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Standing at the beginning with you

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Bernie walks out of the ward, limping still, with the application form that Jac has given her stuffed deep into her bag. Marcus is waiting in Pulses, ready with a coffee and a smile.

‘Looking good, Bern.’

‘Thanks,’ she says gratefully as he takes her bag.

‘Welcoming committee is at home, ready to provide a feast for the injured hero.’

She ducks her head, embarrassed, and Marcus puts his arm round her.

‘We’re glad to have you back, Bern. Just a pity you had to get blown up to get you here.’

It’s her first day at the hospital as a doctor, and Bernie is stressed. Being at home has been nice, but too relaxing. The kids have been and gone, and Marcus’ idea of a fun Saturday is going golfing. Bernie feels as though she’s been vegetating, and she had been so looking forward to getting back into work. But nothing has gone right today, so she’s heading into the car park for a fag. There’s a dark haired woman in the distance, standing over her car and ranting into her phone. The sight of her makes Bernie smile, so she wanders over, introduces herself a little awkwardly. The woman is Serena Campbell and Bernie blushes because Serena knows who she is, and her face lights up as she shakes her hand. Bernie corrects her though – not Berenice, and definitely not ‘Bern’, she’ll be Bernie here. Serena’s a fellow consultant, and she makes Bernie laugh for the first time all day. When Bernie heads regretfully back to the hospital she texts Marcus, I think I’ve made a friend.

She bumps into Serena again a week later, at Pulses, as they both study the coffee menu. ‘Remember when coffee was just coffee?’ Bernie asks dryly, and is quietly delighted when Serena glances round and laughs.

‘Strong and hot is all I care about,’ she ripostes, waves her hand as she leaves. Bernie watches her walk out, smiles to herself and thinks it must be nice to work on her ward.

And then she gets the chance to, finally escapes the drudgery on Keller and gets to head down to AAU for a shift. It’s still not as interesting as her work in the army, but Bernie thinks that if she worked on this ward perhaps she might be able to get used to it. She pops down to Pulses and on the spur of the moment buys Serena a coffee too.

Serena’s deep in paperwork when Bernie enters the office, looks up with a glad smile. ‘I might keep you around’, she says with a grin when Bernie hands the coffee over, ‘For future reference, I wouldn’t say no to a pastry either.’

Bernie snorts a laugh. ‘You’re buying next time.’

‘Fair’s fair,’ Serena nods her head, then waves at the pile of papers opposite her. ‘That’s your lot.’

Bernie sinks into the other chair with a groan and Serena glances up. ‘Not a fan?’

‘I loathe it,’ Bernie admits.

‘Surely you had to do some in the army?’

‘Had to, yes, I’m afraid that nothing will ever make me enjoy it.’

‘You don’t find a certain pleasure in finally getting it all signed off?’

Bernie looks at Serena as if she’s grown another head. ‘Mad,’ she says sadly, ‘And here I was thinking we could be friends.’

Serena signs a page and closes her current file with a flourish. ‘What would it take to win my way back into your good graces?’

‘A whiskey would be good.’

‘Make it Shiraz and you’re on.’ Serena counters.

So naturally they end up at Albie’s after work. Bernie is welcomed into the little AAU gang cheerfully. The younger lot already have drinks, so she and Serena make their way to the bar. Serena orders Shiraz but Bernie is sticking insistently to her whiskey.

‘You’re missing out,’ Serena says.

‘Plenty of time to try it in the future,’ Bernie says, as she fishes in her bag for her wallet.

‘I’m buying,’ Serena says, stilling her hand, ‘I do need to work my way back into favour, after all.’

‘Well, I won’t say no. But that op this afternoon probably tipped the balance.’

They’d operated together, and Bernie thought she’d never had quite such a seamless experience in surgery before. She’d worked with some fantastic surgeons in the past but she and Serena had seemed to anticipate each other, working around each other with never a misstep. It had been something special.

‘It was good, wasn’t it,’ Serena muses. ‘You’ll have to come down again.’

 

Bernie arrives home that night later than she had planned. They’d stayed at Albie’s, drinking and talking. She’d enjoyed listening to the others chatting and teasing each other, and Serena had drawn her into the conversation, never letting her feel left out. She hopes they’ll go again sometime.

‘You’re late, Bern,’ Marcus says as she throws her bag onto the floor by the door.

‘I went to the pub.’

‘Did you have a good day?’ She knows Marcus is concerned, because she’s come home in mood more often than not.

‘Great, yeah. I was down on AAU, that’s Serena’s ward. I told you about Serena?’ Marcus nods. Bernie heads into the kitchen, grabs the plate of food on the side and shoves it in the microwave ‘It’s a great ward, she runs it really well, lots of keen young doctors. It’s different to Keller. More my thing, you know?’

The microwave beeps and she grabs cutlery, pulls her plate out and puts it on the table. She sits down and Marcus passes behind her, pats her shoulders. She resists the urge to twitch him off.

‘That’s great Bern. Do you think you’ll get more work there?’

Bernie shrugs. ‘Dunno. Hope so. Thanks for cooking.’

‘No problem,’ Marcus smiles at her. ‘I’m going to bed. Early shift tomorrow.’

‘Be there in a minute.’ Bernie smiles back at him.

She’s buying a coffee in Pulses a few days later when the pastries catch her eye. She remembers Serena’s comment, smiles to herself and thinks why not? Detours via AAU to put coffee and a pain au chocolat on Serena’s desk. Serena’s busy at the other end of the ward, looks up as Bernie glances her way, raises a quizzical eyebrow. Bernie mimes taking a drink and Serena nods, gives her a thumbs up.

Later, after a few snide comments on paperwork from Ric, Bernie checks her emails. There’s one from Serena. Thank you, we’ll go together next time! It makes Bernie smile and gets her through the afternoon of boring, routine procedures.

The next day is a bad one, and Bernie sneaks off outside to twirl an unlit fag between her fingers and stare gloomily into the distance.

‘They’re bad for you, you know,’ an amused voice comments and she turns, cheering slightly, to see Serena standing there, arms crossed against the chill.

‘Not lit,’ she offers.

‘Bad day?’ Bernie nods. ‘Coffee? My treat.’

Serena guides her gently indoors and into Pulses. Makes Bernie sit while she joins the queue and comes back with two huge mugs of coffee and the largest pastries on display.

‘Here you go, the sugar in that should perk you up in no time. Want to talk about it?’

Bernie takes a calming sip and closes her eyes. Serena waits, quietly.

‘Maybe I’m not cut out for it.’

‘It?’

‘The NHS, this hospital. Keller.’

‘Like that, is it?’ Serena studies her. ‘How about joining me on AAU? Heaven knows we’re short staffed half the time and somebody with your trauma experience could only be an asset to the team.’

Serena swings it with Hanssen, somehow, and one week later Bernie is in the staff room changing into the light blue scrubs of AAU. Serena’s face lights up as she sidles shyly into her – their – office.

‘A welcome gift,’ Serena gestures to the coffee and pastry on the desk. ‘Get that down you and we’ll do the official tour of the ward, now you’re one of the team.’

Bernie’s met them all before, but now she’s being introduced as co-lead. It warms her. Then it’s down to it, rounds and a trauma laparotomy and then something else and before she knows it she’s missed her lunch and her stomach is rumbling. She grabs a sandwich from Pulses, gets one for Serena too without even thinking about it. Serena’s in theatre again when she gets back so she leaves it on her desk and hurries across the ward to Morven, who needs some advice.

She’s tackling paperwork when Serena makes it back, still in her scrubs.

‘Go okay?’ Bernie asks, glancing up.

‘Saved the arm,’ Serena says with pride. ‘It was touch and go for a while. Oh, thanks,’ she grabs the sandwich and shovels it down. ‘You’re doing paperwork?’

‘Trying to make a good impression,’ Bernie admits.

Serena laughs. ‘Keep this up and I’m never letting you go.’ Then her phone pings and she sighs.

‘Anything wrong?’

‘Just a guy I’ve been dating. He’s very needy.’

‘Oh?’

‘Wants my attention all the time, texts incessantly. And he showed up on the ward once with flowers.’ Serena scowls at the memory.

Bernie considers. ‘I haven’t dated anybody since text messaging became a thing. I’m not even sure the mobile phone had been invented.’

‘God, how old were you when you married?!’

‘A mere child of twenty.’ She shakes her head. ‘Charlie’s age. I’d have things to say if she started talking about getting married now, I can tell you.’

There’s a call from the ward and Serena sighs.

‘No, you have a few minutes off. I’ll go,’ Bernie says.

‘You just want an excuse to ditch the paperwork, don’t you?’

 

They convene in Albie’s that night. Bernie learns its more usual for AAU to be there than not. They’re a close knit team at the moment, and Bernie hopes that she’ll fit in now she’s here permanently. Feels a glow of happiness when Serena tugs her down to the seat next to her and Morven leans in to discuss a procedure. She has a great evening, and when eventually they call it a night, she offers to split a taxi with Serena.

‘Oh, go on then,’ Serena says. ‘We can’t drive anyway.’

Bernie calls the taxi and they slide into the back, giggling. They haven’t gone far when Serena falls asleep on Bernie’s shoulder, and Bernie’s heart clenches at the sight. The taxi stops for Serena first, and Bernie rouses her, half carries her to the doorstep. Serena wakes up enough to find her keys and open the door.

‘Thanks, Bernie,’ she mumbles, and pats Bernie’s arm before she stumbles inside.

‘You’ll be alright?’ Bernie calls after her.

Serena chuckles. ‘I’ve been much drunker than this. Don’t worry, no late night cooking for me. Goodnight.’

‘Goodnight,’ Bernie says as the door closes.

Bernie gets back home to a note on the table. ‘Dinner in the microwave. Gone to bed.’

She ignores dinner, pours herself a glass of water and creeps up the stairs. Undresses in the bathroom and slips into bed as quietly as possible. Not quietly enough though, and Marcus wakes.

‘You’re late back.’

‘I went to the pub with Serena. Sorry I woke you.’

‘Hmmph.’ Marcus rolls over and goes to sleep. Bernie drifts off thinking how nice the sparkle in Serena’s eyes is.

That night begins a pattern; days spent working hard, evenings and nights spent drinking and laughing. Whoever is in the office first buys the other a pastry. Bernie enjoys selecting the biggest, sugariest looking ones she can find for Serena, and on days that she starts later she treasures the few minutes relaxing in her office eating her second breakfast. She even starts coming in early, simply so that she and Serena can have a few quiet minutes to themselves before the day starts officially. Over pastry and coffee and breaks on the roof, Serena tells Bernie about Robbie, and her increasing annoyance with him, and about Elinor and how worried she is sometimes that Elinor isn’t settling in properly to studying at uni. Bernie tells Serena how she wishes the kids were around more often, how life permanently back in the UK isn’t like it was on breaks between tours. Bernie finds that, more and more, she is considering Serena her best friend. She thinks the feeling is mutual; Serena’s eyes light up when she sees Bernie, and she always saves Bernie a seat next to her in the pub.

