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War of the Wyvern

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It’s the early hours of Sunday morning when it really kicks off. The Wyvern, Holby's most exclusive restaurant, had been fully booked for Saturday night and the kitchen was rushed off its feet turning over the 38 covers in time for the next sitting. Finally at 11.45 the last guest had left, the kitchen had been scrubbed clean to within an inch of its life and everything was back in place ready to start lunch prep again first thing tomorrow.

It had not been the most successful service in the history of the Wyvern, since losing their coveted Michelin star early in the new year the pressure had been beginning to tell. It was widely known among the kitchen and front of house staff that Head Chef, Michael Spence, had been given 3 months to turn things around and while the restaurant had been filling up again and the clientele were enjoying the food once more, there were still issues behind the scenes. Not a service went by without Michael and sous-chef Serena Campbell barking and sniping at each other. Michael hated the way Serena undermined him in front of the kitchen and Serena, who was credited by the kitchen and servers with being the real reason the Wyvern was getting back its reputation, found Michael to be sloppy, she was fed up of constantly having to correct his mistakes and clear up his messes.

This tension had finally boiled over when Serena had dared to suggest that the dishes Michael was about to let go from the pass were sub-standard and would require re-plating. Seemingly this latest criticism was to be the last as Michael dramatically ripped off his chef’s whites and hurled them down in a fit of pique, storming out of the kitchen and leaving Serena to take over the running of service. Serena was momentarily left open-mouthed at his toddler tantrum before pulling herself together once more.

“Show’s over – back to your stations please, we have a service to complete.” She barked to the wide-eyed kitchen staff, clapping her hands sharply for emphasis.

The rest of service went as smoothly as could be managed running the kitchen while a chef down, everyone pulling together to cover the gaps where they could. Now they all congregated at front of house sharing a drink in virtual silence as they rested their feet for the first time in 10 hours. Serena herself slumped back in a chair, shoes off; wiggling her numb toes as the front of house manager Fletch wordlessly slid a welcome glass of Shiraz in front of her. No-one dared speak of what had happened between her and Spence but it was the topic on everyone’s mind, even more so when the door opened and the restaurant owner, Henrik Hanssen, appeared looking a bit more bleary-eyed than usual but still impeccably tailored. He nodded to the staff and went straight into the back office. This made them sit a little straighter and every eye moved to Serena.

“What? I didn’t call him. I have as much idea of what he’s doing here as you do.” She snapped back at their accusatory looks. The reappearance of Spence a few minutes later answered the unspoken question for them; he slowed slightly to cast an angry stare at Serena before marching over to join Henrik in the office.

Serena puffed out her cheeks and took a large gulp of wine.

“Don’t worry Serena, we all know that you were only doing what was right for the restaurant, I’m sure Henrik will see that.” It was one of the commis, Raf di Lucca, who had spoken up. Serena gave him a grateful smile before resuming staring at her wine as she swirled it absent-mindedly in her glass.

The silence was broken by the sound of raised voices coming from the office, well one raised voice as no-one had ever heard Henrik Hanssen have to raise his tone above his usual softly spoken pitch. The door burst open and Michael appeared.

“Good luck getting that star back without me here, Henrik.” He yelled in his west coast American drawl before slamming the door so hard the frame shook. He swung around to Serena, eyes blazing with fury. “Got what you wanted now Campbell, well we’ll see how long you last.” Not waiting for a response he stormed out of the restaurant for the second time that night.

Once again the eyes of the team swung to Serena, some in shock, some looking for her reaction. Serena ever the diplomat played the long game. “Don’t jump the gun, we all know Spence can be a bit of a drama-queen at times, I’m sure this will blow over and he’ll be back soon. Right I could murder another Shiraz, anyone joining me?” A few nods and few shakes of the head, Fletch bless him topped up Serena’s glass and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder saying more with the gesture than he ever would with words.

Serena had learned from many years of experience to never openly stab someone in the back, the restaurant circuit was a small little clique with Head Chefs, sous-chefs and commis changing kitchens like people changed their socks. Everyone knew everyone else, you could not move restaurant without your reputation going with you. Serena had worked hard at making her reputation one of the best, tough, honest but fair and generally well-liked and respected. She had steadily worked her way up the ranks and had taken a sideways move to the Wyvern from a more highly regarded London restaurant specifically with an eye on the Head Chef position. Michael Spence was known to be a bit of a liability of late, flashes of inspirational brilliance more often disguised in sloppy lack of precision and control. Serena knew his days were numbered and she had ensured she was right there waiting when they finally ran out.

Serena was stirred from her thoughts by Henrik appearing from the office. “A word, Ms Campbell, if I may?” From anyone else it sounded like a polite request but if you knew Henrik Hanssen it was a direct instruction. Serena rose from her chair, slipping her aching feet back into her trainers, took a quick swig of wine before crossing to the office and gently closing the door behind her.

“Take a seat, please.” Henrik indicated the chair opposite his desk as he resumed his seat, frowning slightly he realigned a pencil he had errantly knocked into on his way past. “Mr Spence has provided me his version of events of what happened this evening, I wonder if you would be so good as to share your observations of what has gone on before you leave.”

“As you wish Mr Hanssen, but honestly, I do not know what all the fuss is about. I was merely pointing out to Spence that the two lamb plates for table eight looked completely different to each other and we could not send them out like that, they just needed re-plating that’s all. Mr Spence said they were fine and he told Essie to serve them, I told her not to and sent them back to Ollie to redo. Ollie was fine with the request. Michael seemed to lose his cool and started yelling before storming out of the kitchen. I’m sorry if I did the wrong thing but we have to uphold the highest standards especially if we want out star back.”

Hanssen stilled for a moment, before nodding. “Fine, thank you Ms Campbell.” He paused, narrowed his eyes at his desk, before nudging the errant pencil a further millimetre to the left. Seemingly satisfied he looked back up to Serena again. “It was probably clear from Mr Spence’s outburst earlier than we have parted ways, which leaves us without a Head Chef. I would like to ask you to step up in the interim and fill the position while I consider what my options are to take the Wyvern in the right direction. Are you agreeable to this?”

“Yes Mr Hanssen I’m here to help in any way I can.”

“Very good, I shan’t keep you any longer then, thank you for your time.”

Serena rose and nodded to Henrik before turning her back on him and heading to the door, a satisfied smirk crossing her face before she schooled her features and opened the door to the team anxiously waiting her return.

The team had the grace to wait until she had resumed her seat and taken another sip of her wine before someone broke the silence.

“Well, what did he say?” It was Dom, one of the young kitchen hands, who piped up first.

“Mr Spence has parted company with the Wyvern, while Henrik looks for a replacement, I will cover Michael’s duties.”

“So you don’t have the job permanently then?” Fletch chipped in. A muscle twitched in Serena’s jaw as he touched a raw nerve before she composed herself again.

“Fletch we are trying to get our star back, I think Mr Hanssen needs to consider who is the best person to do that very carefully.” Serena coolly replied even as the voice inside her head screamed “me, me, me.”

Serena stood once more and drained the rest of her glass and slipping her coat on she bid them all a good night before making the short walk back to her house.

 

“Raf, how long on the three monkfish for table five? Ollie’s lamb is up in two minutes, will you be ready?” Serena shouted across the pass while shuffling the tickets along.

“Yes chef” Came the instant response and Serena glanced over to see Raf already into his plating up and she hummed contentedly. Sure she had covered service for Spence before but she had never run it for so long and she was absolutely in her element.

There had been a few teething problems, she had needed to elevate Dom from his kitchen hand duties to being in charge of one of the dishes in order to cover the gap left now she was acting Head Chef. Dom could not have gone straight into preparing the complex and delicate monkfish main that Serena used to prepare, so she had been forced to move Raf from the poached pear dessert to cover the fish dish. Dom might have been able to do the poached pear but the cinnamon biscuit accompaniment required careful watching or it would catch and be ruined, so Serena had moved Jasmine over to prepare the dessert and Dom slotted into the least technical dish to prepare, the ham hock and chicken terrine starter.  All of this disruption to routine meant that the previously well bedded lines of communication broke down; dishes were arriving too early or worse too late, many having to be completely remade and expensive ingredients ending up in the bin.

There had been a couple of complaints during the transition but now everyone was settled in dishes were coming to the pass on time, every time. Tables were filling, customers were happy, the tills were ringing, Serena was supremely confident that Henrik would make her the Head Chef on a permanent basis after this. Her daydream was broken as Raf slid the three monkfish plates onto the pass and Ollie was just finishing dressing his lamb for table five.

“Nice looking monkfish, Raf. Ollie – good job on the lamb, nice and pink still.” Giving the plates a last wipe around the rim she called out, “Service” before smiling as Isaac swept in to balance the four plates onto his arms and out to the waiting diners. Her smile turned once more to a scowl as she espied the gorgeous plate of food turning to mush in front of her she shouted across the kitchen “Zosia! Where is the raspberry roulade I asked for, the chocolate fondant is ready and the ice-cream is melting, hurry up.”

 

Mr Hanssen was in the next night, not an unusual occurrence itself but he typically delegated front of house duties to Fletch during the week and Henrik himself only appeared on the odd weekend shift when the restaurant was packed. The service was slow as usual for a Wednesday, perhaps only half the covers they would get on a weekend but the conditions in the kitchen were even more stifling than normal. April had yielded hotter weather than expected and despite forecasts of a storm coming to break the heat it had yet to hit Holby. It was therefore a very tired, hot and sweaty team that finished cleaning for the night. Serena and Raf had retreated up the stairs to the roof above the restaurant where it was high enough that you could feel the cooling effect of the light breeze from the west. They leaned against the wall of the stairwell, close enough to talk but far enough away to ensure the cool night air would catch them both.

“So Henrik is here tonight, what do you make of that?” Raf’s gentle Scottish tones echoing Serena’s own thoughts. She turned her head towards him, the wind hitting the back of her neck making her shiver slightly where the sweat from hours in the kitchen was now cooling.

“Hmm, I don’t know Raf. Not like him, and he is a creature of habit.”

“Think it’s anything to do with the Head Chef position?”

“Well they will be finishing up scrub down in a minute so I guess we will find out soon enough. Care to join me Mr di Lucca?” Serena offered him the crook of her arm and smiling he looped his through hers.

“Why Ms Campbell, I never knew you cared.”

Indeed when they got back downstairs, some of the team had already left and there were just Jasmine and Zosia still preparing their dessert sections for service tomorrow. Henrik was looming near the pass and he spotted Serena and Raf return.

“Ah Ms Campbell, I was just looking for you.”

“I’m all yours Mr Hanssen.” Serena gave a tight smile before turning to Raf and kissing his cheek. ”Night Raf, see you tomorrow.” The Scot gave her a little wink of encouragement in response.

Serena followed the tall Swede once more into the office and he indicated for her to sit down.

“I appreciate it is late Ms Campbell and you must want to get home so I will be brief. I’ll admit I was concerned when Mr Spence left us and you were required to step up so suddenly, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the transition has been managed. The kitchen is running like a well-oiled machine by all accounts and that is a testament to you and everything that you have achieved in the 2 weeks you have been running the team.”

Serena felt a light blush hit her cheeks, and allowed a small smile to curl at the sides of her mouth but she kept still and quiet awaiting Henrik to make it official before she spoke up. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she composed herself to hear the words she had worked her career towards.

“That is why,” he continued, ”I have the utmost confidence that the combined talents of you and our new Head Chef, Berenice Wolfe, working closely together can deliver us our Michelin star back. I feel very lucky to have two such exceptionally talented and capable women running my kitchen and I greatly look forward to what you can deliver. In the meantime I want to personally thank you for stepping up and performing so admirably while I finalised the agreement with Ms Wolfe.” Serena could feel the flush of anger rising up her face and she tried to breathe through it, now was not the time to lose her cool.

“May I ask Mr Hanssen, whether you considered me for the role? I believe I have made my intention clear to use the sous-chef position here as a step into my first Head Chef.” Serena could hear the bite of anger in her tone but if Henrik picked up on it, he did not react.

“Of course and it is still my plan to honour that arrangement, however I had a rare opportunity to bring Ms Wolfe in and I could not pass the chance up. I see you and her working very closely together and when Ms Wolfe looks to move back to London, as I would expect her to do in a few years, then you should be in a much better position to take on the Head Chef role. In the meantime you will have had the opportunity to work with one of Britain’s most gifted new culinary talents.”

She managed an ingenuous smile at this, “I look forward to learning from her.” Serena positively hissed through gritted teeth. Ms Wolfe had no idea who she was messing with, that woman’s life was going to be hell. A few years - ha, Serena had every intention of making sure she would be high-tailing back to London in a few months if she even lasted that long.

 

Serena spent the next few hours tossing and turning in her bed as waves of anger and despair each brought hot stinging tears to her eyes. Despite knowing, even more than usual, she needed to be on top form tomorrow, still sleep evaded her. At 3am she finally gave up trying and flicked on the switch for her bedside lamp. Reaching out to her phone she opened up her Google app and typed Berenice Wolfe into the search engine, kitchen gossip had provided her some information about the woman who was stealing her job, but she was going to have to be fully prepared if she was going to destroy her.

The search returned a surprisingly low number of results, most were just linked to her time at L’Sauvage as sous-chef, a few were linked to her military awards and medical discharge but the most informative was a relatively recent lifestyle piece looking at the rising British chefs of 2016. It profiled her military career, the explosion that had returned her to the UK and it briefly mentioned her divorce, then her stellar rise through the London culinary circuit to become sous-chef at L’Sauvage. Unlike the other articles, it carried a photo of her, it was a bit small and unclear but it showed a tall, lean woman with curly blonde hair and a slightly bashful smile, eyes hidden beneath a long fringe. Serena zoomed into her face to study her features but it only became blurry and pixelated. She stared for a long while at the picture trying to read the woman, before locking her phone screen with a sigh. She was bloody supermodel thin and pretty as well, all the staff would be fawning over her like little puppies, Serena had not thought it possible, but she hated the woman even more now. It was with visions of long legs, sharp cheekbones and blonde curls that sleep finally claimed her.

It is only a few hours later that Serena Campbell, sporting heavy dark circles under her eyes, arrived at the Wyvern for Thursday lunch prep, despite being bang on time most of the team are already at the restaurant and are busy readying for service. She can see Henrik’s looming presence straightening his already straight tie through the open door to the office.

“What’s going on Serena?” Raf had sneaked up behind her and was stage-whispering in her ear. At Serena’s confused expression, he flicks his head towards the office. “He’s here again, come on spill it.”

“Ah, Henrik is here to announce the new Head Chef to the team Raf.” Serena avoids making eye contact with his questioning gaze.

“But it’s you” Serena shoots him a dark look and he finally catches on. “Oh, it’s not you, Serena I’m so sorry, but who is it then?” She is about to enlighten him when Henrik appears and clears his throat to call everyone together.

“Thank you for taking the time to break from your preparation for lunch service, I won’t take up much of your time. I would like to announce our new Head Chef and wanted you to hear it from me rather than through the highly efficient rumour mill. I am very pleased to announce that Ms Berenice Wolfe, who has been sous-chef at L’Sauvage in London until recently, has agreed to join our team. She will be joining us tonight to observe how we work and to sample the menu but will take charge of service officially from tomorrow night. I trust that you all will make her feel welcome and work with her closely to get her up to speed.”

A murmur rumbled through the ranks, a few eyes darted to Serena nervously who was in the process of biting down so hard on her cheek to disguise her inner turmoil that she could taste the metallic tang of blood on her tongue.

“The Berenice Wolfe? She’s a ledge!” Mo chipped in. “I heard she once produced a perfect tomato consommé for a restaurant critic who refused to order from the menu, used a technique she learnt in the army to cool it quickly without ruining the texture or clarity, rumour has it.” Mo trailed off as Serena shot daggers at her.

“Yes thank you Ms Effanga, you’ll receive your Berenice Wolfe fan club membership badge in the post shortly.” Serena remarked dryly. “Now unless there are any more questions for Mr Hanssen may I suggest we get on with our work or we won’t even have finished lunch service by the time Ms Wolfe arrives.”

The team quietened at Serena’s sharp tone and swiftly returned to their workstations as they were now cutting it fine for pre-lunch prep. As Serena swept around each area checking their readiness and getting them back on track, she could not fail to notice the way hushed conversations cut dead as she approached. Her cheeks burned once more, she had been humiliated in front of the team, her team and she would not stand idly by and let this happen, it was her dream and she would not be denied.

 

Chapter Text

Bernie Wolfe was nervous, she was not often given to nerves but this was a big move for her, leaving the safety of London to come and take this job, moving away from her family, albeit estranged, and her best friend, it was a leap of faith and she was starting to feel forsaken. Of course she had known of the restaurant and the reputations of the staff before she accepted the role, she would have been foolish not to but she had admittedly not done a huge amount of research, there had simply not been the time. Since accepting the job however, a colleague of her had introduced her to the former Head Chef Michael Spence, nothing to concern her had come to light during this conversation until she had broached the subject of Serena Campbell.

“Serena will not be happy that you have that job, she’s been manoeuvring her way towards it for years, trust me - expect a hard time from that one.”

“I was in the army for nearly 20 years, I’ve dealt with tough macho sergeants who thought they should have my job, I think I can handle myself.” Bernie smirked back brimming with confidence.

Michael burst out laughing, “She’s going to eat you for breakfast!” He was still laughing as he stood up and left a bemused looking Bernie still cupping her half-finished coffee in her hands.

Now stood right outside the Wyvern, Bernie took a last bracing drag on her cigarette, tossed it to the pavement and ground it out with the toe of her boot before carefully styling her fringe just so and chivvying herself through the doors.

The first thing she saw as she entered the restaurant was a delightful brunette creature talking intensely to broad shouldered man with an easy smile, brushing her fringe out of her eyes to get a better look, she smiled shyly, flirting slightly as she wondered if she would ever get the chance of having her for breakfast. Then the woman’s expression shifted and Bernie shivered at the chill of fear that ran through her, right now she realised, she should be more concerned with getting out of here alive.

 

If Serena thought she had prepared herself for the arrival of Ms Wolfe, she was wrong. All of her research and that slightly blurry photo did not do justice to the breath-taking beauty of the woman in the flesh. Serena had been at front of house going over the menu and accompanying wine choices with Fletch when the doors had opened and in she strode. Blonde curls loose, fringe so long it almost entirely obscured her eyes, only for her to sweep it aside with an almost casual gesture and reveal deep brown eyes twinkling slightly as she gave a shy smile.

Serena knew from practical experience most chefs were either slightly overweight from living on a diet comprising rich buttery sauces, tasted at least 50 times each service, big, heavy breakfasts to get through the 15 hour days and takeaways (being the only places open once a night service had finished) or else they were lean bordering on malnourished spending all day, every day on their feet and living on what they could grab in the brief respites, which most filled grabbing a coffee and a smoke instead of eating. Ms Wolfe definitely fell into the second camp, she was tall with long lean legs, toned arms and only the barest hint of curves around her stomach and hips all being accentuated by ridiculously skinny jeans, a figure hugging white shirt and a light trench-coat which served to draw the eye up and down her length.

Serena Campbell had always been capable of appreciating beauty in other women, and aside from a brief dalliance with Collette, a fellow chef at a previous restaurant, that never went farther than some dinner dates sprinkled with heavy-duty flirting, it had always been with the dispassionate eye of a casual admirer and never anything more. Now looking at the woman before her, and despite every sinew in her body wishing it was otherwise, she felt her blood heat with a flood of attraction more intense than anything she had felt in years. Serena, never one to let a silly thing like lust interfere with her plans, channelled her anger even more fiercely and fixed the newcomer with her most piercing glare. She felt a resulting small glow of satisfaction as she watched the woman visibly blanch and twitch her eyes towards the door, looking for an escape route. Strike one for Campbell, she turned on her heel and returned to the kitchen, and if she took time to ensure her hips had an extra sway to them as she departed, she told herself it was absolutely not for the benefit of Ms Wolfe.

 

Serena tried to focus on getting the kitchen ready for evening service but her eyes kept straying upwards to watch Henrik as he walked the new chef around the kitchen, introducing her to all the staff. She could hear tinkling laughter as a clearly awe-struck Zosia reacted to something Ms Wolfe had said and almost as if she could sense Serena’s gaze upon her, the blonde head rose and their eyes met for the briefest of moments before the brunette lowered her eyes back to resume her study of the reservations book for the night.

A short time later her careful consideration of order flow and potential rush points for the night was interrupted by Henrik’s soft tones.

“And this is Serena Campbell, our sous-chef and the most knowledgeable member of our team, there is nothing Serena doesn’t know about this menu. Serena, may I introduce you to Ms Berenice Wolfe, our new Head Chef.”

“Call me Bernie please.” There was that shy smile again, her hand extended towards Serena. Serena paused for a moment before slipping her hand into the one offered from the blonde. As their skin met, Serena was unsurprised to feel the small ridges and scars that years of kitchen work left but she was shocked by the tingling sensation she felt running through her fingers, fingers she had thought permanently numbed from years of handling scalding food and pans, Bernie’s touch burning more fiercely than any hot metal ever had but yet neither rushed to let go.

Finally releasing her hand, Serena smiled tightly, “I’ll be calling you Chef surely?”

“Only during service and even then just for expedience, I prefer things to be as informal as I can have them. Years in the army I suppose teaches you respect must be earned and doesn’t just come with a rank.” The subtext was not lost of her, Bernie knew Serena disliked her and the message was clear, she was here to earn her respect. Serena inwardly smirked at this, Good luck with that one, Major. She had no intention of being won over by this woman.

“Well I look forward to learning from you Bernie. I hope you enjoy your meal.”

 

There was an extra tension in the kitchen tonight with everyone focussed on impressing their new chef with their dish. It meant that more than once tempers frayed as chefs jostled for the same space in the cramped kitchen, the delicate dance of one chef moving around the other disrupted by this new influence. Dishes were knocked out of hands, plates were moved and the staff were sniping at each other. Serena could take no more of this.

“Everyone stop.” She bellowed. “Right listen up. This is a service like any other night. We have a restaurant of paying customers expecting top quality food. I know you all want to impress Ms Wolfe, but I am running service and right now the only person you have to impress is me. You can do that by working together to consistently deliver perfect plates of food for every single person out there tonight. Do I make myself clear?”

To the unison chorus of “Yes chef”, Serena nodded, “Back to work please.” Her words hitting home with the team as the rest of the service running as smoothly as could be hoped.

At the end of the night Bernie returned to the kitchen making her way around each station, providing positive comments to each of the chefs, Serena snorted in derision as they blushed and simpered at her in response like teenage groupies. As Bernie bade them all a goodnight she slid over towards Serena whose head was bowed low double checking the next day’s order, she leaned in close, a loose curl tickling Serena’s cheek as she did so.

“I heard what you said to the team tonight, it was nicely handled.” She spoke softly and Serena could feel her breath against her skin.

“Thank you for your comments but I am not here to impress you and contrary to popular belief, I am capable of running a kitchen without your assistance.” Serena heard the bite in her words and she glanced up to see a flash of hurt in the woman’s eyes before she composed herself again.

“You’ll get no arguments here, Serena.” Holding her hands up in surrender, before smiling slightly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She turned with a swish of her hair and headed towards the door, Serena unable to stop herself gazing at her as she left.

 

Bernie entered the restaurant on Friday afternoon with her confident swagger back. Serena was going to make life difficult for her of that she had no doubt but Bernie had always been one to enjoy a challenge and this was going to be entertaining if nothing else. The only potential spanner in the works was the flare of attraction the blonde felt whenever she was near to her feisty sous-chef, every time their eyes met, she swallowed down the desire that rose in her throat, she couldn’t resist the urge to stand that bit closer to her than she would have done otherwise and it was both delicious and torturous.

Shaking her head free of such thoughts, she headed for the staff changing area, where she found her new chef’s whites waiting, B. WOLFE HEAD CHEF, embroidered onto the left side of the material. She ran her fingers almost reverently over the raised fabric before slipping off her shirt and buttoning the whites over her vest top. She tamed her curls into a short ponytail and clipped her fringe back away from her face before donning a white bandana; she checked her reflection in the mirror before stepping out into the kitchen for her first service.

First order of business was to sort how service was going to run tonight, she spotted Serena across the kitchen laughing with Raf di Lucca and headed straight over to her. They halted their conversation as Bernie approached and Serena’s face hardened, Raf noticing the change shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.

“Right I better go and check on my fish.” Raf made a hasty exit from the strained atmosphere between the two women.

“OK Ms Campbell, I would like to propose for our first service together that you continue to run the pass and I will work with each of the chefs at their stations until I understand their dishes better. I have some understanding from having tasted them last night but I want to get from each of the chefs themselves what are the key elements, how often they taste the flavours and what they are looking for in each dish so I can best help. Are you in agreement?”

“Happy to follow your lead, Chef.” Serena replied through gritted teeth.

“Good, good, shall we get on then?” Bernie swivelled on her toes and strode off, Serena unseen to all but Raf flipping her the middle finger behind her back.

 

Service started smoothly enough with Bernie focused on the starters and spending some time with Mo, Dom and Morven in turn without compromising orders reaching the pass on time. It wasn’t until Bernie moved onto the main course stations that the trouble started. She spent a considerable amount of time with Raf observing his preparation, how he timed all the elements of the dish to deliver them together and asking him to sample the monkfish for seasoning, it slowed him down and Serena was forced to adjust Jac’s mushroom coulibiac timings to compensate.

“Is it too much for you to manage to deliver two fish dishes on time, di Lucca.” Jac hissed in his ear as they tangled trying to plate up in the same area in the same time.

“It was my mistake Ms Naylor, Mr di Lucca was taking extra time to ensure I understood the how the flavour balance was essential to the overall dish. I am sorry I caused you a delay, but a chef of your calibre is more than able to handle such changes I am sure.” Bernie’s smile was warm but she narrowed her eyes in contemplation of the redhead. Jac held her eyes for a moment before nodding her assent and finishing the plating of her dishes.

After that Bernie moved to join Jac, suggesting that a move away from individual portions to a single larger roll could make her service management easier. She and Jac debated the pros and cons for a while before she accepted that the half-hearted “I’ll take on board your thoughts” was as good as she would get from the typically direct woman.

She then moved onto Ollie and the lamb. Bernie watched him prepare and cook the lamb loin, juggling this with deep-frying the lamb bon-bons and finishing the slow cooked lamb shoulder in the freshly prepared red wine sauce. It was a lot going on simultaneously and he was managing multiple orders of what was a very popular dish and she nodded her head in respect for the workload he was handling.

“I’m impressed Ollie with your preparation and time-management. Can I just ask, is there anything you would change about the dish?” It was a simple enough question but Ollie felt trapped. If he was being honest he did was not totally comfortable with the presentation of the dish but it had been Serena who had created it and he was loathe to upset his colleague. “Well Mr Valentine, is there anything?” Bernie was getting impatient.

“I like the flavour and lamb is bang in season, so the dish is popular at the moment, but I would perhaps, given free reign, to amend the presentation slightly.” Ollie bit the bullet and admitted his concerns.

“OK Mr Valentine, next plate up show me how you would present it please.”

“Do you really think we should change presentation mid-service?”

“Are you not up for the challenge? Surely to have said what you did, you must have already thought about how you would plate it, if not already have done it. Am I incorrect?”

“Well no…” Ollie trailed off, he knew he had a vision for how he believed the dish should present.

“Worse case we re-plate as it was. Are you in or out Ollie?”

“In, 100% in.”

They did not have to wait long for the next plate. Bernie was finishing the lamb for Ollie while he prepped the elements for the presentation, it may not be perfect as Ollie only had what was available in the kitchens but Bernie wanted to see how creative he was, how much passion he had for the dish and this was the best way to test it.

He quickly finished it up and showed it to Bernie. “Explain your thinking on this Mr Valentine.”

