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Serena picks her cell phone up from where it rests on the table with her free hand, a half full glass of wine in the other, glancing briefly at the screen. Her eyes widen when she sees the notification from the dating app she reluctantly installed a month ago after enduring a night of endless needling from Sian about the abysmal state of her love life.

She looks across the room to where Elinor is curled in the armchair, engrossed in something on her own phone, and hesitates before swiping the message open, memories of the many unsolicited images she’s received at the forefront of her mind. Do men really think that works?

Still, curiosity wins out and she swipes the notification open, pleased to find only text, a simple “Hello” followed by a smiley face, from someone called desertlupine65. She taps through to the profile; mostly empty, just an age, surprisingly the same as her own, location listed as Holby and…a thrill skitters down her spine as her eyes settle on “Gender: Female.”

She’s still not entirely sure what possessed her to update her profile a few weeks prior. Probably too much shiraz and not enough companionship in the bedroom, she thinks ruefully. But in the cold light of morning she decided not to remove the setting indicating she was interested in matches of both genders. If she’s honest with herself, deep down she knows this is something she’s always been interested in, even if she was too scared to pursue it.

The fact of the matter is she’s lonely, for all that she insists otherwise. It’s not that she’s looking for the great love of her life, or some other preposterous fairy tale. But companionship? Friendship? Mind blowing sex? Yes, please. Lord knows she’s had enough trouble trying to find that sort of thing with men, perhaps now is the time to see if there’s another option.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she types back

Hello there :)

The three dots pop up immediately, indicating that the other woman is actively online and responding.

How are you this evening?

Very well, and yourself?

Alright. A bit bored, if I’m honest. Home alone

Serena hesitates a moment before replying, peering from beneath her lashes to where Elinor sits, still ignoring her presence in favor of the internet. She may be new to the idea of online dating, but she’s nothing if not a consummate flirt; she recognizes an opening when she sees one.

Well that’s a shame. So you came on here looking for some company?

Something like that. I was surprised when I saw your profile

Serena frowns at her phone, wonders what in the brief profile she composed could be considered unusual.

Oh? Why’s that?

Just that I haven’t had much luck finding women of my age on here. Mostly girls young enough to be my daughter and a shocking quantity of penis pictures ;)

She can’t hold back a chuckle at that, glad to know it’s not just her who’s faced this challenge. Elinor looks over at her quizzically and Serena feels herself flush, hopes it’s too dim in the sitting room for Ellie to notice.

“It’s just Sian, telling me about her latest date.” The lie comes out all too smoothly, but it seems to placate Elinor, her attention once again on her phone and not on the boring adventures of her mother’s middle-aged friends.

What, you don’t find unsolicited images of a man’s privates romantic? I’m shocked! ;)

Not in the slightest. Actually, I’m not much interested in them in general

One question answered, Serena thinks, heart racing a little as she realizes she should probably respond in kind, has never really considered defining her interest before.

I find there’s a time and place for them, only consensually, of course. But I’m also interested in other options…

The three grey dots cycling longer than normal and she waits with bated breath. She wonders if she’s already scared the other woman off, if it was the wrong move to indicate that she still has an interest in men.

Her phone buzzes in her hand, her brow furrowing at the notification that indicates a text from Sian, rather than a reply from her chat partner. She switches screens, skimming the information about some terrible party Sian wants her to attend, before typing back a reply.

Sorry, can’t talk. I’ll get back to you later

Can’t talk? What on earth could you be doing on a Saturday night that’s so important?

Serena rolls her eyes at Sian’s blatant assumption that she has nothing better going on in her life, ignoring the fact that up until 20 minutes ago she was watching terrible reality shows with her daughter in her lounge wear.

If you must know, I’m chatting with someone on that app. A female someone

WHAT????

Sian’s response is immediate, followed by a string of incomprehensible emojis.

I demand you tell me EVERYTHING!!!

Before Serena can formulate a reply, the app notification pops up, and she switches to it eagerly.

Have you ever explored…other options before?

I kissed a couple of girls back in uni, but I’ve never had the opportunity for more than that. I’ll admit to being curious, though

Well, if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer… ;)

A tendril of heat slides through Serena at that, curling low in her belly as thoughts flash through her mind - half-remembered fantasies, images she found online during sleepless nights that stay with her when she’s alone in her bed.

What’s it like, being with a woman?

She hits send before she can second guess herself, cringing a little at how naive she sounds.

It’s...soft. The feel of smooth skin and curves, even the way you fit together. And I’ve found women understand each other better, understand what feels good. Of course, everyone’s different. Some women like certain aspects more than others

And what’s your favorite part?

Serena leans forward a little on the sofa, stomach filled with butterflies as she awaits a reply. She feels like she’s standing on a precipice, on the edge of the unknown as the grey dots cycle again and again.

I love the taste of a woman, to use my mouth to pleasure her. Hearing her moan, feeling her come against my tongue

Biting down on her lip to hold back a noise, Serena can’t help but squirm a little on the sofa, squeezing her thighs together against the sudden throbbing that has blossomed there. The woman’s words paint a vivid picture in her mind, one that she hasn’t experienced in far too long. Distracted by her imaginings, it takes her a moment to notice the woman is still typing.

Is that something you enjoy?

Serena’s eyes widen and she shoots a glance toward Elinor, suddenly afraid that she’ll have noticed her mother having a deeply inappropriate conversation not ten feet away. But her attention is still elsewhere, not even acknowledging Serena’s movement. Still her mind races, cycling through options. Should she reply? And if so, how? Is this really something she should be doing?

In lieu of any other option, she switches over to text, pulling up her conversation with Sian.

Sian, I think she wants to sext! What do I do??

Go along with it, you daft mare! And make sure you screenshot everything to send me later ;D

Rolling her eyes, she swipes back to the chat, dithering a little over how to reply, before settling on honesty.

Very much so, especially with someone who knows what they’re doing.

