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The Promise

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Bernie hears it from Cameron, who heard it from Donna, who heard it from Ric.

Despite the Chinese whispers and Donna’s reputation for exaggerating gossip, Bernie doesn’t waste time and jumps on a plane after Cam mentions, his brow furrowed on Skype, that Serena’s been crying in her office and avoiding going home.

She doesn’t know the specifics. Only that Serena’s been seeing this bloke, an accountant, and that his name is Gary and that, in Cam’s words, he’s a creep.

It’s only when she’s over the Sahara Desert, the lights low in the plane cabin and her neighbour asleep, that she realises she might be over reacting.

Serena and her haven’t spoken in 6 months. There’s only been two texts. One for Bernie’s birthday and the other to congratulate Guinevere on her first steps.

It’s not like Bernie doesn’t know what’s going on in Serena’s life, though. Despite their breakup, they have shared friends and if Jason has anything to say about it, shared family. He sends Bernie photos and texts. And if they sometimes spear Bernie’s heart, it’s a welcome pain.

She still loves Serena. Thinks about her all the time. Misses her fiercely. To be reminded of her through a photo of her and Guinevere at the park, or a passing mention of her in a message, is a sweet agony Bernie is happy to suffer.

Cameron was hesitant to mention Serena at all, at first. But weeks turned into months, and Serena is a part of his life, and Bernie can’t do anything about that. Serena is someone he can’t help but like, even after everything. So, Serena pops up in their weekly Skype calls. There are stories of her buying Cam coffee and cautiously asking after Bernie, eyes guarded but eager.

Gary, the accountant, is a recent addition. Rumours point to a work event and a few dates.

All across Africa Bernie frets. Is Serena all right? She’s a grown woman. Is strong and capable. Has Bernie made a monumental mistake in rushing to Holby? She tries to reverse their positions and Bernie can’t help but flush at the idea of Serena coming to her aid all guns blazing.

And, just as the plane enters European airspace, Bernie remembers her promise. Serena is obviously hurt. Someone has hurt the love of her life. And it doesn’t matter that they haven’t seen each other and that Serena is seeing someone else, Bernie promised.

 

The plane touches down in the early morning and the weather is grey and uncertain, just like Bernie’s mood. She feels all jittery and hyped up. She needs action, a goal.

It’s a normal Wednesday morning. Serena must be at work, so Bernie heads there.

AAU is as busy as ever, but Bernie barely looks around before reaching the office. She vaguely hears Donna’s soft sigh of relief.

Serena is at her desk and for a second Bernie just drinks her in. She looks tired and sad and Bernie’s heart hurts just at the sight of the pinched lines around Serena’s mouth and eyes.

Serena suddenly looks up and time freezes. Bernie can’t read the look in Serena’s eyes.

“Are you an apparition?” Serena whispers after a charged moment.

Bernie tilts her head to the side, confused.

“Only, I’ve not been sleeping well and you-you’re here and I’ve been wanting to...” Serena says, slowly getting to her feet.

Bernie smiles and Serena’s face crumples. Three steps and Serena is in her arms. The familiarity of her scent and her body takes Bernie’s breath away.

“God, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much,” Serena sobs in Bernie’s neck.

Bernie tightens her hold around Serena’s waist. This office has seen so much of their lives and she wants so much for Serena to be happy. She left because she thought Serena would be happier without her, but Serena is obviously anything but that and Bernie wants to help.

Will always want to help.

After a while they end up on the sofa, Serena’s head on Bernie’s shoulder, their bodies flush together.

“What happened?” Bernie asks.

Serena laughs through her tears and the sound is harsh and unhappy.

“I’ve, uh, not had the best month,” Serena starts, her voice wet. “I was so, so,” and here Serena sobs, a hand on her mouth. “Stupid. Reckless.”

Bernie’s mind reels with the possibilities. Through her career, she’s been privy to the horrors of the human race, and her imagination knows no bounds. Her blood quickens and her hands flex into fists.

“What-did he hurt you? Serena, did he...” Bernie can’t even form the words, can’t finish the sentence. Terror robs her of sense and reason.

Serena turns to her and finally looks into her eyes.

“No. No, Bernie, no. Nothing like that. He- we went on a few dates. Dinners. And he wanted...more. And I didn’t. And he didn’t take it very well,” Serena says haltingly.

“What did he do?” Bernie asks very quietly, eyes very hard and dark and jaw locked.

Something about her voice must startle Serena because she puts her hands on Bernie’s forearms.

“He didn’t touch me. He’s just been mouthing off around the hospital. Sending me messages. I-I made myself clear, but he’s just...”

“Creepy?” Bernie provides.

Serena shrugs a little helplessly. Her eyes widen when Bernie gets up.

“Right. Where does he work?”

“What? Bernie, you can’t...”

“Which floor?”

