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Two months after Serena returns to Holby, the board finally appoints a permanent replacement for Derwood. Serena knew they were interviewing, of course, but she’s caught up in theatre all day and quite frankly staff appointments are none of her concern now if they’re not on AAU. So she has no idea who the new head of obs and gynae is until she steps into Albie’s, glad to be out of the sudden downpour and desperately looking forward to a drink, and a familiar but unexpected voice cuts through the hubbub.

‘Serena Campbell!’

There, leaning on the bar no doubt waiting for a vicious fruity cocktail, is none other than Fleur Fanshawe.

‘Add a large glass of Shiraz to that,’ Fleur is saying to the barman when Serena reaches her. And then she turns and pulls Serena into a tight hug, lips pressing her cheek hard enough to leave quite an imprint, Serena suspects.

‘I told you to let me know if you were ever back in Holby,’ Serena scolds when they each have a glass in their hand.

‘Didn’t want to count my chickens,’ Fleur says.

‘Which chickens would those be?’

‘The job related ones. Say hello to Holby City Hospital’s new head of obs and gynae.’

‘Since when were you obs and gynae?’ Serena frowns.

‘Since I retrained. A lot’s changed since the last time we saw each other.’

‘I’ll say,’ Serena mutters.

‘That was a good conference, wasn’t it?’ Fleur smirks, winking at Serena.

‘It was a terrible conference,’ Serena corrects her. ’But it wasn’t entirely without its merits.’

‘Not at all,’ Fleur grins, sipping her drink. ‘I have very fond memories of that weekend.’

*

A conference in London, six months after Fleur left Holby. Serena wasn’t even supposed to be attending but Sacha had had to drop out at the last moment due to a crisis with one of his kids, and according to Guy she was the only consultant available to go in his stead. Never mind that she had plans for the weekend. Guy looked a little too happy when she reluctantly agreed to go and Serena had the horrible feeling he’d engineered the situation to get her out of the hospital, found herself wondering if he was going to trash her ward while she was away.

The conference itself promised to be the usual mix of mediocre and subpar speakers with a scattering of excellence, mediocre and dull subject matter with just enough of interest and relevance for it not to be an entire waste of her time and the Trust’s money. It would have slipped from Serena’s memory almost instantly, had it not been for the glass of Shiraz that appeared, unbidden, in front of her on the Friday evening.

Serena frowned at the barman, who tilted his head along the bar. She followed his gesture and almost fell off her stool when she saw the woman grinning at her, twirling a pineapple-laden cocktail stick between her fingers.

‘You didn’t think to tell me you were in the country?’ Serena asked when Fleur sashayed over to her and pressed a lingering kiss to her cheek, just catching the edge of her mouth. Serena felt that same spark as before, the same rush of desire and warmth pooling in the pit of her belly.

‘Didn’t seem worth it – I’m only here for the weekend, no time to pop over to Holby,’ Fleur replied. ‘And I certainly didn’t expect you to be here.’

‘I wasn’t supposed to be. But right now I’m rather glad I am.’

‘I’ll drink to that,’ Fleur smiled, raising her glass.

‘You’ll drink to anything,’ Serena teased, sipping her wine. ‘How’s Copenhagen treating you?’

‘Well. The hospital’s full of attractive Scandinavians.’

Serena laughed. ‘Any of them in particular caught your eye yet?’

‘There is a rather gorgeous brunette in rheumatology,’ Fleur confessed. ‘But my charms have yet to work on her.’

‘Well it took a while for them to work on me.’

‘Months of flirting,’ Fleur agreed.

Their gazes locked, a familiar spark in the air between them again. Serena was the one to reach across the bar, her fingers dancing lightly on the back of Fleur’s hand.

‘No one new for you in Holby, now you’ve realised the dating pool’s widened?’ Fleur asked, not taking her eyes from Serena’s.

‘Where exactly do you think I’d find the time for that?’ Serena retorted, her thumb sliding around Fleur’s wrist to feel her fluttering pulse. ‘Not too far gone on your rheumatologist to have a bit of fun?’

‘With you? Never,’ Fleur replied, her eyes glinting. ‘I’m in 417,’ she added as dinner was announced. ‘If you’d care to join me later for a little extra dessert.’

