Chapter 1: She's the first
“Mr Hawthorne seems to be exhibiting all the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s,” Bernie proclaims sadly as she enters the office. “It’s going to make treating him so much harder …” she sighs.
This word, this sound really, is all she gets from Serena. One hand on her keyboard, the other on the mouse, her co-lead seems to be focusing intensely on whatever is on her screen.
“It’s not their fault of course,” Bernie continues, focused on her patient, “but them not reminding why they are in a hospital bed and that they really shouldn’t move - or even worse, leave - always slows the healing process considerably.”
She snorts, and starts pacing the length of the office.
“I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, it’s not as if you aren’t already aware of all that,” she smiles while a hand goes to shake her fringe out of her eyes.
“I’ve asked for someone from Neuro to come down here and assess him properly.”
She sounds even more defeated now, and can do nothing more than stand in front of one of the windows near her end of the office and look out on the ward, lost in her thoughts.
After a while, she resumes her pacing.
“His wife tries to maintain a strong façade, she’s always all smiles and optimism, poor woman. I don’t know if it’s for her benefit, his, or ours. Or maybe she doesn’t know what else to do…”
Once again, Serena’s only answer is a vague and weak “hm” which finally makes Bernie suspicious of the level of attention Serena’s been affording this conversation.
“I wish there was a magic cure for Alzheimer’s. Maybe if I could get some blood from one of those rare golden unicorns… Do you think that would do the trick?” She asks with a very amused grin.
Coming to stand next to Serena, Bernie lifts an expectant look up towards the computer screen, wondering what could possibly have her friend so fascinated she didn’t take one word of her babbling in, and that’s when she realises that Serena has been staring at a blank screen all this time.
Her face now sporting a worried frown, Bernie gently touches Serena’s shoulder, bringing her out of her thoughts and startling her in the process.
“Wha -” Serena starts absentmindedly before fully coming back to the present. “Good God Bernie, you scared me half to death,” she exclaims, bringing a hand to her chest as a reflex to calm down the erratic beating of her heart.
Bernie apologizes, while also taking a step back for good measure.
“You were away with the fairies,” she explains.
It’s Serena’s turn to frown.
“Been talking for a good five minutes before I realised you weren’t even listening,” she laughs lightly. “You probably didn’t even register that I had entered the office.”
“I’m so sorry Bernie,” she says before straightening up in her chair.
One thing is now clear to Bernie; for some reason, Serena seems extremely uncomfortable. Since she came back to herself, she’s been all fidgety and hasn’t once been able to look at Bernie in the eye.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Serena answers, a little too quickly, her hand flitting to the nape of her neck.
“Serena, you’ve adjusted your hair and your collar so much in the last thirty seconds I’m afraid one of those will just tear itself away from your body.”
Bernie doesn’t miss the not exactly aborted eye-roll.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Serena repeats with a stronger voice, and this time, she does spare Bernie a glance though she doesn’t hold it long. “I just have a lot on my mind, is all.”
“I’m not arguing with that… It’s just - well - no, it’s none of my business. But you know you can come talk to me if you need to, right? About anything.”
They’d been working together for a little over a year now and they were undoubtedly close. The best of friends, if you asked them. Their closeness and, yes their chemistry too, often gave people the wrong impression. They’d been mistaken for a couple on numerous occasions. A fact that both pleased and frightened Bernie in equal measure, although she’d never been brave enough to ask Serena what she thought of that particular idea.
“I know that, Bernie.”
This time, when Serena looks at Bernie, she doesn’t flinch. Even her smile has its usual sincere and tender sparkle.
She’s about to explain, at least to some extent, what’s been going through her mind when there’s an unexpected knock on the door jamb.
“Ladies, I do hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
Two things happen. Bernie’s entire body stiffens, and Serena’s flushes.
“Miss Whittaker,” Bernie greets as amicably as she can, which is not much.
Bella Whittaker. Striking redhead and brand new member of the board. In her defense, she seems genuinely kind, a rare enough fact among any managerial committee. At least those she’s had to deal with. But, there’s something about this woman that just doesn’t sit right with Bernie.
“Ms. Wolfe. Serena,” the woman greets in turn.
She aims a bright smile towards Serena, whose complexion distinctly resembles that of a good Shiraz.
“Ms. Whi -”
She has to clear her throat when the first attempt comes out weak and strangled.
For a reason Serena can’t even begin to fathom, or more precisely, a reason she doesn’t even want to fathom, her gaze flickers constantly between Bernie and the new arrival. She can see that Bernie’s starting to put two and two together and the mere thought almost makes her suffocate.
“Is there anything we can help you with,” Bernie asks politely. “I thought the board -”
“Oh, I’m not here on behalf of the board,” she interrupts with a tinkling laugh. “Serena, I wondered if you’d like to have lunch with me? I’d really like to get back to our - conversation, from last night.”
A loud gasp was heard from Bernie’s side of the room. That and the not so innocent tone of Bella’s query make Serena go several shades darker, if that’s even possible.
The look Bernie throws Serena’s way is incredulous, to say the least. The one she throws Bella, who only has eyes for Serena, is both curious and disgusted. Bella is a beautiful woman, of that there is no doubt. She’s about forty, approximately Bernie’s height. She’s all soft and firm curves encased in tight dark blue jeans and dark blazer with pale pink and khaki green embroideries, long wavy auburn curls and a slightly tanned face full of enticing freckles. But the fact that she… and Serena…
Bernie feels a visceral need to get out of the room.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then,” she says.
She tries to smile but it looks like she’s in pain more than anything.
She doesn’t stop, doesn’t even look back.
Serena is now standing, looking at Bernie’s retreating figure.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes, I - Yes. It is.”
Bella tries to come closer to Serena and take her hands, but Serena takes a step back and lifts a gently placating hand between them.
“I -” she starts, casting a look outside of the office, wary of anyone who might be looking. “I don’t like gossip. And I like being gossiped about even less.”
She tries to soften the rejection with a smile.
“Of course, my bad.” Bella smiles apologetically, reflexively putting a hand in one of her jeans’ back pockets. “I’ve never bothered to hide myself or my relationships, but that’s me and I shouldn’t have assumed.”
“No harm done. Now, can I get back to you on that lunch idea? I need to talk to Bernie, first.”
“S - sure …” Bella starts with a frown. “Um, is there something between the two of you?”
The superfluous movement of her fingers between Serena and the door adds to the heaviness and awkwardness of the moment.
It’s an honest answer but for some reason, that small word sits uneasily in her stomach.
“Bernie’s my best friend.” Serena explains while taking a five pound note out of her purse. She figures a coffee wouldn’t go amiss, especially if the conversation they’re about to have takes place on the very windy roof.
Bella seems happy with that answer.
“I’ll text you later,” Serena assures her and she leaves with Bella’s blinding smile imprinted on her retinas.
Chapter 2: Strong and Courageous
There can be such a thing as too many revelations in one day.
Standing on the landing outside the door to the roof, Serena takes a moment to ground herself.
Coffees in their cardboard holder in one hand, she lets the other flitter once more to the back of her hair, the collar of her bright orange shirt and finally the two front panels of said shirt, straightening them one last time before taking a deep breath and opening the door.
The smile she had fixed on her face falls the second she realises she can’t find her friend. She takes a few more steps forward and nervously looks around before calling her name.
“Over here,” Bernie answers in a tone that makes it clear she is torn between wanting to know what transpired between Serena and Bella and staying blissfully ignorant of any facts or details that would probably be forever engraved in her memory.
Following the voice, Serena ends up behind a series of big pipes coming out of the boiler room. Bernie is sitting there, on a low concrete block. Her arms crossed tightly in front of her chest; whether to ward off the cold or the unwanted images that are popping in her mind, neither woman knows.
“I brought reinforcement,” Serena laughs, brandishing the coffees.
She tries to inject a bit of levity into what promises to be, and most certainly already is if she’s honest, a somewhat gruelling conversation. Why exactly it is gruelling, she doesn’t know for sure.
The attempt is not as successful as she would like, Bernie doesn’t even lift her head to look at her, and her smile is sad and empty.
Sighing, Serena lets herself fall next to Bernie as elegantly as possible, before passing her a cup, taking hers and putting the cardboard holder aside.
“I - Well, I don’t know where to start,” she says, looking in the distance. “I know, how unusual! Serena Campbell, at a loss for words,” she jokes.
The roles are reversed as Bernie is now the one using the “hm” as her only contribution to the conversation. This has Serena rolling her eyes, not caring if Bernie sees her do it this time.
“Honestly, I don’t get why you’re mad at me. I was about to tell you what happened when - when Bella barged in - unannounced, I might add - into our office.”
She takes a big gulp of her coffee.
“And, it’s not like it wasn’t a surprise to me. I’d never kissed a woman before last night. So, forgive me for needing some time to actually get - get -” she sighs, “wrap my head around the whole thing. I mean, you yourself know that you can’t just flip a switch and just accept that you’re into women.”
This last sentence lands square in the middle of Bernie’s chest, almost taking the breath out of her.
“You’d - you’d never…”
Bernie can’t even bring herself to finish the sentence.
“I would have told you if that were the case,” informs Serena with a certainty that makes Bernie feel extremely guilty. Her behaviour hasn’t been that of a friend offering support. She’s been behaving very selfishly.
“You’re right, I - God, Serena, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me - I…” She stops and lets out a deep sigh. “You’re right, finding out you’re gay is -”
“I didn’t say I was gay,” Serena interrupts.
Bernie finally looks at her, a deep frown etched on her features.
“ But , Shiraz isn’t the only wine to sample from.”
“Duly noted,” Bernie remarks with a tiny smile.
Serena smiles in turn, happy to see that their friendship doesn’t seem to have suffered after all.
“So,” Bernie starts, “you and Bella?”
“Hm, well, I don’t know - I don’t know what it is yet, this - situation .”
It is much too soon to be calling whatever is happening a relationship per se.
“Like I said, until last night, I didn’t even know it was a possibility for me. And to be honest, I still don’t know if it’s something I want.”
She can’t explain why, but Bernie feels immeasurably sad at the idea that Serena’s little tumble in the sapphic world might be just that; a mistake, a spur of the moment thing.
“How did it feel?”
Bernie’s question has Serena looking at her with one of her famous eyebrow raises and a cheeky smirk.
“I didn’t mean -” Bernie’s cheeks become an interesting shade of pink. “I meant, did it feel right?”
“Hm,” Serena answers, looking at the sky while thinking about it. “I guess. It certainly didn’t feel unpleasant, far from it actually. It was - soft, and sensual. I can see why you like it so much,” she concludes with a bump to Bernie’s shoulder.
“Ha,” she exclaims with a genuine smile now. “It certainly has its appeal.”
Then a comfortable silence settles, leaving the two friends to contemplate the day and the conversation.
After a few minutes, there is a question burning Bernie’s lips and again, she’s torn between knowing and minding her own business, if only for her own sake.
“So,” she starts all the while playing with the lid of her now half empty cup of coffee, “will you see her again?”
“I don’t know,” Serena answers, her eyes never leaving the horizon. “I like her. She’s smart and funny. She doesn’t take herself seriously even though she’s accomplished quite a lot and started from nothing.
Bernie nods, they had all read the mail presenting the brand new member of the board. She had an impressive résumé.
“But is it fair,” Serena asks, bringing Bernie back to the conversation at hand. “Is it fair to keep going out with her even though I’m not sure myself that it is what I want? That a relationship with a woman whoever she might be, is what I want?”
“That’s a fair question. On the other hand, how will you know whether it’s something you might want or not if you don’t try it?”
“I don’t want to hurt her,” Serena counters sadly, taking another big gulp of her coffee.
“Then be honest with her. Tell her that it’s new for you, that you’re not sure about where this is going. That you might need to take it slow. And then the choice will be hers. If she doesn’t want to take the risk - and she’d be a fool not to -” Bernie says to make Serena smile, “then she can leave you alone and you’ll be free to experiment with someone else, or not.”
Having nothing more to say to help Serena, she just looks at her and can almost see the cogs turning in her head. Feeling observed, Serena spares a brief look towards her friend.
“What,” she inquires with humor in her voice.
“Nothing,” Bernie answers with a faint snort, “just - never thought I’d see the day where Serena Campbell - dyed in the wool heterosexual - would be dating a woman.”
Her tone is light, her smile is genuine but there’s a part of her that feels insanely jealous. On more than one count.
“Believe me, you’re not the only one whose flabber is well and truly ghasted.”
A statement that earns her a loud honk from her co-lead.
“But they do say that sexuality is fluid. That and the fact that it is true I could do with a break from men …”
“You’re preaching to the choir.”
Serena smiles, before sighing again.
“I guess I should say yes to that lunch.”
Knowing that Serena’s hesitance was in big part due to the fact that she didn’t relish having such a private conversation on hospital grounds, Bernie offered a compromise.
“Or, you could ask her to meet you somewhere a bit more private, say for dinner. You could talk without any prying eyes around - or ears.”
“Oh that’s a genius idea,” Serena responds enthusiastically while grabbing Bernie’s hand. “Thank you, Bernie.” she adds, bringing her other hand on top of the one she’s already holding. “For listening, and for offering advice.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
Looking at their joined hands, Bernie relishes the warmth of the contact and lets her thumb rub against one of Serena’s. The word friends keeps running round and round in her mind, until finally the fog clears up and she realises why she’s been feeling so uneasy since Bella Bloody Whittaker appeared in their office about an hour ago.
“Hm, I guess we should get back to the grindstone,” Serena observes.
She gathers her cup and the cardboard before getting up.
“You’re not coming,” she asks when she sees that Bernie is still sitting.
“I think I’m going to enjoy five more minutes of fresh air before coming back down.”
“In that case, I’ll see you later.”
Serena clears her bum of any dust and turns around to leave the roof, feeling much lighter.
Light is the complete opposite of what Bernie is feeling in this instant.
Well, isn’t this a day for revelations , she thinks wryly.
For a minute or two, Bernie is frozen in place, her mind completely blank. Then each thought seems to be smashing itself into the front of her head, faster and faster until she can feel the definite burgeoning of a migraine of epic proportions. At a loss about what to do, she gets up and starts pacing the length of the roof, hands in her pockets to try and prevent herself from fidgeting too much.
What a mess , she thinks. What is she supposed to do now? And how come she didn’t realise she was in love with Serena before today? Or did she know and unconsciously - or consciously - erase any indication of feelings and attraction from her mind?
Were there signs before today, that should have made it clear that she was head over heels for her best friend? And if so, which signs?
Bernie’s never been good at being in love. Until three years ago, she was spending every waking moment repressing what she was and felt, so much so that she doesn’t even know what truly being in love feels like.
So, how was she supposed to acknowledge the fact that what she felt for Serena wasn’t solely friendship? That she apparently loved a woman who to all intents and purposes, was straight and therefore completely unattainable?
She pushes her fringe away from her face and then stops abruptly when an even more frightening question surges into her mind.
What is she supposed to do now ? Now that she knows, and after she just spent the better part of an hour pushing the recipient of her love into the arms of another woman.
What a mess , she reiterates.
She’ll have to face Serena, put on a happy face.
Or will she? Maybe she could leave the country for a while - Hanssen would probably have some kind of secondment at the ready for her?
She snorts. As if that would help her in forgetting Serena. It would only make Bernie miss her more, and be even more aware of the importance the woman has in her life. Not to mention the fact that Serena doesn’t deserve to be abandoned for things that are out of her control.
Especially not when she’s embarking on a new adventure of her own and might need her best friend to talk things through.
So yes, she’ll be brave. It has been her motto for the past couple of years, after all.
Going back to the concrete slab, she picks up her paper cup before leaving the roof. There was no time like the present when it came to being strong and courageous.
Chapter 3: You've got this
Serena takes a tiny step forward.
As she arrives on the ward, Bernie sees Serena entering theater with a patient and Morven in tow. Going to the nurses’ station she asks Raf, who is diligently typing on a keyboard, what was going on.
“Ulcer of the duodenum close to bursting,” he answers, looking towards the doors his colleagues had just disappeared behind. “Poor man is a single parent of three little kiddies and he didn’t want to have to leave them so he tried to endure the pain, hoping that it would just pass…”
“Ouch,” she utters in sympathy. “Seems pretty quiet otherwise,” she observes, looking around.
“Yes,” Raf says with a grin, “but not for you,” he adds, handing her a pile of files.
“Oh great. Thanks,” Bernie grumbles. “For this you’ll get a month of night shifts.”
Knowing that the threat is as empty as they come, Raf laughs while watching her retire to her office.
And even though she usually abhors paperwork with a passion, Bernie’s secretly glad for the distraction it offers on this particular day. Having Serena occupied on the other side of the ward, far from her eyes and her mind focused as much as possible on filling observation sections, checking lists and affixing her signature on all those papers would be just what the doctor ordered.
Well over two hours later, she’s been through about two thirds of her pile when Serena enters the room still in her scrubs, much to Bernie’s delight.
Serena says nothing as she lets herself fall in her chair and her head rest on the back of the chair.
Bernie knows how tiring these types of operations in particular can be, so she leaves her friend alone, makes as little noise as she can to give Serena the chance to get at least a little bit of rest before getting back to work.
Almost ten minutes pass this way before Serena straightens up in her chair and properly situates herself in front of her computer.
When Serena still says nothing, Bernie gets a little worried.
“How was the surgery?”
“We almost lost him. The ulcer burst just as I was opening him up, the internal bleeding was - a mess. It took me a moment to get everything under control. Then when I thought I had everything clamped and under control, we got another tear a bit further down. It all worked out in the end but he should never have waited so long before landing on A&E’s doorstep.”
“Raf says he’s a single father.”
“Yes,” she sighs, “he told us that they’d already lost his wife and didn’t want his kids to lose their father as well. Ironic really, considering waiting and letting the ulcer fester almost did just that.”
Bernie’s only answer was a sympathetic smile.
“You know what, those mails can wait,” Serena proclaims. “I’m hungry. I think I’m even going to go to Albie’s and get something with chips.”
“You rescheduled your date with Bella then,” Bernie asks, hiding her uneasiness as much as possible.
“Yes, I’ll see her tonight. Although I don’t know if we can call it a date, yet.”
Getting up, she grabs her purse from her handbag before going to the door. When her hand reaches the handle, she stops and looks back towards Bernie.
“Have lunch with me?”
Bernie was about to use her still too tall pile of paperwork as an excuse, but her stomach chose this exact moment to make itself known with an ungodly grumble.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Serena says with a laugh. “I’m just going to get changed. Are you coming?”