I’ve never had any complaints. ;)

Given the opportunity I promise, I would take very good care of you…

Cheeks flaring hot, Serena takes a deep swallow of her wine, as much for courage as for cooling, slightly annoyed that with a few suggestive words this complete stranger already has her as fluttery as a bashful virgin. A spark of competitiveness flares in her, and she decides it’s time to take back some control of this situation.

My, you’re rather presumptuous. I don’t even know anything about you and you’re already imagining your way into my knickers!

I’m sorry, I got the impression this was more about getting to know one another in the carnal sense, rather than the social ;)

Can’t it be both? At the very least, it would be nice to have something to visualize…

Fair enough. Well, I’m about 5’8”, blonde, brown eyes. Built like a rail, I’m afraid, always have been

A vague image forms in Serena’s mind; tousled hair, long limbs, small breasts, slim hips. With a start she realizes the woman she’s conjured looks quite a bit like Bernie Wolfe, her new co-lead.

If she’s honest with herself, it’s hardly a surprise. She’s been attracted to the enigmatic Army medic from the moment Hanssen walked her onto the ward and introduced her as Serena’s new co-lead. Even the clashes and sniping of the first month ended in more than a few fantasies of heated snogging against any available sturdy surface on her part.

They’ve become friendly, since then, if still a little distant, and Serena has done her best to push aside both her ridiculous fantasies and the disappointment that they’re not closer. It worked splendidly, until two weeks ago.

The revelation of Bernie’s sexual preference had been a shock to Serena, not because she disapproved by any means, but because all her thoughts and fantasies came rushing back at the tantalizing lure of possibility. Rationally she knows it’ll never happen; workplace romances are always a disaster and how could blonde, beautiful Bernie Wolfe ever be attracted to her? But rational thought hadn’t stopped her making a fool of herself, snapping at Bernie and straining their already uneasy relationship.

All that’s left now is the fantasy, the memory of Bernie’s thin-lipped smile, her dark eyes, that messy hair she longs to touch. If that’s what she pictures in her mind eye to embody the words of a stranger, who’s to know?

Do I get something to picture, too?

I’m a few inches shorter than you, brunette, dark eyes. A bit on the curvy side, if I’m honest. I’ve been told I have a nice smile :)

If you were looking for me to stop imagining getting into your knickers, that certainly isn’t the description to do it!

Well, I’m glad you approve

Very much so

She’s not sure if it’s the approval or the anonymity that makes her bold, makes her feel like she can be honest in this moment.

I have to admit, this is all rather new to me. Have any pointers?

Fair dues

I could tell you what I’m thinking about, if you’d like?

And there it is, Serena thinks, her breath catching. Does she want to continue this, to see where it leads? She can already feel arousal swirling through her, her pulse throbbing in her neck.

I’d like that very much…

Her fingers tap nervously against the case of her phone, loud enough that Elinor looks at her sharply, and she forces herself to still.

I’m thinking about touching you, finding out what your skin feels like, having those incredible curves beneath my hands

What would you be wearing for me?

She thinks through her collection of lingerie, sitting disused in her bureau.

Something lacy, red

Mmmmm, very nice

I’d kiss my way down your neck, your collarbones, your chest. Would you let me leave a mark?

The thought send a bolt of lust through her, her mind happily supplying an image of her chest peppered with bruises and bite marks left by Bernie’s mouth.

God yes

Something to remind you of where I was, what we did

Cupping your breasts, so soft and warm, teasing your nipples with my fingers. Are they sensitive?

Sometimes, if I’m turned on enough

She hesitates a moment, then adds

You don’t need to be gentle

Jesus

Serena can’t help but smirk at that, likes that she’s having an effect on this woman in return.

Replacing my fingers with my mouth, right through the fabric of your bra, too eager to wait

Alternating between them, pinching and rolling the other

Shifting on the sofa, she tries to ease the throbbing between her thighs, taps in an honest response before she can think better of it.

You’re making me squirm over here

Good. I like feeling you move beneath me, feeling you get a little desperate

Tell me what you want

The question is almost ridiculous. What doesn’t she want? How does she even begin to describe all the things she’s longing for, dreaming of?

I want you to touch me

I am touching you ;)

She rolls her eyes at that, an expected response, but one so like Bernie it just reinforces the scene in her mind, summons an image of dark eyes twinkling at her over a surgical mask.

Tease

You know what I mean

I never tease, I promise you that

Serena pauses to sip her wine, takes a screenshot and sends it off to Sian, gets a series of fire emojis in response. The app notification pops up and she thinks idly she might develop a Pavlovian response to it after tonight.

I slip a hand between your thighs, brushing just lightly against your lacy knickers

Are you wet for me?

She doesn’t even need to check to answer honestly.

Yes. Very much so

Mmmmmm, I can feel it through your knickers, can feel how much you want it

A flush spreads across her chest, climbs her neck, the picture of dextrous surgeon’s fingers pressed against her breathtakingly vivid.

Please…

Pushing my hand beneath the lace. What do I find?

Honesty comes easier now, reassured by the positive response so far, her lingering embarrassment fading by the moment.

I keep things natural

You find me, soaking for you

I love that

The response is immediate, brings a smile to her face.

You’re so soft and warm around my fingers, exploring you, circling your clit

She barely silences her gasp, suddenly very aware of what she’s doing, of the fact that her daughter is in the same room. But she’s too far gone to stop now, her mind and body awash in endorphins, tangled in the web of desire this woman’s words are weaving around her.

Oh god

Are you moaning for me, or are you quiet?

I tend to be…uninhibited

Fuck, you’re incredible

I would make you beg for me, make you scream. You’d have to bite down on my shoulder to keep from waking the neighbors

Her eyes narrow at that, a bright spark of possibility flaring in her mind.

Would you like that? A set of marks of your own to remember me by?

God yes!

Listening to you moan as I stroke my fingers in and out of you, getting you more and more worked up

You certainly are

I could say the same

I tug your knickers off, impatient. I want to taste you…

Licking my fingers clean as I move down your body

The image is breathtaking, Bernie above her, smirking around one long, slender finger, moaning at the taste of Serena. She squeezes her legs hard, shifts again at the gush of wetness she feels.

