Serena’s head had been buzzing along with the sound of the circular saw all day. Why Bernie had chosen to start building a tree house for Guinevere on their one day off together this week was beyond her, and her head was still full of hospital business after a hectic few days leading up to the CQC inspection. Thankfully, all their hard work had paid off, and there were only minor points to be addressed, but she had practically re-written the entire hospital policy manual in the space of a week, and she had spent hours combing through spreadsheet after spreadsheet to ensure everything was as it should be for the inspectors.
She had barely slept last night, facts and figures dancing behind her eyelids, and the sawing, banging and drilling that had been emanating from the garage all day hadn’t helped matters. By the early evening, she had given up trying to relax and had plugged her knackered old laptop in to make a start on the inspectors’ recommendations for AAU.
Suddenly, the sawing stopped, and at exactly the same moment, the radio fell silent with a pop, and the reading light above her shoulder blinked out. She was on her feet in an instant, and rushed through to the back of the house, striding through the connecting door to the garage.
“Bernie? Bernie! Are you OK? Are you hurt?”
But Bernie was fine, apart from a puzzled frown as she jiggled the cord of the circular saw, and flicked the power switch on and off a few times.
“I’m fine, but this thing’s playing silly beggars. Why the panic?”
Relieved beyond measure, Serena huffed out a heavy breath, and admitted, “I though maybe you’d cut through a power cable - everything suddenly cut out, and I had a flashback to a poor chap I had a few years ago who went over a cable with an industrial floor sander and ended up with terrible burns. Sorry, I think I’m still a bit highly strung after the inspection.”
“Mmm,” Bernie hummed noncommittally. “Is everything out? I think I’ve lost all power in here - the light went at the same time.”
They checked through the house, trying lights and appliances, but nothing was working. Bernie checked the consumer unit, and seeing that the master switch had tripped, she flipped it back up, but it wouldn’t stay put. Serena had gone out into the street to see if any other properties were affected, and came back in with a defeated slump to her shoulders.
“It looks as though the whole street’s out - no lights in any windows, and Jamie next door’s got the same as us - everything’s down. I think it’s a good old fashioned power cut.”
“Dammit! I was really getting somewhere with the tree house, as well.”
“And I’d almost finished reading through the report from the inspection. I deliberately didn’t print it out as we’d claimed to be so environmentally friendly, as well!”
Bernie pouted a bit, then laughed. “Maybe someone’s telling us to stop working and relax for a while. I suppose we ought to sort a few things out in case we’re without power for any length of time.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Serena agreed. “Do you remember the power cuts of the seventies? Keeping candles and torches handy, like little survival kits?”
“Yes! And a little camping gas stove, too. We thought they were such an adventure. We used to camp out in the living room, make nests out of blankets and pillows on the floor.”
They set to work, making sure that anything in the fridge that might suffer went into the freezer where it would stay cold for longer. There were plenty of candles in the house, and Serena collected them into the living room before the daylight went, making sure that Bernie’s cigarette lighter was close at hand.
It was strange, having all the modern conveniences taken out at a single stroke. Serena had only just plugged her laptop in to charge when the power went out, and she knew there wasn’t enough of a charge to make it worth resuming work. There was no television, no radio, and they couldn’t even put on a wash, or do the ironing.
By the time they were satisfied they had done everything they could to prepare for a spell of cave dwelling, it had grown dark, and they ended up sitting side by side on a blanket on the floor in the dim light of the candles. They had lit a small fire in the open grate to compensate for the central heating, and it crackled quietly. They sat on the floor in their pyjamas, their backs against the sofa, made more comfortable by piles of cushions, just as Bernie had done with her siblings as a child. At last the cushions and throws had come in useful for something, Bernie teased - she had never really seen the point of them before.
“Very funny. Is this how you remember it, the candles and cushions?”
“It is,” Bernie said, “But it reminds me of something else, too - only I can’t think what it is.”
“That’s funny,” Serena agreed curiously, “I’ve been thinking the same. What could it be, do you suppose?”
They shard a minute or two of comfortable silence each of them racking their brains to think what it might be, then suddenly Bernie spoke.
“I’ll tell you what it is. This feels just like that moment after Fletch’s surgery - do you remember?”
“Remember? How could I possibly forget? I felt as though I’d completely forgotten how to breathe!”
Bernie smiled at her in the candlelight. “I thought I might just have made the worst mistake of my life, and then you practically lunged at me!”
Serena picked up Bernie’s hand and laced their fingers together. “I remember it as though it were five minutes ago. You were being all brave and noble about the attack being your fault, and you turned those big brown eyes on me, all wobbly and tearful, and I just wanted to hug you as tightly as I could - but I thought you might break or bolt if I did.”
