Bernie feels Serena tense beside her, hears the tiny growl at the back of her throat.
‘If he tries to get between us and a well-deserved bottle of Shiraz,’ she mutters.
‘Then I’ll help you hide the body,’ Bernie finishes.
They turn around together, Serena arranging her face into a non-murderous expression.
‘I was hoping I’d catch you,’ Ric says, striding to join them just inside the entrance to Wyvern Wing.
‘Well, catch us you did,’ Serena replies. ‘What was it you wanted?’
‘Due to unforeseen circumstances we’ve got two free places at the acute care conference in York over the weekend, and I wondered if the two of you might like to go? It seems a shame to waste them.’
They look at each other, eyes meeting in a wordless conversation, and miss Ric’s knowing smile.
‘I’ll cover AAU,’ he says when they both hesitate.
‘I’m game if you are,’ Bernie offers.
‘Oh, why not,’ Serena relents. ‘It’ll save me rattling around the house while Jason is at Alan’s.’
‘And save me a Saturday night shift,’ Bernie adds. ‘So thanks for that, Ric.’
‘I’ll send you the details,’ Ric promises, watching them walk out towards Albie’s, so close their arms brush. He grins and chuckles to himself, then heads back in to send the necessary emails and put his plan into motion.
‘I’m going to kill Ric,’ Serena mutters as the room door closes behind the young porter who had carried their bags up and left as quickly as he could in the face of Serena’s barely contained ire.
Because it’s been a long day – a long shift followed by a long, if shared, drive – and now they’re finally here it seems that there’s only one room booked for Holby City – and thanks to the conference there are no free rooms in the hotel tonight.
And on top of that, the room they do have isn’t a twin.
‘Is it really that bad, having to share a bed with me for a night?’ Bernie asks hesitantly, forcing her voice to remain light. ‘I mean it could be worse – you could be here with Ric himself.’
‘True,’ Serena half sighs, half laughs. She sits heavily on the bed, bouncing slightly, looks at Bernie who, despite her attempts to hide it, looks crestfallen, and holds out her hand. ‘I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be forced to share with,’ she says sincerely.
And it’s true, she can’t. The only problem is, what she wants from sharing a bed with Bernie is – well, it isn’t exactly chaste or friend-slash-colleague appropriate. Which means that right now the reality of it feels like it’s going to be the most exquisite form of torture.
Did Ric do this on purpose? she wonders, wishing yet again that she hadn’t caved and told him about Bernie, about how she’s fallen head over heels for her.
Bernie steps closer, takes her outstretched hand, suppresses a shiver as their skin touches. ‘Me neither,’ she replies.
Serena in bed. Serena beside her in bed. She has longed for this. Dreamed of it, more than once, only to wake up alone and cold and disappointed.
That isn’t what Serena wants, she reminds herself. She’s had to remind herself of this more and more since Serena has become comfortable around her again, since Serena has started touching her again. Has had to squash down the longing to kiss her again. It’s going to be torture, she thinks, suppressing a shiver as Serena’s thumb rubs across the backs of her fingers.
The tall man sat opposite Marcus gets up between courses, giving him a clear view of the dining room. He looks around, clocking the familiar faces, exchanges nods and smiles with a couple of ex-colleagues. And then, in the far corner, he spots them. They’re at a table with six others but clearly have eyes only for each other. He recognises Serena from the day he spent at Holby City, watches as she leans closer to Bernie and straightens her collar, her fingers lingering, catching bare skin before she draws away.
Bernie is gazing at her, open and happy and warm. Marcus remembers when he looked at Bernie like that, wonders if she ever looked at him like that or if he just imagined it.
He watches as she picks up a bottle of wine and gestures at Serena’s glass, as she laughs at a comment he can’t hear and then refills it, as she tops up her own glass and then taps it against Serena’s. The tall man returns to his seat then, but not before Marcus sees the way their gazes lock, the way a long moment passes before either of them remembers to drink, the way a soft blush colours Bernie’s cheeks as she ducks her head and looks away.
Over dessert he falls back into conversation with his dining companions, pushes Bernie and her evident happiness from his mind. But afterwards, in a corner of the bar with a beer in his hand, he can’t stop his eyes from straying to them as they both smile and laugh and keep bloody gazing at each other like lovestruck fools, Serena’s hand on Bernie’s arm more often than not. He can’t help but resent it, his hand clenching almost painfully around his glass at how unfair it is: that she should find happiness now, after all the pain she’s caused. Part of him wants to go over there, to tell her just how unfair it is, just how much it hurts seeing her flaunt her new relationship – but doing that here, among their peers, would tarnish his reputation too.