One day, two months or so after she’s started on AAU, Bernie is sitting in their office waiting for Serena. She’s got coffee and pastry (danish) ready, but Serena is running late. She hasn’t texted, and it’s not like her. She arrives just as Bernie is on the point of calling. Her eyes are puffy and her make up doesn’t quite cover up the fact that she’s been crying.

‘Serena?’ Bernie stands abruptly to pull Serena into a hug. Bernie isn’t really a contact sort of person but with Serena it never feels wrong. ‘What’s happened?’

‘Oh, nothing, really.’

‘Serena.’

‘Robbie and I broke up,’ Serena says damply. ‘It was my decision. But he said some hurtful things and I’ve let them get to me.’

‘Oh, Serena.’ Bernie guides her into her seat, perches on the table beside her to pat her shoulder reassuringly.

‘ “Washed up old spinster” were the precise words,’ Serena sniffs, and Bernie passes her a tissue.

‘You listen to me, Serena Campbell,’ Bernie says forcefully, ‘You are an incredible woman and Robbie the bobbie knows precisely what he is losing. He just wants to hurt you.’

Serena’s hands find Bernie’s. ‘I know that really. But thank you.’

They get through the shift without mishap or emotion, but when everybody else is heading off to the pub, Serena pauses. ‘Don’t really feel like it tonight.’

‘Want company?’ Bernie asks and Serena looks at her quizzically. ‘Takeaway pizza, Shiraz, terrible tv?’

Serena laughs, ‘Sounds perfect. D’you want to stay over?’

‘Why not, let’s make an occasion of it. I’ll pop home to grab my things. Be at yours in fifteen.’

 

Marcus looks up in surprise when Bernie arrives home. ‘This is unexpected.’

‘Just going to grab some things, I’m staying at Serena’s tonight.’

‘Oh?’

‘She’s just broken up with her boyfriend and she could do with some company.’ Bernie flies upstairs, flings some clean clothes and her wash kit in a bag and rushes back down again. ‘See you tomorrow.’ She presses a swift kiss to Marcus’ head and leaves again.

Serena opens her door dressed in jogging bottoms and a Holby hoody.

‘You do own one!’ Bernie says as she steps in. ‘How many times have you borrowed mine? Oh, I stopped off at Majestic, here you go.’ She hands Serena a bottle. ‘Hope that one’s okay?’

Serena’s eyes are misty. ‘Perfect. Thanks, Bernie.’ She heads in, opens the bottle and leaves it in the kitchen to breathe.

Bernie heads for the living room, plonks herself on the sofa. The tv is on. ‘Netflix and chill?’ she says as Serena comes in.

Serena splutters wildly. ‘What?’

‘Isn’t that what the kids say?’

‘I’m not sure it means what you think it means,’ Serena says with a chuckle. ‘Never mind, any preference?’ She picks up the remote and raises an eyebrow.

‘Something funny.’

‘Well that narrows it down.’ Serena begins scrolling through the comedy section.

‘Ooh, Father Ted! Haven’t seen that for years.’

‘Is there any romance in it?’

‘Absolutely none.’

‘Sounds fantastic,’ Serena says as she selects it.

By the time they’re three episodes in they’re also a bottle and a half of wine down, and Serena has curled up next to Bernie, feet tucked up, and Bernie’s arm over her shoulder.

‘You’re so comfy,’ she says, nestling closer.

‘Mmm. So are you.’ She pauses for a second, then says slightly regretfully. ‘Should we think about ordering some pizza?’

‘Pass me my phone?’

Bernie leans forward to grab the phone from the table, almost dislodging Serena.

‘Careful there.’ Serena taps and swipes and drops the phone again. ‘All done.’

‘That was quick.’

‘You need to learn how to use your phone, Bernie,’ Serena says into her side. ‘Now shush.’

Bernie subsides, relaxes back into the sofa and enjoys the warmth of Serena and the way her hair is tickling her arm. They might be a little pissed (a lot pissed, in Serena’s case) but it is incredibly pleasant, sitting her on Serena’s sofa with nothing to do but watch tv, drink wine, eat pizza and cuddle Serena. It crosses her mind briefly that when she’s at home she loathes doing nothing like this, but then Serena laughs at something Ted says and Bernie doesn’t dwell on it.

 

It’s late – or, rather, early – when Bernie carefully pulls a half-asleep Serena off the sofa, helps her upstairs and tucks her into her bed.

‘Bernie?’ Serena’s eyes are closed but she stretches out a lazy hand, ‘Thanks.’

Bernie squeezes her hand, then ducks to press a swift kiss to Serena’s forehead. ‘Sleep well.’

Serena mumbles something which might be a response and buries her head in her pillow. Bernie stops by the door, looks back at her friend, smiles to herself and closes the door quietly. She’s tired but she doesn’t think she’ll be able to sleep yet, so she grabs a towel from the cupboard and heads for the bathroom. The warm water soothes her as it cascades down her face and back and she hums with pleasure. She remembers the feeling of Serena pressed up against her, the warmth of her forehead against her lips, the easy way they can tease each other and thinks how wonderful it is that she’s found the best friend of her life. When she finally slips between the covers, warm and happy, she slides into sleep with a smile on her face.

 

There’s a second in the morning when Bernie wakes and she’s completely disorientated, but then she smells fresh coffee and a hint of Serena’s perfume and she rolls over and stretches lazily. Despite the late night and the alcohol she feels quite refreshed this morning. She climbs out of bed, tugs on her black jeans and a fresh blouse and heads downstairs. The enticing scent of bacon has been added to the coffee and she leans against the kitchen door, amused to see Serena humming as she stands at the stove.

‘I’ll stay over more often if this is what you provide every morning.’

Serena jumps and whirls round. ‘Will you wear louder shoes please?’ Bernie merely grins. ‘This isn’t my standard breakfast, by the way,’ Serena says as she pours a cup of coffee, ‘Thought I’d treat you.’ Their fingers brush as Serena hands Bernie the cup and Serena blushes faintly.

‘You look good this morning,’ Bernie says.

‘I think all that pizza counteracted the wine. Thanks for getting me to bed, by the way.’

‘It was no problem.’ Bernie sips the coffee and sighs, ‘Good stuff. It’s usually instant for me in the morning.’

Serena pulls a face, ‘That’s not really coffee. Now, how do you want your eggs?’

‘I’m definitely staying here again.’ Bernie jokes and sits down at the table, ‘However you like them is fine with me.’

Two weeks later, two weeks of late nights at Albies and early morning coffees in the office, there is a major rail incident, and AAU is snowed. The younger doctors are running around like headless chickens, there are patients everywhere, and Serena is standing in the middle of the chaos almost tearing her hair out.

‘Serena,’ Bernie barrels through the crowds, dodging porters neatly, ‘Will you let me organise this? Like I would in the field?’

Their eyes hold for a second, and then Serena nods sharply. ‘Let’s do it Kandahar style.’

Bernie feels the strength of Serena’s confidence in her and it warms every inch of her. She claps her hands and raises her voice in her best Major-bark. ‘Right people!’

By the end of the longest shift either of them have worked for years, they are exhausted. Bernie falls into their office; Serena is already seated at her desk, deep in thought. ‘Pub?’ Bernie asks and Serena starts as though she’d been miles away.

‘You go on, I want to pop up and discuss something with Henrik.’

‘What, now? Can’t it wait?’

‘Strike while the iron’s hot and all that.’ Serena gestures to the door, ‘You go on, take the others. I’ll join you in a bit.’

Bernie sits back, puzzled as Serena gets to her feet and heads off the ward more swiftly than Bernie thinks she’d be capable of, after this day. Despite her puzzlement, she changes out of her scrubs, collects the ducklings – as she privately thinks of them – and leads them all to Albie’s, where she gets the first round. She’s proud of them, it’s been a long, hard day but they’ve worked well together and they’ve only lost one patient. A miracle, really. She tells them as such, and toasts them.

‘It’s down to you, Ms Wolfe,’ Morven says shyly, ‘We wouldn’t have managed at all if you hadn’t been there.’

Bernie brushes off the compliment, but nevertheless feels a certain glow inside. She finally feels like she’s an important member of the team.

Half an hour later, there’s a tap on her shoulder and she turns to look at Serena, a Serena who despite the visible exhaustion she carries has a sparkle in her eyes. ‘Come with me,’ she murmurs, and Bernie follows because she’s never contemplated saying ‘no’ to Serena Campbell. Serena leads her outside into the cold night, round the corner to a spot where the raucous sounds from the pub have faded.

‘What’s up?’

Serena grabs Bernie’s hands, ‘What would you say to a trauma unit?’

Bernie takes half a step backwards in surprise, ‘What?’

‘I went to see Hanssen. We need to put together a pretty solid proposal, but if we do then he’s fairly certain that he can get the board to agree.’

‘A trauma unit,’ Bernie says, dazedly. ‘Who’d run it?’

‘You, of course,’ Serena says matter of factly, ‘I’d be your second in command. What do you think?’

What does she think? She can barely think anything coherent, apart from that this might be the best thing she’s heard in her entire time at Holby. ‘A trauma unit for AAU.’

‘For you, Bernie,’ Serena says with a shake of her head, ‘You were spectacular today. We’re wasting your talents.’

‘You went to Hanssen for me,’ Bernie’s brain still hasn’t quite caught up.

‘Bernie,’ Serena says fondly.

Finally Bernie snaps into herself and lurches forward to sweep Serena into a hug. There’s a moment and then Serena’s arms are tight around her back. ‘Thank you,’ she whispers into her ear.

‘The proposal’s going to be hard work,’ Serena cautions as she releases Bernie, a flush colouring her cheeks.

‘You’ve finally managed to find paperwork I’ll find interesting,’ Bernie jokes, then touches Serena’s arm. ‘Come on, drinks to celebrate?’

 

She’s late home and Marcus is already in bed. He hasn’t left any dinner for her but she’s not particularly hungry, still keyed up at the prospect of running her own trauma unit. She grabs a banana, eats it as she heads upstairs. Washes up quickly, and slips into bed next to Marcus.

‘Bern,’ he mumbles and reaches one hand in her direction.

‘Night, Marcus,’ she pats his hand, rolls onto her side and tries to sleep.

It takes her a while to drop off so she’s a bit bleary in the morning when Marcus’ alarm goes off. Nevertheless, she throws on her dressing gown and heads downstairs. Marcus pours them both a bowl of cereal and Bernie puts the kettle on. She chuckles to herself as she spoons out the instant coffee, remembering Serena’s opinions.

