It was a strange feeling to sit down alone without a trace of a second life surrounding her. Every remnant of Edward had been removed from her life and had been refused entry into her new home. This house is smaller but feels too large nevertheless. Part of her still refuses to give up on the idea of spending her life in another’s company, thus she had chosen this house as her home- the empty spaces to be filled holding promise for a life anew.
She regarded her new living room, still looking immaculate and unblemished, but also lacking in personality. There were photos of her daughter and art that had been carefully selected over the years, but like a new horse it had still had to be broken in by unformed memories. She twisted her glass and saw the wine swirl inside before she set it to her lips and swallowed the last of it.
When she lay down alone in the middle of her bed between her silken sheets, still smelling sharply of the faceless Marks & Spencers where she had bought them the other day, she felt loneliness wash over her. It was a new town, a new job, a new life.
Serena prayed sleep would come soon and dreamless.
She hadn’t quite known what to expect when walking into the station. In many ways it wasn’t too different from what she was used to; the smell of coffee and gear penetrating her nose. She gingerly reaches to touch the new badge resting on her hip. The sounds surrounding her are different, the accent is broader and sturdier, and the article “the” seems to have disappeared from their speech. Her own smooth accent feels awkward in her mouth and mind now- strangely marked. Southern.
The commissioner, Henrik Hanssen, is a tall man with a slight foreign accent; at least she won’t be the only outsider around. They had met before during her interview. He now shows her around and leads her to her new desk. He apologises for the absence of her new partner; one DI Wolfe. From the tone of his voice she can already make out what kind of a person her new partner will be. Difficult and arrogant. During her first coffee break she picks up on pieces of what appears to be a “Big Macho” and followed by “Wolfe”. She catches herself mentally preparing to meet, what will with no doubt be, yet another steroid and protein infused peg in the patriarchy. Of course, she would be teamed up with the collective nightmare of the station. The desk they will be sharing is flooded with discarded candy wrappers, takeaway cups and sandwich packaging. She tells herself she won’t be cleaning up after him and won’t become someone’s personal cleaning lady; respect must be earned after all. Especially since she’s being partnered with a bloody DI . But it turns out Serena Campbell can’t bloody stand a mess. Every time someone does as much as walk past her desk, which happens a lot in an open office, she can see one candy wrapper or another fluttering in the corner of her eye.
She tells herself to ignore it, pay it no mind. She’s a Detective Chief Inspector- not a cleaning lady. She will not clean another man’s mess ever again. She had divorced Edward for a bloody reason.
But by God, how was she ever supposed to work in this absolute chaos .
So despite Serena telling herself over and over again that she will not clean up another’s mess ever again, she finds herself clearing out candy bar wrappers, takeaway coffee cups, plastic bottles, straws, empty sandwich packaging and many, many microwave meal containers.
By the end of the morning she has found out that her new partner A) seems to survive on 3 quid meal deals and Tesco microwave lasagne, B) must be in terrible physical shape and C) is everything she despises in men. Serena is fully aware she might be a tad judgemental- But one did not battle their way through a 13 months arduous divorce with a particularly pathetic (now) ex-husband without carrying some sort of grudge against men.
Something else she learns that morning is the exact time after which she had snapped and started organising their desk: Precisely 1 hour and 23 minutes sergeants di Lucca and Fletcher (Fletch and Raf they insist) inform her, as they loiter around her desk to see who wins their bet. One with a cockney accent and the other with a distinct brogue. Serena had promised herself to not be drawn in by anyone before knowing the lay of the land, but it had been a while since anyone had met her with similar warmth and a complete lack of judgement. When she asks how they ended up here, she learns that this district is practically the drain of the country. Anyone to break rank would be demoted and relocated to the deep corners of West Yorkshire. No wonder Tristan had been so happy to recommend her and see her off; Serena is steaming. There is no way she was going to stay in this dump, she’d be out before anyone would dare to even breathe a word about it. Before she storms off she quickly inquires as to why her partner-to-be DI Wolfe is not here. The men exchange looks and ask her what she already knows. Serena shrugs and simply says DI Wolfe’s reputation precedes him, according to the grapevine Bernie Wolfe was ex-military and had been demoted in rank and sent off to Yorkshire after some kind of incident at his previous post in London.
The two men exchange another look, something like a knowing twinkle shared between them, but they say nothing more. Serena tries to poke and prod; she doesn’t carry that detective’s title for nothing. But they soon dart off together and leave Serena empty-handed. Out of frustration, she makes herself a cup of coffee and realises she hasn’t brought a mug of her own with her, but pride dictates she shan’t be drinking from one of the plastic cups like some kind of intern on her first day. When she rummages around the cupboard she eventually finds a large RAMC mug with the initials B.G.W. scribbled on the bottom. Serena smirks. This will do just fine.
When she walks back to her desk she hears Raf and Fletch commenting and she puts just that little bit of extra sway in her hips. Time to show them who’s boss. She hears rather than sees someone approaching her desk. Had the prodigal partner finally returned? Serena looks up to see a woman standing next to her desk and raises an eyebrow, silently willing the woman to spit out whatever it is she wants.
“This is my desk.”
If it wasn't for the endless hours she had spent in the job schooling her features, her jaw would have dropped to the floor by now. The infamous Bernie “Big Macho Detective Inspector” Wolfe isn’t the large, gruff man she had expected to follow up on that nickname. Instead, there’s a lithe blonde in a fitted-pantsuit.
“Enchantée, I think you will find this is now my desk as well.” Serena manages without her astonishment seeping through.
“That’s my mug.” Her new colleague states.
“I cleaned the desk. Fair’s fair.” And with that Serena takes a sip from the mug and returns to her monitor.
Her new partner is exactly as infuriating as expected, possibly even more than expected (and boy, that was an achievement as Serena had worked with a certain Tristan Wood for years on end). She didn’t give Serena even an inch to operate in and kept getting under her skin, instantly and persistently. Serena now understands why DI Wolfe’s reputation preceded her. However, her other colleagues aren’t too bad she has to admit. Raf and Fletch can be very entertaining, and Hanssen becomes a trusted friend; one with a particularly dry and sharp sense of humour she soon finds out. There are moments when she finds she doesn’t even miss London as much as she expected (her attempts to escape the grey stone hills of Yorkshire had proven futile thus far). If only Berenice bloody Wolfe would just listen to her. It has been almost a year and Berenice ‘Bernie’ Wolfe is still as unruly as she was on her first day.
Over the course of her first year, she also learns there is a rumour going around about her partner, yet she never tries to learn what it is. In the past, she definitely would have, but she finds herself changed. It is also Raf and Fletch who convince her not to pry when she asks them the first time. “Not our story to tell, boss.” is all they have to say. What they do tell her are plenty of other stories, how DCI Griffin -who is just Ric these days- had accidentally punched Hanssen on the nose while enacting one of his boxing matches. Or how Fletch had once accidentally walked around with a bunch of Paw Patrol stickers on his back, a courtesy of the Fletchlings of course, and the first to inform him had been a suspect involved in a mugging. There are also stories she witnesses herself, such as Arthur Digby’s awkward flirting with constable Shreve- which had been so bad she and Fletch had felt obliged to intervene.
