He'd done it. He'd taken the tick out of the time bomb.

She moved the pad of her thumb against his skin. It wasn't enough contact. Not nearly enough. She wanted him to hold her...but she was going to have to wait.

'She's asleep again,' Jake said to Seb and Charlie. 'She's going to be tired for a while.'

'Make the most of it,' Seb said. 'As soon as she's well enough to go up to the ward, she's going to be a nightmare. She'll smuggle textbooks in. And she'll probably try to sneak into her office and catch up on her paperwork.' His tone was light, but Jake could see the strain in his face.

'She's going to be fine,' he reassured them. 'Go in and see her.' He paused. 'This sounds stupid, because you know what ICU's like—but it's different when it's someone close, not a patient. She's got an NG tube in and an oxygen mask, and there are syringe drivers plus monitors for her heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, central venous pressure and oxygen saturation.'

'And our baby brain surgeon is smack in the middle of it,' Charlie said quietly. 'Have you had a break today?'

'I'm really pleased with her obs,' Jake said, ignoring the question.

Seb sighed. 'You're as bad as she is. Look, we'll sit with her for a while, Jake. Go and have something to eat and just chill out for half an hour.'

Half an hour? He couldn't stay away from her that long. 'Ten minutes,' Jake said.

'Twenty, and that's a compromise,' Charlie cut in. 'Jake, if you wear yourself out, you won't be able to look after her properly. Which reminds me, we need to start thinking about a rota system to keep an eye on her when she's out of hospital. There's no point in booking a private nurse because Vicky will say she doesn't need looking after and she'll pay her off. But she can't pay us off. Between the five of us, we should be able to sort it.'

Jake's surprise clearly showed on his face, because Charlie added, 'You don't think we'd leave it all to you, do you? That's what families are for. Support when the going gets tough.'

He hadn't had a family since Lily's death. This was going to take some getting used to.

'Alyssa's still on maternity leave, so she'll be able to take some day shifts,' Seb said. 'If we synchronise duties, then Charlie, Sophie and I can cover whenever you're in clinic, Jake—and we'll sort something out for weekends to make sure you actually get some sleep.'

Jake stared at them both, too stunned to say anything.

Seb clapped him on the shoulder. 'See? You're tired now. You did the hardest operation of your life this morning, and you've been keeping Vic under continual obs since. It's physically not possible to keep this up for the next week. So we'll sort it as a family. Go. Break. Now,' he added, pointing to the door.

Jake had no idea what he bought from the canteen. He couldn't taste anything. And he added cold water to his coffee so he could drink it straight down and go back to Vicky's bedside. The caffeine was a welcome jolt to his system, but he only realised that he'd bought chocolate when he arrived back at Vicky's beside and Charlie grinned.

'What?'

'Busy medic's standby,' Charlie said, nodding at the choc bar.

'Did you have something to eat?' Seb said.

'Yes, but don't ask me what,' Jake said honestly. 'I didn't even taste it.'

'Stop worrying. She's still asleep, but she's going to be fine,' Seb said. 'She had an excellent surgeon.'

'I'm glad it's over,' Jake admitted. 'And I'm just lucky I didn't hit any complications. I couldn't have lived with myself if anything had happened.'

'And we made it worse, insisting on being there,' Charlie said, wincing.

'I understand. I think I would have done the same if someone else had operated.' He dragged in a breath. 'Though I never, ever want to do an operation like that again. I've never been so scared in my entire life.'

I'm glad it's over... I've never been so scared in my entire life. The words echoed in Vicky's head the next morning. Jake was asleep in the chair by her bed. Clearly he hadn't left the hospital last night, either—and he'd broken all the hospital rales by staying there at her bedside. A nurse must have tucked that blanket round him.

A tear trickled down her cheek, and she reached over to touch his hand, needing the contact.

Immediately, he was awake—as with most doctors, years of training and long nights on call had made him able to snatch sleep where he needed to and be awake enough instantly to deal with a patient.

'Hey.' He leaned over to kiss her cheek. 'How are you doing?' He did her observations. 'I'm happy to take this tube out now. Want me to sort it?'

At her nod, he said, 'Close your eyes and relax. I'm going to make this as easy as I can for you.' Gently, he removed the tube.

'Throat hurts,' she whispered.

'It will, to start with.' He poured a small amount of cool water into a glass and handed it to her. 'Small sips. Take it slowly. If you rush, you'll just bring it straight back up.'


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