“Lamb is the ultimate spring dish, this plate should make springtime leap off the plate. For me spring is a time of lush light greens, yellow and white daffodils and the smell of freshly mowed grass. This is what I wanted to convey.”

“In that case, good job as that is what it says to me. Take it to the pass then.” Bernie smiled encouragingly and he moved out apprehensively towards Serena who was already shouting for her missing lamb dish.

“Lamb for table one, Chef.”

“About time too.” Serena had yet to look down as Ollie put it onto the pass, he turned to head back to his station before he was abruptly halted. “What is this Valentine? It looks nothing like it is supposed to, take it back and plate it up properly.” Serena glowered at Ollie looking at the dish as if it were a cup of cold sick.

“Send the dish please Ms Campbell.” Bernie had appeared from behind Ollie as Serena had erupted in rage at the dish.

“No I want it re-presenting as it should be done.”

“It is Mr Valentine’s dish and this is how he wishes to present it and…” Bernie’s sentence was cut short by Serena’s increasingly hostile tone

“Frankly I don’t give a damn how he wants to plate it, I’m running the pass.”

“If you let me finish Ms Campbell, I was about to say I agree with him. The presentation Ollie had put together tells a story and that is what we want our customers to have, an experience, not just a meal.” There was no raising of her voice, she could as easily been saying good morning as firmly shutting down Serena’s argument but the dispute silenced the kitchen, every eye swivelled to Serena.

“Well if you do not agree with how I am running service tonight, perhaps you would like to step in?” Serena spat back

Aware of the gaze of the kitchen and half the servers now trained on them, Bernie did the kindest thing she could, she stepped round and took over leading service for the rest of the night.

 

At the end of service Bernie stepped into the office where Henrik was finishing up and gently closed the door behind her, wary that even the soft snick of the lock mechanism would alert the staff out front to their discussion. “I can close up tonight Mr Hanssen.” she made no direct mention of the incident although she was sure he would be aware by now.

“That would be very kind Ms Wolfe. I’m sure Ms Campbell can show you how to put the shutters down should you need.” With that he picked up his coat and briefcase and nodded as he passed her.

Bernie could see Serena skulking around at the back of the restaurant having relieved the bar of a bottle of Shiraz and a large glass. Bernie poked her head out of the door, neither wanting to invade her space nor ignore her completely.

“Care to come and drink that in the office with me, Serena?”

Serena turned, her dark eyes still burning with fury and even in the darkness Bernie could see her cheeks were reddened by tears that had spilled some time ago. “As if I have a choice” she hissed back but followed the blonde nonetheless.

The rest of the staff had gone for the evening so it was just the two of them. Bernie poured herself a large measure of Scotch and joined Serena in the office, leaving the door open to try and ease the tension that crackled in the air. Serena had seated herself in front of the desk, Bernie chose to perch on the edge of it, not in front of her but to the side, close enough that her dangling right calf brushed Serena’s seated right thigh.

“So, this evening, that is to say what happened during service, well you were there. I think we need to talk about it.” Bernie was surprised at how much she was stumbling over her words, what was it about this woman that made her such a bumbling idiot she wondered.

“What is there to discuss? You ask me to do a job, which I do to the best of my abilities and then you humiliate me in front of the entire staff for trying to do that job.” Serena’s vision was getting hazy with unshed tears as she raised her face to try and will them back into her eyes once more.

“Serena – stop, please! You need to loosen your grip you are trying so desperately to stay in control of everything you are at risk of alienating your friends and colleagues. Please let me help you, let us work together.”

Serena was perhaps a glass of wine too far gone for having a rational conversation with this woman and hearing her calm voice only enraged her further, “Who do you think you are talking to?” she spat out, standing suddenly and glaring straight into Bernie’s eyes, banging her hands down on the desk in annoyance. Serena only realised the error of this gesture when she became aware of their faces just inches apart, felt the rush of air as Bernie's gasp hit her lips, her knees pressing hard against the fronts of the brunette’s thighs. Serena’s eyes widened in surprise but met only Bernie’s dark gaze, she felt her blood rushing up her chest and face, she glanced down to Bernie’s mouth to find teeth digging hard into lips, Serena just wanted to lean in and silence the infuriating woman with her mouth.

Bernie could see a flare of desire spark in Serena as she accidentally pressed herself tight against her, she allowed herself the briefest indulgence of imagining the reaction if she shifted her knee just a fraction and pressed it between the other woman’s thighs before a strong waft of Shiraz from Serena’s breath dragged her back to reality. She was drunk, angry and not thinking clearly, otherwise she would never have looked at Bernie that way. Reaching forward Bernie grasped Serena’s shoulders firmly but gently and pushed her back slightly.

“I think I am talking to a very dedicated and gifted chef who is clearly struggling with the disappointment of not getting a job that she wants very badly.” Bernie’s voice was even and calm. “I think you need to take a few days off to decide whether you want to continue working with me here or if it is going to be too hard for you. So have a long weekend, we can cover everything here and I will see you on Tuesday. Perhaps we can talk again then?”

Serena’s anger ebbed away, she suddenly felt too drunk to be having this conversation and now was not the time to pick a fight, perhaps a few days to come up with a plan would be helpful. She sighed and nodded, unbidden tears threatening again.

“OK now come on, let’s get out of here,” Bernie pressed a hand gently between her shoulder blades, it lightly circling before guiding her towards the doors. ”Hopefully that Shiraz has not made you forget how to close up because I don’t have a bloody clue!”

Chapter Text

Serena awakes early the next morning, mouth fuzzier that she can remember in a long time, her tongue unglues itself to run over the rough white surface of her teeth finding the bitter residual flavour of Shiraz still clinging there. Her bladder is protesting and she pushes away the covers that are splayed haphazardly across her body to find herself still half-dressed from the night before. An attempt to rise from the bed to go and relieve the complaints of her bladder only causes the room to spin and she slumps back down with a groan, burying her face into the comforting embrace of her pillow once more.

Hell, she thinks, how much did I drink? Serena’s resilience to Shiraz is legendary and on a service night she will usually just indulge in a couple of glasses before the need for sleep takes over. It is then that the memories start to come spiralling back to her, she vaguely recalls sitting on the wall in the alley by the kitchen door swigging glass after glass of Shiraz, and not a particularly good one, she remembers the disagreement with Bernie over the lamb and being replaced at the pass, she can feel the churn of her stomach as the anger rises once again in her throat. She concentrates hard, can't remember much more. She is missing something, can feel it is something important but her brain is stubbornly refusing to yield the memory and she growls in frustration.

Her aching bladder gives another loud protest and she is pulled from her efforts at remembering by the more pressing need to get herself to the bathroom pretty sharpish. Gently easing herself up, she crawls into the bathroom and sheds her crumpled and stale smelling clothing before managing to get herself, rather unsteadily, onto the toilet seat.

Having successfully managed that task, Serena contemplates the idea of the shower, knowing she needs to wash away the previous day before heading into work, but she decides, perhaps, it may be more successfully tackled after a coffee boost to help her flagging legs. She is gathering up her clothes for the wash when she catches the heavy scent of herself from her discarded underwear, it is strong and cloying in her hungover state and she momentarily doesn’t recall what would have caused that much arousal, then time slows and she is suspended in blissful ignorance for a brief second before the wave comes crashing down around her ears and the memories flood her sore head.

She can vividly recall how the anger gave way to raw desire as she pressed up against Bernie in the office, Serena’s eyes widen in the shock of the revelation, her legs give way beneath her and she slumps down on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. She had almost forced herself on her new boss on their first night working together; her shame and despair only worsen as she remembers how Bernie had been forced to grasp her shoulders to firmly push her away. Now she was banned from work for the rest of the week, was Bernie frightened that Serena would make another unwelcome advance towards her if she did not have some time to cool off?

Suddenly that shower seemed like a very good idea. Turning the water to as hot as she could handle she tried to sear the memories from her flesh, hoping that the shame would scrub away as easily as the dirt and alcohol does. It was not as easy as that, embarrassment at her actions filled her once again and now, clearer than ever, she knew that either she had to go or Bernie did. It felt like the sword of Damocles hung over her head and Bernie could make it fall at any moment, she hated being in this position; so powerless; so disadvantaged. Her heart hardened a little more towards the blonde, she needed some leverage of her own to use against her and she needed help to get it.

Serena dressed quickly, choosing comfortable, casual clothes before heading downstairs to hunt out the much needed caffeine she had been craving all morning. While her coffee machine hissed and growled as it brewed her super-strength fix, she slid her phone from her pocket, thumbing through the contacts until she hit upon the name she was after. A quick swipe later and the phone was ringing, it only took a couple of rings before the call connected.

“’Rena, darling, why are you calling me so early on a Saturday morning?”

“Sian, I need your help.” Serena sighed down the phone to her wildest, craziest but also most loyal friend.

“What trouble have you got yourself into now?” Sian’s deep, throaty laugh echoing down the line.

“Trust me, you have no idea!”

 

The train journey from Holby to London was not far but it was an uncomfortable and unpleasant one for Serena. She was suffering the twin ill effects of the stifling and airless train carriage on top of the last throes of her hangover that still refused to be shaken despite the amount of caffeine and pastry Serena had hurled in its path. She had cracked open a window to try and blow clear the oppressive clinging feeling from her body but it only served to bring the heavy air tainted with the smell of fumes from the train closer in. She retreated to the catering car for a cool bottle of water before reseating herself for the remainder of the journey. She arrived at Paddington station already hot and bothered, her headache clearing but her stomach still turning over uncomfortably, whether down to the wine from the previous night or the shame of her actions, she was not certain.

Her tube ride was no better, even more overheated than the train, filled with excitable children and irritable tourists on their way back from sightseeing, the perils of travelling on a Saturday in the Easter school holidays she supposed. Thankful for at last arriving at the flat, she was greeted by a slightly tipsy but enthusiastic Sian.

“I’ve got us a table for tomorrow night.” She squealed before Serena had even got her bag through the door.

“I’m sorry Sian, what are you talking about?”

“L’Sauvage. The restaurant where Bernie Wolfe used to work, I said I have got us a table for tomorrow night, late sitting I’m afraid but it was bloody hard to get I can tell you. You have no idea the favours I have had to call in to get this.”

“So we can go and have dinner, how will that help, I need dirt on the woman Sian.”

“’Rena, where better to find it than where she last worked. If there is dirt to be found, trust me this is the best place to start. Last sitting of the night, means we can still be there when the staff clock off, little bit of flirting and let’s see what we can find out, shall we?” Sian waggled her eyebrows and even Serena started to feel a little more encouraged. If anyone could get information it was Sian, her combination of outrageous flirting and outright cheekiness worked wonders. “First though I have to know why exactly we need to get so much ammunition against her, what has she done to you?”

“This is a conversation Sian that is going to need wine and lots of it.” Sian grinned in response, never one to turn down a good gossip accompanied by a nice Pinot Grigot.

 

“So let me get this straight, if you’ll pardon the pun. Your new boss declines to ravage you over a desk in the office, so you are going to tear down her reputation and send her scuttling back to London.” Sian knows she is pushing it but can’t help the smirk of mirth at the truly awkward dilemma her oh so proper friend has found herself in.

“Sian, you make it sound like I am doing this because she spurned me. It was not like that. This is about me getting the job that is rightfully mine. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened between us the other night, not that anything did happen, or that I wanted anything to happen. It has just expedited my feelings on the matter.” Serena shuts her mouth then, knows she had said too much already, said it all too quickly and Sian can see through her.

Sian does know Serena better than that, knows that her professional reputation means so much to her, knows that she would never normally make a pass at a work colleague like that, unless…… her eyebrow quirks at Serena. As if sensing Sian’s next comment, Serena shuts her down with a stare, this is not a conversation her conscious brain in going to enter into, instead she reaches over and tops up Sian’s glass hoping the alcohol will distract her for a while.

Sian lets the topic slide for the rest of the evening and they just enjoy being able to go out again together. Working for 15 years in a restaurant means that Serena was only ever available on a Monday night, not the best night for a cougar like Sian to go hunting for her latest conquest. They opt for a relatively low key night, wine bar first then onto a cosy little local restaurant for a basic but delicious meal, followed by a few more drinks at a small bar near to Sian’s flat before heading home.

Serena is slightly tipsy now and a bit more revealing than she had been earlier. Sian is not going to let her best friend’s potential Sapphic mid-life conversion go by unremarked; she does have the good sense to wait until they are alone though. But only just.

The door to the flat has only just closed when Sian starts. “Alright Serena Campbell. Time for the truth I think, so tell me, how long have you been lusting after the fairer sex and have you actually done anything about it before?”

“I’m too tired to go through this with you now.” Serena goes through and slumps down on the sofa, removing her shoes and tucking her aching feet under her hoping that Sian will just leave it alone.

“Oh no, you are not getting out of it that easily. You want me to help you, I want the truth from you, otherwise I’ll cancel the reservation.” Sian calls out following Serena through the flat to join her on the sofa, lifting the brunette’s feet out from under her and placing one on her lap to rub at her aching soles.

“You wouldn’t!” Serena sits up a bit straighter, pulling her foot back from Sian’s grasp in the process.

“I bloody would, and you know it. Out with it please.” Sian’s features are unmoving but she pats her lap again as an offer to Serena once more.

Serena holds her stare for a moment or two before settling back down lower on the sofa with a sigh. “It’s not how it sounds; I didn’t wake up one morning and think ‘I fancy women’.  I guess as I got older, I started becoming more aware of how attractive I found women, perhaps I always had and I just stopped trying to ignore it, I don’t know. Anyway. I’ve never really done anything about it or wanted to.” She pauses for a moment her face a picture of contemplation before she elaborates. “I guess I kind of liked a woman I worked with before but didn’t feel a need to do anything about it with her, we were just close, friendly… you know, would support each other, nothing more.”

“But….” Sian is not going to let it go at that.

“But nothing. That’s it.”

“Are you attracted to Bernie?”

“She is smug and condescending and annoying.”

“You’re avoiding the question, ‘Rena”

“And straight.”

“Ah so you do fancy her or you wouldn’t have thought about that point.”

Serena pulls her feet back from Sian and stands from the sofa. “Goodnight Sian.”

“Goodnight darling, sweet dreams.” Sian replies to Serena’s already retreating back, Serena doesn’t need to see her to know she’s wearing a smug grin on her face.

 

Sunday is bright but an overnight storm has broken the heat and the air is cooler than it has been in weeks. A beam of sunlight is breaking through the curtains in Sian’s spare room and stirs Serena from her slumber; she has slept late, well late for her anyway. Sian is still dead to the world snoring loudly in the room next door, so Serena goes in search of coffee. Sian has a dizzying array of capsules that supposedly fit a space age looking coffee machine but Serena opts instead for tea. A kettle and a tea bag she can handle she is not so sure about Apollo 19 over there.

Serena is still clutching her now empty mug and enjoying watching the world below rush around from her lofty viewpoint when Sian emerges sleepily. Sian as usual is unashamedly underdressed and Serena averts her eyes from her friend’s naked form.

“Call yourself a lesbian Rena! Surely you should be trying to kop a sneaky peek at these” Sian waggles her breasts with a husky laugh at Serena’s eye roll “not look away?”

“I’ve seen it all before Sian remember and it didn’t do anything for me then and it doesn’t now and I’m not a lesbian, I’m bisexual or pansexual or whatever it is labelled these days.” Serena counters in a slightly haughty tone which only causes Sian to laugh more.

“Right well my bisexual or pansexual or whatever friend, I’m grabbing a shower and then we can head out for some brunch. Oh and you are wrong by the way.”

“What am I wrong about this time then” Serena huffs out in an exasperated tone.

“You’ve never seen these bad boys before they are new only had them done last month.” Sian winked cheekily at Serena before strutting off towards the bathroom.

 

The two old friends enjoy a relaxing day filled with good food and a leisurely stroll around the north side of the river as Serena reacquaints herself with some of her favourite sights the capital has to offer. The surprising amount of walking is only made better by the alarming amount of shopping they cram into the afternoon they spend in Covent Garden, broken by a luxurious afternoon tea to recharge their batteries before hitting the shops again. They are so busy they lose track of time and have to rush to the tube station to get back across London to get ready for their evening.

Serena had always been told that she took a long time to get ready for a night out, although it had usually just been Edward complaining, but she is usurped in this feat by Sian who two hours after she first started getting ready has still not emerged. Finally with a waft of expensive perfume Sian appears and if Serena is honest, aside from the clothes, she can’t see a lot of difference from how she looked two hours prior. They decide to grab a taxi and head straight to Soho and a wine bar that Sian knows which is close to L’Sauvage, saving their tired legs and impractical footwear from much more punishment for the day. The traffic is fairly light so they arrive in time to relax over a nice, chilled glass of wine each before they head over to the restaurant for the 8.30 sitting, the last of the night on a Sunday.

The front of house manager who greets them at the door is in his mid-40s, fit but not muscly with neatly trimmed grey hair. Serena supposes he is good looking in a polished sort of way, Sian clearly thinks so as she has already switched on full beam flirt mode and it is not entirely unreciprocated by all accounts. Angus, as his name badge states, shows them quickly to their table and Serena can see the light brush of his hands against Sian’s arms as he tucks her chair underneath her while she is seated, she for her part responds with a coy giggle more suited to a schoolgirl than a 50 year old woman. Serena, who has got used to this behaviour from her friend over the years, merely shakes her head good naturedly at her before returning her attention to the menu.

The meal itself is pleasant if unremarkable to Serena’s palate and she once again wonders why Bernie’s reputation is so good if this is the food they were turning out for all those anonymous judges. Serena has spent most of the meal observing the servers and the kitchen staff comings and goings, Sian for her part has been mainly occupied by Angus who has spent an inordinate amount of time at their table when there is a restaurant full of paying guests but Serena is more interested in what he knows than making him better at his job, so she holds her tongue. So far there is nothing striking about this place and not for the first time the brunette wonders what sort of fools’ errand she is undertaking, coming all the way to London without even a hint of what she might be looking for.

Sian’s tinkling laugh breaks her out of her thoughts once more as Angus slides the bill onto the table. With the exception of a couple just being helped into their coats, they are the last customers in the restaurant and one particularly surly looking server is yawning very pointedly, obviously impatient for them to leave.

“Come on Sian, let’s get out of here, I’m sure these good people want to get home.” Serena says as she plants her card in the bill presenter on the table.

“Not going yet are you?” Angus asks, his eyes never leaving Sian as he pushes Serena’s card into the machine “A few of us are going for a drink if you” he glances to Serena almost regretfully “and your friend would like to join us?”

Serena perks up at this, a chance to grill Bernie’s former colleagues and the added bonus of a few drinks to loosen up their tongues. “We’d love to!” She answers quickly and Angus turns in surprise not expecting her to be quite so eager.

As it turns out there is just one other member of staff that goes out with them and so Serena finds herself squashed into a booth of a bar just around the corner from the restaurant with a very flirtatious man called Ric while Sian wraps herself firmly around Angus on the other side of the booth.

“So Ric, what do you do? In the kitchen I mean. Obviously I know you work in a restaurant.” Serena laughs nervously and fiddles with her pendant. She is blithering like an idiot now she is here, not entirely sure how she can turn the topic of conversation around to Bernie.

Ric doesn’t seem to notice, or mind if he does, as he just smoothly continues the conversation. “I’m the sous-chef or second in command of the kitchen if you like.” Serena’s nerves vanish and she has to hide the gleam of excitement in her eyes at this fortuitous news.

“Wow, that’s impressive! Have you been doing it for long?” Serena plays up the wide-eyed innocence and flattery, they were always her best techniques for manipulating men, and she almost feels sorry for Ric. Almost.

“I’ve worked in kitchens most of my life but only very recently got the sous-chef job when Bernie our former sous moved on.”

Oh it was almost too easy. ”Oh that wouldn’t be Bernie Wolfe would it?” Serena asks sweetly.

“Why yes, do you know her?”

“Oh no nothing like that. It’s just I live in Holby and she has recently become the Head Chef of the Wyvern, and I know some people who go regularly, they had mentioned her.”

“Well what a coincidence this is, some might say fate.” Ric waggled his eyebrows at Serena leaving her no doubt what his game was.

“Yes I know how strange. I personally don’t understand why anyone would choose to move from London to Holby, it’s so parochial compared to here. What can have made her do it?”

“Oh personal reasons I think, she was married to another member of staff, Marcus Dunn, and they had a bit of a messy divorce, found it hard working in the same restaurant, so she did the noble thing and moved away. It’s a shame they could not work it out, she was a great chef, held the place together and as I much as I try, I have to admit we’re struggling without her.”

“Would you not get her back?”

“I know the owner Imelda would like that, but Marcus wouldn’t work with her again and he’s not leaving anytime soon, so we are stuck.”

“Well London’s loss is Holby’s gain then.” Jealousy at the way her colleagues still lavished Bernie with praise giving a sharp tone to Serena’s response. Serena can’t think that she would get the same treatment from her former workmates.

“You won’t say anything if you see her at the Wyvern I mean, she is very private and would not want to think we gossiped about her behind her back.”

“I’ll not say a word to her, I promise.” Serena winked conspiratorially. At this Ric leaned in a little closer, slipping his hand onto her knee under the table.

“Now why don’t you tell me a bit about Rena?” His voice soft and gravelly as his hand inched up her leg. Serena jumped slightly as his finger brushed under the hem of her ridiculously expensive new dress and stroked her inner thigh.

“Careful Rena” Angus called out from under Sian’s embrace. “He’ll have designs on making you wife number six!”

 

Both Serena and Sian were awake early on Monday morning. Serena had to pack her things back into her case and get the train back to Holby and Sian was heading into work. They hugged tightly as Sian rose to leave.

“So good to see you Rena. Have a safe trip back, must do it again the next time you are having a lesbian crisis.”

“I am not having a lesbian crisis, oh never mind.” It was useless arguing with Sian about anything when she was like this. “Thanks for letting me stay, shame we didn’t get some more dirt on Bernie but everyone seems to like her.”

“Everyone except Marcus.” Sian scoffed.

“Yes but we don’t know for sure what Marcus thinks, Ric doesn’t really socialise with him so all I discovered  was they had a messy divorce, but then again haven’t we all.”

“Ric might not socialise with him, but Angus does, he’s part of Angus’s front of house team, in fact Marcus was that grumpy looking server you pointed out. Angus told me all about it. He’s heartbroken apparently after his wife had an affair with another squaddie while on tour with the army. She left the forces because of it and came home to fix their marriage but eventually owned up to it, hence the divorce.”

Serena grinned and planted a big kiss on Sian’s lips. “I knew you were the right girl for the job Sian Kors.” And she pulled her into a fierce hug before Sian needed to leave to catch her train for work.

“How did I miss you were a lesbian for so long? The signs were all there!”  

Serena just chuckled at her friend, her spirits lifted as she smelled a juicy scandal in Ms Wolfe’s past that was just itching to come out, Serena just needed to give it a little help.

Chapter Text

The train journey back to Holby had been busy for Serena, armed with the new information courtesy of Sian she was now trying to research as much about Marcus Dunn as she could. It was proving most frustrating as Dunn was such a common last name and London was such a huge city to search in. It was only when she put Marcus Dunn and Berenice Wolfe together did she get a result. The electoral roll showed an address in Hampstead for them shared with a Mr Cameron Dunn and a Miss Charlotte Dunn, who judging by the ages were their children.

The train was pulling into Holby when Serena reached for her phone once more.

“Elinor darling, it’s your mother, look I need you to do a bit of social media snooping for me. Do you think you are up for the challenge?”

 

Serena arrived at work much earlier than she would normally but wanted to be the first in so she didn’t have to suffer the ignominy of the awkward silence from her colleagues when she walked through the door. She was therefore surprised to discover the door shutters open already although the door itself was still locked. Tapping in the code to gain access she slipped into the dark restaurant quietly, perhaps it had not been locked up properly or it was a fellow early starter but she was still wary in case there was a more sinister explanation. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see faint light coming from the kitchen and she stayed absolutely motionless just listening but there was no sound. Tiptoeing in her trainers through the kitchen galley doors, she peered through the pass and could see Bernie Wolfe stood stock still, eyes closed with two dishes on the work area in front of her.

Serena relaxed slightly at least it was not a burglar. She took some time to carefully watch Bernie for a while, the blonde looked almost peaceful so different to her normal manner which always held an air of tension, a tightness, but here now there was a natural calmness to her and Serena felt her stomach drop once more as attraction swept through her body. She had to stop this feeling before she did something stupid and acted on her desire. Closing her own eyes, she drew images back to the front of her brain, the embarrassment she felt when Bernie replaced her at the pass, the injustice of not getting the Head Chef’s job and then finally Bernie’s infidelity conjuring up the emotions she felt every time she found out about Edward’s latest fling. With each thought and memory, her pulse slowed again, her breathing returned to normal and the swooping sensation turned hard. Serena may not be able to stop her attraction to Bernie, as much as she had tried, but she could control her feelings about it.

Opening her eyes once more, Serena watched as Bernie scooped a forkful off one of the plates in front of her and slipped it into her mouth, eyes closing as she did and eyebrows pinching together in a slight frown as she savoured the flavours. Serena decided now was the time to make her presence known and cleared her throat lightly. Bernie’s eyes startled open and her expression cleared and broke into a wide smile when she saw Serena standing there.

“Now there is a sight for sore eyes. Welcome back.” The blonde seemed genuinely happy to see her.

“I was not expecting such an enthusiastic welcome.” Serena responded dryly. Bernie’s face clouded in confusion for a moment her head recoiling a fraction as if she had been struck before she reverted back to her broad smile.

“I’d rather have my best colleagues here working with me on a tough service than not you know. We missed you around here.”

“That was your choice Ms Wolfe, not mine.” Serena’s tone was barbed and she could see Bernie start to wring her hands unconsciously. As always though she was calm and measured in her response.

“Fair comment. Now can I ask for your advice on these dishes please.” Bernie nodded towards the two plates in front of her.

“Of course. Let me just go and get into my whites and I’ll be right with you.” If Bernie was going to play nice, Serena was too.

 

Bernie was not someone used to being sneaked up on; her army training meant she was usually so aware of everything in her surroundings. She was therefore unprepared for the sudden appearance of Serena and she failed to mask her instinctive joyful expression when she laid eyes on the brunette. Serena for her part looked nervous and upset and she seemed so cold towards her, Bernie was unsure how they could get past this, all she wanted to do was make her feel better but every kind word she shared only seemed to antagonise Serena more; perhaps, she thought, it was best just to go back to their common ground, a shared love of food and stay there.

“So how can I help you Ms Wolfe?” Serena enquired when she emerged from the changing room a few minutes later.

“What would it take to get you to call me Bernie?” the blonde hated the formality of rank, it was necessary at times but she did not revel in it like so many of her peers.

“A vat of Shiraz and your resignation letter.” Despite the seriousness of her statement, Bernie could not help but smile at the raw honesty of the words. She had to admire that.

“Ha - not just yet I’m afraid! I guess I’ll just have to work on an alternative strategy in the meantime.” Her tone is light and joking and she winked at Serena to reinforce the gentle humour and is surprised when a deep flush floods the brunette’s neck and face. Now that is interesting….. Pulling herself back to the task in hand before her imagination runs away with her, Bernie gestures to the plates “So would you like to give me your thoughts on these dishes. This is a salmon starter to replace the ceviche which has not been selling so well lately and the other is a possible replacement for the coulibiac. The chestnut and mushroom is more an autumn / winter combination and I would like a fresher seasonal dish.”

“And when would you like to make these changes? Mid-service like last time you instigated a menu change?”

Bernie feels a little abashed at the reprimand from the brunette and knows that she does owe her an apology for her behaviour during their first service. “My decision to change the lamb was spot on, but I am sorry about how I went about it, I can be a bit gung-ho sometimes. It was thoughtless of me and I embarrassed you in front of the team.”