Oh fuck

Not yet ;)

Settling between your thighs, close enough to see you, to smell you, pulling one of your legs up over my shoulder

Is this what you want?

She wishes she could shout her answer, feels that tiny text on a screen can’t begin to encompass just how much she wants what this stranger is offering.

Yes…please…

Stroking you softly with my tongue at first, just a little, just tasting you

Then a little firmer, circling your clit but not quite touching it

It’s as if she can feel it, the gentle touches, the warmth of breath, silky soft hair brushing against her thighs. Too much and not enough all at once.

I thought you said you didn’t tease?

Impatient, aren’t you?

Sometimes, when I feel like I’m going out of my mind

I said I’d take care of you and I meant it

She finds she believes it, believes she would be safe in this woman’s hands, in Bernie’s hands.

Sliding two fingers inside you, sucking softly on your clit

Holding your hips down with my other hand, hearing all your wonderful noises

Oh my god

Are you touching yourself for me?

Serena knows she could lie, it would be easy enough and how would her chat partner ever know the truth, but finds she doesn’t want to, doesn’t want this exploration to be anything less than honest, at least on her part.

I can’t at the moment, but I certainly will later

I don’t know that I’ve ever been this close without being touched

An image floats to the front of her mind of Bernie sprawled across her couch, eyes fixed on the phone screen. She has to know, has to ask…

What are you doing?

I’ve got a hand down my pants, imagining the taste of you on my tongue

I’m so wet right now, you’re driving me crazy

Power and lust and want pulse through her so strongly that for one wild moment she thinks she may come just like this, fully clothed, without a single touch. Her mind reels, spinning out a whole new set of images, of herself exploring Bernie with her hands and mouth, that lean, beautiful body writhing beneath her, voice hoarse and begging for more.

I wish I could see that, see you touch yourself

fck

Serena's gratified at the idea that she's made the other woman lose control, feels even more brave.

I’d put my hand on yours, have you show me all the ways you like to be touched

There’s a long pause. She wonders if the other woman came, pictures her shuddering through an orgasm, wonders if Elinor would notice if she snuck to the bathroom, knows it would be the work of a moment to get herself there.

I could come over and show you…

Serena’s breath catches in her chest, heart pounding. It’s an insane proposal. This woman is a complete stranger; she doesn’t even know her name, for god's sake! That doesn’t change the fact that her knickers are drenched, her body humming with desire.

Reality sinks in like a splash of cold water as she glances across the room. Elinor is still curled up in the armchair, oblivious to what her mother has been getting up to. She may be in her own world, but there’s no way to explain a strange woman showing up in the middle of the night and disappearing into Serena’s bedroom.

Unfortunately my daughter is staying with me, so that isn’t really an option

I am *incredibly* sorry to hear that

She doesn’t know how to respond to that, doesn’t know how to get back the haze of lust, the connection that had surrounded them just moments earlier, swaps over to text instead.

She wants to come over

DO IT!!!

I can’t. Elinor is here :(

Go to her, then!

Serena can practically hear Sian’s exasperation through the words on the screen.

If you don’t do this and tell me everything, I’ll never forgive you

It’s a heady thought - sneaking away in the night to meet a stranger. A stranger who has ignited her mind and her body like no one has in ages with only her words. A stranger who is offering to fulfill her wildest fantasies.

You’ve played it safe your whole life, she thinks. How many more times do you think you’ll get a chance like this? She types quickly, tapping ‘send’ before she can talk herself out of it.

I could get away, though…

The three dots blink for what feels like forever and then an address appears. It’s a neighborhood Serena knows, only fifteen minutes away. She takes a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart, to stop herself from running upstairs like a giddy teenager, and draws on whatever limited acting talent she may have.

“Damn.” Elinor finally looks up at that and Serena tries to arrange her expression into something like exasperation. “I’m sorry, darling, I have to go into the hospital.” It’s an easy lie, one that’s been true all too many times in the past, and she feels a flash of guilt at using something that has been a point of contention between her and her daughter for something like this.

Fortunately, Ellie just rolls her eyes and mutters some biting imprecation as she turns back to her phone, telling her friends what a disappointment her mother is, no doubt. Serena presses a kiss against her hair as she walks past, a gesture Elinor barely acknowledges, and makes her way upstairs, her pace quickening as soon as she’s out of sight.

By the time she shuts the bedroom door behind her, Serena’s stomach is filled with a storm of butterflies, skin prickling with adrenaline and arousal in equal measure. Her grubby loungewear is peeled off and unceremoniously tossed in the direction of the hamper, followed by her thoroughly ruined pants. She considers going to clean herself up, then remembers some of her mystery woman’s words, thinks she might be appreciated far more the way she is. The thought sends a thrill through her.

It takes a few minutes of digging to find her laciest underwear, buried at the back of the drawer beneath her day-to-day knickers. Mostly sheer and shockingly expensive, the fabric hugs her in all the right places, accentuates her breasts, the curve of her hips, the wine red color practically glowing against her pale skin.

She has her sexiest little black dress halfway off the hanger before she remembers she told Elinor she was going to work, a lie that won’t hold water if she walks downstairs dressed like she’s looking for a shag. She changes direction with a sigh, pulling on her usual black trousers and her favorite leopard print blouse instead, forgoes the usual vest underneath, the cool slide of silk decadent against her heated skin.

“Don’t wait up,” she calls as she walks out the door, is hardly able to keep the nervous excitement out of her voice. Her hand trembles a little as she turns the key in the ignition, punches the address into her GPS, just to be sure. As she pulls away, she taps the call button, fingers drumming against the steering wheel.

“Don’t tell me you’ve backed out.” Sian’s voice fills the cabin of her car, and Serena rolls her eyes as if her friend can see her.

“No, I haven’t. I’m in the car now. But, Sian,” she pauses, her nerves suddenly overwhelming, a lifetime of common sense flooding back along with them, “is this a good idea?”

“An anonymous booty call with a mysterious woman? Darling, I have never been more proud of you.”

