Serena felt uncomfortably out of place in the church that Marcus had chosen for Bernie's funeral. The venue was the complete opposite of who Bernie was, and she tried hard to fight down the urge to frown or yell or otherwise be a nuisance. After all, Marcus hadn't wanted her to be there in the first place, and it had taken Cameron and Charlotte strong-arming him to get him to relent. Still, she had put on her best suit and blouse, applied enough makeup to make certain that no one would see how pale her face was, nor the dark circles beneath her eyes, and tried to hold her head high as she was shown by Cameron to a spot in the very last pew, as if Marcus considered her to be beneath even sitting in close proximity to the family.
"I'm so sorry, Serena. If it were up to me, you'd be sitting with us. Charlie doesn't think it's fair, either, but we hope that you don't take it as a reflection on us."
"I completely understand, Cameron. And if there's not a wake afterwards, perhaps we could go out for a meal and drinks?"
"I like that idea better than following Dad back home. I'll convince Charlie to come with us, too. You were more important to Mum at the end." He grimaced a little and Serena nodded, reaching out to squeeze his upper arm lightly. "I need to get up there, Serena. We'll see you in a little bit."
She nodded and watched him head to the front of the small church, giving his father a small glare before taking a seat next to his sister, slinging his arm around her shoulders and visibly scooting away from their father as a minister approached the dais and the organist finished the song she was playing. To her shame, Serena found herself thinking about her time with Bernie, how much she had loved her, and how things had ended over a selfish, stupid, thing she had done. She thought about how her heart had broke the moment Bernie had stepped out of the doorway at Albie's, and she knew that she still loved the woman deeply. So deeply that she knew that this entire thing was a farce. There was no way that Alex was right, that Bernie was truly gone. There was no body, there never had been one found, just some body armour that supposedly belonged to Bernie, and only one military official coming to the hospital to inform Cameron that his mother was missing. They hadn't even bothered to send another official to inform them of the fact that Bernie had been declared missing, presumed dead. And Alex hadn't helped matters by informing Serena that Bernie had been engaged to her.
Her lower lip wobbled a little as quick tears came to her eyes. Still, she refused to cry, not in public, not when people who didn't understand her relationship with Bernie, or how she could still be in love with her, even after everything that had transpired between them. "Dammit," she whispered as two tears slipped out of her eye, and Serena reached up as surreptitiously as she could to brush them away without ruining her makeup.
Finally, the farce of a funeral came to an end, and Serena slipped out of the church to dart around to the side of the building, pulling out the pack of cigarettes she had broken down and bought before coming there. She hadn't bought a lighter, as if she knew that she shouldn't go through with the act of smoking one, but still, she wanted to have a physical reminder of Bernie in her hands. "I have a light, if you want?"
She looked up to see Charlotte standing there, a blank look on her face. "I don't really want to smoke these, it's just…"
"Mum smoked that brand, and you wanted to feel closer to her. I get it. I don't smoke often, but I picked up a pack of those the day Cameron called to inform me that Mum was missing."
Serena nodded as she slipped the cigarettes back into her purse before holding out her hand to the young woman. Charlotte shook her head before closing the distance between them and hugging her tightly. "I miss her so much, Charlotte."
"I can only imagine. Cameron told me that you were devastated when Alex waltzed into the hospital and declared herself as Mum's one true love. I hope you know that that is the furthest thing from the truth. Mum considered you to be the great love of her life."
She rubbed her lips together as Cameron ambled over towards them, that same flat look on his face as had been on Charlotte's, and she welcomed him over to her side, holding up her other arm. It wasn't surprising when he stepped close, allowing her to close her arm around his shoulders as well. Though they couldn't replace her sweet Elinor, they were Bernie's children, which made them an extension of her family. "And I think that she was the great love of my life. I just made so many mistakes, and now I don't have to opportunity to make it right."
Swallowing thickly, Serena once more tried to keep her emotions locked under control, knowing that there were still people there that she knew would judge her. "Let's head over to Albie's before we get roped into going home with Dad. That's the last thing that I want," Cameron said as he took hold of Serena's hand and tugged her over towards her car. Charlotte tripped along behind them, and then they were waiting on her to unlock the doors so they could climb in. Serena let out a long breath as she dug her keys out of her purse and let them in before she climbed behind the wheel.
"I'll be picking up the tab today. It's the least I can do," she said as she pulled into a parking space behind the pub. It didn't seem to be too busy yet, but that could change, and she wondered if she would see any of her colleagues there. Part of her hoped not, since she didn't want to see anyone in that moment, instead wanting to focus on Cameron and Charlotte and what they needed in that moment. "You know what I prefer to drink, Cam. Have the bartender start a tab for me while Charlotte and I find a place to sit down."
He nodded and went over to the bar and she gave him a tiny smile as she led Charlotte over to one of the more secluded booths in the back of the pub. "Do you think that we could get food, too? I didn't have the heart to eat earlier, but I don't want to drink too much on an empty stomach," the girl murmured as she took a seat next to Serena, leaving Cameron to sit across from them.
"Of course, we can do whatever you want, darling."
Charlotte smiled shakily at her and she picked up the menu to peruse it as Serena settled back into the bench seat. "I think I'll go up and order one of everything that sounds good to me, and I will definitely pay you back…"
"No, Charlotte, I have today, no matter the cost. Because I know that that's what Bernie would do for Jason and Greta, if it had been me." She nodded before leaning over and hugging Serena tightly and then joining her brother in line. As Serena waited for them to come back, she pulled out her phone and scrolled through the pictures she had of Bernie. Every one of them made her feel more and more heartsick, and she tried not to dwell on the fact that she would never be seeing Bernie's smile in person again. She would never feel her arms wrapped around her waist as she spooned her in bed. She would never have some of the best conversations she had ever had in her life again. There were so many things that she was going to miss about her Bernie, but the ability to just talk and be understood would probably be the largest hole in her life. Swiping at her eyes, she took a few deep breaths to try and calm her heart before Bernie's children returned to her.
"The bartender said that he'd space out the food, so that things won't get cold," Charlotte said as she slid in next to Serena once more, nudging her shoulder lightly as she looked down at the picture Serena was staring at. "I don't think I've ever seen that picture of you two before, Serena."
"Your mum was learning how to take selfies, and she wanted to practice," Serena replied softly, before turning the phone so that Cameron could see. He grinned sadly, to which she nodded in agreement before slipping the phone back into her purse.
"Mum isn't dead. I don't feel like she's dead. And I know so many people say that, but there were just so many inconsistencies in Alex's story that I just can't feel comfortable with burying her memory, since there was no body. I don't understand why everyone else can just accept it so quickly, like she never really existed. I don't understand how people are so quick to move on!"
Serena nodded again, picking up her glass of shiraz and taking a long sip as she thought about what to say. "I feel the say way, Cameron. There are so many holes in the story that Alex tried to feed to us that there has to be more going on than the story that's being pushed on us. But they'll label us as mad if we talk about that to anyone else. And what else can we do, but hope that Bernie turns up someday and walks back into our lives?"
"We could go searching for her."
That idea appealed to Serena immensely, but she didn't think that she should let on that that was exactly what she wanted to do. "Neither of us can afford to take time off, and I don't want to get my hopes up just to have them dashed once more. I'm sorry."
"No, I get it, it's a pipe dream, but I still wish that we could leave everything behind, the three of us, and head to Somali and find out what really happened." Cameron's smile wobbled a little before he picked up his beer and gulped at it, putting some space between them as a tender silence fell over the table. And all Serena could do was focus on the idea of leaving everything behind and tracking down the truth.
Serena felt like she was going through the motions throughout her entire shift, since the only thing she could think about was the fact that there was going to be a memorial for Bernie in just a few short hours. This was yet another event that she wasn't prepared for, and everyone seemed to be able to read her discomfort, though no one really wanted to say anything to her about it. Even Ric was dancing around the subject, as if he thought by saying something she might burst into uncontrollable sobs. No one knew that she had no more sobs left in her heart, just weak little cries, as if her body had turned into the Sahara due to all the grief she had experienced in the last two years.
Finally, it came time to head outside and she wrapped her jacket around herself, finding the day unseasonably cool. Or maybe her heart was just frozen solid, having used up all the warmth she had had that morning in getting Cameron to agree to allow Alex to come to the memorial, even after the little bombshell she had dropped about being engaged to Bernie. From the look on Cameron's face, he had wanted to strike her for that statement, and it had taken everything in Serena to not make a face as she cooled both of them down.
