“Will you?” Bernie pleads, staring up at Serena with her big dark eyes imploring.
Serena almost laughs, “If you really need me to.”
Which is how Serena finds herself wearing a ball gown which hasn’t been out of her cupboard in a couple of years, waiting for Bernie to pick her up for Holby’s first civic Pride event. All the major organisations in the town will be there, showing off how LGBT friendly they are. Not Bernie’s scene at all, she thinks wryly. She’ll have to socialise, and Bernie is really not good at small talk, dress up smartly when her favourite clothes, as far as Serena can tell, are her scrubs. Hanssen had twisted her arm into attending. As Holby City’s most senior LGBT employee her presence was, if not actually mandatory, then certainly expected.
Bernie had been almost desperate when she asked Serena to be her plus one. Claimed (correctly) that Serena had much more experience at these sort of events, that she was better at polite chit chat (also true) and that without a lady on her arm she would be a target for any single women of the sapphic persuasion there (almost definitely true). How could a friend resist such a plea, Serena wonders as she waits by her door.
She swings the door open as she hears Bernie’s footsteps and gapes momentarily. Her friend is wearing a very pale purple lacey dress, which dips to a low point at the front. It’s embellished by tiny flowers. Bernie’s brushed her hair and waved it slightly, pulled her fringe off to the side so it only covers one eye for a change.
It is not what Serena had expected, and she stares.
Bernie flushes uncomfortably, “Do I look alright?”
Serena finally manages to say something, “You look lovely. I… I was expecting you to wear a suit, that’s all. But I’m glad you didn’t,” she adds hurriedly as Bernie frowns slightly, “You do look spectacular.”
Bernie smiles, “So do you. Bet you’re glad for an excuse to wear that dress again, no good hiding it in the back of your wardrobe. Come on Campbell, time to go.”
The event’s in the town hall, and they take a taxi there. It’s busy, really incredibly busy as they go through the main doors into the entrance hall. A band is playing, scarcely audible over the hubbub, and there’s barely room to squeeze through the room. Serena slips her arm through Bernie’s so that she won’t lose her.
“Ms Wolfe, Ms Campbell,” a voice shouts and they peer through the crowd to see Dom barrelling his way towards them.
“Mr Copeland,” Serena says, “Nice to see you. Here on your own?”
He grins, “Hoping to meet someone,” he looks them up and down, “Looking good, ladies, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Dom...” Bernie’s voice is low and warning but he simply winks and slips away.
“Yes please,” says Bernie fervently. They elbow their way to the bar and Serena brightens.
“Now if you’d only used the words ‘free bar’, Bernie, you wouldn’t have had to do all that pleading. Two red please,” she says to the bartender.
Drinks in hand they head into the dining room. It’s emptier, and they can talk without struggling to hear. Bernie studies the seating plan and finds their table; it’s at the far end of the room and Serena sighs as she realises that they are as far from the bar as can be. They make their way there, Serena enquiring after the ward. She’s been enjoying a day off today while Bernie has been hard at it by all accounts. Two trauma patients have come in and Ollie Valentine who’s been on the ward to make up staffing numbers has been infuriating Bernie.
“He wants to take everything so slowly,” she groans, “No sense of urgency. I’m trying to get through to him that we can’t afford to be so delicate but it’s not getting through.”
Serena shakes her head, “He’ll learn. We all did.”
“And then there’s Raf and Fletch...”
“Oh?” Serena sits up a bit. “What have they been up to? Not like them to be making mistakes?”
“No, not that. They couldn’t stop making eyes at each other across the ward.”
Serena makes a sound a little like a snigger.
“Well honestly, every time I looked up I saw them staring at each other mournfully. I just wanted to shake them both. They can’t work on the same patients all the time just because they can’t bear to be five metres apart!”
“Did you say anything?”
“Threatened them with separate shifts. That sorted them out in the end.”
“No doubt,” Serena murmured.
Soon the room starts to fill and Serena is embroiled in small talk with a man from the council. Bernie sits uncomfortably and tries to make appropriate noises at intervals to show she’s paying attention. Food is a welcome respite for her, but soon the main course is being cleared away. Serena eyes their empty glasses. “Another, Bernie?”
“Please,” Bernie mutters and Serena heads towards the bar. Bernie watches her go, admiring the way her dress swishes as she walks.
There’s a queue at the bar and it’s a good ten minutes before Serena gets back to the table. Bernie isn’t there. She’s standing close to the wall, looking like a deer in headlights and a tall brunette lady is talking to her animatedly. As Serena watches, the woman reaches out to stroke Bernie’s bare arm. Bernie is stuttering, Serena can tell. She looks incredibly uncomfortable. Serena places the glasses on the table and moves towards the pair.
“I’ve got a girlfriend,” Bernie is saying, slightly desperately. Does she, Serena wonders? She’s never said.
“Oh, she doesn’t need to know. This can just be a one night sort of thing,” the woman is practically purring.
“She’s,” Bernie looks round and sees Serena approaching, “She’s here,” she says with relief.
Serena understands completely; she said she’d have Bernie’s back and she will. Will save her from this predator.