‘What’s up?’ Marcus looks over quizzically.

‘Just remembering something Serena said once. Marcus, you won’t believe this. Serena’s managed to convince Hanssen to let us put in a bid for a trauma unit!’

He doesn’t react as she expects, merely sits down at the table and begins eating.

‘Marcus?’

‘Right, that’s great Bern,’ he’s still focussed on his breakfast, but Bernie is feeling more excited about this than anything in a long while and she wants to talk.

‘We’ve got two weeks to put together a proposal. Costing, staffing, training, all of it. Serena reckons if we do a decent job the board can’t say no.’

‘Is she proposing to lead it herself?’ Marcus finally looks up at her.

‘No,’ Bernie’s tingling with excitement, ‘I’ll lead.’

‘Serena went to Hanssen to propose a major new facility that you’ll lead?’

Bernie nods, ‘We had to deal with a massive railway incident yesterday. I think I impressed her.’

‘You think.’ Marcus’ forehead is furrowed and Bernie can’t think why.

‘Are you alright, Marcus?’

‘Fine,’ he says shortly. Gets up to put mug and bowl in the sink, kisses her briefly on the head as he passes. ‘I’m off. See you later Bern. I’m pleased for you.’

Serena was right; the proposal is hard work. But Bernie finds herself having more fun with it than she could have imagined. She and Serena snatch odd breaks at work to shut themselves in the office and work through papers, they even forgo Albies in favour of research. On Friday night, a week before the proposal is due, they’re in their office until gone 11. Bernie has been home only to sleep for this entire week, communicating with Marcus through texts and the occasional scribbled note left on the kitchen table. She thinks Serena might have been sleeping under her desk, came in early one morning to find Serena with tousled hair under her chair. Serena had shaken her head and denied it with a laugh but still… It’s nearly 11.30 when Bernie glances at the clock. Serena has been yawning for the last hour, and Bernie thinks it’s time to put her foot down.

‘Come on Campbell, time to get home.’

‘There’s more to do,’ Serena says, can barely get it out around another yawn.

‘You’re too tired to drive, I’ll take you.’

Serena tries to argue but Bernie isn’t backing down; helps Serena into her coat and grabs both their bags. They lean against the wall of the lift, propping each other up, stumble into the cold night air towards Bernie’s car.

Bernie’s yawning too now, pinching her thigh as she drives to try and stay awake. It’s not too far to Serena’s, another five minutes on to hers.

‘Bernie!’ Serena squeaks as the car swerves. She’s let her eyes drift shut.

‘Sorry,’ Bernie mutters and forces her eyes wide open. She pulls up outside Serena’s house, leaves the engine purring, waits for Serena to get out.

‘You’re coming in,’ Serena says.

‘What?’

‘Seriously Bernie, you barely got us here in one piece, it would be irresponsible for you to drive further.’

Bernie’s about to argue and then thinks of the comfort of Serena’s spare bed and how much she doesn’t want to be awake any longer, and turns the engine off.

‘Good girl,’ Serena says approvingly and climbs out, opening the front door as Bernie extricates herself from the car.

Serena’s home is warm and comforting and they climb the stairs together, shoulders brushing.

‘Need anything?’ Serena asks.

‘Bed,’ Bernie sighs.

‘Nearly there,’ Serena smiles, lifts her eyes to Bernie’s. ‘Good night,’ she whispers, presses a soft kiss to Bernie’s cheek.

‘Good night.’ Bernie watches Serena drift along the corridor to her room, then turns into the spare.

She’s too tired to think of showering, barely manages to tug off her shoes and jeans before her eyes are closing. She just remembers Marcus before she’s unconscious, fingers swiping wearily over the screen of her phone, Staying at Serena’s.

She sleeps long and deeply and wakes up refreshed. She stretches and glances at her phone: 8am. Early enough considering their late night but not ridiculously early. She listens and can’t hear any movements; Serena must still be asleep. She could do with a shower, doesn’t particularly relish putting on yesterday’s clothes over yesterday’s grime. She doesn’t think Serena will mind so she pads along the corridor to the bathroom, grabs a new towel out of the cupboard and turns the shower on. She spends a long time under the water, longer than she needs to, but she’s enjoying the luxury of time, of knowing that she doesn’t have to be in the office today and there’s no impatient tutting outside the door or loud comments about the water meter. Eventually she shuts it off with a sigh, steps out and winds her towel around herself.

There’s a knock at the door. ‘Bernie?’

Bernie pulls it open to see Serena standing there with an armful of clothes.

‘Thought you might like something clean,’ she says as she offers the bundle.

‘You think of everything.’ Bernie takes them with a smile.

‘Pancakes for breakfast?’

‘Really Serena, you don’t have to cook for me. I’m fine with toast.’

‘As long as there’s coffee, right?’ Serena winks, ‘I think we deserve a treat, don’t you? Anyway, I’m just softening you up: seeing as you’re here we might as well get a bit more work in.’

Bernie laughs, ‘Well, I won’t say no then.’

 

Serena has already made the pancake batter by the time Bernie gets downstairs, slightly self conscious in a baggy university t shirt and jogging bottoms. Serena is pouring a ladle of batter into her frying pan, glances up and grins.

‘Looks better on you than it did on me.’

Bernie laughs and feels better immediately. ‘Can I help?’

‘Lemon in the fridge, nutella and sugar in the cupboard.’ Serena jerks her head and Bernie opens the indicated cupboard, digs around and retrieves the items. The lemon in the fridge is still whole so she grabs a cutting board and a knife and cuts it neatly in two. By the time she’s done, Serena has got two pancakes ready to go.

‘What do you think, cook a stack now or eat as we go?’

‘Oh, cook them all now. Less jumping up and down.’

Serena nods and Bernie leans on the edge of the table, watching as she swirls more batter into the pan. After a few seconds Serena turns and offers her the pan. ‘This one’s yours to flip.’

Bernie gulps and takes it. ‘I’ll warn you my flipping skills are rusty.’ Not that they were great to begin with – she distinctly remembers one pancake sliding neatly down the back of the cooker when the kids were little. Cameron had laughed himself sick and Marcus had been quietly resigned.

‘I’ll help, shall I?’

Before Bernie can respond Serena’s hand is wrapping around her own.

‘1 – 2 – 3 – flip!’ Serena guides the pan in a quick jerking action and the pancake lifts, spins and flops neatly back down. ‘There you go!’ Bernie relinquishes the pan with relief and Serena sets it back on the stove.

‘More you than me,’Bernie says.

‘A team effort, shall we say?’

Serena makes her do the next one on her own and it lands almost entirely in the pan. Serena catches the rest of it before it falls on the floor. Three pancakes later Bernie has managed it successfully all on her own and the batter has run out.

‘You’ve definitely earned it,’ Serena says, as she puts the plates on the table and pours out the coffee that has been brewing.

Bernie grins and thinks again how easy, how pleasant, it is to simply exist with Serena. The pancakes are tasty, even if she does grimace slightly at the amount of nutella Serena is spreading on hers.

‘Thank you,’ she says suddenly and Serena raises an eyebrow. ‘This is just – lovely.’ She stretches a hand out to squeeze Serena’s. Serena blushes.

‘It’s lovely to have you here,’ Serena says, holding Bernie’s gaze for a second before she blinks and slips her hand away.

Pancakes eaten, they start on washing up. Bernie flicks soap suds at Serena, just for fun, just to make her laugh and delights in the peal of laughter she draws forth.

‘I’ll get you back,’ Serena warns her.

‘Oh you will, will you?’

Serena removes suddy hands from the water, smiles beautifully at Bernie and grabs her face, caressing it until Bernie is spluttering from the suds that have gone up her nose and in her mouth.

Serena steps back with a grin. ‘Let that be a lesson to you, Wolfe.’

Serena’s never addressed Bernie by her surname before and it sends a frisson through her.

‘Watch it, Campbell,’ she says, stepping forward so that Serena is forced to tilt her head to keep eye contact, ‘Do remember which of us is the trained army officer.’

There’s a flash of something in Serena’s eyes but it vanishes before Bernie can read it, and she shakes her head with a smile as she turns to wash the pan. ‘Duly noted.’

 

When everything is clean and dry – including Bernie – they head to the living room sofa to tackle the proposal again. Sitting cross legged on the sofa opposite Serena, papers spread around her and a coffee mug in her hand, it occurs to Bernie to wonder why they haven’t done this before and she says as much.

Serena shrugs, ‘I assumed you’d be busy with family things at the weekend.’

‘The kids are never around, and Marcus is out golfing half the time.’ This sparks a stab of conscience and Bernie digs out her phone; she hasn’t looked at it for a few hours now.

There’s a text from Marcus, sent about nine. Going golfing. She huffs and throws it on the table.

‘Alright?’ Serena queries.

Bernie rolls her eyes, ‘Marcus is, in fact, out golfing right now.’

‘You’re not in any rush to get back then? More coffee?’ Serena pulls herself off the sofa.

‘No and yes, please. You’ve got me for the day, if you want me.’ Bernie hands her half empty mug to Serena and smiles.

‘Perfect,’ Serena smiles back, holds her gaze again just for a second before she turns to the kitchen.

 

The result of the mammoth effort they put in together is a pretty much finished proposal. Bernie leaves slightly regretfully in the evening, turns to Serena on the doorstep.

‘So, I’ll see you Monday?’ she asks as if she doesn’t know they’re scheduled in together.

‘I’ll be there,’ Serena says softly, lifts an arm as though she’s about to reach out, but then drops it. ‘Take care, Bernie.’

‘You too.’ Bernie walks down the path to her car, gets in and starts the engine up. As she indicates to pull out of the parking spot she glances back. Serena is still at the door, watching her. She winds down her window and sticks her arm out to wave. Serena returns the gesture and Bernie’s heart lifts. As she nears the end of the road she checks her rear view mirror. Serena is still there, leaning against her door frame and watching her car.

 

Her happy mood lasts until she gets home.

‘For god’s sake, Bern! One text, hours after your shift, and then nothing?’

‘I’m a grown woman, Marcus,’ she snaps back, ‘I can look after myself. And I was only at Serena’s.’

‘You’ve been there all day?!’

‘You were golfing! I didn’t have much incentive to rush back, did I?’

‘I hope you weren’t expecting food.’

‘I’ve already eaten.’

‘Of course you have.’ Marcus glares at her, ‘I’m sleeping in the spare room tonight.’

Bernie watches him stomp off up the stairs and wonders what’s caused this massive over reaction. Perhaps she should follow him and make up – on the other hand, having the bed to herself and not having to listen to him snoring is something of a treat. She heads into the kitchen, pours herself a whiskey and decides that she can wait till the morning to smooth things over.