"Are you ready to head out there, Ms Campbell?"
Looking up at Dom, she nodded slowly, pulling herself out of her woolgathering as she tried to think about the time ahead of her and not break down in front of the young man. "Thank you for helping my pull this memorial together. I know that you were very close to Bernie, and your friendship meant a lot to her."
His eyes swam with tears, and she had to look away before she started to cry in sympathy. There would be a time for that later, not in front of him, after all. "And she loved you very much, Serena. No matter what anyone else who came her might say, I know that you were the one for her. We all make mistakes, and I am just so lucky that I still have Lofty here to forgive and make a happier future with. I wish that things had turned out differently. I know that the two of you could have worked through anything that the world threw at you."
"Yes, well, I wasn't able to resist a little piece of fluff, and that derailed the best relationship to ever fall into my life. She was my best friend before she was anything else, and I miss that most of all."
Dom nodded as he reached out and squeezed her shoulder softly. "I completely understand." They drew in simultaneous shaky breaths, and then they were making their way outside. Once there, Dom took charge of the situation, organizing the people as she looked around for Cameron. She had heard through the grapevine that he had had a tough day at work, that he had shown up more than a little drunk, but still trying to work his shift. It was a shame, but she understood trying to drink away the pain of it all. She had tried to do the same when her mother had passed, after all. "Where's Cam? He should be here, since he has to give the speech. Here, you take the poem and read it while I search for him."
Dom pressed a distressed piece of paper into her hand before hurrying back into the building, and she looked down at the paper in shock, not quite certain of what she was supposed to do with it. She had never been one for reading poetry, that was her mother's realm, and she let out a shaky breath as she approached the lectern and cleared her throat. "Well, I want to thank you all for coming out to honor the memory of one of the finest surgeons that has ever graced Holby City Hospital with their presence. I, I've been asked to read a poem that Dominic Copeland, one of Bernie's best friends, chose for her. You'll have to forgive me, I've never had the ear for poetry, so I just might butcher this." Once more, she cleared her throat and began to read the Dickinson poem, the syllables and patterns sounding janky to her ears, even as the beautiful words fell flat from her lips.
Looking up, she saw that Dom had managed to find Cameron, leading him up to the front row, his eyes looking so disappointed and sad to her. Wrapping up the poem, she gestured towards Cameron, only to have him shake his head furiously, shoving a sheaf of papers into Dom's hand before staring down at the ground, a slightly green tinge to his skin. Serena let out a deep sigh as she stepped down and took a seat next to him, reaching out to squeeze his knee as she listened to Dom read the words that he had written. In the middle of the tribute, Cameron began to sob, and she hurriedly wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close as Dom finished up and then invited the people to enjoy the refreshments that the hospital had provided.
Henrik and Alex were the first people she saw as she turned towards the refreshment table, and she tried not to frown at them, since she didn't want to offend Henrik. Taking a deep breath, she strode over to their sides, fighting the urge to shake Alex's hand off her shoulder as she stopped in front of them. "It was a good turnout, Serena. I think that Bernie would have been pleased to see how fondly she was remembered," he said, giving her one of those patented subtle smiles that said so much. She nodded and then darted her eyes to look at Alex, seeing that she was giving her a decidedly weird look. "I have to get back now, but anytime that you need to talk, my door is open to you."
"Thank you, Henrik," she said lowly before he turned and made his way back into the hospital. "What do you want?" she faintly hissed once he was out of earshot, and Alex blanched a little as she recoiled away from her, though she still didn't remove her hand from Serena's shoulder.
"I thought that you might want to head out for a drink, to reminisce about Bernie for a while. There are things that only we can share about her, after all."
Serena felt her brow furrow together as she mulled Alex's words over in her head. Though she didn't want to spend any more time than necessary in her presence, there might be the opportunity to get more information out of her as to what happened in Somalia. That seemed to outweigh her misgivings, and she gave a sharp nod before turning on her heel and marching over to her car. Cameron gave them an odd look, and she shook her head at him, trying to let him know with a look that everything was all right, and that she had things under control. That feeling quickly fled once they were inside her car and Alex was giving her that strange, earnest, look once more. Serena could feel the tension inside the vehicle build as the silence between them grew oppressive and then Alex was clearing her throat. Serena looked up into her eyes and felt a frisson of aversion run down her spine, even as the other woman started to lean forward. Before she knew what was happening, the woman was puckering her lips, and it was only at the last second that Serena turned her face so that she kissed her cheek instead.
"What do you think you're doing?" she asked, sounding close to tears. Which, inexplicably, she was. Alex's eyes widened as she pulled away quickly, guilt settling over her features, as if she had thought that Serena would have welcomed the kiss, and in that moment, Serena's feelings of unease solidified. There was more to the story that Alex had told her and Cameron, something that she didn't want known, and it didn't matter what else the woman might say, she knew that there would be no way she would ever stop looking for her Bernie, because they were right. She was alive, someone had taken her, or misidentified her, or something, but she was not about to be strong armed by Alex into believing a convenient lie that fell from her lips.
"I just wanted to comfort you, Serena. That's what friends do, after all."
Friends. That was a bit rich, though Serena chose not to comment on it, since there was still the chance that she might find out more once liquor had loosened Alex's tongue. "That's kind of you, but I'd rather not." Alex nodded as she settled back in her seat, and then she turned the car on and pulled out of her spot, choosing to head to a pub far away from the hospital, since she didn't want anyone getting ideas that she had quickly thrown Bernie over for her ex. And she prayed to whatever energy might be listening that she was about to take one step closer to finding out the truth.
"I just don't know what to do, Fleur. She honestly thought that I would be receptive to being kissed by her!"
"That is a little creepy, I must admit. So, what are you going to do about it?"
"Honestly? I'm thinking that Cam's idea of storming Somalia and turning over every stone until we find Bernie is starting to sound better and better. God knows that my attention is shite right now, though it hasn't affected my surgical skills as of yet. But I know that I am going to be more distracted the longer I think about this situation. I didn't want to let her into my head, but that is completely what happened."
Fleur nodded in sympathy as a commotion caught their attention. Looking up, Serena saw that Cameron was arguing with Ric and Donna, and she groaned a little before looking at Fleur. "You should probably go and see what was going on."
Serena let out another groan as she gave Fleur a sharp nod. "I cannot even begin to think what the problem is now. I know that we've both had a hard time coping, but there's only so much rope that he will be given before he'll be out on his ear. He was already kicked back down to my ward, though I don't blame him after what Kian did. Anyway, we'll catch up soon, I promise."
"And if you head to Africa, let me know! I can hold down the fort here for you."
Serena gave her a warm smile as she got up and crossed over to where the group was. "What is going on here?" she demanded as she glared at Cameron, smelling the alcohol that was rolling off his breath in waves. "You smell like a distillery, Cam! Do you truly think this is what your mother would want from you?"
His face fell as he lowered his head and shook it a few times. "No," he finally croaked out, and she let out a deep sigh as she reached out her hand. He stepped forward and let his head thump down on her shoulder, a move that reminded her very much of Bernie, and it was a struggle to not cry, to not let on that she was despondent at that move. She had to be tough, to let him know that this was completely inappropriate behavior from him, and that there would likely be consequences from today. That idea was scrapped when Henrik stepped out of the lift and gave her an almost disappointed look. She shook her head a little, knowing that the reckoning was going to come sooner rather than later.
"Doctor Dunn, Ms Campbell, I believe that we need to have a little discussion in my office." There was a gravity to his voice that she could not ignore, and she drew in a deep breath as she gave him a small nod. "If you'd follow after me, then."
Gently, she pushed Cameron away from her and then followed after Henrik, Cameron at her heels. The ride up to his office was uncomfortably quiet, and she tried to come up with something to say to break the silence, to make things be a little more comfortable between them so that it wouldn't turn into another shouting match once they were behind the safety of Henrik's office door. Still, nothing came to mind, and then she was once more following Henrik down the hall, wondering what the first words out of his lips would be. The door closed loudly behind Henrik, and as they stood in front of his desk, Serena again couldn't help but be reminded of the time when Bernie and she had been in that same position. "Henrik…"
"Please, take a seat, both of you. I am the only one who looms in this hospital."
The use of a joke, no matter how subtle it was, set Serena at ease, and she did as asked, watching Cameron follow her lead from the corner of her eye. "Mister Hanssen," Cameron started, only to be cut off with a quick wave of Henrik's hand.