“Hello, darling,” she says huskily as she slips around the brunette and puts an arm round Bernie’s waist. “Did you miss me?”
There’s intense gratitude in Bernie’s eyes as she looks at Serena, and Serena shrugs mentally, thinks she might as well make the point. She moves forward and presses her lips against Bernie’s. Bernie makes a small noise of surprise but doesn’t move and Serena is tingling all over, electricity is racing through her because surely this isn’t what kissing a friend is like. She can taste the wine on Bernie’s lips and a trace of the lipstick that she put on earlier. Her pulse is racing; she needs to step back now because she’s crossed a line but she can’t, oh, she can’t. And then Bernie makes a noise, a moan, and Serena parts her lips to Bernie’s tongue. Serena pulls Bernie closer as Bernie deepens the kiss. Runs her hands down the back of Bernie’s dress, up to the silky smoothness of her bare skin. Marvels at the way it feels under her hands. Bernie’s hands are moving too; to caress her neck and bury themselves in her hair. After several long moments Bernie breaks the kiss slowly and Serena sighs at the loss, leans her head against Bernie’s and closes her eyes. She can feel Bernie’s heart pounding and knows it’s only echoing her own.
“I didn’t know,” Serena whispers, “How blind am I?”
“No more than I am,” Bernie replies softly, and she cups Serena’s cheek and forces Serena to meet her eyes. “Do you… would you… want this?” Bernie asks hesitantly.
“Yes,” Serena replies instantly. She tangles Bernie’s fingers with hers. “More than anything.”
A luminous smile spreads across Bernie’s face. “You’re my best friend,” she says.
“And you’re mine,” says Serena, “You know that.”
“Come to mine tonight?”
Serena shakes her head regretfully and Bernie’s face falls, she turns away. Serena tugs her back.
“Bernie,” she says gently, “Jason is expecting me back tonight and it’s pancakes for breakfast in the morning.”
“So how do you prefer yours? Traditional? Nutella?” Serena grins as relief spreads across Bernie’s face.
“Jason won’t mind?”
“He’s quite fond of you. Goodness knows why.”
“Come home with me, Ms Wolfe,” Serena presses a kiss to Bernie’s cheek. Bernie twists to catch Serena with her mouth.
“There’s nothing I’d like more, Ms Campbell,” she replies before she takes all of Serena’s breath away.
They go into the office together the next morning, trying to look like the consummate professionals that they are and less like the giddy teenagers that they feel.
There’s a note taped to Bernie’s computer. She pulls it off and opens it.
It’s a picture of them wrapped round each other and scrawled across the bottom is ‘About time!’.
“Dominic Copeland!” Bernie roars, and charges out of the room as Serena collapses in hopeless giggles.
Day one: trope
Chapter 2: What's in a name?
Day two prompt: firsts
It's their first day back on the ward. Silliness ensues
Nothing much has changed when they walk into AAU. Fletch and Donna look up from their bickering to smile. Raf grins, calls, “Welcome back,” and then turns back to his paper work.
The ward hasn’t fallen apart in their absence. Ric’s left detailed handover notes in their office.
They’re enjoying a cup of coffee, sat at their respective desks and smiling at each other periodically when the ward phone rings.
Fletch answers the phone, glances in the direction of the consultant’s office and nods. Then he exchanges a conspiratorial glance with Raf. Morven stops writing notes and edges closer. Donna actually shushes the patient who is talking to her. A hush falls over the ward as Fletch opens the office door.
“Uh, excuse me, Ms Wolfe, you’re needed on Darwin.”
Bernie gets to her feet with a sigh and Fletch shakes his head. Raises his voice, just a tad. “Not you, Ms Wolfe. The new Ms Wolfe.”
“Excuse me?” Serena says.
“The shorter Ms Wolfe?” Fletch suggests, “The slightly older Ms Wolfe?”
Serena’s face is a picture.
The staff on the ward have now given up all pretence of work.
“The later-in-life-lesbian Ms Wolfe?” Is Morven’s suggestion.
“Ms ‘Shiraz’ Wolfe?” comes from Raf.
Bernie folds her arms and looks stern, “Is this what you’ve all spent the last two weeks thinking about?”
“Absolutely not, Ms ‘This is my last cigarette, I promise, Wolfe,” Dom says, who’s appeared suddenly.
“Enough!” cries Serena. “Am I actually needed on Darwin, Fletch?”
“Would I make it up, Ms -” Fletch shuts his mouth quickly at the look on Serena’s face. “Yes, you are.”
“I’ll be off then,” Serena says. “Shoo!” she cries at the assembled staff.
Serena returns a little later, drags Bernie back into their office.
“It’s possible,” she says sheepishly, “That we should have thought about the name confusion before our first day back.”
Bernie bites her lip. “You can stay as Ms Campbell at work, if you’d rather?”
Serena grabs her hands. “No, Bernie.” She caresses Bernie’s fingers, stroking Bernie’s wedding ring. “Would you mind us being Major and Ms Wolfe?”
Bernie pulls her in close, “That works for me, absolutely gorgeous Ms Wolfe.”