 

She does patch things up with Marcus in the morning, apologises for her scanty communication and he admits he was in a bad mood. Bernie spends the day getting on with the housework that she’s neglected all week and Marcus is locked in his office doing paperwork of some sort. It’s the longest she’s spent apart from Serena in a week and she misses the way that Serena makes her smile, the easy laughter and casual touches that she’s got used to. Monday morning comes as a relief.

Serena’s in before her, so Bernie bypasses Pulses and heads straight for AAU.

‘Morning,’ Serena looks up with a wide smile as Bernie enters their office. ‘Breakfast,’ she nods at the pastry and coffee on Bernie’s desk. ‘I’ve printed us each a copy of the proposal. Thought we could check it one last time and then drop it up to Hanssen today?’

Bernie subsides into her chair and swigs the coffee gratefully. ‘Sounds fine to me. I don’t think there’s anything else we could do to make it better.’

‘The board will accept it or I’ll have things to say.’ Serena says fiercely.

‘Oh, like what?’ Bernie asks with a hint of laughter in her voice.

‘Like ‘I resign as deputy CEO and you can find some other sucker to do it’.’

Bernie considers. ‘That’d probably do the trick. We really didn’t have to put so much work in, if that’s your plan B.’

Serena sits back and laughs. Bernie grins. ‘I missed you yesterday,’ she admits shyly.

Serena looks down briefly, then smiles. ‘I missed you too. Drink up, we’re late for rounds.’

 

As it turns out, Hanssen is more than pleased to have the proposal two days early and calls the board to convene tomorrow to discuss it. Bernie and Serena spend the evening at Albie’s, trying not to overthink it all.

‘I think I might have missed a reference in section two,’ Bernie says worriedly and Morven sighs loudly.

‘Nothing you can do about it now,’ she says, ‘You two have been no fun recently.’

‘Who hasn’t?’ The Keller gang have joined them and it’s Sacha who is querying.

‘Bernie and Serena haven’t been to Albie’s for a week,’ Morven says in despair, ‘And all they’re doing is worrying.’

‘Well, we’ll have to put a stop to that. Serena, would you care for a dance?’ Sacha offers his hand to Serena who sends a despairing look at Bernie. Bernie shrugs and grins, waves her off.

‘You’re not getting out of it, Ms Wolfe,’ Dom appears in front of her. ‘Come on, you too.’ With a sigh and a laugh, Bernie lets Dom lead her out to the small dance floor.

‘Where’s Loftie tonight?’ she asks as he spins her round.

‘Night shift,’ he says, ‘I’ll have to make do with second best.’ He winks cheekily at her and she pouts as if she was offended.

‘Who’s second best?’ Serena asks as she and Sacha move past.

‘Me, apparently,’ Bernie says with a laugh.

‘Never.’ Serena’s voice is firm and although it was just a joke, Bernie can’t help but feel the warmth of Serena’s affection for her.

Bernie wakes up far too early on Tuesday morning, tense and with a stomach full of butterflies. She rolls over, pulling the duvet with her, bashes her head back into the pillow and closes her eyes, willing herself to fall back asleep. It doesn’t work. She wriggles, pulls the duvet again.

‘Fucks sake, Bern,’ Marcus mumbles, ‘Can you stop?’

She gives it up as a bad job, slips wearily out of the bed, opens the door as quietly as she can and tiptoes downstairs. In the kitchen she puts on the kettle and picks up her phone from the side where its been charging. Awake and worrying she texts Serena, then makes her coffee. She’s just taking her first sip when her phone buzzes. Me too. Then a picture comes through; Serena sitting in her pyjamas, hair sticking up everywhere and clutching her own mug of coffee, pulling an absurdly worried expression. Bernie laughs, takes her own selfie and sends it back.

Going into work early, Serena replies. You coming?

Of course she is. She drinks the rest of her coffee, creeps back upstairs to the spare room where she’d laid out her clothes for the day last night. Marcus is snoring again, so she moves as quietly as possible as she dresses and brushes her teeth. Downstairs she leaves her customary note on the table and closes the door with a thud behind her.

She meets Serena in the car park. Serena has brushed her hair since she took her selfie and Bernie suddenly realises that she forgot to do her own, tugs her fingers through the curly mess.

‘You look fine, Bernie. Coffee?’

They sit opposite each other in Pulses, quiet. There’s no rush as they’re two hours early for their shift.

‘Oh this is silly,’ Serena says as she finishes her cup, ‘There’s hours yet before the board even meet, we can’t do anything about it now. Shall we go for a walk?’

Bernie looks at the dark sky, a hint of pink just starting to show on the horizon that indicates it’s nearly dawn. It’s not warm but they’ve both got coats. ‘Well, why not.’

Serena leads her out into the grounds and out down a footpath that Bernie didn’t know existed. They cross a bridge over a small river and it turns out that there’s a path along the river and it’s quiet and lovely and just the place to walk when you’re trying to stop worrying. As the sky gets lighter, Serena tells Bernie tales of the weirder cases – and there have been many of them – on AAU and Bernie tells her about the one bright spot of her time on Keller, when Ric accidentally punched Hanssen in the face. She’s rewarded with Serena’s peals of laughter.

‘Oh, I would have loved to see that,’ Serena says as she calms down, ‘I saw the bruise but Henrik refused to tell me how he got it.’

‘I don’t suppose that we could threaten to punch him in the face again if we don’t get the trauma unit,’ Bernie sighs longingly.

‘I’d rather not be arrested,’ Serena says with a chuckle. She looks at her watch, ‘We’d better be getting back now.’

 

Once they’re on the ward they behave like that consummate professionals that they are, and it’s only occasionally when they make eye contact across the ward that they let a hint of emotion through their calm exteriors. As the day wears on the butterflies in Bernie’s stomach get larger. Serena buys her a sandwich for lunch but she can only glare at it, the thought of eating anything is sickening her.

‘I haven’t felt this nervous since I opened my A-level results,’ she groans to Serena.

‘My undergraduate results were worse for me. My Harvard offer depended on them.’

‘Did I know you’d been to Harvard?’ Bernie sits up straighter, keen to be distracted. Serena obliges and the knock on the door ten minutes later makes them both jump.

‘Oh god,’ Bernie murmurs when she sees Hanssen standing there.

‘Ladies,’ he says in his calm way as he comes in. He sits down at one of their spare chairs, looks from Bernie to Serena and back again. Bernie bites her lip. He’s impossible to read at the best of times. ‘I’m delighted to tell you that the board was very impressed by your thorough and well thought out proposal, and they have agreed to allocate the necessary funds. We will begin buying equipment with the aim of opening the new unit in a month.’ The corner of his mouth almost turns up. ‘Congratulations. A very good job.’ He unfolds himself and leaves, closing the door neatly behind him.

Bernie and Serena look at each other.

‘We did it,’ Bernie whispers tearfully.

‘I knew we would,’ Serena replies, but her voice is shaky. She moves round the desk, pulls Bernie up. ‘Come here, you.’ As Serena flings her arms round her, Bernie buries her face into her shoulder, clings on to her.

‘Thank you,’ she whispers damply.

‘Nothing less than you deserve,’ Serena says gently, ‘And we both put in the work.’

 

Regardless of the fact that they’ve both been up since five, Bernie and Serena lead AAU to a celebratory party at Albie’s after their shift. At Serena’s urging, Bernie is drinking Shiraz. It seems only right, but it is going to her head a little. She’s permanently attached to Serena, somehow unwilling to let her move away, and Serena doesn’t seem unhappy to have Bernie’s arm tucked round her waist, or draped over her shoulder.

‘To our new trauma unit,’ Morven yells at one point.

‘To Bernie and Serena,’ Fletch counters and Bernie blushes at the way their names are linked.

Serena turns to her, a burning light in her dark eyes. ‘To us,’ she says, raising her glass.

‘To us,’ Bernie echoes.

They stare at each other for a second and Bernie feels a sudden pressure in her chest and it’s like she’s forgotten how to breathe. Then somebody yells ‘shots!’ and Serena pulls her gaze away and Bernie can fill her lungs again.

The next week passes swiftly. There’s a lot of work to do and although they’re not staying too late at the hospital they are unbelievably busy when they’re there. Saturday comes round and Bernie finds herself at Serena’s house without any discussion at all. It’s raining outside, so they curl up on the sofa, Bernie at one end and Serena at the other, feet touching in the middle, and watch crap tv. They go out to the pub for lunch, dashing to the car in the pouring rain, and laugh as they fling themselves in. Then it’s back to Serena’s for hot chocolate laced with whiskey. Bernie thinks it’s nice to have some quiet time together, to just exist without worrying about AAU, or the trauma unit. Serena has such a glow to her that Bernie can barely take her eyes off her. When she goes home that evening she thinks it’s the pleasantest Saturday she’s had in years.

One Wednesday, Bernie is rostered in earlier than Serena. She’s just on her way to Pulses for their morning coffee and pastry when her phone buzzes.

Not feeling too great, I’m not going to make it in.

Bernie has known Serena long enough to know that she doesn’t call in sick lightly. So she orders herself a coffee and takes it back up to the office, signalling to Fletch that she needs a few moments of quiet.

‘Serena, what’s wrong?’ she asks as soon as Serena answers her phone.

‘God a cold,’ Serena snuffles, then sneezes.

‘Just a cold?’ Bernie asks suspiciously. There’s a pause. ‘Serena,’ Bernie says warningly.

‘Bad cold. Head hurds. In bed.’

‘Flu?’

‘Hope nod,’ Serena moans.

Bernie looks at her watch, and peers out into the ward. It’s quiet, and Raf and Morven are both in.

‘Don’t go anywhere,’ she says.

Serena almost laughs. ‘Nod going do.’

Bernie calls up for Ric, wangles a promise to keep an eye on AAU, tells Raf to call her if she’s needed, then slips off. She’s definitely breaking a few rules but she’s not going to be far away.

She stops at the supermarket on the way to Serena’s, buys cream of tomato soup, lemsip, a jar of honey and a lemon.

At Serena’s house she hesitates. She doesn’t want to get Serena out of bed, and she does know where the spare key is hidden. On reflection she decides it better to use the key than not, and lets herself into the house.

‘Serena?’ she calls as she steps inside.

‘Up here,’ a faint and woeful voice comes from her bedroom.

Bernie drops the bag of supplies by the door, kicks off her shoes and takes the stairs two at a time.

‘Oh, you poor thing,’ she says as she opens Serena’s door and sees the pathetic form of her friend huddled in bed.

Serena manages a smile. ‘You didn’t have to come.’