"Would either of you care for something to drink? I know that I pulled you away from your break with Fleur, Serena."
"Some water might be nice. For both of us."
Henrik nodded as he went over to the closet in his office. Serena listened to him rummage around before he rejoined them, taking a seat behind his desk before handing over the bottles and watching them intently. She felt like she was under intense scrutiny, and knew that she wouldn't feel better until he asked the questions that were surely on his mind. Cameron cracked open his bottle, and she glanced over to see that his face had completely drained of colour, though little beads of nervous sweat had started to form at his hairline. Reaching out, she patted his arm lightly before opening her own bottle and taking a small sip from it before focusing back on Henrik and awaiting what he had to say.
"I believe that we finally have to address the invisible smoke in the room," he said as he glanced between both of them. Serena pursed her lips to realise that she was being included in with this whole fiasco, and her eyes narrowed a little as she stared at him. "Yes, I have been watching you as well, Serena. No matter what you try to say, Bernie's absence is affecting both of your deeply, and as it is now affecting both of your performances here."
"I just can't seem to get into the right track here, Mister Hanssen," Cam said before he took a sip of water. "I just miss my mother, and I want to go searching for…I don't even know anymore. Perhaps closure?"
"Closure is a very good thing to have, Mister Dunn. Perhaps you could find that while taking a bit of compassionate leave? I am also extending the same offer to you as well, Serena."
She looked over, meeting Cameron's gaze, and saw that he appeared to want her to agree first, so that he didn't look weak by doing so. "I believe that would be for the best, Henrik. Cameron and I would really appreciate having a few weeks to get our affairs in order. I hope that this won't reflect poorly on Cameron's record, since grief can make us react differently than we would in a normal situation."
"Certainly, Serena. However, I will have to make a note of it in his file, though it will not be a formal reprimand. Take head, Doctor Dunn, that should this happen again, once you have returned from leave, I will be unable to be quite so lenient."
"I understand, Mister Hanssen, thank you."
He nodded and threaded his fingers together as he looked at them. "I did not have the opportunity to speak at Bernie's memorial, however I did want to let both of you know that I always regarded her in the highest degree. Her skills as a trauma surgeon were beyond parallel, and if I had been in control of the board, rather than Ms Kartik, I would have ensured that there was adequate funding to keep the trauma ward running. I always regretted losing her to Nairobi, and then Mogadishu, but at least the people in need there were able to have access to someone as skilled as Ms Wolfe."
Serena felt herself tearing up, and Henrik must have read that in her look as he handed over a box of tissues, allowing her to take a few and dab at her eyes without comment. "And I know that she always respected you, Mister Hanssen. Even though you two did have a few occasions where you didn't quite see eye to eye."
"If everyone agreed all of the time, the world would be a boring place where nothing new occurred. I am quite content to know that we had our disagreements, and I hope that those quarrels were enough to help sharpen our thoughts and change our perspectives. Now, I don't want it to appear that I am disciplining you by sending you both home now, but I feel that it would be better if your compassionate leave began as soon as possible. Serena, would you make certain that Doctor Dunn arrives home safely?"
"Certainly, Henrik. Come along, Cam." She got to her feet and went over to the door, waiting for him to join her. It didn't take long, and then they were headed for the lifts once more.
"So, what are we going to do now?" he asked a bit forlornly as they stepped inside the lift, and she gave him a small smirk. "Serena?"
"We're going to do what you wanted to do from the very beginning. We're going to Somalia and we are tracking down the people who knew your mother there, and we will find out exactly what happened to her. And if the truth truly is that she passed, and they couldn't find any part of her amidst the rubble, then we'll have to believe what they say. However, I have the feeling that Alex was keeping something from us, and that we are duty bound to figure out what that is. I can't do it alone, and I'm hoping that your sister will also agree to come with us. I think that it would be a good bonding experience for us. What do you say?"
"When do we leave?" And for the first time in a matter a weeks, a true smile spread across his face and Serena knew that this was precisely what they all needed to help heal the wound of Bernie's disappearance from their lives.
Serena sighed as she looked at the luggage that was in her front hall. Since it wasn't a pleasure trip, she had tried to pare down what clothing she would need. Knowing enough to do a quick internet search to make certain that she would not be attracting undue attention with her attire, she had made certain to include as many of her modest blouses as possible, managing to keep everything down to one small suitcase. Cameron, on the other hand, had brought along a monstrosity of a suitcase, and she tried not to let her frustration show.
"I had really hoped that Charlotte would have been able to get time off work so that she could accompany us tomorrow, but I understand how difficult it can be to arrange something at late notice," she said as she stepped around their luggage to head into the kitchen where Cameron was setting the table. Jason and Greta were coming over to help see them off, and she didn't want to miss a moment with her adorable great niece.
"Yeah, well, she seems able to cope with missing Mum much better than I could, so she didn't need to have compassionate leave." There was a slightly bitter tone in his voice, and Serena sighed as she crossed over to his side and rested her hand on his shoulder. "What?"
"We all handle grief in different ways, Cam. When I lost Elinor, I was even more bitter than you are now, and it didn't help me any. In fact, I was surprised when your mother stayed by my side to see me through that time of lies and acrimony. I loved her, and I couldn't stand myself, so I tried my best to push her away. She pushed right back, and for a time we were stronger for it." Pursing her lips a little, she drew in a deep breath through her nose as she struggled to keep her emotions in check.
"I remember Mum telling me a little bit about how deep your grief was. I wish that I had been here to help, too. I know that Elinor didn't quite get on with me as well as you would have liked, but she was a kind soul."
Serena nodded, about to reply when the doorbell rang. Taking a quick glance at her watch, she saw that it was much too early to be Jason, since punctuality was his hallmark, and she wondered who it could be. "I'll be right back."
Cameron nodded before leaning forward and hugging her tightly. "You are so good to us," he murmured in her ear before letting go and returning to getting the table prepared for their meal.
Those were the words that caused her to start crying, and she was swiping at her eyes as she went to the door, still trying to figure out who it was that had appeared on her door that evening. Plastering a placid smile on her lips, she took a deep breath before opening the door. To her shock, Charlotte was standing there, a small suitcase in hand, a satchel on her back. "So, I kind of told my job to fuck off, that this was more important, and…now I can come along with you and Cam?"
"Come in!" she exclaimed, a true smile spreading across her lips as she tugged the young woman into the hall. "Were you able to get on the same flight as us?"
Charlotte nodded, dropping her suitcase next to the others there, and shifted how her satchel was sitting as she followed her into the kitchen. "Thankfully, I never cancelled my ticket in the first place, as I was truly hoping that my boss would relent, or that someone would switch shifts with me, so that I would be able to go. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I needed to be with you and Cam. We've never really had the chance to be together for an extended period of time, and I want to get to know you better, and see what my mum saw in you."
Serena didn't bother to hide her tears this time, feeling closer than she had ever been to Charlotte in that moment. "I am really going to love having you by our sides, Charlotte." The smile that graced her lips reminded Serena so strongly of Bernie that she let out an audible sigh before stopping and hugging her close. "There doesn't seem to be a way to stop finding reminders of your mother in my life, just like I always found reminders of Elinor."
"I know. I keep thinking I hear her voice in my ear, or my name. You know, there was just that way she said it that made me feel loved. And I know that this will be the longest of long shots, but I am willing to go to the ends of the earth to see if she's still with us. Because I just want to hear her say my name one more time."
Charlotte drew in a long, shaky, breath, and Serena nodded against her shoulder as she embraced her all the tighter, not wanting to let go of her in that moment. "Speaking as a mother, I would give anything to call out Elinor's name in love and have her respond to me."
"Oh, my god, you two. Are you going to be this mushy the entire trip?" She looked over at Cameron, seeing the slightly sad, slightly teasing, expression on his face, knowing that he was trying to inject some levity into the room so that he wouldn't start crying as well.
"It all depends," Charlotte tartly replied as she let go of Serena to quickly stick her tongue out at her brother. "Are you going to be a salty beach the entire trip?"
Serena felt her brow furrow in confusion, even as Cameron tried to stifle the laugh that bubbled up out of his throat. Unable to do so, he burst into a loud guffaw, and Charlotte giggled, too, before reaching out and smacking his shoulder lightly. "You know that's what I'm best at, sometimes," he finally answered once he had gotten control of his laughter.