“But what if she’s a serial killer? Or a lunatic? Or, or a creepy old man?” It feels more insane by the moment, a ridiculously out of character risk that she can’t believe she’s talked herself into. She feels old, in this moment; old and uncertain, with a distasteful hint of desperation. Serena sits at the stoplight, thinks maybe she should turn around, forget the whole preposterous idea.

"Or maybe she's just what you need. Someone new. Something new. Having your first sapphic dalliance be a no-strings shag sounds perfect to me. If it changes your life? Wonderful! Rent a van and move her in tomorrow." Serena can't hold back a snort of laughter at that. "If she’s rubbish you go home and get roaring drunk - no harm done."

Sian’s confidence bouys her, as it often does, conveniently glossing over all of the scrapes she’s gotten Serena into in the past. The one concession she is willing to give is a “just in case” phone call, set for about an hour after Serena arrives. If it’s going badly she can say there’s an emergency or at least let Sian know if things are especially dire.

The address turns out to be a small but lovely row house on a well-lit street. Given what she’s seen in her career she knows the quality of the neighborhood is meaningless - terrible people do terrible things everywhere. Still, it does settle her nerves somewhat. Checking the numbers in the message against those on the front door for the tenth time, she gets out of her car, bag clutched in one hand, phone in the other.

It takes a few tries to convince herself to knock, to push past the butterflies in her stomach that have grown to elephants on the drive over, and she almost pulls away immediately after, forces herself to stand on the mat, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot.

A light clicks on in the hall, spilling warmth through the textured windows, sets her heart racing anew. Thoughts careen wildly through her head, almost louder than the clicking of the deadbolt being released, a flurry of hopes and fears and fantasies all jumbled together. Serena finds herself holding her breath as the door eases open, hopes the look on her face is something other than abject terror.

For a moment, she thinks maybe lust has addled her brain, her fantasies blending with the description of her mystery woman to trick her eyes, to create someone who couldn't possibly be there.

"Serena? What are you doing here?"

Serena stands frozen, trapped between the urges to flee, to laugh, to throw up on the spot, because this is no arousal-induced hallucination. Bernie Wolfe, her co-worker, her co-lead, stands in the open doorway, looking terribly confused.

She doesn't know the protocol for this. Doesn't know how to handle such a sudden shift in her reality. The puzzled look on Bernie's face deepens and in a flash Serena realizes she hasn't made the connection, hasn't realized that Serena is the woman she's been texting all evening. Say something her mind finally screams.

"I, ah, I'm sorry to stop by unannounced," Serena fumbles, trying to wrangle the grimace she imagines must be on her face into a smile. "I was out, um, driving and I had a thought about, about allocation numbers and I thought I'd run them by you." It's a terrible excuse, she can only hope Bernie is surprised enough to let it pass.

Bernie's brow furrows even deeper. "But how do you know where I live?"

Shit. "I'm sorry, I took a peek at your records and then Google Maps, I'm afraid." Serena gestures with her phone, as if that explains any of this insanity away, the motion illuminating the screen.

Bernie's eyes lock on the phone and go wide, the color draining from her face. In what feels like slow-motion, Serena turns her head to follow Bernie's horrified gaze, sees the dating app still up on her screen, emblazoned with Bernie's address beneath her screen name. She wonders if it's possible to actually die on the spot from sheer mortification.

It seems as if Bernie has the same idea, fingers going white as she reaches out to grip the door frame. "Serena, I...oh my god."

"Bernie, my god, I'm so sorry. I obviously had no idea who I was talking to or I never would have....I mean, I wouldn't, if I'd..." She buries her flaming face in her hands, wills herself not to burst into tears. "Can I just move to Siberia and pretend this never happened?"

The silence stretches long enough that Serena peeks through her fingers, wonders if Bernie has simply walked away. Instead she's perfectly still in the doorway, something like consideration mixing with the embarrassment on her face. She clears her throat, her voice tight.

"Why, ah, why don't you come in. I'd rather not discuss this on the front stoop."

Humiliation flaring anew, Serena follows her through the door and into a small sitting room. The furnishings are sparse but comfortable looking, and Bernie leads her to an overstuffed couch behind a dinged up coffee table, urging her to sit.

"I don't know about you, but I could use a drink." Bernie licks her lips nervously. "I might have some wine in..."

"If it's all the same, I think I'd prefer whiskey."

“Whiskey over wine? This is worse than I thought,” she jokes, risks a hesitant smile that Serena matches, the tension between them easing just a bit.

Bernie ducks back through the doorway, returns only a moment later with two tumblers filled with at least 3 fingers of amber liquid. She hands one off to Serena and settles into the opposite end of the sofa, one of her long legs tucked up beneath her.

The whiskey burns down Serena's throat as she takes a healthy swallow, the sensation combining with the spreading warmth of the alcohol in her belly to help focus her scattered mind. Bernie is watching her as she sips her own drink, her eyes opaque, wary.

"I won't tell anyone," Serena begins, thinks maybe that's the biggest concern in Bernie's mind. "I'm not one for gossip and I don't see how this getting out would be good for either of us."

"Thanks for that. But that's not what I...I mean, I wasn't worried, more surprised?" She rolls the tumbler back and forth between her palms, eyes flicking from Serena's to the sloshing liquid, as if she can't bear to hold the gaze for long. "I, ah, I thought you were straight."

Serena chuckles mirthlessly. "Yes, well, so did I for most of my life."

"And now?"

Taking another sip, Serena hesitates, wonders if she should even be discussing this, if she should reveal any more of herself than she already has. But Bernie's eyes are soft, more concerned than accusing, and Serena thinks just maybe she's the perfect person to talk to.

"It's like I said - I'm definitely interested in women," she feels her cheeks flush anew, the words hanging in the air, "even if I don't know exactly what that means."

Silence stretches between them, long enough that Serena feels the urge to fidget, to pace, anything to expel this fluttering nervousness. When Bernie finally speaks, her words are soft, as if spoken to herself.