Admitting defeat, Bernie nods before getting up and grabbing her hoodie on the back of her chair.
“How was it for you?”
They have been sitting at a small table in Albie’s for close to thirty minutes now, talking about this and that when Serena abruptly changes the subject. The bite Bernie just took out of her sandwich almost goes into the wrong pipe and she has to clear her throat before answering.
She still sounds a bit strangled.
“How was it for you,” Serena repeats, “finding out you’re in love with a woman?”
“Oh, I thought you meant -”
Having sex with a woman for the first time, but Bernie’s never going to confess that thought out loud.
“That I meant what?”
“Nothing, it’s not important.”
She wipes her mouth and rests her elbows on the table, taking a few seconds to gather her thoughts.
“I haven’t been in love with anybody until - I haven’t been in love with anybody yet.”
She can feel herself beginning to sweat slightly. Between her almost slip-up and the subject that is still very tender, her nerves of steel are put to the test.
The word comes out slowly as if Serena is processing that seemingly unrealistic statement as she’s saying it.
“You’ve never -” she stops and lays back in her chair before crossing her arms on her chest and observing her friend, suddenly seeing her in a whole new light.
“You’re making it sound like I’m broken or something,” Bernie says looking down at her plate almost in shame.
“Oh no, Bernie,” Serena exclaims with fervour, grabbing both of Bernie’s hands with both of hers. “I’m so sorry, that’s not what I meant or intended at all. It’s just - I’m sad that you never got to experience that - you’ve got so much to offer. And you also have so much to explore.”
“Wait a minute, what about Alex?”
“Ha, I was wondering when you were going to come to that.”
She breathes slowly, trying to get rid of some of the tension gathering up in her shoulders.
“I lo - no, I was very fond of her. And she was - is - very important to me, but -” she tilts her head on one side, trying to find the right words. “I think it was intense because of the situation - the warzone, the secrecy, the newness and the freeness of it all where I was concerned - rather than because of any feelings, at least for me.”
“I see,” Serena responds with an absent minded nod, seemingly half lost in her thoughts.
Silence descends upon them, but it is not heavy or uncomfortable and is only broken when someone loses their grip on their glass and it ends up in a shattered mess on the floor.
The shrilling sound brings them back to their own table, and their own hands, still intertwined.
Slowly, they let go of each other, Serena with a parting pat on one of Bernie’s hands, Bernie with her gaze hidden behind her fringe. Without a word, they resume their meal, well aware that they should get a move on.
When the end of their shifts finally comes around, Serena logs out of her computer and slowly, almost meticulously, gathers her stuff in her big handbag. She looks nervous and Bernie can’t help but feel a tender warmth overtake her at the sight.
“You’ve got this.”
Serena lifts her head. Her eyes, dark and uncertain, flitter across Bernie’s face as if looking for any trace of uncertainty despite her confident words. That’s when she realises she’s still wearing her dark blue scrubs.
“Planning on spending the night here?” Serena asks with a wry smile.
“No, just want to finish a few things before I leave.”
“Right,” Serena says while putting her coat and scarf on, “well, I’m off. Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need it. It’s going to be alright. You’re both smart women, you’ll find a way to make this work.”
The muscles in Bernie’s cheeks and jaw are starting to tighten painfully with all those forced smiles. Serena’s answer, however, is heartfelt. A warm “thank you” full of adoration and renewed strength. She leaves the office feeling a bit more prepared for the evening ahead.
Bernie maintains the pretense of cheerfulness for a few moments, eyes trained on the computer screen but unseeing, until she’s sure Serena won’t return, having forgotten something or other because her mind was too preoccupied with a beautiful redhead.
Only then does she let go of her façade. She falls heavily backwards on her chair, the piece of furniture making an undignified squeak in the process. Her hands go to her head and she rubs her eyes, not caring about smearing her mascara everywhere, before carding her fingers through her hair and scratching lightly at her scalp.
It’s only been a few hours of this, and already it feels like a nightmare. She might need to rethink her strategy a bit, find a way to protect herself without hurting Serena or putting any unwanted and unjustified distance between them.
She might need an outside and unbiased point of view to achieve that goal.
She’ll send a text to Dom, first thing tomorrow.
With that plan in mind she logs off, gets up - her body feeling ten times heavier - and gathers her stuff before taking the direction of the locker room. She’s more than ready to go home and forget everything, at least for a few hours.
Alone in her room, Serena’s back to being nervous. Her earlier confidence - her usual confidence even, the one she’d have in abundance if she was meeting a man - was gone. Bernie’s words, as helpful as they had been two hours ago, are nothing but dust in her mind now.
You’ve got it.
What am I doing? She thinks. I know nothing about dating a woman.
Is it the same thing as dating a man? Or is it completely different?
She snorts at the stupidity of the question but then stops abruptly putting her makeup on.
What if it really is different?
Sitting at the vanity, in her tastefully decorated bedroom, Serena uses this momentary break in her preparations to really look at herself. She takes in every detail. The ones she loves; her eyes, her cheekbones, her lips, her nose, even her eyebrows that she uses to express either lust or anger. And the ones she could do without; the roundness in her chin, the dimple - a defining feature she got from her father that she in turn gave to her own daughter, and that caused her so much hurt when she was young but that she would never part with - the roundness in her belly, in her arms.
She knows what a man would like, look at and even ogle. She knows how she would behave and flirt. And granted, everybody would tell you that she’d flirt with anything that has a pulse. But being flirty as a default mode, and consciously flirting with someone are two completely different things.
Last night with Bella, she didn’t know that she was actually flirting with her. She knew even less that she was being attractive in any way, really. And, even though she still refuses to call it a date officially, if all goes well, by the evening’s end, she might have to make the conscious choice to flirt with her.
Getting up and going to her wardrobe, Serena sighs because she doesn’t know how comfortable she is with the idea.
Bernie would tell her not to put too much pressure on herself. To go slow if she needs it. She doesn’t have to flirt with Bella tonight if she doesn't feel like it.
Rummaging through what she has on offer, Serena decides not to be too adventurous with her outfit. She needs to feel beautiful, that’s a given, but she also needs to be comfortable. And she’ll select one of sexiest sets of lingerie, for good measure. Not because she expects Bella to see any of it, but because it’ll act as some kind of armour, as a reminder that she is a strong, independent woman, and that she can do this.
Chapter 4: We all need someone to understand us
Serena and Bella meet for dinner.
Bella had given Serena the opportunity to choose the restaurant. When they had exchanged texts earlier today, she had figured Serena would feel more at ease if their conversation was happening on her territory. A fact Serena will be eternally grateful for.
She had thought about it for nearly three hours, before settling on nice Breton crêperie. She loves coming to that little restaurant when she is feeling a bit maudlin and needs to be reminded of France, and Brittany in particular. Ti Breizh, as the restaurant is called, is always warm and welcoming. You always leave with a big smile on your face.
She found it was the perfect place for tonight. A friendly atmosphere, with just the right amount of romance thrown in there.
When Serena gets out of her taxi in front of the restaurant, Bella is already waiting for her. Her smile is the first thing Serena sees, warm and maybe a bit more hesitant than this morning, but she won’t begrudge her that.
Bella seems to take Serena’s plea for patience at heart though. Just as she had opted for a nice tailored pair of black trousers, a wide-collared burgundy sweater and a pair of black kitten heels, Bella was wearing a knee-long and soft lavender jersey dress with biker boots and a denim jacket.
Bella seems to think she’s going to have to take the lead here tonight, so that Serena can focus solely on what she has to say.
She doesn’t touch Serena, doesn’t try to kiss her, even on the cheek.
“Shall we go in?” she inquires.
“Yes. And thank you again for agreeing to meet me here, you’ll see it’s simple but delicious,” Serena supplies.
“I trust you,” Bella affirms, making Serena smile for the first time tonight. It might be a little tense still, but at least it’s a start. “I’ve never tried a Breton crêperie before and I can’t wait to taste a galette.”
“Well it might just become one of your favorite foods.”
They enter the restaurant and Serena gives her name to the young waitress welcoming them. It is a matter of seconds before they’re shown to their table. There’s only a small hydrangea in the middle, no candle in the sight and the sober decoration makes Serena relax a bit more.
The restaurant in itself has a rustic atmosphere mixed with a modern touch. It’s all white wood everywhere with touches of pale blue and pink. It smells of rich comfort food and over the sounds of voices you can hear the butter sizzling on the billig.
“This is very nice,” Bella compliments, her big pale green eyes taking her surroundings.
“Hm, I discovered it - when was it - four years ago I think. I come here several times a year now, with Bernie and my nephew.”
“It’s owned by a French - well Breton I imagine - family. Can’t get more authentic than that,” Serena continues.
Their waitress chooses this moment to bring them two menus and a water carafe. Bella peruses it with enthusiasm, Serena barely looks at it, already knowing what she’s going to have.
“So, how does this work?”
“Well, usually you start with a galette or two, those are savory, and then the crêpes, that are more of a dessert. But there’s no law to it,” Serena adds with a small laugh, “you can eat whatever you feel like eating.”
Realising that she has inadvertently slipped an innuendo in her answer, she blushes slightly. Bella acts as if she hasn’t heard it.
Or maybe it wasn’t an innuendo at all , she thinks.
The waitress comes back to take their orders, and once that’s done, Serena figures she might as well jump straight in. They’re here for a reason after all.
“So,” she starts while pouring them both a big glass of water. “Last night was a surprise.”
Her tone is soft, but her eyes are having a hard time holding Bella’s gaze.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I - I didn’t know and - well I should have checked before, really. I guess I got a little carried away. You were - are so beautiful, and I thought we had a connection, so I went for it,” Bella answers, an apologetic twist of her mouth accompanying her last words.
“We do have a connection. I just - like I said it was a surprise, it completely knocked me for six, let me tell you. And, well - it’s quite difficult - uh, to wrap my head around - well it’s a big change for me, is what I’m trying to say, I suppose.”
“Of course it is.”
Seeing Bella be so understanding is quite a relief. Although realistically, Serena knew she would be.
“If someone had told me, even two weeks ago, that I would find myself kissing a woman, in the deserted board room no less, I would have sent them straight to the psych ward.”
Bella’s laugh is warm, and Serena can feel the tension in her shoulders dissipate a bit more.
Their galettes arrive and the conversation turns to the mundane subject of their food for a while, among exclamations of how good it all is, and how copious. Copious it might be but they both plan on taking another, different one.
Once they’ve finished the second galette, Bella asks the burning question.
“So, where do you see this going? If you even see this going anywhere,” she adds gently.
“That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I - I don’t know. I like you, I mean, you make liking you so easy, really.”
“No, no buts,” Serena assures her. “If - if you’re willing to be patient with me -”
“Absolutely! I like you too.” Bella says with a smile.
For a second, she envisions taking Serena’s hand before thinking better of it.
“Like I said to Bernie, I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to dive in head first in this - whatever this is, only to realise that I only want to be friends with you.”
“I appreciate that.”
“So, it would be perfectly understandable if you thought better to put a stop to it now, or to - to wait a bit before we saw each other again.”
“I’m not fragile, Serena.”
“I know, but …”
“But, nothing. If you find out that this is not what you want, we’ll go our separate ways and we’ll both move on. Don’t get me wrong, if your change of mind came completely out of the blue, I would be pretty pissed, but you’ve been honest with me, about everything, so it’s fine, really.”
Hearing the sureness in Bella’s voice, Serena smiles, trying to look as certain as her friend, for lack of a better word, is. Nevertheless, she can’t help but toy with her necklace.
After some cider and a crêpe both for dessert, with chocolate sauce, banana and chantilly - because why not - they leave the restaurant. They walk for a minute or two before Serena decides that she needs to stop overthinking everything. She turns to Bella to thank her for the wonderful night she’s had and for being so understanding.
“Serena, stop,” Bella admonishes gently and with a soft smile. “You’re the one who needs to understand something. And I’m sure, if we continue on this path, or even if you continue on this path with someone else, you’ll get what I’m saying but let me just” she pauses briefly, considering her words, “we all need someone to understand us. Everyone. But especially in the LGBTQ+ community. And we all need someone to give us the time to understand ourselves. Someone we can be our true self with. But first, we all need to find that true self. I get that, really.”
“I can only imagine.”
“So, we’ll go as slow as you need. We’ll talk as much as you need. And actually, you should talk to your friends as well, Ms. Wolfe in particular. Ask them questions, get them to ask you questions. And on the days you don’t feel like talking to anyone and just want to have time to think by yourself, tell us. Alright?”
Rather than answer with words, Serena follows her instincts and launches herself at Bella. Not to kiss her, but to hug her fiercely. When she has recovered from the surprise, Bella returns the favor. They stay like that for a few seconds before releasing each other, and going back towards the restaurant and the rank of taxis. They can’t share one, as they live on opposite sides of the town, so they say their goodbyes and promise to text or call each other, before they each climb in a cab.
On the road back home, Serena smiles. She might like being Bella’s girlfriend after all. The word itself makes her snort but it’ll work fine for now.
Chapter 5: In the open
It's time for a "Gays on the roof" moment.
Hey, hit me up when you have a moment. Unless I’m in theater, I’ll meet you on the roof.
Not surprisingly, Bernie had barely slept last night, hence her message being sent at around five this morning. She had tossed and turned in her bed and her thoughts had tossed and turned in her head. At some point, she had decided to just stop trying and got up. She took her time to shower and appreciate her coffee, not exactly looking forward to having a detailed recounting of Serena’s date.
To say that she’s lost a bit of her equilibrium would be the understatement of the year. She feels even more off-balance when she sees that Serena’s car isn’t already parked in her usual spot.
She can already feel tension gathering behind her eyeballs and figures another coffee wouldn’t go amiss.
Arriving at Pulses, she bumps into Dom who already has a cup in his hand.
“Oh there you are. What’s up with sending mystery texts in the middle of the night? Finally want to paint the town rainbow with me?” He adds with one of his cheeky smiles.
“No,” Bernie snorts. “Well - no, I don’t know. I need to talk to you.”
“Oh, it looks serious,” he observes, sobering up instantly.
“Yes. Nothing life threatening though.”
“That’s always a bonus.”
Looking around nervously, Bernie just utters a vague hm , and thinks fleetingly that this disease of not answering with real words seems to be catching.
“Well, I’m free now if you are.”
“Hm? Oh yes! Yes, perfect! Thank you! Let me just -” she trails off, indicating the counter.
A few minutes later, they’re on the roof, in their favorite spot.
“So, what has the Werewolfe’s knickers in such a twist,” Dom inquires before taking his first sip of coffee, earning a dark glare from Bernie.
A dark glare that only makes him laugh, which isn’t what Bernie hoped for but definitely what she expected.
“I’m in love,” she exclaims, dejectedly hiding her face behind her free hand.
“Well, took you long enough,” Dom says gently.
Bernie’s face lifts up in a flash, her eyes wide, her hair wilder than usual.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Her voice is low, both shocked and dangerous.
“It means it’s been obvious for quite a while now.”
She stands up, almost getting angry now even though she doesn’t know why exactly. Is it because it feels like a betrayal of her privacy? Or because she still isn’t completely used to being out and proud? Or again, is it because if everyone else saw it, then Serena did as well and that means she’s in deep - deep - trouble?
Dom, who sees that she’s becoming even more unsettled by the second, decides to reassure her.
“I’m sure Serena’s completely oblivious.”
“You’re sure she’s - right, everybody’s apparently caught up to the fact that I’m head over heels for my co-lead, but of course, said co-lead - the smartest woman I’ve ever met, I might add - is completely oblivious. Totally believable,” she finishes with a sarcastic laugh. “Jesus Christ, Dom.”
“Okay, I think I’m missing something here.” His frown is half confusion and half fear. “Why are you so angry?”
“Because the day that my best-friend tells me she’s started seeing someone - a woman no less - my brain suddenly wakes up and decides to inform me that I’m actually in love with her.”
Bernie voluntarily omits the fact that
is actually, up to this point at least, an overstatement.
Might not be anymore , she thinks glumly, before speaking again.
“That’s why I’m angry. Pretty legit, if you ask me.”
“Uh, no, it’s not.”
Bernie, who had turned around to look at the horizon, makes a sudden one eighty that almost makes Dom dizzy.
“It’s not a legit reason to be angry,” he says slowly, willing her to understand. “What, exactly, makes you angry in all of this?”
Bernie grunts and turns her back on him again. To be honest, she doesn’t understand this sudden change in her behaviour either. Yesterday she seemed ready to face the music, this morning she was slightly anxious and now she’s about ready to explode. Maybe it’s like the different steps of grieving. Maybe she is grieving, in a way. Or she’s just tired.
“Is it because you didn’t realise it was love until it smacked you in the face, like it usually does? Is it because you don’t like the idea of anybody else knowing?” He sighs. “Or is it because your best-friend, who was supposed to be straight, finds herself attracted to a woman for the first time, and that woman isn’t you?”
“Way to make someone feel better, Dom.”
“Sorry,” he answers with a wince.
“I don’t know.” It’s barely a whisper and he isn’t sure he has understood Bernie correctly so he makes her repeat herself.
“I said, I don’t know.”
She lets out a loud sigh and her head falls forward, her chin on her chest.
“Ok, come on,” Dom encourages her, “Have some of that coffee you’ve barely touched, and we’ll just relax for a few minutes before coming up with a battle plan. I suppose that’s why you sent me this text at such an ungodly hour in the first place?”
Bernie does sit down next to him, somewhat heavily, and she does take a long fortifying gulp of her beverage but all he gets for his efforts is an exhausted nod.
“May I put my arm around you?”
He figures it’s better to ask, rather than just doing it and waking the Wolfe’s wrath.
“Are you putting the moves on me, Copeland?” Bernie asks wryly. “I’m taken, as previously stated.”
“Your loss, we’d make a dashing couple.”
He looks at her proudly when Bernie’s famous honking laugh is let loose.
“So, may I?”
“Yes, you may.”
When he does, she fights against her own natural instincts - born mostly from when she was married to Marcus and could barely stand him touching her - to flee to the other side of the room, or in this instance, roof. It’s actually quite nice, being cared for in this way, so much so that she lays her head on the younger doctor’s shoulder.
“You’re a good friend, Dom.”
“I have my moments,” he agrees with a falsely arrogant grin, making Bernie snort.
Chapter 6: Today is going to be a long day
Bernie messes up out of jealousy.
A little over half an hour later, Bernie is riding the elevator down to AAU, feeling a bit better about her ordeal. Dom gave her a nice pep-talk, along with a few simple guidelines. With that, she will - hopefully - be able to support Serena if she needs it, while protecting her poor heart as much as possible, which isn’t much.