Bernie feels good, now. She has a goal. She’s going to bash this guy’s head in and then hide the body. At the very least, she knows exactly which angle her fist is going to take, and how much force she’ll need to break the tosser’s nose.

Serena rushes to her feet and holds onto Bernie’s wrist. She looks a little panicky.

“Bernie, wait. Calm down. It’s fine, I...”

“It’s not fine. I’m going to talk to him. Don’t worry about it. We are just going to have a little chat,” Bernie says very calmly.

Her blood is really pumping now. She feels like she does before an important surgery, when the challenge makes her brain fizz.

“Look, you don’t have to do this. Henrik knows all about it, and I’m sure it’ll be resolved in no time,” Serena pleads.

“I’m not going to do anything, Serena. I just-I promised, ok?”

“Promised what?”

“That I would be on the first plane home if anyone hurt you. Well, here I am. No one hurts you, Serena. Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Serena stares at her, obviously still shocked.

“So, which floor?”

 

The fifth floor is all carpeted and quiet, nothing like the busy wards below. Bernie marches forward, jaw set into a firm line, eyes blazing with purpose. Serena only gave her the floor number after Bernie promised not to hurt him. Well, Bernie thinks with a small smile, there are many ways to achieve a goal, and she is nothing if not creative.

Turns out Gary shares an office, though he’s alone when Bernie barges in. He jumps when Bernie slams the door behind her. He’s sort of bland looking, Bernie assess quickly. Quite a bit overweight. Balding. In a grey suit with an expensive tie. Bernie doesn’t care.

“Wha-who?”

Bernie spies a potted cactus plant on his desk and swipes it off in one graceful arc of her arm. It crashes very satisfyingly against the wall. Gary jumps up, startled.

“Hi Gary. My name’s Bernie Wolfe. Do you know who I am?” Bernie says pleasantly.

Gary does a great impression of a fish out of water. Bernie sits in the chair on the other side of Gary’s desk.

“I’m Serena’s ex. Hi. You’ve not been very nice, Gary.”

Bernie uses the voice she uses in very stressful and dangerous situations. Calm and deadly. Gary turns red and he tries to stutter a reply.

“Not very...gentlemanly. So,” Bernie laces her fingers together.” This is what’s going to happen.”

By the tone of her voice, she could be at a boring board meeting. Gary goes to stand closer to her, takes a few steps, but Bernie puts her hand up.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You look like you’re two Sunday roasts away from a heart attack,” Bernie says calmly.

Gary stops, his jaw working around words that still won’t come out. Bernie ploughs on.

“You are going to forget Serena Campbell ever existed. Someone says her name; you go “who?”. You see her around the hospital, you disappear. You don’t look at her; you don’t think about her. You erase your brain of any memory of her,” Bernie says with her palms on Gary’s desk.

Gary scoffs and from his posture, Bernie knows he’s going to ask a stupid question, so she saves him the bother. She gets up slowly and takes a step towards him. She’s very happy when he retreats behind his desk. Good. Let him sweat, the creep.

“If you ever bother Serena again, if I hear you even breathed in her vicinity, there won’t be a place on Earth you’ll be able to hide in,” Bernie enunciates very carefully.

Gary’s eyes widen. The steel in Bernie’s voice has always been an excellent advantage in the chaos of battleground hospitals. Gary never really stood a chance.

“Have a good day, Gary. Sorry about the cactus,” Bernie says, straightening Gary’s tie with slow, deliberate movements before she leaves without a backwards glance.

 

The adrenaline carries Bernie back to AAU, where Serena is waiting anxiously. Bernie smiles at her a little goofily and Serena rolls her eyes, shoulders finally losing that tense edge.

Serena makes a show of checking Bernie’s hands for injuries and Bernie tries to breathe normally when they touch.

“Can I sleep on your sofa? I have a flight in 22 hours, and I’m a bit...wired.”

“So you came to Holby for a day to be my knight in shining armour?” Serena asks wryly.

Bernie smiles in what she hopes is a dashing way, and Serena blushes a little so it’s mission accomplished.

“You are something else, Berenice Wolfe,” Serena says, shaking her head.

But her eyes are sparkling and she looks happy and relaxed. Bernie would fly around the world and threaten a thousand men if it meant Serena was content.

“I know,” Bernie says, preening now.

As soon she lies on the sofa, she falls asleep.

 

Hours later, she’s awakened by Serena’s hand on her cheek. Serena is smiling.

“Wake up, hero. I’m taking you out to dinner.”

It’s just gone past 5, which means Bernie slept 6 hours. Apart from a little disorientation, she feels refreshed. As they leave the hospital, Serena looks at her so fondly that Bernie blushes.

“Henrik came to see me and apparently Gary has accepted disciplinary action and is looking to relocate within the trust,” Serena says when they reach the car park. She looks amused and relieved all at once.