Serena looks a bit taken aback at the conciliatory nature of her words and she seems to stumble a bit before she regains herself and continues. “Yes well I’m sorry for forcing a confrontation and then getting so rip-roaringly drunk… erm… and then well I was a bit over the top that night, sorry.” They simultaneously frown at the memory that has stirred up and the deep sense of embarrassment they both feel for their actions.

“Well how about you help me sort out these dishes and we’ll say no more about it?” Bernie tries a soft smile to reassure Serena but she just looks startled and nervous again. Serena is worried I’m hitting on her and she’s scared Bernie thinks in alarm.

 

Bernie Wolfe is doing that shy smile again, the one that causes Serena breathing difficulties and she is being so damned nice it unsettles Serena’s resolve for a moment, shaking it off she mentally chides herself toughen up Campbell, you’ll never be Head Chef if you go soft. Instead she nods firmly to the woman and accepts the fork that Bernie is offering her.

Serena tries the salmon first, closing her eyes as she allows the delicate flavours to melt across her tongue. The fish is served with an air-light sauce which is almost a combination of a hollandaise and a savoury sabayon, normally the sauce would be too rich for a subtle flavour like the salmon but it is complemented by a cucumber gel which sits between the layers and cleanses the palate enough of the rich sauce to make it work. She hates to admit it, but it is good, very good and a much better dish than the ceviche which it is to replace. She’s never going to say that out loud though. Serena opens her eyes to give Bernie her comments and finds the blonde’s eyes staring fixedly at her mouth.

“Have I got some sauce on my face?” Serena asks wiping at the imaginary mark. Bernie’s head snaps up at her words and her eye-line moves away from the brunette’s lips.

“Erm, no, no, nothing like that, it’s just erm.” Bernie’s fits of tongue-tied babbling are such a contrast to how calm and direct she is during service that Serena would almost believe there were two different women. “I was just imagining what it tasted like in your mouth, I mean the fish, what it tasted like to you.”  Bernie had gone beetroot red and Serena was quite enjoying seeing her so uncomfortable.

“It tasted OK. I’ve had better and worse. Not sure how the customers will take to it though.” Serena can see the disappointment at her mediocre review reflect in Bernie’s eyes, her blush fades and her eyes cloud over slightly before once again she shakes it off and recovers.

“Would you like to try the pasta?”

Serena follows the same routine, swirling lengths of linguine around her fork before pronging mushroom, green beans and peas to join it. She closes her eyes again and slips the loaded fork into her mouth. The flavours are good but the green bean is all wrong, texturally it is too hard and clashes with the silkiness of the pasta, but she’s not here to help Bernie out and make her look good, so let her try out the new dishes and let her fail.

“It’s certainly more seasonal that the chestnut dish we currently have and it will be more presentable, maybe you should try them out as specials before changing the menu to be on the safe side?” Bernie is beaming at the feedback from Serena and once more she feels like a traitorous snake for the way she is deliberately setting out to destroy this woman but she wants that job more than anything else and nothing, not even Bernie’s adorable smile, it going to stop her getting it.

The rest of Tuesday service goes smoothly enough, Serena is preparing Bernie’s specials and although Bernie is tasting them on a fairly regular basis, if Serena’s hand slips when adding the pepper or she slightly over poaches the salmon then it is purely accidental, it is certainly not due to any desire on the brunette’s part for the dishes to spectacularly fail and take their creator down with them.

Serena is just leaving the restaurant for the night when her phone pings in her pocket it is a text from Elinor.

Ellie: Got mutual friend w Charlotte on FB. Screen shots of her posts sent 2 ur email. BW makes u seem like gr8 parent! E xx

Serena double timed it back to her house in her rush to read what Ellie had found out. She was not to be disappointed.

Hi Mum,

Here are the relevant screenshots of Charlottes Facebook posts:-

Charlotte Dunn

15th August 2016 16.25 - London

Just found out my parents are divorcing! #devastated

 

Charlotte Dunn

8th September 2016 10.37- London

Things at home are getting worse all the time! Shouting or total silence it is a nightmare. I need a good night out! #parents #divorce

 

Charlotte Dunn

27th December 2016 8.42 - London

So our Christmas present was finding out mum was cheating on dad #angry #christmasblues

 

Nothing other than what Serena had already found out so far, but she scrolled down the page to find the last attachment from Ellie.

 

Charlotte Dunn

5th February 2017 00.36 - London

My f***ing whore of a mother has been screwing another squaddie while she was on tour. Serving her country – don’t make me laugh! While dad was busy at home looking after us, she was busy servicing some bloke called Alex from her regiment. I’m never speaking to her again! #bitch #cheater

Serena knew she should be overjoyed at the information but the hatred that this girl had for her mother was hard for even her to read, she hoped that Bernie had never seen this as she herself would be devastated if Ellie had ever said this about her.

 

By Wednesday it is clear that despite Serena’s best efforts at sabotage the new dishes are gaining some traction and Jac’s dish especially is suffering as the linguine is proving very popular. To rebalance the work across the kitchen, Bernie reassigns Jac to prepare the salmon with cucumber and sabayon, to allow Serena to concentrate on the pasta dish before she became overwhelmed handling both items.

Jac being the meticulous and careful chef she is, never over poaches a salmon, so to Serena’s intense annoyance, plate after plate of perfect salmon specials start to leave the kitchen. If Serena cannot scupper Bernie’s specials, then she will have to come up with a new plan, and fast! It is when Bernie has moved away from the pass for a moment to assist Sasha with his peanut crunch which he is in the process of cremating, that Serena spots her chance. She slides unnoticed over to where Bernie is usually found marshalling orders and quickly shuffles up the tickets in front of her before slipping back over to her station.

As she anticipated when Bernie returns and starts to call the orders from the pass mayhem ensues in the kitchen. Bernie calling orders that the kitchen don’t have and every station in the kitchen shouting back orders that don’t match the tickets. No-one knows what they should be making and nothing is leaving the kitchen at all, the servers are getting agitated as the customers are starting to mutter about delays and it is pandemonium. Serena smiles slightly to herself enjoying the state of panic that Ms Wolfe is overseeing, hopes Henrik gets word of it.

Almost as if sensing Serena’s smirk, Bernie steels herself into full Major mode and hollers to the kitchen. “First off keep cooking people, don’t panic, we’ll sort this. Now mains – Serena how many pasta have you got on the go? Give me precise timings for them all please. Ollie same for you on lamb and Raf ditto on the monkfish please.”

The 3 chefs dutifully call back the dishes they have in progress and Serena can see Bernie frantically scribbling the information they relay down onto a scrappy bit of paper that she has conjured up from somewhere.

“Good, good, thank you. Ok, same for the starters. Jac - the salmon special, Mo number and timings on your ceviche, Dom - same for the terrine, Morven likewise the beetroot, as quickly as you can please.”

Again Bernie writes down all the information called to her and starts laying out the tickets from the pass in front of her, brow furrowed in concentration.

“Finally desserts please, one at a time, Zosia first please, then Sasha.” She looks up and casts her eyes around the kitchen staff before her. “Last but not least, Jasmine.” Bernie gives the young chef an encouraging smile.

Having all the orders in place she returns to the tickets scattered on the pass and she starts swapping them around like a street-hawker performing the three cup trick, switching one for another, repeating this until with a firm nod she seems satisfied. Picking the orders up and attaching them to the pass once more, Serena can see her relax, a calmness washes over her features once again before she starts barking out orders to the waiting servers.

“Ok Isaac table 5, two roulade, 1 pear and 1 fondant quick as you can please. Essie table 11, 1 lamb and 1 linguine, Lou table 14, 3 lamb, 3 linguine and 2 monkfish please.” The kitchen staff swing into action to deliver the plates to the pass, relieved to be back in sync once more. The servers sweep in to collect their dishes and soon the galley doors are back swinging again with plates of food shuttling out to the waiting diners, the sound of cutlery on crockery filling the air once more. Serena can see Bernie frowning at the tickets before her and catches a glance cast in her direction, the blonde’s eyes narrowed before Serena quickly looks away, afraid the guilt is written large across her face.

If Bernie does suspect it was Serena she makes no remark on it, she coolly settles the kitchen again with a quick “Sorry – my error guys. Back on track now, good work everyone.” Serena grinds her teeth, Berenice bloody Wolfe and her magnanimous behaviour saves the day again. Is there nothing this woman can’t handle?

 

Service is tailing off when Fletch appears and slips over to Bernie at the pass whispering something into her ear. Serena, whose eyes have barely left Bernie all night, sees the look that passes across her features and for the first time, almost as if her wish has been granted, she sees a note of panic. Bernie starts to fluster and shift nervously from foot to foot, Serena cannot hear what is being said but Bernie and Fletch seem to be debating something, Serena can see Fletch say her name but cannot lip read anything further before Bernie’s eyes meet hers.

“Serena, can you please cover the pass, I need to step into the restaurant for a moment.”

Serena is intrigued, not so much by the request, but the blonde’s reticence and nervous behaviour. As soon as Bernie has passed through to the dining area, Serena beckons Fletch over.

“Fletch, what was all that about?”

“Just a friend of Bernie’s has come in for dinner. Asked for her by name, said they were in the army together.” Fletch makes it seem like a run-of-the-mill event and hustles back to his front of house duties before Serena can ask anything further, but her interest is aroused. If it was such an everyday occurrence, why was Bernie acting in what can only be described as a shifty manner. Serena’s eyebrows rocket, perhaps it is the man she had the affair with and she doesn’t want to see him? Serena rushes over to the galley doors to peer through to find the table in question. She can see Bernie but her back is turned to her and whoever she is talking to is hidden behind her. There is a woman sat beside Bernie’s friend, a petite redhead and she can see that the person Bernie is talking to has a hand clasped firmly over the redhead’s one. Nothing in the redhead’s demeanour suggests that there is animosity towards Bernie and if this is Alex, he would be crazy to call his former lover out to meet his current lover or wife.

I must have this wrong. Serena thinks and her thoughts are only confirmed when Bernie turns to the redhead with a warm smile and stretches her long fingers out to meet the other woman’s paler skinned hand in greeting, the redheaded woman’s face also reflecting a cautious warmth as they are clearly introduced to each other for the first time.

Disappointed, Serena turns back to the pass and continues to get the last few dishes of the night ready to go out. Surprisingly Bernie returns very shortly afterwards and resumes control of the pass with nothing more than mumbled thanks to Serena. She is out of sorts and distracted and it is perhaps the out of character, almost furtive, manner of the blonde that makes Serena think again.

“Are you OK here, if I just go…” Serena asks Bernie, indicating the changing room and staff bathrooms. Bernie just nods her assent barely even registering Serena’s presence. Serena moves quickly through the kitchen but passes the staff area and heads out into the front of the restaurant, the reservations book is out open and as she runs her finger down the page she sees the name attached to Table 10 – Alex Dawson (x2) 8pm. Her eyes rocket up from the book to the now vacant table where Bernie had been stood only moments before. Fletch is on his way back to the front of house and he regards Serena with a quizzical look.

“Just need to get some fresh air Fletch, won’t be long if anyone’s looking for me, I’m out the back.” She heads to the kitchen door that leads to the back of the restaurant as quickly as she can without drawing undue attention to what she’s up to. Once outside she runs round the back of the restaurant and starts her way up the side alley that leads onto the main road but she halts halfway up.

There at the end of the alley, illuminated by the streetlights from the main road nearby, is the redhead locked into a passionate embrace with what must be Alex Dawson. She cannot see him while they are kissing but when they break apart and the streetlight catches both their faces smiling passionately at each other, Serena sees Alex for the first time. Short brown hair and a well defined jawline only serves to enhance the beautiful, and most decidedly female features of Alex Dawson. Had Serena got this all wrong or was this Bernie’s deep dark secret?

Chapter Text

Serena was in the midst of a dilemma. She had spent last night and the early hours of this morning looking into Alex Dawson, finding everything she needed surprisingly easily. For an active soldier she needed some lessons on how to better manage privacy controls, a few cryptic tweets and the odd photo of the two told all that was required and confirmed Serena’s suspicions about the relationship between the young Captain and the army Major.

The thorns of her dilemma were now that she had all the leverage she needed to make Bernie Wolfe’s working life a misery and pry from her job, but would she or could she ever use it?

She had expected to feel more sympathy for the woman, her affair being driven out of repressed desires rather than, like Edward, a need to shag everything that moved, instead she felt more bitterness towards her than she had before. Serena herself did not comprehend why she still felt so much anger towards the other woman, she was hardly someone to judge given her current predilection for her own sex, but every time she imagined Bernie with Alex Dawson she felt her gut twist and her lungs tighten as if squeezed in a vice.

 

Bernie can see that Serena is in a particularly bad tempered mood today. She has snapped at two of the serving staff already and nearly tore poor Jasmine apart for bumping her arm when she was plating up. The blonde briefly considers taking her sous-chef to one side and trying to talk it through with her, but every time the two women are in the same space, the atmosphere only gets more strained and Serena more aggravated. No. Bernie decides she will treat Serena as she would every other member of her team, firmly and professionally, nothing more. When Serena flares up yet again, this time ranting at Ollie and calling him a “braindead Barbie doll” for moving a bowl of garnish for her dish out of his way while he was preparing to serve his mains, Bernie finally snaps.

“Ms Campbell, do I have to remind you who is in charge around here? I am the Head Chef of this restaurant and you will speak to me and every member of this team with the respect that each of us has earned. Do I make myself clear?”

The kitchen falls silent and you could hear a pin drop as every pan, knife and spoon is frozen in mid-air, the team stunned at anyone speaking to Serena like that. Bernie sees Serena’s eyes harden and her face flush with embarrassment or anger, it is hard for Bernie to tell which. She can see tears starting to well in Serena’s dark eyes and suddenly all Bernie wants to do it run across, wrap her arms around the brunette and whisper that she is sorry over and over until Serena feels safe again. Bernie knows that nothing would be more unwelcome, Serena has made her dislike of her abundantly clear and if Bernie’s feelings are the antithesis of hers then that is for Bernie to manage alone. So she swallows down her emotions and does the only thing she can to help, gets everyone back to work.

“Why is nobody working? Back to it, people, this is not a bloody show!”

The choruses of “Yes Chef!” ring across the kitchen. Even Serena joins in but Bernie can feel her angry stare blistering her back like a thousand hot pokers as she returns to the pass.

 

Fuck Bernie Wolfe! Serena has the three word mantra on permanent loop in her brain as she gets on with the rest of service. She has not been embarrassed like that since she was a lowly commis when she dropped a platter of very expensive wagyu beef onto the floor. She has earned the right to be spoken to with more respect. Her conscience might be trying to tell her that it was her own disrespectful behaviour that caused the issue in the first place, but Serena is not interested in hearing that right now, she is pissed off and she is going to make the blonde pay for that, starting with trashing her bloody specials.

 

Bernie doesn’t know how many dishes have left the kitchen but the first inkling she has of a problem is when she hears the servers talking about it. Customers are returning the linguine and asking for a different dish. Bernie is understandably confused, the dish had been proving popular until today; taking one of the returned dishes from Essie she twirls some of the pasta round her fork and tastes it. Her face scrunches up in disgust, there is too much salt and the beans are burned making them and the whole dish bitter in taste.

She glances over towards Serena who has her head down working at her station. Surely she would not have done this on purpose, not when their Michelin star is hanging in the balance? She takes another plate, finds more issues with this one than the last; knows for certain this is Serena’s doing and that it’s deliberate. She can feel her temper snap and her eyes are blazing as she heads towards Serena.

 

Serena understands she has gone too far, can see it clear as day on Bernie’s face, her eyes are hard and narrowed and the blonde is heading her way, knuckles white as she brings two plates of linguine clutched in a death grip.

“Please tell me there is another explanation for this Serena? Please tell me you have not willingly put everything we have worked towards in jeopardy with this……, this stunt? Tell me you have not been deliberately sending this crap out of my kitchen to spite me?” Bernie’s voice is dangerously low and her eyes are hard and black with rage.

“I just make what I am told to make.” Serena is caught on the hop and it is a feeble excuse even to her own ears.

“Do you not taste your own food Serena? I know you are better than this.” She stabs an accusatory finger at the plates in front of them.

“It’s not my fault if your dish is bad.” She is being petulant now but she is too riled up by this woman and is beyond caring how she appears.

“Oh grow up Serena, so you didn’t get the Head Chef job, you’re lucky you have any job the way you have been acting. You are behaving worse than my children.” Bernie turns on her heel to leave Serena to it, knowing that any further discussion is just going to be pointless when she is like this.

She is halted in her tracks by the reply directed at her departing back. “Like you know how your kids behave, you never see them, they hate you even more than I do.”

Bernie swivels and eyes Serena coldly, “What did you say?”

“I said your children hate you even more than I do, and I doubt that’ll change any time soon, especially when they find out the truth about you and your army lover. You have the gall to bring her here and flaunt her in front of everyone when your husband and kids are left in the dark, wondering what they did wrong.” Serena’s vitriol trails away and she clamps a hand over her lips to stop the words, to try and pull them back into her mouth, but it’s already too late. She sees the hurt, the fear, the panic rush across the blonde’s face and she feels awful, wishes more than anything she could take it back and reaches out her hand towards Bernie to try and apologise but the other woman shrinks back from her touch, repulsion written large across her face.

Bernie pivots away from Serena and they both see the entire kitchen stood silent, staring at them open-mouthed. Serena’s heart plummets into her shoes with shame, can’t quite believe that she has just outed Bernie to the entire restaurant.

“Back to work” Bernie snaps at their incredulous faces, ever the professional, although Serena can hear the wobble in her voice. Their eyes meet again briefly, the visible turmoil and pain in the blonde’s expression giving way to wounded vulnerability and Serena dies a little inside. What have I done?

 

Bernie cannot get out of the restaurant fast enough once service has ended. Most of the staff are giving Serena a very wide berth, she has seen how they look at her, some with disbelief, some with disgust but none more potently than the look she gives herself as she stares into the mirror in the changing room.

“They hate me don’t they?” she asks Raf when they are finally alone.

“Well you have not been much of a team player since Bernie joined us.”

Serena looks at her closest colleague carefully, measuring his response in her mind before replying. “What you mean is I’ve been an unrelenting bitch, so torn up by my jealousy of Bernie that no-one wants to work near me anymore.”

“We understand it was hard on you when Bernie came in and we have tried to be patient but you’ve really overstepped the mark tonight and it’s going to be hard to come back from that.”

“So what do I do Raf? How do I fix this?”

“Honestly – you need to start with Bernie. She really is an excellent chef you know and I’ve learned so much from her already. You might too if you gave her a chance.”

“I don’t think she is going to want to help me after tonight.”

Raf has a curious look in his eyes, one Serena can’t quite read, as he responds. “You never know. Give her time and I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”

“I wouldn’t if it was me.”

“Perhaps but you never hid your sexuality, you’ve never be anything but open and honest about it, lies have a habit of coming back to haunt you eventually and I think Bernie knows that.” Raf nudged his friend’s shoulder playfully. “Come on let’s get you home and you can start planning how to make it up to Ms Wolfe.”

 

Serena has been up half the night coming up with a plan. First up, she has to make some calls and using her considerable powers of persuasion and several hundred pounds lighter, she has ticked off the first item on the agenda. The second part would not be so easy to complete. She needs to see Bernie urgently, they have to talk this through away from the prying eyes of the restaurant staff and Serena really hopes that Bernie will arrive early for service setup so they can have the opportunity. Her hopes are dashed moments later with a call from Henrik.

“Ms Campbell, I’m calling to inform you that Ms Wolfe has needed to take the day off, apologies for the short notice, but something unexpected required her attention and you will have to run the kitchen today. I trust it will not be an issue for you.” Serena murmured her assent before ending the call with Hanssen.

Oh bollocks! she thought, there goes that plan. Maybe she could catch her at home, make the effort but Serena has no idea where Bernie lives, never took the time to take any interest in the woman’s life beyond what she could use to make it harder. The guilt crawls through her insides again and she feels like an idiot for every stupid, selfish decision she has taken, but she is not ready to give up yet and has got to try and fix this.

“Raf, thank goodness you’re up.” She sighs in relief when the Scot finally answers the phone.

“I wasn’t actually Serena” he mutters sleepily ”it’s only 9am and I’m not on lunches today.”

“Sorry Raf but I need your help desperately. You don’t happen to know where Bernie lives, do you? I need to see her urgently.”

“You mean that your piece by piece unravelling of her private life didn’t include finding out where she lived?”

“Ouch! Only what I deserve though I suppose.”

Raf’s tone softened again, “I don’t but Fletch might, he dropped her home last week. Hold on a moment while I go and ask him.” Serena can hear Raf moving through the house and she catches the sounds of hushed conversation before Raf speaks again. “Hi Serena, I have the address but Fletch is only allowing me to tell you if, and I quote, ‘You stop being such a bloody bitch to her’.”

“I agree Raf, now have you got it?”

 

Serena drives over to the address Raf has given her, it is quite a way from where the restaurant is located and not in the nicest part of town. She looks a bit dubiously at the soulless flats she is sat outside and wished once again that she was not having to do this at all.

“Pull yourself together Campbell.” She chivvies herself and with a final deep breath she heads towards the flats.

She is pressing the buzzer for at least 5 minutes before anyone emerges and it is decidedly not Bernie Wolfe, rather the woman is a slightly haggard lady taking a ratty looking mongrel out for a walk.

“Who you buzzing for luv?” she asks Serena.

“Oh number 6” Serena replies hesitantly, unsure whether engaging in a conversation with this woman is the right choice.

“Oh you’re after Bernie. Well she ain’t in. Packed a bag and left late last night.”

“Oh!” Serena’s face falls in disappointment. “Is she coming back do you know?”

“I should hope so, she’s only gone to London for the day to see the kids and her ex-husband about something, that’s what she told Tommy in number 3 anyway.”

“Right well thanks then.”

“Shall I tell her you called, erm…...” the woman fishes in her memory for the name that Serena has not yet offered up

“Serena, but there is no need to tell her I called, just came here on the off chance.”

The woman narrows her eyes at Serena and runs her gaze up and down her body. “Hmm, shame you missed her. We keep telling her she needs to get out there a bit more, I’m sure an attractive lady like you would be right up her street.” The lady laughs throatily until it deepens into the hacking cough of a seasoned smoker.

Serena returns to her car and watches the woman set off with her little dog in tow. She is completely at a loss what to make of Bernie Wolfe, the woman is a total conundrum. She is taciturn, buttoned-up and closeted to her work and family but apparently an out-and-proud chatty lesbian to her neighbours.

 

Bernie is already feeling drained, the discussion with Marcus had been tense to start and when she started to explain about Alex and, even more uncomfortably, her sexuality it had reverted to arguments filled with bitterness and recrimination. Why had Bernie lied? Why had she not been honest about Alex when she had admitted the affair? Had she always been gay? Did she never love Marcus?

She had tried to make sense of it to him but it is difficult to rationalise something when you can’t really explain it to yourself. Her futile attempts fell on deaf ears regardless and Marcus had finally lost it and thrown her out of the house. Now she was sat in the car outside the address Cam had given her, had been for the past 20 minutes already, trying to steel herself to face her eldest child and say what? I’m gay. It sounded so simple, but if coming out to a parent was hard, coming out to a child was gruelling. Finally plucking up the courage she pushed open the car door.

 

Cam had not seemed surprised by Bernie’s revelation. He had always been the sensitive one, the observant one and he knew his mother better than she did it seemed.

“So why are you telling me this now?” Bernie had the good grace to blush.

“It was bound to all come out in the end and I wanted you to hear it from me, no-one else.” Even now she would not admit the full truth, that her hand had been forced by the very woman who was persistently occupying her every thought.

“So is there someone? A woman I mean, is she the reason?”

Bernie’s head shoots up in alarm at the perceptiveness of the question. “No Cam. Well not like that. I don’t know.”

“Tell me about her?” Cam surprises himself with the question.

“She’s just a work colleague, we’re not even friends.” Bernie has her head downturned and is fiddling with the cuff of her shirt, not wanting to talk about Serena.

“But you want her to be. What is she like?”

“She is fiery, determined and driven. She is sneaky, underhand and bloody infuriating.” Cameron listens as she condemns this woman and assassinates her character and as he does so he sees a light dancing in her eyes, a glow that he has never seen before.

“You must really like her mum. You never use more than two words to describe anyone, and one of those usually begins with a F.”

“It doesn’t matter Cam, she hates me.”

“Perhaps she just doesn’t know you well enough yet. Be honest. Be honest with her and honest with yourself. You have to stop burying things, mum, if she is what you really want.”

“No Cam, I hoped we might have become friends but I think even that is beyond us now.” Bernie has always been good at compartmentalising, shutting away parts of her life, her feelings, into long forgotten corners of her brain. It is how she copes, how she has always coped. Now it is her attraction to Serena that she shuts away, locks the door and throws the key, it is an unrequited crush and it can bring her nothing but pain and she doesn’t need that complication in her life.

Cam thankfully knows when to change the subject; he can see in his mother’s eyes the shutters coming down over her emotions and knows continuing to push will be fruitless. “Did Charlie answer your calls?” he asks instead.

“No. I guess she will find out from your father when she sees him tonight.”

“She’ll come around. Give her time.” Bernie is not sure if he is talking about Charlie, Serena or both.

 

Friday’s service is strained. Raf and Fletch are doing their best to smooth things over with the rest of the team but they are still cold and offhand with Serena as she tries her best to keep service going in Bernie’s absence. They make it through unscathed but there is no friendly banter, no shared glasses of wine at the end of the night and if the team do go out for drinks afterwards, Serena is not invited to join them. She is discovering that if she thought being embarrassed by Bernie was the worst it could get, being ostracised by the rest of the staff was far, far worse.

Saturday night brings the return of Bernie and despite repeated attempts to speak to her; to apologise; to ask how she can make it better, the woman is totally disinterested in anything Serena has to say. Bernie is as professional as ever but she is more distant. She is aloof and detached in all her interactions with Serena, only conversing when she has to and keeping it to a minimum. Serena knows she deserves this, more than deserves this but she would rather Bernie be shouting and raging at her than be faced with this casual indifference.

Saturday service is busy, very busy and everyone is flat out all evening. The team have worked really well together, better than ever in fact. For the first time Serena notices how comfortable and confident Dom suddenly is, sees the time Bernie invests in every one of the team, encouraging them, showing them different techniques. She doesn’t try and manage them through fear of reprisal like Serena would, instead she earns their respect and they follow her lead as a result. This is what Henrik wanted when he brought Bernie in, she realises, this is what makes her such a good chef, she makes every dish the best it can be by making every commis the best they can be and the realisation of how blind she has been hits her painfully in the face.

As twisted as it is, Serena is jealous of the commis who hold Bernie’s attention, who get an encouraging word or smile. She had that too, only days before and she had thrown it back in the woman’s face. Now Serena was left lamenting the loss of something she never realised she needed until it was gone.

 

Serena’s head is banging, she rubs the sleep from her eyes before she realises it actually is banging, but it is coming from the front door. Stirring herself from the confines of her bed she grabs her gown and pulls it over her pyjamas knotting the tie tightly before calling out to whoever is thumping at her door at this hour. When she reaches the door, she finds Mr Barnes her elderly neighbour there, his fist raised about to smack it to the wooden surface once more.

“Good morning Ms Campbell.” He is cheerfully smiling at her. “I was beginning to wonder if you were in, but your car is there so I assumed you must just not be able to hear me.”

“Morning Mr Barnes. What can I do for you,” she glances to the clock in the hall, “at 8.09 on a Sunday morning?”

“Ah yes, I took this parcel in for you yesterday. It has priority delivery written on it, so I assumed it was urgent.”

Serena’s head cleared and she smiled wryly at the parcel, thanking him and shutting the door before he started a conversation she was not interested in having with him. She opened the package and smiled at the contents, running her hands reverently over the smooth metal, feeling the weight in her hands. It was a fleeting fantasy that she would ever get to wield them in earnest, she slid them back into the packaging and went to find the card she had bought to accompany them.