Still, all in all, it should prevent her from getting heartbroken ten times a day, and twice as much on Sundays.
Those guidelines involved mainly the fact that Bernie shouldn’t involve herself too much in what is, essentially, Serena’s very private life. She might have to take a step or two back in order to do that. Not an easy feat, considering she’s basically trying to distance herself from her best-friend, but a necessary one.
Ordinarily, Bernie would have able to come up with that plan all by herself, but this particular situation required her to stand back and let someone do the legwork for her. Much more efficient that way.
And she can do it, protect herself while still being a good friend. Or so had Dom adamantly repeated to her during his almost monologue earlier.
Bernie’s in the middle of her first morning rounds when Serena arrives. She doesn’t look up right away, pretends she’s completely engrossed with her conversation with her patient and Morven. From the corner of her eye, she can see that Serena goes to the office first, and gets rid of her coat, handbag and scarf, before coming out again.
Only then, does Bernie look up. She doesn’t leave her patient’s side - even though Morven could change the bandages herself, blindfolded and with one hand in her back - but she does give her friend what she hopes to be a light and warm smile.
Bernie’s relief is palpable when Serena responds in kind, before gloom settles deep in her guts.
Serena seems tremendously happy, and though she’s obviously happy that her friend has found someone who makes her, well, happy, she can’t help but selfishly - and belatedly - wish that person would be her.
Serves me right for being so clueless, I guess.
She comes back to the present when she sees Serena mouthing something and gesturing towards herself first, then upstairs. Bernie dumbly nods before getting back to her patient. Serena, in the meantime, goes to the lift and disappears behind its doors a moment later.
Bernie sighs, earning a slightly worried look from the young woman in the bed.
She straightens up and smiles reassuringly. “There, all done.”
Taking off her gloves, she gives instructions to Morven and squirts a bit of hand gel before walking towards the next bed.
During the hour or so it takes for Bernie to finish her rounds, she tries to compartmentalize her thoughts - a talent honed and tested while operating in war zones - and put everything deemed unproductive or unnecessary out of her mind, but her efforts are in vain.
The phrase ‘today is going to be a long day’, keeps popping up from the dark recesses of her conscience, to the point that, when she finally manages to retreat to the peace and quiet of their office, she’s ready to scream.
As luck would have it, fate - in its infinite cruelty - decides that Bernie is not to stay away from Serena, for not even five minutes have passed when the shrill of the red phone is heard all throughout AAU.
When Bernie wrenches the door open to get to it, Raf’s already there and listening intently and taking notes. She waits patiently, hands flat on the counter top of the nurses’ station. Raf hangs up the phone and informs her evenly that they’re about to welcome a road worker with two legs crushed up to the knees. ETA seven minutes.
“Alright, have theater one prepped. Ask the orthopedist to be on standby, just in case.” She has to force the next words to come out of her mouth, and they do only because she’s a professional. “And page Ms. Campbell, lord knows we’re gonna need her skills if we’re gonna save that man’s legs.”
Having nothing more to say, she goes for the scrub room. Taking the phone to call the Ortho specialist, Raf watches her leave with a slight frown on his face before putting his thoughts aside and focusing on the task at hand.
Five or six minutes later and Bernie’s still meticulously scrubbing her hands when Serena enters.
“You called, milady,” she jokes lightly.
“I did indeed. Our patient should be here any minute now.”
Just as she’s about to give the details to Serena, Raf enters with the patient and two nurses in tow. One of them, Lou, is holding the poor man’s hand to try and calm him down while the anesthetist installs the I.V on his hand and the mask on his face to take him under.
As soon as it’s done, Raf comes to find his bosses, looking grim.
“I’m not optimistic. His feet are cold and I could barely find any pulse in them.” The heaviness of the situation makes his Scottish brogue slightly more pronounced.
“Right,” Bernie says while the theater nurse helps her tie the surgical gown and put her gloves on. “Let’s not get over ourselves, alright,” she adds gently.
Serena is appropriately dressed as well so they both enter the theater and start the procedures, Raf joining them a couple minutes later.
The whole thing is gruelling. Most of the bones have shattered with the immense pressure of the machine the poor man’s legs have been under, the vessels have seen better days and if they manage to keep this man walking, they’re not sure he’ll be able to do so with all his toes, let alone his feet. In short, they’ve their work cut out for them.
The atmosphere is not as tense as Bernie would have feared. She and Serena take turns working on each leg, still as attuned to each other as ever. Their progress is slow but they do make progress and that’s all they can ask for right now.
Everyone is mostly silent until Raf comments, near the end of a several hours long procedure that they’ll really have deserved a pint after this.
“Are you buying?” Serena asks automatically, her eyes never leaving her work, making Bernie snort.
“I’m sure I could be persuaded.” Raf’s smile isn’t visible through his mask but they can all clearly hear it in his voice.
“Well, in that case, count me in.”
“No date tonight, then?”
Bernie could have kicked herself.
I had to open my stupid mouth , she thinks darkly.
She didn’t even realise what she was doing until Serena lifted surprised and slightly betrayed eyes to meet hers.
“Forget I said anything, don’t know what came over me.”
There’s gonna be hell to pay later, is what Serena’s hard gaze is telling her right now. She’s going to have her head on the block for bringing such a private, and ultimately, such a sensitive matter up in front of their colleagues and, for lack of a better word, their subordinates.
Again, Bernie’s new mantra runs around in her mind.
Today is going to be the longest of them all. Especially if she keeps making a fool of herself, out of misplaced pettiness and jealousy.
“Can you close up, Raf, please?”
Serena’s voice is cold, her movements as she stands up from her stool and takes her gloves and surgical gown off are jerky and translate well to the anger she’s feeling. Bernie's movements are slow, as if her guilt was making her limbs weigh a ton.
They both end up at the sinks, and Bernie’s apology is cut short by Serena telling her they’ll talk in the office. She can only nod weakly in answer.
In their office, Bernie tries again to tell Serena how sorry she is, that she wasn’t thinking.
“I overreacted,” isn’t what she thought Serena would open up with.
“I know I -” she starts before her brain catches up with her friend’s words. “Sorry, what?”
“I overreacted. You caught me by surprise.”
The frown on Bernie’s face is more than enough for Serena to realise the fantastic Major doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.
“I - Well, you know I don’t like being talked about -”
“I know, I -” Bernie tries to interrupt but Serena lifts a placating hand, shutting her up instantly.
“Adding to that the fact that it’s - it’s still very fresh and fragile - and well, I feel very defensive about - Well you know what it’s like, you spend decades married to a man, or going out with men and suddenly -“ she sighs and crosses her arms in front of her chest. “Suddenly, I’m going out with a woman, and I don’t want to have people’s opinion about it. I don’t want people to make me feel ashamed or - uneasy about the whole idea. It’s difficult enough knowing what’s going on in my own mind without - I don’t want to give them the chance to influence my thoughts, or my choice.”
“And that’s the absolute best way to do it.”
She’s rewarded by a small smile.
“I really am sorry, Serena.”
“I know, it’s fine.”
“No look, you’re not the only one who’s been surprised. I know it doesn’t matter what I think about all this but -” It’s now Bernie’s turn to interrupt Serena, “no, let me finish, please. It doesn’t matter what I think, as long as you’re happy, but I was surprised. And I guess, just like you, I haven’t exactly wrapped my head around the idea of you being with a woman. And well, I guess I’m a bit jealous.”
This confession, more than anything else, piques Serena’s interest.
“How so?” she asks, her heart beating wildly.
“Well, it’s been a little over two years since Alex and I broke up. I guess, part of me is feeling lonely, even though I’m not entirely sure I would be ready to enter into a relationship just yet.”
It’s not the whole truth, but it’s certainly not a lie.
“Oh, Bernie. You should have said.”
“It’s fine. My life’s good. I have my kids, you and Jason, our friends - and our job. It’s more than I could have hoped for not that long ago.”
Now, Serena’s smile is soft and tender, and Bernie can’t help but sigh internally, happy that her blunder didn’t ruin everything.
She figures that now is a good time as any to properly play the role of the best friend, and ask how last night went.
“Oh, good. Great, even. She agreed to give me all the time I needed. That and a couple of bits of good advice. So yes, good.”
“Good, that’s good. I’m glad.”
Her hands nervously find the pockets of her scrubs.
“Yes,” Serena agrees with a light laugh. “And I think I’m going to wait a bit before I see her again, just so I can make sure things are a bit clearer in my head before our, hopefully, first official date. Well - we’ll see.”
“Taking your time is good. It’s a good thing. Yes, good.”
Both friends realise that Bernie is starting to sound like a broken record.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m good. Sorry,” she adds, one hand coming up to rub her forehead, “didn’t sleep well. And then my stupid blunder on top of a four hour stint in theater, I - I think I need some food.”
Looking at the time on the wall clock, Serena was surprised to see it was well past two in the afternoon.
“Well no wonder you’re hungry, it’s almost tea time! Let’s go find ourselves something to eat. And gallons of coffee.”
Just as she finishes her sentence, Raf knocks on the closed door and waits until Bernie opens before coming in.
“Mr. Simmons is in ICU, I’ve ordered fifteen minute obs and a complete blood work. You both did an amazing job by the way,” he complimented with his usual effortless warmth. “Not that I’m not used to it by now, but it was almost like art what you did in there. Gave him a good chance to ever walk again.”
Both of his bosses are blushing, a sight he always enjoys.
“Are you hoping for a raise?” Serena jokes, trying to hide her embarrassment.
“No, just telling the truth,” he counters with a wink before leaving the office.
Bernie watches him leave with a fond look on her face.
“Fletch is lucky to have him.”
“We all are.”
“Yes, let’s go while we still can.”
Chapter 7: Getting the answers
Serena is getting more confident with her new self.
A week later, Serena feels a bit more like her old self. Her confidence and her ability to grab whatever life throws at her with both hands are almost back to their usual levels.
She used this week to take some time for herself. She searched her feelings, and she realised that, to her knowledge, Bella truly is the first woman that made her entertain the possibility of becoming more than friends with a woman. She has always found women beautiful, but appreciating someone’s physique, or just an aspect of their physique, doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to sleep with them.
She searched the internet as well, wanting to confront her experience with that of others’. She read about the fear and about the trepidation. But she also read about the thrill and the excitation. She found all sorts of accounts of the discovery of one’s bisexuality, some standard and some, not so much, making Serena blush quite a bit.
She also talked to Fleur Fanshawe, and dear God, her ears rang for days on end with the scream of pure glee the woman let out after learning of Serena’s venture into the sapphic world. But, once she’d calmed down enough - and stopped pouting that Serena could have at least chosen her instead of a woman she barely knew, after all she had done to sway Serena into recognising the merits of her way, and her figure - she did manage to bolster Serena’s spirits and tell her that she had the right to experiment and that she should, especially since she had Bella’s blessing.
With all this in mind, and thinking that there is no time like the present she sends a text Bella asking if she’s free for a drink, and maybe even dinner tonight.
They haven’t texted at all since their dinner, and only met for purely professional reasons.
Tonight is about taking a new step in this relationship. Tonight is about discovering her new identity and grounding herself in what she knows to be able to move forward.
Entering the wine bar Bella selected, Serena is the embodiment of confidence from her high held head to the firmness of her pace.
When Bella sees Serena, she gets up from her side of the booth and waves at her with a big smile.
With a smile of her own, Serena walks toward Bella and surprises her by putting a warm hand on her forearm before kissing her on the cheek.
“Hello,” Serena greets her softly.
“Hello,” Bella answers, her smile even bigger than a minute before.
Her eyes take her surroundings. The lighting is dim, every wall taken by several booths. The rest of the bar is comprised of the usual tables and chairs, with a few club chairs sprinkled around for good measure. Everything is red wood and red leather. The bar itself boasts an impressive collection of wine glasses of all sizes, suspended upside down and there’s a nice welcoming smell of oak, smoke and spices.
“Well,” Bella laughs lightly, “considering that probably all of Holby knows of your undying love for Shiraz, I figured I needed to play it safe.”
“Play it safe, hm? I certainly hope you don’t plan on doing too much of that tonight.”
“Oh,” Bella comments appreciatively, her eyebrows raised. “You’ve changed your tune.”
Just as Serena’s about to answer, a waiter comes with two glasses of the beautiful ruby red liquid on a platter and deposits them with a smile.
“I took the liberty of ordering a nice Italian Shiraz, hope that’s okay?”
“Of course, I love Italian Shiraz,” Serena says with a dreamy smile.
They toast wordlessly and taste the wine; the richness of it immediately earning a low hum from Serena.
“Again, very nice choice.”
“Thank you,” Bella says preening slightly. “So, you were saying,” she asks, getting back to the serious side of the conversation.
Serena clears her throat.
“Well, I was saying that, I still need things - between us - to go somewhat slowly but hopefully, we could see about taking a tiny step forward tonight.”
“I’d like that.”
Bella’s voice is soft and she reaches out her open palm towards Serena, giving her the choice to reach back or not. When Serena does reach back, palm down, they let their hands slide until their index reaches the other’s wrist. The caress is hesitant, barely there, more like tiny spasms than anything but still, it’s something.
They spend the next two hours talking softly all the while sampling more wine. When they feel themselves perilously flirting with the drunk state, they leave the wine bar for the Chinese restaurant a few doors down. They walk slowly down the street and Serena lets their shoulders touch, but no more.
Later, their bellies full of deliciously exotic food, they stand a few paces away from the taxi rank, facing each other.
“Tonight was great, Serena.”
“It was yes. I was - I was worried you’d get slightly bored, what with me not - well…”
She looks away for a moment, making Bella come a tiny bit closer.
“Serena, I could never be bored when you’re the one keeping me company. And, before you say anything, I’m not trying to be cute or to gain anything by saying this. It’s always fun to spend time with you, no matter what happens.”
“Thank you for that,” Serena answers with a smile. And deciding that this the perfect moment to take a leap of faith, she leans towards Bella and kisses her softly.
When they part, they share a gentle, happy smile before they each go and find a cab.
Once in her bed, Serena thinks about the night but mostly she wants to think about what ended the night.
That soft kiss.
Serena has given and received a lot of kisses during her time, it’s one of the things she enjoys the most in a romantic or even just a physical relationship. Kissing is both simple and complex. You can express and feel so many different kinds of things when you kiss someone, and during this particular one with Bella - granted it was short and chaste - but Serena is having a hard time saying if she truly liked it or not.
It was nice, but it felt more friendly than anything.
Maybe it’s my fault , she thinks.
Maybe all this ‘taking it slow’ idea is actually killing the mood a bit. For next time, she’ll try to be a bit less distant, a bit less scared of the change and see how that feels like.
The very next monday, Serena starts implementing her new plan of action.
Since it’s Bernie’s day off, she’s all alone in their office and, taking a break from paperwork, she decides to fire off a quick text to Bella. She knows some of the board members are here today, most of them probably pretending to be working in their respective offices, and she figures that the one she’s most interested in might like a nice relaxing lunch break.
After a few messages, they agree that Bella - the less busy of the two - will collect whatever food strikes her fancy, and that they’ll meet in her upstairs’ office at one p.m.
Satisfied with the arrangement, Serena goes back to her patient files and hopes that no emergency of any kind will get in the way.
Serena is a bit late in the end. No emergency per se, but a patient whose wound got slightly infected and needed tending to.
When she knocks on Bella’s office door, she’s slightly breathless.
“Come in,” Bella greets her with a big smile.
“Hello. Sorry I’m late, I needed to -”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” she interrupts her gently. Rubbing a hand on Serena’s arm, she directs her towards the generic sofa in one corner, their food and bottles of water waiting for them on the adjoining coffee table. “I went for burgers and fries, because I’m famished, hope that’s alright with you.”
Serena only nods, wondering amusedly how the glamorous woman - wearing a light peach midi dress, tan belt and high heels today - will manage to eat that big burger without dropping anything on herself.
They dig in, their enthusiastic munching interspersed with bits of conversation. What they did during the weekend, what they plan on doing for the next few days. Jason, using his paid leave to peruse a couple of new exhibitions at their local museums.
When they’re done, Serena sits back a bit, rubbing her full belly with a laugh.
“Goodness, I don’t think I’ll be able to get my bum off this sofa right away.”
“You don’t have to,” Bella counters with a flirty sparkle in her eye.
A sly grin appears on Serena’s lips. “True. But I’d need one hell of a good reason to stay a little longer.”
“Oh you would, would you,” Bella asks, inching closer to Serena, whose only answer is to raise an almost impatient eyebrow.
She leans over the surgeon slowly - again giving her ample time to back down if she doesn’t feel comfortable - and captures her lips in a soft but definitely less chaste kiss than the other night. Tongues mingle sensually and hands caress hair, necks and shoulders.
A minute or two later, they part, slightly breathless. A light thrill is going through Serena’s body - an electrifying feeling she would recognize everywhere - she’s aroused. She isn’t ready to climb a wall by any stretch of the imagination, but she is feeling something a might stronger than last time.
Serena can’t help but let a relieved, and yes, satisfied sigh out. She’s finally getting the answers she’s been looking for. For over a week now, she’s spent her days and her nights analysing everything worried that, in spite of what everybody was telling her - including the interested party herself - she was taking advantage of someone for nothing, or not much at all. And at last, she can breathe more easily, admitting that at fifty one, she just discovered that she is, in fact, bisexual.
“Okay,” Bella asks, bringing her out of her reverie.
“Yes, absolutely fine.”
Serena gives her one more languorous kiss, before pushing her slightly away and getting up.
“I should get back. Some of us actually have work to do,” she jokes.
Bella gets up and puts her hands on Serena’s waist.
“Call me,” she prompts before kissing her again, “whenever you feel like it.”
Serena nods and with a last smile she opens the door and leaves the office.
Over the next couple of days, Serena and Bella exchange a few texts.
Serena smiles a lot more, Bernie has noticed, and each smile is both a blessing and a stab to the heart. She and Serena don’t talk about the new state of things much. A word here, a reference there. That’s enough.
Chapter 8: Interruptions
This might be fate intervening.
On Wednesday about fifteen minutes before Serena leaves for her drink date with Bella, the red phone rings, stopping her in her tracks as she’s putting her stuff away, her shoulders dropping.
Bernie’s already out there, traitorous phone firmly in hand, her face grave. And Serena doesn’t need any more information than that. It’s going to be all hands on deck, and probably for quite a few hours.
She joins Bernie at the nurses’ station just as the latter is hanging up the phone.
Her face is now a blank mask, her shoulders are set and when she talks to Serena, her voice betrays no emotion whatsoever. She’s all business.
