There are twenty-seven bones in the human hand. It might not be Serena’s area of expertise but she can still name every single one. All the associated ligaments, muscles and nerves too. And of course the blood vessels, could trace those with her eyes closed, blindfolded, asleep.
Bernie has beautiful hands. Serena thinks perhaps she finds them even more beautiful because she knows just how complex they are, knows exactly what happens beneath the skin every time those slender fingers flutter in the air, grip a scalpel, wrap around a cup of coffee.
She studies them with her eyes but longs to touch. To follow the blue and purple vessels under the tissue-thin skin of her wrist, to lay her fingertips over her radial artery and feel the blood – the life – rushing through her.
To press down and feel the tiny interlocking bones of the carpus (trapezium, scaphoid, lunate, pisiform, trapezoid, capitate, hamate).
To run her thumb up metacarpals to rounded metacarpophalangeal joints. To gently take each long finger between her own – proximal, middle, distal phalanges.
To turn her hand over, trace each line on her palm. Press a kiss to each fingertip, prints worn from a career of harsh soap and endless scrubbing.
To feel muscles, ligaments and bones flex against her own, gripping, interlocking.
* * *
But when it happens, the anatomy flies from her mind. She can’t name the muscles driving Bernie’s movements, the vessels carrying her blood, the bones beneath it all, the nerves commanding every movement.
She is aware only of her own nerves, sensory receptors suddenly flooded with Bernie, oh god Bernie. She knows how sensitive these peripheral nerves are – of course she does, her job depends on it. But it’s like she’s never known.
Her job depends on dexterity too, on fine motor control and careful movement. That’s certainly not the sort of dexterity she’s thinking of now, with Bernie’s fingers sliding against hers.
It stokes the already considerable fire within her, knowing how strong Bernie’s hands are, how much control she has over her fingers. Imagining what else they could be skilled at. (She pushes that thought away next time they’re in theatre – every time they’re in theatre. Even when she knows exactly what else they’re skilled at. Especially when she knows that.)
* * *
Later, when Bernie’s fingers have caressed and stroked and teased, when they’re twisting, pushing, curling inside her there is a moment, before she loses the ability to think, when Serena thanks whatever gods might be listening for Bernie’s hands, for the fact of her surgical prowess. For the skill and control and strength borne of years in theatre.
And later again, when Bernie is pressed against her – oh so close, never close enough – she touches the hand resting beside hers. Traces each vessel, each finger, anatomical terms once again found, remembered, silently recalled.
Radial, carpus, metacarpals, phalanges.
Lifts Bernie’s hand to her lips, marvels once again at the miracles these fingers can work.
Twenty-seven bones, along with their associated muscles and ligaments, that can save a life. That can make Serena Campbell fall apart, and put her back together again.