Serena laughs up at her. “Really?”
Shout out to @Sevtacular for the slight tweak to the ending. Their headcanon was infinitely better than what I had, so I borrowed it. Hope you don't mind.
Chapter 3: Christmas meeting
Bernie finally makes it to one of Charlotte's school productions.
Bernie turned and beamed as her daughter ran across the crowded school hall to throw her arms around her.
“I told you I’d be here,” she said to Charlie as she hugged her, careful not to mess up her long angel wings.
“It’s a great play Mum. I have to go backstage now, will you sit in the front? So I can see you?”
Bernie let Charlie tow her to a seat and push her down. “Stay here, won’t you Mum, so I know where to look.”
“Of course, Charlie. Break a leg!” her daughter grinned at her as she scampered away.
“Mind if I join you?”
Bernie looked up at the woman who had spoken. She seemed swamped by a deep red coat and she was wearing a frankly ridiculous furry hat. Bernie smiled politely and gestured to the seat next to her. The woman sank down and tugged off her hat to reveal a neat head of brown hair. Bernie glanced involuntarily at the hat and the woman smiled.
“Not to everybody’s tastes I know, but it keeps me warm and Elinor likes it. Serena Campbell, by the way.”
“Bernie Wolfe.” Bernie shook her hand. Her grip was firm and her fingers soft.
“Ah,” said Serena, “You’ll be Charlotte’s mum?”
Bernie straightened defensively, “Yes?”
Serena leant in to her confidentially, “I’m afraid our daughters are at loggerheads at the moment. All thanks to this play of course.”
Bernie stared at her, bewildered.
“You haven’t heard?”
Bernie shook her head, “I’ve not been home for long.” She didn’t explain further. She’d learnt quickly that differing opinions on the army’s involvement in the Middle East could derail previously pleasant conversations.
“Ah,” said Serena, “Well, as you know Charlotte is playing the main angel, the starring role in this little play. Elinor was hankering for it. It was down to the two of them and they’ve been sworn enemies since.”
“Oh dear,” said Bernie. “They haven’t been in trouble have they? Marcus hasn’t mentioned anything.” She sighed, “I’ve been away such a lot. This is the first of Charlie’s school productions I’ve made it to in four years.”
“Explains why I haven’t seen you before then,” said Serena, “I thought I’d remember you if I had. Long blonde thing that you are.”
Bernie stared at her for a second and then snorted a laugh. Serena grinned and then laughed too.
“And don’t worry,” she said, “No trouble. Just the usual dramatics at home.”
The lights went down suddenly and Serena patted Bernie’s hand. “Here we go! Fingers crossed that they both remember their lines.”
It was a sweet little play. Bernie felt a lump in her throat as Charlie took to the stage, the lights shining on her huge angel wings and making her blonde head gleam. She was confident, spoke clearly, was all that could have been asked for.
When the lights came up at the end Bernie swiped her eyes, trying to hide the evidence of her emotion.
“Here you go,” Serena handed her a tissue, “I always come prepared these days.”
“Thanks,” said Bernie gratefully. “They were good, weren’t they?”
“I think you should be very proud of your daughter, and she’s obviously going to be beautiful when she grows up. Just like her mum.”
“I… uh...” Bernie stuttered.
“Do you fancy getting a coffee sometime?” Serena touched Bernie’s hand gently. It tingled.
“I… I can’t,” gasped Bernie.
“Oh.” Serena’s face fell and she drew her hand back.
“No, I mean,” Bernie let her hand slip onto Serena’s leg, “I’m leaving again, tomorrow.” She held Serena’s gaze. “I would have, otherwise. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.” She said honestly.
“Where do you work?”
“In Afghanistan, at the moment,” Bernie said softly, “I’m a medic in the British army.”
Serena’s eyes lit up. “Really? A big macho army medic and you’re crying at your daughter’s Christmas play?”
“You’ve got me,” Bernie chuckled. Her hand was still on Serena’s leg and she didn’t want to move it. She didn’t want to think about what that meant either, or the fact that Serena hadn’t moved away.
But then her daughter came barrelling into them, out of costume but still glittery around her eyes.
“Mum, Mum! What did you think?”
“You were wonderful, darling,” Bernie hugged her close.
“You were,” Serena said, “You know you made your mum cry?”
“I didn’t!” Charlie drew back, shocked and pleased at the same time.
Another cry of “Mum,” and Serena’s arms were full of her daughter.
“Good job, Elinor,” Serena said.
“You were the narrator weren’t you? You were very good,” Bernie said, honestly. Elinor looked up from her mother’s embrace, saw Charlie and scowled.
“Now look you two,” Serena said sternly, “You were both excellent. It’s Christmas. Hug and make up.”
“Mu-um,” Elinor drawled, but looked under her lashes at Charlotte.
Bernie gave her daughter a nudge. “Serena’s right. Go on.”
Serena and Bernie smiled at each other as their daughters hugged.
Then suddenly both girls were laughing. “Sorry,” they said simultaneously.
Serena rolled her eyes and Bernie winked at her.