 

Bernie was surprised to see Henrik for Sunday evening service, he had not mentioned he would be present tonight. Clearly Serena had no such surprise as she saw her sous-chef slip off into the office for a lengthy discussion with him before the first customers even arrived. Bernie wondered, with a flash of irritation, what plan to discredit her the brunette was cooking up now. As much as it pained her to admit it, she would have to talk to Henrik about it later as they could no longer continue to work together if Serena was to persist with her scheming and manipulation.

When Serena did emerge from the office, her eyes cast around the kitchen with a wistful glance before landing on Bernie and the blonde could see her eyebrows pinch in a pained expression before she offered Bernie a tight smile and moved onto her work station to continue her prep. Bernie was even more suspicious of her now and insisted on tasting every single dish that Serena prepared that evening but despite her best efforts, she could find nothing amiss in any of them. In fact Bernie would go so far as to say they were even better than her prototype dish. So if she wasn’t messing with the food, what was she up to?

Once service was finished and most of the staff had gone for the night, Bernie finally had the chance to speak to Henrik alone, she needed to find out what Serena’s was up to and nip it in the bud. She rapped firmly on the door before stepping in and closing it behind her.

“Mr Hanssen, I think we need to speak about Serena.”

“Interesting. I was going to say the same thing.”

“Really, what has she said about me now?”

“About you? Nothing. Why should she have?”

“No, but if you were not discussing me, what is it that we need to speak about?”

“I wanted to ask you why less than two weeks after you started my most senior and knowledgeable member of staff has suddenly resigned.”

“Resigned? Serena?”

“Did you not know Ms Wolfe? Part of your job after all is to manage the kitchen staff.”

“Things have been a bit strained between us since I started.”

“Yes and I advised you that would be the case when I hired you and that the expectation would be for you to handle her with great care and attention. I am disappointed that you have been unable to handle this part of the job successfully.” Henrik pauses and Bernie feels the weight of the implication settling upon her. “Still I have asked Serena to take tomorrow to reflect on her decision and we will speak again on Tuesday, perhaps all may not yet be lost.”

 

Bernie’s head was spinning as she headed to the changing rooms to get out of her whites. Was this just another ploy of Serena’s to discredit her with Hanssen? She was finished changing and preparing to leave for the night before she found the present placed at the bottom of her locker. It was heavy, but had clearly been carefully and beautifully wrapped. Sliding open the paper Bernie found contained within it a new knife roll and a card placed inside. Frowning, she ripped open the envelope and slipped out the card, it contained an art print postcard of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Bernie smiled as she loved that particular painting, was still smiling as she flipped the card over to see the graceful looping script reading Every head chef should have one. Sorry for everything - Serena. Her face pressed back into confusion once more. She picked up the knife roll, running her hands over the camouflage design of the fabric, clearly selected specifically for her, before unwrapping it. Bernie gasped as she laid it open.

“Is that?” It was Raf who had come into the changing room and he wandered over to look closely at the contents of Bernie’s gift.

“Yes, Wüsthof.”

“Wow. Head Chefs must get paid a lot more than commis to be able to buy these.”

“It was a gift.” She hands the card to Raf and surprise registers on his face.

“Serena? She can’t afford...." he stops himself before he says too much but Bernie’s shrewd gaze has not missed the implication of the words. “Can I?” Raf indicates the beautiful set of knives contained within the material.

“Be my guest.” Bernie pushes herself to her feet and heads to the roof to clear her pounding head, leaving Raf to admire the weight and feel of the expensive steel implements.

Chapter Text

Bernie pulled her car to a halt in front of the address Raf had given her. She squinted up at the nice Georgian townhouse, very handily located for the restaurant. Bernie feels a sudden stab of envy at the lifestyle that Serena has carved for herself, so different to her own isolated existence and she indulges her jealousy for a brief moment before shaking it off and getting back to her business here. She unfolds her long legs from the foot well of the driver’s side of the car and looks anxiously at the building, electing to have a nicotine fix to calm her swirling stomach.

Serena always loved Mondays, loved her lie-ins. It was somewhat ironic that now she had a future of limitless lie-ins stretching out ahead of her that her bloody body clock had decided to malfunction at 6am today and try as she might, more sleep eluded her. She is up, showered, dressed and preparing for a day of job hunting as she draws back the heavy curtains from her bedroom window and is surprised to find Bernie Wolfe, of all people, pacing backwards and forwards outside of her house, the last remnants of her cigarette clenched tightly between her fingers. Serena briefly contemplates just pulling the drapes back across and ignoring the woman before her conscience prickles her to at least give the blonde the opportunity to say her piece. Heading downstairs she opens the door just as Bernie reaches up to knock and Serena finds herself nearly on the receiving end of Bernie’s fist, ironically thinking she would have deserved it had it landed square on her chin.

Surprise at the sudden yielding of the door registers on Bernie’s face before she offers up a quiet hello in greeting.

“Bernie. I was not expecting to see you. Is there a problem?”

“No, not as such, I erm.” Bernie was back to her withdrawn state of stumbling articulation again and Serena couldn’t help but find it endearing. “I thought we needed to talk, ahem, in private.”

“Right. Ok then, come in.” Serena steps back to allow Bernie in through the door. “I was about to make coffee, would you like one?”

“Hmm, yes, that would be good.” Bernie gives Serena a lopsided grin, perhaps the most genuine smile Serena has received for a while and she feels her stomach do a little flip-flop in response before she busies herself making the coffee while Bernie perches nervously on a stool in the kitchen. A tense silence settles around them as they wait for the filter to finish, the rich aroma of the coffee brewing the only thing filling the void.

Eventually Serena breaks the stillness. “Milk? Sugar?”

“Just milk please.” Bernie is fiddling with her hands again only halting when Serena settles the cup in front of her and she wraps her long fingers around it, clasping it to her protectively.

“Not to be rude Bernie, but why are you here?” Serena asks impatiently.

“I got your gift.” Is all Bernie offers by way of explanation.

“Right so you drove all this way to what? Return it? Thank me? Seems a long way to come for that.”

“It was very,” she hesitates before continuing, “thoughtful of you. I wasn’t expecting it.” Bernie is still defensively clutching her cup and the apprehensive silence sits heavily between them again before the blonde’s stomach gives the most almighty rumble. The sound startles Serena and she starts to laugh at the unexpected interruption. Bernie blushes at her response and starts as if to apologise when Serena holds up her hand to stop her.

Serena quirks her eyebrow at Bernie teasingly, “I was about to make myself some breakfast. If we are going to have awkward stilted conversation, let’s at least do it without your growling stomach intervening.”

“I wouldn’t, I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“I think it is the least I can do, don’t you?”

 

Bernie is not sure she can quite define what is happening between them. The atmosphere is thick with tension but it is different from the angry bitterness that they have been dealing with up to now. There is a frisson in the air that she can’t define; a delicately balanced détente tinged with a dangerous undercurrent that threatens to pull her under unless she manages it. She realises she is just staring at Serena in a daze and she refocuses again on the movements of the brunette as she prepares their brunch, knows if she can keep her mind on cooking she’ll stay in control.

Bernie is scrutinising Serena as she moves, almost trying to read her mind through her motion. She is busy chopping onions and vegetables, her speed and precision exactly as you would expect from a top chef, but Bernie finds watching the slender fingers working soothing nonetheless. Serena tips everything into a pan and sautés them, before adding spices and chopped tomatoes. Finally adding eggs, popping the lid on to poach them, then slicing and grilling a ciabatta that she has magically produced from somewhere.

“Shakshuka” Bernie is smiling at the familiar dish.

“Yes, do you make it?”

“I had it a lot when I was stationed out in Afghanistan, I think it originated in Israel but has spanned across most of the Northern Africa and the Middle-East. Easy to make in bulk, good for soldiers.” Bernie’s face twists at the memories it brings back before she changes the subject again, interested to find out more about Serena. “You like to cook then, even just for yourself?” It is a rhetorical question, Bernie can see from the large open space kitchen, the meticulous organisation of implements and pans to be within reach just where required that this is a place for creating. It is so different to Bernie’s own unwelcoming, pokey little kitchen in her flat where she has done little more than microwave a meal and put the kettle on since she moved in. She feels that familiar stab of jealousy and allows herself a moment to imagine cooking here in this kitchen, in this home with all her family around.

Serena is shrugging in response to the question. “It’s what I love. I fell in love with cooking in my kitchen at home and then took the leap to turn that into a career. Despite all the hours in roasting hot kitchens, barely space to swing a cat and not to mention the aching limbs and burned fingers, I have never lost the joy I get bringing someone else pleasure through my food.”

Serena has turned away and is busy at the grill, flipping the ciabatta to toast the other side before switching to check on the eggs poaching away in the spicy tomato sauce. Bernie can’t help but admire the passion of the woman, her pure simple love of food and she finds she cannot tear her eyes away; she is entranced by the way Serena flows gracefully around the space, it’s almost hypnotic. Finds she is still staring as Serena stretches up to retrieve a second plate from her top cupboard, shirt pulling taut across her breasts and Bernie can make out the soft curves and the lace detailing of her bra visible through the strained material. Her breath catches in her throat for a moment and she can virtually feel the contrast of soft swells and rough fabric, her fingers tingling at the false sensation.

The clank of the plate of divine smelling food presented in front of her pulls her back from her fantasies and she beams at Serena even as her stomach grumbles another time.

“Get started, please.” Serena returns her smile as she refills Bernie’s empty cup from the still piping hot coffee pot.

Bernie starts eating with gusto and finds the food to taste even more sublime than it smelled. She is struck, not for the first time, with just how good Serena’s palate is, the balance of the flavours and textures in such a simple, homely dish is incredible and she says as much, watching as Serena colours and turns away at the compliment.

 

Serena had thought Bernie’s soft smiles were the most devastating thing known to womankind but as she watches her devour the plate of food in front of her, she knows she could not be more wrong. She is captivated by the look of pure rapture that washes over Bernie’s features as she allows the tastes to fill her mouth and the sight floods Serena’s body with heat. When Bernie starts to softly moan in pleasure as she eats, it threatens to overwhelm her completely. Her mind throws up a picture of Bernie sprawled across the very table they are sat at writhing desperately underneath Serena as she explores the length of her glorious neck with her lips, her tongue. She is so distracted by the vision that she completely misses what Bernie is saying to her, quickly turning away in case the blonde can read the primal thoughts raging through her brain.

Serena is in desperate need of something to distract her from the explicit fantasy racing free through her imagination and her eyes land on the pages of notes she had been intending to post on to Bernie, she reaches out to them and turns back to Bernie, now scraping the last of the sauce from her plate.

“You may not be interested but I have jotted down a few suggestions on minor changes you could make to really elevate your two new dishes at the restaurant. Don’t feel obliged to use them or even read those if you don’t want to, I just thought I should share it with you.” Serena pushes the pages across the surface of the table to Bernie who is frowning at the offered paperwork.

The blonde never takes her eyes from the pages before she is pushing them back. “I don’t want these Serena.”

Serena had not expected this, thought that Bernie might at least wait until she was outside before throwing them away but the brunette knows that Bernie owes her no favours and silently accepts the pages back without debate.

Bernie must have sensed her disappointment as she unexpectedly reaches across and grabs at Serena’s hand which still lay on top of the pages. The meeting of their fingers sending a current of energy shooting through Serena, goose-bumps breaking out across the surface of her body. Her eyes jerked up at the touch to find Bernie’s equally wide and surprised before Bernie drew her hand back again breaking the charged contact between them.

“What I meant to say was, I would rather we worked on your ideas together rather than just took your notes Serena.”

“Well that’s going to prove difficult when I have resigned from my job at the Wyvern.” Serena responds wryly

“Is that really what you want?” Bernie’s expression is sincere, forehead creased in concern. Serena knows now more than ever that she doesn’t want to leave but the thought of looking at Bernie every day, knowing what she did to her is unbearable.

 

Bernie has never felt anything like the pulsing fire she feels when she touches Serena. It is almost intolerable and exquisite at the same time, she has to pull her hand away quickly before the desire to hold on and never let go crushes her resolve. She cannot lose Serena now, as much as it would be daily torment to have her so close, Serena would be throwing away her career and she is too good a chef for Bernie to let that happen if it is not what she truly wants.

“I think it is for the best” is Serena’s only reply.

“Best for whom? For you? For your career? It’s not best for the restaurant. It’s not what Henrik wants. It’s not what the team want.”

“What about what you want? Given everything I have done to you, is it not best for you?”

“No. I’m here now because I want you to stay.” Bernie knows the words are too personal, cuts too close to Bernie’s feelings and she can see from the puzzled expression that Serena has noted it too. She backs away, unprepared to expose her affection to the other woman. “You are the most natural chef I have ever worked with; you have an instinct that is second-to-none. I would be a fool to let you go.” Serena’s face falls for a moment, a look of disappointment flashing briefly across her features before her brows furrow slightly.

“How can we work together again after what has happened, what I have done?”

“Will you do it again?”

“No. Never. I wish desperately that I never had in the first place and I am so sorry I did and I don’t think I can ever make it up to you.” The words come tumbling out of Serena’s mouth so quickly and earnestly that Bernie knows she is genuine in her regret and she is surprised to find she harbours no resentment, no residual anger towards the other woman. Bernie pauses and purses her lips into a thin line for a moment before stretching out her right hand.

“So shall we start again? A clean slate?”

“I think I’d really like that.” Serena grasps her offered hand, her eyes crinkling in a heart-breaking smile and Bernie can feel her resistance wavering once more and she drops her gaze to her hands as she attempts to wrestle back control.

“I’m sorry but I have completely lost track of time. I really need to go.”

“Big plans for a Monday night, eh?” Bernie turns to face the brunette but finds her eyes downcast, fidgeting with her pendant.

“Standing arrangement.”

“Hot date?” Bernie has already turned to head towards the door and fails to catch the fleeting pang of jealousy that engulfs Serena’s eyes as she asks the loaded question.

“Ha! Hardly. I volunteer at the local community kitchen on a Monday. We use food donations from local supermarkets that would have been binned otherwise.”

Relief floods Serena’s face before her lips curl up in a gentle smirk. “Giving up your day off to cook? You really are practically perfect in every way!”

“I think we both know that is far from the case.”

“Must be rewarding though.” Serena’s voice is wistful and Bernie’s heart wrenches at the sound.

“Very.” Bernie has no idea why she has not left already, why her feet have stopped moving and her lips have started but before she knows it the words are already hanging in the air. “We’re always in need of extra help in the kitchen if you fancy lending a hand?” They pause, gazes holding each other before Bernie breaks first and tucks her fallen fringe behind her ear.

Serena refocuses momentarily before replying enthusiastically, “I’d be glad to. I’ll follow you in my car if that is OK?” Bernie had not even entertained the idea that Serena would agree, had thrown it out there as an olive branch. Serena in return was trying really hard to build bridges of her own and if that meant spending time with Bernie in her world, she would do it.

 

The Holby Real Food Project was delighted to have an extra pair of hands in the kitchen and they set Serena to work immediately creating a menu for the night from the ingredients they had received that day. Serena, perhaps more used to working with the finest cuts and freshest produce, found herself a little overwhelmed with where to start.

Almost as if sensing her struggle, Bernie appeared beside her. “It’s always tough to start with, but you’ll quickly get into the swing of it. What are you thinking of?”

“Soup to start, then perhaps a vegetable curry or a chilli, then bread and butter pudding to finish up.”

“Sounds perfect to me. Shall I start chopping?” Serena nodded and smiled back as Bernie selected a knife from the drawer and set to work.

“Not using your new knives?” Serena enquired seeing Bernie struggling with the too blunt and too flimsy item in her hands.

Bernie reached up and scratched the back of her head coyly. “No. I wanted to wait and use them first when we were together and I….” she dropped her head and looked up at Serena through the long fringe sending the brunette’s heart back into freefall once more. “I didn’t expect you to want to be here…. with me that is…. tonight.”

“You’ll have to do some actual work at the Wyvern for a change then.” Bernie’s head shot up but saw the teasing in Serena’s eyes and grinned back before concentrating once more on the chopping.

 

Considering Bernie had been around for only a few short weeks, Serena was astounded at how many people here seemed to know her, greeted her by name and shared a smile and a joke with her. The Bernie Wolfe she was working with was a different animal entirely to the one she had come to know in the restaurant and she quickly discovered how easy it was for them to work alongside each other like this. They worked seamlessly together, so in sync with each other, moving around the cramped space of the community kitchen without bumping or colliding. They were so engrossed in their tasks that neither realised they were being carefully watched.

“Cooo-eeee Serena!” a rather gravelly tone called out from the dining area. Serena’s head lifted searching for the unfamiliar voice and found Bernie’s neighbour waving at her.

“Do I want to know how come you and my neighbour Mrs Jenkins are on first name terms?” Bernie tilted her eyebrows in question.

“No, perhaps best not.” Serena responded lightly before lifting her hand in greeting back. The gesture only served to bring Mrs Jenkins over and both regarded each other nervously, unsure what she might reveal.

“Berenice Wolfe!” Mrs Jenkins tutted sharply at Bernie. “How come all these weeks we’ve been unsuccessfully trying to set you up with a nice woman and you never thought to mention you were already dating someone? And why have you not brought Serena home yet?”

Serena choked and Bernie jerked around in surprise, both of them immobile in shock, gawping at Mrs Jenkins and her wild assumptions. Immobile that is until Bernie feels the throbbing pain, hasn’t realised in her surprise that she is now sporting a deep laceration in her left hand, blood flowing out of it freely and beginning to trickle down her arm.

“Oh shit.” She says and the two women at last turn to look at her, seeing her pallor growing with every minute. Serena rushes straight over, squeezing the wound tight, holding her arm up high.

“Mrs Jenkins, find the first aid kit please. Bernie, look at me.” Serena can see Bernie’s glazed expression, has seen it many times before and calls out again, softly this time. “Bernie, look at me.”

Bernie’s eyes meet hers and Serena’s face relaxes. “It’ll be fine, just concentrate on me and I’ll get you cleaned up and sorted out soon, OK?” Bernie nods, feels the reassurance in the brunette’s eyes and stays transfixed, neither moving until Mrs Jenkins returns with the kit. Serena sets to work, pulling out nitrile gloves, sterile wipes, plasters and dressings. She guides Bernie gently to a chair and kneels on the floor in front of her, cleaning the wound first before gently pressing the laceration to see how deep the cut goes. “It’s quite nasty Bernie. I’ll do what I can and dress it but I would recommend a trip to hospital, best to check for vascular or nerve damage. I don’t think there is anything but I wouldn’t want to stake your career on it.” Serena wraps the now clean wound up tightly and squeezes Bernie’s shoulder. “Are you OK? you went a bit pale there for a moment.”

Bernie purses her lips. “It’s embarrassing. I have been in war zones most of my life, seen the awful things humans can do to each other, but I cannot stand the sight of my own blood it makes me feel faint.” Serena slides her hand which is still resting on Bernie’s shoulder down her upper arm and rubs gently. “You seem good in a crisis though Serena, seen a lot of cuts in the kitchen over the years?”

“Yes. I also trained as a doctor before I gave it up to become a chef.”

“So I should call you Doctor Campbell then?”

“Serena is fine. Do you feel OK to stand now? I’ll clear this blood up and then I’ll drive you to Holby City hospital. The ED will have a look at that for you.”

“I’m OK Serena I don’t need to go to hospital. I need to finish cooking here.”

“Everything is pretty much done. The other volunteers are perfectly capable of taking things out of the oven and serving up without us. I am taking you to the hospital to have your hand checked whether you like it or not. Come on.” Serena wraps her arm around Bernie’s shoulders and guides her through the door, both enjoying the warmth of the others body where they touched as they moved together, neither willing to admit how irresistible it feels or how natural.

Chapter Text

“You couldn’t have injured yourself on a quiet night could you!” Serena’s tone is playful despite the scorn of the words. Their wait is destined to be long; A&E is hectic primarily due to a brawl at a nearby football match. Holby FC were taking on hated local rivals Wyvern Athletic when a controversial refereeing decision has caused a fight on the pitch; the players got involved, then the fans and judging by the uniforms, the officials have also been in the melee. Now they are at the back of a very long queue.

“Just go home Serena, I can wait on my own.”

“Do you think I trust you not to just leg it the second my back is turned?” Serena jibes back. Bernie pouts, half in upset at Serena’s assessment and half because she knows Serena was right. “I’ll go get us some coffee, promise you won’t move while I’m gone?” Bernie nods and settles back into the hideously uncomfortable plastic chair she is perched on.

It seems a fight has erupted in the waiting area between the rival factions while Serena has been gone and it is in full flight when she returns. She can see Bernie through the flailing limbs but can’t reach her with both her coffee and probably her teeth intact.

Suddenly across the reception area a fiery brunette storms out. “This is a hospital, not a boxing ring. Anyone wanting treatment will sit down and shut up. Anyone else – the door is over there. Do not make me come back out here and have to sort you out again. I will not be so pleasant.”

Serena would be impressed and maybe even a smidgeon attracted to her but now that the tough macho men are all sat like meek little lambs she has a clear, uninterrupted view of Bernie and Serena watches as the blonde rakes her eyes up and down the retreating woman, not even trying to conceal her interest, mouth agape and a flush gracing her neck and cheeks.

Serena marches straight over, deliberately placing her body between Bernie and the object of her lust. “See something you like?” Her tone is barbed and maybe it is that sharpness that snaps Bernie’s head away, her features returning to her shy smile once more.

“Never hurts for a girl to look, but even if she was playing for my team, and despite my squiffy gaydar I can see she is not, I think she would eat me alive.”

Serena nudges her playfully, handing over her coffee and they share a smile. “Bet that would be a hell of a way to go, though!” Bernie laughs emitting a great honking sound that seems to reverberate off every surface and stuns the entire waiting area into silence. Serena realises with a guilty pang that she has never heard Bernie laugh before, finds that she delights in the sound, the very unguarded nature of the thing and resolves to make it her mission to hear it as often as possible.

 

They have been waiting for three hours already and Bernie’s head is lolling forwards repeatedly as she fights the sleep that is overpowering her.

“Come here.” Serena opens up her arm and invites Bernie to rest against her. “Get some sleep, you look shattered.” Bernie is too tired to even argue and shuffles over tilting her head against Serena as she feels the weight of her arm against her shoulders, the grip of her fingers pulling her tighter and she submits.

 

“Berenice Wolfe” A voice is calling, dragging Serena from her slumber. The first thing she notices is the smell, a delicate vanilla scent and there is a tickling against her nose, she opens her eyes finds her face pressed to Bernie’s head, nose buried in her hair and it is her scent engulfing her. Serena can feel Bernie’s breath against her neck where the blonde is still snoozing, lips grazing her skin where they have shifted together imperceptibly during their nap. She moves away, doesn’t want to but is scared Bernie will be embarrassed when she awakes. The motion stirs the blonde regardless and Serena can’t help the swell of emotion she feels when Bernie’s eyes shake off the remnants of sleep and her mouth curls into a slow, lazy smile.

“Come on Major, they are calling you.”

 

The next morning Serena is awake long before her alarm, has been awake so long she could arrive at the restaurant with ample time to make the call to Hanssen and formally retract her resignation before anyone else would even consider coming in. Now it was with a renewed sense of optimism that Serena faced the day. Today would be new start for both of them and she is looking forward to working with Bernie properly for the first time.

Serena’s mind was whirring though; she slept fitfully when she slept at all. She had finally left Bernie last night, at the blonde’s insistence, while the junior doctor was just finishing up. Thankfully there had been no serious damage but he had instructed Bernie to keep the wound clean and sterile for a time while it healed no mean feat in an environment where cleanliness was paramount. It was not however concerns for Bernie’s well-being that beset her dreams, it was the intensity of the sensation she had felt when their bodies had brushed against each other, where their hips had collided, the lingering scent that seemed to cling to her hours after she had got home. It had been a long time since she had felt such a pull towards another person and the feeling scared her, especially given the fragile cessation of hostilities that was just about holding between them, the last thing Serena wanted to do was to mess this up again.

The door to the restaurant swings open and the shy smile of the object of her thoughts drags her mind back to the present.

“How’s the hand?”

“Not too bad. A bit of rest and it should be fine. I never properly thanked you yesterday for taking care of me.”

“It was nothing honestly.” Serena can see how embarrassed and awkward Bernie is about what happened and she tries her best to reassure her, desperately hoping to see a return of the carefree, relaxed Bernie of yesterday. “Just stay away from the knives today.”

“Yes, we don’t want to see a repeat of yesterday.”

“No, anymore injuries and the team might think we have resorted to violence to sort out our differences.” Serena’s eyes are dancing with mirth and a soft smile tugs at the corners of her mouth.

“I also wanted to apologise.” Serena tilts her head unsure of what the apology is for before Bernie clarifies. “Erm, for what Mrs Jenkins said. I did not want you to think that I had said anything to her that would lead her to assume we were….” Bernie can’t even bring herself to say the words and flaps her hands between them instead. Serena can see the tension drawn bowstring tight across her whole body, the mere thought of them in a romantic entanglement making her so uncomfortable that words fail her.

“It’s alright, don’t worry about it, she added two and two and came up with ten.” Serena is quick to dispel her concerns, chuckling softly and Bernie’s face relaxes at last and she lets out a contented sigh. Serena was happy to have made Bernie feel better but she just wishes she was not quite so visibly relieved at Serena’s apparent disinterest.

 

Bernie had always assumed Serena was as straight as an arrow, an indiscriminate flirt yes, but most definitely straight and apart from one drunken moment she had never been given cause to think otherwise. Until last night, until the bossy brunette with the pretty freckles and shapely legs had grabbed her eye. It seemed no accident that Serena had placed her body so suddenly between them and Bernie was sure she heard the bite of jealousy in her words.

Right now Bernie wishes she was someone else. Wishes she was one of these people who could just say what they want and to hell with the consequences. She is not. She can’t tell Serena how fervently she wants so much more for them. How her heart soared when her sleep-weary eyes open to find Serena; for her to be the first thing she sees instead of just the first thing she imagines. Bernie is not a woman of words, but Serena is and it is this that holds her back. If Serena was even slightly attracted to Bernie, she would say or do something about it, she has never restrained her thoughts on any other subject, so why would she start now? The turmoil of the unknown has disrupted her thoughts all night and she needs to know for sure, needs to test Serena’s feelings and get her answer once and for all.

Bernie can feel her whole body tightening in anticipation as she broaches the subject. Mrs Jenkins faux pas of the previous night unwittingly providing Bernie the opportunity to assess Serena’s perspective on them as a couple. Serena’s response is instant, no hesitation, no doubt; it is outlandish and laughable to her. Bernie’s shoulders slump in defeat and she lets out a deep sigh of regret before Serena is quick to change the subject.

“Right let’s get on shall we?” Serena claps her hands in a last gesture of finality. ”So here are my ideas for the pasta. I think the green beans might be better replaces with a softer option, a broad bean perhaps, still a big hit of green in the dish but more attuned to the pasta texture. And if you want to be even braver, I have a more controversial idea too.”

 “I like it so far. Please continue.” Bernie’s tone is flat, finds she can’t quite lift herself back up to be enthusiastic.

“Let’s make cheese.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Bernie was most definitely not expecting that.

“Let’s make cheese, cottage cheese to be precise, to replace the ricotta.”

“OK” Bernie is hesitant and unsure and it must be apparent in her tone as Serena looks crestfallen, her eagerness draining away with the sceptical response. Bernie can see the impact on the brunette and had not intended to dampen her spirits. “Talk me through it then.” She replies trying to re-energise Serena again.

Serena carries on but her eyes are downcast and her voice almost timid. “I was only thinking that as we are a British speciality restaurant trying to showcase local food that perhaps ricotta is a bit continental. Instead what could be more local than our own Wyvern cheese. It’s a silly idea, forget it.”