“RTC, six cars, two lorries and one full bus.”
“Right,” Serena answers lamely, trying to digest the facts. This is going to be so far from an easy night she doesn’t even want to think about it, and so, she adopts Bernie’s attitude. “How many are we going to get?”
“Four, for now. They’re sending some to the ED and some to St. James. The few lightly wounded are being treated in situ. ETA four minutes for the one they’re bringing here by air ambulance. Ten to fifteen for the others.”
“Ok, we need beds. Fletch!”
“Already on it, boss,” exclaims AAU’s favorite ward manager, zipping around between the beds and giving orders to his nurses, either to move them or to discharge the patients.
“Alright, I’ll scrub in and meet you in theater.”
She starts to leave only to be stopped by Bernie’s hand on her arm.
“What about your date,” she asks half-heartedly.
“Oh, right. I almost forgot. Well, there’s nothing to it, I’ll send her a text on the way.”
Only when she gets in theater, Bernie’s already there with their first patient - Raf and Morven preparing to take their own in the second theater - she realises that she did put her phone on the top shelf of her locker but left without texting or calling Bella, her mind already on the procedure she’d have to perform.
She definitely doesn’t relish having to ask a nurse to call Bella, either so that she can speak to her herself or to give her Serena’s message, but what choice does she have? That and she can’t exactly have that taking her focus away from the task at hand.
“Lou, can you call Bella Whittaker for me, please?”
Bernie barely reacts, her shoulders tensing the slightest bit while she tries to pretend she didn’t hear what Serena just said and like she won’t hear what Serena will say.
Figuring that the board member might still be on hospital premises, Lou speed dials Bella’s office number and when she answers, tells her that Ms. Campbell would like to speak to her.
“Serena, is everything alright?” Bella’s warm voice asks, worriedly.
Serena winces a bit at the obvious intimacy of the tone and the question. Or maybe it only sounds intimate to her, because of her knowledge of the state of their relationship and the fact that she’s slightly embarrassed to be talking to her - well, she’ll call her her girlfriend for now at least because she doesn’t have the necessary brain space to think about another word, right this instant - in front of all and sundry.
“Yes, I’m fine but I’m going to have to reschedule. There’s been a major RTC and we’ll probably be knee deep in trauma cases for …” She glances briefly towards Bernie, but doesn’t get an estimate not surprisingly. Nobody knows how long they’ll be here. “... several long hours, at the very least.”
“Right,” Bella understands, of course she does - Serena’s a surgeon, one of the very best in fact - but that doesn’t mean she isn’t disappointed.
“Sorry.” Again, seemingly out of her own volition, Serena’s eyes lift briefly towards her best friend’s face. She sees nothing, although she doesn’t know what she’s looking for, or even if she’s actually looking for something.
“Serena, don’t be daft,” Bella reassures her with a light laugh. “We’ll find another day, it’s fine. You just call me when you have a moment, alright?”
“Yes. Okay, got to go now. Bye.”
Serena ends the conversation nervously, wondering why she’s so on edge and Bella’s laugh is cut abruptly short when Lou pushes on the button to end the communication.
Silence descends for a while after that, only broken by the two surgeons when they need something.
Three hours later, the damage in the young woman’s right side is repaired, and they only have the time it takes for the cleaning team to put the theater to rights again before they start on patient number two.
It’s almost seven in the morning by the time their fifth and last patient is wheeled out of theater. And to say they’re exhausted would be an understatement. They only take their gloves and caps off before sliding heavily down a wall to sit down. They don’t have the strength to cross their legs so they let them do whatever they want in front of them.
After a few minutes, Serena gathers enough energy to talk.
“Quite the marathon.”
“Hm. Been a while,” is all Bernie can manage.
It’s only when the cleaning team comes in, once again - and the noise they make wakes them up - that they realise they’d fallen asleep. Serena’s head had found Bernie’s shoulder and Bernie’s head had found Serena’s.
“You’re very comfortable apparently,” Serena jokes, and Bernie blushes before lightly clearing her throat.
“You’re the first one to think so,” she counters.
She gets up and helps Serena do the same.
One of the cleaners apologizes for disturbing them and Serena vaguely waves a hand, aiming a charming but tired smile at the poor man and telling him that his apology is completely unnecessary since they - Bernie and Serena - are the ones in the way. Walking slowly, they put their bloody surgical gowns in the bin and try not to lean too heavily on the sinks while they wash and scrub their hands and forearms.
The faint noise of their brushes is suddenly broken by almighty growls coming from two very hungry stomachs.
“Well, if we were aiming for stealthiness, I’d say it was a bust.” Serena’s snort transforms into a full blown belly laugh and before long they’re both holding on for dear life on the sinks and onto each other, letting some of the excruciatingly exhausting night out of their systems.
When they finally calm down, they have to massage their aching cheeks and wipe the tears off their faces.
“God, that felt good,” Serena exclaims.
“It did,” Bernie agrees, looking at her friend with a tender smile. “So, now that we’ve replenished our souls, shall we replenish our bodies?”
Amused, Serena looks at her with a frown.
“What was that,” she asks, gently mocking her friend. “Are you getting all philosophical in your old age?”
“Oi! Less of the old, we’re the same age!”
“I’m three months younger than you.”
“That doesn’t count!”
“Oh, but it does,” Serena counters, sauntering out of the scrub room, suddenly feeling energised again.
“That’s it,” Bernie exclaims, following her, “I was going to be a nice friend and buy you breakfast, but no more.”
Serena turns around to look at her, feigning a dramatically scandalised air with her eyes and mouth wide open and her hand coming comically to her chest. Bernie tries to keep her serious and vexed façade up but she breaks after only a few seconds.
“Alright, alright,” she abdicates, using a hand on Serena’s shoulder to direct her towards the ward’s exit.
It’s still early enough that Pulses isn’t packed full of people desperate for their first or umpteenth coffee shot of the day. Or night. Bernie tells Serena to go grab a table while she orders them a substantial breakfast. In this particular case, a substantial breakfast means the biggest cups of triple shot coffee Pulses can provide and a Danish, a cinnamon roll and a pain au chocolat to share.
Few words are said, mouths too occupied with the - at this point - almost providential sustenance. Smiles however are aplenty, exchanged over cup rims or mouthfuls of the delicious sugary treats.
At this point, Bernie feels relaxed. She figures she’ll keep an eye on all their new patients, while Serena tackles some admin and if they’re lucky, they’ll even manage to get an hour of shut-eye each in the on-call room.
She is relaxed, that is, until an otherwise very pleasant voice shatters the moment.
“Hello. Are you very early or very late?”
Bernie only aims a barely there smile towards Bella, not wanting to appear impolite but not exactly in the mood to actually make an effort either.
Serena finishes the pain au chocolat Bernie generously gifted her, before clearing her throat.
“Very late, I’d say. We only finished -” she pauses to look at the clock over the coffee machines, “- forty minutes ago. No need to tell you that it was a nightmare. So many casualties, so many fatalities,” she adds quietly.
“Yes, I saw a few images on the news. Didn’t quite clock the fact that you two would be getting so many of those injured people though. I thought it would be more of an even spread.”
“That’s what happens when you have the best trauma surgeon this country has ever seen in your ranks,” Serena supplies with a cheeky wink for Bernie, who can’t help but blush under the weight of the praise and the warmth of Serena’s gaze.
“Of course,” Bella agrees with a blinding smile.
Feeling decidedly uncomfortable now, Bernie stands up, her eyes never leaving the table.
“Well, I’ll leave you two ladies alone.”
“Ber -” Serena tries, frowning.
“I’ll see you later,” Bernie interrupts softly, still not looking at Serena.
She looks at the hunched shoulders of her friend, following the light gray of the hoodie draping them until they disappear behind the fire doors.
“All of you must be exhausted.” Bella comments while taking Bernie’s place at the table.
But her words fall on deaf ears as Serena’s entire being is still focused on the now immobile doors.
“Serena?” She calls up, her instinct making her take Serena’s hand, her thumb gently rubbing over her knuckles.
The movement brings Serena back to herself and before she can fully process what she’s doing, she rips her hand away from Bella’s.
“Sorry, I - I-” Serena blabbers.
Bella raises her hands in the universal gesture of surrender.
“No, it’s me, I forgot about your workplace rules, won’t happen again.”
As understanding as Bella may be, Serena can see that her smile isn’t as genuine as usual.
“I’m sorry, Bella, really. It’s just -”
“I know, you like your private life staying that way.” She sighs. “Look, you’re tired. And I unwillingly interrupted your moment with your best-friend. So I’ll leave you be and like I said last night, call me.”
With that, she gets up and leaves in a flurry of expensive perfume and luminous auburn curls, leaving Serena alone with her almost empty cup of coffee and the largest sigh she’s let out in a long time.
Chapter 9: The epiphany
The title is self-explanatory I think. ^^
Back in her office, Serena is again staring blankly at her computer screen. Every couple of minutes, she tries to get back to work, to actually check the boxes, write in her observations, she even tries to simply answer a few non-urgent emails, in vain. The events of this morning keep creeping back in her mind, stealing her focus away.
She just doesn’t understand what is happening.
She was so sure she had finally figured everything out. That after half a century, a part of her that was buried deep inside - whether by conscious choice or not, she doesn’t know - had been revealed and that she could finally be completely, entirely and unreservedly herself.
And now -
Now what , she wonders almost bitterly.
Why is she so confused when only yesterday everything seemed so simple. Why does she feel like she’s being pulled in two different directions when yesterday, there was only one clear path in front of her?
If this is what coming out is like - mind boggling migraines every other day - she isn’t sure she still wants it. Of course, she’s intelligent enough to know that’s not something you can just erase or forget at your own convenience.
Her internal monologue is interrupted by Bernie’s entrance. She looks a bit pale and her face is contorting. A look that Serena knows by heart.
“Is your back bothering you again,” she asks uselessly while getting up and getting closer to Bernie.
“Yes,” her wince is so pronounced it’s almost audible, “apparently I really am too old to stand in front of an operating table for a whole night.”
“Daft woman,” Serena exclaims fondly, “why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because you’re just as tired as I am and we needed to eat. And, well - then Be - Bella arrived and - and -”
Serena frowns. “And what?”
Her tone is soft and in no way accusatory but still, Bernie feels bad.
“And I wanted you two to have a - a moment alone.”
She mentally rolls her eyes at her inability to speak without stuttering.
“Oh, Bernie.” Serena smiles tenderly, making her sit on the sofa. “You should never feel like you’re surplus to requirements when Bella is present.”
“But she’s your g - girlfriend. She should take precedence over me.”
“Let’s not get carried away, shall we. We’ve only been seeing each other officially for a few days. It’s still a little too … fresh, for her to take precedence over anyone, let alone my best friend.”
That statement makes Bernie grin, her eyes crinkling in the process.
“Now, let’s see about that back of yours, shall we?”
“Um, are you sure?”
“What do you mean,” Serena asks with a frown.
“Well,” Bernie answers, blushing, “should you be touching me when -”
“When I have a girlfriend?”
Bernie nods and Serena immediately bursts out laughing.
“You do realise you’re being ridiculous, don’t you,” Serena asks, slightly breathlessly and Bernie suddenly finds her trainers very interesting.
“I don’t know, I just -”
“Shush, you just turn around a bit and we’ll sort you out in no time, like we usually do. We can’t have the world’s best trauma surgeon out of commission, now, can we?”
“Oh, I’m the world ’s best, now? Earlier I was only the country’s best.”
Bernie snorts again, but the sound is cut short by the sensation of Serena’s fingers on her skin. Now, she’s always loved Serena’s massages - the care she takes and how she takes her time to make sure that every knot in Bernie’s back is perfectly loosened - but obviously, it takes a whole new meaning now that she is aware of the real depth of her feelings.
Before, she would enjoy the contact like any normal human being would, it was pleasant and relaxing and a soft warmth would spread through her whole body.
Now though, now she has to make sure she doesn’t enjoy it too much, that she doesn’t let her mind wander with the love and desire flowing freely through her and that she doesn’t let her breathing get out of control.
It’s an assault to her senses. One that is equal pain and pleasure.
She just lets her head fall forward, doesn’t make a sound and is so focused on herself that she doesn’t realise Serena is in the same kind of predicament.
For a good fifteen minutes, she rubs Bernie’s lumbar region, her hands directly on the skin.
She’s completely silent. And if Bernie were to look at her she’d see that her face is closed, her lips in a thin, grim looking pout and that her eyes are watery.
When she’s done, she mechanically rearranges Bernie’s scrub top over her back, pats her gently on the shoulder before leaving the room with a strangled murmur.
It takes a while for Bernie to find Serena.
Firstly, she isn’t sure what is happening, how Serena got from her usual bubbly self to this - empty shell are the words that come to mind. Needless to say though, she’d better not find out that this Whittaker woman was the cause for this sudden change because, board member or not, there’d be hell to pay.
Secondly, she isn’t sure that Serena would want Bernie herself to come find her. If everything is going well with her new relationship, Serena might prefer to talk about whatever is wrong with her girlfriend. She might even have texted her already, so Bernie could potentially be barging in on a private conversation.
Not something she wants to think too much about.
And thirdly, the roof is, for some reason, the last place she checks when she goes in search of Serena. Her best friend generally prefers the comfort of solid ground rather than the airiness of the building’s top level.
Thus, when she finally claps eyes on her, a good half hour has gone by. She immediately regrets debating with herself for so long when she hears the gut wrenching sobs coming out of Serena, and the effect they’re having on her body.
She’s half sitting, half squatting on the metal stairs quite a few paces away and she’s holding her arms tightly around herself.
The image breaks Bernie’s heart to the point that she just stops thinking and sprints towards her. Sitting next to Serena she gathers her balled up form and crushes her to her chest, instinctively rocking back and forth.
For a few long minutes, Bernie mutters nonsensical reassurances, rubbing Serena’s back and kissing her hair repeatedly.
After quite a long while, Serena starts calming down and her hiccups and sniffles disappear little by little. Bernie doesn’t stop cuddling her, her hands leaving warm trails over Serena’s shirt. She doesn’t pressure her to talk, to explain what happened, to clarify what left her in such a state.
When she finally hears Serena’s voice, the words she utters aren’t the ones she was expecting.
“I’m a terrible person.”
Before the words even register completely in Bernie’s mind, she gently pushes Serena away and holding her by the shoulders, asks her to repeat what she just said.
“I’m a terrible person.”
Serena’s gaze doesn’t move from the ground. Her face is obviously red and blotchy and her eyes are bloodshot and puffy.
“Why would you even say - or think for that matter - something so awful about yourself?”
“Because it’s true.” Serena says, hands fidgeting restlessly in her lap.
“No it’s not, you’re - what’s going on?”
Bernie’s voice is a mix of the tone she would use as Major Wolfe with an insubordinate subordinate and the one she would use as Mama Wolfe, while coaxing a confession out of her children when they were small.
“What is going on, Serena?” she asks again, even more softly.
“I did - I did something terrible.” It’s barely a murmur. “I mislead someone - I didn’t mean to! But I did. And - oh god! I feel horrible! Is it always like this?”
“Like what? I don’t understand.”
“Bella,” she exclaims as if that simple name would explain everything.
“What about - oh .”
Finally, Serena’s breakdown makes sense, and Bernie can hear her own heart shatter in slow motion, like when you step on a frozen lake and the ice isn’t as thick as you thought.
“You realised you don’t like women after all.”
She sounds dejected and Serena mistakes her tone for disgust, her distressed mind having taken only half of what Bernie said.
“You see, even you think I’m awful.”
“What? No, Serena. You’re allowed to change your mind. You were genuinely interested in Bella, you didn’t go into this for the fun of it and if now you realise that dating women isn’t for you then -”
She stops talking because Serena suddenly lifts her wide-eyed look towards her.
“What? I didn’t say anything about not dating women, I’m talking about Bella.”
It’s clear now that, probably for the first time since they met, they’re not on the same page at all.
“Wait, I think I’m missing something here,” Bernie tries. “You still want to date women? But not Bella?”
“Yes - no, I - yes!”
“Okay, deep breaths.”
She inhales slowly, waiting until Serena imitates her before exhaling. They do this several times before Serena feels ready to talk calmly.
“I like Bella, I really do. She’s kind and easy to talk to. And she’s beautiful, obviously.”
“And I really liked kissing her but -” She stops and sighs loudly.
Serena tilts her head thoughtfully, watery eyes looking at Bernie.
“I can’t,” and her voice breaks on the second word before she once again gets up and goes closer to the edge of the roof, tightening the panels of her shirt around her.
Bernie follows her and tries to allay Serena’s fears, whatever they are. “You can talk to me. I won’t judge you whatever it is, you can tell me anything you want.”
If Serena is listening to Bernie, she doesn’t show it. So, again, Bernie grabs her - gently - by the shoulders and turns her so they’re face to face.
“Look at me. It’s me, only me. You can talk to me.”
Serena snorts at the irony.
“Yes, it’s you.” She admits, finally looking at Bernie.
Bernie who feels like she’s been transported in another dimension while she wasn’t paying attention because nothing, absolutely nothing in this conversation makes sense. Never once, have she and Serena ever had trouble communicating. And this, right here is so far from their usual standard she’s beginning to wonder if she’s even equipped to understand whatever Serena thinks is wrong with her, or better, to help her.
“What do you mean, it’s me?” Her frown is deep, and her arms fall back to either side of her body.
“I mean it’s you,” Serena counters with a humorless laugh.
“Right, can you stop talking in riddles, please.” She’s getting slightly annoyed now.
“I’m not, Bernie. I’m putting it as plainly as I can.”
After that, she stares knowingly at Bernie, waiting for her friend to catch her. And when she does, her face is so incredulous that she has to laugh.
“Now you’ve got it.”
And Bernie still looks at her as if she’s suddenly sprouted a second head.
“You - me? I -”
“Yes. And obviously, this epiphany waited until I was starting a relationship with another woman to make itself known. See why I feel so awful now?”
“It wasn’t your fault,” And Serena wants to bask in that certainty but she can’t, because it is her fault, and so she tells Bernie.
“No, it’s not. Until a few days ago, you weren’t ready to admit to yourself that you could possibly not be as straight as you thought. You just needed to make that first step before you could -” she makes a vague hand gesture, supposed to explain everything.
“Admit that I was actually attracted to my best friend? And very probably in love with her? That touching the skin of her back during an otherwise pretty mundane massage was more electrifying to me than kissing Bella?”