“Time to go,” Bernie said, drawing Charlie to her. “Off you go and get your coat, I’ll meet you in the entrance.”
“You too, Elinor.” Serena pushed her gently and the girls left together.
Bernie licked suddenly dry lips.
“I...uh… it was nice to meet you, Serena.” she held out her hand, but Serena pushed it away.
“Come here,” she said and drew Bernie into her, held her close and Bernie wrapped her arms around her, closed her eyes and relaxed for a blissful second. “Stay safe,” Serena murmured in her ear. Then she let go and Bernie moved back regretfully.
“Happy Christmas, Serena,” she said softly.
“Happy Christmas, Bernie.”
Bernie flew back to the heat and the sand the next day. She thought about Serena often. Sometimes she dreamed about her, about the easy two hours she’d spent with her. About the feel of her hand, and her leg and the whisper of lips against her cheek.
Then, two months after her return, she and Captain Dawson had patched up a lad by the side of the road and when they got back to camp Alex had followed her into her office, pressed her up against the door and kissed her until her head span. She didn’t think about Serena after that.
Chapter 4: Unveiled
Bernie's on her third date with Serena when she is rudely interrupted by work. Again.
Bernie is on a third date when her phone alert goes off. She sighs. She likes Serena. She’s witty, intelligent and incredibly beautiful. Bernie likes her enough to see a future with her, but this is now the second date that has been interrupted. She’s running out of close family members who can suddenly become ill.
“My, uh, mother,” she says.
Serena’s distracted; she’s had a text message too. “Ill?” she asks.
“Yes, sort of,” says Bernie, wishing she was better at lying. Ironic that’s she bad at it, really, “She’s fallen. Hurt her leg. I need to go and help.”
Serena puts her phone down. “Sorry,” she says, “I was having a nice time. Try again tomorrow?”
Bernie likes Serena for her bluntness, likes that she’s not giving up on Bernie as a hopeless case. “Not tomorrow,” she says, “Friday?”
“Friday’s fine,” Serena smiles, shoves her phone into her bag and gets up. “Same time, same place? Hope your mother isn’t too badly hurt.”
Bernie smiles back, “Me too. Looking forward to it.” Bernie throws enough money on the table to cover their drinks and a tip.
They leave together, part at the door, Bernie going right, Serena left.
As soon as Bernie is sure Serena is out of sight she sprints for the nearest tube station. Snaps questions into her phone before she loses signal underground.
She speeds across London to Tower Bridge. Why is it always the iconic landmarks, she wonders? Couldn’t they go for … Bromley? Or somewhere further out. Sevenoaks, perhaps.
Her team are already there when she reaches the Bridge.
“Update?” she snaps.
“Contained,” her second in command says, points at a second floor window. She can just see a faint blue light pulsing. Nothing to attract too much attention. She sighs. “We need to monitor the situation, any sign of hostility we bring it down, understood?”
She pulls on her uniform top, the super-armoured one, and heads in, in radio contact with her team. Creeps down the corridor as quietly as possible. Is utterly taken aback when she arrives in front of the room to find another person already crouched there. She pulls her gun out, holds it ready but not aiming and hisses softly to attract their attention.
The dark figure swings round.
Two jaws drop open.
“So, not a statistician then,” Serena says caustically.
“Nor a surgeon,” Bernie replies with a bite.
“Torchwood,” Serena offers.
“Unit,” Bernie replies, “I thought Torchwood had gone.”
“We came back.”
“Status of your mother’s leg?”
“Intact. Sorry. I… uh… everything else was true though. I didn’t want to lie to you, Serena,” Bernie says, gently.
Serena sighs. “I’ve not been precisely honest with you either, if it comes to that. Truce?”
“Truce,” Bernie says and they shake hands. “How’d you get here so quickly?”
“Motorbike.” Bernie sighs with jealousy and Serena grins. “Give you a ride, later, if you want? Get a drink?”
“That would be lovely.”
They smile at each other for a second before a voice squawks through Bernie’s earpiece and they both turn their attention back to the mysterious blue light.
Day four prompt: AU
Chapter 5: Irresistible
Serena can't keep her eyes off Bernie, and Fletch and Raf fight a losing battle to keep their colleagues on other wards from discovering what Bernie and Serena are up to in their office.
Serena glared at Bernie across the ward. She was sure she was doing it on purpose. Honestly, how many times does the average doctor need to flex their biceps? When Bernie bumped into Morven and knocked a file on the floor Serena knew she was doing it on purpose. Why else would she be bending over with her perfect bum facing right at her?
She strode across the ward, tapped Bernie on the shoulder. “Our office, now.”
“Is everything alright, Ms Campbell?” Bernie asked her, a studiously bland expression on her face.
“Just some urgent… paperwork,” Serena growled, then headed for their office door.
“Carry on, Morven,” Bernie smiled at her junior.
Serena took advantage of the few seconds before Bernie arrived to flick the blinds down. The instant Bernie stepped through the door Serena pushed it shut, locked it swiftly, shoved Bernie up against it and pressed her lips to her neck, nipping her.