"The last time I was consciously attracted to a woman, I didn't even realize what was happening at first. We were in the RAMC together and we became friends, the closest of friends. I wanted to spend all of my time with her, to share everything with her, but I thought it was just that I hadn't had a friend like that before." Her lips curve into a lopsided smile. "And then Alex kissed me and...god. It was like I'd been struck by lightning. Like everything in my life was tossed into the air and landed in a new order, a pattern I had never seen before."

Her words are raw, filled with a sense of something so achingly lovely that Serena can feel tears prick behind her eyelids. She knows what a taciturn person Bernie is, can't even imagine the courage it takes to speak about this so plainly.

"When I came back from that tour I asked my husband for a divorce," Bernie says, matter of fact once again. "I knew what I wanted, what I was, and I knew I couldn't go back to pretending otherwise." She leans forward, elbows on her knees, dark eyes earnest. "What I'm saying, Serena, is it's never too late to find yourself, to find out what that means."

She knows Bernie means well, knows that what she's saying makes sense, but Serena still feels exposed, rejected, laid bare in a way that makes her gut churn.

"Yes, well, I'm not sure I'll be doing much exploration after this." She downs the rest of her whiskey with a grimace. "It's a bit of blow to the ego to have your first attempt, something you thought was reciprocated, turn out to be a lie."

Bernie jerks back like she's been slapped and Serena regrets the harshness of her words, doesn't know how to take rescind them.

"Serena, that's not...None of what I said before was a lie." A flush rises in her cheeks, softens her face in the dim light. "Believe me, before you knocked on my door I had every intention of making good on my promises."

The words hit Serena like a blow to the chest, stealing her breath, the desire that had been building in her all evening reawakening in a rush. She wets her lips with the tip of her tongue, thrills a little at the way Bernie's eyes track the motion.

"And, ah, I suppose that's changed now? Now that you know who you were actually talking to."

Bernie sets her empty glass on the table, her movements slow, as if she's buying herself time. Serena's stomach flips nervously, unsure of what answer she's hoping for.

"It doesn't have to." Serena gasps softly, barely more than an inhalation, sees Bernie's eyes darken. "Can I tell you something?"

It's as if the air in the room has thickened, making it hard to breathe, hard to speak, and Serena can only nod, frozen in place as Bernie slides a few inches closer.

"When you described what you looked like?" Bernie's voice is low, hypnotizing in its intensity. "I pictured you, Serena. Everything I said, everything I described - I was picturing you."

"What?" It's as if Serena's brain has shorted out, leaving her fuzzy, filled with disbelief. She hardly notices Bernie move closer, jerks slightly when fingertips brush softly against her own.

"Serena, I am incredibly attracted to you. Have been for some time, if I'm honest." The admission is bold, more than Serena ever would have expected, but on the heels of her story about Alex, she thinks Bernie must have hidden depths, a passion she hasn’t yet seen. Bernie herself seems surprised at the words, the apples of her cheeks flushed, but her eyes earnest. "This wasn't exactly how I pictured telling you that, but I can't bear you thinking I'm not interested."

Serena generally considers herself clever, especially good with words, always prepared with a witty comment. But now...now her tongue feels stuck to the roof of her mouth, mind reeling at the unexpected revelation. Still, Bernie's blunt admission awakens something in her, the part that has always enjoyed the admiration of a lover, that revels in the sense of power.

The silence stretches and Serena can see Bernie's face fall a bit, her hand sliding away across the cushions. Serena leans forward and grasps her hand, tangling their fingers together.

"Can I tell you something?" Some of the sparkle returns to Bernie's eyes, a raised eyebrow encouraging Serena to continue. "I was picturing you, too. In fact, I think you were part of why I updated my profile in the first place."

Heat flares in Bernie's gaze and she moves close enough that their legs press together, the warmth of her body radiating through the layers of fabric, their hands still tangled between them.

"Is that right?" she murmurs, eyes dropping to Serena's mouth for a long beat. "And what should we do about that?"

"I believe you made some promises..." Serena tries to impart a confidence she doesn't fully feel, belied by the quaver in her voice as Bernie's thin lips curve into a predatory smile.

"I did indeed." Their mouths are mere inches apart, and Serena can feel Bernie's warm breath bouncing against her cheek, can hear her heartbeat thundering in her ears. "I want you to know I don't expect anything. We don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with."

"Bernie?" Those eyes, always so dark and enigmatic, are practically black, piercing Serena to her very core. "Shut up and kiss me."

Bernie's lips are soft against her own, tentative as they navigate the uncertainty of angles, becoming more confident as they shift closer, settle into the connection. Her tongue teases against the seam of Serena's mouth once, twice, and she opens eagerly, moaning as the kiss deepens.

Serena's not sure what she expected, exactly, but she hasn't been kissed like this in ages, possibly ever. She clings to Bernie's shoulders, holding her close, unwilling to allow even a whisper of space between them, never wants this feeling to end. Bernie's hands slide into her hair, one curving around her neck, tilting her just so as she explores Serena's mouth.

She has no idea how long they kiss, mouths meeting again and again, only parting for brief gasps of air, to shift positions as limbs protest. Serena finds herself stretched out across the cushions, Bernie's lean body tucked between her and the back of the sofa, their legs intertwined, one of her hands just beneath Serena’s blouse, resting against the dip of her waist.

The harsh buzz of vibration rattling against wood suddenly pierces the air, startling them apart, hearts pounding. It takes Serena a moment to get her bearings, to realize it's her cell phone. She stretches to grab it off the table, wincing apologetically as she accepts the call.

"Hello?"

"Well? Is she everything you expected? Do you need a rescue, or are you on your third orgasm already?" Sian sounds like a teenager, eager for the latest gossip and Serena feels herself blush, all too aware of Bernie's eyes on her, of Bernie's hand still beneath her blouse.

"Um, everything's fine. I'm a bit busy, at the moment, can I call you tomorrow?" A spate of gleeful laughter bursts from the phone and Serena closes her eyes, knows Bernie must’ve heard it.

"Oh well done, Serena! You'd better call me first thing in the morning, I want all the details. Have fun and don't do anything I wouldn't!"