‘Don’t be silly, of course I did.’ Bernie sits herself on the edge of the bed and strokes Serena’s greying hair gently. ‘What are friends for if not to provide lemsip?’

Serena pulls a face. ‘I loathe that stuff.’

‘I brought honey and lemon too.’

‘Much better.’

Bernie starts to stand up, thinking to head downstairs and get the kettle going, but Serena stills her, pulls her weakly back down.

‘Don’t stop,’ she says, bringing Bernie’s hand back to her head.

‘Okay, just a few minutes and then I’ll get your drink sorted, alright?’ Bernie moves so that she’s sitting propped against the headboard and Serena wriggles closer, puts her head in Bernie’s lap. Bernie cards her fingers through Serena’s hair, sighs at the softness and the feel of Serena cuddled up to her.

‘Okay?’ she asks softly.

‘Perfect.’

Bernie keeps stroking Serena’s hair until she feels Serena relax and hears her breathing slow. Then she gently eases Serena’s head onto her pillow and pulls the covers neatly over her. She smiles down for a moment, on impulse bends and presses a swift kiss to Serena’s cheek. Then she heads downstairs, picks up her bag from the door and goes into the kitchen.

There are a few dirty dishes by the sink and Bernie thinks that she may as well be useful, so she fills the sink and washes them quickly before popping the kettle on. She knows where everything is by now, feels at home here as in her own house. She gets out a knife and cutting board and quickly slices her lemon in two, squeezing one half into the bottom of a mug. Then she adds a big teaspoonful of honey. It looks a sad amount, almost covered by the lemon, so she shrugs and adds another spoonful. Nobody ever complained about too much honey, after all. There’s no sound from upstairs so she doesn’t mix it up yet, goes into the living room instead, curls up on the sofa and picks up the most recent copy of BMJ to flick through. Raf texts that all is still quiet on AAU, that she should stay and look after Serena and not worry about them, which is fine as that’s precisely what she intends to do.

She’s almost dropping off herself when she hears a cough from upstairs, and she nips into the kitchen to reboil the kettle and add the hot water to her honey and lemon drink. When it’s all stirred up and she’s added a touch of cold water too, she carries it carefully upstairs to Serena.

‘You’re still here,’ Serena croaks as Bernie enters her room.

‘Where else would I be?’

‘There is a ward to run,’ Serena says, but her eyes are crinkling in amusement.

‘Raf’s handling it fine,’ Bernie says as she sits beside Serena on the bed. ‘Here, I made you honey and lemon.’ Serena struggles to sit up, so Bernie puts the mug on the bedside table, helps Serena up and plumps the pillows behind her so that she’s comfortable. She passes the mug over and Serena takes it gratefully.

Serena sips and sighs. ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome,’ Bernie says, and puts her arm around Serena. Serena leans into her gratefully and Bernie’s hand finds the greying strands again, smoothing and stroking.

Then Serena sneezes and Bernie grabs her mug, steadying it. Her fingers wrap around Serena’s.

‘Bernie -’ Serena says as the sneezing subsides.

‘Mmm?’

‘Oh, nothing,’ Serena leans back into her, ‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Tell me,’ Bernie murmurs.

‘Maybe someday.’

 

When she’s finished the drink, Serena feels better so Bernie helps her out of bed, into her dressing gown and downstairs into the living room. She settles Serena comfortably on the sofa and tucks her up with a blanket.

‘Read or tv?’

‘Tv please,’ Serena says, ‘I’m too fuzzy to concentrate on a book.’

Bernie find the remote, turns the tv on and sits down next to Serena. Instantly Serena nestles into her and Bernie’s arm finds its natural resting place, gently over Serena’s shoulders, holding her close. They watch mindless programmes, Bernie providing commentary and Serena occasionally managing a sarcastic comment, until Serena’s stomach rumbles.

‘Soup?’ Bernie offers.

‘Haven’t got any.’

‘I brought some. Tomato?’

‘What would I do without you?’

‘Not eat soup?’ Bernie suggests. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’ She heats the soup, puts some bread on to toast at the same time, then finds a tray lurking in the back of the cupboard. She spoons the heated soup into two mugs, puts the toast and mugs on the tray and carries it all carefully back to Serena.

‘Here you are.’

‘Good thinking, batman,’ Serena says as she takes a mug, ‘I’m feeling better already.’

‘Are you?’

‘Well, a little bit at least.’

Bernie laughs and sits carefully back on the sofa. ‘What do you want to watch?’ She flicks through Netflix as she sips her soup.

‘Something easy.’

Bernie keeps scrolling.

‘That one,’ Serena says suddenly.

‘How to train your dragon?’ Bernie raises an eyebrow, ‘Okay then.’

‘Don’t judge,’ Serena murmurs as she relaxes into the sofa.

‘Would I?’ Bernie tucks her feet up, lets Serena lean against her, and clicks play.

Serena goes to sleep half way through, but Bernie lets the film play on. She’s enjoying it, kids film though it is, and the soundtrack is fantastic. She’ll have to think about sorting something for dinner soon, and then at some point she’ll have to get home, but the sofa is comfy and she doesn’t want to disturb Serena, who is snuffling gently against her shoulder. She looks down, smiling fondly, presses a swift kiss to her hair.

 

She gets home earlier than she would usually have done from her shift. She’d cooked spaghetti bolognaise for their dinner, and Serena had managed to eat a bit. Bernie had put the rest in the fridge, and left Serena with strict instructions to go straight to bed. She’d been about to leave when Serena had stopped her with a hand on her arm.

‘Bernie, thanks.’

‘For what?’

Serena looked up at her, ‘Looking after me today. I – I really appreciate it.’

Bernie had bent down to kiss her forehead. ‘Anything for you, Serena. I’ll pop in tomorrow before work.’

Now, she opens the door to her own house with the memory of the warmth in Serena’s eyes and the sincerity in her voice. ‘I’m home,’ she calls.

‘You’re early,’ Marcus appears in the doorway.

‘I didn’t go to work. I mean, I did, but Serena was ill so I’ve been at hers.’

‘You’ve been looking after Serena all day?’ There’s more than a hint of anger in his voice and Bernie glares at him.

‘She’s my best friend, Marcus. What do you expect me to do when she’s ill?’

‘I expect you to stay at your job like a responsible consultant,’ he retorts. ‘Somebody else could have gone round.’

Bernie bites her lip and holds back her immediate response that she didn’t want anybody else looking after her.

‘It’s done now,’ she says finally.

‘You’d better watch yourself,’ Marcus says cuttingly, ‘You don’t want to lose this job too.’

He disappears into the living room. ‘I got blown up,’ she yells at his retreating back and runs into the kitchen to put on the kettle with trembling hands. Why is it always like this, she wonders. She spends a perfectly pleasant day with Serena and comes home and Marcus destroys it all.

 

Bernie sleeps in the spare room that night, and leaves in the morning without making any effort to speak to him. She lets herself into Serena’s house with the spare key, is pleased to find Serena up and dressed and looking much brighter.

‘I thought I might come in today,’ Serena says as she pushes a mug of coffee at Bernie. ‘I won’t treat the patients but I can get on with some of the trauma unit organisation.’

‘If you’re sure you’re up to it, it’ll be good to have you in.’

‘And you can keep an eye on me, make sure I’m not over-doing it,’ Serena says with a wink.

‘Don’t think I won’t send you home if you’re struggling,’ Bernie warns, ‘I’m not letting you over-work yourself.’

‘So kind.’ Serena looks down for a second, toying with the handle of her mug, then takes a breath and holds Bernie’s eyes. ‘I’d like to take you out to dinner when the trauma unit is open. To celebrate. I know we’ll do the big Albie’s thing with the others too, but I wanted something that was just – us.’

‘Sounds perfect,’ Bernie says, reaching out to put a calm hand over Serena’s. ‘Lovely.’

‘I hoped you’d say that, I’ve booked a table for the Saturday after it opens. There’s a little Italian I know.’

‘The one with the extensive wine list?’

Serena nods and laughs, her smile lighting her face and Bernie beams. She doesn’t think she’ll ever tire of the way Serena positively glows when she’s happy.

Bernie looks at her watch and drains her coffee. ‘Well, we best get going. Want a lift?’

 

It’s an easy shift. Bernie makes sure that Serena stays well away from anything approaching hard work, gets her coffee and pastries and lunch. Perches on the edge of her desk to chat. After a day curled up on the sofa together, Bernie finds it very easy to touch Serena casually as she passes; pats her on the shoulder, puts a hand on her back. She loves the way that Serena smiles when she does it, loves the way that Serena reciprocates. She’s never worked with somebody this closely before and it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is something precious.

 

She gets home before Marcus and starts preparing dinner. They haven’t spoken since last night, not even texts, and they do need to patch things up. She’s got a toad-in-the-hole in the oven when Marcus comes back.

‘Bern, look. About last night; I’m sorry,’ he says awkwardly, standing the opposite side of the kitchen table. ‘I know we’re both busy for a while, but I thought we could go out to dinner two week’s Saturday? My treat?’

Bernie glances at the calendar.

‘Oh, I’m sorry Marcus,’ she says, apologetically, ‘I’m already booked to go out with Serena.’

‘Another Albie’s piss-up?’ Marcus’ voice is rising.

Bernie clenches her fists to keep her temper. ‘Actually we’re going out to dinner to celebrate our trauma unit opening.’

‘Just the two of you?’ he’s angry now.

‘Yes,’ she snaps back, angry too, because he is and she doesn’t know why.

‘Fucks sake, Bern!’ he yells. ‘How can I compete with Serena Campbell? She gets you a job, she gives you a fucking trauma unit. I try to take you out to dinner and she’s already ahead of me!’

‘Why are you trying to compete?’ she shouts back, confused and a little scared because he’s never spoken to her like this before.

He must note the fear in her voice because he takes a deep breath, steps back. ‘Are you in love with her?’

‘What?!’

‘Are you in love with Serena?’ he says slowly, enunciating clearly.

‘In love with her?’ she gasps.

‘Is she in love with you?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she’s gripping the chair in front of her so tightly her knuckles have gone white.

‘Think about it, Bern.’ He’s backing out of the kitchen now, ‘Think about it, and let me know.’

‘Marcus?’

He looks back at her from the door. ‘I think you and I might be done.’

 

Marcus has shut himself in the spare room, and Bernie sits on the sofa, cuddling her knees and wondering what on earth has just happened. The oven beeps and she moves on auto-pilot to turn it off and retrieve the dinner. She can’t eat now. She doesn’t think she’s ever felt less like eating. If only she could talk to somebody – but she can’t talk to Serena about this.

In love with Serena? It plays in her mind, echoing and bouncing. Is she? She doesn’t know. Being with Serena feels nothing like being with Marcus, and that’s the only point of reference she has for the last thirty years. In the end she gives up, goes to bed to stare at the ceiling and wonder what she’s going to do.