One unexpected advantage of working in a station assembled almost solely out of overqualified rejects were the cases. Serena’s initial fear had been that together with the death of her career, this would be the end of doing anything remotely interesting again. Over the years many had held the same thought and had done their level best to make the most out of it; consequently, their station was the main hub in the region- housing every possible expertise as a result from its staff being such a curious assembly. Or, as Fletch would say “We can rebuild ourselves! We have the technology!”- A blatant misquotation that would never cease to make Digby’s eyes roll in exasperation.
Another unexpected side of her new job had surprisingly enough been the cases she worked. The vast majority of important cases consisted of narcotics-related crimes.
“It’s impossible to find enough space to live in London without insolvency looming over your shoulder, let alone run a drug den,” Bernie explained to a sceptical Serena “much easier to find yourself a farm somewhere up north- Less nagging from the neighbours anyway.” Which was something they definitely agreed on.
Serena had always imagined she’d be commissioner by now and taking it a bit easier on the physical aspects of the job and be more involved with the political aspects, but instead she finds herself roughing it and making long hours. Ironically, it is during the period that she feels most productive- feels she is making a real difference. Somehow the recognition of Mrs Johnson and her gang of elderly friends does a lot more for her confidence and ego than any invitation to a fancy police do ever would- Especially when hearing Raf’s commentary after her first meeting with Mrs. Johnson and her friends, lounging in their rollators in front of the station (“Yes- They are a gang! Wouldn’t be surprised to find them dealing black market dental glue and coke during bridge night!” he had insisted).
There is no space for unnecessary power plays or bureaucracy here. After her initial disappointment, power plays were Serena’s bread and butter after all, she finds it comforting. It doesn’t mean she never sets her charm to work anymore, but simply for more beneficial matters such as funding, new equipment, better training and more autonomy. It brings her gratification to put her skills to work in a constructive manner, rather than spending her energy on backstage catfights and power climbs. It doesn’t take long before anyone who means anything knows who she is, as she becomes known as the ‘Queen in the north’. It takes a while for her to find out, but she likes it; even if the rest of the station won’t stop teasing her with it.
But after a particularly grueling night of obs where Serena feels like no amount of Shiraz could ever exorcise the cold from her bones, she starts to understand her colleague. She finds out Berenice Wolfe is also an honorary member of the ‘Club of Embittered Ex-wives’; her husband being responsible for her demotion to being a DI in West-Yorkshire after not being able to accept the fact that his wife of 20 years had turned out to be a lesbian. He was still warm and cosy in what once was their London townhouse, while she was in the process of cryofreezing her bones up north.
“You don’t mind…?” Bernie stares at her shoes invisible in the dark “Me… being a lesbian and all?”
Serena quirks an eyebrow. “Lesbian? You mean you actually have a satisfying sex-life?” She barks a laugh and offers Bernie an obscured smile. “If anything, I envy you.”
Bernie looks up and for a moment her face is open and vulnerable with gratitude. Serena is sure that this openness is reflected on her face, but she isn’t sure about what exactly shows on her face. It lasts just a moment too long. Neither knows what is happening, but later they would decide that this is where they started being friends- friends with the promise of something more.
After their night cramped in a surveillance car, they finally open up to each other (which is much needed at this point). Bernie joins Serena’s monthly dinner with Raf and Fletch at her place and soon she visits Serena for their own private dinners. The weekly drinks with their unit also become more of a pleasure rather than the social obligation it has been this far.
It is not just friendship she finds. Serena also realises she had finally found a colleague whose advice is worth listening to and not meant to knock her down a peg or two. Bernie on her side finally finds a colleague whose respect is worth earning and who doesn’t care about whatever rumours might be floating about. And if that wasn’t enough, Bernie’s knowledge of local Italian restaurants certainly made up for it.
It is one dreary Thursday morning that Serena learns what it means to have someone’s back at this station. There’s been an RTC up Ferncliffe road, obviously during rush hour, and Serena had just put down her cup with steaming hot coffee when Morven calls in her and Bernie for assistance.
Their patrol car weaves through the queue of traffic, Bernie issuing the occasional burst of sirens to make people shift before they arrive at the site. An ambulance and Morven’s patrol car are parked at the side of the road. Morven has taken control of the scene and is now taking witnesses’ statements, whilst Jasmin now controls the flow of traffic. She looks distressed, staring at Serena and Bernie with big brown eyes. Serena can’t remember if she had ever done a major RTC before.
In the middle of the road stands a man in a suit, visibly shaken and pale. It appears his Porsche drove into the back of another vehicle, which in turn has shunted into the back of yet another vehicle, and that vehicle has in turn almost swerved into pedestrians on a zebra crossing. In short, it’s a goddamn mess. His hands tap nervously against his phone as his eyes quickly flit over to the two officers approaching. Serena makes eye contact and realises this is about to turn into an even bigger mess. She heads straight towards him.
“Serena, how lovely to see you.” He looks relieved to see her.
“William.” While Serena tried her level best to maintain a facade of geniality on the outside, she couldn’t help but cringe inwardly. She knew William; he was a local councilman she had met after a conference. And also at the moment her best hope of getting out of here and back to London.
“What happened.” Bernie asks brusquely, her voice more statement than question.
“Went straight into the back of her, couldn’t stop in time.” William answers to Serena, not giving any sign of acknowledging Bernie’s presence. Serena barely stops herself from raising an eyebrow and exchanges a quick look with her partner. Bloody men. William goes on, oblivious. “-she must have slammed her brakes on, it were really sudden.” It is obvious from his voice he doesn’t think there’s any harm in his own actions, but that is exactly why they are here.
They look at the pile-up behind them to evaluate the situation, exchanging another quick look with Morven who is still taking a statement from the woman in the middle car. She shifts her eyes to Jasmin and now sees that she looks more than just upset, there is something humiliated about her as well. Bastard. Nevertheless, she’s getting on with the job.
She turns back to William, he is visibly wound up, his finger still tapping against his phone as he keeps shifting his weight from one foot onto the other. The car accident clearly got to him, but Serena suspects that isn’t all.
Uncomfortable with the silence he stumbles on “-everyone’s piled in behind. She just slammed her brakes on out of nowhere-” Serena nods, takes it all in and takes a step closer towards William. She isn’t quite as tall as him, but she can feel the man shrink a little as she feels his breath on her cheek- and he hers on his undoubtedly. Her tone is dangerously low when she replies.
“My constable radio’d me to say she’s asked you to take a breathalyser test and you weren’t right keen.” Her eyes snap up to his, only to reveal barely contained anger. “Is there a reason for that?”
William looks even more nervous, but stands his ground. “Serena, c’me on- It’s quarter past eight in the morning. I’m not going to stand here looking like someone who’s had vodka for breakfast,” His stance changes a bit “-people know who I am.”
“She wasn’t doing it to make you look bad, it’s routine when there’s been a smash-” Serena forces a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes and can feel Bernie tensing up behind her. “-she’d have asked you even if she hadn’t smelled alcohol on your breath.” Serena can smell it too; she’s getting a hint of cheap whiskey mixed with cigarettes and perfume.