She disconnects the call and set the phone back down, turns to find a deeply amused Bernie grinning down at her.

"I suppose you heard all of that?"

Bernie nods, grin widening. "Backup in case I turned out to be a nutter?"

"Yes! I couldn't very well come to the house of a stranger without some kind of security, could I?" She scowls at Bernie's chuckles, pokes a finger into her ribs and Bernie squawks in offense. There's a scuffle of limbs and laughter that ends with a breathless Serena pinned down against the cushions, Bernie straddling her hips, their lips practically touching.

Serena moves to pick up where they left off, but Bernie pulls back, just out of reach.

"We, ah, we should probably stop. Before things get out of hand." Her gaze flickers, looking everywhere but at Serena, clearly trying to bring herself back under some kind of control. Serena narrows her eyes.

"What if I want things to get out of hand?" She bucks her hips slightly, pressing up until Bernie groans, her hands clenching around Serena's wrists. Their eyes finally meet, Bernie's wide and dark, her breath coming fast.

"Serena, are you sure? I don't want to push you into anything."

"The only thing I'm sure of is that I don't want to stop," Serena says, voice pitched low and steady, confident for the first time all night.

Something close to a growl slips free from Bernie's throat as she leans in to kiss her again, the tenderness from before turning fierce. Serena feels surrounded, overwhelmed by new sensations in the best possible way; the unfamiliar curves of Bernie's body pressed against her own, teeth nipping and tugging her bottom lip, their hips bumping together as they try to somehow get closer.

Permission given, kissing seems to no longer be enough for Bernie. She abandons Serena's lips to nip at her chin, mouth her way along the curve of her jaw, down the tendon of her neck. Serena groans at the feel of Bernie's mouth on her skin, can't even bring herself to regret the marks she knows she'll have to cover come morning.

She can just make out that Bernie is speaking as she explores, muttering how lovely Serena is, how good she feels, she tastes, how much she's wanted this, painting her words across Serena's skin as she moves lower, pushing aside the collar of her shirt to get better access.

Serena feels like she's on fire, every touch of Bernie's lips burning against her, ratcheting her arousal higher and higher. Still it’s not enough. She squirms against Bernie’s grip, wants to touch her, to tangle her fingers in that silky looking mane of hair, something, anything.

“Please,” Serena gasps, not even sure what she’s asking for, and somehow Bernie understands.

Releasing her wrists, Bernie’s hands trail down Serena’s outstretched arms, slipping in between them, fingers fumbling a little as they work to free the tiny buttons of Serena’s blouse. Her mouth follows the path of her hands, pressing against the slivers of skin that are revealed as each button gives way, until she’s kneeling over Serena, hands trembling a bit as she catches the edges of the fluttery silk, slowly pulling them apart.

Serena thought she would feel self-conscious, being bared like this. Bernie is so beautiful; long and lean and stunning in a way Serena could never hope to be. It’s hard not to feel like she may be a disappointment. All that doubt is washed away by the sheer wonder in Bernie’s eyes, the undeniable desire.

“Oh, Serena,” she breathes, something like awe in her hushed voice. “You are incredible.

Her touch is feather light and Serena thinks she’s never been touched with such desire, such reverence before. Those delicate, capable hands that she’s watched in surgery so many times skim up her sides, tracing the edges of her bra where lace meets skin, trailing goosebumps in their wake. Her fingertips circle one distended nipple, clearly visible through the sheer lace, and Serena groans, the sensation shooting straight between her thighs.

A part of her expected something more frenzied, hands tearing at her clothes, buttons flying, not this slow, delicate exploration. She feels like she’s being studied, like Bernie is seeking out and memorizing every touch, every sensation that she loves. It’s driving her mad, leaves her panting and squirming as Bernie teases and tortures her breasts, her fingers digging into the strong muscles of Bernie’s thighs in an attempt to ground herself. She thinks wildly she could come just from this, this focused attention, this intensity, wonders how on Earth she’s going to survive whatever comes next.

Bernie's mouth is back on her skin, licking and nibbling a trail from her neck down her sternum, sucking a purpling mark on her left breast just above the cup, her breath warm and wet through the thin material. Her tongue flicks against Serena's nipple, outlines the shape, a grin of satisfaction on her face.

A whine escapes Serena as Bernie suddenly pulls back, the air in the room cold against her skin after the heat of Bernie's body. Before she can ask, Bernie's hand is in her own, pulling her to sit up, her other hand coming to Serena's neck, teasing the short hair behind her ear, smiling in response to the query in Serena’s eyes.

"The couch isn’t the most comfortable venue for what I have in mind." Serena can only nod her agreement, lets her blouse slither to the floor behind her as Bernie helps her up, leads her down the narrow hallway.

They barely make it through the door of the bedroom before they're kissing again, Bernie's lean body pinning her back against the wall, hands mapping every inch of bare skin they can reach.

Serena manages to work her hands between them, searching for the buttons of Bernie's blouse, Bernie's fingers joining hers a moment later, fumbling together to part the fabric, until Serena's hands can slide underneath. Bernie's skin is like velvet beneath her fingers, warm and soft and intoxicating. She pulls the shirt down Bernie's arms impatiently, splays her hands wide against her back, trying to touch everywhere at once.

Bernie's fingers grip her hips, she leads them back across the room, lips never parting. Somehow they make it to the bed without falling in a heap, and Bernie holds her in place, sits on the edge of the bed, looking up at her with wide, shining eyes. Serena's eyes flutter shut as Bernie presses a line of open mouthed kisses over her stomach, her torso, and she finally gives into months of curiosity, sinks her hands into Bernie's hair, holding her closer, tangling the messy curls around her fingers.

There's a brief fumble, then she feels her bra go slack, feels Bernie ease it down her arms and releases her hold only long enough let it drop to the floor. Bernie is looking up at her like she's a marvel, like there's no woman in the world but her; it's blinding, like looking directly at the sun and she has to close her eyes, fingers tugging Bernie's hair a little tighter. She focuses instead on the feel of Bernie's hands on her skin, gasps aloud as her nipple is engulfed by warm wetness.

