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A Simple Stir Fry

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He was not built for cuddling.

 

To be fair, neither was she, but that hardly mattered now, given the fact that the decision to up and leave (again) had been discussed at length and then quite suddenly, made .

 

(Serena thinks about their similarities and differences often, a constant internal dialogue running at the back of her mind)

 

“Too bony by half, both of them are,” she mutters to herself, whilst poking at a simple stir fry.

 

Henrik was due to arrive in half an hour or so, and after all he’d done arranging for Jason to go away to that week long conference on outreach programmes for people on the autism spectrum, she figured that the very least she could do was cook him something. 

 

Even if it was a simple stir fry.

 

Classic fm wafts gently in from the sitting room as she hums her way to her wine rack, plucks a bottle of pinot noir (not her beloved shiraz, but compromises had to be made in every relationship, right?) from its place, wriggling the cork out to let it breathe a little.

 

She glances at the clock, prods at the stir fry again to stop it from sticking to the pan.

 

Twelve minutes.

 

Grinning, she shoves the lid back on the pan and dashes upstairs, swapping her work clothes for soft leggings and an oversized cardigan over her camisole. She gives her sleeve a cursory sniff and shrugs at her reflection in the mirror, figuring that Henrik would just have to deal with the lingering smell of stir fry in her hair.

 

Blushes a little at the thought of getting close enough to Holby’s resident Evil Ice Giant for him to smell her hair.

 

The doorbell ringing once, twice, three times in quick, precise succession has her bolting down the stairs again, and she wrenches the door open, greets him with a slightly breathless “hello,” as he stares down at her for a long moment. 

 

She is just about to stutter something inane to fill the awkward silence when the corners of his lips quirk into a smile, and he leans down to greet her with a quick kiss on the cheek.

 

“Oh, you,” she murmurs, rubbing affectionately at his arm as he steps neatly in, leaves his overnight bag ( stop it, old girl, she tells her fluttering tum) under his coat. 

 

“Ms Campbell,” he says, gravely, but Serena sees the glimmer of good humour in his eyes and laughs, takes his arm as he offers it, presses herself against his side and guides them to the kitchen.

 

“I made a chicken stir fry. Nothing too fancy, I only just got in myself… Hope that’s alright with you?”

 

Serena doesn’t quite understand where her nerves are coming from, but then again, this was Henrik Hanssen that was about to taste her cooking for the first time, an oddly intimate step in their endlessly fascinating, developing relationship.

 

(If one could call it that.)

 

Henrik says nothing, merely folds himself into a chair and nods his approval. 

 

Serena blushes and nudges the wineglasses towards him, scoops them both a moderate portion of stir fried noodles. She’ll have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, but that can only be a good thing, in her books.

 

Less hassle , she thinks, as she sits at the table, perpendicular to her guest; freezes, as she feels the brush of Henrik’s knee nudging her own, a slight point of pressure that does not cease; stays, instead. 

 

She grins around the forkful of chicken she had just eaten, meeting Henrik’s gaze with a warm fondness she has not felt for… a while, now.

 

(precisely six weeks, two days, twenty-three minutes, give or take a couple of seconds)

 

They eat their meal mostly in silence, Serena more or less openly staring at Henrik for most of it. He doesn’t seem to mind, bears her scrutiny with no more than a faint tinge across his cheeks that could well be attributed to the wine.

 

It’s something that she had to get used to, Serena thinks. The quiet that seemed to follow Henrik around. She still had the urge to fill it, constantly; was only now learning the value of the peace that Henrik’s presence brought.

 

“Shall we?” he murmurs, taking his wineglass and hers, motioning with a tilt of his head that they should adjourn to the sitting room.

 

“Let’s,” she replies, marvels at the odd grace of his economy of movement.

 

She glances at the clock and smiles. The Archers would still be on, and she switches channels, lets Henrik choose his seat. 

 

He carefully lowers himself into the corner seat of her sofa, plush and just the right amount of firm. The smile on her face only widens when she realises he’s shed his customary jacket and tie, is clad simply in waistcoat and shirt. She leans against the mantle for a long moment, watches rapt and silent as he removes his cufflinks, carefully rolls his sleeves up.

 

Waits for him to finish putting everything just so before raising an eyebrow at his questioning gaze.

 

“Done?” She asks, and he nods, once, stretches an arm out along the length of the back of the sofa.

