Bernie hadn’t given her new phone number or her new address to Alex after they broke up.
It had been a bad break up. To say the least.
During the three years of their relationship, Alex had been getting increasingly more jealous and Bernie had had to put a stop to it before things became too unbearable.
She had heard the stories; the snooping into your partner’s phone, the almost background checking of every person you ever, even briefly, laid eyes upon.
No thank you.
She hadn’t left a suffocating relationship with Marcus to end up in another one.
All of this to say that Bernie is thanking whoever or whatever is in charge in the heavens for making sure that she’s actually sitting down when she opened an email titled ‘ heads up ’ from an unknown sender.
“ Hey Bern ,” she hates being called that, with every fiber of her being, especially when either of her two exes were doing the calling.
“ Hope you’re doing okay. I heard from the grapevine that you were working at Holby City Hospital and that they even gave you a brand spanking new trauma unit. I’m so proud of you Bern .”
Bernie’s eyes roll back so far reading this that she fears for a moment they’ll stay stuck in that position.
“ I’m sure you’ve received the invitation for the Regimental Ball of the seventeenth. Well, it’s not exactly an invite since it’s compulsory, but I digress … ”
Another eye roll. Alex always was very fond of the sound of her own voice, and always thought that she was smarter than everyone else.
“ That’s why I’m sending you this email actually .”
Bernie frowns, wondering if her ex would actually have the gall to ask her to be her plus one.
“ I don’t know how to tell you this without hurting you but, I won’t be coming alone. I’m bringing my girlfriend. It’s quite serious actually. We’ve only been dating for two months but I’ve already asked her to move in with me .”
There, Bernie doesn’t know if she should laugh at the fact that after two years, Alex believes that she is still desperately pining after her or if she should find that girlfriend’s phone number to tell her to dump Alex as soon as possible.
Maybe she should do both.
“ I figured it would be difficult for you to see me with someone else, so I thought it would be better to prepare you, and possibly prevent you from getting hurt .”
This time, Bernie can’t help herself.
She snorts and her snort transforms itself into a full blown belly laugh, her now famous braying catching Serena’s attention, making her leave the nurses’ station - where she was talking with Fletch - and come into the office to see what was the cause of Bernie’s clear amusement.
“What’s all this about?” she asks, with her hip leaning on Bernie’s desk, her arms crossed and a very big smirk illuminating her face.
Bernie makes vague hand gestures indicating that she can’t talk yet and continues laughing.
After a while, she finally manages to calm down enough to explain what is happening.
“My ex,” she says, wiping the tears off her face.
“Which one,” Serena asks with a frown.
“Alex,” Bernie supplies before taking a deep breath and straightening in her chair.
Serena’s face immediately loses all traces of her previous amusement at the mention of that name.
“What does she want?” she asks, her voice hard.
Bernie knows Serena’s sudden change of mood is directed at her ex and not at herself.
“She just wanted to tell me that she would be coming to that ball I told you about with her new girlfriend. Didn’t want the sight to break my heart.”
Saying it out loud almost brings back the giggles, Serena’s angry features however, finish sobering her up.
“Don’t worry, I can handle her.”
“I know, but I’ll be coming with you nonetheless.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Bernie assures with a tender smile.
“I want to. I’ve got your back, remember?”
“I do,” she replies softly.
“Good,” Serena states with a dangerous glint in her eyes and a lingering pat to Bernie’s shoulder before leaving the office.
Bernie looks at her best friend’s back, her eyes trailing a little further south before she even realises what she’s doing. Elbows on the desk, she hides her face behind her hands and stays like that for a minute or two before pushing both sides of her fringe behind her ears.
Coming back to the matter at hand, Bernie cracks her fingers, clicks on the ‘answer’ option of the email and almost gleefully informs the not so all-knowing anesthesiologist that she won’t be coming alone either. She keeps it short and sweet and clicks on ‘send’ with a naughty smile.
It’s only when she and Serena arrive at the incredibly imposing, and very old, venue on the seventeenth that she realises that she never gave any precision as to the exact nature of the relationship she had with the person accompanying her.
Meaning Alex is probably, more than probably, thinking that she too is coming with her new girlfriend.
Meaning Alex is probably, more than probably, full of rage and jealousy at this stage.
Bloody hell …
“Hm, Serena,” Bernie starts in a small, uncertain voice, “I just - I just realised that -”
But she can’t finish her phrase because Alex is already there coming towards them, with the fakest of all smiles plastered on her face and a possessive arm around her girlfriend’s waist.
“Bern!” She exclaims, making the aforementioned woman grind her teeth.
Alex moves as if she’s about to hug Bernie, but is stopped by Serena taking half a step in front of her friend and presenting her hand to Alex’s girlfriend.
“Hi, I’m Serena.”
It takes Bernie quite a lot of work not to grin naughtily at Serena’s very distinct and yet very subtle display of power.
“Siobhan, nice to meet you,” the other woman answers very amicably.
Bernie - clueless as she is about that kind of personal intricacies - probably doesn’t see it, but Serena is quick to observe that Siobhan is basically a younger version of the woman herself. She’s thin with lean muscles, her face is half hidden behind a curtain of soft wavy blonde hair and her eyes are unmistakably brown.
“So you did manage to find yourself a girlfriend,” Alex snarks with fake cheeriness.
“Why does that surprise you,” Serena counters, directing the full force of her Deputy CEO slash Ice Queen glare on Bernie’s ex. “Why would it surprise you that a woman such as Bernie,” she starts again, with an emphasis on her friend’s prefered name, “a woman who is beautiful, astonishingly sexy really,” she adds with a wink in Bernie’s direction, “and incredibly and unbelievably warm and kind, did manage to find herself a girlfriend?”