She's not sure how Bernie does it, but the next thing she knows her trousers are pooled on the floor and she's laid out across one of the most comfortable beds she's ever encountered. An appreciative moan slips free and she wiggles a little deeper against the soft duvet, Bernie smiling down at her.

"When I was was deployed, I promised myself that when I came home for good I would get the most comfortable bed I could find." Her smile widens, eyes following as her fingers trace down the centerline of Serena's body, watching as she arches eagerly into the contact, stopping just short of her lacy knickers. "I must admit, it looks far more appealing with you in it."

Serena just laughs at that, pulls her down into another kiss, moans into Bernie's mouth as those incredible fingers cup her through her underwear, stroking lightly.

She was right about the differences, Serena thinks as their bodies press together, all curves and softness where she's been used to hard planes and angles. She wants to explore, wants to learn Bernie's body, this new landscape, but her thoughts are scattered by the teasing of Bernie's fingers, pressing just hard enough to tease her clit through the thin barrier of fabric, her teeth scraping against the tendon of her neck.

"Can I touch you, Serena?" She barely nods her assent before Bernie's hand is slipping inside her knickers, and she stutters out a curse at the first touch of her fingers, all of her nerve endings already hypersensitive.

"God, you're drenched," Bernie groans, stroking a finger through Serena's swollen folds. "Is this all for me?"

"Y-yes," Serena stammers, eyes squeezed shut as she tries to calm her hammering heart, to stop herself from coming at the slightest touch.

The delicious touch disappears, and she looks up just in time to see Bernie kneeling beside her, sees her pop a glistening finger into her mouth, eyes sliding shut with a hum of satisfaction. Heat floods Serena's face, floods the crux of her thighs, has her squirming against the plush mattress in the face of this manifestation of her fantasies.

She's had what she thought was good sex, great sex, even, but nothing has been like this. Bernie makes her way down Serena's body with hands and lips, with murmurs of appreciation, whispered promises that ignite Serena's mind as well as her body. She lingers in all the places that make Serena twitch and gasp, leaves no patch of skin unattended to, teasing and tasting her way across the landscape of Serena's curves. By the time she peels off Serena's knickers, settles between her trembling thighs, Serena is nearly delirious with want.

The first touch of Bernie's tongue has her biting her fist to hold back a cry, conscious of the neighbors on the other side of the wall, and she knows she won't last long. Bernie seems to know it too. She doesn't tease, strokes Serena's clit hard and fast until she comes with a muffled shout, hips bucking up against Bernie's firm grip, doesn't move away as Serena sucks in large, shuddering gasps of air. Instead she stays close, tongue soft and gentle, easing her through it, only to build her back up again.

This time Bernie seems determined to explore at her leisure, teasing responses out of Serena with her mouth just as she had earlier with her hands. She never lingers anywhere too long, stoking Serena's arousal and then pulling her back from the edge with a scrape of teeth to her hip, a sucking kiss to her inner thigh. It's maddening, incredible, has her writhing and bucking, hands wound tight in the sheets and biting down on her lip so hard she's afraid she'll draw blood.

"Serena." She lifts her heavy head from the pillow, looks down a little blearily, her stomach clenching at the sight of Bernie, lips red and glistening, tousled blonde hair spread across her thighs. "I want to hear you this time."

She lowers her head again and there's nothing for Serena to do but hold on, to tangle her fingers in Bernie's hair as she pulls moans and curses from her, a never ending litany of sounds as she works Serena higher and higher. Two fingers slip inside her, joined quickly by a third, setting a perfect counterpoint to the pressure of Bernie's tongue on her clit.

She comes with a shout, back arched, wave after wave of pleasure pulsing through her body as she clenches around Bernie's fingers, stars blossoming across the insides of her eyelids.

Serena opens her eyes what feels like hours later, her heart still thudding unsteadily against her breastbone. Bernie is stretched out beside her, chin propped on her fist, looking for all the world like the cat who ate the canary; an apt description, all things considered. She realizes with a start that Bernie's still mostly dressed, left in a plain black bra and those skinny jeans Serena has trouble tearing her eyes from.

Pushing up on her elbows, she nuzzles Bernie's cheek, whispers "thank you" against her skin before kissing her softly. The taste of herself lingering on Bernie's lips makes her head spin and she slips her tongue into Bernie's mouth, hands sliding around her waist, feeling their way up to the clasp of her bra.

"Serena, you don't have to," Bernie says, pulling back to put a little space between them. Serena's brow furrows, eyes narrowing.

"Berenice Wolfe, if you think I'm the kind of woman who lets someone give a performance like that without reciprocating, you have another thing coming." She blushes a little at the words, but pushes onward. "Just because I have no idea what I'm doing doesn't mean I'm not more than willing to learn."

Bernie grins at that, kisses her sweetly and Serena smiles in return, thinks how nice it is to feel this free in bed with someone, to feel like it's okay to explore, to not know everything. Wonders if that's how sex is with women or just with Bernie.

"First things first." She trails a finger down Bernie's flat stomach, hooking it into the waistband of her jeans, tugging lightly. "I have no idea how you get into these things, much less how to get you out of them."

Bernie lets out a bark of laughter as she swings her legs out of the bed and stands. If she's a sight to behold in those skintight trousers, watching her peel them off is enough to have Serena sending a prayer of thanks heavenward. She tries to look everywhere at once, overwhelmed by all the pale skin on display, the long slender limbs, the dip of Bernie's waist, the curve of her hip. Her gaze lands on the ragged scar bisecting Bernie's chest, her heart clenching a little.

Her eyes widen in surprise when Bernie doesn't stop there, in a flash tosses her bra across the bedroom and steps out of her knickers like it's nothing. She climbs back onto the bed, stretching out on her back with her hands tucked behind her head, the picture of relaxation.

"Well, Ms. Campbell? I believe it's your turn." There's a teasing glint in her eyes, her mouth quirked in a lopsided grin that pricks at Serena's competitive nature.