“How dare you do that to me,” she murmured.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bernie gasped as she surrendered.
Serena didn’t bother disbelieving her, simply stretched up and kissed her ferociously. Forced Bernie’s lips open to taste the sweetness of her mouth. Bernie arched under her, grasping her waist and working her fingers under Serena’s blouse. Her touch was scalding and sent shivers through Serena.
“You’re gorgeous,” Serena said when she needed a breath, “Absolutely gorgeous. Have I told you recently?”
“Mmmm,” was Bernie’s only response as her fingers tracked up Serena’s side to dance over her bra. Serena bit her lip as she felt her nipples tauten in response.
“God,” said Bernie, “You are turned on.”
“Your fault,” snarled Serena. “Chair, now.”
Bernie positively threw herself into her office chair, grinned as Serena straddled her. She dipped her fingers into Serena’s waistband, opening the button on her trousers expertly, pushing them down so that she could dip her hand in.
Serena hissed as Bernie stroked the top of her curls, pulled Bernie’s scrub top up so she could caress Bernie’s breasts. She could feel Bernie’s heart hammering, knew her own was equally fast. Bernie writhed under her touch but didn’t stop her own actions. “Up,” she said, and Serena rose slightly, allowing Bernie to pull trousers and knickers down further.
Bernie had one hand on Serena’s back, steadying her, pushed the other lower.
“Bernie,” Serena gasped into Bernie’s hair.
“It’s ok,” Bernie said softly as one finger softly delved into Serena’s wetness. She stroked her gently.
“Please!” Serena begged, and Bernie relented, made her movements more firm and more swift until Serena was shuddering and gasping against her.
Serena came with a moan and a soft cry that was muffled by Bernie’s scrubs. Bernie held her until she sat up, then helped her resettle her clothing.
“You…?” Serena offered, kissing Bernie sweetly.
Bernie shook her head. “I’ll wait for later,” she winked, “I’m hoping for something spectacular.”
“I’ll do my best,” Serena promised as she removed herself from Bernie’s lap, stood on slightly shaky legs. “I suppose we better get back to it.”
Bernie sighed, “That we must.”
Fletch waved a file at them as they left the office. “Ric dropped this by for you. Said could one of you review it and send it back up?”
“I’ll do it,” Bernie offered.
Fletch handed the file over and watched as the two consultants headed to opposite ends of the ward, Serena smoothing her clothes and Bernie her hair.
It had been a close one. Ric had been almost at the office door when Raf had waylaid him.
“Who are you after?” Raf had said.
“Ms Wolfe or Ms Campbell,” Ric replied.
“They’re… busy!” Raf had exclaimed, casually moving so that he was blocking Ric’s path to the office door.
“It won’t take long,” Ric gestured at the file, “Just need to give them this.”
“Ric,” said Raf firmly, “You can’t go in. Leave the file with Fletch, he’ll get it sorted.”
“This is ridiculous!” said Ric, “Why can’t I just ask them myself?”
Fletch had intervened at this point. “Mr Griffin,” he said, “You do not want to interrupt.” He gave Ric a knowing look. Wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. Cleared his throat. Eventually Ric caught on.
“You mean they’re… busy?”
“Yes!” said Raf and Fletch together.
Ric stared at the closed blinds. “Right. I see. Are they often… busy?”
“No. Never,” They replied simultaneously.
“I’ll take this then, shall I?” Fletch tugged the file out of Ric’s hands.
“Yes, uh, yes. Ask one of them to review it and send it back up to me.”
“Will do,” said Raf and he shepherded Ric to the ward door.
“Phew,” Fletch said as Raf returned. “That was close.”
“I just hope he doesn’t talk to Jac,” Raf said, “Or Sasha.”
“Or Dom, or Zosia...”
Raf shook his head, “We really don’t want it getting out that once a month or so our consultants disappear into their office for a shag.”
Chapter 6: Spring chickens
Serena and Bernie were lying on sun loungers in their back garden, sipping cocktails and watching Morven, Cam and Charlotte playing a silly game of frisbee.
“Charlotte says she’s playing ‘ultimate frisbee’ at university,” Bernie said.
“She’s had a black eye but nothing broken yet.”
Bernie chuckled as Cam tackled Morven to the ground and tickled her mercilessly.
Serena sighed and Bernie raised an eyebrow. “Alright, Campbell?”
“Oh, I don’t know. They’re so young, energetic, got their whole lives ahead of them.”
“What’s brought this on?”
Serena looked at Bernie dolefully. “We’re not exactly spring chickens any more, are we.”
Bernie sat up. “Who wants to be a spring chicken?” she demanded, “We’re summer hens!”
Serena choked, inhaled her cocktail and sprayed it all over the lounger. “Summer hens?!” She burst out laughing.
“Sounded better in my head.” Bernie said, abashed.
Chapter 7: Twilight comes to close the day
Three ways it ended and one way it didn't.
Warning: Character death
Serena is curled up by the fire of a moutain lodge when her phone pings. She swipes lazily, then sits up, her stomach knotting. An email, from Bernie. She knows, somehow, that it’s not good news.