*

Serena had joined her. She blushes at the recollection of that night, the following night, Sunday morning before checking out.

‘I see you do too,’ Fleur teases, her eyes sparkling.

‘I might do,’ Serena teases back, a smile on her lips as she sips her wine.

‘So, same question as last time: anyone new for you here?’

Fleur is a little taken aback at the wide smile that curves Serena’s mouth, the brightness in her eyes, the way her entire being seems filled to overflowing with joy. ‘Oh my. Must be someone very special to make you look like that.’

‘She is,’ Serena replies, her eyes glazing slightly, hand rising to touch her pendant. ‘Very special. The love of my life.’

*          *          *

‘You didn’t think it worth mentioning that your ex was back?’ Bernie asks tightly once Fleur has gone to examine Greta.

‘I didn’t tell you?’ Serena frowns.

‘Pretty sure I’d have remembered that conversation.’

‘I meant to. It must have just slipped my mind.’

‘Slipped your mind?’ Bernie almost scoffs.

‘Well, with everything that’s been happening here, and the fact that we kept missing each other. It was hardly the most important thing on my mind.’

‘She took you to the RSC,’ Bernie mutters.

‘We took each other to the RSC,’ Serena corrects her. ‘How was I supposed to know you were going to surprise me with a flying visit and want to go?’

They stare at each other – almost a glare, really – and then there’s the sound of someone clearing their throat.

‘Sorry to interrupt whatever it is I’m interrupting,’ Fleur says, her eyes on Serena, ‘but we have work to do.’

Bernie watches them walk over to Greta’s bay, Fleur’s arm firmly linked with Serena’s, and feels very small and insecure and jealous, none of which subsides when Serena throws a worried glance and what, to Bernie, looks like a poor attempt at a reassuring smile over her shoulder.

She retreats to the office (Serena’s office now, not hers – theirs – any more), and looks out onto the ward and stews. Fleur is flirting with Serena. Blatantly flirting with her. Bernie watches her, her ready smile and laugh, the spark in her eyes, her fingers grazing Serena’s arm; watches Serena smile and laugh and sparkle in return, and hates Fleur. Hates her for being in Holby when she isn’t, for spending time with Serena when she can’t, for making Serena look like that when she can’t.

She was Serena’s first, her treacherous brain reminds her, and she glowers a little more.

*

After they argue – about Greta, about Jason, about Nairobi – Bernie escapes outside to smoke, takes long drags to try and soothe herself. She can feel Serena slipping away from her, feels like she can barely hold onto her fingertips, like she’s snatching at thin air as she tries to keep her grasp. And who should walk up and lean against the railing beside her but Fleur, the woman whose grasp Bernie can practically see tightening as hers fails.

‘I couldn’t help noticing a little bit of tension back there.’

‘Really?’

‘Serena’s always so relaxed when we go out.’

The knot in Bernie’s stomach tightens. ‘Go out often, do you?’ she asks, through the bubbling jealousy.

‘Not as often as I’d like,’ Fleur replies, smiling. ‘I am detecting the slightest hint of hostility from you.’

‘Well, what do you expect?’ Bernie retorts, with a disbelieving laugh. ‘I mean, from the moment I met you, you may as well have been wearing a neon sign around your neck saying, “I want to snog your girlfriend”. Again,’ she adds pointedly. ‘I’m fully aware of who you are.’

‘Well, can you blame me? Serena always was gorgeous – and an excellent kisser – but now she’s a very sexy silver vixen.’

‘I’d watch your step if I were you,’ Bernie says casually, her voice dropping. ‘I was in the army, you know. I know thirteen different ways to kill you with my bare hands.’ Strictly speaking it’s true: she does know a variety of ways to kill a person, but only in theory. Fleur doesn’t need to know that, though.

‘You know,’ Fleur says, serious for the first time, ‘all she ever does is bang on about you. Every time we go out I have to listen to a never-ending list of the virtues – and foibles – of the magnificent Bernie Wolfe. It’s quite beyond the pale, I can tell you.’

That knot loosens a little, and Bernie almost smiles at the thought that she’s on Serena’s mind as much as Serena is on hers.

‘And even if she didn’t,’ Fleur continues, ‘even if she wasn’t very clearly utterly in love with you, I can assure you I’m no rival. I have some idea what it’s like, being apart.’