“Okay, look-” He holds his hands up defensively. “I had a late night; last night I-” William appears reluctant, maybe embarrassed even, and Serena has a feeling she knows what is to come. “I didn’t- I wasn’t-” He takes a deep breath. “I wasn’t home last night, I’ve not had time to shower. Or change.”
She knew it. Wanker.
William fires up a bit and goes on, “So I could admittedly have it on my breath, but I’m certainly not over-”
But Serena has heard enough from him. “So you thought calling her a stupid little effing something beginning with a ‘C’ would help.”
“She threatened to arrest me.”
That was it. Nevermind that promotion, this arrogant bastard was in clear need of a lesson; one that she was about to teach him. “She was doing her job. She risks her neck every day -all of my officers do- dealing with scum and tossers.” He takes a step back now, realising his mistake. “What none of ‘em need is abuse from someone on the council who -above all people- should know better.”
Serena can hear velcro ripping behind her and instinctively reaches behind her.
“Yes. I know. I’m sorry. That was - obviously, it’d just happened, I was upset, I was shaken, I was - ”
Bernie steps closer and soon she can feel her fingers close around the familiar weight in her hands. Time to get him.
“I’d like you to blow into the tube.” She flourishes the breathalyser from behind her back and holds it out to him, tempted to smack him in the face with it. “If you refuse again I’ll arrest you.”
“Okay. Look. I’m more than happy to apologise to her. I really am.” The arrogance is dripping from his voice and with every word he speaks
“Good, well you can do that as soon as you’ve done this.” She shoves the breathalyser a bit closer, probably close enough to measure the alcohol in his breath as such.
“Serena- You know I have the highest respect for you and your team.” He tries to push the tube away, but Serena doesn’t let him. “I’m amazed you want to make a fuss like this.”
“Could you blow into the tube please .” Before I stuff it down your throat, you obnoxious twat, she adds mentally.
“I did not cause this accident. The woman up front did.”
“She’s been breathalysed. She didn’t have a problem with it- And the cause remains to be established.”
Both remain staring at each other in silence. She holds up the breathalyser for a moment longer giving him a last chance, but he doesn’t take it.
“I’m not going to be compromised and humiliated like this.”
“Okay well, then I’m going to have to ask you to give me your keys to your vehicle. You’ll understand that I can’t let you drive away from the scene if you’re refusing to be breathalysed.”
Serena hands the device back to Bernie behind her while in front of her William takes a defiant stance, keen to make a scene. She knows exactly what he’s trying; forcing her into the stereotype of a bad cop as he’d make a public spectacle. What he did for a living after all, the drunk-driving, arrogant -and judging from the perfume- cheating, bastard.
William shakes his head. “You know, I never had you down as a jobsworth.”
Serena doesn’t react, gives him a look.
“The keys are in the ignition.” He replies and pouts, as far as a grown man can pout.
“Right.” She heads to the driver’s side and Bernie positions herself between her and William. Clearly making him uncomfortable, she’ll have to thank Bernie for that later.
“I’m refusing on principle.” He shouts at her, not daring to set a step in her direction. “You understand that. I want that noted down.” Years of experience make it blatantly clear he is starting to panic, but attempting to hide it.
Serena isn’t impressed and continues to open the car door. “You’re refusing ‘cos you’ve been drinking, you and me both know that. ”
When she leans over to retrieve the car keys she notices something has wedges itself down the side of the driver’s seat. She pulls a blue plastic glove from a pocket on her back and puts it on. From the corner of her eye she can see William pulling a confused face before instinctively patting down his pockets. Then he dives for the passenger door, just in time to see Serena holding a tiny plastic bag half filled with white powder. Careful to not look too triumphant she looks him in the eyes.
“Could you please explain to me what this is?”
An expression of genuine shock ripples over his face, at the same time as the corners of Bernie’s mouth curl up almost imperceptibly.
“I’ve got absolutely no idea.”
“Well, it looks like a little packet of white powder to me.” This time Serena doesn’t bother to suppress the feigned ignorance in her voice, giving him the telltale Campbell raised eyebrow.
“It’s not mine.” William pouts like an angry toddler caught drawing on the wall.
“It’s in your vehicle.” Unfortunately, Serena had years of experience with toddlers- an especially difficult one at that.
“Jesus-!” It finally dawns on him that she’s not going to let this slide. “You’ve just put that there!” A last desperate attempt at evasion. “You’ve just planted it there!”
She’s got him.
“I’m arresting you on suspicion of drunk driving and possession of an illegal substance-”
“That is NOT mine, that has NOTHING to do with me!”
“You don’t have to say anything, but-” Serena tries to turn William around against the car, but he refuses to cooperate. “Can you turn round please?!”
“No I won’t!”
“-Hands on the roof of your vehicle.”
“This is going to have consequences- And not for me!” He turns red in the face.
Serena ignores him and continues.“-You don’t have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court-”
“Serena! Stop this!”
“Anything you do say may be used in evidence-”
“-This is humiliating, it’s ridiculous. You’re making a really bad mistake-” Serena thinks she can feel a speck of saliva landing on her cheek, she closes her eyes to calm herself and waits a second.
“Have you got any other substances on you?”
“No of course not, don’t be ridiculous.” He is caught off guard for a moment, but recovers. “That is a plant, it was planted, possibly not by you, but it was planted.” Serena only raises a sharp eyebrow, enraging him further. “You’re going to regret this, you’re going to regret it a lot and soon and for the rest of your life. Do you understand?” His hair is flaps against his face as he shakes with anger; any other moment she’d find it quite entertaining, but right now it’s taking her every last shred of patience to not force him against the car and cuff him. She forces a broad smile instead. “You’re going to lose your job over this- Worse- Worse- So much worse.”
“Okay, hands behind your back now please.” She says, almost sweetly.
But he doesn’t put his hands behind his back. Instead he turns around and lunges himself at Serena, his hand already balled into a fist. She takes a protective stance and prepares to counter, but Bernie is faster. She grabs William and using the fact that he’s unbalanced to swing him down, angling one arm behind his back. Her knee connects with William’s back a little harder than would have been strictly necessary, right between his shoulder blades. She uses her weight to keep him pinned on the pavement and looks up at Serena with worried eyes.
“Are you okay?”
The urgency in Bernie’s voice catches her by surprise, as do her partner’s large, brown eyes. The moment fades quickly and Serena finds herself a bit overwhelmed by Bernie’s concern for her. William is detained easily enough until Fletch and Raf come to pick him up.
They are driving back when she turns to look at Bernie. “I could have taken him on myself, you know.”
“Ah- Yes, of course. I didn’t mean to-” She replies, stumbling over her words.
“Thank you.” She smiles at Bernie. “Thank you for having my back, it feels good.”
It is only later when they arrive back at the nick that Serena realises she can barely take her eyes off Bernie. For the first time she looks at her properly; the high cheekbones, long nose and the way her fringe seemed to stick out in every possible direction. As she glances over the edge of the incident report form she comes to her conclusion: Bernie is attractive, maybe not in an obvious or conventional manner, but she definitely is. What exactly this means to her is unclear and something she’d rather not think about. Yet she can’t help herself from repeatedly peeking over the top of her form.