“Dear Serena,” she reads, “I’m leaving Holby. I’m sorry. I can’t wait any more. It’s killing me. I have to go. I have to move on. Sorry.”
It’s all over, in a few short lines. (It took Bernie three days to compose, and half an hour of hovering over her keyboard to actually send).
Serena feels it like a punch to the gut, like a steamroller has driven over her and rolled all the breath from her.
There is nothing she can do about it here. She could email back, she supposes, she could beg, could ask Bernie to wait – for how much longer? - but the last time she begged Bernie, the last time she clung to her arm and voiced her desperation it hadn’t helped at all. Perhaps made things worse. She has to let Bernie go.
It’s taken a long time (nearly a year) and a lot of travelling (three continents), but finally Serena is feeling peaceful. Content. She’s back in America, lecturing at Harvard. She had thought she’d like to go back into hospital, into the bustle of a ward, but she tried it, lasted a week and realised that she couldn’t cope. Then she was offered the position at Harvard and it felt right. She’s thought long and hard about this next step. To begin with she’d thought – maybe Bernie could come out here or maybe we could try a long distance relationship.
But she’s been away for nearly a year, and truthfully Bernie doesn’t occupy her thoughts as much as she’d used to. She still loves her, perhaps she always will, but she’s not in love any more.
She’d been in a bar and a woman with long ginger hair had bought her a drink, chatted her up. Serena had liked her. More than liked her. Kissed her quite fervently in the street outside. Hadn’t gone home with her because she wasn’t quite ready for that, not just yet. And it hadn’t occurred to her to feel guilty; only the following day that she’d thought maybe she ought to feel guilty.
She’s moved on. It seems in putting Elinor’s death behind her and creating this new life for herself she’s left Bernie behind too.
They’d emailed each other, periodically. Serena realises now that she hasn’t emailed for a couple of months. And when she looks through her inbox she realises that Bernie hasn’t emailed her either. A short response to her last short offering, then nothing.
She needs to tell her though, just in case Bernie is still waiting. So she types swiftly. Keeps it to the point; she’s got a new job, she’s finally happy in herself. She won’t be coming home. She hopes that Bernie will accept the decision and that she will be happy. Signs off simply ‘Serena’ and sends it before she can think herself into a funk.
Bernie’s response comes the following day. It’s short, but sweet.
“I think I’ve been expecting this for a while,” she writes, “I know you’ve made the right decision for you, and I’m glad you’re happy. Jason’s moved in with me (temporarily) and he sends you his love. He also wants to know your address. He’s planning to propose to Celia! So I hope (we hope) you’ll come back for the wedding, if she says yes. It’ll be good to see you one more time. And don’t you worry about me, Serena Campbell. I’ve been offered a commission, and I think I’m going to accept it. Holby’s been fun but its time for a new challenge.”
She finishes, “Bernie. X”
Serena sits for a moment, thinking about Jason. Of course she’ll go back for his wedding. She’s glad Bernie is still looking out for him. Then she pours herself a glass of wine, thinks of Amy from the pub and digs out the scrap of paper with her number on. There’s a grin on her face as she dials.
Serena is working, temporarily, in a cafe in Spain. A little for the money, a little for the company. She’s a hit with the tourists, who enjoy conversing with a Brit and pepper her with questions about how she came to be working here; she’s not an obvious candidate for a gap year, after all (she never tells them the truth).
She’s just taking her break, well-deserved, with a large mug of strong and hot coffee, and flicking through the news when her phone rings. It’s Hanssen, and she is so surprised she almost drops it, fumbles to answer it.
“Henrik?” she says.
“Serena, there’s some bad news...”
She makes it back to Holby in time for the funeral. Stops in with Jason, who looks at her with an ashen face and asks, why. She can’t give him an answer. Who could?
She’s hesitating outside the church gate when Cameron materialises at her side. He looks smart in his suit, and utterly devastated. “Ms Campbell,” he says, “ Serena .”
She sobs into his shoulder, and she can feel his tears dampening hers. Eventually he pulls back.
“We have to go inside,” he says gently. She clings onto his hand and he twines their fingers together. They lean on each other as they go in and he leads her to the front of the church, pushes her gently into a pew. Jason is there already, with Charlotte. Serena’s only met her a few times before; that Christmas that they had shared before everything fell to pieces. But Charlotte reaches for her and so Serena finds herself with a Wolfe cub on either side as the music starts and the coffin enters the church.
“Oh my god,” she whispers, “oh my god.”
Cameron delivers the eulogy. Talks about Bernie’s love for the army, her love for her family. The love she discovered later in life with Serena. He tells funny stories from the army, even the infamous tap-in-butt episode from Holby. People laugh. Serena laughs. Bernie’s presence seems to be alive in the church. Until the final hymn, the last prayer, the coffin leaving the church.
Serena wants to scream, don’t go without me, how could you leave before I came back, how could you go when I loved you so much . How could Bernie survive the army, survive being blown up, just to die of a heart attack in a boring, safe hospital. How can Serena live now she has two graves to visit, two lives to mourn, two futures vanquished.