Bernie’s gaze is firmly fixed on Serena, the brunette still fiddling with her thumbnail absentmindedly. “I think it is brilliant.” Bernie grins and Serena finally tilts her chin up to see the other woman beaming at her.

“You…. you do?” Serena’s face splits into a toothy grin and they stand motionless, grin mirroring grin before Bernie finally breaks the gaze and coughs to clear the tight knot that she finds constricting her throat. Bernie averts her eyes as she feels her foolish heart beating erratically against her chest and is surprised when she looks that it is not pounding straight out of her body like a cartoon animation. Even her certain knowledge of the unrequited nature of her attraction has not diminished the power of it apparently.

She has to take a deep, steadying breath before she continues. “Let’s see how it tastes before we make a final call.”

“Care to lend a hand?” Serena flirted gently as the heady atmosphere between them lifted again.

“Oh you do know how to show a girl a good time.” Bernie batted it back, eyes narrowed in a smirk.

“Get on with you! Go and make the cheese. I’ve got something else up my sleeve and I need to concentrate.”

 

Serena had hustled over to the walk in fridge the moment Bernie had turned her back and she stood there now trying to cool her enflamed skin under the pretence of hunting for the ingredients she was missing for her dish.

Serena was a flirt, always had been, men, women, old, young, it did not matter, it was the armour she wore to face the world and she liked it. Bernie Wolfe did not flirt. She was a straight up and down, stiff upper lip kind of girl. So finding herself on the receiving end of what felt like some high-grade flirting from the blonde had seriously messed with Serena’s body chemistry, either that or the menopause was kicking into top gear.

She breathed in the cool air around her, deep, fortifying breaths to calm the inferno she was engulfed in and welcomed the chill that nipped at her lungs, the almost painful burn as it crashed against super-heated tissue. As, at last the fire ebbed away, Serena could hear Bernie calling out to her from the kitchen and quickly gathering what she needed she walked out to resume her prep for the tasting.

 

Serena had to admit, when they allowed themselves to, she and Bernie worked beautifully together. Sure there were some minor disagreements, small points that they both stubbornly dug their heels in on, but it could not erase the natural way they gravitated around each other, handed missing ingredients over before being asked and seemed to know what the other was thinking without a word being spoken. It was fantastic and terrifying at the same time.

Bernie was the first to plate up her dish. Serena watched the way she did it, she was quick and perhaps not quite as precise and methodical as she herself was in her presentation, but the finished article looked elegant and natural, quite belying the thought involved. As Bernie pressed the finished pasta dish forward towards Serena, it smelled breath-taking and she could not wait to taste it. She lifted her fork to dive into the dish but then stopped. Bernie tilted her head in silent question at her hesitation.

“It’s our first co-creation. Perhaps we should try it together?”  Serena handed Bernie a spare fork and they shared a smile, eyes sparkling at each other as they did so. They moved simultaneously and their forks clashed as they went for the same section at the same time, laughing quietly at the ping of their cutlery meeting. “Shall we take a side each?”

Both dove their forks into the velvety pasta with gusto, swirling the soft lengths around and pronging beans and peas to get the full flavour of the dish in one bite. Serena slid the loaded fork into her mouth and watched, eyes wide, as Bernie did the same.

“It’s… it’s…. erm” Serena was on tenterhooks waiting for Bernie’s verdict. Suddenly feeling how important this very moment is to her. “It’s perfect.” Serena beams, overjoyed at the response and the validation of her ideas.

“Well it’s down to your work Bernie, the cheese is sublime and the seasoning just perfect." Bernie just smiles coyly at the compliment before bumping Serena’s shoulder again.

“Come on then. What have you made for me?”

“It’s the salmon and sabayon, but I have added a little twist.” Serena nudges the plate she has prepared over in Bernie’s direction.

She watches as Bernie studies the dish twisting the plate this way and that looking for any visible differences before she collects up her fork once more and loads it with a slice of the fish. Once again Bernie closes her eyes as she lifts the fork to her mouth and parts her lips to receive the delicate salmon. As it hits her taste-buds her head drops back exposing more of the expanse of Bernie’s neck to Serena’s heated gaze and she wonders not for the first time what her skin tastes like, if it is savoury and salty or sweet and heady. Suddenly Bernie’s eyes spring open and Serena is jolted out of her reverie.

“What is that?” Serena smirks, knows which ingredient she is struggling to quite verbalise but unwilling to resolve it for her quite yet. “It’s so subtle but it makes it so much more refreshing.” Bernie seems to roll the flavour around in her mouth for another moment or two before her head twists and lips curl in a slight smile. “Is that tonic water in the gel?”

“You have a good palate to pick it out. I was going to let you stew for a while longer.”

“Oh it’s just…. I can’t even describe how good it is! It really elevates the dish and the way it complements the lemon, it’s inspired. Serena you are incredible.” The words come so fluidly that Bernie doesn’t realise what she has said until she sees the heated flush rush up Serena’s chest and neck and infuse her cheeks with the brightest pink. Bernie can’t stop a reciprocal blush flooding her features at the sight.

“I’m glad you like it,” Serena stutters out. “I’ve been dabbling with a few things at home and well I found the cucumber and tonic combination with the lemon worked really well. Took me an age to get the balance right I can tell you.”

“I’m astounded. Can we put it on the menu tonight?” Bernie was like an excitable puppy and Serena did not have the heart to refuse when confronted with such an expression on the blonde’s face.

“Tonight it is then.”

 

The evening service was quite a success. They managed to make it through despite Bernie’s injured hand and the last minute changes to the dishes complicating matters. Jac was not impressed at having to learn a new element as such short notice but even she agreed when she tasted the results.

Bernie for her part was doing everything she could to get Serena back into the team’s good books. She was openly deferring to Serena, asking her for a second opinion at every opportunity and gracing her with as many reassuring smiles as possible. They were a battalion; a unit. Mess with one, mess with all. The kitchen seemed to get the meaning loud and clear and despite a slight reticence around Serena that lingered on, the team took their cues from Bernie and Bernie only treated Serena with warmth and respect.

 

Bernie has the Wednesday off, so Serena finds herself back in charge of the kitchen once again. Whether Bernie’s absence is a long held plan or another attempt by the blonde to re-ingratiate Serena with the team, she is unsure but has to admit that it has helped. In turn Serena is trying to emulate Bernie’s leadership, spends more time with the commis and talks to them about the flavours, the concept behind each dish; works together with them and listens when they respond.

By the end of the night she wouldn’t say they are back to normal but the team each make the effort to come and wish her a goodnight for the first time since she and Bernie fell out.

Serena drifts off to a contented slumber that night with a feeling of hope, something she has not felt since Bernie started and perhaps much longer if she is honest.

 

Bernie arrives at the restaurant on Thursday flushed and slightly sweaty from the 7 mile jog she has undertaken to get into work. The distance is longer that she has managed since before the IED hit and she can feel the effects on her limbs as she lightly stretches the tightness out of them. She is mid-stretch when the door of the changing room bangs behind her but pays no heed to it until she hears the sharp inhale which makes her twist her head to see who has arrived. She finds Serena stood open mouthed in the doorway her eyes clearly roaming up Bernie’s long legs.

“Morning, Serena.” Bernie smirks at the brunette and Serena’s eyes snap up to her face, shifting slightly to the side so their gazes don’t quite meet.

“You are all sweaty.” Is all Serena offers in reply.

“I ran in this morning, found it a bit tougher than I was expecting. I’ll shower once I have stretched out. I also have a change of clothes so I won’t be putting off the customers, don’t you worry.” The tension in Serena’s face seems to relax at this. “Was there something I could help you with?”

“No… no. I just wanted to say how well service went yesterday and to thank you for everything you are doing to help. I appreciate it.” Serena’s eyes finally meeting Bernie’s.

“You are very welcome.” Bernie smiled before finishing her last stretch and bending to retrieve her towel and shampoo from the bottom of her locker. She hears a bang behind her and turns back to Serena again. “Are you OK?” The brunette is rubbing her head slightly but smiles tightly and closes the door behind her.

 

Serena is still tentatively touching the sore spot on her head when she sees Raf studying her with a confused expression.

“Are you OK Serena?” he asks unknowingly mirroring Bernie’s question of moments before.

“Yes I’m fine why?”

“Well you did just walk into the door. Are you sure everything is OK?”

“I’ve just got a lot on my mind.” Serena replies distractedly but curls her lips into a tight smile and pats him on the arm as she passes to her station. Raf is still confused when he sees Bernie’s figure hugging Lycra-clad body emerge from the changing rooms and head for the showers, but it makes him wonder if she was not a factor in his friend’s agitation.

Raf spends most of service observing Serena and although she tried to hide it and is hiding it well, he can see the subtle shift in her expression when her eyes meet Bernie’s. He can see the light flush that blossoms across the apple of her cheeks when they brush against each other. He notices the slight tilt of her body in towards the blonde when they are close. Unmistakeable Serena has an almighty crush on Bernie Wolfe and there is only one way this is going to end. Badly.

 

Bernie arrives on Friday with a smug grin on her face and Serena is instantly suspicious, even more so when the blonde almost skips over to where Serena is prepping at her station. Bernie leans her long frame against the wall casually but the unnaturally cheerful grin is still firmly fixed in place.

“Good morning, Ms Campbell.”

“Good morning, Ms Wolfe. We are in a cheerful mood this morning.” Serena’s reply is cautious and she narrows her eyes in scrutiny of the languorous form of the other woman.

“I’ve had some good news!” Bernie doesn’t even pause for a reply before she is speaking again. “My hand is healed,” she waggles her fingers as if in demonstration, “and I want to put it to good use.” Serena has to bite down hard to stop the suggestive reply tripping off her tongue and just hums in reply instead.

“Fancy running the pass and letting me loose on the linguine? I’ve been itching to try out these.” She taps the knife roll that she has laid down on the counter in front of Serena. “After all I occasionally have to do some proper work around here, if only to keep my minions happy.” Bernie is pinching her lips together in mirth and Serena knows she is being mocked but finds she doesn’t care to be annoyed about it just revels in the feeling of the light-hearted banter they are sharing.

Snapping her heels together and mocking a salute she gives a brief “Yes Major” in an exaggeratedly posh voice before marching across to the pass.

 

Serena loves watching Bernie work; has in fact been watching Bernie work for practically the entire shift. Her close study has revealed a new favourite body part to add to her divine smelling hair, her long sculpted legs, her Lycra-clad arse, her smirking mouth and now her elegant, graceful hands. In the face of these ever increasing distractions, focussing on managing service has been challenging. Serena has on two separate occasions only just stopped herself from calling out the wrong ticket and even though she corrected the stumble quickly she can see Raf regarding her quizzically from across the kitchen. Serena flashes him a quick smile before her focus returns to her duties, well Bernie, but making sure Bernie is fit to work is one of her duties or if it isn’t it should be.

 

Bernie is struggling. She is loving being back at the sharp-end (not literally thankfully) but she has become unused to the constant pressure and motion required of cooking for long periods, her back is aching from being hunched over and a slight throb is starting up in her palm where her scar is itching slightly. She pulls her brows together in annoyance, wondering when it was she became so soft. Before she has time to dwell on it further, Serena has appeared beside her, her hand resting lightly between her shoulder blades.

“Everything OK?” Serena’s face is a picture of concern and it warms Bernie’s heart. The tightness in her back and the tenderness in her hand seem to fade slightly under Serena’s smile.

“Yes I am OK. Just a bit unused to the rush of a full on service I guess.”

“Here let me help you with this.” Serena reaches around Bernie, bodies pressed tight against each other in the enclosed space of the kitchen and they start to plate up together. Bernie’s speed and Serena’s eye for detail quickly allow them to catch back up.

“Thanks.” Bernie replies shyly, “I think I have it from here.” She feels Serena take a minute step back and she simultaneously misses the warmth and sighs in relief.

“Happy to take over if you want to go back to manage the pass?”

“No I’ve got this Serena.” Serena just nods in response and steps back to the pass, neither noticed Raf’s scrutiny of their conversation.

 

Serena is happy but also a little disappointed that Bernie got through the remainder of service without any further assistance being required and as the rest of the team gather for a drink Serena retreats to the roof for some reviving night air and a bit of distance from the blonde doesn’t hurt. Her eyes are closed, head angled to rest against the wall behind her when she hears the door open and thump shut again, hears the crunch of footsteps on gravel and feels the warmth of a body slide down next to her.

“So how bad is it?”

“Hmm?” Serena tilts her head and opens her eyes at Raf’s question.

“Your crush on Bernie, how bad is it?”

Serena flushes bright red and her eyes shuffle nervously before she can find a response. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“I told you to make up with her, not make out with her.”

“We haven’t…….” Serena stops and knows that the spilled words are already an admission.

“Maybe, but you would like to.”

“Christ Raf, wouldn’t you? Just look at her!”

“So pretty bad then,” her replies answering his original question himself.

“Let’s just say she should be prescribed as HRT as my hormones are just tickety-boo thank you very much. In fact I think I’m regressing into adolescence as we speak.”

Raf smiles wryly. “So are you going to do anything about it?”

“No…… no it’s entirely one-sided, so I will just have to cope for the moment and wait for it to pass.” Raf merely hums in response. “Oh shit. I’ve not finished the orders for tomorrow, sorry got to dash Raf.” Serena bolts for the stairs and the safety of the office below, relieved to have a real excuse to put an end to that conversation.

Sadly on reaching the office it does not provide the sanctuary she hoped for, it does however provide a clear view of Bernie Wolfe. She has for once stayed behind to share a drink and a joke with the rest of the team and as her distinctive laugh fills the air with the joyous sound of the rest of the team teasing her close behind, Serena loses count for the umpteenth time. Closes her eyes and starts again. Finally finishing the last blasted order for tomorrow and clicking send on the email, she shuts down the PC and heads out to join them for a final drink.

Dom and Bernie are huddled close together, heads bowed whispering a shared joke as they both giggle quietly. Bernie must hear Serena’s soft footsteps as she inclines her head and Serena can feel more than see her eyes watching her underneath that long fringe. Even that is enough now as Serena feels that familiar sharp heat between her legs that filters up and blooms across her abdomen. She closes her eyes and remembers her words to Raf. This will pass. She really hopes this is true as the symptoms are getting worse by the day.

Chapter Text

When Bernie arrives for lunch service on Saturday she can tell something is amiss. Fletch is standing scratching his head and Henrik would appear to be engaged in a slightly terse conversation with a cocky dark-haired man who the blonde doesn’t recognise.

“What’s up Fletch?”

“Looks like there has been an error with the wine order, we have been delivered four crates of rather overpriced and inferior Sauvignon Blanc which is not even on our wine list.”

“So what’s the problem then? Surely our supplier should just take it back and get us what we need?”

“Guy Self does not do returns.”

“Ah, so that man in with Henrik is our wine merchant?” Fletch nods. “Why don’t we just change to another if he is so inflexible?” Bernie’s hands are flailing around like windmills as she struggles to grasp why this seems to be such a big stalling point.

“He is the best. He can get wines that no-one else can and seems to get access to all the best vintages but he’s just not the nicest person to deal with when there is an issue.”

“I have to say the wine I have sampled here is amongst the best.” Bernie’s face twists in silent debate. “Right. I’ll see if I can help Hanssen get this sorted. Ordering is my responsibility after all.”

“But last night Serena….” Fletch starts to contradict Bernie but she swiftly cuts him off.

“Ordering is my responsibility Fletch. If there is a problem it is for me to fix and that is what I intend to do. Either way I do not want Serena to find out there has been a problem; she’s only just getting her confidence back. Am I clear?”

“As crystal Major.” Bernie turns at his affirmative and starts towards the office and she doesn’t see the confused frown that contorts Fletch’s face.

 

Bernie knocks and waits for Henrik’s typically abrupt call to enter before she does so.

“Ah Ms Wolfe, just the person. Allow me to introduce Guy Self, our wine merchant. Guy, this is Ms Berenice Wolfe our new Head Chef.” Bernie offers her hand but Guy merely looks at it scathingly and nods curtly to her instead. “I was hoping to discuss with you an issue we have with the wine order we submitted last night. Guy here has delivered it this morning but we appear to have four cases of a Sauvignon Blanc and none of the Pinot Noir.”

“It was Serena who sent the email through.” Guy chips in. “Where is she anyway? I’d usually have heard her overbearing voice by now.” His face is twisted into a sneer, like he has caught a whiff of something unpleasant.

“Ms Campbell is not on lunches today, but I am sure I can assist you.” Bernie is on guard. Just as Fletch had said, Guy was not nice to deal with.

“Looks like Serena has fucked up again, Henrik, and I’m not here to clear up her errors.”

Bernie bristles at the comment and Henrik must see she is about to bite as he intervenes quickly. “Guy, I am aware that you and Serena have a turbulent history but she is a member of my team and as such, please speak respectfully.”

“Actually Guy, it was my fault. I prepared the order, Serena just sent it through on my behalf last night.” Bernie eyed Guy coolly drawing her posture up to her most military bearing, almost daring him to start something. Guy it seemed was not so brave when faced with the blonde’s stern features and dominant presence; he opened his mouth as if to speak before quickly shutting it again. Bernie’s lips curled almost imperceptibly before she continued. “May I see the wine in question?”

Guy hands her over a bottle and Bernie rolls it in her hands studying it carefully as she does so.

“This is a very inferior vintage. This year…” Bernie prods her finger at the label,” was a particularly bad crop from this vineyard. I’m surprised you stock it Guy. I had heard that you only held the best wines and that was what made you such an asset to work with, perhaps I was mistaken.” Bernie smiles tightly at Guy and eyes him carefully. He is shifting from foot to foot slightly and Bernie knows she has him cornered but he seems a slippery sort of character and she needs to remain on her guard.

“I had not realised you were a wine expert but I can assure you that is a very good vintage.”

“Easily settled, I’ll call my old sommelier at L’Sauvage, he knows everything about wines, vintages and merchants. I’m sure he’ll clear this up.” Bernie slides her phone out of her pocket and swipes at the screen to unlock it.

“Look there is no need to go to all that trouble, I’ll make an exception for you Bernie as you are new to the job and take two of the cases back. Is that fair?”

“OK but we’ll need a 20% discount on the other two otherwise we will make a loss trying to sell it.”

“Fine.” He begrudgingly stretches out his hand and Bernie shakes it. “Henrik.” Guy nods at the tall Swede in parting before leaving them to it.

Bernie turns with a slightly cocky smile only to find Henrik looking at her impassively. “Congratulations Ms Wolfe. Although I rather think it would have been preferable if the error had not occurred in the first place. Please be more thorough in future.”

“Of course, Mr Hanssen.” Henrik merely raised his eyebrows and Bernie got the distinct feeling of being an unruly schoolgirl and being dismissed by the headmaster. Assuming this to be the case, she pushed her hands deep into her pockets and followed the path taken by Guy only moments earlier out of the office.

“All sorted?” Fletch inquired when she reappeared.

“Kind of.” Bernie’s brow was furrowed though and for the first time she wondered if she has made the right move coming here and taking the job working for Hanssen. He did not seem too fond of her gung-ho style and approach which did not bode too well for either of them.

 

After a disrupted few weeks since the arrival of Bernie, the following weeks have seen the team fall back into an easy rhythm. The balance between Serena and Bernie seems to be holding and there have been no more spats between them and although they agree most of the time, when they don’t they are respectful enough of the other not to take it personally. The issue now for Bernie is Henrik. Since the meeting with Guy Henrik seems to be spending more and more time at the restaurant and specifically his focus seems to be on her.

Raf has noticed too, and it is after a particularly slow Wednesday night service that he remarks upon it. Bernie has left for the evening and most of the rest of the team are getting ready to leave, it is just Fletch left at the bar with him.

“Hanssen is spending a lot more time here these days, especially in the kitchen. He never comes into the kitchen. Is there something up?” Raf knows that if there is something amiss that Fletch is one of the people who will know for sure.

“He’s probably getting grief from Guy Self.”

“Sorry what’s that to do with the kitchen?” Raf is confused why the wine merchant would have an issue with the food preparation.

“I think it is more to do with Bernie than the food.” Fletch realises he has said too much and is heading down a road he had not intended to with his off the cuff remark.

“Care to elaborate?”

“I really shouldn’t.”

“I’m your landlord, very reasonable landlord too. If there is something going on, I think I should know about it.”

“OK but you can’t tell anyone I said anything. Do you remember a few weeks back we got that big delivery of Sauvignon Blanc? Still have all of it in fact.” Raf hums in agreement before Fletch continues.” Well Serena had fucked up the order and Guy and Hanssen were at loggerheads over it.”

“Yes so what is that to do with Bernie and why is Hanssen looming around like the ghost of Christmas Past?”

“Bernie took the blame for the error. Hanssen is annoyed as he has 24 bottles of expensive vinegar and Guy Self is pissed off because, as I understand it from one of his delivery guys, Bernie kicked the shit out of him until he took some back and gave Henrik a discount on what we did take.”

“There is no way Serena would let Bernie take the blame like that. I know they have been in a bad place before but things are different now.”

“Serena has no idea and Bernie has asked for it to stay that way.” Fletch’s voice is stern and his eyes hard. He knows Raf and Serena talk and he doesn’t want this spreading. Bernie would kill him and probably knows multiple ways to do it too.

“So Bernie took the blame for something Serena did. Hanssen is crawling all over Bernie about it and her biggest concern is that Serena not find out?” Raf is incredulous. Why would Bernie do that? She’s risking her job. For what? Serena? Raf’s face clears as the realisation dawns on him and he cannot suppress the small chuckle that escapes his lips.

“What is it Raf?” Fletch asks, puzzled by his friend’s sudden humour at the situation.

“Oh it’s nothing, mate.” Fletch has many qualities but discretion is not one of them. If Serena and Bernie sort themselves out and discover exactly how much they like each other it should be on their own, not because Fletch has got hold of some gossip and is spreading it like wildfire.

 

It is a few days later when Bernie really starts to feel the pressure of Hanssen’s constant looming presence. She knows she needs to get rid of the Sauvignon Blanc and prove to Henrik that she is up to the job. She makes mistakes, absolutely, but fixes them just as easily. The problem is Bernie is tough, she is savvy, she is focused but when it comes to money and figures she does not have a bloody clue. She is in the process of tearing up another page of nonsense numbers when Serena strides in smiling and ready for lunch service.

“Didn’t expect to see you today.” Serena remarks breezily. “Thought you were off this afternoon and I was covering lunch.”

“Hmm yes but I have some costs I need to work out. At this rate though I still be at it tomorrow lunchtime!” Bernie huffs out in exasperation, her brow heavy with the effort of concentrating on something she finds so challenging.

“Anything I can help with?”

“Don’t suppose you are any good with figures are you?” Bernie quips lightly, knowing that the question will send most chefs running for the hills.

“I have a Harvard MBA I’ll have you know” Serena’s chest puffs out proudly.

Bernie’s face brightens in wonder, “My, you are full of surprises Ms Campbell.”

“I aim to please. Now come on let me take a look and see what I can do. What is the problem?”

“I have two dozen bottles of Sauvignon Blanc that I need to shift and it’s not selling, even at nearly cost price.”

Serena frowns at the information Bernie has been poring over all morning. “Right – OK. I might need some time to work on this. Do you want to cover service and I’ll head to the office and see what I can do?”

“That….. that would be great. Thank you,” a relieved smile spreading across the blonde’s face.

 

The Sunday lunch service is one of the busiest of the week and Bernie has not had a moment to stop and catch up with Serena at all in that time. Now as the kitchen cleans down and preps for the evening rush she has a window of opportunity and she grabs it.

As Bernie approaches she can see Serena through the propped open office door; she can see the frown etched onto Serena’s features, a black line on her cheek where she has unknowingly caught it with the pen. Serena glances up as Bernie enters clasping a coffee cup between her hands and moves round the desk to perch against the wooden top, her bottom crushing one of the pages to the surface as she does so.

Serena’s brows seem to clench together in annoyance and she snatches the imprisoned page out from underneath where Bernie has settled.

“Are you alright Serena? You seem a little tense.”

“I’m fine.” Serena snaps tersely

“Ok.” Bernie shuffles her body slightly away concerned that she has invaded Serena’s personal space. Serena frowns even more at the movement but then seems to relax again.

“I’m fine.” She repeats more softly this time.

“Well I thought you could use this.” Bernie drops the coffee cup onto the table, careful not to disturb any pages. Serena responds with a grateful smile before snapping the plastic lid off and taking a deep draw of the aroma.

“This isn’t our coffee.” She remarks with a raised brow.

“No. I know we should support our team but Essie’s coffee isn’t the best. I got it from that place you like on Chamberlain Street.”

“But that’s four streets away and you must have walked past at least six perfectly fine coffee shops on the way.” Serena face is scrunched in confusion. Even Bernie is struggling to fathom why she has gone so far out of her way to get this particular coffee when there is a shop three doors down that would have done, but then Serena takes a sip and smiles so warmly that Bernie thinks the sun has just risen in this very room and she knows she would do it again in a heartbeat.

“Anyway - this wine. We can’t sell it any cheaper than we already have it listed, I’ve tried everything I can think of and I can’t make it work. There is one possibility where we offer it as part of a special deal, sell more high margin food and make a loss on the wine essentially. It only really makes financial sense if we tie it into a Wednesday when the restaurant is very quiet then there is no danger of losing other sales. Problem is I’m not sure Henrik will go for it but I can put together a presentation and some figures for him if you can sort out the evening service short-handed.”

Bernie can’t resist and leans over in her enthusiasm and places a kiss lightly to Serena’s cheek, feels the surface warm under her lips as the brunette blushes. “You’re a life-saver! I don’t know how to thank you.” Bernie gives Serena’s shoulder a quick squeeze before rushing off to get the kitchen prepared for service without their sous-chef.

 

Serena throws everything into the presentation. She really pushes the margin improvement opportunities, the limited number of deal vouchers to drive up demand and the optimisation of overheads by filling the restaurant on a typically slow day. Bernie doesn’t really understand half of what Serena has said, but it sounds compelling to her ears and it must to Henrik too as quirks an eyebrow at the final additional profit figure Serena finishes with.

“And you came up with this whole concept and presentation just today?”

“Yes. It is a bit rough around the edges but the finances are sound.”

“Very well. I’ll make the necessary arrangements with our web designer to include it in the website splash and design it into the online booking system. I expect a detailed financial report at the end of the scheme on the increased profit we actually achieved and the increased footfall. I trust I can leave that with you Ms Campbell.”

“Of course Henrik.”

As the two ladies leave the office Bernie turns to Serena. “I can’t believe you managed to pull that off. More than just a pretty face I see.” Bernie raises her eyebrows and Serena flushes before smirking back at the blonde. Bernie reaches over and encircles Serena in an awkward hug. “How can I thank you?”

“A nice bottle of Shiraz never goes astray.”

“Consider it done.”

 

Things have been going surprisingly well at the restaurant, Henrik has eased up on Bernie slightly since the mid-week meal seems to be pulling in a lot of new customers, even the weekends seem to be busier with the Wyvern starting to get booked out weeks in advance for the Friday and Saturday night seatings.

Serena and Bernie have fallen into an easy groove; their synchronicity only seems to increase day by day. To Bernie this is as close to home as she has felt in a long time, the rapport with Serena such a fundamental part of that. Although she can’t always stop her thoughts from wandering on occasion to less wholesome activities with the brunette, she would never gamble what they have for something more.

“Busy night again.” Isaac remarks as he heads to the pass to collect two starters for table four. “We have at least five tables using the vouchers tonight alone.” Bernie smiles at the comment and can’t help her eyes drifting to Serena, still astounded that she can make something so successful from a pretty disastrous error. She must have been staring for a while as when her brain checks back in Serena is silently mouthing something to her; it looks like “Are you OK?” Bernie just smiles and nods in response.

