Work Header

Invisible Smoke

Chapter Text

Serena woke up with a start, surprised to find that she had fallen asleep yet again. She thought that she had caught up on her sleep during the overnight flight, but it seemed that her body was still trying to get more. "What time is it?" she asked groggily as she rubbed at her eyes.

"Quarter after one. I thought that we could head down to the hotel restaurant and get something to eat before we head to the base? It might help us get acclimated to the new time zone we're in."

She nodded as she sat up, stretching a little before shaking out her shoulders. "That does sound like a good idea." Getting off the bed, Serena smoothed the wrinkles out of her blouse and trousers before rummaging through her carryon bag to get out her purse. Henrik had cautioned her to not bring anything besides one credit card, since she wasn't certain what she would be walking into in Somalia, and she was glad she had listened to him, not because she felt like she was in danger, but it was one less thing to worry about in the long run. "Are you ready to head down now?"

"Yeah. I can finish up this email on the elevator," Charlotte replied as she followed Serena over to the door. "I just wanted to let Dad know that we're here safely, and that I'll contact him when we get home, or if something goes wrong. Not that I'm planning on anything happening, but it's better to be prepared for something bad, then be surprised by it."

"Exactly." They smiled at each other as Serena opened the door, and Charlotte darted over to Cameron's door, knocking a few times before cocking her hip to one side as she waited for him to open up. Serena let out a soft sigh, once more struck by how much Charlotte reminded her of Bernie. If nothing else came out of this trip, she mused, at least she had a small glimpse of who her partner had been when she was younger.

Finally, the door was yanked open, and Cameron looked around for them, a slight frown on his lips. "Who let me fall asleep?" he grumbled as he joined them on the short trek to the lift.

Charlotte giggled as she pressed the button before reaching out and smacking his shoulder almost roughly. "You were the one who decided to curl up on the bed, smarty pants. I had to wait for Serena to wake up, too."

"Hey!" she exclaimed as the doors opened and she stepped inside first, heading to the back of the lift. "It was a long day yesterday, and I am old. I deserve a little leeway."

Charlotte nodded as she came over to her side, giving her a quick hug before leaning forward and pressing the button for the lobby. "I know, I was just teasing." She nodded and watched as Cameron smiled at the two of them, a wistful look on his face. "Cam, what do you think that the first thing you say to Mum will be?"

"That she better not scare us like that again?"

Serena tried to muffle her giggle, but was unsuccessful, and Cam just shot her a dark look before rolling his eyes a little. "I'm sorry, but you have to find something to make you laugh, otherwise you'll cry. I was just picturing Bernie's face if you really told her that straight off." Charlotte nodded in agreement, a tiny giggle slipping from her lips as she stepped away from Serena to lean against the back of the lift. "But I think that she would laugh, and it would be wonderful to hear that great honking noise once more. That's one of the things I miss most, hearing her laugh. I swear, it could make anyone smile themselves."

A tender silence slipped over the lift, and Serena found herself thinking about her Bernie. She just hoped that when they found her, if they found her, that she would be open to starting again, to rebuilding what she had destroyed with a stupid mistake. There wasn't a long wait for the restaurant, and after they had placed their order, Serena pulled out her phone and took a quick picture of Cameron and Charlotte, wanting something to remind her of this moment, of this trip. Cameron caught her, giving her a small wink before leaning over and resting his head on his sister's shoulder, encouraging her to take a few more snaps. "Mum will love to see us getting along," he said as he sat back up and took a sip of his coffee.

"Of course she will," Serena murmured as she slipped the phone back into her purse and then set about eating her food as it arrived. When they were close to the end of their meal, she brought her phone back out and texted Shermarke, letting him know that they were ready to head to the base, before signaling their server and settling the tab. Just as they were finishing up, Shermarke joined them in the restaurant, and she gave him a warm smile. "That didn't take too long."

"The traffic wasn't bad. Are you ready to head to the base now?"

"Yes, please." They all got up, and Shermarke led them back outside, the others following behind. It was nice to have a familiar vehicle to ride in as they went to the base, and Serena tried to focus on the advice that Shermarke was giving them, knowing that it would help her out in the long run. Cameron, though, seemed thoroughly disinterested in the conversation, as if he already knew exactly how he was going to handle things. This bothered Serena, since she knew that he could be a bit of a loose cannon when it came to getting his way.

As they turned into the base, Shermarke spoke with the guard on duty, and then he asked Serena for her passport. The guard looked at it, then at her, before allowing them access, and she sighed in relief as she put the passport back into her purse. "All right, while I was waiting for you, I went ahead and made a few calls, so that this wouldn't be a wasted trip. You will be meeting with the captain in charge of the rescue operation."

"Thank you for doing that," Serena said, truly touched by his forethought. "I would never have thought about doing that, and probably would have wasted a lot of time."

"I could tell that you are distressed about this situation, and that it might have been a small detail that you overlooked, so I was happy to do that for you."

She nodded once more, knowing that she would have to add a generous tip to his bill, seeing as how he had already made their journey that much smoother. "The hotel really knew what they were doing when they recommended I use you are our guide." He gave her a small smile as he parked next to a building, and she knew that he probably wouldn't comment on the compliment, since that didn't seem to be his style, but Serena also knew how much positive words could help build a good working rapport between people. She had done that often enough while working with her F1s, and she unconsciously had started to make it a part of her everyday life.

After Shermarke had parked in front of an official looking building, he turned to look at Serena, a serious expression on his face. "I know that you're an intelligent woman, Doctor Campbell, but there are still a few things that you should remember as you go to talk with the captain. He is in charge, he is accustomed to not being questioned, and he will not take kindly to anyone questioning his authority."

"In other words, I'll get more answers from him if I act obsequious and unassuming?" Shermarke nodded, and Serena gave him a wry smile "I am very accustomed to that with my line of work. You would think that being a first-rate surgeon would garner more respect from men of a certain age and class, but that is often far from the truth, especially when it comes to donors. Any other advice?"

"Just keep a calm head. I'll be waiting for you outside, since I don't like dealing with the military all that much. Just text me when you are ready to return to the hotel."

Serena nodded as they all left the car, and she straightened her shoulders before taking a deep breath, knowing that these next few minutes would determine if her trip to Africa, to Somalia, had been in vain or not. And even though she wasn't a religious woman, she still sent up a short prayer to whichever deity happened to be listening that she would get the answer that she wanted, and that soon she and the children would be reunited with her beloved Bernie once more.