“Yes, that.” Then she actually, properly takes in what Serena just said. “Wait, you -”
Serena raises an inquisitive eyebrow.
“You’re in - in love, with me?”
“Yes you bloody great pillock! I don’t just go declaring things like that to people if I don’t mean it!”
“Alright, alright!” Bernie lifts her hands in a placating gesture. “Sorry, this is all a bit much to take in.”
“You’re not kidding.”
“Yes, sorry,” she answers with a wince.
“I guess this is where you tell me we can’t work together anymore,” Serena adds, resigned.
Bernie looks at her with horror-filled eyes.
“I don’t know, because you don’t want this kind of feelings getting in the way of our job and friendship, because you don’t see me this way, because -”
“Oh, no, that won’t be a problem.”
Serena looks at her knowing smile and blushing cheeks and starts to hope. When she frowns, Bernie figures she owes her an explanation.
“I had a bit of an epiphany myself last week,” she volunteers, one hand rubbing at the back of her neck, the other going in her scrub pants’ pocket. “To say it was a shock would be understating it wildly.”
“I know the feeling.”
“But I never - I never would have in a million years thought that you would reciprocate. And I was prepared to accept that - eventually, and with a lot of work.”
“Oh Bernie,” she groans, hiding her face in her hands. “What a mess I have made.”
She doesn’t know what to do or say so she follows her instinct and gathers Serena in her arms once more, allowing herself to savour the feeling a bit more this time - the way they fit together, the way Serena just naturally wraps her arms around her waist.
“I told you, you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s confusing for everyone.”
They rock silently from side to side, coming down from the emotionally gruelling high of the past half hour, before Bernie speaks again.
“We all do our best. Some of us muddle through slowly, some don’t. You did your best. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. Nothing to feel guilty about. Bella will understand. Because you took the time to talk everything through with her that first time. And because she’s most certainly been through at least some of this as well.”
“I wish I shared your confidence.”
Her words are muffled by Bernie’s neck and shoulder.
“I’ll give you some of mine,” Bernie counters tenderly.
“Alright,” Serena pushes away from Bernie. “I need to - to talk to Bella. God, I actually would rather eat glass than hurt her,” she adds while playing with her pendant.
“It will be okay,” she assures and coming closer she goes to cup Serena’s face tenderly but Serena stops her with a hand raised between the two of them.
“I need to talk to Bella before -”
She trails off but they both know what she was about to say. Before they can contemplate actually taking their relationship to the next level. Before they can actually touch each other more intimately than they usually would.
Bernie smiles tenderly.
“No need to thank me. I’ll wait for you in the office with some food,” she says, knowing Serena won’t want to wait to admit her perceived faults to Bella. “Or you can call me or text me, and I’ll be right there. Okay?”
Serena nods, her mind already focused on the coming conversation.
And with that, she leaves Serena on the roof. With one last look back over her shoulder, she sees her looking at the sky taking a few deep breaths.
Chapter 10: What happens now
Time to move forward.
In front of Bella’s office door, Serena takes another moment to gather herself. She really didn’t think today would turn out this way. She never even thought that they would have this conversation.
Obviously, they could have decided to go their separate way at some point in the relationship, for a lot different reasons. But never once Serena pictured herself telling Bella that they couldn’t see each other anymore because she had just realised that she was in love with her best friend.
She knocks firmly on the door and waits for Bella’s instructions to come in before doing so.
“Ah, Serena,” she greets her pleasantly.
Bella has always had very good instincts, so she has a pretty good idea why Serena is here now, which is why she doesn’t get up, a fact that Serena - in her present anxious state of mind - doesn’t even register.
“What can I do for you,” she prompts gently, her elbows on the armrest of her chair, her fingers intertwined on her stomach.
Serena doesn’t sit. Worse, she starts pacing back and forth her hand back on her pendant.
“Um - well, where do I - God this awful.”
She stops abruptly, and after taking a second to gather what inner strength and dignity she has left, Serena plants herself firmly in front of Bella’s desk, looks at her straight in the eyes and just rips the bandaid off.
“I’ve realised something today. Well, when I say I realised something, it’s more like the reality of things was suddenly too obvious for even my stupid mess of a brain to miss.” She exhales loudly. “I’m in love with Bernie. And I’m sorry because you must feel like I used you or something, and I promise it -”
Bella, lifting one firm but soft hand in the air, interrupts Serena’s babbling.
Serena just stands there, discombobulated. Bella has taken the wind from of her sails somewhat because she was sure she was going to have to explain herself at length, she had the whole speech prepared, more or less and then - this.
When she has picked her jaw up from the floor, Serena can’t help but ask how Bella could possibly have known when she herself only found out a couple of hours ago.
Bella laughs gently.
“Well, I’m sure the signs are more visible from the outside.”
“I’m sure they are,” Serena comments, full of sarcasm.
Deflating, she lets herself fall heavily into one the guest chairs.
“So, you’re not mad?”
“No. I won’t say I’m not disappointed, because I like you, but no I’m not mad. Like I said, I - well, I had an inkling, would be a more accurate wording.”
“God, I feel such a fool.”
She lets her head fall backwards.
“I know they say hindsight is twenty-twenty but I wish -”
“Stop beating yourself up, Serena. It’s not like you’d waited two months or two years before finally turning around and telling me ‘oh woops, sorry, guess I was wrong after all’. It’s been a week, and I haven’t fallen in love with you, so you didn’t break my heart or anything like that. Who knows, we might even become great friends after this.”
“I’d like that,” Serena says with a half contrite, half genuine smile.
Bella looks at her watch and gets up.
“Now, as I’m sure you know, the board is meeting in a short while.”
“Yes, yes, of course. I’ll leave you to it,” Serena answers while getting up and walking towards the door, Bella right behind her. “Thank you.”
With a smile, Bella asks if they can hug and Serena readily agrees.
“Do take care of yourself Serena.”
“As a matter of fact, take care of each other,” Bella adds with a wink before closing her office door behind Serena.
Coming back to the office, Serena is so completely exhausted she can’t even manage to feel lighter at having resolved what she saw as a big insurmountable problem. Closing the door firmly behind her, she sits heavily on the sofa and Bernie - who was diligently working on her computer - immediately joins her.
“That was - pretty quick, I thought you’d be gone longer.”
“Ha, turns out, I didn’t need to worry at all. She already knew.”
She lets her head fall on Bernie’s shoulder, the signal she was waiting for before she tried to put a comforting arm around Serena’s shoulders.
“Well I don’t know if she was talking about me, or us - didn’t think to ask - but apparently I’m as transparent as they come. She said that she had a feeling friendship wasn’t the only thing between us.”
“I want to go home,” Serena complains weakly and out of the blue.
Bernie wants to laugh but she figures it probably wouldn’t be too well received.
“I know, soon. Actually, and I don’t want to jinx it but I’m sure we’ll be able to leave fairly early considering we’ve been here for twenty eight or twenty nine hours straight.”
“Amen to that.”
“In the meantime, I’ve got you the next best thing.” She says, grabbing a cardboard box with the Pulses’ logo on it. “I figured you wouldn’t be in the mood for anything too heavy so I got you a Ceasar salad.”
“Oh bless you, that does sound good,” she admits grabbing the box and bamboo cutlery, earning another smile from Bernie. “What are you having?”
“Ham and cheese sandwich. I wasn’t really inspired,” she admits with a shrug.
After they’ve eaten, Bernie throws several furtive glances at Serena.
“So what happens now,” she asks when she notices that her sofa companion is well aware of what she’s doing. “I mean, no pressure or anything it’s just, this past week has been - no forget that, I’m being selfish.”
“You’re the very opposite of selfish. You’re so thoughtful, exactly what I’ve been looking for in a partner all this time. Which really shows you how blind I was until today …”
Serena grabs Bernie’s hand and mindlessly rubs her fingers over her knuckles for a while.
“And to answer your question, I don’t know.”
She looks up to find Bernie’s eyes.
“And not because - what I’m saying is, I’m exhausted, we both are, these past few hours have been a roller-coaster emotionally and I’m still not feeling too good about myself, about Bella and everything. So -” she stops talking and Bernie sees her eyes suddenly sparkling a bit more. “Actually, I’ve got a great idea. Jason’s out at the movies with Alan tonight, you could come round and we could watch some mindless TV and eat some nice take away. What do you think?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Bernie agrees, a nice happy glow suffusing her being.
Later that night, they’re in front of the TV watching Alan Davies and Sandi Toksvig’s antics on QI. Exactly the kind of witty and diverse show they need after the day - and night - they’ve had. The empty Chinese food boxes lay haphazardly on the coffee table, along with two tall glasses and a pitcher of water.
Usually on a night like this, Serena would already be on her second or third glass of Shiraz, but there is nothing usual about tonight, and she’s already fighting to keep the headache at bay, so drinking wine in this state would be extraordinarily ill advised.
For the third time in less than a full day, she finds herself comfortably ensconced in Bernie’s embrace and again, she wonders how she missed it before, this love between them. It’s always been there, in every grand and small gesture.
And now she thinks about it, she’s never spent any time wondering about the physical specifities of her female friends before. She certainly never tried to find the perfect words to describe Sîan’s hair color or the slope of her neck, the perfect curves of her cheekbones. She never blushed when her gaze stopped on a woman’s chest before, never contemplated - with no small amount of envy - the perfection of a pert bottom encased in skinny jeans.
Only Bernie’s ever evoked such thoughts. So really, she should have seen the glaring evidence and come to the obvious conclusion a lot sooner. But like Bernie said, she needed to be ready.
Sandi Toksvig’s laugh brings her back to the present. Contentedly, she rubs her cheek against Bernie’s shoulder.
“This is so lovely.”
She doesn’t speak too loud for fear of shattering this precious moment.
“It is,” Bernie agrees, dropping a kiss on Serena’s crown. This small attention is very quickly becoming a habit, a fact that neither women will complain about.
“Perfect,” Serena murmurs sleepily.
A minute later, she is effectively asleep, and Bernie soon follows her into dreamland.
It’s a little after ten p.m. when they wake up, startled by the sounds of Jason coming home.
They straighten up slowly, stretching and yawning. Bernie ruffles her hair, trying to engage her brain and Serena grabs the remote to shut off the forgotten TV.
“Auntie Serena, you’re still - oh, hello Bernie, I didn’t know you would be here tonight,” he remarks.
“Last minute invite, Jason.”
He takes in the scene - the leftover food and their exhausted appearances - and feels he should remind them they ought to go to bed.
“And we will, sweetheart,” Serena assures, taking over the conversation. “We fell asleep on the couch is all.”
“I see. Sleeping on a couch isn’t good for your back, Bernie.”
“Ha, we fell asleep sitting on the couch, so my back is fine. But thank you for worrying about me,” she adds with a warm smile.
“Auntie Serena says we should always worry about the well-being of the people we care about, and I care about you.”
He makes this statement in his usual straightforward manner, but still, Bernie can’t help the rise of emotion.
“I care about you too, Jason.”
Satisfied with that answer, he doesn’t give his auntie or Bernie the time to say or do anything else and informs them that he is going to bed.
They quietly bid him good night and watch him walk promptly towards the stairs. Stunned by his comment, they stay frozen on the couch for a few long seconds before Serena talks, her voice croaky.
“Well, today was quite the day.”
Bernie looks at her with her eyes wide, her mind still processing what just happened.
“Are you alright, darling?” Serena asks, gently grabbing Bernie’s hand.
The endearment rolled off her tongue without Serena consciously thinking about it, but she likes it, likes that it marks a tiny new step in their connection, in their relationship. And from the small - half embarrassed, half pleased - smile that Bernie gives her, she likes it as well.
“Yes, it’s just -” she breathes out softly in an effort to keep a cool head, “a lot to take in today.”
“I know. Which is why we’re going to follow my lovely nephew’s advice and go to bed.”
“For now,” Serena can’t help but add with a saucy wink, wondering where this sudden confidence is coming from.
Bernie bites her bottom lip, a dreamy look on her face and Serena doesn’t have to wonder anymore. She knows Bernie, probably better than she knows herself, and she trusts her, completely. She knows she doesn’t have to be afraid of anything with her, that they’ll work anything out, together, just like they always did.
“Come on. Before you’re too tired to drive.”
Getting up, still with Bernie’s hand in hers, she leads her towards the front door. There before Bernie even has the chance to grab her bag and light coat, Serena hugs her, almost fiercely, and she can do nothing but return it in kind.
After a minute, Serena releases her and opens the door. Bernie grabs her stuff, utters a quiet and warm good night and walks out, only to be stopped by Serena’s hand on her arm. Said hand tugs her back and she finds herself facing her lovely co-lead.
She doesn’t say anything, just waits.
Serena slowly raises a hand to cup Bernie’s cheek, her fingers gently mapping the contours of her jaw, cataloguing the softness of the skin before she runs a finger on Bernie’s bottom lip, seemingly transfixed by her exploration.
Her voice has a husky quality that gives Bernie goosebumps all over.
Her own voice cracks, her eyes focusing on the dark pink of Serena’s lips. She keeps her eyes open, watches Serena’s lids as they flutter closed. When the sensation of Serena actually kissing her is too much, she forgets about wanting to engrave this moment in her memory forever. She just feels.
She grabs Serena’s waist when the latter starts playing with her hair.
She tries to keep it relatively chaste, this is their first kiss after all and she doesn’t want to overwhelm her anymore today. Gradually, the intense kiss turns into small pecks before they each take a tiny step back, with big smiles on their faces.
“Sorry,” Serena laughs.
“Are you kidding? I’ve been wanting to do that for a whole week. At least.”
They look at each other before Bernie realises that she was actually supposed to leave. With one last smile and a final good night, she goes to her car, Serena staying on her front step until Bernie has completely disappeared from her view.
Chapter 11: Hello, you
Bernie and Serena slowly get used to their new relationship.
The next day, when Serena arrives at work - her shift starting two hours later than Bernie’s - she’s both shy and excited. She’s glad she was so utterly exhausted when she went to bed last night, otherwise she wouldn’t have managed to sleep a wink.
As soon as she sets foot on the ward, she looks around for Bernie and is quickly disappointed when Fletch informs her that she and Raf are in theater and should be there for another hour at least.
“Here,” he says, dropping a hefty pile of files and single paper sheets in her arms, “that should keep you occupied in the meantime,” he adds with a cheeky smirk.
Serena raises her famous eyebrow.
“Careful, nurse Fletcher. You wouldn’t want to get on my naughty list, now, would you.”
He snorts, his gaze full of mirth.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, boss.”
Serena laughs, turns and enters their office, letting the pile fall heavily on her desk before putting her stuff away and getting to work.
That’s how Bernie finds her when she’s finally done, hunched over three different sheets full of diagrams and several tabs open on her computer screen. The sight makes her smile, not only because despite what Serena might say, she loves her charts and numbers, and she clearly is in her element amongst them, but also because … well, it’s Serena, and she loves her and watching her. Simple as that.
Of course, the fact that they are now together, even if it’s terribly new, is a nice bonus.
Serena startles, not having heard Bernie come in, which makes her jump as well. One hand on her heart, Serena gently admonishes her.
“What have I said about wearing louder shoes?”
“Sorry. Sorry. I thought you saw me come in.”
“No,” she gestures towards what’s currently cluttering her desk before lifting her eyes back towards Bernie, “I was - oh.”
She stops and blushes, her eyes suddenly sparkling a little differently.
Serena shyly bites her bottom lip.
“It’s silly but for a second I - well, I forgot that -” she trails, her index finger travelling between Bernie and herself, and the latter can’t help the honk of a laugh that comes forth.
“I’m such a bad girlfriend,” Serena half jokes while rubbing her forehead, “I swear I’m not usually this - bad.”
She ends her comment a little bit dumbly, all at once miffed and amused at Bernie who apparently has a hard time getting her laugh under control. When she finally does, she looks at Serena, her gaze full of warmth, wonder and a little bit of something stronger, more dangerous. A little bit of something that tickles deep into Serena’s belly.
“Serena, Serena, Serena.”
Never before has Serena liked hearing her name so much. It almost dances on Bernie’s lips, sings in her ears and she likes that a lot.
“What am I going to do with you, hm?”
“Well, you could kiss me.”
Bernie tries to keep her smile from getting all predatory. In vain, if the twinkle in Serena’s eye is any indication.
“Oh believe me, there’s nothing I want more.”
She sits on the corner of Serena’s desk - papers and files be damned - and leans slightly towards Serena. They won’t kiss here, she knows that, but it doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun, test each other a little to know the limits of this new realm of theirs.
They’re still looking intently at each when there’s a light knock at the door, right before Fletch enters the room. The brief warning wasn’t enough and they didn’t have the time to rearrange either of their bodies or their faces, meaning that Fletch stops in the middle of his tirade and looks at them with a strange expression taking over his features.
They refuse to blush - and so does Fletch who has the feeling he’s effectively interrupted something - and Bernie asks him if he needs something.
“Uh, yes the -” he clears his throat, “that old bat in bed -”
He always admired how Serena could warn people not to push it - and even sometimes put the fear of God in them - just by calmly saying their name. Of course, it doesn’t have the same effect on him now as it did then, but still …
“What? She is. Always talking about how much she hates this and that, and how in her day-”
“Yes, yes, alright. What about her,” Serena asks, somewhat impatiently.
“She wants to discharge herself.” He lifts placating hands between him and his bosses. “Now, I’ve tried to tell her that it was a terrible idea, but she says she won’t take orders from a man nurse,” he adds, making air quotes.
A mischievous smirk illuminates Serena’s face at those, and she gets up, taking the file from Fletch’s hands.
“Well, if she hates having to deal with a ‘man nurse’, let’s see how she likes dealing with a ‘woman doctor’.”
A few hours later, Bernie’s sipping her coffee in the Peace Garden when the person currently occupying her thoughts appears as if materialising herself from Bernie’s daydream.
“A little birdie told me they saw you here, hope you don’t mind?” Serena starts, standing awkwardly a few feet away.
“Don’t be silly, what would I mind?”
“You’re allowed to have a moment to yourself without me crashing in.”
“I want you to crash in. I was hoping you would, actually,” Bernie counters, taking Serena’s hand and intertwining their fingers, making Serena smile in the process.
“Were you also hoping we would get back to our earlier conversation?”
Bernie turns slightly towards Serena, letting go of her hand and placing her arm on the back of the bench.
“I might have been.”
She likes that Serena immediately leans into her personal space, feels confident enough to do so without any real prompting.
“Hello,” Serena says softly, her lips mere centimeters away from Bernie’s.