 

She doesn’t sleep much, gets up way before her alarm, dresses wearily and heads into work. She bumps into Dom in Pulses and suddenly realises that here is somebody who might be able to help. He looks at her pale face and follows her to the roof. She leans over the railing, studying the view, lit fag in her mouth in an attempt to calm down. Dom stands a pace to her side, watching her warily.

‘I might be in love with somebody,’ she says eventually.

‘Right.’

‘But I don’t know. It’s – well, she,’ she pauses and understanding crosses Dom’s face. ‘She’s a friend. I don’t know what I feel. How can you tell?’ She looks appealingly at Dom.

‘You like her? You like spending time with her?’

She nods. ‘But we’re friends. How do I know if it’s more?’

‘What do you feel like when you see her? How do you feel when you’re together?’

Bernie thinks of the warmth that spreads through her when she sees Serena, how she’ll do almost anything to make her smile, how being with her feels so easy, so right. ‘But she’s a woman,’ she whispers eventually.

‘And?’ Dom raises his eyebrows, ‘Can you imagine kissing her?’

Bernie gulps, looks down unseeing at the car park below. Imagines Serena turning her face up to her, imagines pulling her close, imagines what Serena might taste like – Shiraz, undoubtedly – how her lips would feel and the sounds Serena might make. A thrill runs through her.

‘Oh,’ she says faintly.

Dom grins. ‘There you go. And, Bernie? Serena looks at you like you’re the most amazing person in the world.’

She glances at him sharply. ‘I didn’t mention any names.’

‘So you didn’t,’ Dom smiles and turns to leave.

Bernie watches him go. ‘Did everybody know before me?’ she wonders out loud. Then she pulls her phone from her pocket. No point prolonging this all. She texts Marcus. You were right. Three short words to end a marriage.

 

She smokes another fag to steady her nerves, then heads down to AAU.

Serena is just taking off her coat and scarf as Bernie goes into their office. Bernie looks at the nape of her neck, the faint colour that is staining Serena’s cheeks and gulps. Serena glances round.

‘Morning Bernie. What’s wrong?’

Bernie sinks into her chair and puts her head in her hands. Serena moves swiftly to her, rubs her shoulders and a tingling sensation shoots through her. She bites her lip to ignore it.

‘Marcus is going to leave me,’ she says quietly. ‘Or perhaps I’m leaving Marcus. I’m not sure.’

Serena’s hands pause, then continue. ‘What’s happened?’

‘There’s somebody else.’

Serena’s hands slip from Berne’s shoulders and she crouches down next to her chair, forcing Bernie to look at her.

‘For him or for you?’

She takes a deep breath and holds Serena’s gaze. Serena knows almost every detail of her life, definitely knows that she socialises with nobody outside the hospital and spends more than half her time with Serena. ‘For me,’ she admits softly.

‘Right,’ Serena replies, equally quietly. ‘Right.’ She covers Bernie’s hand with her own, caressing it gently with her thumb. ‘Let’s get through this shift, then we’ll talk.’

Bernie nods, looks at Serena, who is smiling so softly at her. ‘Thank you.’

She goes to the staff room to change into her scrubs and by the time she is back Serena has bought them both coffee and pastries. She scoffs the danish, then heads out with the coffee in time for rounds. The hours pass quietly, although Bernie finds she often looks across the ward at Serena to see Serena watching her. It makes her heart beat a little faster.

An appendectomy case comes in and Bernie goes off to theatre. It’s straightforward; she could probably do it blindfold, and the patient will be fine. She washes up then heads back to the ward. She can hear shouting before she gets there, walks a little faster, tension curling in her stomach.

‘Ms Wolfe,’ Morven grabs her as soon as she’s on the ward, ‘It’s -’

But Bernie is close enough to recognise the voice now, and she strides towards the nurses station. Marcus is leaning over it, furious. Serena is standing back, pale but unintimidated.

‘A trauma unit is an expensive way to get in someone’s knickers, isn’t it?’

Serena’s eyes flicker to Bernie as she approaches, then back to the angry man in front of her.

‘Believe me,’ she says coldly, ‘If I had been trying to get into Bernie’s knickers, there would have been easier ways to do it.’

Marcus snorts, ‘Come on, why else would you make her lead.’

‘Because she is the most fantastic, fearless surgeon in this entire hospital.’ Serena looks straight at Bernie, and Bernie thinks what a fool she’s been up to now because this woman is incredible. She swallows the sudden lump in her throat.

‘You need to leave, Marcus,’ she says calmly. ‘Unless you’d like us to call security?’

‘I’m going,’ he shoots back. ‘You’ve got two days to get your things out of the house.’ He storms out and Bernie clings onto the desk in front of her, all the strength suddenly draining out of her.

‘Uh, Ms Wolfe? Are you okay?’ Morven steps forward as the rest of the ward, patients and staff alike, pretend they haven’t spent the past five minutes in rapt attention.

‘I think I need to sit down,’ Bernie says faintly.

‘Morven, can you hold the fort here?’ Serena says, finally moving round the desk to slip a supportive arm around Bernie. ‘I’ll be back in a bit.’

‘Pulses or the roof?’ Serena asks quietly as they head to the lift.

‘Roof,’ Bernie says. She’d love a cup of coffee but she thinks she might cry and she’d rather not have an audience.

On the roof, Serena retrieves a couple of deckchairs from the stack and puts them out. Sinks into one and pulls Bernie down into the other. Bernie thinks she should be cold, out on the roof in only her scrubs, but she’s so numb she can’t tell.

‘Bernie?’

‘It’s just very sudden,’ Bernie says. ‘I can’t get my head round it all.’

‘Do you want me to go? I can send Morven up, if you’d rather?’

‘No!’ Bernie reaches out instantly, ‘No, Serena. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt recently, it’s that I’d rather have you with me than anybody else.’

Serena subsides with a shaky laugh. ‘The feeling is mutual. Bernie – do you have anywhere to stay?’

Bernie breathes out slowly. ‘No. The kids are miles away. I suppose I’d better book a hotel for a while.’

‘Or you could stay with me? Not – I mean, you can have the spare room. While things settle down.’

Bernie curls her fingers around Serena’s, looks up into eyes filled with warmth and compassion. ‘Thank you. Did you really mean it? About me being...’

‘The most fantastic, fearless surgeon in the hospital? Of course I did. You are.’

Bernie leans into her, ‘I could kiss you, Serena Campbell.’

Serena laughs unsteadily. ‘Not today, though.’ She presses her forehead against Bernie’s, so close that Bernie can feel the warmth of her breath on her skin. ‘Let’s save it for a happier day.’

‘There will be many of them,’ Bernie promises, letting her free hand slide round Serena’s waist. Serena’s finds it way into her hair and she sighs at the touch. Her mouth is a scant inch from Serena’s and it would be so incredibly easy to close the gap, but Serena is right. It has to wait until the mess is sorted. And then she can’t believe that she’s thought of her nearly thirty year marriage as a mess and finally, as she’s safe in Serena’s arms, tears flow.

Serena wants Bernie to go home for the rest of the day, offers her house when Bernie points out she can hardly go to her own, but Bernie wants to work. Needs to work. So they head back inside and down to AAU and let the business of the ward distract them.

Bernie takes Fletch with her when she goes back to her house that night. Virtually every member of staff on the ward has offered, and a number of the patients too; she’s chosen Fletch purely on the basis of height. But as it turns out Marcus isn’t in when they arrive, for which she is unbelievably grateful. Fletch waits awkwardly in the hall as she flies around the house, stuffing her most treasured possessions in her suitcase. Photos, a few letters she got from the kids when she was on tour, little presents they made her through the years, and her personal documents. Clothes can mostly wait for the moment. Even if Marcus destroys them in a fit of spite, they can be replaced. The letters and presents can’t be. She makes sure she has enough clothes for a week, and checks her watch. They’ve been here half an hour and she really can’t keep Fletch waiting any longer.

‘Thanks,’ she says as they part ways at their cars.

‘Not a problem,’ he says, a serious look on his face, ‘You deserve better than him.’

 

Serena is waiting for her when she draws up outside her house, helps Bernie lug her suitcase into the house and then draws Bernie into a close hug. Bernie sighs, wraps her arms around her and feels the tension of the last few hours leave her body.

‘He wasn’t there,’ she says into Serena’s shoulder. ‘I’m glad, really, but after nearly thirty years together it feels...’ she trails off.

‘Anticlimactic?’ Serena offers and Bernie nods.

They take Bernie’s things upstairs and then settle on the sofa with coffee. There’s a gap between them. Bernie places her hand in it and relaxes as Serena twines their fingers together.

‘We haven’t talked about us,’ Bernie says after a while. ‘We haven’t even… said… anything.’

‘Do we need to?’ Bernie looks at Serena hopefully and she smiles. ‘I’ve liked you for, oh, ages. That night when I broke up with Robbie, when you tucked me into bed and kissed my forehead. Since then.’

‘You didn’t say anything.’

‘You’re my married best friend, of course I didn’t. What about you?’

Bernie laughs slightly. ‘Marcus and Dom told me.’

‘Excuse me?’ Serena sounds offended but her fingers tighten around Bernie’s.

‘Last night. Marcus asked me if I was – if, well never mind, but it made me think about it. And then I talked to Dom this morning and I realised that I had more than friendly feelings for you. But I think maybe I have right from the start. You were the only bright spot in my first few weeks in Holby.’ Tears suddenly fill her eyes and she sniffs. ‘Serena.’

‘Shhh,’ Serena pulls her into a hug, ‘It’s okay, I’ve got you.’

 

Serena makes dinner and glares at Bernie until she manages to choke down more than a few mouthfuls. Then she packs Bernie off to bed. Bernie has a long shower, stares up into the spray and tries to wipe her mind of everything. She dries and dresses in her threadbare old RAMC top and shorts and heads back down to the spare room. It feels different, now that she knows she might be here for a while. She lies back on the pillow, stares at the ceiling and wonders what on earth the kids are going to say. She is deep in that rabbit hole when there’s a tap at the door. Serena comes in with a shy smile.

‘Thought you might be struggling,’ she says as she perches on the edge of the bed. She runs her hands through Bernie’s hair. ‘Have I ever told you how much I like your hair?’

‘It’s a mess half the time.’ Bernie lets herself relax into her touch.

‘But a very lovely mess,’ Serena counters. ‘It’s so soft.’

There’s silence for a while. Bernie enjoys the feeling of Serena’s fingers tickling along her scalp and teasing out the knots in her hair. She’s almost half asleep when she’s suddenly seized by a realisation. ‘He always calls me Bern. I loathe it. Thirty years and I never told him.’