At the longing note in her voice Bernie can’t keep from looking at her, frowning.

‘I left my fiancée in Copenhagen to take the job here,’ Fleur explains. She pulls at the chain around her neck, tugs a ring from beneath her scrub top and rubs it between her fingers, gazing at it. ‘She’s got a job lined up at St James’ in September but has to work out her current contract before she can leave Denmark.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Bernie says, almost automatically.

‘So am I,’ Fleur says, flashing her a sad smile. ‘So you see, Serena and I both desperately miss the woman we love. We might have a history, but that’s what we have in common now. We can at least share our woes with someone who understands, and have some harmless fun together. I’d cut her some slack, if I were you,’ she finishes, patting Bernie’s arm before heading back inside.

Two minutes later Fleur is back, her phone clasped to her ear and a wide smile on her face. ‘Hang on, love. Bernie, you couldn’t do me a favour could you?’

Which is how Bernie finds herself lingering outside Wyvern Wing after finishing her cigarette, waiting for a rheumatologist she’s never met while Fleur goes to examine her partner’s nephew’s girlfriend.

‘You must be Bernie,’ she says when she gets out of the taxi. ‘Birgitte.’

‘Two surprise flying visits on the same day – what a coincidence. I hope yours goes better than mine is so far.’

‘Serena not pleased to see you?’ Birgitte frowns. ‘From what Fleur’s told me, I’d have thought she was ecstatic.’

Bernie sighs and shrugs. ‘Things haven’t been easy recently.’

Birgitte smiles sympathetically, and looks up at the hospital building. ‘I must say, it’s nice to finally see this place after hearing so much about it.’

‘How do you manage?’ Bernie asks. ‘Being away from each other, I mean. I had plenty of practice being away from my husband while I was in the army, but it really didn’t prepare me for this.’

‘We talk when we can,’ Birgitte says, coming to lean against the railings beside Bernie, just where Fleur had been earlier. ‘Email and text when we can’t, have regular Skype dates. Tell each other how we’re feeling, what we’re struggling with, what we need. And we have things to look forward to, however far away they might be.’

Bernie sighs again, toys with the cigarette packet in her pocket but resists the urge to light another. ‘We had that,’ she says quietly. ‘However much of a mess we might be making of communicating, we had that, we had Nairobi. Only now I’m not sure we do. Pretty sure we don’t, really.’

‘Do you love her?’

‘Yes,’ Bernie says instantly. ‘That’s why it hurts so much, isn’t it?’

‘It’s also what makes it worth it. All the pain and tears, all the time apart, all the goodbyes – it’s worth it for her, for the time we do get, for what we willget when this is over. It’s worth it, Bernie,’ she promises, patting her arm.

‘I don’t want to make her choose between me and her family.’

‘Then don’t,’ Birgitte says simply. ‘Find a way to make it work. And speaking of ways, are you going to show me where obs and gynae is or am I going to have to get lost all by myself?’

‘Of course,’ Bernie smiles. ‘Right this way.’

They find Fleur at the nurses’ station, studying a tablet. Bernie watches Birgitte watch her, watches her drinking Fleur in as she speaks to a nurse, patiently waiting until she’s finished.

‘Hi skat,’ she says quietly.

Fleur whirls around, her eyes alight and her smile wide. They meet each other halfway, their embrace tight, and Bernie retreats in the direction of Serena and Jason’s voices.

*

‘It’s not going to work, is it?’ Serena asks as they sit on the floor outside Greta’s room, hands clasped around Bernie’s knee, her voice sad and resigned. It doesn’t really sound like a question.

‘I don’t know,’ Bernie replies. This is it, then, she thinks. Her fingers might be laced with Serena’s, but she’s lost her grip.

‘I think you do. I think we both do.’

‘I love you,’ Bernie says, barely holding back tears.

‘I know. And I love you.’

‘It should be enough,’ she protests, rubbing her thumb back and forth along Serena’s.

‘It should be,’ Serena agrees. ‘But I can’t leave.’

Bernie nods, and has to look away. ‘And I can’t stay.’ Out of the corner of her eye she sees Serena nod too.

