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chrysopoeia

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And the smell of you;
intoxicating,
like wormwood,

Sultry,
from the sofa,
to the kitchen,
to the bedroom.

All-pervading,
like consecration incense.

(Lavender - Marcas Mac an Tuairneir; trans. from Gaelic)

*          *          *

It would surprise anyone who knew her to find Bernie Wolfe lying in a hot bath liberally laced with the scent of roses.

It reminds her of her grandmother, of carefree childhood holidays by the sea. Of picnics and sandcastles and making cakes, standing on a stool so she could reach the kitchen counter. Of penguin wallpaper and warm hugs and feeling wholly, unreservedly loved.

It calms her, soothes her.

It pains her too, because she’s never missed anyone the way she missed her grandmother in the first years after her death.

Love and hurt, inextricably intertwined. Isn’t that always the way?

*          *          *

Bernie rarely bothers with perfume. She doesn’t really see the point, when by the middle of her shift it’ll be overlaid with all the assorted smells of the hospital, eroded by antibacterial hand gel and harsh, NHS-issue soap.

And then she’ll catch sight (or rather, scent) of Serena, and think maybe she just hasn’t found the right perfume yet. Because somehow, at the end of a long day, Serena still smells of – well, Serena. Some unmistakable combination of scents that Bernie can’t name but would recognise anywhere still clings to her clothes, her hair, her skin. Haunts their office every evening after she leaves, welcomes her back every morning. Lights her growing desire, simultaneously settles her.

*          *          *

In Kyiv Bernie wishes more than ever that she knew what it was, knew what combination of shampoo and moisturiser and washing powder and perfume she uses, what alchemy transforms them into the scent of Serena Campbell. Her new office smells sterile, unwelcoming, dead. If only she could reproduce it, could conjure even the faintest ghost of Serena.

Even the tiny bottle of rose oil on the bedside table in her bare apartment fails to calm her when the terror of what she’s done – fallen in love, run away, broken her heart, lost her – fills her at four in the morning.

*          *          *

It’s the first thing she smells when she returns, a top note soaring above the antiseptic and vomit and urine and bleach. Bernie closes her eyes, inhales deeply, feels the tension in her shoulders ease and the bubbling worry recede. Feels like she’s home.

Serena.

*          *          *

It’s the only thing she smells, wrapped in it like she’s wrapped in the soft cotton sheets on Serena’s bed. Only now there’s a new note, deep and heady and musky and utterly intoxicating. And Bernie didn’t think it was possible for Serena to smell any better but she realises she was wrong, oh, she was wrong.

Not even alchemy can transform gold into something more precious but she has, they have. She buries her nose in Serena’s hair, breathes her in.

There’s no way she could ever reproduce this, bottle it, carry it with her other than in her mind, her memory. Even if she raided Serena’s cabinets and gathered each and every component it still wouldn’t work. It’s Serena herself who transmutes this blend of mundane scents into something glorious. Something she can’t get enough of, never wants to be without.