Bernie’s the one closing the distance and this kiss, although it’s still very much exploratory is several touches more carnal than their first one. When she hears Serena moan, she instinctively puts a hand low on her partner’s opposite thigh, trying to bring her ever closer.
In the meantime, Serena discovers that the more she tries it, the more she absolutely loves letting her fingers play with Bernie’s hair. For some reason, she even loves the idea that she now has a partner with hair long enough for this particular activity.
Finally, before she completely loses herself in the sensation of Serena’s kiss - and lips and body and warmth and the vibration of her moans against her own lips - and before she pushes her further than she’s ready to go - or just enough to lay her back on the bench - Bernie pulls back the slightest bit, her forehead still connected to Serena’s, her hand still on her thigh - though a bit higher than earlier.
Serena licks her lips in a very automatic gesture that still manages to make Bernie feel even more breathless.
“Now, this is a kiss.”
“Hm, not bad, not bad.”
“Think we can do better,” Serena asks, amused.
“Well, wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?”
“No,” Serena answers, launching herself at Bernie with smiling lips.
Long delicious minutes later they part and Bernie can’t help but let her eyes wander everywhere.
“I really - I really love you, you know.”
This statement brings a really bright smile to Serena’s lips, her whole face illuminating with it.
“I love you, too.”
“Good - that’s good.”
A happy little tinkling laugh bubbles out of Serena.
“Yes it is.”
Again, her hand goes to Bernie’s hair, toying with the strands, familiarizing herself with the softness of it. She can already tell that this is going to become her new favorite past-time. She can also see that Bernie is thinking pretty hard about something, her jaw is moving slightly as if she wants to say something but isn’t sure she should.
“What is it?” Serena asks, bringing her out of her silent musings.
Bernie shakes her head slightly to get her hair out of her eyes, her hands far too occupied with respectively caressing Serena’s thigh and the nape of her neck.
“I was wondering if - if you’d like to have dinner with me? At my place? Not to - not to, well -”
“Have a tumble in sheets?”
“No - Yes! I know you’re not ready.”
Serena tilts her head slightly.
“No, I - Actually, I don’t - You’re probably right, although it doesn’t seem as frightening as it did with -” There she stops herself abruptly, not wanting to bring what she supposes is now her ex in this conversation and most of all, not wanting to cause Bernie anymore pain than she already did. “Before - it’s not as frightening as it was before.”
“You don’t have to censor yourself, you know. I can handle it,” she says with a tiny awkward smile.
“I know you can. Doesn’t mean I should rub it in your face,” she counters, with a quick peck on Bernie’s lips to prove her point.
“Yes,” Serena answers, pushing a few strands of Bernie’s hair behind her ear, “I’d like to have dinner with you.”
Her voice is soft and tender. Her eyes are sparkling.
“You’re so beautiful,” Bernie comments, reverently.
“And you’re gorgeous,” she offers, blushing but happy.
“So,” Bernie starts again and then clears her throat, “How about, Saturday night?”
“Good -” that’s the moment their pagers choose to remind them they have a job to do and can’t just spend all day making out on a public - if somewhat secluded - bench.
They look at their screens and get up hurriedly, walking towards the Wyvern Wing.
“Let’s say 6 p.m.?”
Serena nods with a small smile, her mind already on the task at hand.
Chapter 12: I have a girlfriend
Serena has an uncomplicated and yet surprising chat with Jason.
The next day, Serena is a bit nervous.
She was humming away happily this morning - earning an inquisitive look from Jason in the process - when a thought suddenly struck her.
Would she spend the night at Bernie’s? Could she spend the night at Bernie’s? Share a bed with her, even if as she said, she isn’t exactly ready yet to take things to the last - shall we say - base?
She might still like falling asleep and waking up in Bernie’s arms though. Or with her in hers?
Her internal questioning makes her fidgety enough for Bernie to notice and when they’re talking to their brand new patient, a kind man awaiting surgery, she directs her to the office and makes her sit on the sofa.
Bernie herself leans back against Serena’s desk, legs crossed at the ankles and arms crossed tightly over her chest.
“What is it?” she asks gently but nervously. “Have you changed your mind? Or do -”
Serena’s answer is a resounding, vehement ‘ no ’.
“Bernie, darling, come here.”
She grabs the hem of Bernie’s scrub top and drags her to the sofa where she half sits half falls heavily on the cushiony surface.
“I’m not having second thoughts, quite the contrary. It’s just - I was wondering, well - I was wondering if maybe I should pack an overnight bag?”
It’s Bernie’s turn to raise an eyebrow and it makes Serena lose her cool.
“Oh God, what am I saying?”
“Relax,” Bernie gently prompts her, putting a hand on her knee.
“No it’s - I know it sounds like I’m moving too fast because technically we’ve only been together for a day or two but, I like being near you,” she explains, her thumb rhythmically rubbing Bernie’s wrist. “I always have, even when we were just friends and -”
“I like being near you too. And if you’re sure you’ll be comfortable sharing a bed with me, then of course you can stay the night. I’d love it actually.”
Relieved, Serena lays her head on Bernie’s shoulder.
“I almost asked you to spend the night with me, yesterday. Just to sleep, not - not -” she tries to add quickly.
“It’s fine Bernie.”
After a pause, Serena talks again.
“Actually, I’ve been thinking about it. Sex, I mean.”
“Well, color me shocked, Campbell.”
She lets out a graceless snort and earns herself a swat on the arm for her troubles.
“What I meant is - and I know I was only with Bella a short time and that it happened right after my epiphany - but, I could never picture myself having - sex - with her whereas with you, the idea is appealing for one,” there, Bernie can’t help smirking, “and I can actually see it happening, for two.”
Bernie is trying very hard not to let it show on her face what hearing Serena talking about sex is doing to her mind and body, trying very hard not to pin Serena to the sofa and find out what kind of sounds she makes under the spell of pleasure. Or, when she comes.
Not helping , she thinks wryly.
“Look,” Bernie says, summoning whatever strength she has to momentarily banish the very sensual images of Serena from her mind. “When you’re ready, just give me a sign. If you’re ready tomorrow, good. If you’re not, it’s good, too.”
“Why is everyone so patient with me?”
“Because we’ve all been there.”
Serena dips her head, trying not to think too much about the trials Bernie, Bella, Dom and everybody in the community has been or is going through. This though, makes her realise how easy she’s had it. She doesn’t have to suffer half as much as the others did.
Maybe it’s only because it’s very new and nobody really knows about it yet, although she’s pretty sure their friends on AAU have sensed a change, if the not so subtle looks they’ve both been receiving are anything to go by.
Maybe it’s because she’s surrounded by people who aren’t afraid or disgusted by anyone or anything representing the LGBTQ community, who truly don’t care about the gender of the person she loves as long as she’s happy.
Or maybe they’re just scared of what she might do to them if they tried to be arseholes about it.
Whatever the reason, she should enjoy that easiness and that luck.
“So,” she smiles, “tomorrow evening, 6 p.m. with bells on. And with an overnight bag.”
A sudden thought strikes Bernie.
“How are you going to justify that to Jason?”
“The usual way. By telling him the truth.”
Bernie purses her lips.
“Do you want me to be there with you?” she asks.
“No darling, it’ll be much easier if it’s just me and him.”
A shy and pleased look blooms on Bernie’s face.
“I like it when you call me that.”
Serena looks briefly through the windows around their office, and when she’s sure nobody’s looking in their direction, or even near them, she grabs Bernie’s face and plants a short but intense kiss on her lips.
“Good, because I love calling you that.”
And getting up, she opens the door and leaves the office, only the sound of Bernie’s laugh following her.
That same night, it’s dinner time and Serena is a bit silent. Actually, Jason has basically been talking to himself all night, right from the moment he came to find her on the ward at the end of their day.
He did notice that Bernie and his auntie were murmuring and glancing towards him briefly, but he doesn’t know exactly what it means. He can see when people’s facial expressions change but he’s never been really good at telling what they mean.
“Did I do something wrong, Auntie Serena?”
Serena almost jerks awake, lost in her thoughts as she was.
The funny thing is, she’s not worried. Telling Jason that she is now dating Bernie really isn’t nerve-wracking. She knows he won’t be nasty, like Elinor will. She knows he won’t try to sully the beautiful thing that she found with Bernie, like Elinor will. And she knows he won’t try to make her feel stupid for suddenly falling for a woman - won’t snarl about a mid-life crisis - like Elinor will.
No, really, talking to Jason about this new development is a walk in the park compared to what’s waiting for her when she finally has strength to inform her lovely daughter that she is not single anymore.
The only problem is, she can’t find the words.
Jason is very far from stupid but all the little personal intricacies like sexual orientations are a bit of a mystery to him. That and she doesn’t know how well he’ll take to Bernie being more present in their lives. Or how he’ll react when Bernie’s presence will inevitably entail on his careful planning.
“Did I do something wrong?” he asks again, bringing her out back to reality a second time.
Serena immediately grabs his hand.
“Oh no, sweetheart, not at all. It’s -” she clears her throat, “well I have something to tell you.”
“Are you getting back with Robbie?”
She’s a bit dumbfounded by his question. She hasn’t seen Robbie for over a year, hasn’t heard from him for almost as long and hasn’t even pronounced his name since then, as far as she’s aware.
“Why would you think -?”
“You’ve been acting differently lately. Both nervous and happy, you’ve been going out more -”
“No, Jason,” she interrupts him with a light chuckle. “I’m not back with Robbie, don’t worry.”
“Good, because he doesn’t like me. And I don’t like people who don’t like me.”
“And you’re right not to.”
“My mum always said not to waste time with people who don’t care about you. Even though it’s not always easy to know if they do or not.”
“That’s true as well,” she answers with an affirmative nod before getting them back on track. “As I was saying, I’m not dating Robbie again. But I am dating someone.”
“It’s not Ms. Fanshawe, is it? She’s kind but she’s too loud and she keeps looking at you in a weird way.”
At this, Serena can’t help an inelegant snort that makes Jason frown.
“Was what I just said, funny?”
“In a way, yes. But no, it’s not Ms. Fanshawe.”
Best keep to myself that the first person my nephew thought of when I told him I was dating someone was her , she thinks annoyed and amused all at once, or I’ll never hear the end of it .
“Is it someone I know?”
The frown hasn’t left his forehead but it is interest that animates him now, instead of wariness.
“It is. It’s someone you like actually.”
“Is it Mr. Hansen?” he asks, his eyes suddenly wide and a happy grin blossoming on his face.
Serena’s eyes are equally as wide but not for the same reason.
“What? No -” Jason’s face falls, “why would you even think -”
“I like him.”
“And I do too,” Serena admits, “but definitely not like that.”
“Is it Ric?”
“No,” she answers, shaking her head. And deciding that she needs to help things get along a bit she continues with a shy, “it isn’t a man.”
“Oh well, you should have said right away, that only leaves one possible candidate.”
“It does,” she wonders, curious.
“Yes. Bernie. She’s the only woman you truly like spending time with and you look at her almost like Ms. Fanshawe looks at you.”
Jason only nods.
“Right. Okay, then.”
“Is that all you wanted to tell me,” he asks, getting up and carrying his empty plate to the dishwasher.
“Yes, it’s - wait, you’re not - shocked?”
“No, everything makes sense now.”
He turns around and thoughtfully considers his aunt for a moment.
“You thought I would be shocked because you’re both women?”
“No - well, yes -”
“It doesn’t make a difference to me. And I don’t know why it makes a difference to other people.”
Considering the conversation over, he leaves the kitchen for the living room as a new episode of Countdown is about to start.
Serena is still sitting, jaw gaping and an astonished look on her face.
She thought it would be pretty easy, but definitely not that easy.
Chapter 13: You're who I want
The first official Berena date.
Saturday comes and Serena wakes up slowly, having managed a well deserved lie in. She stretches with a contented smile and luxuriates in her Egyptian cotton sheets while thinking about her program for the day.
First, a nice breakfast, the kind she very rarely has the occasion to enjoy. A strong coffee with the slightest hint of sugar. Maybe even soft scrambled eggs and tasty bacon. A slice of toast or two and a tall glass of orange juice.
Then, a glorious hot bath, warm and smelling of jasmine. A few candles - so what if it’s late morning, candles are great for the mood no matter the time of the day - and some soothing classical music.
After that, still only wearing comfy clothes, she’ll have a nice lunch with Jason - who will be back from the library by then - she’s thinking of making a salad, with some of those fresh, juicy vegetables she got delivered earlier in the week.
And finally, she’ll relax and pamper herself a bit more before getting herself and her overnight bag ready.
Satisfied, she gets up, opens the heavy curtains blocking out the light and smiles even wider when she sees the day is sunny and warm.
Bernie gets up at six, goes for a run to get rid of some of her nervousness. Comes back to her little house, showers and goes grocery shopping.
Then she eats a hasty lunch - some ready-to-eat ramen noodles that she likes - and spends the rest of the day watching TV. To be more precise, she leaves the TV on in the background while she does a bit of cleaning interspersed with reading some interesting articles in the Lancet - and some that make her eyes roll.
Efficiency though, isn’t her best quality in those moments. Her notes are mingled with silly doodles, lots of S’s and even Serena’s name once or twice. Her internet research leaves several open but untouched tabs on her laptop.
It’s after 4:30 p.m. now and she startles when she realises that she doesn’t even have an hour and a half left to prepare tonight’s meal and change her outfit - that she still hasn’t chosen.
She throws herself into a mad dash all over her open kitchen, trying to clear dirty dishes and detritus as she goes to save time.
When she’s done, the food gently keeping warm in the oven, she’s sweating.
Looking at her watch, she sees that Serena should knock on her door in less than twenty minutes and sprint towards her bathroom.
At 6pm on the dot, her doorbell rings and again she runs. She stops just short of reaching the door, tries to pat her hair down - in vain - and tugs on her black Oxford shirt. Satisfied - but also well aware of the fact that she won’t be able to look as presentable as she’d like - she opens the door and lifts her eyes up to greet her partner and invite her to come in.
The words die on her lips.
Serena is there, smiling in the soft light of early evening, a soft looking dress enveloping her curves from enticing mid-calf - enhanced even more by the heels she’s wearing - to inviting shoulders.
“H - hi! Wow, that dress is -” Bernie trails off, at a loss for words.
“Too much?” Serena asks, suddenly unsure. She didn’t want to look like she was waiting or hoping for something. She also didn’t want to look like she was going to a simple dinner at a friend’s.
“No, no! You look amazing,” her partner assures her readily, gesturing that she should come in.
Once the door is closed, they stand face to face in the corridor and Bernie takes Serena’s hands in hers.
“You really do look amazing. I wasn’t prepared,” she says with a chuckle.
“You don’t look too bad yourself,” Serena counters, taking her time to appreciate Bernie’s outfit, Bernie’s silhouette. Bernie.
When she’s done, she leans in and bestows a long, slow kiss on Bernie’s lips. She didn’t put any lipstick on just for this reason.
“You smell good,” Serena comments huskily, sliding her face down into Bernie’s neck, nuzzling the warm skin she finds there.
Bernie’s arms snake around Serena’s waist, bringing her closer. She kisses the tip of her ear and, fearing that speaking too loud - or even at a normal volume - would break the spell, she murmurs to Serena that she missed her.
It’s probably silly, they saw each other yesterday after all, but she did miss the feeling of Serena right next to her, in her arms or just a quick glance away.
When they’ve both had their fill of each other - for a while at least - they both step back and Bernie leads them to the room working as both her kitchen and her living room.
In the middle, Serena sees that Bernie has dressed the table with nice silverware and crystal glasses - all probably inherited from her mother - and has even added a couple of red chandelier candles. This detail reinforces the idea that this is undoubtedly a date.
When they were just friends, they never bothered with things like that.
“Hope a roast chicken is alright?” Bernie asks, bringing Serena out of her reverie.
“I’m not here for the food, darling,” she gently admonishes in return.
Bernie stands frozen with the dish in her hands and looks at her with surprise and not a small amount of desire etched on her face. A fact that Serena doesn’t miss.
“I’m not here for that either …” She says with a small apologetic smile. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Soon, though,” she adds, sensing Bernie’s slight disappointment.
“Serena, how many times will I need to tell you that it’s alright? You’re more than allowed to be nervous about being with a woman for the first time. Especially since you thought you were straight all your life.”
She puts the food on the table and they each choose a chair to sit on. While laying her napkin on her lap and presenting her plate to Bernie, Serena can’t help but mull over Bernie’s words.
Is she really nervous? And if so, is it about having sex with a woman? Or having sex with Bernie?
They’re friends now, but it wasn’t always the case. The first few weeks with Bernie around were tense.
She did like having a female colleague to manage the ward with, but Bernie was … wild, so used to working on the front-lines with minimal resources and with the blood of her comrades in arms flowing even more quickly than time did.
Serena had to tame her a bit. Remind her that she wasn’t the queen of the desert anymore.
The hurt look on Bernie’s face when she had said that will haunt her for the rest of her life. She had apologized - profusely - and they had talked at length, in their office first and when their days were done, in one of the quieter corners of Albie’s.
After that day, AAU had started running so smoothly, Hanssen himself had come on the ward to praise them in his singular way.
Their friendship evolved and strengthened rapidly from then on. They started spending more and more time together, in and out of the hospital, with Jason or alone, and now …
Now they were working on becoming a couple. Something that, until yesterday, Serena hadn’t even considered.
By this point, Bernie was a constant in her life, which is why she never really took into consideration why she might rely on Bernie’s presence more with each passing day or that her feelings were evolving with the relationship.
And this, right there, is the reason she was putting a bit of a hold on tonight’s proceeding.
Everything has been going so fast already and she feels they need to slow things down a bit. Not because she’s nervous as Bernie thought, and as she wondered herself for a while, but because she knows what it’s like to skip the steps by the dozen.
Edward is the perfect example of that. She can’t regret having ever met him completely because she got her precious - and yes, difficult - Elinor out of it, and also because she learned a lot from that particular experience.
Watching Bernie, with her dipped chin and her shoulders bunched around her ears, Serena doesn’t need to be as smart as she is to see that her Big Macho Army Medic is actually the one who’s tense.
Probably because she’s got it in her head that she’s not what I want , she thinks.
Another reason to slow things down a bit, to make sure every new step they take is on solid ground.
Her fingers find Bernie’s hand, stopping her in her tracks before the poor woman tortures herself even more with anxious thoughts of Serena wanting to go back to the way they were.
“I’m not nervous, Bernie.”
She didn’t intend to make her voice sound so stern - in a ‘stop making yourself sick by imagining the worst’ kind of way - but it happened so she rolls with it.