After everything they’ve been through this feels like an anticlimax. Bernie had imagined her whole life stretching in front of her, Serena by her side; she wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but she thought they surely deserved a break by now. It wasn’t supposed to end like this, wasn’t supposed to end at all. And then she thinks about what Birgitte said and decides that it isn’t going to – not without a fight, at least. Not without her trying her very hardest.

‘No,’ she says, startling Serena.

‘No what?’ Serena frowns.

‘I’m not letting you go.’

‘But I can’t come with you, however desperately I wanted to. I have responsibilities here now.’

‘I know you do. But I love you too much to just give up like this, Serena.’

‘We’ve turned into a disaster, Bernie. We hardly talk – hardly communicate at all – and when we do we either argue or cry. I can’t go on like that, and you can’t either.’

‘Then we change. We find a way to make this work.’ Bernie shifts to face Serena properly, reaches to cup her cheek. ‘I’ve imagined a life without you, Serena. It was miserable and lonely and empty, and I don’t want that.’

‘I don’t want it either,’ Serena says softly.

‘Even if we can’t be in the same place right now, I want to be with you.’

‘And I want to be with you. Will you– will you wait for me, for us?’

‘For eternity,’ Bernie smiles, her thumb caressing Serena’s cheekbone.

‘Well, I was thinking more six months to a year,’ Serena smiles.

‘Less romantic but more practical, I suppose.’

They gaze at each other, Bernie’s heart racing at how close she came to losing this, to losing her.

‘I love you,’ she murmurs, leaning closer and kissing Serena, Serena’s hand sliding into her hair.

‘I hate to interrupt again,’ Fleur says when they part, their foreheads resting together, ‘but Serena, would you like to meet your new grand-niece?’

They both look up at Fleur, smiling in disbelief.

‘Yes I would,’ Serena says, scrambling to her feet and helping Bernie up off the floor too.

‘Your fiancée is a wise woman,’ Bernie says to Fleur as they pass, hanging back just a little so Serena can go in before her.

‘You all sorted, then?’

‘No, but we will be,’ Bernie smiles. She looks at Serena sat beside Jason, at Jason with his daughter in his arms and the widest smile she’s ever seen on his face, and the scene blurs with tears.

‘Go on,’ Fleur says, nudging her. ‘You should be in there too.’

At just that moment Serena looks up and holds out her hand, and Bernie goes to her without hesitation.

Fleur stands and watches them, feels herself becoming emotional even though this is her job, her every day. She senses a presence at her shoulder, knows without looking who it is and takes the cup of tea Birgitte holds out with a smile.

‘I don’t know what you said to Bernie, but I’m glad you did,’ she says, leaning into Birgitte’s side.

Birgitte slips an arm around Fleur’s shoulders, watches as Bernie gently strokes the baby’s head, as Serena gazes up at her with tears glistening in her eyes and a smile on her face, their hands tightly clasped.

*

‘I almost lost you today,’ Serena whispers later, when they’re pressed together, sweat cooling on their skin.

‘And I almost lost you,’ Bernie replies, holding her a little tighter.

‘Because I was an idiot. I’m sorry.’

Bernie nuzzles into Serena’s hair, presses a kiss to the crown of her head. ‘We’ll be alright, Serena. We’ll do better, both of us, and we’ll be alright.’

‘Promise?’ Serena asks shakily. ‘Because I need you, Bernie.’

‘I promise,’ Bernie replies, with another kiss. ‘Because I need you too.’

‘We’ll be together properly – in the same place for a decent length of time – one day, won’t we? We’ll have the chance to be happy together?’

‘We will,’ Bernie replies. She doesn’t know where, or when, or how, but in her bones she knows they will be. Knows she will never stop wanting or loving Serena, knows she’ll always fight to be with her, whatever it takes. ‘I love you.’

‘Love you too,’ Serena says softly, her lips against Bernie’s skin, her voice heavy with tiredness.

‘We owe Fleur and Birgitte a bottle of wine,’ Bernie murmurs. ‘Maybe two.’

‘I’ll get them a whole case,’ Serena replies, already slipping into sleep, somehow snuggling even further into Bernie. ‘Expensive stuff. Worth it.’

‘Definitely worth it,’ Bernie agrees, closing her eyes and breathing Serena in.