So instead he does nothing. Orders a whiskey along with his next beer and downs it as they leave arm in arm, their strides perfectly matched as they head for the lift. He downs the scotch in one, decides he can’t face a whole day of seeing how quickly and easily she’s moved on and orders another. Two of his colleagues are here: St James’ will still get all the knowledge and networking it needs without him.
They’ve been lying in bed for at least an hour but Serena’s no closer to sleep. She can’t stop thinking about the fact that Bernie is just inches from her, that if she were to close the gap she could touch her, kiss her, do all the things her heated imagination has conjured when she’s been alone and lonely and wanting in her own bed.
Bernie is motionless beside her but it’s not the soft stillness of sleep and she can feel the tension radiating from her, wonders if she too is scared to let go enough to sleep because she doesn’t trust her body not to gravitate towards her. They could spend the entire night like this, with this elephant taking up the middle of the bed. Or–
‘Bernie?’ Serena whispers into the darkness, before she can change her mind.
Serena turns her head, can’t see Bernie but knows she’s looking right at her. From the rustle and slight shift of the mattress, Bernie is doing the same.
‘Do you–’ she starts, then stops and takes a breath.
‘Never mind,’ she says with a tiny shake of her head, her resolve wavering at the sound of Bernie’s voice.
Another rustle, another shift, and then she jumps and gasps because Bernie’s fingers have inched across the gap and are on her bare arm, still at first and then caressing in tiny abstract patterns.
‘What?’ Bernie repeats. ‘You know you can tell me anything, Serena.’
‘I– I can’t forget it,’ Serena whispers.
Bernie’s fingers stop moving, and Serena knows she doesn’t need to elaborate. She’s both glad for and resentful of the darkness, of not being able to see Bernie’s expression. Mostly glad, though, because she thinks she might never have found the courage to say anything otherwise, thinks they might have just gone on like this forever.
‘I’m sorry,’ Bernie says eventually.
Serena worries that she’s going to remove her hand and turn away, but she doesn’t.
‘I’m not,’ Serena says bravely. She covers Bernie’s hand with hers, sweeps her fingers across Bernie’s knuckles.
She hears Bernie swallow hard, hears her intake of breath. ‘You, uh, you aren’t?’
‘No,’ Serena says firmly. She rolls onto her side, slowly slides her fingers between Bernie’s and feels the unsteady whoosh of air when she gasps, so close their noses must almost be touching.
‘I’m nervous, I’ll admit, but I know what I want. And I want to kiss you again, Bernie.’
‘Are you sure?’
Serena shifts just a little, her nose bumping against Bernie’s. ‘Yes,’ she murmurs.
Bernie waits, frozen in the darkness. Waits as Serena gently touches her face, blindly mapping her features. Waits as Serena’s fingertips brush her fringe from her eyes, dance across her cheeks, trace her dry lips. Waits as Serena kisses her with equally dry lips, soft and tender and lingering, and she thinks she’s never been kissed with such care before.
And then Serena lays her head on Bernie’s pillow, their foreheads resting together, Serena’s palm warm on her cheek, and Bernie can somehow hear a smile in her sigh. She finally moves then, by some miracle manages to find Serena’s face without poking her in the eye.
‘You don’t want to keep this confined to conferences too, do you?’
There’s a lightness to Serena’s voice but Bernie can hear the seriousness of the question, knows a flippant answer will not do here. Nor will a cowardly one, not when Serena has been so brave. Not when she’s been given a second chance at what she so desperately wants.
‘No,’ she replies. She sweeps her thumb across Serena’s cheekbone, nuzzles her nose, brushes their lips together once, twice, three times.
‘Jolly good,’ Serena smiles.
There’s a moment of glorious stillness, and Bernie thinks that for the first time in forever her life is perfectly balanced. And then suddenly she yawns.
‘Not boring you, am I?’ Serena teases, feeling the heat of Bernie’s blush beneath her hand.
‘Never. It’s just been a long day.’
‘I know,’ Serena agrees.
‘I don’t want you to think I don’t–’
Serena stops her with another soft kiss. ‘I know,’ she repeats, a murmur against Bernie’s lips. She rolls over, draws Bernie’s arm around her waist, tugs until Bernie shuffles closer and presses snug against her back.