Knowing that it must be some sort of inside joke, Serena shook her head and took a seat at the table as she waited for Jason and his family to arrive. Charlotte took a seat next to her, while Cameron set the table with an extra setting. "Who all is going to be here?" Charlotte finally asked as she looked around the table to see how many places were set.
"My nephew, Jason, and his wife and daughter. You met him that Christmas we were all together."
"Oh, that's right! He is such a sweet guy, I'm glad that he found someone who makes him happy." Charlotte smiled gently at her as she took the glass of water Cameron handed her, sipping from it slowly as he filled the rest of the glasses. "No wine tonight?"
"We're travelling in the morning, and Serena thought that it would be best if we didn't drink."
"That's right, we need to have clear heads come the morning, especially if we're going to be trying to find Bernie. If we're hungover, or still drunk, when we land, then we're starting off on the wrong foot. It might make me seem a bit old-fashioned, but we're going to be in a different country, with a different culture, on a different continent, and those are enough issues to make me nervous. I don't also need to worry about if I say the wrong thing due to being inebriated."
She shuffled her shoulders a little, wondering how Charlotte would react, since Cameron hadn't seemed to think much of her prudence. Again, it seemed like Charlotte had inherited some of her mother's more reserved, staid, personality traits, as she gave a small nod before smiling at her. "I think that that is a wonderful idea, actually, Cam. Serena's right, we don't want to put our foot into it before we've even really begun our search. We're lucky that someone is thinking straight here."
"Well, I don't always think straight," she replied before she could control her tongue, and a quick flush heated up her cheek as Cameron and Charlotte both began to giggle like school children. "See? That is precisely why I, at least, need to remain sober until we're home. I have little slips like that all the time, and I'm sober now. Imagine what might slip out of my mouth if I were tipsy?"
"Mum did mention that you had the naughtiest tongue in the relationship," Charlotte said, and Serena watched Cameron turn as red in the face as she felt in that moment, and she pursed her lips as she took a few calming breaths. "What?"
"It is amazing how innocent you can be, Charlie, even after all the things you've done and seen," Cameron managed to choke out before he picked up his water glass and took a long swig. The doorbell rang once more, and this time, she knew that it was Jason and his family. She was extremely grateful for the distraction, and hoped that with the addition of her nephew there would be no more embarrassing talk. Though, given the direction their conversations had turned so far that evening, she was almost certain that was not to be, and she tried to prepare herself for some very interesting conversations in the hours ahead.
Serena groaned a little as their plane touched down in Edinburgh. Though it was only a ninety minute flight, this first leg of the journey had thoroughly worn her out, since they had had to be up at seven to be out the door at eight to catch the train to London. And she was grateful that her father had always drilled being early to the airport into her, since there had been a major line through security that had taken much longer than anticipated, and so they only just made it to their gate with thirty minutes to spare before the doors closed. She hated being that close to time, and so had felt anxious and on edge the entire flight.
That feeling didn't change when they looked at the flight board and saw that they would have to cross the terminal to get to their next gate. Taking a deep breath, Serena tried to stay positive, though that was quickly ebbing as a number of slow walkers kept them from getting to their next gate as quickly as she would have liked. Charlotte seemed to know that she was fast approaching the end of her rope, as she reached out and took hold of her hand, squeezing it tightly as she drifted closer to her. "Everything is going to be fine. EDI isn't that large an airport, and we'll get there. They know we're coming. And just think, once we've taken off from Frankfurt, you can sleep, since it's an overnight flight to Addis Ababa."
She nodded, knowing that Charlotte had the right attitude, and she squeezed her hand as they finally managed to pass the slow walkers and finally reach their gate. As soon as they were in their seats, Serena turned and looked at Charlotte, who was talking quietly to Cameron, and sighed, willing herself to stay awake as the plane took off. They were going to be landing at nine, which gave them almost an hour and a quarter to get to the next gate, and then, blessed sleep. Still, she couldn't stop the wide yawn that split her lips, and she sighed as she rubbed her head back and forth against the back of the seat before closing her eyes and listening to the noise around her.
And then, she was opening her eyes as her eyes popped, telling her that they were landing in Frankfurt. "I wanted to stay awake," she groaned as she sat up straight and cracked her back. "Now I'll never get to sleep on the overnight flight."
"I don't think we'll have to worry about that, Serena. Somehow I have the feeling that you'll get right to sleep as soon as we're aboard," Cameron said as they deplaned, and she shrugged as she adjusted how she was carrying her bag. "Now, why don't you and Charlotte see if there's a short line at the closest coffee shop while I find out where our next gate is."
Serena nodded a little and led Charlotte down the hall. Thankfully, just around the corner there was an open coffee shop, and she was able to get them all something to eat and drink in the time it took Cameron to rejoin them. "All right, where are we headed to now?" she asked as she handed him his cup, and he pointed in the right direction with said cup. She smiled and set off after him, grateful that this gate wasn't too far from their other one, as that allowed them to have time to eat and drink before they started boarding. "How are you two still so chipper?" she asked, rubbing her face with her hands in an effort to try and stay awake until their group was called.
"I'm used to running on adrenaline," Cameron replied. "Working with Jac kept me on my toes, and so I learned to function on as little sleep as possible and still work well. Plus, we're younger, so we can roll with the punches faster. Not that you're old, but…"
"I understand," she said, cutting him off. "And it was more of a rhetorical question, anyway."
"I knew that." He flashed her a quick grin before devouring the pastry she'd bought him. "I am seriously looking forward to sleeping on this leg of the journey, though. My stamina is flagging."
Serena gave him an understanding look as she pulled out her phone and checked her notifications, seeing there was an email from Henrik. Opening it, she smiled as she read about Oskar and how he was getting along being with him. While she knew that there would come a time when Henrik had to give him back to Sara, she hoped that it wouldn't come too soon. Somehow, having that precious little boy in his life was helping to heal the wounds of losing his son, his best friend, and his love in such quick succession.
As she was writing a reply to him, the gate attendant began to announce the beginning of boarding. Thankfully, Serena had decided to pay a little extra for business class on the leg of the flight, since she had wanted to be comfortable while she slept, so they were able to get in line shortly after the announcement. After showing her boarding pass and passport, she started down the jetway, absently tapping out an answer to Henrik as she waited for the small group of first-class passengers seemed to take forever boarding. Finally, though, they were finding their seats and she smiled happily to see that Cameron and Charlotte had switched seats so that they could be together. It was a little thing, but she knew that it would be easier to get to know Charlotte a little better before they inevitably fell asleep.
"So, where will we head first?" Charlotte asked once they were settled in their seats, and Serena smiled tiredly as she fastened her seatbelt. "I'm assuming our hotel, since we don't want to go to the hospital right from the airport. It would be so awkward to carry a suitcase and my satchel with me."
"Yes, I thought that we could head to the hotel and drop our bags off, maybe refresh a little. I made certain to call ahead and request an early check in, since we'll be arriving well before typical check in times." Serena rummaged through her carryon bag and pulled out her tablet, bringing up her book app and opening the current book she was reading. It was nice to try and relax enough to read, since she didn't really take that time to do so when she was home, filling her days with enough busy work to keep her mind from wandering to the fact that she had lost Bernie due to her own stupidity.
"Do you miss Mum as much as I do?"
The question was quiet, and Serena set her tablet aside so that she could look at her, reaching out to caress Charlotte's cheek as she nodded. "I think that I might. It's a different sort of missing, since you're her daughter, and I was her partner, but there's a hole in my heart that seemed to grow larger when Alex informed us of your mother's supposed death. I've bene trying to act positive and believe that Bernie is still alive, but there is a part of me that thinks I'm being foolish and prolonging my sorrow. Because good things haven't happened to me in the last few years, except for your mother. I lost my mother, I lost my daughter, I lost one of my F2s, I lost myself, and then I lost her. Even Jason has pulled away from me since the incident that separated Bernie and me. And I can't help but wonder where in my life I fucked up so badly that I can't seem to find a moment's happiness."
By the end, her voice had fallen into a hoarse whisper, and Charlotte, who was openly crying, reached out to take hold of Serena's hand, squeezing it tightly as she shook her head a little. "Life is a bitch at times, Serena, but you didn't screw things up. It's just life. Sure, there are probably a few decisions that you should have made differently, but all those decisions made you who you are. The kindness that you've shown Cameron and myself following Mum's disappearance, the obvious love you have for Jason and his family, those are not the result of someone who has been so downtrodden in life that things appear hopeless. Instead, they are the reaction of someone who has taken the blows life has given her and still has room for love and compassion in her life. You and Mum deserved to have a long life together. The threads of Fate seemed to pull you apart, however, but I really hope that we can find her and bring her home with us. And once we're home, I know that you're going to work everything out and that you'll find the happiness in life that you both deserve."