They solve cases with newfound efficiency and they soon become a force to be reckoned with. Bernie even seems to stand a chance to regain her position as DCI and the prospect clearly thrills her. Serena even asks Bernie over for Christmas and they celebrate together as neither sees the point of being miserable and guzzling their respective spirits alone- better be in it together. Serena reckons that she alone must be responsible for a significant increase in Shiraz sales in Albies over the past year. At least one evening a week they all meet up at Albies, bantering and boozing their way into the night with Raf and Fletch taking turns in dragging each other home. But something had shifted in their relationship, small and unspoken, but definitely there. Serena finds herself gravitating towards Bernie more and more, especially when she has a few glasses in her. And Bernie appears to answer her call. Some nights they’ll find themselves squeezed together in their usual booth, touching from shoulder to thigh. Other nights they find themselves locking eyes over the edge of their glasses and more than once does Serena wonder how her Shiraz would taste on her best friend’s lips.
Serena also gets to witness Bernie living up to her nickname and understanding why the lithe blonde had earned it. They’d been chasing down a rather persistent group of dealers for months when Bernie gets tipped they’re at it again less than two miles away.
“An ice cream van?!” Serena shouts as they sprint to their cars.
“Yes, Serena.” Bernie grunts back as she dives behind the wheel.
“A bloody ice cream van?! ” Serena exclaims, grabbing her seatbelt as Bernie speeds out onto the street. “You’re telling me they’ve been selling drugs from an ice cream van? ”
“Exactly, so we’d better crack on.” Bernie’s eyes are set on the road as they speed off, but her lips are curling into an entertained grin.
Somehow their support that’s supposed to help make the arrest gets stuck on the wrong side of the community park when they arrive, which Bernie, of course, does not see as a problem. Senior officer or not, she doesn’t shy away from doing some handiwork herself. The men only spot the neon yellow of the police car when Bernie, followed by Serena, is sprinting towards the van. In a panicked frenzy they attempt to reverse out of the playground, but find themselves crashing into Raf and Fletch’s car which is entering the park at the same time. They dash out of the vehicle, desperate to escape the officers in pursuit. Bernie is the first to shoot off and ferociously tackles the men attempting to run and cuff him before anyone can do as much as blink. This, however, doesn’t come as much of a surprise somehow. It is when Serena manages to get a hold on the second escapee that things go pear-shaped. Rather than cooperating, he resists with all his might. And as much as Serena had brushed up on her actual arresting (she had to admit that the more physical aspect of the job had been a while for her), it still wasn’t exactly her forte. The man is easily twice her size and probably half her age. Serena can already see Bernie moving towards her in the edges of her peripheral vision as Raf has now taken the man in cuffs. Then a sudden impact on her eye socket makes Serena fall backwards, onto the grass. The first thing she registers is a pair of black shoes sprinting past when she tries to get up. She thinks she hit a rock as her head and the earth around her appear to spin out of control- not that it matters. Before she can even prop herself up on one elbow, a flurry of messy hair and lithe limbs has viciously pounded her assailant and is wrestling him into a neck lock. If she didn’t also know Bernie as a lanky and awkward woman -especially when asked for her number by a rather attractive blonde on their weekly night out- or the sleepy, disgruntled mess on her couch with a pounding headache the morning after, Serena might have been intimidated by the scene unfolding before her. Within seconds the rather buff man is squirming in Bernie’s iron grip- and begging at least three different deities (amongst them his mum) for release.
During their time as friends and colleagues there are many, many joyous occasions- even a wedding or two. However, she finds Bernie to be at her side even when the future doesn’t appear rosy. She still remembers how ecstatic she had been when Elinor first sought contact again after months, finally showing signs of being willing to restore their fragile relationship. Despite everything, her daughter had always been drawn more to her father than her mother. Something Serena knew she ought not to hold against her, but it hadn’t been easy to truly accept either. Looking back, Serena suspects that her initial excitement might have blinded her from the outset- The signs had always been there. Small and subtle, but definitely present. The late nights out and questionable friends, the sudden bursts of hyperactivity and boundless enthusiasm juxtaposed by depressed moods and hours spent in bed, the nosebleeds and muscle spasms, money that kept disappearing- She could probably go on for ages, but it hadn’t mattered. She should have known, been better, read the signs. But somehow she didn’t; didn’t see her daughter deteriorating, didn’t see she needed help. She feels naive. Why was it that she could help random strangers who were nothing more than faces every day, but couldn’t be there when her own daughter needed her? She had failed as a mother and parent and thinks that it might have been better if Elinor had stayed with her father. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Yet here she is, anxious waiting on a soft chair as Elinor is completing her intake.
As always Bernie is at her side, holding her hand in a comforting gesture and rubbing her thumb over her knuckles. Serena isn’t sure what she would have done without Bernie if she is completely honest. She’d have managed, that much she knows. She always survived even with (or rather without) Edward. Ever the absentee parent he had never been one for support or aid when it came to the trials and tribulations of parenthood. It feels almost ironic, it is only now that she had left Edward that she learnt what true support feels like. If only he had been more like her- If only he had been loyal like her. It had been Bernie who picked up on Elinor’s behaviour first and it had been Bernie who had suggested the clinic when they sat together in the ED’s family room. And now it is Bernie sat next to her holding her hand.
To anyone who didn’t know Serena, she would look fine. Calm- collected even. But Bernie can see the guarded look in her eyes and the way her shoulders are tensed. She isn’t looking anywhere in particular; her eyes glazed over, wandering to memories of happier times while simultaneously trying to imagine her daughter’s every move behind the closed doors in front of them. She can see the way Elinor would be sitting in her chair, probably twirling her hair or playfully toying with a piece of jewellery in a failed attempt to appear unfazed. Or while reading her fingers will bend the corners of the papers she will be signing. Serena can’t help but think about all the small things that make Elinor so special- and by extent all the things she should have seen months ago. As if reading her thoughts Bernie laces their fingers together as she offers a comforting smile.
“Thank you.” Serena finds herself uttering into the vacuous space surrounding them. The words pass her lips before she realises she planned to say them. While her thoughts are with her daughter, her unconscious is still anchored by the woman at her side.
Bernie simply shrugs in response, squeezing Serena’s hand lightly. “For what? I did nothing.”
“You didn’t leave me-” She shifts her gaze to Bernie’s fingers that still stroke her own and adds, after a short silence: “Leave us.”
In retrospect she isn’t sure who she had meant; herself and Elinor? Herself and Bernie? Herself, Bernie and Elinor? She’d like to think of them as some kind of unit- family even, if she were honest with herself . Ever since she had seen Adrienne’s life slip from her mind, Serena craved that feeling of unity. She missed sharing both her joys and burdens- something Edward had never excelled at anyway. Over the years Serena had gone to great lengths searching for that sincere warmth in the eyes of many men, but could it be that she had now found it in the eyes of her best friend? She can’t pull her eyes from Bernie’s slender fingers intertwined with her own, unable to find the courage to look up. A sudden rush of cold sweat slithers through her veins, paralysing mind and body alike. Serena is unsure what she fears more to find -or not find- when she slowly shifts her gaze. Her eyes travel upwards, not taking in anything until they meet Bernie’s face; where she finds nothing but affection and she breaks down. Tears run down her cheeks as she cries and cries. It isn’t the pretty sort that some women do, where one or two perfect tears silently slide down accompanied by a small sniffle. Serena wails and shakes as she feels salt sting her lips. Relief and agony fill her mind in equal measure and overwhelm her. Months of conflict, stress and hurt sweep through her as she sobs. Then she feels fabric rustling and a pair of arms wrap themselves around her, pulling her close.