Bernie smiles. She wants to reach for Serena, but it feels too soon and rushed.

Dinner is at a gastro pub not far from Serena’s. Bernie remembers seeing it while running.

She remembers a lot of things while they settle at a table and look at menus. And most of all she yearns and longs and just wants to come home.

Serena clears her throat after they get their drinks. She looks contrite and uncomfortable and Bernie knows why. Their shared history stretches between them and Bernie hopes it will be a path rather than a wall.

“I wanted to say-been meaning to say, for so long now, that I’m so sorry, Bernie. About how things ended. I-I pushed you away for all the wrong reasons and I-I hurt you so much,” Serena says with earnest eyes. “I’ve been trying to-I’ve been going to therapy.”

There is something big swelling and soaring in Bernie’s chest. It feels a lot like hope. She smiles and Serena sees it and she holds up her hand.

“I know it’s not a quick process, but I want to be better. For me, but also for-for you. Maybe not just yet, but soon? If you-if you maybe, in the future wanted to get-to give me another chance?”

Serena is flustered and Bernie finds it charming. She leans forward and grabs Serena’s hand.

“I love you. That hasn’t changed, nor will it ever change.”

They smile at each other.

“I’m flying back tomorrow, but if you want, I promise I’ll be better at communicating. No MIA for weeks. I’ve been keeping with my Skype dates religiously, you can ask Cameron. And we could see where this leads?” Bernie offers, her thumb caressing the back of Serena’s hand.

“Yes. Yes, I want that. And you-I want you,” Serena says, her words tumbling out in her haste to agree.

Bernie scoots closer to her on the banquette and brushes her shoulder against Serena’s. It should feel momentous but all Bernie feels is love and sheer relief. She kisses Serena’s cheek and smiles when she hears Serena’s sharp intake of breath.

“Can I kiss you?”

Serena answers by cupping her face into her hands and kissing her ever so sweetly. Her lips are soft and she tastes of coffee and just Serena, a taste so familiar that it spells home.

 

After her long nap, Bernie doesn’t feel at all tired, but it’s past 9 when they finish dinner and drinks. She doesn’t want to intrude on Serena’s sleep, so she makes noises about finding a hotel room and leaving Serena to her night.

“Don’t be silly. You can have the guest room,” Serena declares, and that is that.

It’s strange, being back in Serena’s house. For a glorious week back in the winter Bernie thought it would become her home too, but life had other ideas. As she looks around the living room while Serena makes them tea, she thinks that maybe life knew what it was doing. That they needed this time apart to be sure of each other once more.

“Thank you again, for today,” Serena says as they sit side by side on the sofa.

Bernie smiles and shrugs, a little embarrassed thinking about it after the fact.

“No, really. Not many people would have flown across the world to rough someone up for an ex,” Serena says from behind her tea cup.

Bernie reaches between them and sets Serena’s cup on the coffee table.

“You’re not just an ex, Serena. You’re…you’re everything,” Bernie whispers.

Serena’s eyes fill with tears, and Bernie can’t let her cry because she’s going to cry too. Instead, she leans and kisses her. Softly at first, a mere press of lips, but then Serena slips her hands into Bernie’s hair and Bernie moans, and the kiss gets more and more heated.

It’s only been a few months, only half a year, just a blip, but Bernie had almost forgotten how good a kisser Serena is. Serena demands contact, she presses herself against Bernie and lets her hands wander everywhere. In no time at all, she ends up on Bernie’s lap, straddling her and grinding on her belly.

All Bernie can think about is that she is surrounded by Serena. Her smell, her body, they envelop Bernie and she feels drunk on Serena like she would on the finest whiskey.

Just like the heady first weeks, they don’t make it to a bed. Bernie knows they might regret that decision the next day, cursing creaky knees and sore necks, but they can’t seem to stop for long enough. Bernie needs to make Serena come apart, and she needs it to happen now. Her hands shake in anticipation. She peels off Serena’s blouse, bites her shoulder, takes off Serena’s top and splays her hands on Serena’s bare back.

“Off. Now,” Serena pants against her mouth, pawing ineffectively at Bernie’s shirt.

Bernie smiles and she laughs when Serena swats her arm.

“I could just tear it open,” Serena says with a grind of her hips that makes Bernie stutter and moan. “You seem to like the idea.”

Bernie bites Serena’s bottom lip to distract her long enough to save her shirt. It’s hard to keep kissing her at the same time, but she manages and she celebrates by pressing Serena flush against her. Serena feels amazing. All soft perfumed skin and breathy moans.

She’s missed her so much. Spent hours thinking of Serena just like this, feverish with want. It feels miraculous to have her in her arms again but the tug of Serena’s hands in her hair tells her that is real.