Bernie still isn’t looking at her so Serena puts a finger under her chin, leaving no other choice for her partner but to lift pleading eyes towards hers.
“And I’m not unsure either.”
Her tone is gentler and the smile that now curls her lips is teasing.
“It is precisely because I’m very sure of what, and who, I want that we need to take the scenic route.”
“Instead of going a hundred miles an hour on the M5,” Bernie jokes, a grin finally making its way onto her beautiful face.
“Hm, exactly,” Serena answers, looking at her fondly.
Using this moment of restored calm and serenity, Bernie finishes serving the food while Serena takes it upon herself to pour them both a generous glass of wine.
They eat the simple but delicious food and sprinkle a bit of conversation about several mundane topics. Their looks start regaining their earlier warmth, their bodies relaxing once more.
Later, with the leftover food stored away in the fridge and the kitchen clean, they take their glasses and settle comfortably on the leather sofa. Unlike every other night they’ve spent at Bernie’s house, neither of them favour the ends of this big and spacious piece of furniture.
Serena sits in the middle. Bernie sits with her back to the sofa’s armrest and as soon as she’s situated, Serena slides closer and puts a hand on Bernie’s raised knee, her thumb going around in a soothing manner.
Bernie grabs her iphone and puts it on the dock sitting on the small table near her end of the sofa. She chooses a jazz playlist on Deezer - something Cameron talked her into, installing it on her phone and showing her how it all worked before she even had the time to take a breath.
The soothing but intimate notes of saxophone and cello are perfect for the evening.
“Do - uh, do you want to talk?” she asks, looking into the depth of her wine.
“Not exactly, no,” Serena answers teasingly. “Do you?”
“I’m glad you’re - I’m glad you’re here, with me,” Bernie says, putting an emphasis on the last two words. “It feels - well, it feels almost miraculous.”
Serena immediately closes the distance between them, one hand supporting her weight on the sofa near her partner’s hips, her other hand going around Bernie’s waist. She gently nuzzles into her neck - it is quickly becoming her new favorite spot, especially since Bernie seems to be so sensitive just there - before leaving small kisses on the area.
Her goal is not to arouse, only to show love, affection and tenderness. She trails more of those tiny kisses, on Bernie’s jaw, her cheek and her nose. When she’s done, she gently rubs their noses together and finally, lets their foreheads rest together.
They’re in their own bubble, even more so than when they were seated a couple of feet apart at the table. The music keeps playing, song after song, lulling them into a perfect peacefulness.
After several songs - although neither of them would be able to say exactly how many - they separate and Bernie asks Serena if she changed her mind about staying the night, since she came in without a bag.
“And miss the opportunity to snuggle with you in a big comfy bed? I think not, Major.”
The way Serena says her rank gives a shiver to Bernie that she can’t quite control.
“I left it in the boot of my car,” she says again, “didn’t want it to ruin my entrance.”
“And it was quite the entrance,” Bernie agrees, her eyes drinking up Serena’s shape.
“I’m glad we agree.”
Bernie can’t - and doesn’t want to - wait any longer before she kisses Serena. It’s been a good two hours since their lips last touched in the corridor and she needs it, right now. Serena was apparently still very focused on her bag, waiting patiently for her in her car, because she falls backwards with a surprised yelp when Bernie lunges at her.
She lays on top of Serena, kissing her fiercely and touching her neck, her cheeks, her waist and making an almost inhuman effort to keep her hands from straying too much.
“Hmm,” Serena purrs, tearing her lips away from Bernie’s.
Grinning wildly, Bernie lets her head fall on Serena’s shoulder. Kissing Serena is easily in her top three favorite things in life. She smiles even more when she feels her partner comb her fingers through her hair.
When they are both able to breathe normally again, Bernie pushes on her hands just enough to get her upper body away from Serena’s tantalizing torso but - and she could blame the fog of desire for not predicting that little fact - bringing their hips even closer.
“Why don’t you get your bag while I start locking up.”
Serena nods, and with one last peck, they both get up from the sofa. They both move quickly, eager to finally settle for the night.
When Serena approaches the bed, feeling both confident and a bit silly in her fancy satin pyjamas, Bernie is already lying down on the right side of the bed, legs crossed at the ankles, fingers crossed behind her head, bold RAMC letters visible on her tee-shirt.
The grin on her face is giddy and the look in her eyes says it all.
“Get in,” she says, lifting the left side of the duvet when it’s clear that Serena is waiting for the green light.
And now that she has it, she doesn’t waste any time and slides herself under the soft duvet, immediately bringing it over her shoulders while turning towards her partner. A partner who’s still propping herself up on her elbow and looking down at Serena with a smile full of longing, love and even wonder.
“Here we are then,” Serena starts, placing a hand under her head.
“Well, it’s not bad but I’m sure I’d be much comfier with your arms around me,” she observes, a cheeky eyebrow raising to emphasise her point.
It all makes Bernie chuckle and she diligently lowers herself, laying on her back before gathering Serena in her embrace.
“Definitely better,” Serena comments happily, her head on Bernie’s shoulder, an arm around her waist.
Contented sighs are heard, thumbs and hands caress soothingly and gentle kisses are exchanged before they both fall in deep slumber.
Chapter 14: It was hot
Things are heating up a bit.
The next morning, Bernie wakes slowly and not because of the sun coming through the slight gap between the dark, thick curtains, but because she feels uncomfortably warm. For the first few seconds, she’s confused - did she turn her heating system on by mistake? Or is this the first sign of menopause?
She’s just spooning Serena.
They’re joined from heads to toes, made almost one under the safety of the duvet. Bernie has an arm slinked around Serena’s waist and she grins and blushes all at once when she realises that her hand is moulded to the warm skin of Serena’s stomach, just under her breasts. Her nose is buried in that perfect spot between her partner’s neck and her shoulder.
And Serena is heat incarnated. It’s almost coming off her in waves, hence Bernie’s discomfort. But she can live with it if it means she wakes up so intimately pressed against the woman she loves and adores.
She lies there, enjoying her first wake up call with Serena, until the heat really is too much to handle and she has to get out of there. She goes down to the kitchen, prepares some coffee and the croissants and jam she had bought specifically for their first breakfast in bed.
Platter full of good things, she treks back up to her bedroom, settles it on her dresser and opens the curtains.
The room is suddenly flooded with the bright morning light, a fact that Serena isn’t exactly fond of, if the grunt that comes out from the lump in the bed is any indication.
Bernie sits on Serena’s side of the bed, near her hips and her hand automatically goes to gently brush her cheek and chin.
Bernie’s voice is still hoarse from sleep and so is Serena’s when she greets Bernie, half grumpily, half jokingly.
“Tell me it’s past seven.”
“It’s past nine, actually,” Bernie counters with a chuckle.
“Good. You’ll get a kiss just for that.”
“How many kisses will I get for bringing you breakfast in bed?”
Serena’s eyes finally take in the delicious looking croissants.
“Is that coffee?” she asks with an interested sniff while sitting up against the headboard.
“Yes, strong and hot. Your favorite.”
Instead of answering, Serena decides she’ll express her gratitude with action. She grabs a handful of Bernie’s tee-shirt and drags her closer. Of course, Bernie is more than willing to go with the flow, especially when the end result is a warm and more than welcome crush of upper bodies and lips.
After a minute or two - or maybe five - Serena gently pushes her away. Her eyes are still closed, her cheeks are a charming pink and she’s licking her lips.
Her voice is now more husky than hoarse and Bernie jumps from the bed, grabs the platter and, sitting on her side of the bed - back not fully turned towards the headboard - she settles it between the two of them on the bed, crumbs be damned.
Croissants devoured, coffee drunk, and mouths and hands wiped clean, Bernie puts the platter on the ground near the foot of the bed before lying back and looking up at Serena.
“So, what did you want to do today?”
“I don’t know,” Serena replies with what Bernie would call an adorable pout, “Stay here,” she asks, hopefully.
“Oh? I’d have thought you’d want to have lunch somewhere nice, maybe even a bit further in the country.”
“I don’t want to have to share you with anyone today.”
Bernie frowns, knowing that Serena isn’t the possessive type and guessing there must be a good reason for her to state her feelings so boldly.
“I just -” Serena’s shoulders slump down when she realises that she’s not doing a really good job of explaining herself.
Looking at Bernie’s open but inquisitive face, she decides to lie down as well and they soon find themselves facing each other.
“We’re almost always surrounded by people, you and I. We rarely have a moment just for us. And today - today I don’t want that. Is that - is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay,” Bernie answers with a fond smile and a peck on Serena’s lips.
And Serena sighs again, out of relief this time.
“We’ll enjoy what’s left of the weekend and truly relax for once, just be lazy and do nothing outside of lying around and watching movies.”
“Sounds perfect,” Serena agrees, her face hidden in Bernie’s neck, her voice sleepy.
Bernie smiles fondly, realising that her partner is apparently very fond of the idea of staying in bed all day.
And why not , she wonders to herself. Surely, we deserve it .
With that in mind, she gathers the duvet and secures it around Serena’s shoulders and gets comfortable, ready for a day of tender peacefulness.
On Monday, Serena feels like she’s floating. Does even wonder for a moment - and the idea makes her snort giddily - if all this floating might lead her to fly off in an undignified flutter of limbs.
Since she’s at work - meaning, since she’s a consummate professional only focused on her patients, and also that she doesn’t want to have to field personal or downright inappropriate questions all day - she tries to contain the magnitude of her smiles and the bright happiness of her tone.
She feels good, incredibly good. About herself and about her relationship with Bernie.
She feels tingly all over when she thinks about her partner, and even more when she thinks of their goodbye kiss last night. She has to squash a naughty smirk at the memory.
It was … hot.
It had started innocently enough - a few warm but chaste pecks right behind the closed front door - but it quickly devolved into a mess of lips and tongues, Bernie pressing her firmly against said door. There were moaning, lots of it, and hands were everywhere at once. Bernie even felt confident enough to find the warm skin of Serena’s back under her blouse.
Serena for her part, had briefly considered forgetting about her resolution to take things slow and instead drag Bernie back to her bedroom but her reason had prevailed and she had left Bernie’s scalding hot embrace, albeit reluctantly.
The sound of some equipment falling to the ground brings her back to the present and she hopes against all hopes that her cheeks aren’t as red as they feel.
She gathers herself, rearranges uselessly the hair at the nape of her neck and leaves the nurses’ station.
Briefly looking up on the way to her office, she sees Fletch and Raf trying very hard not to grin and glance in her direction. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t want to fuel their teasing, and their gossip even less although she knows they’re two of the least harmful gossip-mongers in the whole hospital.
She wonders briefly if the rumour mill is already buzzing with the news of her relationship with Bernie, or even with Bella, and the subsequent evolution in her choice of partners. The mere idea makes chill run up her spine and tense her jaw and shoulders. She has to physically shake her head to get rid of those negative thoughts.
Nothing, absolutely nothing will ruin her cheery mood today.
No one, absolutely no one will ruin her new and so very precious relationship, today, or any other day.
It’s a little before six p.m when Bernie arrives to take over for the night shift.
Serena, occupied with admitting a patient that was sent from the ED, can almost feel her come onto the ward and so she lifts her head and stops talking.
Her hair is its usual mess, her cheeks are rosy and her eyes bright. She’s stunning and Serena wants nothing more than to kiss her senseless.
“Ms. Campbell,” Morven calls out, her curious frown contrasting with the shy tone of the question.
“Hm? Yes -” Serena clears her throat, “sorry. As I was saying Mr. Carter, we’ll wait for the results of the tests ordered by our colleagues at the ED and as soon as we know a bit more, we’ll send you for an MRI, alright?”
The young patient, a twenty something with bright blue eyes and an ungodly amount of freckles, gives a hesitant nod to both doctors and a nervous smile - more of a grimace really - to Morven when she gently pats his forearm.
Serena gives the file to the young doctor with barely a glance before darting towards her office.
Bernie’s coat and bag are on the coat-hanger but the woman is nowhere in sight.
After contemplating her next potential step for a moment, she exits the office and goes straight for the locker room where she does indeed find her delectable partner, who, sadly - or so part of Serena’s brain can’t help but think even though she’s fully aware of the fact that it wouldn’t exactly have been appropriate, all things considered - has already finished changing into her dark blue scrubs.
“Hello stranger,” Serena greets with her huskiest voice and her sauciest smile.
Bernie, who hadn’t paid much attention to the person who had come in, turns around in a flash. She finishes putting her hair in its usual tiny ponytail before greeting Serena in turn.
Her partner’s smile tells Serena that Bernie knows exactly what she has in mind. Like a predator stalking its prey, she approaches slowly, her eyes never leaving Bernie’s, her teeth bared in a downright naughty and voracious smile.
A thrill runs up Bernie’s spine, electrifying her whole body, right down to the very tip of her fingers.
“Missed me?” she asks, slightly at a loss for words but excited by the game Serena seems to be wanting to play nonetheless.
“I did,” Serena agrees, an index finger slowly climbing from the back of Bernie’s hand, towards her shoulder, over her collarbone, making a detour by the pulse point in her neck before finally - because at that point Bernie is both frozen in place and boiling with the heat Serena is waking up inside of her - ending at the back of her head where she grabs a fistful of hair, bringing Bernie’s lips to hers in a devouring kiss.
She backs Bernie against the wall of lockers, the force of their body weight against the metal making a tremendous amount of noise in the otherwise silent room. After that, only panting and moans and the wet noises of deep kisses can be heard.
When they finally come up for the vital activity that is breathing, Serena almost purrs and informs Bernie that she’s been thinking about this moment all day.
“I can tell,” Bernie replies fondly, still very much dazed by the force of Serena’s passion.
Serena is about to go back for seconds when the door handle rattles and they have less than half a second to jump away from each other and act as if they weren’t just about to make it beyond second base on hospital grounds.
Bernie can’t help but pout internally, hiding her disappointment at being interrupted behind the bad imitation of an amicable smile, aimed at the young trauma nurse who apparently came to change out of her scrubs.
And just when she was about to reacquaint herself with the warm skin of Serena’s back too, and maybe even to work up the courage to smooth her hands on the perfectly rounded and equally inviting shape of her partner’s behind.
Now she’ll have to spend the entirety of her already very uninteresting night shift with an intense frustration rattling about herself.
“Shall we, then?” Serena queries in her most professional voice. She briefly considered adding a ‘Ms. Wolfe’ at the end for good measure, but figured it would make things sound much too forced and awkward.
They adjourn their office and Serena informs Bernie of what has been going on during the day - patients, meetings, emails, more patients, more emails, more scheduling of endless meetings where people talk a lot but don’t actually do much - and of what she should expect. When that part of things is done, Serena fidgets slightly, tidies files that don’t need to be tidied, and tugs her pendant back and forth on its chain.
Bernie thinks fleetingly that her adorable partner would be terrible at playing poker.
She might be great fun at playing strip poker with, though , Bernie thinks with butterflies in her belly. Might be worth storing that idea away for later ...
“Look,” Serena starts, “what I wanted to tell you before - well, before you distracted me,” she adds with a wink, “is that -”
“Auntie Serena, you’re late and I don’t want to miss the World’s Strongest Man Special. I’ve been waiting for this episode for weeks now.”
Serena closes her eyes and takes a deep breath while Bernie smiles both at Jason’s enthusiasm and her partner’s deflating.
“Oh, hello Bernie.”
Looking at their faces, particularly his aunt’s, he can tell he’s done something wrong. His aunt always frowns when he does or says something wrong even though she never holds it against him.
“Did I interrupt a private conversation with your girlfriend, auntie Se -”
He stops abruptly when Bernie reacts quicker than is probably necessary to firmly close the door behind him, making sure that no one will eavesdrop.
“It’s alright Jason,” Serena assures him, gently rubbing his arm, “Bernie and I were only finishing our hand-over.”
“Good, can we go then?” he asks, more than ready to sit in front of his favorite TV show.
“Yes, we can. Let me just grab my coat and bag.”
Bernie, a hip leaning against her own desk, her arms crossed in front of her can’t help thanking what some might call her bad habit of always finding support on random pieces of furniture, because it is that precise habit that prevents her from toppling over under the shock of Jason’s next question.
“If you’re auntie Serena’s girlfriend, does that mean that you’re my auntie now, too?
Serena is equally stunned, only one sleeve of her coat on, the rest of the garment hanging uselessly about her body, some of it even acquainting itself with the floor.
Bernie’s jaw is still very much dropped when again, Jason feels he has made another blunder, but his aunt is quick to appease him.
“No, sweetheart, not all.” Her voice is trembling and she hopes her lovely and always surprising nephew doesn’t notice.
“You - you - you want me to -”
Her partner’s voice is broken when she finally finds her words and because she stutters quite a bit she tries to convey the rest of her statement with vague and nervous hand gestures.
“Deep breaths, darling.”
“Right, sorry,” Bernie answers before inhaling deeply and letting it go slowly. “You want me to be your aunt?”
“Well, you’re auntie Serena’s girlfriend,” and said auntie doesn’t have the heart or the energy really, to explain to him that they tacitly chose the word ‘partner’ which sounds more adult than ‘girlfriend’, “so that’s means that you’re family now.”
It is said in his usual practical way, without fuss. He is just stating the obvious. Something people should do much more often as far as he’s concerned.
“Uh - well, I - I’d be honored, Jason.”
“Good, that’s settled, then. We need to leave now.”
Just as he’s about to turn around and leave, Serena stops him.
“One last thing before we go, love.” She looks at Bernie before continuing, “we’d like to keep this -” she gestures between herself and partner with an index finger, “to ourselves, for now.”
“Yes, which means that until further notice, you can only call me Auntie Bernie when we’re alone.”
Sensing a question coming, Serena takes over.
“You see, mine and Bernie’s romantic relationship is very new as you know, and we’d like to enjoy this newness and work some things out between ourselves before we make everyone aware of the change - the shift in - in this relationship. Alright?”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Thank you,” Serena responds fondly with a one-arm hug. “We can get you home now that everything is clear,” she adds with a smile.
“Have a good night then, Auntie Bernie.”
This simple statement brings a bright smile to Bernie’s face and Serena falls a little bit more in love.
“I’ll wait for you at the car, Auntie Serena, so that you two can have a private moment. Don’t take too long.”
And without waiting for an answer from either woman, he exits the office, his aunties looking at his retreating form fondly before the fact that they are alone once more resurfaces in their minds.
“I’d really like to kiss you,” Bernie states quietly, looking at Serena’s lips with longing.
“I know the feeling,” Serena counters in the same manner. “Look, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about. How would you like to have dinner at mine tomorrow night?”