Serena buries her head under Bernie’s chin. The soft wool of Bernie’s pink coat is pressed against her cheek and her tears now stain her blouse. The smell of cigarettes, soap and something uniquely Bernie calms her. And she feels safe. For the first time in ages, she can feel the tension flow from her body. As if a weight is lifted from her shoulders, her burdens now entrusted to someone else to share.
“We do it for each other, chipping at the devil till he’s done.” Bernie whispers into her hair as she holds her.
They wait together until Elinor comes out. Bernie watches from a distance as Serena says her goodbyes and promises to visit every weekend; or as much as Elinor would like. They drive back in silence. The pressure of Serena’s thoughts is almost tangible in the car, she stares out of the window as Bernie drives. So many things race through her mind, yet she draws a blank. An infinite amount of trees and signs pass them by. What had been the point of no return, she wonders. When was the last time she could have made a difference? All decisions made the past year trouble her conscience, which ones had been right and which had been wrong? The sounds of their arguments and doors slamming reverberate through her memories, what could she have done differently?
“Serena-” Bernie’s voice cuts short her whirring mind. “Stop.”
Her foot almost moves to bake, before she realises she isn’t driving the car. “Stop what? I’m not-”
“Stop blaming yourself.” Her voice has an affectionate, yet harsh edge to it.
“I-” Serena starts to defend herself, but Bernie doesn’t let her.
“You are, I can tell. You have nothing to blame yourself for, you did everything you could for Elinor and then some. But she is an adult now and responsible for her own choices. There is nothing you could have done.” She pauses for a moment to look into her eyes. “Not without denying her her agency as a grown woman, and that’s all a parent can do.”
Serena stays silent, only nodding in response. It’s easy to forget Bernie has children of her own as she rarely mentions it. But the scars are there, and so are the small photos in her living room. A boy and a girl, around the same age as Elinor, but she can’t be too sure. There are no recent photos, but they must both be mid-twenties or so. The boy has what Serena presumes to be his father’s dark curls, but the sharp features of his mother. On the other hand, the girl has Bernie’s blonde hair and thin lips, but otherwise is her father’s spitting image.
“Do you feel guilty?” Serena isn’t sure where that question comes from, but asks it without thinking.
When Bernie doesn’t answer at first Serena wonders whether she had crossed a line. So she turns away again, ready to start looking at trees again. But she does answer, her voice soft and close to breaking. “It’s all I have left, so it’s all I can hold onto.” She swallows. “It’s what I deserve.”
Serena wishes she hadn’t asked at all.
Bernie stays the afternoon and they sit together in Serena’s living room. It is Bernie breaking the silence, talking about her children for the first time. Serena listens intently, knowing how much this must mean to her. She learns about Cameron’s shenanigans and Charlotte’s first time playing the violin (and feels grateful now Elinor only ever wanted to play the guitar). It makes her realise how long it has been since she had just sat down and talked about Elinor; the good memories, not the recent struggles. If she had talked about her daughter at all the last year, it was always bad news. Be it another run in with colleagues after a night out or an argument at home. When had they last been happy together?
Bernie makes them several cups of tea- both silently acknowledge alcohol is a bad idea, Serena has been off it for a while now. Then she starts talking about Edward and the divorce, the things he had done and how she had trusted him over and over. Only to be betrayed again each time. And just when she had thought she couldn’t fall any lower, Guy Self had delivered the final blow; he exposed how she covered for Edward’s substance abuse (even if she hadn’t been aware of it herself at the time) and so he destroyed the career she had worked so hard to build. And then his ‘recommendation’ had stranded her here, which hadn’t been such a bad thing in the end. Nevertheless, she wonders if Elinor might have been in a better place if they hadn’t come here. She would have to accept that it was something she would never know. She keeps talking about Elinor, her tantrums as a child and her incessant partying as a teenager (not unlike Serena herself at that age). Bernie wraps an arm around Serena’s shoulder when silent tears start flowing down, but she continues talking. It needs to come out. Only when she had no words left, she falls silent and leans into Bernie’s shoulder. And like this, they fall asleep.
When they wake up the living room is flooded in orange sunlight. Serena feels Bernie’s arms securely wrapped around her, holding her close. Her chest feels soft against her cheek as she snuggles closer, and she can hear Bernie’s heart beating in her chest. Her defences are crumbling down- She can’t help it, nor does she want to. A feeling of safety and comfort overwhelms her, washes over her and engulfs her. An almost physical burden is lifted from her shoulders; she had forgotten how heavy it was. How hard it was carrying this load on her own. Tears well up in her eyes, but she has no energy left to cry. How long had it been since she last trusted someone to help her- Allowed herself to be helped? It feels like an eternity. But here they are, cuddled up together on a couch.
Even when Bernie wakes up they don’t move, simply acknowledging their position and the comfort it brings them. Instead, Bernie strokes Serena's hair, running her fingers through it and playing with the ends. Serena finds she enjoys it, so she simply rests her head against Bernie’s chest and closes her eyes, giving her unspoken permission to continue as long as she wants. Only when Serena’s stomach rumbles and they both remember they haven’t had anything since the shared pain au chocolat this morning. Both had been too preoccupied with everything that had happened to think about food. Bernie offers to cook, but they opt for take-out in the end. During tea, they come to the unspoken agreement that Bernie will be staying the night as neither woman wants to be alone. They mumble something about the guest bedroom but are completely aware that that is not where Bernie will sleep. It is the first time that Serena feels it. Something pulling from deep inside her, only calmed by Bernie’s presence. The feeling transcends a mental need, instead it is a direct force that borders on pain. She is too tired to give it much thought, questions are for another time. Right now she only craves one thing, and it is the safety and comfort found in the arms of her best friend.
The weeks following Elinor´s admission Bernie covers for her at work and makes sure she has a proper dinner each night. They spend many more evenings together on Serena’s couch, with a meal Bernie cooked or take-away they ordered. There is certain domesticity to it neither woman has experienced before. Serena never realised she wanted- needed this type of comfort, while Bernie discovers what domesticity is supposed to feel like, free of repressed desires and hidden guilt. They don’t speak about the night they spent wrapped in each other’s arms, but both remember and crave it. Serena misses the warmth of Bernie’s body pressed against her and the gentle strength of her arms. No matter how they twist or turn, their bodies always fit together in a perfect match; as if they were made to hold one another.