Serena gave her a small smile, the motion causing the tears trembling in the corners of her eyes to finally spill down her cheeks. "You have to keep hold of that sweet faith for me, Charlotte. Because while it might be the exhaustion of a full day of travel, I find my hope flagging. I'm trying to keep a brave face on for Cameron, but I feel like I can be honest with you."
"Probably because we're not as close as you and Cam are. And don't worry, I think that it's the exhaustion sapping away your hope. Once you've had a good night's sleep, I think that your outlook will change. So put the tablet away, get out the blanket and curl up in the seat to sleep. That is precisely what I'm going do, after all."
She gave her a little wider smile before bending forward and grabbing the plane provided blanket, unfolding it before snuggling up as best she could while the plane began to taxi and then take off. Once she was able to, Serena reclined her seat marginally, making certain she wasn't in the other person's space, before settling down to sleep, hoping that Charlotte was right and that with a few hours of good sleep her attitude would change.
The last leg of their journey went off without a hitch, and Serena found herself exhaling with relief when their baggage had come off the carousel without any damage or any piece being missing. The number of connections that they had made had worried her about that, though she was prepared to buy new clothing if that had been a necessity. "All right, let's find our driver."
"Driver?" Cameron asked, looking a bit befuddled.
"Yes. You didn't seriously expect us to try and wrangle a taxi or public transportation when we arrived, did you? There was no way I would feel comfortable navigating that on a full day of airplane travel, so I called ahead and arranged a driver for us during our length of stay. This will be safer for us in the long run, too."
He nodded absently, as if still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that she had planned so many steps ahead, and she wondered if he had just assumed that things would magically fall together once they were on another continent. Shaking her head a little, Serena took the lead down the concourse, knowing that the children would follow after her like ducklings. It wasn't until she saw her name being held up on a tablet that she truly relaxed, and she raised her hand as she made her way over to the man. "Doctor Campbell?"
"Yes, that's me. I also have Cameron and Charlotte Dunn with me, they should be on your manifest as well."
He tapped around on the tablet, nodding a little as he checked off all their names. "All right, are you ready to head to your hotel?"
Before she could say anything else, the driver had taken hold of her suitcase and then grabbed Charlotte's as well. "I'm Shermarke, and I'll be guiding you on your stay here. From the email that was sent to me, I take that you are not here on a pleasure trip?"
"That is the case. My best friend was working with the military and Doctors Without Borders, and apparently there was an incident a few weeks ago, and she was declared missing in action, presumed dead. Her children didn't like the intel that they were given, feeling like there was more to the story than what their family friend had told them. I agreed that we should come and find out more for ourselves. I know that it won't be an easy thing to do, but I'm hoping that we can get a little more closure than what we currently have."
He nodded solemnly, and Serena felt a sudden kinship with the man, as if he knew what it was like to lose someone close to him and that he understood why they had made such a long journey to a different continent. "I heard about that incident. There are still four people who are unaccounted for. Is that why you're heading to the base in a few hours?"
"Yes," she replied as they reached his vehicle. Cameron helped him load the luggage in the boot while she and Charlotte climbed inside. Serena chose to sit in the front of vehicle, since she wanted to continue building a rapport with Shermarke. "Do you mind hanging around the hotel for a few hours whilst we get settled in and changed? I know that you declined the offer of a room there while we are here."
"I live five minutes from the hotel, so I'll just head over as soon as you text me, if you don't mind."
"That will be fine," she replied as he began to drive. "I do have a question, though. Is what I'm currently wearing considered appropriate? I tried to pack conservatively, since I couldn't find too many answers on the internet, and I don't want to offend anyone whilst we're here."
"You look fine, Doctor. But thank you for asking, since there are some people who wouldn't take cultural mores into consideration." Serena relaxed a little as she nodded, relaxing back into the seat and watching the city pass them by as he drove. "All right, here we are. Would you like help with your baggage?"
"No, I think that we have it. But thank you, though. I'll text you in a few hours, when we're ready to head to the base. Though I'll need your number." He nodded and pulled out a business card, giving it to her. "Perfect. We'll see you soon."
Getting out of the vehicle, she waited for Cameron and Charlotte to join her at the front of the vehicle. Cameron managed to get all their bags over to her side, and she grabbed the handle of hers and began to make her way inside, knowing that they would be right behind her. There was a pleasant looking woman standing behind the front desk, and Serena went over to her, a small smile on her lips as she reached her. "Hello, I'm Serena Campbell. I believe that you have two rooms reserved for me?"
The woman gave her a small nod as she typed on the keyboard, and then looked up at her once more. "Yes, however, both rooms only have one bed." Serena glanced back at Cameron and Charlotte, hoping that that wouldn't be an issue for them.
"That will be fine, we're all family, after all," she replied as she dug out her credit card and a copy of her passport, knowing that it would need to be on file. The woman quickly entered her information before giving her credit card back and then handing over two keycards.
"Your rooms are on the fifth floor, at the end of the hallway. If you need anything, please do not hesitate to call down to the front desk, and I'll take care of it."
"Thank you," she murmured before turning and heading over to Cameron and Charlotte. "Let's get on the lift, and then I'll tell you about our next adventure."
Cameron frowned a little as he lifted their bags, Charlotte carrying her own. "What do you mean adventure?" he asked as she pressed the up button on the lift.
"Well, it seems that while there are two rooms available for us, there is only one bed in each room. So…one of us is sharing a bed."
"I'll share with you, Serena. I haven't had to share with my brother since we were babies, and it would feel awkward now." She laughed a little as she nodded in agreement. "Besides, it will be nice to pretend…"
Her words drifted off, and Serena wondered what she had been about to say. Not wanting to pry, she just stepped closer to Charlotte, allowing her to dictate what would happen next. Unsurprisingly, she took hold of Serena's free hand and threaded their fingers together as the lift continued upwards. Finally, they reached the fifth floor, and she stepped out, not letting go of Charlotte's hand as they walked to the end of the hall. "Here, Cam, you take the room next to us, we'll take the one on the corner."
"Fine by me," he replied as he took the keycard from her hand and swiped it in his lock before entering his room.
"He needs to sleep," Charlotte said offhandedly as Serena let them into their room. "Ooh, that is a large bed. I won't have to worry too much about kicking you during the night." Serena chuckled as she brought her bag over to the bed, sinking down onto it before flopping onto her back and staring up at the ceiling. A few moments later, the bed dipped beneath Charlotte's slight weight, and she turned her head to look at the young woman, giving her a questioning look. "He gets short like that when his sleep isn't good, or he hasn't gotten enough. I don't think that he was completely comfortable on the overnight flight like we were. And…what I was going to say in the lift is, well, you're my last connection to my mother, and I just want to be close to you. Because you knew her so well."
"I don't feel like I did."
"You loved her, she loved you. I'd say that you knew her very well. So, in a way, I feel closer to her when I'm near you. Even though she's not here, a piece of her still rests in you." Charlotte turned her face so that she was looking up at the ceiling, reaching out for Serena's hand as she let out a deep sigh. "Do you want to shower first?"
"I think so, yes." Serena squeezed her hand before letting go and sitting up. Opening her suitcase, she rummaged around in it for her toiletries bag and a fresh outfit before going into the bathroom. Setting her things on the sink, she went over to the shower and took a good look at the controls before she got in, knowing that it was likely to be different from her shower at home. Once she was satisfied with the workings of it, she stripped off her clothes and let them fall into a pile on the floor as she stepped into the shower and began to wash the grime of travel from her body, hoping that they could find out what happened to Bernie as quickly as possible. And yet, she knew that she would relish every moment spent with Cameron and Charlotte, growing closer to them as they spent time together in Mogadishu.
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.
"I'm here to see Captain Phillips," Serena said as she approached the young man sitting behind the visitors desk. A part of her knew that that probably wasn't what it was termed, but that's how she thought of it, since she was reminded of Carol and how she would greet visitors to Holby. The young man looked up, and Serena was able to read his nametag. "He is available?"
"Yes, ma'am," Private Jones replied, and she gave him a small smile as she dipped her chin. "May I have your name?"
"Yes. Doctor Serena Campbell, along with Cameron and Charlotte Dunn."
