Her brother's voice seems to echo as he approaches them- or she's assuming that he's approaching them, at least, because her vision is so blurry now, head spinning so violently, that she doesn't even attempt to look up, too dizzy, too panicked, fighting too hard to keep breathing, oxygen grating harshly in her throat each time she tries and she can't breathe… she can't breathe… she wants to but she can't…
She wants her mum.
She's thirty years old and far, far too old for this, but she just wants her mum.
She just wants her mum to tell her that everything's alright, that she's going to be fine, that the world isn't going to end.
She just wants the safety of her mum's arms because it might be the only thing that helps her remember how to breathe again, and she's tried to tell Fletch but he doesn't seem to understand her attempts to force it out, can't regain control of her breathing for long enough to communicate it any clearer.
She doesn't want him.
She just wants her mum.
"I'm not too sure." Fletch's voice sounds… distant, somehow, and she's sure he isn't, sure he must be right next to her still because it has to be his hands on her shoulders, steadying her, but he sounds as though he's miles away, on the other side of… where even is she?
She can't remember where she is.
She remembers Fletch's hands on her shoulders, guiding her, remembers knowing that he was just trying to help her, remove her from the situation to calm her down but her legs were so shaky that she was scared she'd collapse into a heap on the conference room carpet and embarrass herself even more than she already had by that point and she couldn't breathe, just couldn'trememberhow to breathe…
"She got like this when she went up to give her funding pitch," Fletch explains, and there's commotion now, flurried movement, anxiety radiating off them both and Chloe wants to scream that it's too much, that they aren't helping, that they can't expect her to calm her breathing down all the while they're making it so painfully obvious that they're this worried, that it's bad, that she's freaking them out and they don't know what to do with her. "I could… it's probably my fault, really, I should have stepped in sooner, I thought she looked like she was going to collapse, she went so pale, I just didn't realise it was a panic attack until it was too late…"
"Alright. Chlo?" Her brother sounds closer now, his words ringing in her ears, unnaturally loud and then there's gentle pressure against her side, arms around her shoulders, hugging her, gentle, cautious. "Chlo, it's okay. You're alright. It's me, it's Dom, you're alright. I've got you now. You're fine. You just need to take some deep breaths, okay? Breathe in for three, nice and slowly? Okay… okay… and breathe out for three? Slow, Chloe. Just slow it right down for me? Okay, and breathe in for three… is this how Ange does it?"
"K-k-kind of. So… met-t-times…"
"Oh, okay. I'm a totally crap substitute," Dom surmises, hugs her tighter. "Fair enough. I'm going to have to swallow my pride and ask her for her pro tips later, aren't I? Come on, Chlo, breathe. Slowly, okay? I've got you. Everything's fine, okay? Everything's going to be fine, you just need to breathe for us. That's all. We can fix everything else, I promise. Me, and Fletch, and Ange…"
"Your personal cheer squad," Fletch offers.
"Mum," Chloe forces out faintly. "Mum…"
She just wants her mum.
Does that make her totally pathetic?
Dom doesn't need their mum.
Dom doesn't need either of their mums; Dom behaves like an actual adult, not a weak, helpless child. Dom can cope on his own without needing the constant reassurance she seems to the moment she's anxious or stressed or scared or just a little out of her depth, Dom who's stronger than she'll ever be, Dom who could make his way through a research pitch without dissolving into a panicky wreck and needing rescuing…
"She's in theatre, Chlo," Fletch reminds her gently. "Do you remember? I tried to call her but…"
Why can't she remember?
"Hey, that's okay. I'm not surprised, you were a bit out of it," Fletch tries to reassure her, but his efforts only cause the tightness in her chest to increase, until it feels as though she's suffocating, fighting, struggling to breathe. "Your mum's in theatre, Chloe, there's no one who can take over just now. But she'll be finished up in about… probably ten, fifteen minutes now. And AAU are going to send her straight up here as soon as she's done, okay? She'll be here soon. You just keep taking nice, deep breaths for us, yeah? In and out. In and out, just like that. There you go."
"Yes, you can, Chlo," Dom tells her firmly. "You aredoing it, you're fine. It's just a bad one, it's going to take a minute for you to feel like your breathing's back under control, that's all. But you're doing it. You're breathing better than you were a minute ago, I know it might not feel like it. But you are. Okay? Just try and relax. It's just a bad one, Chlo. That's all. It'll be over soon."