Their dynamic suddenly shifts when the station is tasked to assist in the hunt for Tommy Lee Royce- wanted for kidnapping and multiple incidents of voluntary manslaughter, amongst which a young police officer. One of the officers they liaise with is an old friend of Bernie’s: Catherine. Catherine is what one would call ‘born and bred in Yorkshire’ and once a DCI, now a sergeant, but she still carries herself with that commanding presence. With Catherine’s arrival Fletch and Raf have their betting schemes readied again- Now that Bernie and Serena have proven they can get along, they are going to try their luck with a new blonde. Serena grudgingly admits she sees where they are coming from; if Serena is a queen, Catherine is a commander, both used to being in command. Unfortunately for Raf and Fletch underground betting circle, Catherine and Serena reach an almost immediate understanding. Both have spent too many years fighting their (female) colleagues and are exhausted by it, or as Catherine puts it: “If we’re going to be fighting amongst ourselves, who’s left to fight them?” As she waves at the entrance to the holding cells and the board with commissioners’ photographs— all old men obviously. She appreciates the ambiguity in that statement.
Over the course of their collaboration Catherine tells the full story of family and how it became intertwined with Royce and how come she became a sergeant after losing her daughter. It has been eight years, but the hatred she carries towards Royce still burns inside her. But Serena realises it isn’t only him she blames, but also herself. The job is what keeps her going; providing her life with the daily routine she lost when her family fell apart. Catherine takes pride in the work she does, and it is tangible when she shows them around her station in Sowerby Bridge, which “isn’t a nick full of strange bloody southerners” as she so elegantly puts it.
Serena and Catherine bond over problematic daughters with problematic drug habits. Catherine talks about her sister’s heroin addiction, about how Becky would shoot all kinds crap up her veins, how she refused to end her relationship with Royce even when he raped her, and finally about her daughter’s suicide after giving birth to Ryan. Serena finds that with Catherine she can be angry at Elinor; be disappointed without feeling as if she failed her daughter. It grants her the liberation to shed her role as concerned and guilt-ridden parent. Deep within she still loves Elinor— how could she not, but she also wants to shout at her. Scream, rage and thunder. Shake Elinor till she understands the damage she has done.
Soon Serena occasionally invites Catherine to some of their dinners as well, which soon turns out to be an excellent decision. It happens just after dinner, she and Bernie are leaning back on the couch each sipping their respective drink of choice and Catherine has claimed the loveseat for herself. The subject of the conversation is ‘the good ol’ days’ when female officers still had to wear skirts and barely given anything to defend themselves, a matter which never fails to rouse Catherine. She is in the middle of relating the tale of the poor sod who once tried to move his hand up his skirt (an infamous tale which ends with a bruised pride and a broken wrist) when the phone rings. Catherine looks a bit befuddled- mentally searching for the culprit who dare interrupt her. Bernie glances at Serena, they are both thinking the same thing: Elinor? Serena rushes to the phone as the room falls silent, worry etched deep into her face. It fades within moments after picking up the phone, quickly replaced by a disgusted grimace. In the background Catherine gives Bernie a questioning look and Bernie simply shrugs in response; I haven’t got the slightest idea either. But the mystery reveals itself soon enough when Serena opens her mouth.
“Edward. Why are you calling me.”
Bernie’s mouth falls open as she stares at the phone, Catherine raises an eyebrow. Both women had been fully updated on the sad excuse for a man that was Edward Campbell.
“Don’t you have a child-bride to direct your drunken ramblings at.”
Catherine snickers, undoubtedly thinking about her ex-husband and his ‘younger model’ as everyone called her these days. Bernie pities Edward a little bit, but only a teeny tiny wee bit. He’s got some of that classic Serena rage coming at him and deserved every last bit of it.
“No, you listen-” Catherine is silently shoving a crisp into her mouth, eyes glued on Serena. “Don’t give me that ‘I’ll change’ bullshit. How many times have you told me exactly those words? I for one remember you saying it before diving into bed with BLOODY MARY-CLAIRE.” She shouts that last bit into the phone and then gives him a moment to answer as she catches her breath.
Bernie wonders if she should take the phone away from Serena- She’s clearly mildly intoxicated and talking to Edward is the last thing she should be doing. But when she gets up Serena’s look is clear ‘ Don’t you dare. ’ So she backs off again, hands held up in the air.
“No Edward, it isn’t just the drinking and the fucking around- You’ve made me feel so undesirable and unworthy, and I’m not! Bernie here-” She points at Bernie as if Edward could see her sitting there on the couch. “Has just made me feel better about myself in 10 seconds than you did in the last 26 years!”
Bernie blushes, glad her awkward efforts were helpful after all. Catherine looks curious at the two of them, suddenly seeing what she should have seen weeks ago, and smirks at the unintended tidbit Serena just shared. Desirable eh? She wonders how long it’ll take them to realise what’s going on themselves. Judging from the look on Bernie’s face and the fierce blushing, she has fallen for Serena long ago. But Serena- Catherine wonders if she has any clue at all, or any clue she might be into women at all. Catherine makes a mental note before focussing on the scene unfolding in front of her.
“I’m just some crutch you’re rather fond of- I’m better without you! And yes you are the father of my child, you will always have a place in her life and unfortunately one in mine as such as well. I will pay you whatever it costs to get the professional help you need. But I won’t be doing it for you, I’ll be doing that for Elinor, our daughter. She deserves as mu-”
She suddenly falls silent. Bernie looks ready to rush towards Serena as her face slowly turns ashen. Catherine isn’t sure what’s happening, but she’ll trust Bernie’s instincts. And judging from her reaction, whatever’s happening with Serena it’s good.
“No- Don’t you dare bring her into this! Don’t you dare to accuse me of neglecting- No, no, no- I did my best for her, you can’t just give her everything she wants- I am NOT the bad parent here, I-”
Catherine glances at Bernie, expecting her to get up any moment now to grab the phone and comfort her, but she’s paralysed. Her face twisted into a painful grimace- Hitting too close to home it seems. She understands the pain both women are going through all too well. Even now, almost a decade later, the loss of her daughter still feels raw occasionally. It is an awful thing, losing a child; be it to drugs, family feuds or death. A sudden burst of rage flares up in her. How dare that little twat- She strides to Serena, grabs the phone and ushers Serena in Bernie’s general direction.
“Listen up you sad sod, I know what sort of bastard you’ve been cos she told me. You better not cross me, you scrote. If you dare call her again or sprout anymore of that denigrating nonsense I’ll cut off that useless cock of yours and make you swallow it.” On the other end of the line Edward has gone quiet. “And your daughter is in rehab getting the help she needs, but no thanks to you. So take a good look at yourself first, you arse-hole. And anymore unsolicited midnight calls and I will come find you and rip you a new hole to wee your vodka shots out of, understood?” Catherine imagines Edward nodding on the other end of the line. “Is there anything I’ve said you’d like me to repeat more slowly?”
He answers with a weak “No.”
“Good.” And with that, she slams down the phone and turns to look at the women on the couch behind her.
Serena is staring at Catherine, mouth agape, both amused and amazed. Bernie has her arm wrapped around Serena’s shoulders, initially to comfort her, but now she is grabbing Serena to make sure she doesn’t fall off the couch, shaking with barely held in laughter. They are touching thigh to shoulder, but neither seems to notice. Catherine however, does as she saunters back to her seat and grabs her wineglass to take a swig. “And you married that twat?”
Serena shrugs. “Not my brightest moment.”