Isaac is back through the galley doors a moment later with a frown on his face. He pulls Bernie to one side and hushes his voice. “Table four. They have sent back one of the starters, the salmon. They apparently have found a hair in it and are demanding to see the chef. What shall I do?”

“Jac would never serve anything with a hair in it, she is too meticulous.” Bernie mutters almost to herself. “Isaac, just get on with the rest of service and I will go and speak to the customers myself.”

“Serena,” Bernie calls out to her sous, “I shouldn’t be a moment, but can you cover if I’m not back in time.” Serena gives her a half salute and Bernie grins back at her before passing through into the dining area.

The restaurant is busy and she is having to weave in and around the tables to get to table four situated in a secluded corner. She is just approaching the table when she catches sight of the lone occupant and her heart stops.

“Charlotte.” Bernie continues to close the gap to her daughter, her apprehension growing as she sees the venomous look her youngest is directing her way.

“There she is…..” Charlie’s words are slurred and indistinct and Bernie wonders how much she has already had to drink. “My cheating, lying, lesbian mother, ladies and gentlemen.” Waving her arms around and getting increasingly loud with each insult. Several of the nearby diners turn to stare, others pointedly look away in embarrassment. Bernie just mutely slides into the chair next to her youngest child.

“It’s good to see you Charlie.” Bernie receives only a disbelieving snort in response. She is about to reach out for her daughter’s hand when someone loudly clears their throat behind her.

“I think you are in my seat Bernie.” She swivels and stares into the smug, oily grin of Tristan Wood.

Bernie and Tristan had worked together briefly at L’Sauvage when Bernie had started as a junior commis. He had been to her house a few times at Marcus’s behest but Bernie disliked the man intensely, there was something predatory and nasty just brewing under the surface and after the first time she had all but begged Marcus not to invite him back. Marcus had ignored her concerns and in doing so they had unwittingly hurled Charlotte into his orbit.

“Tristan.” Bernie’s tone was clipped and derisory. “May I ask what you are doing here with my 21 year old daughter?”

“We were having dinner until it was ruined by an errant hair. My, my, how your standards have slipped.” He is smug and Bernie knows then that he has set this up, probably putting the hair in himself just to embarrass her. Already finding her self-control stretched to its limits by this human excrement, Bernie twitches, ready to punch him, when she sees him slide his hand over her daughter’s thigh. To her relief though Charlie flinches away from his touch but doesn’t say anything, suddenly meeker than Bernie has seen her since she was at high school.

“Charlie, are you OK?” Bernie’s voice is soft and caring and Charlotte bristles at the tone, her eyes hardening.

“I would be fine if I didn’t have to put up with your fake concern. Just go back to your job, mum, you were always best at that.” She responds snidely.

Bernie feels the sting of the words, tears threatening to fall, but she lets Charlotte say what she has to, knows that the anger and resentment has been building for years and Bernie forces a tight smile onto her face. “If that is what you want?” Her gaze holds Charlotte’s and for a moment she sees her little girl desperate for affection again, before Charlie shuts it back down and turns away with a nod. “I will send out two fresh starters for you shortly with our sincerest apologies.”

“A complimentary bottle of wine would not go amiss.” Tristan remarks as she is leaving. Bernie just ignores him and retreats to the safety of the kitchen.

 

Serena can see the change in Bernie as soon as she steps through the door. She is pale and listless and looks like a lost child.

“Sacha – is your prep all done for dessert?” The tall chef turns and nods. “Good, can you please cover me here for a moment? Raf can you please keep an eye on things at the pass, we’ll be on the roof if you need us.” Raf looks like he is about to say something but he shuts his mouth and just nods.

Bernie barely seems to register as Serena guides her out of the kitchen to the locker room where she roots through Bernie’s bag for her cigarettes and lighter before leading her once more up the stairs. Serena gently manoeuvres Bernie to lean against the wall of the stairwell, but her legs crumble beneath her and she slides down to the gravelly tarmac below.

Serena extracts one of the cigarettes from the pack, lighting it between her lips and taking a deep drag, enjoying the heady feeling before she seats herself next to the slumped blonde figure and slips the cigarette between Bernie’s lips.

“I’m not encouraging you to smoke but you looked like you needed one. Want to talk about whatever has happened?” Bernie’s head shifts at Serena’s words as if only just realising where she is and her hand reaches for the cigarette that now dangles precariously, unsmoked.

“Charlotte.” Is all she manages to croak out and Serena suddenly panics that something awful has happened.

“Is she OK?”

“She is in the restaurant downstairs.” Bernie tugs off her bandana and shakes her hair loose as she replies, head falling back against the wall once more.

“I take it you spoke.” Bernie nods. “Ah and it didn’t go well.” Bernie shakes her head and stifles a sob. Serena reaches around and pulls her friend close, Bernie burrowing her face into Serena’s neck. Serena can feel the warm, wet tears splash against her skin as she soothes and strokes Bernie’s hair until they have stopped. She unconsciously presses her lips to the messy curls atop Bernie’s head and she is assailed by the vanilla scent once again; has to pull away as her heart races.

“She hates me.” Is all Bernie mutters.

“I doubt that. She came here after all. The only reason to do that is because she wants to see you.”

“She wants to rub that slimy bastard, Tristan Wood, in my face more like it. Oh Serena she is ‘dating’ the most obnoxious man, he’s oily at best, dangerous at worst.”

“She’s trying to get a reaction from you, why else bring him here. She wouldn’t do that unless she cared about you.” Bernie looks up at last and Serena can see the vestiges of tears glistening in her eyes and it takes all her willpower not to bend her head and kiss them away. “What are you going to do?” she asks her voice husky with emotion suddenly.

“I could kill him. I know a couple of ways that’ll make it look like an accident.” Serena laughs nervously; Bernie looks so ferocious that she half believes she could.

“Perhaps something a little less drastic?”

“What would you do if it was Elinor?”

“I would do whatever it took to keep her close, but you need to let Charlotte make her own mistakes. The more you push, the more she will pull away. Just be there for her when she does need you.” Bernie lets out a deep sigh and her eyes reach out to Serena’s, seem to be pulling her closer and closer until Serena snaps out of it and jerks her head back.

Neither says anything for a moment before Bernie offers a quiet “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. Come on.” Serena slaps her hand on Bernie’s thigh. “Let’s get back down before they trash the kitchen in our absence.” Bernie jumps up and hauls Serena to her feet, Serena overbalancing with the sudden movement and topples into Bernie, the blonde’s arms encircling her tightly to prevent her fall. Serena feels her skin flame and desire pulse through her and when she looks up she sees the same fire in the blonde’s eyes. Suddenly their lips are crashing against each other, hands scrabbling to clutch at fabric, pull each other closer. Serena feels Bernie bring her tighter against her body her lips firm but caressing Serena’s own almost tenderly before she suddenly pulls away, her eyes wide with fear meeting Serena’s stunned gaze.

There is a pulse of pure stillness between them, before Serena’s hands fly up and tangle in Bernie’s curls, crashing their mouths together once, moving them in blissful harmony. Serena forces Bernie around and presses her back against the rough brickwork of the wall behind, pushing harder until leg forces its way between Bernie’s thighs. Electricity is thrumming through their bodies where they connect, mouths still locked tight together and Bernie can’t stifle the moan that slips free from her lips, inviting Serena’s tongue into her mouth, feels it sliding against her own, pressing in rhythm with the thrust of her hips.

The crash of late night revellers somewhere down the road wrenches them apart, their bodies still shuddering from the intensity of the embrace, their breathing frantic, panting against each other’s skin; Serena pulls away, can see the reddening of Bernie’s lips from their fevered kisses, the shock written across Bernie’s face and she retreats back to the kitchen below, murmuring words of regret, her mind whirring in confusion.

Chapter Text

Serena was halfway down the staircase when her brain kicked in. Why was she running away? Bernie had kissed her back, surely? Her mind was a tangled mess of thoughts and emotions, so many that she didn’t know what was real and what was imagined any more. She heard the clang of the roof door above and with a final, wistful glance up towards the sound of Bernie and her slow, heavy footsteps she bolted down the remaining steps. She was not ready to talk about it. Not yet.

 

Bernie couldn’t move. She could still feel every cell tingling where Serena’s body had been pressed moving against her own just moments before. Then she was gone; she had run, literally run, for the door. Had Bernie kissed Serena or Serena kissed her? She honestly could not say for certain, one moment they were laughing about what state the kitchen would be in on their return, the next they were in each other’s arms, mouths locked together. Serena had definitely responded. Boy did she respond! Bernie’s back ached from the impact of the wall where Serena had all but thrown her and it burned from the friction Serena had caused when she moulded her every gorgeous curve into Bernie’s and rubbed against her. The heat fired up between Bernie’s legs once more at the mere memory of the delicious pressure of Serena’s thigh hard against her. Then she was gone. Bernie left in a state of bewilderment confused as to whether Serena had meant to kiss her at all or had just got carried away trying to comfort her. They had become such close friends so quickly that perhaps they had each lost track of where the boundaries between friendship and relationship were.

Bernie’s head spun with the uncertainty, she would have to sort this out with Serena and quickly if they were to recover anything from this situation. Shaking her head she headed back through the door and towards the kitchen, her legs still wobbly from the kiss and heavy with apprehension as she made her way down the stairs.

Serena was at her station when Bernie returned. Her head was bowed down preparing her dish and Bernie knew that she was intentionally avoiding her eye. They had become so good at communicating with just a look and suddenly Bernie felt the loss of her gaze, wished more than anything she could read her thoughts right now and understand what was going on. Why had she kissed her so passionately and why did she run?

Bernie dragged her thoughts back to tonight. They still had to get through the rest of service yet and Bernie had a pile of tickets backing up.

“Serena. We have two tables waiting for two pasta each. How long on those?”

“Two minutes for the first table, three minutes for the second, Chef.” Their eyes met at last as Serena lifted her eyes in response and Bernie could see the turmoil of emotions behind her gaze. Bernie dropped her eyes as she felt guilt wash over her. Serena had done nothing but try to support and comfort her tonight through the issues with Charlotte and she had done what? Taken advantage of a friend’s concern? Is that what I did? Even Bernie did not know for sure but they needed to talk about it before it ransacked the very foundations of their friendship. Bernie resolved to find Serena after service and talk it through. They just had to get through the shift first.

 

Raf knew something was up. The moment Serena returned from the roof she was distracted. When Bernie followed a few moments later he saw the same unease in the blonde. They would not look at each other and despite stealing glances across when the other wasn’t looking they would swiftly turn away again. He began to wonder if they had another disagreement.

The service was uncomfortable, little staccato bursts of discussion between Bernie and Serena followed by long periods of tense silence. There was some muttering among the rest of the kitchen about it, a few speculating as to whether there had been another falling out between the two women that caused the shift in the atmosphere. As much as Raf tried to calm their gossip he would not be able to keep a lid on it for long. He needed to speak to Serena, let her know and find out what he could do to help fix it.

Service was just winding down when he saw his chance. He quickly finished his clean down and headed over to help Serena with hers.

“In a rush to get home tonight Raf?” Serena enquired when he started cleaning and tidying her section.

“Helping you to get finished quickly. We need to talk.” He fixed Serena with a piercing look that left her in no doubt how serious he was.

“OK locker room in ten, just let me get everything packed away here.”

True to her word and eight minutes later she joined Raf in the changing room. Raf was already changed into his jeans and T-shift while Serena started to pull her street clothes from the bottom of her locker.

“So what happened on the roof Serena?”

“I don’t know what you mean Raf.”

“It’s not just me Serena. The whole kitchen is talking about it.” Serena’s head spins around.

“Did someone see something?”

“Ah, so there was something to see. Did you have another fight or something more intimate?” Serena just blushed and looked away coyly. “Don’t worry nobody saw anything, but the atmosphere between you two has totally changed and they have noticed the difference. It won’t take them long to work it out. I did.”

“I don’t know what to do Raf. I mean we kissed and it was… oh, it was amazing but then I panicked and ran and I don’t even know why I did.”

“Do you not think maybe you and Bernie should talk to each other about it? Do you even know how she feels?”

“What do I say? Hey Bernie, I know I’ve been a total bitch to you pretty much the whole time you have been here but turns out I really fancy you and have been doing the sapphic mid-life equivalent of pulling your pig-tails.” Serena sits herself suddenly back down next to Raf, the events of the night and the heightened emotions making her legs suddenly weary.

“Why not?”

“What if she laughs in my face? I couldn’t bear the cliched ….. ‘It was a massive mistake’; ‘I wish it had never happened’; ‘I just don’t feel that way” Serena’s head falls into her hands and Raf wraps his arm around her.

“You never know.” Leaning down close to her ear he whispers, “But you might want to consider some hotter underwear the next time you try to seduce her though.” Serena is confused for a moment until Raf nods to her still semi-undressed form. Serena starts to laugh and Raf can’t help but join in as she models her most fetching dinosaur knickers.

“Yes thanks for that Raf. They were a gift from Elinor, designed I think to act as a sexual repellant for any would be suitor."

"Very effective they are too!" He quips

"They were the only clean ones I could find this morning.” She gives him a playful cuff to the ear before hiding the hideous knickers beneath her trousers and buttoning them firmly.

Serena had just finished getting changed when Bernie appeared. They wished each other a tense goodnight before Serena hurried home. She had to think about how she was going to approach things with Bernie before she made a huge mess of things again.

 

Serena had disappeared so suddenly after service that Bernie wondered if she had left already, but she could hear the muffled tones of Serena and Raf in the changing room as she passed to go to the bathroom. She paused outside the door and could make out a few snippets of their conversation and immediately rued not just walking past. Clear as day she could hear Serena telling Raf that she wished it had never happened and that she did not feel that way. Bernie’s heart plummeted, maybe she had misheard but when she peeked through the door she saw a half-dressed Serena cradled intimately in Raf’s arms, the pair of them laughing, Serena clearly not giving a second thought to their kiss on the roof; it was all the answer she needed. She silently closed the door and continued on to the bathroom.

Bernie hoped they would have left by the time she went to get changed, but she was forced to smile and say a polite goodnight to Serena despite the sinking disappointment she felt. She needed to draw a line under this whole mess, the sooner the better. Picking up her phone, she dropped a quick text to Serena to arrange to meet. Better away from the restaurant and the prying eyes of the rest of the team.

B: I think we need to talk about what happened today on the roof. Coffee tomorrow 8.30 at Chamberlain’s?

 

Serena had not heard her message tone in the rush to get home and calm her nerves with a large glass of Shiraz, so it was not until she was settled on the sofa, shoes off, feet up and the aforementioned glass of red safely in her hand that she saw Bernie’s name on the screen. She scrabbled to open it but despite reading it over and over, she could not get any sense of Bernie's intention from the words. Serena sighed deeply in frustration and responded back.

S: OK. See you at 8.30. I think you know my order if you arrive first ;) S

Serena toyed with the idea of adding a little kiss at the end but decided to go without it eventually, worried it might scare off the skittish blonde.

Serena didn’t even finish the glass of wine, her stomach churning with the nervous tension of what she wanted to say tomorrow. She could not remember a time in any of her previous relationships, Edward included, where she had felt such a weight of trepidation on her shoulders. Was it the fear of messing up her job? Or the fear of losing Bernie as a friend? Or nerves at having her first lesbian relationship at this stage in her life? She had a restless night’s sleep and her stomach was in knots with anxiety. All Serena knew for certain was she had enjoyed kissing Bernie and hoped she would get the chance to do it again, if the blonde felt the same that is.

 

As it turned out it was Serena who arrived first, the notoriously punctual Bernie running late for once. Serena vaguely remembered how Bernie took her coffee and suddenly regretted not knowing for sure. Bernie not only remembered Serena’s perfectly but knew which exact coffee shop she loved the most. Serena could not say the same, perhaps now she would get the chance to know all these little things about Bernie. Her heart squeezed a little at the idea of spending time just doing simple routine things together and how much more fun would it be with Bernie there.

Serena’s order arrived and she found a table near the window, partly so Bernie might see her as she arrived but more so she might watch out for the blonde, gauge her emotions. As Serena sips her latte she sees the mop of blonde walking her way, cigarette clamped firmly between fingers, lips almost invisibly drawn tight together. Serena got a sense of foreboding but shook it off. No point making herself worry more than she needed to.

Bernie's gaze had remained firmly fixed to the pavement as she approached the coffee shop so when she arrived she was compelled to scan the room for Serena. Their eyes met and as Serena waved her over brightly, Bernie dropped her gaze, head shifting away and eyes averted. Serena's nerves started to twitch.

“I got you a coffee. I hope I got the order right, seems my memory for details is not as good as yours.” Serena was babbling nervously, picking at the cardboard ring around her cup with her neatly trimmed nails as she did.

“Thank you. I’m sure it’s fine.” Bernie’s words were clipped and mechanical. She smiled tightly before sitting down opposite Serena on the chair furthest from her own.

They were silent for only a second before Serena started to speak, “I think we both agree we need to discuss what happened on the roof the other night. I mean that is when we kissed, well you were there so you know what I am talking about.” Serena was still struggling to form coherent sentences and Bernie seemed to tire of the whole conversation. A weary look hanging heavy on her features as she abruptly interrupted Serena's rambling.

“Look Serena. We don’t have to make this into a big thing. We got carried away, I was upset, you were being a good friend trying to comfort me. There is no more to it than that. You don't need to panic, I’m not about to propose.” Bernie's face turned up slightly in wry smile.

Serena feels her gut twist in disappointment at the words but she covers it with her trademark humour. “Well I best cancel the caterers and return the dress then. Damn all those hours wasted for nothing.” Serena tried to sound breezy but it was the last emotion she actually felt.

It has the effect she wanted though as for the first time she sees Bernie’s shoulders relax and the blonde’s smile is genuine, her eyes warm as she looks at Serena. If this is all of her I can have this is what I will take, Serena thinks and means it.

 

Bernie has never wished more fervently not to be having this conversation. To lie to the woman she cares for more than she likes to admit that the kiss they shared meant so little when to her it meant so much.

She will remember the feel of Serena against her, for the first and the last time, desire still tattooed to her skin but is too proud to confess it. She wants to be the one to pull away for no other reason than she couldn’t bear for Serena to repeat those words again. It wish it had never happened. I don’t feel that way.

Serena seems relieved. Makes a joke of it. Bernie’s heart twinges, wonders how she would have felt if Serena had asked her to reconsider, had wanted something more. But she had not and she did not and it was foolish to dwell on what ifs. They had what they had and that was it. They sit in silence for a few moments sipping their coffees before Serena speaks again.

“Did you decide how to proceed with Charlotte?”

“Oh. I took your advice and I gave her my phone numbers here and email address but didn’t push it. She can reach me if she wants to. I’ll always be here for her."

Serena reaches over and strokes Bernie’s arm. “You did the right thing. Give her time.” Serena’s hand is still pressed to Bernie’s skin, her index finger unconsciously stroking as she seems lost in thought for a moment before she draws her hand back. Bernie feels goose-bumps erupt where her hand had lain only seconds before and she shivers as an echo of the arousal from last night courses through her body. Even a simple gesture was like torture. Her brain now knew the reality of how Serena tasted and felt moving against her and every touch would spark that feeling again. This was going to be more difficult than she thought.

“We’d best get going, busy lunch service to prepare for.” Bernie is brusque and to the point and the friendly warmth they had enjoyed all but vanished, both feel the ache of the void where it used to be.

 

The rest of the week is filled with stilted silences and strained conversations.

Bernie and Serena continue to work efficiently and professionally with each other, there is no animosity but their relationship has subtly shifted and the whole team can see the difference. Most just think it is a re-emergence of some of their old infuriation with each other. Only Raf knows for certain what lies behind the frostiness that has descended on their little group.

It had been Raf’s shoulder that Serena had cried on after Bernie had dashed any hopes of them having a future together. Raf had tried to reassure Serena, to encourage her not to give up all hope but Serena had been so adamant that Bernie would only ever be her friend that he had not pushed it further.

Dom, on the other hand, knows nothing for sure but he’s spent enough time with Bernie since he has been under her tutiledge to know her subtle differences in manner. It is not a perplexed or annoyed stare that Bernie casts in Serena’s direction when she is not looking, it is a wistful glance tinged with longing, one that she always shifts away before Serena can catch it. Dom would almost say it was an unrequited crush and quite a bad one, but he’s not so sure.

Serena is harder to read. She hides her emotions under her armour of humour and flirting, and perhaps it is the very fact that she doesn’t flirt with Bernie anymore that really gives the game away. There is no trace of resentment or jealousy that laces their interactions as there was before but he can see Serena is holding back. She is almost afraid to flirt, and he wonders if she is afraid to flirt because with Bernie, and Bernie alone, it is real and not just a mask she hides behind.

Dom finds the opportunity to confirm his suspicions comes rather unexpectedly. He is on his break, getting some fresh air on the roof (avoiding Isaac Mayfield and his back-handed compliments if truth be told) when Bernie appears unlit cigarette in one hand and lighter poised in the other.

“Sorry I’ll go somewhere else if you want some peace.” Bernie flashes a self-depreciating smile before Dom just gives her his best boyish grin.

“Don’t be daft. In need of a nicotine fix already? I thought you were cutting back.” There is not a note of reprimand to his words, just a casual observation and Bernie finds she doesn’t mind. She likes the straight forward honesty of Dom, can never imagine him cowering and hiding who he is like she has for so many years.

“I seem to be smoking more than ever at the moment.” Bernie responds wryly.

“Something on your mind? Or is it someone?” Bernie’s head snaps across to his, her eyes narrowed in consideration.

“You could say that.” Bernie thinks aside from Serena, Dom might be the one person she might call a friend around here and that is something she sorely needs at the moment.

“Ms Campbell?” Dom enquires lightly.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Not at all, it’s just the way you look at her.” Bernie tilts her head at him before shaking it and letting it fall into her hands, a low groan rumbling out from between her fingers as she did. “Don’t worry most of the team think you are fighting, not falling in love.”

Bernie raises her head to look at him sceptically. “I would not go that far.” Dom just raises an eyebrow in challenge. “Firstly Serena is straight, secondly not remotely interested in me in that way and thirdly she and Raf seem to be very intimate with each other.”

Dom practically chokes as he laughs outright at her. “You know Ms Wolfe for a lesbian you really have no clue about women at all.”

Bernie looks affronted and then confused. “So she are Raf are not...” Bernie shrugs her shoulders in despair at Dom making her say the words, “involved?”

“No I don’t think either of them are in the market for that. And that was not what I meant anyway.” Bernie cocks her head to one side before Dom takes pity on her. “Serena has always been very open about her attraction to women. It makes for a very entertaining night out if you ever joined us. She is equally as comfortable espousing the virtues of the ladies in a club as she is the men. She turns as many female heads as male ones as well.”

"I don't doubt that for a second." Bernie rueful tone hides the flash of jealousy that flares suddenly. Bernie reflected on Dom's revelation. It certainly explained the ease with which Serena had worked Bernie’s body up into a maelstrom of arousal but it still did not alter the fact that she had flat out disregarded the concept in conversation with Raf. “Doesn’t change anything, she doesn’t feel like that about me. I heard it from her own lips.”

"Her lips are saying one thing then but her body another. She is awkward and tense around you, both staring at you and pointedly staring away. I have witnessed at least a dozen men or women make unwanted advances to Serena and she rebuffs them all without even breaking stride but you. You have her in a fluster."

"Dom I'm not sure you're reading her right."

"We are talking about the same Serena Campbell here? Hyper-ambitious, Serena Campbell. Kill her Granny to get the Head Chef job, Serena Campbell. Serena Campbell, who spent hours working on a presentation to Henrik to save your arse when she could have stuck the knife in and then swooped in herself and claim the glory. I think there is a case for saying that you are not reading her right.”

Bernie just shrugs. Suddenly not clear why Serena did go out of her way to save her bacon.

"You really can't see, can you? She did it for you, seems to want to keep you around. Now tell me she doesn't feel that way." Dom delivers his coup-de-grâce with a flamboyant flourish.

Bernie just looked stunned and pale. Was Dom right? Did Serena want more from her than just her friendship? Bernie had never really given it much thought before, never dared to hope for anything more than an occasional fantasy of sparkling brown eyes when her fevered body needed release. Now she had rejected her and Bernie had no idea what to do next. Could they actually be together? Bernie was Serena’s boss to all intents and purposes, she had compromised her military career with Alex in a similar circumstance and regretted it every day. She wouldn’t be stupid enough to make the same mistake again, surely?

 

Chapter Text

Dom was feeling rather smug when he headed back down to the kitchen. His instincts were spot on about Bernie. He was fairly certain about Serena too but if he was to play cupid. He needed to be sure, it could be disastrous if he meddled and got it wrong.

It was Saturday night when he found the opportunity unexpectedly presented to him by Sasha and Essie of all people. Their burgeoning relationship had led the team into a late night discussion on the joys of dating. Bernie had excused herself, Dom could see this was not a topic she was comfortable joining in but Serena was still cradling her glass and quietly listening to the debate that was raging.

“It’s easy for a woman. If a man likes you, you know it. They are pretty straight-forward. For us blokes, we have to try and be mind-readers to know if you really like us or just being polite.” Fletch states adamantly.

“You don’t know what you are talking about Fletch. It’s awful being a woman. Most men lie about their relationship status and are just looking for sex.” Jasmine counters.

“At least we are honest about ourselves, Fletch.” Morven adds, backing up her best friend.

Dom just couldn’t resist the tease to Serena, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “What do you think Serena? You are the ideal person to help us resolve this argument. Where do you stand on the pros and cons of dating men versus women?”

If Serena is surprised Dom is being so forward about her sexuality she doesn’t let it show. “I’m not sure I am an expert Dom.”

“Oh come on Serena, you must have an opinion at least.”

“For me personally, I agree with Fletch that generally men are easier to read. It is a lot more of a physical connection than with a woman, which is more emotional, and therefore where the confusion can lie.”

“See.” Fletch looks smugly at Jasmine and Morven as if Serena’s opinion is a definitive end to the debate.

“And which do you prefer?” Dom wheels back around to address Serena again.

“That’s a silly question. I think we all know I am partial to both.” She adds with a light smile.

“Aye-aye.” Chips in Fletch.

“Not at the same time Fletcher.” Fletch’s cheeky smile makes Serena roll her eyes in despair.

“Ok then at the moment. Which do you prefer?” Dom’s seemingly innocent question makes Raf turn his head. He narrows his eyes at Dom, and watches the young chef as he waits for Serena’s response.

Serena pauses, taking a large gulp of wine and is desperately grateful that Bernie has already gone home, as she answers slowly and carefully. “At the moment Dom, I would say I am more interested in pursuing a relationship with a woman than a man.”

Dom smiles slightly before he breaks out into that cheeky grin of his. “Damn there go my chances then. I am heart-broken!”

“If you really are curious Dom, I can introduce you to a friend of mine who would just love you to experiment on her.”

Dom’s face screws up in disgust. “I guess we know where Mr Copeland sits in this debate then. And with that I am off home. I’ll never get another date again unless I get some beauty sleep.” Serena finishes her glass of wine and smiles at them. “Raf, can you make sure it is all locked up after you guys are finished. Goodnight.”

Raf watches Serena leave, Sasha and Essie following her out just as Morven and Jasmine’s taxi pulls up outside.

Dom was about to follow the girls when Raf tugs his arm slightly. “What was all that about, Dom?”

“All what about?”

“Come on don’t play dumb with me. Why are you so interested in Serena’s love life all of a sudden and don’t try and tell me it was for you.”

“I was just curious if Serena was interested in anyone at the moment.” Dom tries to feign disinterest but Raf is too savvy for that.

“Sit down Dom, we need to have a chat.”