He rose to his feet and disappeared behind a door for a few minutes before returning and gesturing towards the door. "Thank you," Serena said quietly as she led Bernie's kids into the office, trying to affix a placid smile on her lips as she fixed eyes on Captain Phillips. His own expression was inscrutable, and that unnerved her a little as she drew in a slow, deep, breath as she approached the chairs in front of his desk. He dipped his chin almost imperceptibly, and she took that as her cue to take a seat, Cameron choosing the chair next to her, while Charlotte hung back, sitting near the door.
"I heard that you travelled a long way to speak with me today."
"That is correct. I know that you have spoken with an Alex Dawson about this situation, since she was working with the same group that Ms. Wolfe was, but there were things that just didn't sit right with me in regards to her story, so I had to come straight to the source to get the information from you. Is it true that you found Ms. Wolfe's body, and that she is no longer missing, presumed dead?"
He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands on his torso, his eyes narrowing a little as he regarded her. "Ms. Wolfe, she was working with MSF, correct?" Serena nodded. "And I'm assuming that she was a part of the attack that happened a few weeks ago."
Again she nodded, licking her lips a little as she glanced over at Cameron, wanting to assess what his emotions were in that current moment. She didn't want him to get too excited or overemotional, since that would get them nowhere, but it seemed like his body language was still relaxed and open, which pleased her as she went to speak. "That is correct. I know that you have a lot to do here, and I thank you for taking time to speak with me this afternoon. Would you kindly inform me of the truth behind the matter of what happened a few weeks ago?"
Captain Phillips nodded as he leaned forward, resting his folded hands on the desk as he focused his gaze on her once more. There was a unnerving quality to his gaze, and it took everything in Serena to not shrink from him as she returned the gaze steadily. "I wish that I had more news for you, but I can correct a few things that you told me. Ms. Wolfe's body has not been found, however, her body armor was located in the same location as the rest of the victims of the attack. She, along with four other people, has not been identified in the bodies that were recovered, as all were accounted for. The likelihood that she survived the blast is extremely unlikely."
"But there is the small possibility, yes?" she pressed, speaking before thinking as she leaned in towards the man. "I mean, if you were able to identify her body armour, there is the very real possibility that she wasn't wearing it, or wasn't close enough to the blast site to be truly injured. Right? Intact body armour would lead me to believe that she's just missing."
The captain's expression turned sad for just a few brief seconds, and Serena felt the small flame of her hope flicker for the first time since they had landed in Somalia. "I know that you want to grasp at every straw available, ma'am, but the likelihood that she survived is infinitesimal. Even if the blast had not killed her, the fact that her body is missing leads to the presumption that she might have walked off into the horizon and gotten lost, her faculties so muddled that she was unable to find her way back to safety. There are dangers out there that have nothing to do with the dangers that humans can bring. The act that we cannot find her is a bad sign, and as such, we have reached the conclusion that Ms. Wolfe is missing, presumed dead. I truly wish that I had better news to deliver to you, but I believe that it would be easier on you if you began to accept that as truth."
"How long did you even bother looking for her?" Cameron asked angrily, and Serena whipped her head around to look at him, feeling a wash of horror sweep over her body as she reached out and clamped her hand around his knee, tightening painfully in order to get him to stop saying anything else. She needed the captain's goodwill if she was going to get any further information out of him, since she knew that he had to capability of making their search that much more difficult. Cameron glared at her, and she frowned before cutting her hand across her throat in a clear gesture to stop speaking, and he threw himself against the back of the chair as Serena drew in a deep breath and turned her attention back to the captain, who looked more amused than anything.
"My people searched for the better part of five days. As a doctor, I'm certain that Ms. Campbell can tell you that a human being can only survive for a few days, four at the most. When the fifth day came, and there was still no sign of Ms. Wolfe, or the others who were missing, we called off the search, and regrouped our resources to help those who were injured. I know that it hurts to hear that you mother is dead like this, son…"
"How do you know she was my mum?"
"Because you look like her. Ms. Wolfe was quite well known around camp, and she had that same look about her that you have right now. I am sorry to bear bad news, but that is what I have to give. You are more than welcome to look around the base and talk to a few of the people who dealt with the explosion, in an effort to find the closure that you need. Other than that, I have nothing for you."
Serena could hear the dismissal in his voice, and she nodded as she rose to her feet, gesturing for Cameron to follow suit. He grumbled beneath his breath as he did so, but she ignored him as she extended her hand towards Captain Phillips. He shook it strongly as he also rose to his feet, showing them to the door. Charlotte was at her side the moment they were in the outer office, and she welcomed the young woman's arm around her waist as they went outside. Thankfully, Shermarke was just returning to the car when they reached it, and she gave him a small wave as he unlocked the doors for them.
"Did you get the answers that you were hoping for?" he asked as he started the vehicle, and Serena shook her head as she fastened her seatbelt. "I am sorry to hear that. Does this mean that your trip to our country is over?"
"No!" Cameron spoke up, sounding even angrier than he had been in the captain's office. "I still think that my mum is out there, alive, and they just haven't bothered to find her, since it was so much easier to just abandon the search when it got too expensive and too much of a hassle. We are going to stay here until we find her."
"I'm surprised that the captain allowed you to speak to him like that," Shermarke said evenly, and Serena shook her head.
"I did not allow Cameron to continue speaking after his initial outburst. I know that we need to make connections, not sever them, especially as we continue to stay in the country and look for Bernie. I know that it is a long shot, that there might be a small mustard seed of truth to what Captain Phillips said, but I am with Cam, and I am unwilling to give up hope just yet. The fact that her body armour was found intact has lent me more hope than I realized, but I also know that I'm going to need help while we're here, because the people who know this country, who live here, will be able to help us immeasurably."
"You are a wise woman, Doctor Campbell, and I think that it would be good for Cameron to listen to you. Now, would you like to return to the hotel, or would you like for me to show you around the city for a little while?"
Serena wasn't particularly looking forward to returning to their hotel right away, so she answered before anyone else. "Please, show us around your home, Shermarke," she replied, giving him a warm smile as he drove away from the barracks and led them out to the city proper.
Serena found that she had a headache building behind her eyes after they had finished supper, and so she had begged off from heading to the bar in their hotel and went up to her room instead, taking a quick shower before changing into pyjamas and settling into bed. She was surprised to find Charlotte joining her twenty minutes later, a bottle of water and an apple in her hand, which she gave to Serena before plopping down at the end of the bed. "You didn't have to come babysit me, Charlie. I know that you'd like to enjoy being in a new country, rather than holed up in a room with me."
"Eh, Cameron was drowning his sorrows in beer, and I was getting a little tired of watching him get blotto. And this will give us a little time to talk, unless you just want to go to sleep?"
There was an openness in Charlotte's face that Serena knew she had to take advantage of, since she didn't really know Bernie's daughter all that well. "I think that I would enjoy talking with you for a little while. But be warned that I might fall asleep on you, since I have the tendency to do that when I have a headache."
"That's why I brought you the water. I know that when I start to have a headache, water helps ease it away. And the apple is supposed to help with that, too, according to the concierge." Charlotte gave her a shy smile as she pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin there. "You loved Mum."
"I love your mother. I made so many mistakes towards the end of our relationship that I truly regret, and I hope that when we find her, I'm able to start making up for those choices I stupidly made. I wish that I could go back in time, that I could see the point where the train was starting to derail and get off it before I became a part of the trainwreck, but I don't think that that's possible."
"I do understand that sentiment, yes. But the choices we make are what shape who we are."
"Harry Potter?" Charlotte nodded almost guiltily. "I loved reading those books to Elinor when she was young. It was the one thing that truly bonded us before she grew up and made a life for herself."
"What was she like? Mum only told us a little about her, because she wanted to let us know that you had faced such sorrow in such a short span of time, and so she didn't want us to judge you harshly. I don't think that I could judge you, at all, because you were kinder than Dad ever was to Mum, even if you did make a rather large mistake. After all, Mum cheated on Dad with Alex, so I think that she would have treated you kindly, had you the opportunity to truly sit down and talk about things before she just left. I get it, though, it probably felt like she was coming full circle in her life – from being the cheater to being the aggrieved spouse."
"You're awfully smart for you age," Serena murmured as she cracked open the bottle of water and took a long swig. There was something comforting about the way the water slipped down her throat, as if she truly needed that brief distraction to help keep her mind more focused on the conversation at hand. "Did you inherit that from your mother?"