 

She takes the invitation for what it is, grins down at her lap as she pushes in close, breathes in the clean, ever so slightly clinical smell of him, the faintest whiff of fabric softener and woodspice on his clothes. Henrik is relaxing by degrees, she can tell, and she resolves to wait, leans her head on his shoulder, places a hand on his knee.

The episode of the Archers ends, and he lays a hand over hers. Does not protest when Serena flips her palm over, interlaces their fingers.

 

“Alright?” she asks, and is rewarded with a kiss dropped to her crown. She presses a quick kiss to his neck and he hums, draws her closer, lays his cheek against her temple.

 

“Thank you for dinner,” he murmurs, free hand coming to rest on the back of her head, threading through her hair, massaging with just enough pressure to ease a happy sigh from her.

 

“Mmm… You’re welcome. Least I could do after you finagled Jason that place at the conference. I...appreciate the quiet.”

 

His hand shifts, moves to rub at the base of her skull, the tension in her neck.

 

“He will have a good time, I think. It would be good for him to expand his horizons somewhat. Perhaps, even look into spearheading a project or two catered to the needs of young adults in Holby with Aspergers himself.”

 

“One step at a time, Henrik.”

 

His hand pauses, and he pulls back a little, looks into her eyes with a piercing fondness that makes her breath catch.

 

“Yes,” he says, simply, and she cannot help but lean up to press a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth, cheers a silent cheer of victory when he turns slightly to reciprocate.

 

“You’ll stay, tonight?”

 

Henrik nods, and Serena pulls away, cocks her head in the direction of her front door.

 

“Go on then, i’ll wait for you in bed,” she murmurs and stands, pushing her arms upwards in a stretch.

 

“Twenty minutes,” he nods, and she smiles a last soft smile at him before they part ways.

 

She feels the water pressure drop a little in the spray of her own shower as Henrik presumably starts his own. Who’d have thunk it , she mused, as she lathered, scrubbed methodically at her skin.

 

“A relationship. With Henrik Hanssen. Huh.”

 

Her voice reverberates lowly against the tiles of her bathroom and she rinses off, wraps herself in a towel.

 

She’s just rinsing out her mouth after brushing her teeth when she hears the telltale clunk of the guest bathroom’s shower turning off. Glancing at the small clock on the bathroom counter, she smirks as she realises just how precise Henrik’s estimation of his ablutions was.

 

Serena hurries a little, though, wants to make it between the sheets before Henrik is finished, ever mindful of keeping to the expectation she had given him before. She considers what to wear to bed and settles for comfort and pragmatism over anything fancier, tugging on a pair of leopard print pyjama bottoms ( very funny, Berenice , she had said, at the time) and a loose black t-shirt.

 

There was something comforting in the simplicity of being with someone who took you at your word. It bred honesty and openness between them, and after Bernie, champion of repression and emotional constipation, Serena found she rather liked the change.

 

A cursory knock, and there he was, clad in dove grey pyjamas.

 

“Serena,” he murmurs, shutting the door carefully behind him.

 

“Henrik,” she replies, tossing back the duvet in invitation.

 

It had taken her a few weeks to get used to him like this, without the armour of his three piece suit, eyes soft without his glasses.

 

He tucks himself into bed, turning on his side to face her, and she smiles encouragingly, reaches out to pull him closer so they are nose to nose.

 

“Hi,” she says, shyly, and he smiles, eyes slipping closed as he presses his forehead to hers, concentrates on synchronising their breaths.

 

“I spoke to Ms Wolfe today,” he says, after a long moment, and she hums absently, too warm and sleepy to truly field an acerbic remark. 

 

“Oh?”

 

“She sends her regards, from Nigeria.”

 

“Is that where she is, then? Jolly good,” she mumbles, shuffling down to tuck her head under his chin, stifling a yawn against his shoulder.

 

“Only five more weeks, Serena.” 

 

His voice is gentle, and she stubbornly refuses to say anything in response, only cuddles him more aggressively against her. He sighs and accommodates her, rearranging those long limbs so his arms are wrapped about her, their legs tangled comfortably together.

 

“It’s something we both knew was going to happen,” he rumbles.

 

“Yes, but I… don’t want to talk about it tonight. Please?”

 

She feels his hesitation and then his nod, his chin bumping against her crown.

 

“Tomorrow, then,” he says, delicately, and she agrees with a sigh, closing her eyes and slipping a hand under his pyjama top.

 

His hand is cool against her hip and hers warm against his, and her last thought before she truly falls asleep is that she would miss this, when it ends.