Bernie has a hard time hiding the surprise from her face and the tension in her shoulders, and if she does manage it, it’s only due to all those hours playing poker with her regiment.
She is fully aware of the fact that Serena is playing a role, and that she’s going to owe her a whole vineyard worth of Shiraz after this, but hearing this amazing woman say she’s her girlfriend without missing a beat is both thrilling and humbling. And a tiny bit terrifying.
“And where did you find her?” Alex asks, still purposefully ignoring Serena and trying once more to get the upper hand.
“At work. I’m her boss. Serena Campbell, Deputy CEO of Holby City Hospital and Clinical Lead of AAU,” she replies without offering her hand to the offending anesthesiologist.
“Impressive,” Siobhan chimes in, genuinely fascinated.
“And she has a Harvard MBA,” Bernie adds, putting a tentative arm around Serena’s shoulders.
Serena blushes slightly and offers a very warm smile to Bernie.
Clearly, Siobhan is charmed by Serena’s intelligence, in a respectful way, whereas Alex is clearly fuming at this display of confidence and hiding it badly.
“Well, it was nice to see you, Bern.” She lies, her angry blue eyes fixed on her ex, before adding, “come on, let’s go find our table,” and dragging her girlfriend towards the ballroom none too gently.
As soon as they’ve disappeared behind the door, Bernie releases Serena who turns to face her.
“How on earth did you manage to stay three years with her?”
“Well, between our respective deployments, we actually spent less than a year in the same place, at the same time.”
“Ha, that does explain a lot,” she comments to which Bernie’s only response is a resigned shrug.
Bernie doesn’t really talk about her past relationships, so Serena only gets a few details at a time.
“And Serena, I’m sorry …”
“Why,” she asks with a deep frown.
“I stupidly didn’t think about specifying that the person accompanying me wouldn’t be my girlfriend. I’m afraid you’ll get the full force of Alex’s jealousy for that.”
“Oh believe me, I’m more than ready for it … darling.”
Serena can’t help herself.
She knows she sounds flirty, knows that sentiment is more than clearly reflected in her eyes and in her whole demeanour - namely the way she daintily plays with Bernie’s medals - but she can’t help herself.
And she can see how it affects Bernie.
How Bernie is fully aware of the hypnotizing fire they’re now both playing with and it makes her laugh giddily.
A laugh that still warms the blood in Bernie’s heart by the time they’ve found their table.
The same table as Alex and Siobhan, obviously.
A fact that, not surprisingly, Serena is very happy with.
As soon as they were both seated, Serena had plastered herself to Bernie’s side, her hand on her thigh, her nose in her neck, her lips at her ear. An easy feat since she doesn’t have to fake her interest.
Bernie in her scrubs is unfairly gorgeous.
Bernie in civilian clothes is unfairly sexy.
Bernie in her full formal uniform is … a hazard to Serena’s physical and mental health. It shouldn’t be allowed really, to look that bloody ravishing.
All throughout the meal and the speeches, Siobhan has been talking to Serena and Bernie. That’s how they learned that she’s actually an archeologist who specialized in the expansion and subsequent fall of the Roman Empire. All in all, an incredibly bright and kind woman.
So bright and so kind that Bernie wonders what she’s actually doing with Alex. Although it has to be said that they don’t look as ‘serious’ and in love as her ex had professed in her email. Classic Dawson move.
In fact, she’d wager that Serena and herself actually look more in love than the other pair does, and they’re not even a couple.
When they’re done with the dessert, Serena doesn’t waste any time in getting up.
“No offense ladies, but I need a moment alone with my gorgeous Major,” she teases without so much as a glance in Alex’s direction, before tangling her fingers with Bernie’s and going straight for the bar.
“A double bourbon and a big glass of your best Shiraz, please.”
Elbow digging in the red exotic wood of the bar, Bernie contemplates her best friend with a tender smile.
“Don’t thank me yet. I’m not done toying with your ex.”
After a short, contemplative pause, she adds; “ and anyway, playing the role of your loving girlfriend isn’t exactly a hardship.”
Serena tilts her head to one side, a knowing look on her face.
“Oh,” Bernie remarks softly, her eyes wide.
Serena lets out a tinkling laugh, “Surely I’m not that good of an actress?” she counters while reducing the distance between them.
A faint hm is all Bernie is capable of, distracted as she is by Serena playing with the collar of her uniform jacket, by her closeness affording an incomparable view of her soft skin, of her long lashes and of her pink lips.
They’d been skirting around this for a couple of months now, getting closer and closer but never truly taking that big step forward. The fear of losing their friendship, their work relationship and all that ...
It would seem that this Regimental Ball - or more precisely, the obnoxious presence of Bernie’s ex at said Regimental Ball - is just the push they both needed.
“So you’re …”
“Truly, madly interested in your ravishing self?”
Bernie nods dumbly.
“Afraid so,” Serena says with an uncharacteristically shy smile.
“But how - You’re - I -”
“Shush,” she prompts her gently.
Bernie stops, the cogs turning in her head for a few short moments before a smirk blooms on her lips.
“Make me,” she says, her voice huskier than usual.
“Make you what?”
Serena looks at her, confusion written all over her face.
“Make me stop talking,” she explains, coming that much closer to Serena, her eyes looking intently at her friend’s mouth.
“Well, since you asked.”
Not needing further convincing, Serena grabs Bernie’s uniform lapels and plants a long and languorous kiss on her soft lips. A kiss so long and languorous that Bernie has to hold onto Serena’s waist to stay upright. A kiss so long and languorous that wolf whistles can be heard from everywhere in the room, drowning the sound of a beer bottle shattering on the ground.