The surprised gasp that falls from Bernie's lips when she straddles her hips is something Serena knows she'll treasure for a long time to come, as is the way Bernie looks up at her, eyes traveling over her with naked want. It burns away any lingering self consciousness, any doubt she may have about what she's doing.

She tangles her fingers with Bernie's for a moment, studying the way their hands fit together, raises one to her lips and presses a kiss to Bernie’s fingertips, flicking her tongue out to chase the taste of herself she knows lingers there. Bernie's eyes darken at that, her breath coming a little quicker. Serena releases her, sliding her hands up along Bernie's arms, her shoulders, feeling the play of the muscles, the strength of her. A sudden image of being picked up by those arms and pressed against a wall flashes across her mind and she has to push the thought away, lest she get distracted.

"You will tell me if I'm doing alright, won't you?" Bernie's assent disintegrates into a moan as Serena's hands slip lower, cupping her small breasts.

Serena is instantly enamoured with the feel of her, the weight in her hands, the unbelievable softness of her skin. She brushes a thumb across a stiff nipple and Bernie whines beneath her, eyes squeezing shut. It turns out she's sensitive here, knowledge Serena takes full advantage of as she explores, trying different touches, different pressure. She leans down to replace her fingers with her mouth and Bernie's hand flies to her hair, holding her in place, tugging at the short strands as she gently pulls Bernie's nipple between her teeth.

Mouthing her way across Bernie's chest, she slides a hand lower, pausing when her fingers brush against soft, wiry curls, noting the way Bernie's hips buck up into the touch.

Alright, Campbell. It's now or never. She slips her hand lower, groaning against Bernie's breast in concert with her moaning Serena's name. Her fingers sink into heat and wet and softness. Logically she knows it's no different from the many times she's touched herself, but god, it feels different in a way she can't define, doesn't want to. All she knows is she doesn't want it to end, wants to do this forever.

Serena moves her fingers higher, circles a fingertip just lightly around Bernie's clit, the little noises she makes sending bright sparks of desire shooting down Serena's spine. She explores for a few long moments, adjusting to the feel, then leans close, her lips brushing against the shell Bernie's ear.

"Is this what you pictured, Bernie? Me touching you like this?" Bernie's wordless nod is desperate, brings a feral grin to Serena's face. She thinks about Bernie's words from earlier, pushes two fingers into her and bites down on the corded muscle of her shoulder.

"Fuck!" Bernie hisses, grabbing Serena's hips hard enough to bruise as she sets a steady rhythm, one Bernie meets eagerly. Her thigh presses up between Serena's legs and she grinds down against it with a groan, matches the pace of her thrusts.

It doesn't take long after that, both of them too keyed up to hold back. A brush of Serena's thumb against her clit and Bernie is muffling her cries in Serena's neck, hips grinding hard against her hand. The sight of this gorgeous woman falling apart beneath her, knowing that she has done that, is enough to send a low pulse of warmth though Serena, leaves her shuddering against the firm length of Bernie's thigh.

They collapse together atop the shambles of the bedding, a tangle of sweaty limbs and heaving chests.

Serena’s surprised when Bernie keeps her close, tucks her head to rest on her shoulder. She can hear the steady beating of Bernie’s heart beneath her ear, finds herself matching the pace of their breathing. Without thinking she reaches out, laying her hand flat on Bernie’s sternum, the scar a stark ridge beneath her palm. She feels Bernie still, tense, and moves to pull her hand back, but Bernie suddenly covers it with her own, relaxing once again beside her.

“What’s the verdict?” Bernie’s voice is a little hoarse, tentative in a way Serena’s not used to from the often belligerent surgeon. “Was being with a woman everything you hoped?”

She cranes her neck to prop her chin on Bernie’s shoulder. Her eyes are hooded, reserved, as if she’s bracing herself for rejection and hiding it behind bravado, and Serena has to swallow a disbelieving laugh.

“It was...bloody marvelous is what it was.” That smug, crooked grin returns and Serena pinches Bernie’s side, prompting a yelp. “Less of the ego, please, or there’ll be no dealing with you come Monday.”

Pushing up onto her elbows, she gazes down at Bernie, the tangle of blonde hair fanned out across the pillow, lips kiss swollen and eyes happy, happier than she’s ever seen them. She is struck once again by how beautiful Bernie is, feels her heart stutter a bit in her chest.

“It was wonderful, Bernie. Thank you.” She presses a kiss to the slope of her shoulder, near the set of teeth marks she knows will be a vivid bruise by morning. “Was it, um, all right for, for you?” Her attempt to act casual fails miserably and she feels her face heat with embarrassment.

Bernie’s eyes soften as she leans up to meet Serena, kissing her gently. “It was wonderful,” she whispers, bumping their noses together. “You’re a natural.” Serena can’t restrain her grin.

She sees the clock out of the corner of her eye, wincing a bit at the time.

“I should probably head home.” Bernie’s face falls for a moment, but she quickly pulls it into a smile, shifts to sit back against the headboard, the covers draped across her lap.

“Of course.”

It’s a little awkward after that as Serena slips out of the tangle of bedsheets, feeling Bernie’s eyes follow her as she gathers her scattered clothing, dressing as much as she can given that her blouse is still somewhere in the sitting room. She doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know how to tell Bernie what this has meant to her, doesn’t know what she expects. She plasters a smile onto her face, hopes it doesn’t look too forced as she pauses near the bed.

“Good night, Bernie.” She turns toward the door, uncertainty sitting heavy in her stomach.

“Serena…” Bernie’s fingers catch hers and she turns back, sees the same uncertainty reflected in Bernie’s face. “I know this is a one night stand and I’m fine if that’s what you want. No one will ever hear about it from me. But, maybe it doesn’t have to be?” She peers up at Serena through her unruly fringe, fear and longing and a hundred other emotions playing out across her normally stoic face. Serena feels her stomach swoop, fluttering with sudden hope, with possibility.

She leans down and presses a kiss to Bernie’s lips, an already familiar taste that makes her heart thrum. “Maybe it doesn’t.”

When she pulls away, she can see her own smile mirrored on Bernie’s face.