She can’t move. The church is emptying as people head to the pub, to Albies, of course, where the wake will be.
“Aunty Serena?” Jason says, and she looks up at him. “You’ve… you’ve still got me,” he says uncertainly.
“And you’ve got us,” Cameron adds, with a watery smile, “If you’ll have us.” He and Charlotte are holding hands now, anchors for each other.
“You?” says Serena faintly.
Cam glances at Charlotte as if for support and she smiles at him, nods. “Mum told me, before… She told me that when you came back, she was going to ask you to marry her,” he shoves his free hand into his pocket and pulls out a box. “I had to go through her papers,” he blinks rapidly, sniffs, “And I found this.” He hands it to her.
She was going to ask, thinks Serena, and I would have said yes. Oh how I would have said yes. She reaches out, trembling, grasps the box. Stares at it for a second, then flips it open. The ring is delicate, silver, a small garnet stone set with tiny crystals around it. It’s beautiful. She cries.
It’s Charlotte who takes it out of the box, who holds Serena’s hand so gently, and slips it on her finger. It fits perfectly.
Serena doesn’t know what to do now, she barely knows how to breathe. She sits, with silent tears pouring down her face and the children stand next to her. Waiting.
In the end it’s Jason who snaps them back into the present, who says quietly, “I’m hungry, Aunty Serena. Can we go now?”
There’s a car waiting for them and Serena slips into the back seat, stares alternately out of the window and at the ring on her finger. Cam is in charge, and she’s grateful because she’s still processing really. It’s been three days, only three days, since Henrik’s call destroyed her world.
There’s a crowd at the pub. So many people have turned out to remember Bernie. Her old army friends, in uniform. The hospital crew, some in scrubs who have clearly slipped out in the middle of their shift. A few people that Serena can’t place, but she supposes that Bernie must have done something aside from her army and hospital work. She spots Marcus and doesn’t have the energy to summon up an emotion. He’s got a woman with him; must be a new girlfriend.
“Ms Campbell,” she turns to face the voice. It’s Morven and she’s holding two glasses of wine.
“I got you a shiraz,” Morven says, and Serena manages a half smile. Morven slips onto the bench next to her and touches her hand gently. “Will you let us help you?” Morven says quietly.
Serena hears what she’s really saying; let us in, don’t let this destroy you, don’t go down the route you did with Elinor. She nods, because she was angry then. So, so angry. She isn’t angry now. She doesn’t know what she is, really. Just...not right.
“That’s a beautiful ring,” Morven says.
“Bernie was going to propose,” says Serena. It’s the first sentence she’s said all day. It makes her cry. Morven sweeps her into a hug, pulls her tight and lets Serena bury her head into her shoulder.
“I know it hurts,” Morven whispers, “It hurts more than anything. But it will get better,” she says, “In time. You just have to keep going until then.”
Serena knows, because Bernie did email her now and then, that Morven and Cameron have got together. If Morven could find the strength to keep going and eventually find happiness again then maybe she could. A thought occurs to her.
“I could have been your step mother in law,” she mumbles, and it sounds so ridiculous that she almost giggles.
Morven pulls back and smiles at her. “If Cam and I make it that far, then as far as I am concerned, you will be. Okay?”
Morven disappears then and Serena sits alone for a little bit. Watching the crowd. There’s food, but she’s not hungry.
She’s more than surprised when Jac comes to join her. The last time they had seen each other was when Jac confronted her in her office, with Bernie and Jasmine. She had been furious with Serena. Serena supposes it’s a measure of how dire she must look that there is only sympathy on Jac’s face now.
“I’m sorry,” says Jac. Then she does something even more unthinkable, and hugs Serena. “We tried so hard.”
This is new to Serena. “You were there?”
A shadow crosses Jac’s face. “They brought her up to Darwin. We couldn’t do anything.” She pauses, then continues, “She was quite a woman. We’ll miss her.” She squeezes Serena’s shoulder and leaves.
Next up are Raf and Fletch, who’ve brought Evie with them. Evie throws herself into Serena’s arms and Serena allows herself to enjoy the contact. “Tell me,” she says hoarsely, looking at the two men over Evie’s head.
They exchange a look and Raf speaks, voice unsteady. “It was just an ordinary day. She’d been muttering about being tired but...”
“She wasn’t sleeping well,” says Fletch apologetically, “Hadn’t been since you left.” That twists like a knife in Serena’s gut. “She was only doing some obs when she collapsed.” He coughs and clears his throat.
“We did CPR,” Raf says, “Rushed her up to Darwin. But she was gone.” He dashes away a stray tear.
S erena sits. People continue to come and give her their condolences. Sometimes she manages to reply, sometimes she just smiles. Everybody is sympathetic. Everybody says how much they will miss Bernie.
Then a tall, slim woman with dark hair approaches. She doesn’t recognise her, but the woman sits down beside her.
“I’m Alex Dawson,” the stranger says.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Serena manages, because it is. To meet this woman whom Bernie loved, who had shown Bernie the truth of herself. Serena owes her, she thinks, because she knows that it was Alex who proved the catalyst for Bernie extricating herself from her marriage.