 

Serena found Bernie studying her more than usual during the course of their shared Sunday service. It appeared to Serena that nearly every time she glanced up Bernie’s eyes seemed to be on her, narrow and thoughtful. Bernie would even brave holding her gaze for a moment before returning to her work. Serena was so busy watching Bernie and Bernie was so busy trying to scrutinise Serena that neither could see Dom and Raf studying them both.

Serena was just as lost in her thoughts later when Raf sidled up to her after service had finished.

“Serena.” The brunette jumped about a foot in the air at the unexpected voice so close by. “Sorry I didn’t mean to surprise you.”

“It’s OK Raf I was just miles away.”

“Look, can you meet me in the office after service there is something I need your help to sort out. It’s kind of personal.”

Serena jerks her head in surprise. Raf is not usually one for sharing his personal feelings on anything with her, well not without large amounts of wine having been consumed anyway. It must be serious she thinks, if he needs to ask for her help, so she readily agrees to his request.

 

Serena could still catch the faint scent of Henrik’s aftershave lingering in the office as she waited for Raf to appear. For something that had seemed so urgent, the Scotsman was suddenly nowhere to be found. She stood up and began to pace restlessly around the enclosed space, her feet, already burning from the hours stood during the frantic service, bemoaning her decision. The door opened and Serena spun around, the berating words for Raf on his lateness frozen on her lips as her eyes landed on the tall frame of Bernie instead.

“Oh sorry.” Bernie stuttered out. “Dom asked me to come and find his coat, he thinks he must have left it in here earlier.”

“That’s strange as I have not seen it since I have been in here.” The words die on her lips as the door is pulled firmly shut and the unmistakeable sound of the lock clicking fills the room.

Bernie is the first to move to the door, her time in the army makes her twitchy about closed doors and locked rooms. She rattles the handle firmly but it is most definitely locked tight. Through the window can see the smiling face of Dom with Raf.

“For goodness sake, what are you doing?” She asks through the door. Trying the door one more time more for emphasis than because she thinks it might yield this time.

It is Dom who speaks up, suddenly braver than he feels in the face of Bernie’s obvious irritation at his actions. “We think that the two of you need to talk.”

“Properly for once.” Raf chimes in, “No running away or hiding from each other.”

“We’ll unlock the door in twenty minutes. If you have not sorted yourselves out by then. Well, you never will.” Dom adds finally before wilting under Bernie's hard stare and shuffling off to hide out of her sight.

Serena watches their interaction aghast. Has she been so obvious in her feelings for Bernie that even Dom knows now and if Dom knows has he told Bernie? Serena needed to get out of this office sooner rather than later.

She lifted the phone on the desk from its cradle and started to dial. “Don’t worry I’ll call Henrik, he only left a few minutes ago, he’ll have his key and can let us out.”

“Wait. Stop.” Serena’s fingers still at Bernie’s command and she jerks her head up to face the blonde. Bernie is worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth and seems to be having some kind of internal debate for a moment before she lets out a deep breath and the confidence returns to her posture. “I have not been entirely honest with you.”

Serena yearns to be closer to Bernie right now, be touching her skin. She carefully replaces the phone on the cradle, Henrik and the locked door forgotten for the time being. “Go on.”

“In the café the other day when I said that our kiss, well when I said our kiss was not a big deal.” Bernie’s confidence seems to wane a bit and Serena moves around the desk, to lean against it next to the blonde who has picked up one of Henrik’s pens and is twiddling it between her fingers. The movement seems to give Bernie back her impetus as she lifts her gaze back to Serena again, the crease on her brow the only sign of her remaining nerves. “Well it’s not a big deal, doesn’t have to be if it’s not what you want but it did mean more to me than I led you to believe. You mean more to me than I led you to believe.”

Serena’s surprise must be apparent she can feel the shock still reverberating through her body. “So why did you say otherwise?”

“I thought, well it doesn’t matter what I thought. I’ve been trying to do what I thought would make you happy, but I don’t think I know what that is anymore.”

Bernie is looking up at her shyly through her fringe in that oh so familiar fashion and Serena can feel herself lurch towards her, wants nothing more than to wrap her body around Bernie’s but this is what got them here in the first place; assuming, not talking. She has to restrain herself, needs to know that they are on the same page first.

“Bernie, when we kissed, well I’ve never felt anything so amazing but it was confusing at the same time and it scared me. We hardly know each other and the sensation was so intense it overwhelmed me and I ran.” When Serena looks up, Bernie is facing her, her fingers reaching for Serena’s to stroke at the soft skin on the back of her hands, the touch so tender and intimate that Serena could just stay here forever.

Bernie is so close to her now, her body resting against Serena’s, their eyes locked together and it feels so reminiscent of the first time they had been in this room. The night when Serena had pressed against Bernie in anger, the desire blazing in her even then and Serena realises how much time she wasted fighting against her own feelings. Bernie has moved to tangle their fingers together and Serena feels her skin prickle with the pent up desire. Finally, like a dam bursting, she can’t stop it anymore; pulls her arms back behind her, their intertwined fingers bring Bernie impossibly closer until their mouths are meeting and it is so heart-breakingly tender that Serena thinks she might have fainted from the feeling. Her hands are everywhere all of a sudden; grasping, tugging and pulling at anything they can get, both women completely lost in the touch of the other. The light knock at the door, even the sound of it unlocking, loud in the otherwise silent room, doesn’t disturb their embrace.

“Ms Wolfe, Ms Campbell, might I request you to join the rest of the team in the dining area for a moment.” Henrik’s calm tone does however shake them apart and the two women flush the deepest shade of red.

“Mr Hanssen. I thought you had left for the evening.” Serena’s diction stumbling, her words slightly muddled as if her lips and tongue can’t shift their motion from kissing back to speech as quickly as they need to.

“Yes well I have an announcement and when you are,” Henrik pauses and glances down at Bernie’s untucked shirt, “ready, please come back through.”

Serena and Bernie look at each other, neither knowing whether to laugh or cry. They share a wry smile instead, know that they will never live this down with Henrik or the rest of the team but perhaps, just perhaps it’ll be worth it.

When they join the team they find every face turned away, most attempting to suppress the smirks on their faces or in Dom’s case not even vaguely trying. Serena moves over to stand by Raf and Bernie by Dom. On opposite sides of the room they can see the darkened eyes and flushed skin on the other, the evidence of their mutual passion still visible for all to see, their eyes locked together until Henrik coughs to gain their attention.

“As you know I had already left for the evening but I received a call on my way home from a friend who shall remain nameless and he informed me that, to my great delight, The Wyvern will be regaining its Michelin star status next year. I understand that the consistent dedication to showcasing local produce and constant menu innovation have convinced the judges of our worthiness. Now I hope you appreciate that this is yet to be confirmed but I wanted to share the news with you all immediately. Thank you all for the considerable time and dedication you have put into get us back on track. Now there are 12 bottles of champagne in the fridge, it is Monday tomorrow, so may I suggest you have a very good night celebrating and make sure the fridge is restocked for Tuesday please.” The team erupt into a cheer as Fletch dives behind the bar and starts pulling out glasses. The air is filled with the sound of the champagne hissing as he carefully opens the bottles and glasses clinking as the team toast the Wyvern and its success.

Serena is looking for Bernie but she has disappeared off and goes to finds Raf instead.

“Don’t ever pull a stunt like that again.”

“Sorry.” He says in his deep Scottish brogue. “Actually no, I am not sorry, I’d do it again. If only to keep on seeing you grin like a Cheshire Cat. I’m guessing from Bernie’s mussed up clothing and your very flushed cheeks and happy expression that you sorted things out.”

“Kind of. I think. Until Hanssen walked in on us.”

“I really am sorry about that, we didn’t see him until it was too late. Did he interrupt something? You both looked a bit hot and bothered when you came out.”

“Let’s just say, I’m glad it wasn’t five minutes later.” Serena is still casting her eye about for Bernie, noticeable by her absence.

“Hanssen grabbed her after his announcement. I think they are in the office. She may not be enjoying this meeting as much as yours.” Raf teases lightly

“I should bloody hope not too. Will Hanssen say anything do you think?”

“Undoubtedly. She is your boss Serena, he will expect her to still be able to do her job.” Serena frowns, she had not really considered Bernie as her boss but in Hanssen’s eyes that’s exactly what he would think.

“Do you think he’ll ask her to stop our…… well not pursue something romantic with me?” Serena is suddenly unsure. If push came to shove would she choose her job over their blossoming relationship?

“I think we know where she would tell him to go, after all she covered up the wine order screw-up.”

“What screw up?”

Raf twists his mouth, looks for Fletch, anybody to help him out but there is nobody he can turn to. “Look Serena. That Sav Blanc you helped us sell, it wasn’t Bernie that placed the order wrongly. It was you. Bernie told Guy and Hanssen that is was her fault, which is why Henrik was on her back about it.”

“Why am I only learning this now?”

“Bernie told Fletch not to mention it to anyone.” Serena is lost in her own thoughts and Raf leaves her to them with a last squeeze of her arm. Suddenly Serena doesn’t feel like staying and drinking champagne anymore. The night has been intense and all she craves is her sofa, a bottle of wine and her pyjamas. After a quick tour of the room to say goodnight to the team, she heads for the changing rooms and sees the vacant office as she passes. She finds Bernie sat on the bench pulling on her ankle boots, already changed back into her skinny jeans and shirt.

“Everything OK with Hanssen?” Serena enquires as she moves to open her locker and pull out her trousers and pullover.

“He wasn’t exactly thrilled to walk in on us, but I have not been fired, yet.”

“It won’t come to that surely?” Serena says as she quickly sheds her chef’s whites and picks up a brush to run through her short dark hair.

“No I don’t think so. I’m just tired I think and could have managed without another headmasterly ticking-off.” Bernie shakes her messy locks before pushing her fringe back from her eyes and watching Serena closely as she finished dressing and reaches for her coat and bag. “Are you not coming back out to join the celebration?” Bernie stands from the bench and moves to touch a hand to Serena’s shoulder.

“No. I think I want to get home.”

“Can I walk you at least?”

“Are you expecting me to invite you up for coffee Ms Wolfe?” Serena quirks her eyebrow.

Bernie blushes but smiles softly at the innuendo. “No it is just a nice night and I can always use the fresh air.”

Serena gives a sarcastic snort. “Fresh air? You will be smoking half the way and you know it.”

“I could use a cigarette then if you are being picky. Will you wait for me while I grab my bag from the office?” Serena nods, will admit the idea of a walk with Bernie as company is pleasant but they seem to be back to awkward, stilted conversations again and Serena worries that maybe Hanssen’s words are having an impact.

They leave together, call out goodnight to the team, ignore the wolf-whistles and catcalling from the team as they do.

“Do you mind?” Bernie asks as they brush shoulders walking slowly back in the direction of Serena’s house. “The team seeing us leave together. I mean it will fuel the rumour-mill for weeks.”

“It’s only rumour if it’s not true.” The implication of the words hangs heavily between them as they walk on in silence.

 

Bernie longs to reach out for Serena’s hand; she can feel the backs of their fingers brushing against each other as they walk and it is tormenting her. She smokes to distract her mind. She has no idea what she will say when they reach Serena’s house. There is so much to say but she has never been great with words, even worse with feelings. She can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Henrik had not walked in earlier. The kiss was so different to the one they shared on the roof that had been a fiery frantic battle of lips and tongue, this had been so soft, she had just melted into it, completely abandoned herself to the emotion of it all.

Lost is how she feels; completely at sea in unfamiliar waters and Serena is both tempest and her salvation. Bernie is still buried in her thoughts when Serena turns and starts towards her door, Bernie’s legs following unquestioningly, her feet only halting her at the doorway.

“Come in Bernie, we can’t talk on the doorstep.”

“Are you sure that is wise?”

“You are the one who wanted to walk me home. Now are you coming in or not?” Bernie steps over the doorstep and Serena guides her through to the kitchen, sits her down and puts the kettle on before she starts to speak again.

“I need you to start being honest with me, Bernie.” Serena moves closer, leans against the kitchen table facing the stool that Bernie is sat on.

“I am.” Bernie finally lifts her face to Serena’s and can see the confusion in her eyes.

“The Sav Blanc. It was my fault.”

“Fletch told you?”

“No it was Raf, but that is not the point. Why did you hide it from me?” Bernie sees the irritation and hears the reprimand in the tone. “I am not a child who you need to protect. I am capable of fixing my own mistakes.”

“I never lied to you about it. I just omitted to tell you the truth.”

“Stop splitting hairs and be honest with me for once please.”

The anguish in Serena’s eyes is what breaks her in the end and the words she has held back come tumbling out. “It was pure selfishness on my part. I didn’t want you to resign again. I wanted you to stay at the Wyvern with me. I like having you around." Bernie takes a breath before turning the tables. "Serena, why did you go to so much trouble to help me out? I would have left by now if you hadn't come up with the mid-week deal idea”

Serena purses her lips at the irony. “It was purely selfishness on my part. I didn’t want you to be fired. I wanted you to stay here with me at the Wyvern. I like having you around.” She hesitates but needs to finish the sentence, needs to add the words Bernie neglected to. “I like you, rather a lot it would seem.”

Bernie is stirred to her feet, takes one long stride bridging the gap between them, her mouth just a fraction from Serena’s own. “If I kiss you again, do you promise not to run away this time?”

Bernie can feel the smile on Serena’s lips against her own where they are just grazing together. “Where will I run to? This is my house.”

It is definitely Bernie this time who crashes their mouths together and it is frenzied, a whole evening of anxiety, arousal and doubt pouring out into that kiss.

 

Serena can see it in Bernie's eyes, the moment she concedes to her feelings, the long stride across the kitchen and Serena is suddenly enjoying the weight of Bernie in her arms once more. Bernie's tongue is insistent and Serena is in no mood to play coy, welcomes her wholeheartedly. She can taste the nicotine as their tongues dual against one another, hears a moan but is not sure if it is her or Bernie, right now doesn't care.

Serena spins Bernie around, back against the table, she hears the grunt from Bernie as she connects with the wooden surface but it turns into a growl as Serena moves her lips to Bernie's throat. She can feel the rhythmic pounding of Bernie's heart beating against the sensitive skin of her mouth and she sucks at it, hard; wants to pull the desire from her body, leave her skin stained with their passion.

She hears a little yelp from Bernie and she draws back, the angry welts already noticeable. Her eyes track up to lock with Bernie's asks the silent question. Shall I stop? Sees the response. Don't you dare. Dives back in.

Serena's fingers fumble with buttons of Bernie's tight fitting shirt until she just rips it away in frustration and sets her mouth against delectable collarbones down to rough lace which she pulls firmly out of her way. Her tongue lathing one nipple, a happy gurgle offered in response, her fingers pinching the other, and a soft hiss returning back. She sets her teeth against the firm skin and tugs not letting go until she has stretched it to its limit and it pops back. Bernie's teeth are gritted to the pain but her eyes urge Serena on, need her not to stop.

Serena slows, soothes and caresses. Her kisses soft and tender, her murmured words touching reddened skin like a gentle breeze, cooling and warming in equal measure. Her hands are slipped under Bernie's ripped shirt, circling at her side, moving round to trace patterns at the hollow of her back. She finds sweat pooling there, slides her fingers in the moisture before bringing the tips up to her parted lips, passed her teeth to rub the nectar to her tongue. Bernie moans loudly and her hips jerk at the eroticism of the sight.

A wicked smile forms on Serena's mouth as she slides her finger out ever so slowly, slipping it down her own chin, between her breasts to her navel, before she flips it over and twists at the button on Bernie's jeans. She is compelled to kneel to wriggle the jeans down Bernie's legs and free, she can feel the cool, hard tile compressing her patella as she does so, hears the crack as she stands back up. Her eyes meet Bernie's, finds them soft with affection but still that same fire of passion lurking beneath and they lean into each other. Nuzzle their noses, before kissing tenderly once again.

Bernie's hands slide down to grip Serena's arse as they start to deepen the kiss once more. Her mouth slips round to Serena's ear, licks the shell, pulls her earlobe between sharp teeth and whispers all the things she wants to do to her on this kitchen table and Serena is on fire again. Hands grip Bernie's hips, nails digging in to push her back onto the table, tips slide under elastic and Bernie's underwear pools on the floor. Her fingers track down the curve of her hipbone, round to scratch in soft curls, before slipping down and inside. Bernie moans loudly, crudely and opens her legs wide, her head falling back as she pants out a curse, Serena pulls back slightly before pushing in harder her hips driving her forward and deep inside Bernie.

She stills for a moment and Bernie's head lolls forward, their eyes meet and Serena can actually feel her clench around her fingers with desire. She pecks a kiss to Bernie's soft mouth before bending to nip at her throat, arching her back and thrusting against Bernie again and again, finding and losing rhythm before discovering it again in a jerking, frantic crescendo. Bernie cries out to the heavens and comes, Serena slows her movement, prolonging the pleasure until Bernie can take no more and she guides Serena's hand free and falls back, body prone and lifeless, on Serena's kitchen table.

Serena spins and props her exhausted body against the end of the table, she brings her soaked fingers to her lips and rubs the moisture across them, devours the sweet taste as it rolls across her tongue and sucks every last delicious drop from her hand. When she looks beside her Bernie's body is still motionless but her head is turned and eyes are open, dark desire filling them as Serena moans at the unique flavour of her essence filling her mouth. Bernie reaches to pull Serena on top of her but she backs away.

"I'm not as young as I used to be and my knees and back will not thank me tomorrow. I need my bed. Are you coming?"

Bernie did not need asking twice.

Chapter Text

When Bernie stirs awake, she knows she is not in her own bed. The first thing that strikes her is the scent. The scent of the linen is different but yet somehow familiar. She shuffles slightly, just one knee bent but as the mattress shifts beneath her and cocoons her in its lush softness it is unlike any bed she can recall having owned.

The mattress moves again, this time not at her bidding, but that of another. An arm drapes across her waist, a body presses to her back, a soft, curvy, naked body and Bernie has to bite on her lip hard not to moan at the sensation. She cannot resist the urge to push back against the warmth and press her backside further into the flesh and curls that await. She feels her pressure returned, the hand at her waist shifting up to clasp at her breast, fingers swirling against her nipple as it does.

Very familiar fingers. Serena’s fingers. Bernie’s brain stalls. She is in Serena’s bed. In Serena’s bed with a very naked Serena Campbell. In Serena’s bed with a very naked Serena Campbell stroking her ever tightening flesh.

Bernie’s misfiring brain starts to whirr and images, sounds, sensations and tastes spill out of her memory. Each one bringing a new feeling of happiness and an accompanying flush of heat with it. If the erotic dance of fingertips against skin was not arousing enough, the knowledge that it is Serena's fingers and the memory of the depths of pleasure that they can draw from Bernie’s body brings a hard ache to her core and she can feel the slickness forming between her thighs. Serena clasps her nipple between her nails and tugs it lightly. Bernie lets out a lewd moan that will not be withheld no matter how hard she tries.

“Good morning. I guess I know you are awake by that sinful sound you just made.” Serena’s voice has a smoky, husky tone that Bernie could gladly listen to for the rest of her days.

“Good morning. I guess I know you are awake by the sinful things your hand has been doing to my body.” Bernie turns over in Serena’s arms, as much as she was enjoying the sweet, sharp bliss of Serena’s abrading fingernails, she wants to gaze at the woman. Wants to see how she looks fresh from her sleep.

Bernie is not disappointed. Her short locks are mussed from their frenzied night, her eyelids still droopy but the fire contained within is anything but. Serena leans forward bringing their mouths together in a soft, sweet kiss. She can taste the sourness of sleep on her, knows she must taste the same on her own lips and doesn’t pull back. She runs her hand up Serena’s arm, around her neck and into her short locks, tangling her fingers and tugging her head back. The sharp pull opens her mouth and Bernie pushes her tongue slowly past her lips, dipping in before retreating. Serena’s own tongue chases hers back, rubbing first then stroking soft circles against her tip.

Bernie smiles. “That’s a nice way to say hello.”

“Hmmm I completely agree.”

“Can we make it a rule that we always say hello like this?”

“I’m game if you are. Hanssen might have something to say about it though when we meet at the restaurant.”

“Oh don’t remind me.” Bernie throws her arm across her eyes trying to block out the memory of being interrupted by their boss snogging like teenagers in his office.

“Shall I remind you of a more pleasant memory instead?” Bernie has not even had time to shift her arm when she feels Serena’s mouth soothing against the nipple she was only moments before scraping and pinching. Bernie gasps and wriggles underneath her, the wetness from earlier still slippery between her thighs only heightens her arousal and she clenches her legs together to try and quell her need. “How am I doing so far? Still worrying about Hanssen?”

Bernie grits her teeth to contain the moan of sheer bliss that Serena is eliciting from her. “Perhaps you need to try harder.” Serena bites down on her tender flesh and Bernie cries out against it.

“Is that your final assessment?” The pain is intense but the sharpening of the ache between her legs says she won’t let Serena stop.

“Right now you could ask me my own name and I couldn’t say. Serena, please…..” Bernie grasps her hair firmly and pushes her down lower and lower to meet the silky wetness she caused.

“Anything for you Ms Wolfe.”

 

“Serena!” Bernie is calling her to her from the en-suite but Serena’s body is too gloriously exhausted to move. She can only grunt in response. “Just how do you think I am going to cover all of these up?” Serena raises her head and looks up at the still naked form of Bernie standing in the doorway, Bernie is gesturing to the haphazard array of purpling bruises and vivid red scratches covering her entire torso.

“Clothes usually work for me.”

“Oh very funny. We change in a communal locker room.”

“Hardly think you are one to talk.” Serena pokes her leg out from under the covers and Bernie can see the livid bite marks scattering her upper and inner thighs.

“At least you can hide those more easily.”

“Yes but if anyone does see them it leaves little to the imagination.” Serena huffs indignantly. Bernie just pinches her lips and tries to hide her smug smile.

“Fair point. Changing in the ladies toilet for a while then?”

“At the same time? That really would leave little to the imagination.” Bernie tries to suppress the smirk that is curling on her lips and Serena can feel her skin start to prickle in response again.

 

Serena is already dressed when Bernie emerges downstairs, freshly showered and in the process of buttoning one of Serena’s old shirts. It is a little baggy and brightly coloured for Bernie’s tastes but needs must. Serena offers her the remnants of her tattered shirt from last night.

“Bin it?”

“No I think I’ll hold onto it. A little reminder of a very wild night, quite literally, judging by the tattered state of that shirt. Serena frowns, her face falls a little. “Sorry did I say something wrong?”

“No it’s just. Is that what we are? What we were? A wild night?”

“Well it was, but no. I hope you know it wasn’t just sex but we have to be a bit careful. I mean with Hanssen, if we are something, then at some point I will have to tell him.”

Serena looks up almost shyly but her face has brightened and their eyes lock, holding each other’s gaze before Serena has to look away, heat pouring to her cheeks again. “I was about to make some breakfast, well brunch I guess.” Serena corrects with a pointed look to her watch. “Care to lend a hand?”

“What were you thinking?”

“Eggs Benedict? Lots of protein to repair exhausted muscles.” Serena pushes away from the worktop and takes a step closer to Bernie. “Lots of carbohydrate for energy.” Serena has edged closer still.

“Hmm carry on.”

“Lots of fat for....” Serena stops her progress across the kitchen and chews on her lip. “Well lots of fat for flavour.”

“Nice save Ms Campbell.” Bernie walks over and pulls her into a light hug, pecks a kiss to her lips. “Right shall I make the Hollandaise?” Bernie sets about making the sauce and Serena has still not moved an inch. “If you are just going to stand and watch, you could at least come here and do it.” Bernie tugs her over and wraps her arms around her own waist. Serena can feel herself pressed tightly to Bernie’s back as she prepares the sauce, enjoys the feeling of their bodies wiggling together as the egg yolk and melted butter are whisked vigorously over the pan of water. Bernie adds a squeeze of lemon juice before dipping her finger in to the sauce to taste it.

Serena reaches out and diverts her hand, bringing the finger between her own lips and closing her eyes as she envelops it, sucking the sauce clean away, swirling her tongue around to capture the full flavour. Serena can hear the hitch in Bernie’s breath, feels the frantic pounding of her heart against her face which is pressed so close to Bernie’s own as she does so and the blonde turns in her arms, releasing her finger to stroke Serena’s face before placing her lips against the brunette’s again. She suddenly pulls back, their eyes meet, both dark and stormy.

“More lemon?” Bernie asks and Serena smiles nodding slightly.

“Just a touch.”

 

Serena is just finishing plating up the breakfast, Bernie now curled around her back and placing distracting kisses to the side of her neck as she does.

“Stop that or this glorious Hollandaise will be ruined by the time we eat.”

Bernie hums against her neck and Serena thrills at the feeling, her eyes drifting closed. “We can always just make another.” Bernie mumbles against her skin but she pulls away slightly, disturbed the sudden ringing of the phone in her pocket. She slides it free and Serena turns around against her, Bernie’s head quirking in surprise at the name on the screen.

“I’m sorry Serena, I’ve got to take this.” She extricates herself from Serena’s embrace as she moves out of the kitchen and through to the living room to answer the call.

Bernie is only gone for two minutes but Serena can see the change in her as soon as she returns. Her face is pale and her hands are shaking as she goes to replace the phone in her pocket. Serena moves over to her, ghosts her hands soothingly up and down her upper arms.

“Bernie. Are you alright? What’s the matter?”

Bernie just looks stunned, looking around as if she has no idea where she is, her eyes blinking rapidly before she shakes herself free and rushes to collect her bag and coat. “I’m sorry Serena. I have to go.”

“Bernie, what has happened?” Serena can hear the worry in her own voice but Bernie is already at the door on her way out.

“I’ll call you.” Are the last words Bernie says as the door slams shut behind her.

 

Bernie doesn’t call. Not that day.

Bernie doesn’t call the next day, not even when she is absent from work. It is Henrik who tells Serena that she will be covering for Bernie for the next few days. Next few days…. what does that mean?

Serena lasts out until Wednesday morning before she picks up her phone and calls Bernie herself. It rings, two, three times…. Serena thinks that maybe she is not even going to answer it before it finally connects.

“Serena.” Even in just that one word, Bernie sounds exhausted.

“Bernie. Is everything OK? I have been worried about you”

“Yes look I’m fine. I’m sorry I did not get a chance to call. I have a few family problems I need to work through. I can’t talk about it over the phone. We’ll catch up when I am back.” Serena can hear her voice catch, the hesitation and she just wishes she could see her face, read her thoughts. “Sorry I’ve really got to go.” The phone line cuts before Serena can even say goodbye.

 

Serena doesn’t see Bernie again until Friday evening service and even then she is distant and distracted. She smiles when their eyes meet and she almost looks like she wants to say something, but then she slides her gaze back to the pass and the moment is gone.

Serena is trying to be as normal as possible, but the urge to soothe her and touch her is almost overwhelming. They do not get the chance to speak until after service has finished for the night.

"Serena." The sound of Bernie's voice in the otherwise empty changing room surprises her. "I know I owe you an explanation but not here please. Would you like me, would it be OK if I walked you home?" Bernie's smile was soft and the look of affection that shone in her gaze made Serena's stomach swirl.

"That would be nice. Are you ready to go now?" Bernie nodded and they finished closing up before heading slowly towards Serena's house. Bernie's fingers deliberately brushing the backs of Serena's as she sought to tangle them together. Serena doesn't resist and she feels Bernie squeeze tightly for a moment before softening her grip.

"The call I took on Monday when I was at your house. It was Charlotte." Bernie's croaks out at last. Serena can feel the tension running through the blonde's body as she tries to speak.

"It's ok. You don't need to explain."

"I want to it's just hard and I don't know how to even start."

"Come on let's get home and I'll pop the kettle on."

"Got anything stronger?" Serena just gives a tiny eye-roll and dips her head to one side in incredulity at the question. It makes Bernie smile and that makes Serena smile.

