoulder.

“Goodbye Samantha,” Dylan said aloud, knowing that the wife who had disappeared behind the closing gates could no longer hear his words. He climbed back into the car, started the engine with a jolt and hit his hand hard against the steering wheel in frustration. Dervla jumped through into the passenger seat from the rear of the vehicle and he instinctively patted her coat as she rested her head on his lap. “She’s gone,” he spoke, voice no more than a whisper. “Samantha is gone for good.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Thursday 1st March 2012

“You know you could always ask Big Mac to walk her, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind,” Zoe queried as she followed Dylan into the staffroom, only to be met with a glare from her colleague in response.

“I don’t think Dervla would be particularly satisfied with that arrangement,” came the terse response, which elicited a smile from Dr Hanna as she walked over to the kitchen area and put the kettle on.

They had had the same conversation repeatedly that week thus far, much to Dr Keogh’s irritation and Zoe’s bemusement. In the previous couple of months, the two of them had spent a considerable amount of time together outside of work and Zoe had learned the priority Dylan’s dog had over her in his life, but it never failed to charm her how seriously he took his responsibilities towards his canine companion. Dervla had been less than her usual daft self over the past few weeks, to the point where even Zoe had picked up on her deterioration. However, after a number of visits to the vets and a recent admittance for surgery, much to the consternation of both dog and owner, the mutt’s condition did finally seem to be improving.

The pair of colleagues had argued on a number of occasions over the best course of action upon Dervla’s discharge back into her master’s custody, but despite Dylan not being keen on bringing her into the department given the tragedy that had befallen Polly the previous year, he had insisted it had to be him who took care of the dog. It had been fortuitous that the weather had warmed in the early spring sunshine in recent days, so following Dervla’s collection from the much-loathed veterinary centre, Dylan had set up a makeshift kennels in the back of his car. As medical professionals, both Doctor Keogh and Doctor Hanna were well aware it was irrational for him to consider he could provide better treatment than a qualified vet, but to date he had managed to balance his working commitments with maintaining his own canine rehab centre with only minimal support from Zoe.

For her part, Zoe knew how grateful Dylan was to her for ensuring he could take regular breaks, as regular as they could be in the NHS, to make the short trip to the car park and assess how well the patient was recuperating. The focus of their conversation on the journey home the previous night had been how long it was likely to be before Dervla regained sufficient physical fitness that they could all return to a semblance of normality.

The reality that the sense of routine they had both craved now comprised shared drives to and from work, evenings spent in posh restaurants of Zoe’s choosing and cosy nights on Dylan’s houseboat had surprised them both, but their relationship had developed rapidly following their shared experiences inside the fire that had ripped through the E.D. back in December. The closure of the department for rebuilding efforts over a number of weeks had led to them both having time on their hands and had given the brief kiss they had shared in the face of potential death a heightened degree of importance, with Zoe especially keen on exploring the possibilities that had opened up to them following that unexpected turn of events. The intimate nature that the relationship had taken had felt alien to Dylan in comparison to his last close connection, but it had become apparent to him that the majority of women, his current partner included, were vastly different to the one from his past.

“So, are we still going to Carlotta’s tonight?” Zoe questioned, referencing the boutique Italian restaurant that had opened across Holby the month before. However, on seeing an uncomfortable look fall across Dylan’s face, she was already aware of the answer. “You still don’t think she’s well enough to leave on her own for a few hours, do you?” she probed, before continuing. “It’s fine Dylan, I know she’s important to you. But when that dog is better, I swear you owe me at least a week’s worth of meals out somewhere very expensive.” Her understanding at finding herself second best to a canine was not a situation Zoe was familiar with, so her acceptance of the predicament was begrudging at best.

“I’ll cook,” Dylan responded shortly, knowing full well that his culinary expertise was incredibly limited in comparison to the five-star lasagne that would have been offer at his dinner date’s preferred dining establishment. “Or” he added, considering his options. “We could always get a take-away.” He grabbed his coat and car keys from the open locker and walked towards the staffroom door. “I’ll see you in half an hour,” he called back in his colleague’s direction.

“Yeah, just make sure you take your phone in case we get anything major coming in,” she replied with a smile as Dylan patted down his pockets until he confirmed the mobile was indeed present as requested, before leaving the room completely focused on reaching his ever-faithful companion. Upon reaching the vehicle and opening the back door, he was pleased to see the dejected looking mutt show a degree of interest in his arrival and he ruffled her coat in comfort.

“Right, now we are just going for a quick walk,” Dylan spoke directly towards his dog, who at that moment was eyeing him with obvious misgivings. “I know it hurts and you want to stay here, but we have to do what is best for you. The only way you will recover is if you undertake regular, gentle exercise.” Dylan reached in and carefully removed the reluctant creature from the rear of the vehicle, before placing her on the lead and slowly making off across the car park. He had never been sure why he felt the need to restrain the dog, given that she consistently remained attached to him like a shadow. However, the hospital and surrounding streets were always filled with the sounds of sirens and Dylan had never been prepared to take the chance his confidante would be spooked and make a run for it.

That was partly the reason he would never consider allowing someone else to take care of, or even walk, his dog. Well, that, and the fact he deemed most people incapable of functioning well enough to take care of themselves, never mind an animal, if the state they presented to the E.D. in was any indication to go by. The only person aside from himself who had ever been responsible for Dervla’s care had long since departed their lives and it had become customary to both of them that they now solely relied on each other for companionship. Dylan had curtly rebuffed Zoe’s offer to be an additional dog walker earlier that week and so far, he had managed to avoid any discussion over her caring for the canine whilst she spent the night aboard his boat. Dr Hanna did not appear to be a particularly animal friendly individual if his judgement was correct, but he was aware that at some point he would need to ensure she bonded with Dervla to prevent tensions from appearing between her and his canine, as his own relationship with his fellow doctor became more serious.

He exited the car park and began the short walk down the main road towards the park located around the corner from the hospital, his loyal dog jogging alongside him. He became vaguely aware of a loud screeching noise in the distance, but as the source of the sound neared him, he was rudely interrupted from his thoughts by the squealing of car brakes. He looked up in alarm at the erratically driven people carrier which was spinning rapidly out of control in his direction. In the seconds before impact, Dylan found himself considering that the size of the car meant that this scenario would not be ending well for anyone and realised the yelling he could hear was his own, shouting at Dervla to get out of the way.

However, before he could do anything other than let go of his beloved dog’s lead, there was a sickening thud and the graunching of bones breaking, before darkness descended and his world went black. It was in that moment Dylan wondered whether someone would phone her, and if they did, whether she would even come.
Dervla needed her. And so did he.