And at that they all laugh. When it’s time to go to bed (no way anyone is driving back) Bernie insists that Catherine takes the guest bedroom and she’ll take the couch. Usually, she would protest out of politeness, but her current alcohol-infused mind can’t be arsed. Besides, she has a feeling Bernie will not spend her night on the couch. So she leaves Bernie in the living room with a bunch of pillows and a blanket, making a mental note to check when she goes out for her morning wee. And indeed, the next morning she finds a heap of pillows and a wrinkled blanket, but no sign of Bernie.
Now that she’s working more closely with Bernie than ever, Serena can no longer deny something new is happening between them- something strange. Attraction . Bernie Wolfe is attractive, in a tall and awkward way maybe. But God she’s attractive . It isn’t the first time the thought enters her head; over the past year it had occasionally snuck in during unguarded moments. But now it hit her in full swing. Ever since they had spent that evening sleeping in each other's arms something had changed, even if it had only been sleeping. It is undeniable that their bodies fit together, like their minds work in tandem.
But she’s also a friend and colleague- And if the past 15 years have taught her anything it’s that work and romance don’t go well together. The memory of Edward chasing after every sergeant and constable with a pulse still stings more than she’d like to admit. She tells herself she’s content with their current situation, which she really is. It is nice having Bernie around for dinner every week or visiting Fletch and the Fletchlings together on quiet weekends. But there are moments when she catches herself longing for a different kind of company, something which exceeds the occasional tumble in the sheets.
One Friday night they are all sat in their usual booth in Albies, accompanied by their usual pints and glasses of wine, and as usual pints become litres and glasses become bottles.
Serena isn’t quite sure why or how exactly she at one point finds herself snogging Catherine- probably a challenge by Joyce, fuelled by her own newly developed interest in women. It isn’t a bad kiss, any other day she would have classified it as quite pleasant even, but this wasn’t exactly in her plans for this evening. Wrong blonde .
Catherine doesn’t seem to think much about it either and happily picks her glass back up to inform Joyce and Bernie that Serena is a fine kisser, but doesn’t beat the tall redhead from a few weeks ago. Bernie offers Catherine a strained smile and refuses to meet Serena’s eyes; it makes her stomach sink. Had she upset Bernie somehow? Maybe she liked Catherine? Her stomach twisted and churned even further at that thought. The mental image of Catherine and Bernie makes her uncomfortable, a strange streak of jealousy that she can’t identify flares up. But she tries not to think too hard about it.
Their relationship cools in the days and week following their night out, Serena doesn’t quite understand what has caused it. Bernie had once told her she had no interested in pursuing Catherine, yet her behaviour was suspiciously bordering on jealousy. Much like before, they work together but she finds something is missing. Their shoulders bumping as they walk down the hall, the bags of still warm pastries on her desk after clocking out from a long night of obs and even their weekly drinks seem to be postponed or cancelled more often than not. However, with their new case it is impossible to dwell too much, which Serena takes to be a blessing and a curse. It’s forgotten as they close in on Royce’s tracks. Bernie even shows up for their weekly dinner; which would come as a surprise to both of them if they were honest. She feels stiff in her arms when Serena hugs her goodbye and rather than kissing her cheek as she usually would, she drops her arms and watches as Bernie awkwardly makes her way back to her car.
She falls asleep thinking about Bernie a lot these days. Wayward thoughts of messy waves and brown eyes fill her mind. Serena finds herself reliving vivid memories of small, ordinary aspects of Bernie; the way her long fingers curl around a warm cup or how she would always lean against a desk, rather than sit on a chair like everyone else. When Serena is doing groceries and accidentally recognises Bernie’s detergent by its scent, she can’t stop herself from buying it. It’s because it’s discounted of course. Not because it reminds her of Bernie. Not at all. Serena definitely doesn’t imagine laying wrapped up in Bernie’s arms at night after laundering her bedsheets.
One day they finally receive a tip that the fugitive Royce and his hostage, Ann, might be holed up in his old neighbourhood. Their joined task forces are on a house to house search to weed out Royce. It’s a rather boring aspect of the job, a house to house. And rather disgusting if she is honest- You don’t know disgusting people really are until you drop by their houses unannounced to search for fugitive criminals. To make it worse, the weather seems to have tuned into her recent mood and a slow drizzle is ruining her hair. The day might have been marginally better if she had been working with Bernie today, but Bernie had instantly paired up with Catherine. And there was no question about breaking up the infamous Fletch-Di Lucca duo, which leaves her with a young man from Catherine’s squad- Shafik. Any other day he would have been a fine partner; he’s nice, comes across as decently intelligent and definitely has a good sense of humour. But Serena can’t find it in her to care for it today. The sooner this day is over, the better. An excellent bottle of Shiraz is waiting for her at home to be consumed under a blanket on the couch in front of the fire.
Her daydreaming comes to a harsh end when she receives an emergency signal from Bernie’s radio. Both body and mind freeze for a moment before staggering back into action. The bile rises in her throat as she runs. Runs and runs, on and on. Bernie, God let her be safe. She can’t lose her- She can’t lose Bernie. She’s a colleague- A friend- Someone she deeply cares about. The walls of the alley close in on her as grey bricks and rows of black bins fill her horizon. The metal wiring of her bra cuts her flesh as her blouse sticks to her body like a tight, wet second skin. The acid burns her muscles but she continues running up the hill, an exertion her body cannot keep up with- as if the earth itself is challenging her.
My God, Please be alive Bernie. Please, please, please.
She finds herself begging and bartering as she runs. Runs and runs and runs.
She turns a corner and her heart stops. A body lies heap in the middle of the road. Even from where she stands she can see blood.
Only when she sees the woman’s face Serena realises it is Catherine lying on the dirty asphalt, not Bernie. Her head is bleeding in several places, making dirtied blonde hair stick to her skull. Her hand lies still on the asphalt in a sickening twist. Serena suddenly appreciates Catherine’s age- their age. They’re all ageing women haunted by their rapidly approaching fraility. Blood seeps into the road, drawing life from Catherine as her skin quickly loses its colour. Her hand reaches for her radio in reflex and words come out. She knows she calls in an ambulance, H-MIT, CSI, patrol officers, reports Catherine’s state and mechanically ticks all the other boxes. She can hear sirens shrieking in the distance almost immediately, so she turns to the wounded woman before her.
“Catherine.” No response, but she persists. “Catherine, what happened to you? Who did this?” Her heart skips a sickening beat. “Where is Bernie?”
Her eyes clear up a little as Catherine manages to lift her hand of the asphalt, straining to maintain consciousness. “In there…” Serena’s head snaps up to see a dirty terrace house, its front door swung open.“He’s got her in there.”
Serena doesn’t register getting up and running through the door, or drawing her baton as she flies down the steps. The cellar is dark and murky light falls through a window covered with old cardboard. On the floor lies a young girl, bound and gagged. Serena recognises her immediately from her briefing; it’s Ann Gallagher. A chair lies beside her, ropes loosely hanging around it. An image of what took place forms in her mind as she fumbles with Ann’s gag. As soon as it’s loose words tumble out.