Bernie is cradling a hefty measure of a particularly fine single malt, rolling the tumbler between her hands when she finds the courage to speak again.

"Charlotte was assaulted. That unsuitable man I told you about. They had a fight and he tried to....” Bernie’s voice breaks and she can’t finish the sentence. Serena shifts over so they're pressed together from shoulder to knee and pulls Bernie into a loose hug. Her head falling to rest against Serena’s shoulder. They stay still like that for a while as Serena allows Bernie to compose herself. She feels her breathing steady against her neck and Bernie tenses to sit back up but Serena just tightens her arm to keep her rested against her.

"She fought him off. He didn’t get a chance to, she was able to stop it in time but she had to go through the forensic examination. Make a statement to the police. She hit him pretty hard to escape. He tried to press charges against her. That’s where I was on Wednesday when you called, at the police station with her. I’m sorry to have worried you, I could only focus on Charlotte.”

“You did the right thing and I would not expect anything different. So what happens now?”

“Charlotte is back with Marcus but he is not handling it very well, it's hard for him I think. I’ve asked Charlotte to move to Holby and come and live with me. She has said she will think about it but I know she is reluctant to leave her college and everything she knows. We’ll still have to go back to London for the court case if the CPS decide to press charges. We’re just waiting to find out if the case is strong enough."

“If there is anything I can do at all. You know you only have to ask.”

Bernie lifts her head and Serena allows her to move away, their eyes catching and it seems like so much flows between them in those moments, their fingers tangling in their laps, rubbing light circles against each other’s soft skin.

Bernie bites at her lip and Serena can see she is holding back, she reaches down and takes a large swig of her whisky, face scrunching as it burns briefly. “Maybe I should get going, I don’t want to keep you up.”

"You can stay here if you like. You can have the spare room or stay in with me.” Bernie smiles and finishes her drink before hauling Serena to her feet by their still entwined hands and leading her upstairs. Serena hunted out an old t-shirt of Elinor’s that would fit Bernie and they snuggled up, Bernie curled into Serena’s side, head resting on her shoulder and Serena placed a gentle kiss to the top of her head as they drifted into sleep together.

  

It's nearly midday on Monday and Serena has searched the whole house but she can't find her purse anywhere. Realises with a sigh of resignation that she must have left it at the restaurant last night. She has been so wrapped up worrying about Bernie over the weekend that she must have forgotten to pick it up last night when she closed. Still it is not far, she can easily nip in and get it.

When Serena enters the restaurant she expects to find it empty but the alarm is off and there is a light coming from the office. The door is propped open and she can see Henrik and Bernie sat in the midst of a conversation. Henrik’s eyes start at the movement in his eyeline and he notices Serena behind them. He raises his hand to still Bernie’s words and rises from his seat.

“Sorry Henrik. I left my purse here last night. I only realised when I went to get milk.” Serena’s eyes pan curiously to Bernie’s rigid form in office. “I’ll just grab it and leave you to it.”

“Perhaps your arrival is rather fortuitous Serena. When you have collected your things, perhaps you would have five minutes to join me in the office.” Serena nods slightly and heads nervously off to collect her purse, unsure what Henrik might want to speak to her about.

When she returns to the office, she is surprised to find that Bernie has disappeared, only the faint scent of her shampoo still lingering.

Henrik was straight down to business. He cleared his throat before proceeding. "Ms Campbell I asked you to join me as I would like to offer you the position of Head Chef of the Wyvern on a permanent basis.” Serena’s eyes widen in alarm at the implication of Henrik’s words.

“But Bernie….”

“Ms Wolfe will be moving on.”

“Henrik you cannot fire her for what has happened between us, it is down to me not Bernie.”

“I have not fired Ms Wolfe. She will be moving to set up a new restaurant for me that I am opening in London. It is a temporary assignment but please rest assured it will not affect the permanent nature of your job.”

"Henrik. You can’t send Bernie away, we’ve only just got our star back and she is the one who made it possible.”

"Ms Wolfe has indicated to me that you are more than capable of not only keeping our status but pushing us to even more. Based on what I have seen and what she has told me, I fully concur with her assessment. Given the close nature of your relationship with Ms Wolfe, may I suggest that you discuss any questions you may have directly with her before you give me your decision.” Hanssen is standing and it is clear that the conversation is over.

Serena is not sure if she is angry or relieved that Bernie is waiting for her when she emerges from the office. Bernie is casually propped against the bar when she and Henrik emerge. The tall Swede taking his leave with a brief nod to both ladies.

Serena knits her brows tightly together. “I can’t believe Hanssen is transferring you. You are still needed here, we can’t do this wiithout you.”

“Henrik is not forcing me to leave. I asked for the chance to lead the new restaurant. As for the Wyvern. I’m leaving it in the care of the person who turned the restaurant back around in the first place so I have no concerns about its or your future success.”

“You asked to go? Don’t you want to stay?”

Bernie steps forward and brings a hand to Serena’s shoulder, the other resting on her hip. “Of course I want to stay for so many reasons but Charlotte needs me. I’ve never been able to be there for her all those times that she needed me before, too busy serving Queen and country. I want to be with her now, this is going to be tough on her and she’s still my little girl.”

“Well I could come and visit. We could meet halfway.”

“No Serena. We both know relationships are tough enough when you work the hours we do. How many last long distance too. I don’t want that for us. It would break us completely. It has not been easy for me, making this decision but it is the right one.”

“I can’t do this without you.”

“Yes you can. You are the most talented instinctive chef I have ever met and I would recommend you to anyone who is looking for a top class Head Chef.”

“I don’t want to work with just anyone. I want to work with you.”

Bernie steps into Serena and wraps her arms around her. Presses a kiss to her temple and whispers softly against her ear. “I’m sorry. I really have to go.” Serena notices Bernie pull back but she keeps her eyes firmly closed, trying to blind herself to the reality of what Bernie is saying. She can feel Bernie trail her fingers ever so softly down from her hairline across her eyelids down her nose, past her lips to cup her chin before dropping the tenderest of kisses to her lips and Bernie's breath ghosting across her skin as she murmurs a hushed “Goodbye Serena.” before her fingers fade away and she waits for the bang of the door closing before she falls to her knees and lets the tears fall freely.

Chapter Text

“That you all packed up then love?” Bernie started at the sound of the raspy enquiry.

“Yes. That’s the last of it. I’ve just got to drop my keys back into the agent and then it’s back to London.” Bernie smiled at Mrs Jenkins gently but the older woman could see it failed to reach her eyes.

“Your girlfriend not going with you?”

“Oh she’s not, that is we’re not, we never really....” Bernie didn’t know how to finish. Was Serena her girlfriend? They never really had that conversation with everything that happened with Charlotte. The thought of it warmed inside her tummy, blooming outwards across her skin before the reality of her decisions turned it chill and she shivered.

“It’s OK you don’t have to panic, my eyesight might not be what it was but I’m not blind yet you know.” She gave a deep chuckle. “Was she not ready to go with you?” Bernie’s eyes shifted to the floor and she squirmed uncomfortably under Mrs Jenkins open gaze. “Don’t tell me you never asked! Oh Berenice. You really are hopeless.” Mrs Jenkins clucked her tongue and lightly shook her head before pulling Bernie into a hug. “Take care of yourself dear.”

“You too Mrs J. Thanks for everything.”

“You’ll be missed round here.” Bernie smiled and gave her a last wave before climbing into her car and with a few last steeling breaths leaving her home and Holby for the last time.

 


Serena couldn’t sleep. She never seemed to sleep anymore. She used to get a solid seven hours a night and could easily have managed more if her work would allow but not now. Not since the day Bernie had left.

It seemed so trite but her life had been fractured. Fractured into two parts. Her life before Bernie, which was a content existence but oh so grey, dull and lifeless. Then there was her life after Bernie which was a riot of colour and emotion; joy and desire; heart-break and pain and she was permanently altered. Bernie had opened her eyes to the truth of her life and how empty and soulless it was and now she had seen it, it couldn’t be unseen.

She found some solace in her work at least. Finally she had become Head Chef, the very thing that she had wanted and worked towards for so many years and she was good. She was very good. There was no denying though that what had made her good was Bernie. The spectrum of tone that Bernie had wrought onto her personal life bled into her working life. More often than not now when Serena faced a problem that she was unsure of she found herself asking. “What would Bernie do?”. More often that not she found the right answer and it brought a small smile to her face when she imagined Bernie’s incredulity at her capitulation then a twist to her gut when she realised she would never actually see that expression again.

Serena’s urge to be close to Bernie had also led her back to the Holby Real Food Project. She had wondered if they too might be missing Bernie and if she was to be pining like a lost puppy, she might as well do some good at the same time. They remembered her, asked after Bernie. Serena could only shrug and provide no comment as a sob caught in her throat.

It was theraputic working in the kitchen with the people that Bernie had chosen to surround herself with. She felt that little bit closer to her as they told her stories of Bernie’s time with them. The time Old Bert got down on one knee and proposed, ever the full blown romantic, until he needed Bernie to help him back up due to his hip replacement last year. His face shone when Bernie said if she ever wanted a husband again he would be her first port of call. Serena could almost see her face, imagine the expression, the fondness and she felt both gladdened and desperately lonely.

It was in her third week of volunteering she ran into Mrs Jenkins again. The older woman seeking her out.

“I heard you were back here.” She said with a knowing smile. “I wanted to come and see for myself but not been so well of late, been a bit housebound. Of course if Berenice had still been around, I’d of been on my feet ages ago. She always took care of me that one.” She must have seen Serena’s face fall at her words. “I’m sorry dear. I didn’t mean to upset you. You missing her?”

Serena can feel the sting in her eyes and the lock in her jaw as she tries to control the emotion that threatens to spill out. Finds she can only nod mutely at the woman.

“I know it’s presumptious of me but I have to ask. Why did you not go with her? You’re obviously unhappy here. Why else would you be spending your free time with the likes of me, Tommy and Old Bert over there?”

“It’s not what Bernie wanted. She wanted to go and be with her family. I was not part of that.”

“Hogwash. You’re a coward.” Serena visibly bristles at the starkness of the assessment. “You love her, she loves you. She has to be in London. What is keeping you here? If you’re waiting for Old Bert, I’m afraid Bernie stole his heart already. Yours too by all accounts.”

“Bernie doesn’t love me. She left me. Didn’t even tell me herself, that’s how little I mean to her.”

“No dear. That’s how much you mean to her. If what she feels for you isn’t love I don’t know what is. Do you love her?”

Serena paused. No-one had asked her to express her feelings for Bernie quite as directly as this before. As she thought about it the warmth in her stomach returned, spreading across her body, every cell it touched left tingling deliciously and she found herself grinning like a fool. “Yes. I really think I do.”

“So are you going to stay here and pine for her forever? Or are you going to do something about it?” Serena’s smile just spread further and Mrs Jenkins had her answer. “Good girl.”


It had taken Serena three solid days of snatched hours between shifts; hunting through long forgotten cardboard boxes; sifting through reams of paperwork to find the folder she had spent so much time and effort on all those years ago. It needed some work to bring it up to date but most of the information was still sound, she just needed to put her plan into action.


Bernie didn’t realise how fundamental Serena had become to her life until she had walked away. She could still remember every detail of their last parting. The feel of her skin under her fingertips, tracing every beautiful line and curve, touch imprinting her indelibly to her memory. The salty taste of the tears that had slipped unstemmed from her eyes as Bernie kissed her for the last time. The last clutch of their tangled hands as she drew back, moved away from the woman she loved. The realisation of the depth of her feelings had been a shock at first but as she came to accept the veracity of them, they wrapped around her like a blanket.

She didn’t regret the choice she made, it was still the right decision, Charlotte needed her and with the court case looming now more than ever. She had found a new closeness with her youngest child that she could never recall before, even in Charlotte’s childhood. Bernie always away more than home or so it had felt. Now with Charlotte living with her and being busy with the restaurant start-up, she had more to be happy about, despite the circumstances, than she had in years.

None of that dispelled the ache, the almost constant feeling of something missing. A Serena shaped void that nothing seemed to fill. At work she would turn to ask her opinion on something before remembering she was not there and it ached again. At home she would be strong for Charlotte; be the parent she needed, the parent Marcus wasn’t and couldn’t be, but at night when she crumbled and the facade fell away, Bernie missed the way Serena had held her and soothed her and the longing intensified again. So she buried herself in work and Charlotte and tried to keep the loneliness at bay.

It was nearly a month after Bernie left that she got a text from Serena. It was polite but very formal, asking after Charlotte and how she was. Repeating if there was anything she could do just to ask. Bernie longed to reply. Tell her to just come here and hold her, never let go, but that was not Bernie. Never had been.

She composed a reply over and over again. Settled on a simple “We’re coping, together, just about. Thanks for the offer. I’ll let you know if there is anything. B x”

Serena didn’t reply and Bernie was unsure if she was pleased that she was not begging her to come back or upset that she didn’t seem to crave her the way Bernie did. Serena had been the one to reach out though so maybe she did still feel something for her after all.

 

Serena’s plan was well under way. She had spent the last 5 weeks splitting her time between her Head Chef duties at the Wyvern and getting all the key elements in place. She looked down at her list five items still outstanding. The first two were not to be pleasant but they had to be done, the next 2 were time consuming but feasible. It was just the final item that made her nervous. Could she really do this? It was not so much a question as a call to arms. She had no choice now. She had to do this. Taking a last deep breath, she pulled the last remnants of courage from her reserves and picked up the phone.

"Hi. It's Serena. I need to meet with you urgently. I have some news....."

 

E7 had been open for two weeks already, the team were beginning to get to grips with everything and Bernie could see her assignment approaching its end. The problem was, she had no idea what she was going to do next. She could go for another Head Chef role in London, she needed to be around for Charlotte after all. Then there was the thought of returning to Holby. There was no job for her there, Serena was a more than capable Head Chef and she would never dream of ousting her, nor could she go and work for her, but even after 15 weeks, the pull she felt was still as strong as ever.

Bernie had never felt like this before. With Marcus and even Alex, as soon as she was no longer in their company, the pining seemed to fade and she was able to refocus on work, the army, the kitchen, whatever she needed to concentrate on, with relative ease. Things were different. Serena was different. Perhaps she was truly in love for the first time in her life.

It was almost fate then that it was at this moment that her phone would spring to life. Serena’s name lighting up the home screen. Bernie frowned and waved goodnight to a couple of the straggling staff just heading home after a long night shift before she reached for it and opened the message.

S: I miss you

It was a simple statement, just three words but it meant everything to Bernie. Serena was still missing her, maybe as much as Bernie missed her back.

B: I miss you too x

Bernie berated herself. She should have said more, told her how she really felt. She was just starting to type again when she was stopped by a sound behind her.

“How much?” Bernie turned in surprise on hearing Serena’s voice, her thumb still hovering in mid air. They locked eyes for a moment. Then Bernie was moving, covering the distance in three long strides and wrapping Serena in her arms, face buried into her neck.

“More than I can even say.” She murmured into the heated skin she pressed against her lips.

“You really mean it?”

Bernie pulled her face back and slid her arms from Serena’s waist, hands trailing up her sides to cup her face. Held it firm as their eyes met again. Serena reached up, hands trembling, to brush Bernie’s still ridiculously long fringe from her face, tucked it gently behind her ear. Bernie gave her a shy smile as the words fell from her lips “Absolutely”. Serena slid her fingers down and round to the back of Bernie’s neck, felt the soft hair at the nape and tickled it gently then dug her fingers into the skin and pulled her firmly towards her. Their mouths met fiercely, messily, each trying to express three months of yearning into that tiny moment and when they drew away they were both breathless.

“Serena, please don't think I'm not overjoyed to see you but what are you doing here?" Bernie's gaze straying between Serena's eyes and lips as she spoke. "I assume Henrik has given you a few days off and that you haven’t just skivved. I don't want an angry Swede baying for my blood."

“I've been here on business and as for Henrik, well actually I’ve resigned.” If Bernie is surprised at that she is totally floored by Serena’s next revelation. “And now homeless as I’ve sold the house. Completed last week.”

“Serena, why would you do that? It’s your home. It's a part of you, full of your memories. You can’t just get rid of it.”

“It’s a building. Nothing more. I know now that my home is wherever you are and I hope we will make our own memories. Together.”

“But what about work. You can’t do nothing and I will be out of work soon.” Bernie chewed on her lip nervously.

“You should know me better that that Ms Wolfe. I have something sorted already.”

“That’s good but I won’t be supported by you Serena. I need to find some work.”

“I do happen to know of someone looking for a Head Chef for their restaurant. Perhaps you might apply for that. It’ll be a tough job. The owner has exacting standards but I’m sure if I put in a good word, you’ll get an interview at least.”

"That will mean we are back working long hours away from each other. All the issues we faced before are still there but within a ten mile radius instead of fifty."

"You can be so pessimistic sometimes. It won't be that bad."

“Will it be near to where you are working?” Serena nods and Bernie relaxes a little at last, a small smile of hope curling at her lip. “I suppose it’s worth a shot. Who’s the owner?”

“Me. I signed the lease this afternoon. Fancy running a restaurant with me Ms Wolfe?” Bernie’s face broke into the widest smile before falling back into a faint frown.

“But you always dreamed of being a Head Chef.”

“Actually I always wanted my own restaurant, Head Chef was a stepping stone. I never had the courage to do it alone, I’m hoping I don’t have to now.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?”

“It’s completely crazy but I thought all I wanted was to become Head Chef at The Wyvern, but when I got it, I was miserable. Turns out actually all I want is you.” Serena is now the one biting her lip nervously, still unsure if Bernie feels the same.

“Well that’s lucky for me, because being away from you has torn me apart. I love every scheming, kniving, manipulative, kind, generous, thoughtful, caring bone in your body. Mmmph.” Serena silences her with a brusing kiss.

“Finished with the character assasination?” Bernie nods eyes still fixed on Serena’s lips, tongue darting out to taste the lipstick she has left behind. “Good. We have lots of details to discuss.”

“Yes, we have to get some ground rules in place. I assume that I will be in charge at the restaurant day to day...” Bernie's words half muffled as she intersperses them with delicate kisses to Serena's lips. She can't help but smile against the brunette's mouth; had quite forgotten how much fun it was to wind her up.

Serena pulls away from Bernie's persistent lips to look at her appraisingly. “Haven't even opened and you are trying to top me already Ms Wolfe!” Bernie’s eyes darken as she takes in the suggestive tilt of Serena’s eyebrow and suddenly the brunette finds herself pushed back against the wall, Bernie’s frame moulded to her body in all the right places.

“If you insist Ms Campbell, I’ll be only too happy to oblige” Serena moans as Bernie finally pushes against her, the three month wait making the heightened sensation only stronger.

“Take me home Bernie. I want to spend the whole night reacquainting myself with your body and as much as I want you right this second and oh I really, really do, I may not be able to stop when we start.” Bernie was already half way out the restaurant before Serena had even finished speaking.


The bang of the door stirred Serena from her sleep. Bernie as usual pressed up against her, nose buried in her skin and arms clenching her tight. They had barely been apart since Serena had walked into the restaurant that night but it seemed that Bernie wanted to cling onto her every night, just in case. Serena had been there clutching Bernie's hand as Tristan had received his five year custodial sentence, it didn't fix everything overnight but slowly, under the combined care of Bernie and Serena, Charlotte was regaining her confidence.

Serena tried to lie still and not disturb the beautiful creature wrapped around her but the urging of her bladder forced her to lever herself from Bernie’s embrace. The blonde wriggled at the loss of contact and by the time Serena was back from the bathroom she was already rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Morning darling.” Serena whispered as she slid back beneath the covers. Bernie mumbled incomprehensibly before sliding over and pulling Serena’s body back against hers. Serena enjoyed the warmth of her embrace for a few minutes before pushing herself hard against the body behind her and delighting in the gasp she received in response. She wondered idly as she ground her bum gently against her girlfriend’s crotch if she would ever stop delighting in Bernie’s body. Almost as if in answer Bernie's fingers drew a needy groan from her lips as they slid under her pajama top and started wandering up her abdomen, tracing circles before running under the curve of her breast and pinching her nipple. Bernie's hips pressing against Serena’s backside and lips attacking her neck with passionate kisses.

“How long do we have before those people arrive?” Bernie asked casually as she licked at the spot behind Serena’s ear.

“Not long.” Serena husked in reply as Bernie’s wandering fingers took a southerly detour.

“I’d best be quick then and you’d best be quiet, if you can.” Serena was about to protest but she knew Bernie was right, she had yet to manage a quiet orgasm where Bernie was concerned.

“It’s OK, I heard Charlotte go out before you woke up.”

Bernie rolled Serena onto her back and pounced on top of her. “Even better. Outrageously loud morning sex.” She grinned before her mouth fell to the hollow of Serena’s throat and she swirled her tongue around the dip, making Serena’s hips cant. “How long did you say we had?”

“We’ve only got an hour.”

“An hour! Plenty of time, I'll even squeeze in an encore before they arrive.”

“Bernie it’s an interview with a Sunday supplement about the restaurant. We can’t rock up with ‘I’ve just been shagged' hair. It mightn’t really help get the business off the ground!”

“'I've just been shagged twice' hair actually." Serena scowls at the facetious remark before Bernie relents. "OK you win. Just once. Then perhaps we can shower together to save time and if our hands happen to roam a little, it's purely accidental.” Bernie waggles her eyebrows and Serena huffs good naturedly at her persistence. “Don’t tell me I don’t know how to compromise.” Bernie adds cheekily. Serena was about to retort but as she watched the last of the blonde curls slither beneath the covers Serena’s mind went blank and she gave herself over to Bernie completely.

In the end this was the most valuable lesson Serena learned - the only satisfactory outcome of war was to find a compromise.

And Bernie's compromise was very, very satisfactory indeed....

Chapter Text

I have come across London to a discreet little tea room tucked away from the usual tourist haunts of high street brands to meet Serena Campbell and Berenice Wolfe. They are perhaps not household names but are well known within the thriving field of British Michelin starred cuisine. We are meeting today to talk about their new venture as they look set to open their first restaurant together.

Both women come with uncompromising reputations. Serena, until recently Head Chef at the one Michelin star Wyvern in Holby and Berenice, or Bernie as she insists I call her, Wolfe a rising star on the culinary circuit, former sous chef at L’Sauvage and also former Head Chef of Wyvern before establishing the newly opened but flourishing E7 in Covent Garden.

We take some time for pleasantries as they between them choose us a selection of the highly recommended patisserie from the array on offer to accompany our mid-morning tea.

When I ask how they met, they smile conspiratorially at each other and Serena explains how they met while working at the Wyvern.

“Henrik (Hanssen) the owner of the Wyvern brought Bernie in after our former Head Chef Michael Spence resigned. It took us a little while to find the best way of working together,” Serena’s mouth quirked at this and I wonder if there is a story behind that tiny smile, “but we got there in the end.”

“Serena Campbell: Queen of the understatement.”

Bernie leans in as if she is going to reveal a closely guarded secret. “Serena hated me when I started. She even made the odd attempt at sabotage to try to get me to leave.” Serena playfully cuffs Bernie round the ear for that, which she takes with a grin, before continuing “Thankfully once we started working together I think we both came to realise how well we complemented each other. Serena has this incredible gift for flavour and texture combinations,” Bernie continues, “way beyond anything I could aspire to. It seems to come so naturally to her, I learn by experience what has worked and what hasn’t and it could take me months trying to perfect what she is able to achieve in days.” Bernie enthuses. Serena is blushing at the effusive praise from her partner but is just as quick to reciprocate.

“Bernie is a Head Chef for a reason though. Her ability to tease the very best out of her team is second to none. She achieves greatness in the same way as she did as an army Major. As the leader of a team, yes, but more importantly as one of the team. Someone respected and admired by everyone who works with her and therefore the person all the best aspiring chefs want to work for.” I watch as Bernie drops her head at the comment and a light pink tinge colours her cheeks and busies herself with sharing the selection of cakes out between our three plates. “Honestly. We are blessed with the array of talented people that have wanted to come and work with us on this new project and that really is a testament to the woman sat next to me.”

So when did you realise you were destined to be more than just work colleagues, I ask. Both shift a little, notoriously tight lipped about their personal relationship with all but their closest friends.

“It’s not an easy question to answer. I’m not sure I could pinpoint a particular time, working so closely together for so many hours a relationship evolves. It just so happened that we evolved into friendship, then best friends, then lovers and now partners.” Bernie turns to look at her girlfriend for reassurance; Serena has a wicked smirk on her face.

“Oh I can be a bit more precise than that. It was one morning when I walked into the locker room to a delightful view of Bernie bent over in very tight fitting Lycra running shorts. I can give you a date and time if you’d like…ouch” Bernie has lightly punched her on the arm but is grinning as she does.

I ask them then what made them take the step to owning and running a business together. “I had always dreamed of starting my own restaurant but lacked the courage to really do it.” Serena adds. “When Bernie needed to return to London for personal reasons, it gave me the incentive to bite the bullet and make it happen.”

“Well I for one am very glad she did it. She gave me a job after all!” Bernie jokes before her face softens into a look of such pure adoration that I wonder if I have ever looked at anyone like that and feel a sense of envy at their easy affection. “In all seriousness it is a dream to be able to work with your partner doing a job you love, I am thankful every day.”

Their new venture Celui - meaning simply “the one”, a 20 cover chic establishment tucked away in Camden Town is clearly a joint effort in all senses of the word. Serena explains they are going back to their culinary roots with a French classic inspired menu.

“The dishes are instantly recognisable French stalwarts but using modern techniques to bring more lightness of touch but without the sometimes overbearing richness of the heavy butter and cream content.” Serena explains.

“We’re really looking to capture the sheer joy of eating French classics without the guilt.” Bernie continues.

“Bernie’s idea. I would quite happily keep the all the rich, indulgence of the originals.” Serena interjects as Bernie clucks her tongue at her but with such fondness the light-hearted reprimand carries no weight to it.

When I ask about how they came to turn the idea for the restaurant into reality I can see Bernie’s face glaze and turn to her partner. “No point in asking me, I lack the imagination and business skills for that.” She puts her hand to the knee of the woman next to her and squeezes it. “It’s Serena who is the brains of it all. I’m just the brawn she keeps around to make sure everyone stays in line.” The pair seem to emit a glow when they talk about each other that is quite overwhelming to observe and leave anyone who witnesses that this is a partnership in every sense of the word; a joining of equals.

“Bernie is too modest.” Serena adds,” It took a lot of work from both of us and a lot of hours to get this beyond a vague pipedream. There were times when I think we wondered if our relationship would come out the other side unscathed but we made it and we’re still speaking to each other.”

It leads me to ask if they argue at home when they disagree over decisions at work and it is Bernie who remarks first. “Hmm we certainly disagree a fair amount, but if we do argue, we never lose respect for each other and try not to go to bed without talking it through.”

“I think we have learned to talk about things rather than assuming. Something we perhaps did not do well at the start of our relationship.” Serena concludes and Bernie gives a small bark of a laugh at her assessment.

Was it love at first sight? I enquire. Both chuckle at this and I find myself overcome by Bernie and the most extraordinary laugh I have ever heard in my life. Serena must notice my alarm as she raises her hand to stroke at Bernie’s own and smiles affectionately at her. “Isn’t it the most wonderful thing you have ever heard?” she stage whispers fondly before schooling herself again to address my question “No I think we would both agree it was not love at first sight.”

“Maybe love at first fight would be a more fitting description.” Bernie adds and they share a look between them that seems to hold a whole gamut of memories for them. Sat here watching them I feel like I am intruding on an unspoken but very intimate conversation. Eventually they seem to remember my presence and break their gaze but their hands and fingers remain closely twined and I can’t help but wish that we all could be as lucky as them.

Celui opens November 3rd and if Bernie and Serena can invigorate their menu with half as much passion as they hold for each other, it will clearly be a roaring success. I for one will certainly be making a reservation to find out.