‘Edward called me Rena,’ Serena says. ‘Awful.’

‘Men,’ Bernie heaves a heartfelt sigh and rolls over. Serena seems to take that as her cue to leave and stands up. Bernie catches her hand. ‘Goodnight,’ she says, and presses her lips to Serena’s fingers.

Serena blushes. ‘Goodnight Bernie.’

 

Bernie does get some sleep, much to her surprise, and when she wakes in the morning, doesn’t feel too bad. She slumps downstairs in her bed clothes to find Serena popping toast and pouring coffee. A luminous smile spreads over her face as she turns to Bernie and Bernie’s heart leaps in response.

‘Morning,’ she says.

‘Coffee,’ Serena pushes a mug over. ‘I’m afraid it’s just toast this morning.’

‘That’s fine. Thanks.’

‘Busy day ahead,’ Serena says as she butters toast.

‘When isn’t it?’ Bernie asks and Serena laughs.

‘When are you going to get the rest of your things?’

‘Thought I’d go around midday, if you don’t mind? I know Marcus is working.’

‘Take somebody with you though,’ Serena says. ‘Please?’

Bernie nods. ‘I’ll see who’s free.’

Serena puts the plate of toast on the table and squeezes Bernie’s shoulder, ‘I just don’t want you getting hurt.’

Bernie covers Serena’s hand with her own. ‘I know, it’s okay.’

Breakfast doesn’t take long, and Bernie heads upstairs to get ready. The advantage of not having many clothes with her is it doesn’t take long to sort out an outfit. She throws on her customary black jeans and a shirt, tugs a hairbrush quickly through her curls, brushes her teeth and heads downstairs. She’s surprised to find Serena already ready, and holding a set of keys.

‘Here,’ she says, handing them to Bernie as they meet by the door, ‘They might as well be yours officially.’

‘Are you sure?’ Bernie takes them slowly.

‘Don’t be silly, what would we do when we have different shifts?’

‘Oh, of course. Thanks. Do you want a lift in?’

Serena looks at her, considering, then shrugs and smiles, ‘Good for the environment, I suppose.’

 

It’s a normal day on AAU, busy and bustling with a side helping of sorting out the trauma unit, and Bernie is grateful for it. It helps her to stay grounded, to keep her mind from wandering off. She does allow herself to look at Serena a little more often than usual; the way her hair tickles the nape of her neck, the eyebrow raise which is starting to do interesting things to Bernie’s insides, the sparkle in her eyes as she interacts with the patients, and best of all the way her face softens and her mouth curves when she looks back at Bernie. Bernie thinks she can get through almost anything if the promise of Serena is at the end.

Just after midday she takes Raf with her to pack up the rest of her things. Marcus hasn’t touched them and it doesn’t take her long. She’s moved around too much to have a large wardrobe.

A week passes and Bernie and Serena settle into a routine together. Whoever is up first in the morning sorts coffee and toast. If they’re on shift together they share a car. Work is as it ever has been, with the trauma unit getting closer to finished every day. In the evenings they take it in turns to cook. Bernie learns that Serena follows recipes to the letter, making certain of every stage before she starts. Bernie is more haphazard in her cooking, recreating things that she’s tried in the past without reference to a book, tweaking her standard repertoire frequently. Serena finds watching Bernie frustrating, but she never complains at the results. After dinner they wash up, then take opposite ends of the sofa with their medical journals and books, and sometimes after a particularly busy day, they watch something that isn’t too taxing to follow. They always leave a space between them on the sofa now, though. It’s an unspoken agreement, not to touch each other aside from the brief caress of fingers. Bernie knows, hopes, that it will change. Sometimes Serena smiles at her and it takes all of Bernie’s will power not to throw herself at her. But it’s too soon and she knows that.

They’ve put up other boundaries too: always knock before they go in to the other’s bedroom. Always be dressed when downstairs. No wandering around in a towel. They’re housemates at the moment and they don’t want to just fall in to being a couple.

Finally, the trauma unit opens. Hanssen makes a speech praising them and Bernie stares at the floor and blushes. The red phone is installed at the nurse’s station and everybody eyes it warily, despite the thorough training that Bernie has given them all. They all go to Albie’s to celebrate that night. In a moment of generosity which their colleagues may make them regret, Bernie and Serena put their cards behind the bar. They all share a toast to the new unit and then Bernie moves off to chat to the nurses and Serena and Raf settle down at a sofa. Several whiskeys later, Bernie feels a prickle of awareness, turns to see Serena watching her. She can’t help the smile that spreads across her face, moves instantly towards her.

‘Can you believe we’ve finally done it?’ Bernie asks softly, hands moving to stroke Serena’s shoulders.

Serena takes an unsteady breath. ‘Bernie,’ she says, reaching up to tuck a stray curl behind Bernie’s ear. Their faces are so close and Bernie finds her eyes flickering to Serena’s mouth. But then Serena pulls away.

‘Need some air,’ she mutters as she ducks away through the throng. Bernie’s heart clenches with worry and she follows Serena outside.

‘Serena?’ She’s leaning against a wall.

Serena waves her hand. ‘I’ll be fine, just need a minute.’

‘Have I done something wrong?’ Bernie asks uncertainly.

‘No, darling, no.’ Serena closes her eyes and Bernie wonders if she knows that’s the first time she’s ever called her that. She moves to stand next to Serena, waiting.

‘It’s hard not to touch you sometimes,’ Serena says eventually.

Bernie lets her fingers tangle with Serena’s. ‘I know,’ she whispers. ‘I’ve been wondering. What if we make Saturday an official date?’ She looks across at Serena, ‘What do you think?’

‘Is it too soon?’

Bernie moves in front of Serena, grabs both her hands tight. ‘I feel like I’ve been waiting for you my whole life. I don’t want to wait any longer.’

‘Okay,’ Serena says tremulously, and smiles. ‘Okay.’

The two days till Saturday feel like a lifetime. The air around them seems to thicken every time they’re together. Bernie finds herself staring at Serena’s lips and wondering what she’ll taste like, what it’ll be like to hold her in her arms and sometimes her mind drifts further, to pressing Serena down in her bed and then she has to force herself back to the present with a blush on her cheeks and an ache in her stomach.

When Saturday comes round, Bernie heads into Holby. She tells Serena she has errands to run but really she’s going shopping. Clothes first – she hasn’t bought anything new for ages. She knows Serena appreciates her in her black jeans but she wants a nice top to go with it. Looks around for ages, getting increasingly frustrated, before she settles on a tailored blue blouse. She eyes it critically in the changing room mirror, undoes an extra button and then blushes at herself. She finds a neat black blazer to go over it and hopes that the combination will please Serena. She pays for them, then heads out to find a florist. She wants to treat her to something pretty. She browses for a while, and for some reason it’s much easier to spend time and care buying something just to make Serena happy.

She eventually gets a bouquet of deep red roses. The colour stands for romance and passion, apparently, which fit, but it also reminds Bernie strongly of Shiraz.

It’s late enough when she gets back, tucks the flowers into a hidden corner of her car and hopes they last.

‘There you are,’ Serena greets her with a smile as she hangs up her coat. ‘Coffee?’

‘Thanks,’ Bernie says gratefully as she sinks into a chair in the kitchen. Serena puts a soft hand on her shoulder as she places the mug on the table, and Bernie covers it swiftly.

‘Is it silly that I’m nervous?’

‘What about?’ Serena runs her other hand through Bernie’s hair.

‘Making a good impression.’

Serena laughs, presses a kiss to the top of her head. ‘Bit late for that, don’t you think?’

‘I’m serious,’ Bernie says, ‘I care about you, Serena, I don’t want to mess it up.’

‘Oh Bernie.’ Serena swings round to sit herself firmly on Bernie’s lap, puts her arms around her neck, ‘It’ll be fine, and even if the meal is burnt and we’re overcharged and one of us sprains our ankle getting out of the car, it won’t change how we feel about each other.’

Bernie looks into Serena’s dancing eyes and chuckles. ‘Point well made. Let me finish this coffee and then I suppose we’d better start getting ready.’

 

Bernie changes swiftly, sits down in front of her mirror and frowns at her hair. Love it Serena might, but there’s no denying it’s messy more often than not. She brushes and brushes it until it’s shiny and smooth, then digs out the hair curler that she’d found in one of the drawers and plugs it in. When it’s hot she wraps a strand of hair tentatively around it, winds, and hopes for the best. When she lets it go the hair falls in a loose curl and it looks great. Cheered, she moves onto another strand. There’s not enough time to do it all but an even spread should do the trick. Finally, when there are five minutes before the taxi is due to arrive she peers cautiously out of her room. She can hear Serena moving in her room, and she slips quietly down the stairs and out of the front door, pulling it carefully to behind her. The roses have thankfully survived the few hours in her car and she picks them up, heads back up the path to the front door. With two minutes to go, she rings the doorbell.

Serena opens the door with a frown that dissolves instantly. ‘Bernie! What are you doing?’ For a moment Bernie can do nothing but stare at her. She’s wearing a black cocktail dress that exposes her collarbones and a touch of cleavage. Then she clears her throat.

‘Picking you up of course,’ Bernie hands her the roses, ‘These are for you.’

‘Bernie you -’ Serena takes them, sniffs appreciatively then looks at Bernie. ‘You look amazing. Are you coming in?’

Bernie follows as Serena goes into the kitchen to put the roses in a vase. She slips her hands round Serena’s waist as Serena arranges the flowers, and Serena jumps slightly before she relaxes into her touch. ‘You are incredible,’ she whispers into her ear.

Serena twists to face her, smiles up at her with that look that’s reserved just for her. ‘Careful, Ms Wolfe, we do have a dinner reservation to make.’

‘Heaven forfend that I stand between you and Shiraz.’ She wants to kiss her, satisfies herself instead with a chaste peck on the forehead. ‘Come on then, Ms Campbell.’

The taxi is waiting when they leave the house. Bernie helps Serena in, then slides into the other seat, shyly offering her hand. Serena takes it, and there’s a moment of silence in which it hits them both that this is finally happening. Bernie gulps, but Serena smiles reassuringly at her, and begins to talk of the first cases that have come through their trauma unit. It might not be standard first-date material but it makes Bernie relax and soon she can talk without feeling like her tongue is several sizes too big.

 

The restaurant is small, and although it is busy, Bernie and Serena have been given a table in a quiet corner which feels almost private. There’s a lit candle and a rose on their table, and as the light flickers across Serena’s face, Bernie thinks how beautiful she is. Then she realises that she’s never actually said this to her and remedies it immediately, is rewarded by Serena’s beaming smile.

A waiter arrives with menus and a bottle of champagne. Bernie looks at Serena in mild confusion and Serena blushes. ‘I said it was a special occasion.’