"This is particularly bad for her?" Fletch asks now. "I don't have much experience with panic attacks…"
"No, neither do I," Dom admits. "I haven't seen her have one of these before either, but this has got to be bad has panic attacks go, hasn't it? But you're doing fine, Chlo. You're doing fine, just keep focusing on your breathing. In and out."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for," her brother tells her firmly. "Nothing. Was it the pitch?" he asks carefully. "Chloe? Did it all just get a bit…"
Chloe nods weakly.
She's such an idiot.
She's poured her heart and soul into her atrial clip research. Into perfecting it all, into presenting the data from her prototype experiments, her to-scale model, her predictions and cost figures and simulations and the presentation itself, the PowerPoint, her pitch.
All that effort, all Ms Naylor's time and effort invested in her, only for her to get up in front of the funding panel, work herself into a panicky mess and totally blow it.
"Okay. That's okay," Fletch tells her gently. "It happens to the best of us. Jac's got your notes, hasn't she, she knows the details. She'll do a brilliant job of pitching your research for you. It's not the end of the world, Chloe, okay? It doesn't matter enough to…"
Chloe shakes her head firmly. "J-j-jac's… going… to…"
"Jac will understand," Fletch insists. "She will, Chloe. And I'll have a word with her, if it comes to it. I'll explain. You had a panic attack, she's not going to hold it against you."
"Of course she won't. We all know you're totally capable of smashing that pitch," Dom points out, fully entered into protective big brother mode now. "Come on, Chlo, keep breathing for me. Slowly, okay? You've got this. The pressure just got a bit much, that's all. That's allowed. No one's going to blame you, Chloe, it's fine. It doesn't matter."
"It does, Dom…"
"There you go. You've got to be breathing better if you're arguing with me," Dom teases. "You matter more than a funding pitch, Chlo. Even to Jac Naylor. I promise. She cares, she just doesn't show it. But she's going to handle it for now, and worst-case scenario if you don't get the funding for it, there'll be a next time. It's not life or death, is it? It'll be fine. You're already a ridiculous overachiever just having your own research project on the go as an ST5, whether you get the funding for it or not. So you've got nothing to worry about, okay? And Ange is going to tell you exactly the same, once she's out of theatre. So all you have to do for now is keep taking nice deep breaths for me, exhale slowly. That's it, like that. Exactly like that."
"We can go and talk to Jac in a bit," Fletch offers. "Once you've calmed down, and Jac's finished with the funding board. She'll understand, Chloe. You'll see. It'll all be fine."
Chloe nods weakly, closes her eyes, shivering now.
It's cold. It's cold, but she's in Fletch's office, she realises now, curled up with Dom on the sofas by the window and it's always stupidly hot in here, occupational hazard of working in a hospital, why is she so cold…
Fletch's phone vibrates softly against his desk, almost makes her jump for a moment.
"That's your mum, Chlo," Fletch tells her now, reads the message. She's out of theatre, she just needs to get her patient to ITU and then she'll be here, alright? She's on her way."
"You cold?" Dom asks, reaches for her right hand. "Chloe? You're shivering…"
"Fair enough. I swear we need to get you tested, your circulation's not normal. Is that Ange's?" He gestures to the staff-issue hoodie discarded on the armchair beside the door.
"Yep, that's Ange's. She doesn't want that, though," Fletch warns, climbs to his feet, crosses to the door. "You can have mine, Chloe?" he offers, unhooks it from pegs attached to the back of his office door. "You don't want your mum's, it reeks of her vape stuff. I mean, what's the point of tobacco flavoured vape cartridges, anyway? Surely losing the stench is all part of the advantages of switching over to a vape?"
"You'd have thought," Dom agrees. "But you know Ange. I wouldn't be surprised if she actually likes it. Chloe?" Her brother accepts Fletch's hoodie, holds it out to her. "You want that? And then we could get you a tea, maybe? Lots of sugar?"
Chloe just shakes her head, gestures to her mum's abandoned hoodie on the armchair, would get up to retrieve it herself if only she didn't still feel so stupidly shaky and dizzy. "Can…"
"You really don't want that, Chloe," Fletch warns her again. "Mine's clean, you know. I shower! Your mum's smells foul, you don't want…"
She shakes her head again, adamant, can't quite force the words out between shaky breathes to make clear how she feels. "It smells… l-l-like M-m-mu…"
Fletch rolls his eyes- predictably, admittedly, but still it stabs at Chloe's heart.