"Probably, since Dad can be a bit thick at times, even if he is, technically, a doctor." Serena giggled as she began to eat the apple, her hunger returning with a vengeance as she devoured the fruit. "So, how is Cam getting along, really? There are times when I can see Dad in him, more than Mum, and it worries me, since Dad has a dark side that unnerves me at times. I saw how Cam started to get really antsy while you were speaking with the Captain, and that is something that I would have expected to see from Dad."
"I think that your brother is under a tremendous amount of strain because he has to live up to his mother's reputation as a doctor, along with trying to carve his own career path out at Holby. Her death, or rather, apparent death, has also driven him closer to the edge of not okay, which is why I'm keeping an eye out for him. I owe it to Bernie to take care of her children, though that's kind of hard to do with you, since you're in London, and we're in Holby City."
"My job is there, and I didn't want to uproot my life to be closer to Mum and Dad. Had I known how little time I would have with my mother, I think that I would have made different choices, but we can't ever go back in time."
"That is very true," she replied as she finished off the apple, tossing it handily into the trash can before wiping her hands on her trousers to remove the remaining traces of apple juice. "There are a few things that I might change about my life if I could go back in time, though I think that the first thing that comes to mind might surprise you."
"Let me guess, you wouldn't change sleeping with Leah?"
"Oh, I would, in a heartbeat, that just wouldn't be the first thing that I changed. Before I met your mum, just after I had started at the hospital, my mother's dementia started to go downhill faster than I ever expected. I had other members of staff assuming that I was abusing her, since I was so insistent that I should be the only one to take care of her, when in reality, she was the one hurting me. It was her disease, it wasn't her, but I wanted nothing more than to protect her, so I did everything alone. If it was just me taking care of her, I didn't have to worry about her being labelled a problem patient. But if I had it to do all over again, I'd ask for more help, more quickly. Because I do think that I failed her by spreading myself so thin."
"But you loved her, and wanted to do the right thing by her. There's no shame in that."
"I suppose not, no. She's buried in the Peace Garden, you know."
"What?" Charlotte asked as she made her way up the bed so that she could sit next to Serena, dropping her head on her shoulder as she reached out for her hand. "There has to be a story behind that!"
She giggled and nodded, taking another sip of water before setting the bottle on the nightstand. "It involved me and a colleague getting absolutely blotto in my office as I reminisced about her life. He suggested, that since I spent so much time at the hospital, I should keep a piece of her there. So, while we were still three sheets to the wind, we went out to the Peace Garden, and I dug a hole for her urn while Raf kept an eye out for security. I honestly don't think that what we did was exactly legal, but it felt right at the time."
"I can see you doing that, based on everything that Mum ever told me about you. You'll have to show me the spot when we're in Holby next."
"I think that I can arrange that," she replied, squeezing Charlotte's hand warmly as they began to talk about other, happy, memories of their families, which Serena found was exactly the right thing that she needed in that moment, to help take her mind off the rather disappointing meeting that they had had earlier that day.
Serena had just finished her breakfast when she saw Shermarke approaching their table with another man, unfamiliar to her. Frowning slightly, she sat up straight, trying to make herself look as imposing as possible, anticipating trouble from the serious look on their guide's face. "May I help you?" she asked grandly as she gestured for them to join the table, and Shermarke gave her a small smile as they sat down.
Cameron and Charlotte seemed taken aback by this turn of events, and looked to her for some clue as to what to do. She gave them an encouraging smile before turning her focus back to Shermarke, waiting for him to say why he had brought another person to their hotel. The wait wasn't long, and then their guide was taking a deep breath in preparation to talk. "While you were at the base yesterday, speaking with the Captain, I was walking around, waiting for you. And that is where I met with Gabriel here, who had quite the story to tell. I think that you might want to hear it, Doctor Campbell."
She nodded and leaned forward, picking up her juice and taking a small sip as she tilted her head to one side, giving Gabriel a quick up and down in order to get a feel for if she trusted him right off the bat. There didn't seem to be anything that set off her warning bells, and so she took a deep breath before letting her face relax into a slightly soft smile. "All right, Gabriel, please explain yourself."
The man nodded before starting to speak with the same almost lilting accent that Shermarke had. "The day of the attack on the camp, there were three doctors who were taken by the rebels. They used the chaos and confusion of the explosions to secret these three away. From the whispers and rumors that have been flying around, apparently there is a large amount of people back at the rebel camp who need the attention of trained medical officials, and the only way to have that was in assuring that they could take some of the good doctors hostage."
"There were two other people who went missing like Mum?" Cameron asked, a deep frown on his lips. "You have to take us to them! There are two other families like us who are suffering under the delusion that their loved one is dead, and we have to rescue them!"
Shermarke gave him a patient look, and Serena had to swallow her laugh, since she knew what it was like to be so youthfully impetuous. "There is just one small problem with that way of thinking, Cameron. These are currently just rumors, and even if they are proven to be true, there are not many people who would willingly walk into a hostile environment. There is an overwhelming likelihood that it would be heading into certain death."
"But my mum!"
"Will still possibly be alive, even if we take time to put out feelers and see if there is any truth to these rumors. I wanted to present them to Doctor Campbell first, since she is the one heading this mission to find out the truth about your mother, Cameron. So, how should we proceed?"
"I think that we should proceed with caution. Obviously, I want to know more about what's happening at the rebel camp, but I need to know for certain that Bernie is there, before I commit to putting more lives at risk. If we can get definitive proof, perhaps I can persuade the Captain into sending out a team to look for her."
"I want to be part of the scouting team," Cameron hissed as he glared at Serena, and she shook her head. "Why not? I'm a man!"
This time, Serena couldn't hold in her laugh, and she shook her head as she tried to get control over her reaction, since she knew that he was quite offended by her laughter. "I'm sorry, Cam, I know that you think that you're grown, but you're still a child compared to me or Shermarke. And the people that he might hire to help us suss out the truth of where your mother is and what's happening to her will also be trained, grown, men. You can't compare with the training that they will have, since you have been training to be a doctor for so many years. If you were to head in there, guns metaphorically blazing, there is a very real possibility that you could get not only yourself killed, but the people around you, as well. So no, if there is a scouting team, you will not be a part of it."
Cameron threw himself back in his chair, his lip thrust out in what Serena could only describe as a childish pout. In that moment, she could see exactly what Charlotte had been speaking about the previous evening, and she looked over at the young woman, seeing that she had the same amused expression dancing around her features that Serena was almost certain she wore as well. "I know that you don't think it fair, Cam, but Serena is correct. You don't have the training necessary to just run headlong into danger."
He shot a black look at Serena, and she shrugged a little before turning her focus back to Shermarke. "I hope you know that I trust you to find a good scouting team and head out to look for Bernie and the others, since this is your country, and you know how things work here. Please, gather together a small scouting party and look for her. And if you do find them, come back to this hotel, if it's safe, and bring me with you. I have more experience as a doctor than Cameron does, and will be able to assess if and how quickly we can move the people before we do so. I know it will be a tremendous risk, but it's one that I'm willing to take, since I've lived my life to the fullest capacity, and Cam and Charlie still have so much life ahead of them."
"I will see if that is feasible, Doctor Campbell. I have two other men in mind that I think would be able to scout the area with Gabriel and me. I know that discretion is tantamount to getting you the outcome that you desire, so we will move quickly and quietly."
Serena nodded as she settled back in her chair, giving Gabriel and Shermarke a quick smile before leaning down and picking up her purse, rummaging through it to pull out her wallet and taking out a good amount of money. "I know that this isn't a lot, but this amount should help you get started. Let me know when you return how much more you'll need to cover expenses and whatnot. I won't let it be said that I don't pay what I owe."
Shermarke nodded as he took hold of the money, quickly slipping it into his shirt pocket as he looked around to make certain that no one was watching them. "This should be an ample amount of money, but I will let you know if more compensation is required. I have your mobile number, and I will try to check in with you as much as I can, but it might be sparse, depending on how deep we have to get into the countryside."
"I completely understand. The kids and I will do basic tourist things while you're out, since there's not much else for us to do until we get news. May the gods favour you in your endeavour."
He gave her a small smile as he dipped his head before getting up from the table, Gabriel following his lead. As soon as they were out of earshot, Cameron leaned forward, glaring at her in pure anger. "Why would you do that?"