Against her own will, she takes a tiny step closer to Serena, making her partner shiver in the process.
“Sounds good to me.”
Serena is tempted, so tempted to let her have her way. To let Bernie kiss her right here, right now, with the door open and to hell with the consequences. But she values her privacy way too much and anyway, if she started now, she wouldn’t be able to stop.
Or at the very least, she’d take so much time to muster the strength to wrench herself away from Bernie’s lips that all she’d end up with is a very cross nephew. Well, that and a very dissatisfied libido.
“I really should go,” Serena says, blinking rapidly as if trying to stay focused on the reality, and more precisely on the reality of an impatient Jason waiting for her in the car park. “Text me. If you get bored. Or something,” she adds, discreetly brushing her fingers against Bernie’s before leaving with a last look - full of love and, yes passion - over her shoulder.
Chapter 15: I hope you never will
Dinner date at Serena's.
When Bernie arrives at Serena’s door the next day, she’s as put together as she can be under the circumstances.
Her night had been hectic, not only because of the two massive trauma victims they had to admit right after midnight, but also because she had to operate on one of those victims with none other than Jac Naylor.
Working with Jac Naylor never is a problem in itself. She’s a consummate professional, an expert in her field and she knows what she’s about.
Nevertheless, being confronted for more than four hours by her iciness isn’t what Bernie would think is the best way to pass time, especially in an already pretty quiet operating room, and especially not in the middle of the night.
Hence the quick breakfast, consisting of leftover pineapple and ham pizza - once she had managed to drag herself home, a little after nine - and the longer than anticipated nap.
Serena, for her part, had spent the day flitting around the house, making sure everything was perfect.
She wasn’t nervous, not anymore. She was impatient, and excited. Very excited.
The food was ready, and that was the easy part since she didn’t have to prepare it herself but rather have it delivered. It was Italian food from a very nice restaurant in town that also had an extensive wine list. A place she often visited with Bernie.
When the doorbell rings, she startles, the match she was using to light the candle on the dining room table narrowly missing her other hand. She extinguishes it quickly before going to the front door.
She spares a brief look towards the mirror in the entryway, fluffing her hair a bit, straightening her collar some more, and finally opens the door.
“Hi. Hello,” Bernie says, before clearing her throat shyly.
She didn’t expect Serena to appear right as she was trying, unsuccessfully, to get a few wrinkles out of her relatively new pale pink fitted shirt.
“Forgot to iron it, did you?” Serena asks, in amusement.
“I might have.”
“Why am I not surprised?” she wonders with a chuckle.
“Are we going to have dinner on your front door step?” Bernie counters with a good natured grumble.
“We could, but my chairs are much more comfortable.”
With a tilt of her head, she indicates to Bernie that she should come in. Once she’s inside, and Serena has firmly closed the door behind them, she interlocks her fingers with Bernie’s and drags her partner to the living room, where an open bottle of Shiraz and two glasses are waiting for them on the coffee table made of an equally rich red exotic wood.
She pushes Bernie slightly into the sofa, and the poor woman - not that she’s complaining - doesn’t even have the time to try and get out of her coat before Serena’s lips are on hers.
A couple of minutes later, Serena lets her go with a cute and apologetic smile. Helping Bernie get out of the cumbersome garment, she admits timidly that she can’t seem to be able to stop herself.
“From kissing me as soon as you lay your eyes on me?”
Serena nods, her eyes on the wine she’s pouring.
“I hope you never will,” she states seriously, taking the wine Serena’s handing her.
Eyes firmly locked, they clink the glasses, seemingly agreeing to tacitly drink to the longevity of their relationship, maybe even to its eternity.
They stay silent for a moment when something suddenly occurs to Bernie.
She looks around as if trying to see if he, or any traces of his presence, are hiding somewhere in the room.
“He’s at Alan’s,” Serena replies before taking a big gulp of her drink and putting her glass back on the table. “And, before you ask, it was scheduled this way since last week I think, or maybe even the one before. But I can’t say that I’m mad about the timing,” she adds with a tiny smile.
“Oh,” Bernie enquires with a frown.
“Well, when I - when he interrupted me last night, what I was trying to say is that, I’m - I’m ready.”
Bernie has an inkling - more of an all encompassing hope, really - of where this is heading.
“Ready to - to take it further. With you.”
“Oh, I think I got that from the way you pounced on me last night in the locker room,” Bernie replies, gently mocking her, earning a swat on the arm for her efforts.
“Can you blame me? When my partner is so bloody … hot.”
“Am I?” Bernie asks, genuinely surprised by this description.
Serena, sure that words wouldn’t work in this instance, only looks at Bernie slowly from head to toe, before locking gazes with Bernie and raising an eyebrow in a ‘what do you think’ manner that leaves no doubts at all on the matter.
“Right,” Bernie comments uselessly, blushing something fierce. “So, you want us to -” she trails off, trying and failing, to get back the upper hand.
Trying to get the upper hand from the Queen of flirtiness, really, Wolfe …
“Yes, only if you’d be agreeable to idea of -”
“Yes,” she exclaims, enthusiasm very clearly colouring her tone.
“I thought so.”
To describe Serena’s smile as saucy would be putting it mildly.
“Now,” Bernie asks, her tone now half excitement, half trepidation.
“No darling, I’m a civilized woman. I like having my dessert after my dinner, not before.” Seeing Bernie’s amused features, she can’t help but add, “Well, most of the time anyway. Sometimes I like having my dessert in the middle of the afternoon. And sometimes even right after I wake up.”
Bernie could sense her blood pumping faster and faster in her veins. She was sweating and rather than using her hands like she was craving to - namely by disrobing Serena none too slowly and making her come undone very quickly - she grabs her glass of wine with both hands and almost empties it in one go.
Not a smart move admittedly, and she’ll need to go easy on the wine for the rest of the evening, but for right now, it helps.
Until, that is, she sees Serena’s very smug face.
The dinner in itself is a delicious torment for Bernie and a delicious game for Serena.
It’s a torment because Serena is back to her old self, back in her element, back to being a downright outrageous flirt. But it's a game because Bernie tries to give as good as she gets. She isn’t standing a chance - not that she’s trying to.
Her thirsty mouth is drinking every drop of Serena’s husky voice. Her hungry eyes are devouring every inch of Serena’s silhouette. And her whole body trembles with barely restrained desire and anticipation every time Serena’s fingers flitter on her wrist, wipe the sauce off her chin, or even worse - better - map the contours of her thigh and knee under the table.
Serena is enjoying herself immensely. Even before their relationship evolved, she loved being in close physical contact with Bernie - which again, should have probably been a clue , she thinks ruefully - loved the profound friendship and trust it expressed but now …
She’s very fond of being able to say to Bernie that she loves her but she loves showing her even more. She’s very fond of being able to tell Bernie how much she’s attracted to her but she loves showing her even more.
And seeing Bernie’s response, be it on her face or all throughout and over her body makes it all the more rewarding.
“Alright?” Serena asks, the very tip of her tongue sliding slowly on her bottom lip, when Bernie chokes on her tiramisu.
“Y - yes,” Bernie answers, her voice hoarse both from the coughing and the heat of lust coursing in her veins.
“Good,” Serena purrs, leaning closer to Bernie, her eyes laser focused on her lips still slightly stained with chocolate.
“Are you -” she clears her throat, “are you always like this?”
Serena pulls back immediately, not sure how she’s supposed to take her partner’s question.
Bernie, seeing the sudden change in Serena, is quick to reassures her.
“No, no! Don’t misunderstand me. I - I like it.”
A tiny, shy smile blossoms on Serena’s lips. A smile that gets even bigger with Bernie’s following words; “I like it a lot actually.”
This time, she’s the one leaning over the corner of the table to kiss Serena. It starts as a tender proof of the veracity of Bernie’s statement and takes on a life of its own, becoming the embodiment of a passion that was, unknowingly and until recently, buried deep in the recesses of their minds.
Bernie pushes her chair back a bit and tugs on Serena’s hand, making her stand up to finally sit astride her lap. Serena molds her upper body to that of her partner’s, massaging her shoulder, scraping her scalp and grabbing her hair as their passion mounts.
Bernie finally enjoys the pleasure of caressing parts of Serena’s body that were off-limits until now.
She’s always admired Serena’s curves. Her enticing bosom, her alluring hips.
Serena is a siren and her body is her song, making Bernie crash helplessly on the delicious shores of desire.
She just can’t - and doesn’t want to - resist the temptation of sliding her hands over her partner’s bottom, hungrily mapping the generous expanse of flesh, fingers digging in almost possessively, bringing Serena’s hips even closer, encouraging her to start grinding into Bernie’s lower belly.
They’re lost now.
Lost in the sensations they evoke in each other.
It’s so strong, so intense. So hot.
Moans, sighs and even groans fill the room.
But Serena is a woman of many appetites, and she wants more. Needs more.
More of Bernie’s skin.
She needs the weight of Bernie’s breasts in her hands, to know what it feels like to be pressed against a body as soft as her own.
She needs to know how well they fit together, what Bernie will feel like around her fingers. Will it be the same as pleasuring herself, or is every woman different?
Does she make noises when she comes?
That thought alone makes her hips jerk against Bernie, an even louder moan escaping her.
“Okay?” Bernie asks, momentarily pausing their mutual exploration.
“Yes,” Serena answers breathlessly, as she rubs her nose against that of her partner. “But maybe we could take this elsewhere?”
“Have a place in mind, do you?”
Her tone is distracted because she just found a constellation of freckles right between Serena’s breasts.
Bernie’s attentions rapidly makes Serena lose her train of thought and she throws her head back, mouth open in a rumbling sigh, lust thrumming everywhere under and over her skin.
When Serena leans back a little too much and Bernie barely manages to avoid them toppling over, she tries again to stir them to a more comfortable and possibly less dangerous setting.
“Bernie, bed. Now,” she all but growls. Knowing about or imagining the many pleasures awaiting them is making her patience grow thin.
Serena stands up on legs a bit more wobbly than what she’s used to but it doesn’t stop her from tugging on Bernie’s hand - who thus has to get up quickly for fear of tumbling gracelessly at her partner’s feet - and dragging her unceremoniously to her bedroom.
Chapter 16: Ready?
Wednesday morning finds Serena woken up by the sounds of a heavy drumming against her windows. There’s a chill in the air and she automatically reaches for the duvet bunched up around her waist and brings it almost over her head to try and get rid of the goosebumps prickling her skin.
It takes her a few minutes to actually wake up and remember that she’s not alone, and more importantly, why she’s not alone.
That thought immediately makes her smile brightly, giddily.
The memories that come with it make her blush intensely.
A somewhat random thought crosses her mind at this point; clearly, she didn’t need to be so nervous about having sex with a woman.
Well , she amends, that’s not exactly true .
She didn’t need to be so nervous about having sex with Bernie.
They might have momentarily gotten out of sync with each other during those few days where she started seeing Bella, but they had definitely gotten back into it by the time they unceremoniously fell on Serena’s king size bed last night.
She pushes the duvet away again when the visions of Bernie, magnificent as she was riding Serena’s leg or of her shiny blonde - and by this time, definitely very messy - hair between her thighs make her overheat quite a bit.
The shift, or maybe the cold air seeping beneath the covers, seems to bring Bernie back to the land of the living at least in part, because there’s a slow movement coming from her side of the bed and a sound between a snort and sniffle.
The movement, or Serena supposes, the body comes closer until it’s actually spooning her, an arm going instinctively around her waist, bringing different kinds of warmth with it. All very pleasant warmths.
So pleasant in fact that Serena falls back to sleep in a matter of seconds, Bernie, who had never really woken up, snuffling quietly in her neck.
It is much later, in fact it is practically lunchtime when Serena wakes again, feeling very rested, something that hasn’t happened in a very, very long time. She can feel some drool at the corner of her mouth and she surreptitiously wipes it away before stretching satisfyingly, dislodging Bernie in the process, a Bernie who protests very sleepily with an undignified - if somewhat slurred - grunt.
“Sorry, sorry,” Serena exclaims immediately, turning around quickly as the duvet and Bernie’s proximity will let her in order to check her partner’s face and give it several quick but gentle kisses by way of apology.
“I might need to rethink this whole ‘sharing a bed’ thing,” Bernie comments, her voice full of sleep and gravel, “if all I get for my troubles is bruises.”
“That’s not what you were saying last night,” Serena counters, her index finger lightly dancing over a purplish mark on Bernie’s collarbone.
Serena shivers, but the cold has nothing to do with it. Bernie’s eyes have a dark glint swirling in them, mixing with the brown and making them all the more hypnotizing.
“Is it, now?” Serena asks as slowly, as Bernie rolls them and ends up on top of her partner.
She pushes back on her hands, gripping the sheets right by Serena’s shoulders, her eyes travelling leisurely all over the visible parts of Serena’s body.
“Do we even have time for -”, she stops, again distracted by the beauty of her partner.
“For,” Serena asks, flattered and amused.
“Hm, for -” Breasts, “for -” puckered nipples, “for-” goosebumps swirling all over her skin, “what were we talking about?”
Serena laughs, a great full laugh, making them both jump and jump on the bed. Bernie just watches, and smiles. If this is what happiness feels like, she’ll happily stay right where she is - meaning comfortably cradled between Serena’s thighs, thank you very much - for the rest of eternity.
“Oh,” Serena sighs, “that felt good. Well, not as good as last night obviously,” she adds while she wraps her legs around Bernie’s waist, “but it’s a very nice bonus nonetheless.”
Bernie answers with a very interested hum and a roll of her hips.
“And to answer your - unasked - question,” she continues with a smirk, “no, we don’t have time for an encore, sadly …”
Bernie rests her forehead on Serena’s collarbone, keeping her eyes closed for fear of being unable to resist the temptation of her partner’s full bosom.
“It’s in moments like this - not that I’ve had many of those, of course - that I regret having such a demanding job,” she states, her words muffled by Serena’s warm skin. Serena, who is gently, soothingly playing with strand after strand of Bernie’s hair.
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“I guess we should shower.”
“Separately,” Serena is quick to add, always - well, almost always - very aware of what Bernie’s thinking.
“Oh come on,” she says, cuddling even closer to Serena, hoping it will persuade her.
“Nice try, Major. But we have patients waiting for us. And junior doctors, and files and meetings and -”
“Alright, alright. I get it. No more fun,” she replies pushing away from Serena and lying on her back.
Her partner turns on her side, facing her and in a low voice tells her that they’ll get back to the fun as soon as they can.
“How soon?” Bernie asks, hopefully.
“Well, we’re set to finish at ten p.m. So you could come back with me, tonight and spend the night here,” she proposes, the back of her fingers caressing her arm.
“I’ll need to make a detour by my house then. I only brought a toothbrush and a pair of knickers with me.”
“I was wondering about that,” Serena says with a smile.
And she did wonder, if Bernie had left the bag in her car as she had done herself, or if she didn’t intend to spend the whole night at Serena’s, or maybe even if she intended to leave as soon as the sun was up.
Bernie starts plucking at the duvet, her eyes shyly avoiding Serena’s.
“I didn’t want to look presumptuous,” she says with a shrug.
Serena cups Bernie’s face so that she will look at her and kisses her softly.
“I’ll make room for you in one of the dresser drawers, and in the bathroom cabinet. You can put whatever you might need for a sleepover in there.”
“Really?” her partner asks in a small voice.
“Of course, my love,” she answers with a peck, her heart melting when she looks into Bernie’s bright and wet eyes.
They stay another short moment like this, sharing the tenderness and the caresses. Sharing the joy of this new milestone in their relationship.
It’s quick, but it feels right.
In her previous relationships Serena never moved this fast, but once again, none of what she’s sharing with Bernie is like anything she has experienced in the past.
“Come on,” she finally says, with an affectionate pat on Bernie’s hip, “you go have that shower and I’ll see if I can rustle up some lunch.”
“And coffee,” Serena nods.
Bernie gets out of bed and, knowing that Serena is watching - appreciatively biting her lower lip, more than probably - struts towards the bathroom. As soon as Bernie disappears, Serena shakes her head and getting up, finds her dressing gown and goes downstairs in search of food. And coffee.
Almost two hours later, they arrive at the hospital in Bernie’s car. She parks in her parking spot, powers the car down and turns around to look at Serena. A forearm, keys in hand, on the wheel, the other on Serena’s head rest, Bernie looks at her partner tenderly but seriously.
“So, how do you want to do this?”
Serena gazes at Bernie thoughtfully before casting an eye out of the car’s window, surveying the comings and goings in the parking lot.
As usual, there’s a lot of people milling about, hospital staff, patients or visitors. Paramedics and taxis.
People who will look at them, some with interest and curiosity. Some, though those will be of a rarer kind, with indifference.
“You don’t need to come out to our colleagues today. You don’t need to come out at all, if you don’t feel like it.”
She likes that Bernie is so understanding, although she hates that she herself had to learn those lessons the hard way.
“I never understood this need to come out . People shouldn’t have to advertise if their preference lies with same sex partners. Straight people don’t have to come out. You don’t see them shaking in their boots in front of their families, announcing with a trembling voice that they’re dating a person from the opposite sex,” she says, some disdain sipping into her tone.
“Age old argument,” Bernie agrees with a small smile.
“I’m not coming out,” Serena states firmly.
Bernie nods, a small smile on her lips and starts getting out of the car, only to be stopped by Serena’s hand on her thigh.
“I’m not coming out, but I’m not hiding either.”
At those words, an interrogative frown colours Bernie’s features.
“O - okay,” she says slowly, prompting Serena to explain her thought process with a little more detail.
“I’m not saying I’ll be parading around with the Bi-flag or whatever it is you call it, but I won’t hide my love for you.”
“Okay,” Bernie answers with a brighter smile.
“It would seem I was never able to actually hide it from anyone, anyway,” Serena says with a laugh and a self-deprecating half shrug.
“You were doing a pretty good job at hiding it from me. And from yourself, I guess.”
“Which is exactly why I don’t want to do it anymore,” she counters, leaning in and bestowing a warm and loving kiss on Bernie’s lips, leaving little doubt as to the changes in their relationship to the occasional passersby.
Breaking the kiss, she leans back and looks adoringly at Bernie, eyes still closed and the very tip of her tongue seemingly trying to chase the very last drop of Serena’s taste.
“Ready?” she asks, opening her own door and breaking Bernie out of her reverie.
“Ready if you are,” Bernie answers, her eyes sparkling.
“Oh darling, you have no idea how ready I am.”
And with that Serena gets out of the car, her full laugh reverberating on the hospital’s tall walls and numerous windows.