“There was a woman- an officer-” Ann relays hysterically. “She tried to get me out, but he came in and they fought, I think she sprayed him with something and she escaped-”
Serena interrupts her. “What about the other officer with her?!” What happened to Bernie?
“There was no other officer with her, she came in here alone-” Her brow arches up before she realises it, panicking Ann further. “It was just her, I swear!” Her voice is shrill now, but Serena finally manages to get Ann out of her bounds and hoists Ann up, allowing the girl to use her for support as she helps her out of the cellar. They are halfway up when a figure a appears at the top of the stairs. Ann starts screaming, trying to twist free from Serena’s grip, but she’s too weak. Serena reaches for her pepper spray, knowing it’s her only realistic option right now.
Then she realises.
That isn’t Royce- It’s Bernie on top of the stairs.
She squints to see clearly, but she’d recognise those legs anywhere. Her adrenaline levels both rise and fall in a strange paradox.
“Serena?” Bernie calls out and runs down. “Is that her?” She asks as she tries to support Ann best she can on the narrow steps.
They exchange information in quickfire; there’s an ambulance outside, H-MIT and CSI are on their way, patrol officers are searching for Royce.
More sirens shriek in the distance as they leave the house. Ambulance staff take over Ann from them as soon as they come out. Another patrol car arrives, Raf and Fletch jump out of it. Serena looks around at the scene unfolding before her. A gulf of relief washes over her which is immediately replaced by guilt. Royce will be long gone, but Catherine and Ann are safe.
And Bernie. Bernie is safe.
They closely follow the ambulance that brings Catherine up to Calderdale Royal. It’s a relatively new hospital and the air inside smells like a melange of disinfectant and cleaning supplies. Serena finds herself curiously at ease as she and Bernie wait for any updates on Catherine. She could imagine herself walking briskly through a hospital’s long hallways and steering nursing staff in another lifetime. Possibly even managing a ward- or even the hospital itself. Bernie, however, paces around resembling a caged animal- a wolf perhaps? Her long strides carry her around the waiting room countless times and up to the hospital canteen for coffee on three separate occasions. Not long now and she might wear holes in the dull yet polished linoleum. It is only when she takes her hand and pulls her down that Bernie calms a bit. Nevertheless, she is still tense, fidgeting and staring down at her hands pressed between her thighs.
Not much later Clare, Catherine’s sister, arrives. She is visibly worried yet manages to break out a small smile, reminding Serena their family had seen much worse. There is something serene about Clare, her scruffy bleached hair and an oversized parka with her hands barely poking out of the sleeves. She takes Bernie out for a cigarette or two. Once Bernie is gone a curious tension leaves her own body and Serena leans back in her uncomfortable plastic hospital chair. Time to give Hanssen a call. It so happens that Bernie had lent her communicator kit to Catherine as her own had broken (Serena made sure to put in a few words about the budget as well) and Catherine had then insisted they’d split up. Obviously, it was against each and every protocol, but they’d cover more ground that way and well- She admits neither woman had thought much about it.
The occasional cigarette seems to calm Bernie and she even takes a short nap spread across the row of plastic chairs. Serena holds guard and watches doctors and nurses pass by, wondering which ones are there to treat their colleague and that poor girl. Hours pass but Bernie refuses to leave the hospital, insisting she ought to be there when her colleague and friend wakes up. Guilt contorts her face as she fidgets and frowns whenever they get whatever small update on Catherine. Internal bleeding, spleen removal, cracked ribs and serious blood loss. She ends up driving up and down herself; getting clean clothes and shedding her current ones, taking a shower and washing the dried sweat from her skin, packing herself some dinner before reconsidering and also getting something for Bernie. It is tempting to have a quick lie down in her soft and comfortable bed, just for half an hour, but a strange sense of loyalty prevails. On her way back to the hospital she decides to go by Bernie’s flat as well to pick up a change of clothes and see if she can dig up the pain meds she takes for her back (a well-kept secret). The apartment is rather sparse, save for a few rare photographs; her children at several milestones (those hadn’t been there before), her squadron in the desert, their team assembled at Fletch’s birthday bash, and lastly, a photograph of them together. She remembers the moment it was taken well, at their local watering hole. The same curious tension in her belly returns, she dismisses it but cannot help giving the frame a loving touch before turning around to leave.
It takes more than five hours for Catherine to leave theatre and almost six before Clare is allowed in. When they enter the room Catherine is barely conscious, hooked to monitors with lines in green, yellow and blue, slowly dripping IVs and small patches of blood are still stuck in her hair. She gives Serena a thankful smile before shifting her eyes towards Bernie. A few words are exchanged and it is clear she will make it. Eventually. It doesn’t take long before she slips into a deep sleep again and they simply sit next to the bed waiting for Clare to return.
“This is all my fault.”
“Raf warned me she shouldn’t go to Royce’s mother alone but I fobbed him off. Told him she could handle herself.” It pains her to see Bernie beating herself up internally, blaming herself for Catherine’s injuries- especially since the true guilty party is still at large.
“How could you have known things would turn out like this?
“The warning signs were all there.”
“What-” Serena tries to suppress a scoff, but cannot help raising an eyebrow. “There was barely anything to indicate she was being held there. Much less that he would show up and beat Catherine within an inch of her life.”
It doesn’t convince Bernie as she still looks pained. “Maybe, but we knew he had been in contact with his mother. We knew Ann was still being held somewhere. His mother had been going on about that cellar he held her in before-” A grim look passes over her face. “We never picked up on it.”
“We deal with an endless stream of information and broken people every day, we cannot predict their every move.”
“That's no excuse. I should have been with her in there.” Serena feels her stomach make a sickening twist, knowing it might not have been much better had they been together. She cannot help but feel a selfish relief that Bernie wasn’t with Catherine.
“How is that down to you? You have done all you could.” With that Bernie relents and stares into the distance.
“Our friend and colleague is fighting for her life…” Her voice is soft and she looks at Catherine, before turning her head back to Serena, who is determined to dispel this ridiculous notion of guilt Bernie holds.
“And she would be the first person to say that you are the most fantastic, fearless officer on our force.”
It is somewhere between those well-meant words and intense looks that Serena glances at Bernie’s lips and Bernie understands and kisses her, all soft lips and wet tears. She feels lost in the moment as she melts against her best friend, all doubts and worries dispelled for a moment. Butterflies swarm in her stomach as she feels Bernie’s hand in her hair, pulling her closer yet. Her lips are impossibly soft and inviting, laced with a melange of coffee and tobacco. When they pull apart she can see Bernie’s lip glisten and hair slightly dishevelled. A dizzying sight that knocks the breath out of her. Serena can feel every last part of her very being drawn to her, pulling her closer; she is completely and utterly in love with Bernie and had been for god knows how long. Now something had been ignited within her, causing electricity to course through her veins as she kisses Bernie again. Her fingers cling to the material of her shirt and she tries to transmit the longing she feels, how much she wants this. A whimper escapes her throat when she feels Bernie’s tongue against her own and she tastes her properly now. However, a sudden sound disturbs them and they quickly break apart to find Clare entering the room. A slight smirk breaks through her pained features.
“Seems like I owe Catherine 10 quid.”