There’s a puff of breath on the juncture of her neck and shoulder, and then the heat of Bernie’s mouth makes her shiver.
Ric’s going to be insufferable, Serena thinks wryly as they settle and resettle, finding how their bodies best fit together, how to tangle their limbs comfortably. And then, with Bernie’s hand clasped in hers, Bernie’s cold toes against her ankles, Bernie’s nose pressed in behind her ear: I should thank him.
First thing on Monday morning, on his usual circuit of the hospital, Hanssen turns the corner on the stairs to find Ric on the next landing, hands clasped behind his back as he stares out across the car park.
‘Mr Griffin,’ he says, standing beside him and following his gaze.
‘Admiring the view or waiting for someone?’
‘Just a hunch,’ Ric replies cryptically.
Hanssen watches as Ric’s eye tracks a grey convertible into a space, as the occupants get out, as they start walking towards Wyvern Wing, side by side. As Bernie reaches for Serena's hand. As Serena tangles their fingers and looks at her. As they exchange the brightest of smiles.
Ric smiles too, and hums with satisfaction. Hanssen says nothing. But when he and Ric part ways he allows just the very corners of his lips to curve upwards.
He says nothing again when he pays a visit to AAU a short while later and witnesses a sum of money being passed between Nurse Fletcher and Mr di Lucca. Nor when he pauses just outside the consultants’ office and observes Ms Wolfe perched on the edge of Ms Campbell’s desk, their clasped hands resting on Bernie’s thigh, matching soft smiles on both their tired faces.
He slips away without announcing himself. The hospital is busier now, swarming with nurses and porters and patients; this time he doesn’t allow himself to smile until he’s safely back in his office with the door firmly closed behind him.
‘Sweet of him not to disturb us, don’t you think?’
‘Not sure I’ve ever heard anyone use the word ‘sweet’ to describe Henrik Hanssen, but yes,’ Serena smiles. ‘Now, I think we need to find out who profited from the book Fletch has no doubt been running on us.’
‘So we can confiscate the winnings and chastise them for gambling on the personal lives of their superiors?’ Bernie guesses.
‘So they can get the first round in tonight,’ Serena corrects her.
‘Tonight?’ Bernie asks, voice tinged with disappointment.
Serena looks at her shrewdly, grazes her little finger across Bernie’s thigh and smiles at the quiver of muscle, the hitch in Bernie’s breath, the darkening of her eyes. ‘Something else you’d rather be doing?’ she asks innocently.
Bernie shakes her fringe from her eyes and looks at her fully, and Serena shivers from the heat in her gaze, the longing she’s fought to keep veiled for so long suddenly all too apparent.
‘You can’t look at me like that here,’ Serena says unsteadily, dropping her gaze to her desk, free hand tugging at her pendant.
‘Like what?’ Bernie asks, low and smoky.
‘Like you want to eat me alive.’
‘You did ask what I’d rather be doing.’
‘More fool me,’ Serena mutters. But when Bernie tries to pull her hand away and stand up she holds tight. ‘One drink? To at least try and make it look like we aren’t completely desperate to fall into bed?’
‘Ok,’ Bernie smiles. ‘But for it to work you’ll have to stop looking at me like that too,’ she adds with a wink, slipping from Serena’s suddenly weak grasp and sauntering out onto the ward.
‘Oh dear lord,’ Serena whispers, staring up at the ceiling and taking a deep breath.
‘I think you owe me a drink.’
‘Am I surrounded by people who need to wear louder shoes?’ Serena snaps.
Ric smiles and pushes the door to behind him, leans against it and surveys Serena’s flushed cheeks and glittering eyes, the smile her surprise at his intrusion and her annoyance at his meddling can’t quite hide.
‘You know, your little plan could have backfired horribly and you might at this very moment have been searching for a new trauma surgeon,’ she points out.
‘But it didn’t.’
‘No,’ Serena admits, biting her lip to keep her smile from widening.
‘Albie’s later?’ he suggests. ‘Unless you have, uh, other plans, of course.’
‘I’ll see you later, Ric,’ Serena says, a warning edge to her voice. ‘Now, don’t you have something better to do that loitering around here? I swear I never had time for that when I was Deputy CEO.’
‘Alright, I get the message,’ he smiles. ‘I’m happy for you, Serena,’ he adds, his hand on the door handle. ‘Both of you.’
‘Ric?’ she calls as he steps out onto the ward.
He turns back, eyebrows raised.
‘You’re very welcome. Mine’s a scotch.’