She wants him to like her.
He's the first of her mum's boyfriends that she's liked in forever, and Chloe desperately wants him to like her back.
Except she knows he thinks she needs to grow up, needs to stop clinging to her mum like the small child she stopped being a long time ago, and she hates it.
"Oh, okay. You can have Ange's if you want, Chlo," Dom tells her, springs up, drapes Ange's hoodie around her shoulders now. "I'm sure she won't mind, will she?"
Chloe pulls her arm through the sleeve now, pulls the cuffs over her hands, raises to her nose, inhales.
Her mum's boyfriend is right; it stinks.
It stinks of her mum's god-awful roasted tobacco vape refills she sent her out to get her from the corner shop on her lunchbreak yesterday, mixed in with her stupidly expensive Kingdom Scotland perfume and her favourite shea butter shower gel and that inexplicable scent that justisher mum, comforting, reassuring, safe.
It smells like her mum.
"Of course she won't," Fletch agrees. "I'm just a little… surprised, that's all. Haven't you spent the last two weeks telling your mum all you want for your birthday is for her to pack the vape in and switch over to gum instead? She's hardly stopped moaning about it, that's how I know…"
"Oh, leave her alone!" Dom tells him light-heartedly, mock-glares. "She can want Ange to quit and still like the smell, the two aren't mutually exclusive."
"I think you'll find the smell was on her list of reasons she wants Ange to quit, actually. And I'm totally with her on that one, I don't think Ange can even smell the stuff on herself at this point, she's so used to it. But I know for a fact Chloe told her she hates the…"
"Hey, lay off my sister. She's had a traumatic afternoon, she can be as contradictory as she likes. You feeling better, Chlo bug?"
"Oh my god, have you been talking to Nana?" Chloe cringes, hands over her face.
"Nana Peigi? Obviously, how else would I know? Ange's mum," Dom explains. "So when Chloe was a baby, Ange used to call her 'honey bug'…"
"Oh my god, don't you dare," Chloe warns him.
"See? You're feeling loads better. Just trying to get you to relax, this will totally help. So Ange used to call her honey bug, and Nana Peigi wanted to call her Kirsty…"
"Isn't that what I just said?"
"No!" Chloe protests lightly. "Not even close."
"But your breathing's practically back to normal and you're not doing your best Casper the friendly ghost impression anymore, so my evil plan is totally working. Anyway," Dom turns back to Fletch. "Nana Peigi wanted to call her Keer-sti, or however you say it, it's Scottish. I think she still calls her that when Ange isn't around now, right?"
"See, I listen. So Nana Peigi's always called her Chlo just to annoy Ange, because Ange hates it. And you know. Honey bug, Chlo bug. Except Ange stopped with the honey bug years ago, but Peigi still uses that now, too. Including on facetime to me the other week, when Chlo wasn't even there. That's how I know."
"I actually hate you."
"Nah, you don't. I'm the big brother you always wanted, and you totally …"
Dom trails off as Fletch's office door swings open, and Chloe hardly has time to take her in, her mum has rushed across the room to greet her, pulled her into her arms and squeezes her so hard that for a moment she can't quite breathe all over again, but calm, this time, happy, safe, not anxiety-riddled and afraid any longer.
They're silent for a moment, the both of them.
They cling to each other, just cling, an old habit they've fallen into after far too many years of her mum having to put up with her panic attacks.
They hold onto each other so tight that she can feel her mum's heart beating against hers, and at last Chloe feels safe, truly safe, at peace.
It doesn't matter.
It's just a pitch.
It doesn't matter.
"You okay?" her mum asks at last, rubs gentle circles on her back. "Sweetheart? I'm sorry, I wanted to come down as soon as Fletch called, but I was in theatre and…" She frowns, pulls away, examines Chloe for a moment, pulls her back into her arms to hug her again, nose crinkles in mild disgust. "What on earthhave you done to your jumper? It smells like it hasn't been washed for about a year, that's not going to make you feel any better, is it? Do you want mine instead? Fletch, can you pass her my work jumper? I think I left it on your chair?"
Just something very quick I wrote for Mental Health Week! I didn't really have time to do anything but if you've been here a while, you'll know why mental health awareness is so important to me, so I wanted to try and get something up. I'm sorry if it feels really rushed!
As ever, your feedback would be wonderful, please do let me know if you're still wanting Ange/Chloe fan fiction! Just over a week until Holby is back now!