"Because of the very way that you're reacting right now. If Shermarke and Gabriel find your mother, we are going to need cool heads going into that situation, we cannot afford for you to go off half-cocked like some vigilante and end up getting yourself, the team, and your mother killed. Bernie would be furious if I allowed her son to get hurt because I didn't hold him back from his own folly. If I have to lock you in your room on the day that we get news of what's happening out there, I will do it. My life is expendable, in the scheme of things, and rescuing Bernie from whatever she might be facing, if she's still alive, is my only goal while here. If I can do that and survive to bring her home? That will be a boon granted me by the universe that I do not deserve."
Cameron looked ready to protest, but Charlotte placed her hand on his upper arm, squeezing tightly. "You will listen to Serena in this, Cameron. After all, she didn't have to bring us here with her, she could have just gone and only told us once she had a result. But this way, we get to see Mum as soon as she's found, rather than waiting around and not knowing anything. What do you think is better?"
His glare lessened a little as he slumped back against the chair, blowing out a long breath through his nostrils. "I suppose that you have a point, Charlie. I don't have to like it, though."
"No one ever said that you did, Cameron. But my first job is to keep you safe, while my second is to rescue your mother, if she is alive. I feel that she is, as well you know, but…"
"You're tempering your reactions already," Charlotte finished for her, and she nodded a little as she picked up her coffee and took a long sip. While this wasn't quite how she had expected things to play out, she was grateful to have Charlotte there, acting as the balance for Cameron so that she didn't have to worry quite so much about his getting into trouble as the search for Bernie moved in to a new phase.
It had been a long week, awaiting word from Shermarke and Gabriel on what news they had of Bernie, and Serena tried to fill all their time with activities that would take their minds off the reason why they were there in the first place. It felt like a losing battle most of the time, but Cameron was at least playing along for the moment, which made her content. Still, it was a shock to hear someone quietly knocking on her hotel door late in the evening, after she and Charlotte had gone to bed.
Getting up, she threw a cardigan over her pyjamas and padded over to the door, wondering who it could be. Peering through the peephole on the door, a soft gasp escaped her lips to see Shermarke standing there, looking nervous. Despite wanting to tear the door open and beckon him inside, Serena found her normally steady hands trembling and shaking, which made undoing the locks on the doors take longer than it should. Finally, though, she managed to throw the deadbolt and wrench open the door, peering down both sides of the hall, as if to assure herself that he was along and everything was all right. "Come in, come in," she hissed, closing the door quickly and quietly behind him before locking it once more. "Cam's in the next room over. Should I wake him?"
Shermarke shook his head. "No, you can inform him in the morning that we leave at first light. Doctor Wolfe and the others have been found, and it will be a journey to reach them, but I have every belief that you can do so without arousing the suspicions of the rebels. Pack lightly, as we will be on the move, and there will be no extra hands to help you carry your belongings. It would be better if one of you stayed behind to make things look somewhat normal, but I know that there is no way you could ask either of her children to do that."
"Is there something that I should do, in order to not make it look like we just disappeared for a short period of time?"
Shermarke thought for a moment before answering. "Tell them a bit of the truth. That I, as your guide, am going to safely show you some of the countryside, and that you will return in seven to ten days, depending on what we see. That should pacify the front desk, along with a generous prepaying of the tip would have given the maid for that span of time."
Serena nodded as she glanced over at a sleeping Charlotte. "Do you know if she's all right? Should I be preparing them for the worst when you come to collect us tomorrow morning?"
"All we currently know is their location and that she is alive. They all are alive. Beyond that, we'll find out when we reach the camp. I am truly hoping, for your sake, that she is fine."
"Thank you, for everything," she whispered before releasing a long breath. "Until tomorrow morning."
Shermarke gave her a small smile as he let himself out of the hotel room. It took her a few beats to remember that she had to relock the doors, which she did before taking a seat at the table and pulling more money out of her wallet. From what their guide had intimated, she needed to give the front desk worker a rather large bribe in order to make it appear as if everything was all right with them, and she was glad that she had the spare cash to do so. Once she felt like she had an appropriate amount counted out, Serena slipped her feet into a pair of shoes before heading down to the front desk.
"May I help you, Doctor Campbell?"
She gave the man a winning smile as she nodded. "I completely forgot that the guide I hired to drive us around the city has decided to show us the countryside, or at least, the safe parts of it. We're leaving before the sun rises tomorrow, but I want to keep the rooms here, since I'm not completely certain when we'll return. Shermarke mentioned it being about seven to ten days, though. This should cover things with our maid until we return."
Looking around, Serena made certain that no one was watching them before handing over the money, seeing the man's eyes widen a little. "This will be more than adequate, Doctor Campbell. I will make certain that everything is kept safe for you until you get back. Enjoy your trip through our countryside, I'm certain that you'll enjoy it."
"That is exactly what I am hoping for, thank you." Nodding sharply at the clerk, Serena turned on her heel and made her way back up to their rooms, knocking on Cameron's door on her way over to her room. He opened the door, looking ready to say something when she shook her head and gestured towards her door. Nodding, he padded over to her and they went inside together. "Sit down while I wake your sister up. I have news."
"Hopefully good news."
"It might be, we'll have to wait and see." He yawned as he slumped down into a chair, and Serena gave him a small smile as she shook Charlotte's arm in order to wake her. "Hey, get up and join us at our table. I have something to tell you."
Charlotte nodded as she stretched, slipping out of the bed and stumbling over to the table, sinking down into a free chair and blearily looking at Serena. "So, what did you wake us up for?" she asked through a yawn, and Serena smiled as she took the last free chair, looking at both of them.
"We are going on a Shermarke led adventure in the morning. You'll need to pack a small rucksack that you can feasibly carry for a few days. Leave the rest of your things here, I've already arranged with the front desk that everything will be safe until we get back."
"They've found Mum then?" Cameron asked, hope blooming in his face as he leaned forward, suddenly wide awake. "What are we waiting for? We should leave now!"
Serena chuckled a little as she shook her head. "We need a good night's sleep, and we need to pack. The morning will be soon enough, I promise."
"Did he say how Mum was?"
She looked at Charlotte and shook her head a little. "No, there's no word on her condition, nor that of her colleagues, but they are all alive. When we reach the rebel camp, we're going to rescue everyone and bring them back here. We can't worry about things that are still out of our control until we reach that point. All right?"
Charlotte gave her a disappointed nod, and Serena reached out to cover the young woman's hand with her own, giving it a soft squeeze. "I just want everything to be all right."
"I know you do, sweetheart, and so do I. We just have to give it a little more time. Now, Cameron, I'd suggest getting back to your room, setting your alarm for five, and packing up that bag. We're going to do the same thing here before getting back to sleep. I have no idea how long this journey will take, so we have to be prepared for anything. All right?"
Cameron nodded, the first true smile curving his lips upwards as he got up and made his way to the door. "I can't believe that this day has finally arrived. Thank you for arranging this, Serena."
"If you weren't giving up hope, I wasn't about to, either. And now that hope and faith is being rewarded." Her smile to him was warm, and she watched him leave the room with a fond expression on her face. "All right, Charlie, let's get our bags packed up for the morning. Remember, minimal clothing, enough to get us by for seven to ten days, and we'll wear our boots, since we don't know the terrain we're going to be covering."
"Yes, Serena." They got up and began to pack their smaller bags, talking quietly between themselves as they worked. It was comforting to have her so near, and she hoped that they could continue this relationship once they were home in England. While Charlotte wasn't a replacement for Elinor, it was still nice to feel like she had a daughter figure in her life once more. "All right, I think that I have everything packed away that I'll need. Are we heading back to sleep now?"
"Just let me set our alarm so that we wake up on time. After all, I'd hate to get a late start on this journey. Not when we're so close to finding out more answers as to what happened to your mother."
Charlotte nodded as she climbed back into bed, pulling the covers up around her shoulders as she yawned widely. "I am going to try and make certain that Cam allows you and Mum to reunite first. She needs to see you first, so that she knows what lengths you went to in order to find her. Okay?"
Serena nodded as she set both the clock and her phone for a five AM wake up call. "I will cherish that if it happens that way, but if she wants to see you and Cameron first, that will be okay, too," she said as she crawled in next to Charlotte, turning on her side to look at her. "I just don't want to have this little bit of hope torn from us, you know?"
Charlotte nodded before sighing. "I know. But we still have to hold onto hope, otherwise I think that we'd go mad." She sighed as she closed her eyes, knowing that Charlotte was right, looking forward to what might happen in the coming days.