They lose track of time. Bernie doesn’t know how long she spends peppering Serena’s neck with open mouthed kisses, from her shoulder to her jaw, drinking in every gasp and whimper. The slow grind of Serena’s hips becomes more frantic, each movement sending a spike of arousal deep in Bernie’s belly.

“I want to see you. Serena, let me…god, Serena let me just,” Bernie says, her hands on Serena’s hips, her eyes drawn to Serena’s chest.

Before she can even think to get Serena’s out of her trousers, she’s distracted by Serena’s glorious breasts. They feel heavy and tight in her hands, and even better in her mouth. Serena keens and throws her head back, her hands clutched in Bernie’s hair.

It’s easy from then on to fall back onto the familiarity of making love to Serena. Bernie knows her body well. She knows what makes it tick. As she lowers Serena onto the sofa, her lips still worshipping Serena’s breasts, she feels like a soldier coming home after months away.

Home is Serena’s back arching off the cushions as Bernie nips and sucks at her breasts.

Home is taking the leisurely detour down Serena’s thighs to lick her way back up.

And home is finally taking Serena into her mouth, Serena’s hands buried in her hair.

Home, home, home, Bernie chants as her tongue swirls and dips into Serena.

Serena cries out and whines and comes, her mouth wide open, her eyes fixed on Bernie. She shakes all over and stretches, her heels digging into Bernie’s back. Bernie helps her through with gentle kisses on the soft skin of her inner thighs before kissing her way back up Serena’s body to take her in her arms.

“I love you,” Serena breathes out against Bernie’s neck and Bernie feels the words settle something that was broken, deep in her heart.

“I love you too, so much,” she replies, tightening her hold.

And god she does. She always has and always will. They will find a way; she knows as they kiss slowly.

Because the alternative, not having Serena in her life, was terrible and she hated it.

“My knight in shining armour,” Serena murmurs below Bernie’s ear.

Bernie shivers and gulps.

“Well, my knight in tight jeans,” Serena continues, her voice like honey, her hands on Bernie’s belt.

Bernie hadn’t even noticed she was still half dressed. Her skin is on fire and her heart beating fast and all she wants is for Serena to keep talking.

“I have missed you so much, my darling. So much. All I have thought about is you,” Serena is saying now, tugging Bernie’s jeans and underwear off.

The words act as a soothing balm as they wash over Bernie. The nervous energy that’s been propelling her forward since she got on the plane ebbs away. She feels loved and cherished, and the look in Serena’s eyes, one of utter pleasure and devotion, goes a long way in reassuring her that Serena did mean all the things that she said.

It allows Bernie to truly let go and enjoy herself, to melt against Serena’s body, naked and vulnerable and so alive once again.

Serena seems to want to touch her all at once. They end up rocking against one and another and Bernie smiles when she hears Serena’s gasp.

“Oh darling, you are so wet,” Serena pants in Bernie’s neck.

“All for you, Serena,” Bernie replies, pressing herself into Serena’s thigh.

“God, I love this. I love you,” Serena says, her voice breaking on the last word.

Bernie wants to reply but pleasure builds and builds low in her belly and at the bottom of her spine and robs her of speech. Serena sucks at a spot under her ear and that’s all it takes. She comes with a strangled shout, body twisting in the sheets, anchored only by Serena’s thigh between her legs.

When she starts breathing normally again, she’s in Serena’s arms, pressed against the sofa cushions, in the warmest of cocoons.

Serena is stroking her hair and holding her close.

“So, you have a flight in the morning,” Serena says quietly after a while.

Bernie’s heart clenches at the hesitation in Serena’s voice. Nairobi still feels like the proverbial elephant in the room.

“I do. But, if you give me time, and if you can bare to see me take out the bins in my slippers, I will be back very soon,” Bernie replies.

It’s all out in the open now. Bernie waits with bated breath, heart hammering in her chest, hoping that this will be enough. That she will be enough.

“I was such an idiot,” Serena whispers against Bernie’s temple. “I am so sorry I said I couldn’t picture us being together. I lied. I…got scared that you would get bored and that you would decide I was too much to handle with the grief and the cheating and the…”

Bernie turns and kisses her soundly, her hands on Serena’s lovely face, willing her to understand how she feels with the power of one kiss.

“I love you, Serena. All of you. I’m never going to stop. All you have to do for us to build something together is to believe me. Please believe me,” Bernie says, her voice wet.

Because Bernie can’t fathom going back to Kenya without the promise that they will be together soon. She can’t go back to nights filled with tears and to double shifts to numb the pain.

Serena smiles and it transforms her face, as if it was lit from within.

“I do. I believe you. And I love you. So much,” Serena vows, their foreheads pressed together.

There is a bird in Nairobi that Bernie likes to watch as she has lunch in the hospital gardens. It often swoops and dives as it spots something tasty to eat. As she kisses Serena, their happy tears mingling, her heart feels exactly like that bird, swooping and soaring to the highest heights.