When the waiter has left, Bernie lifts her glass. ‘To us.’

‘To us,’ Serena echoes, ‘And to finally getting here.’

Bernie sips without taking her eyes off Serena. Watches as her eyes close in pleasure and her tongue chases a drop of champagne off her lip.

‘Are you trying to kill me, Campbell?’ she says with a rasp.

‘Kill you? I have better things in mind.’ Serena winks and Bernie feels her knees go weak. She’s actually grateful for the arrival of the waiter to take their orders.

They opt for pizza, with tiramisu for pudding. By the time the waiter leaves, Bernie has regained her equilibrium and is enjoying being the sole focus of Serena’s flirtation. The Shiraz arrives and Bernie swirls it in her glass, inhales deeply before she takes a sip.

‘I’ll make a Shiraz drinker of you yet.’

‘I’ll never give up my whiskey,’ Bernie warns.

‘I believe that some compromise is recommended in relationships,’ Serena says and they both pause for a second at that word before Serena carries on, ‘You can have the whiskey as long as you don’t make me drink it.’

‘Fair enough,’ Bernie agrees. Then she glances down, ‘Serena, have you ever – been with a woman before?’

Serena leans across the table, speaks soft and low. ‘There was a woman once, a long time ago. In Stepney.’

‘Oh,’ Bernie breathes.

‘I can’t tell if you’re happy or disappointed,’ Serena says with a saucy smile.

‘Bit of both?’ Bernie suggests, ‘Happy that you might know what you’re doing, disappointed that it won’t be a first for both of us.’

Serena reaches for her hands, ‘It’s the first for us together, that’s what counts. Anyway,’ she raises an eyebrow, ‘You’re getting a bit ahead of yourself, aren’t you? We haven’t even had one date yet.’

Bernie hoots a laugh and then smiles. ‘Nobody has ever made me laugh quite like you.’

‘Ah, I’m one of a kind.’

 

Pizza arrives and Bernie is treated to the sight of Serena licking sauce from around her mouth.

‘You’re doing it on purpose,’ she accuses her, and Serena winks.

‘You were looking far too composed.’

Bernie resolves to get her own back, and manages it with dessert. She takes a spoonful of tiramisu, lets her eyes flutter shut as she savours the taste, licks the spoon almost indecently to get the remnants of cream off it.

She opens her eyes to see Serena staring at her, bright spots of pink on her cheeks. She laughs and Serena growls. ‘I suppose I asked for that.’

The tiramisu vanishes and Bernie feels nerves flutter in her stomach again, looks down, twists her fingers together.

‘Bernie,’ Serena says softly, putting her fingers under Bernie’s chin so that Bernie has to look at her, ‘There’s no pressure tonight. Please don’t think that. We can just go to our own separate rooms. There’s no rush.’

Bernie moves her head swiftly, presses a kiss to Serena’s palm. ‘No rush? All I’ve wanted to do for a week is kiss you.’

‘Just a week?’ Serena laughs. ‘Shall we get out of here?’

They both get out their purses. ‘I should be paying,’ Bernie protests, ‘If it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t have a trauma unit.’

‘I forgot that was what we were supposed to be celebrating,’ Serena admits. ‘I should be paying, this was my idea.’

‘Split it?’ Bernie suggests and as Serena nods she adds quickly, ‘And I’m paying next time.’

Serena shrugs in mock resignation, and they both throw down enough notes to cover dinner and a hefty tip.

‘Let’s go, Major,’ Serena slips an arm round Bernie’s waist as they stand, and Bernie shivers at the soft pressure.

The taxi ride home is quiet. Serena lets them in the house and they stand in the hall, gazing at each other. Bernie reaches out to stroke Serena’s neck, runs her fingers over her exposed collarbones and Serena shivers. Serena slips her hands into Bernie’s hair, touches the loose curls. ‘This looks great.’ Then she strokes Bernie’s cheek gently. ‘I think this is the part where you’re supposed to kiss me.’

Bernie looks at her rosy lips, stares for a second, then swoops in with sudden certainty, covering those lips with her own.

And it’s like she imagined, better than she imagined. Serena is soft and warm in her arms, she tastes of Shiraz, parts her lips as Bernie kisses her firmly. Then Serena tugs on Bernie’s hair and she opens her mouth and lets Serena take charge. Lets her push her back against the wall, nip her lip in between kisses. Then Serena steps back a little and Bernie sags weakly against the wall.

‘Oh,’ she murmurs. Further speech is beyond her.

One of Serena’s hands slips to her shirt buttons. ‘This is a beautiful shirt, Bernie,’ she says, trailing her fingers into the neckline and popping one button open, ‘But I think it’d look even better on my bedroom floor.’

‘A classic line,’ Bernie grins despite the fire that Serena is starting inside her.

‘Is it working?’

Instead of replying, Bernie stills Serena’s hand, pulls her out of the hall and up the stairs, and finally into Serena’s room. The door closes behind them and Bernie swings Serena gently around, pushes her up against it.

‘You are so beautiful,’ she whispers as she kisses Serena again. She lets her hands wander – along Serena’s collarbones, down her back, notes the shiver that runs through her when her hands brush bare skin. She finds the zip of her dress.

‘Is this okay?’ she asks softly. Serena nods breathlessly, and Bernie pulls the zip, lets the dress fall down to pool around Serena’s feet. Her fingers find their way round Serena’s waist, dance up her sides to stroke her over her bra. ‘You’re perfect.’

Serena whimpers, tugs Bernie’s hair, and then Bernie finds herself holding her breath as she moves from hair to neck to buttons. Serena bends her head, kisses each newly exposed patch of skin as she undoes her buttons. Bernie bites her lip as her scar becomes more obvious, but Serena makes no comment, instead licks a line between Bernie’s breasts.

‘Fuck,’ Bernie whispers as a wave of heat rushes through her, and Serena straightens, a glint in her eyes.

‘That’s the idea.’ She moves Bernie backwards, kicking her dress out of the way and pushing Bernie’s shirt off at the same time, until Bernie’s knees hit the bed and she sits down suddenly. Serena grins, undoes Bernie’s trousers and peels them off her. Bernie props herself up on her elbows as Serena throws the trousers aside. Serena’s eyes sweep over Bernie, head to toe, and Bernie blushes.

‘I’m very lucky,’ Serena says, bends to kiss Bernie sweetly. Gently, she nudges Bernie up the bed, until they’re lying side by side, arms around each other’s waists. Bernie is in awe of the softness of Serena’s skin, at the delicious contrast between deep red lacy underwear and creamy paleness. Her fingers find their way to the catch of Serena’s bra, then pause.

‘If you don’t take it off right now, I’m not responsible for my actions,’ Serena murmurs, slipping a leg between Bernie’s. Bernie chuckles, obliges, and her hands move almost of their own accord to palm the heavy weight of Serena’s breasts. She dips her head to nip and lick and Serena is boneless against her. The remaining red lace disappears shortly and Serena moves to reciprocate.

Bernie bites her lip as her bra vanishes. ‘I know I’m not…’ she gestures at the scar that bisects her chest.

‘Are you kidding?’ Serena asks, pushing her into the bed, moving on top of her. ‘You’re incredible, having a scar doesn’t make you any less breathtaking. I’ve been wanting to do this for so long.’

She kisses Bernie firmly on her mouth and Bernie lets her hands tangle into her soft grey hair. Then Serena moves, trailing kisses down her neck, chest, down the scar, to her stomach. Wriggles until Bernie parts her legs to allow her to lie between them.

‘Serena...’ Bernie gasps as she realises what she is about to do.

‘Shhh, I’ve got you, darling.’ Serena’s fingers stroke up and down her thighs as her mouth gets lower, until Bernie thinks she might scream from desperation.

‘Serena!’

Serena raises her eyes, smiles, and then lowers her head, moves her tongue in a long slow lick that makes Bernie quiver.

‘Delicious,’ she murmurs, and Bernie almost comes then. But she moves again, tongue and fingers in beautiful harmony until Bernie can’t think of anything except the feel of Serena in her, tasting her, until lights burst behind her eyes and she comes harder than she ever has before.

When she comes to, she opens her eyes to see Serena, still lying between her legs, looking up at her fondly. Her fingers, which had clenched around her pillow, drop to caress Serena’s hair.

‘Wow,’ she manages eventually.

Serena smiles, presses a kiss to her inner thigh.

‘Live up to expectations?’ she kisses her way back up Bernie, to lie beside her and tangle her fingers in the messy blonde locks.

Bernie opens her mouth, is going to say something flippant, but instead she finds herself gripping Serena firmly. ‘I love you,’ she whispers, then louder. ‘I love you, Serena Campbell.’

Serena pulls her even closer. ‘I love you too.’

Bernie’s heart bounds at the soft way Serena is looking at her. She props herself up, trails her fingers down Serena’s body, exploring and delighting. ‘I love you,’ she murmurs again, as she slips her fingers between Serena’s legs and Serena arches against her. She strokes and teases without taking her eyes from Serena’s face, enjoying the quiet whimpers that she’s drawing forth. When she finally pushes a finger inside, Serena’s eyes flicker shut.

‘Fuck,’ Serena whispers.

‘Darling, I am.’ She sets up a steady rhythm, until Serena is panting and then she twists down, licks Serena’s clit with her tongue until Serena comes with a cry. She cuddles Serena through the hazy aftermath of her orgasm, until Serena opens her eyes to smile at her.

‘Not bad for our first try,’ Serena says with a grin as she traces patterns on Bernie’s chest.

‘Just think how good we’ll be once we’ve had some practice.’

Serena considers her thoughtfully, then brushes Bernie’s nipples and smiles when Bernie arches into the touch. ‘We could have another go now.’

‘Fantastic idea,’ Bernie says, and kisses her.

 

They wake the next morning with tangled legs and messy hair. Bernie opens her eyes to find Serena smiling at her. ‘Morning,’ she whispers.

‘Morning,’ Serena brushes a strand of hair back from her face. ‘How’re you feeling?’

Bernie considers. ‘I could do with a coffee,’ she admits as she lets her fingers caress Serena’s cheek and slide down to stroke her neck.

Serena’s eyes flutter closed and she hums with pleasure. Then she says quietly, ‘Any regrets?’

Bernie pushes the covers lower, continues her gentle exploration of Serena’s body. ‘Only one.’ She feels Serena tense slightly beneath her fingers, presses a reassuring kiss to her lips, ‘That it took me so long to get here.’

‘Oh,’ Serena sighs. Bernie runs her fingers underneath Serena’s breasts, takes a hardening nipple into her mouth, bites it gently. ‘I thought you wanted coffee,’ Serena says with a groan.

‘Coffee can wait.’