Alex eyes her and then smiles, “I can see why she didn’t come after me.”
Serena doesn’t know what to say to that, so she says nothing.
“I’m glad she was happy,” says Alex, “I was jealous of you for a long while. But I think she was right, in the end. It wouldn’t have worked, me and her. And I’m glad she found you. I’m glad you had each other.”
“Not for long enough,” says Serena harshly.
“No,” Alex agrees, “Not long enough.”
They sit in silence for a time. Then Alex pushes a card across to Serena. “My number,” she says. “If you ever want to talk. We… we both loved her.”
The pub empties, gradually. Finally, Cameron, Charlotte and Jason come, help her up, help her into a taxi. They all get out at Serena’s house. Cameron makes tea, and they all cuddle on the sofa. Jason puts on an episode of Countdown and they watch in silence. It gets late. Charlotte is already asleep, curled up at the end of the sofa, so Serena fetches a load of blankets. Cam tucks Charlotte up. Jason claims the armchair. Cam holds out his arms to Serena and she snuggles into him, grateful for the affection he is offering. He pulls a blanket over them. Eventually, the room is silent.
They’ll wake up early; stiff from sleeping in awkward positions, but together. And that’s how they’ll get through it, as a family. An odd, mismatched family, but a family nonetheless.
Serena is in a vineyard, in France. She’s sipping Shiraz, enjoying the late autumn sun on her face. She stretches, smiles to herself. The hole in heart is healing, and she can be happy now without guilt instantly racking through her.
Her phone buzzes. It’s from Bernie, a selfie. Bernie is standing in the middle of AAU with a ridiculous pouty expression on her face. “I miss you!” follows immediately.
Serena chuckles. Bernie wouldn’t have sent it six months ago. She knows Bernie has missed her almost unbearably because she’s missed her too. But Bernie hasn’t ever mentioned it in her texts or emails. Kept her tone light and chatty, filled Serena in on hospital gossip and Jason and Celia’s slowly progressing relationship. In the last few weeks, however, sensing that Serena is recovering, she’s allowed some of her emotions to show.
Serena flicks back through her phone photos, studying Bernie’s face. She likes best the ones that she’s taken on the sly, where Bernie doesn’t know, where she’s simply reading, or chatting, or frowning at something on her computer. They’re the ones that show the real Bernie. She wants to take more.
It doesn’t take long too make up her mind, and she books a flight from her phone for two days time. Plenty of time to sample more of the vineyard’s wine. She’ll come home a year to the day since Bernie returned from Kiev.
She thinks of texting Bernie and letting her know, then thinks surprising her will be so much sweeter. So she texts Jason instead, because he definitely will not appreciate a surprise. Warns him to say nothing to Bernie. But he surprises her; offers to arrange a taxi to pick her up from the airport. He’s grown since she’s been away, this nephew of hers.
It’s a busy day on AAU. Bernie finally gets round all the patients then grabs herself a coffee and shuts herself in her office. Busy but successful. The little AAU family has reformed itself. Still misses Serena, will always miss Jasmine. But Donna and Fletch and Ollie fill the ward with fun. Morven, quieter, but not weighed down with sorrow anymore. And on the odd days Raf comes down from Keller it almost feels like old times.
She flicks through some notes as she sips. Engrossed, she doesn’t notice a sudden exclamation from the ward.
Five minutes later she regretfully throws her empty coffee cup in the bin (she really has been trying to be more tidy) and heads out.
“Could you check bed six?” Fletch asks and she nods.
The curtains are drawn around the bay. She tugs them open and finds herself staring into familiar brown eyes. Stands stock still in shock.
Serena smiles. “Surprise?”
“Serena,” Bernie whispers and throws herself at her girlfriend. Wraps herself around her, buries her face into her shoulder. Tangles a hand into her short grey hair. “You’re back, you’re back.” To her shame, tears pour down her face, soaking Serena’s blouse. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Serena pushes her back slightly, wipes tears from her cheek and studies her fondly. “I’ve missed you too,” kisses Bernie’s damp lips. “I love you.”
Bernie pulls her back into a bone crushing hug. “Never again,” she vows, “We’re never being parted again.”
“Suits me,” Serena replies.
Bernie leaves her shift early, is almost forced to by the rest of the team. She and Serena head home, head straight to bed. To kiss and touch and wonder. To relearn each other’s bodies all over again. To make up for months of longing and unfulfilled desire.
Later they eat Indian takeaway, sitting in their pyjamas at their kitchen table. Not speaking; there’s no need for words. Their eyes say it all as they gaze at each other.
They climb the stairs back to bed again. Bernie curls herself protectively around Serena and Serena sighs contentedly.
“It’s good to be home.”
“I’ve tried to keep it nice and tidy for you,” Bernie murmurs sleepily.
“Not the house, Bernie,” Serena kisses Bernie’s closed eyes, “With you.”
Title from Enya's Dark Sky Island
"Twilight comes to close the day
And let the night break free
And from deep blue skies the heavens rise
Come back to me
Come back to me"
My last Appreciation Week fic.