“So you turned that smile on me, and told me absurd ego-boosting things, and it just broke down everything I’d built up to protect myself from you.”
“You were protecting yourself from me? You were the one that made the first move, Casanova!”
They laughed together, but gazing at each other in the candlelight, something shifted, and they found themselves looking at each other in much the same way they had that first thrilling time in theatre. Just as then, it was Bernie who moved first, and she leaned in to kiss Serena, her hand hovering at her neck, then sliding into the short silvering strands. She pulled back for a moment, and they looked at one another, still as breathless as they had been the first time, and Serena pulled her back in ferociously, her open mouth meeting Bernie’s in a kiss that rivalled any they had shared over the years. She felt Bernie’s hand slide down her back, inside the waistband of her trousers, and suddenly she was shaking.
It took Bernie a moment to realise that she was not in the throes of passion, but actually giggling at Bernie’s smooth move.
“What ’s so funny?” she asked, mildly put out.
“I don’t remember you doing that in theatre,” Serena gasped, still laughing.
“Just as well, I’d say. You were freaked out enough as it was, as I recall,” Bernie teased, reminding her of those awkward days afterwards when Serena had barely been able to meet her eye.
“Yes, well… Got over it, didn’t I? And then who was freaked out, hmm?”
Bernie dropped her head, her long fringe obscuring her face. “A low blow, but a fair one, I suppose,” she acquiesced. “Though it wasn’t the steamy action in the office that got me on the run. I didn’t have any worries about that at all,” she said, a little too smugly for someone who had almost immediately fled halfway across the continent.
“No, you’d been champing at the bit for weeks, hadn’t you? And the night before, at that Italian place - you were all but humping my leg!” Serena accused.
Laughing properly now, Bernie protested. “I was not! I was… I let my defences down a bit, that much is true.”
“You couldn’t keep your eyes off me, admit it! All those lingering looks over the rim of your glass, running your finger round the edge of your plate - you were flirting even more than I was, and that’s saying something!”
“Oh, no - you gave as good as you got! I suppose your shoe just fell off under the table, did it? And you were looking for it halfway up my calf? You knew what you were doing!”
Serena held up her hands. “Guilty, guilty as charged! I knew what I wanted by then, and it felt as though we were moving slowly but steadily towards it - I just wanted to move a little bit quicker, that’s all! And then Henrik had to give you that bloody brochure!”
“Well, that certainly did speed things up, didn’t it? Maybe a bit too much.”
“It wasn’t too much for me. I don’t think it could have been. And it got us to where we needed to be. I couldn’t have let you go without knowing how I felt - I knew I should have been pleased for you, but all I could think was, don’t go now, we’re so nearly there!”
“That kiss in the office - when you said you wouldn’t stand in my way if it was what I really wanted - oh, you knew your audience, didn’t you! You knew that I still wanted you?”
Serena shook her head. They had been over this before, many times. “I hoped, but I didn’t know. When you let me off the hook after Fletch’s surgery, I was sure it had just been a spur of the moment thing, a surge of adrenaline or something. You were so kind about it, and I so wanted us to be right with each other, that I stopped looking for it - but the thought wouldn’t leave me alone. And when it looked as though you were going to leave, I just couldn’t keep it in any more.”
Bernie was tracing lines and patterns on Serena’s leg now, distracting herself from memories that were as painful as they were wonderful. “That kiss… I kept telling myself, kiss her, you fool! Only I couldn’t quite make that leap - and then you made it for us both.”
“And you were so gentlemanly about it - you let me kiss you, but you didn’t kiss me back until you really knew it was what I wanted. When I brought my arms up around you, it was as though you’d been released from a spell, and - oh, boy!” Serena fanned herself, want in spite of the cold radiators.
Bernie leaned in and kissed her again now, a chaste kiss, but still so very loving and tender.
“It really was something, wasn’t it?” Bernie said wistfully as they drew apart again. “And then you said you’d come round that night, for dinner… but then I ruined it all by running.”
“Shh. You didn’t ruin it. It was me that went too quickly, wasn’t it? Scared you off. But you came back to me.”
Bernie shifted position, stretching her long legs out in front of her and leaning one shoulder against the sofa as she turned in towards Serena, taking her hand again.
“I did, eventually. Only to find you’d moved on without me.”
Serena lifted a hand and ran her fingers through blonde hair that gleamed in the dancing light. “I hadn’t moved on. I’d tried to move backwards, I think, to a time before I knew how wonderful loving you was. But you can’t move back, can you? You can only move forwards, keep going forwards.”
“Well, we had some help with that, didn’t we?” Bernie said wryly. “Tweedledum and Tweedledee with their bright idea of locking us in together until we came to our senses. Or killed each other.”
Serena smiled slyly. “I do love that nephew of mine,” she purred.
“I’m pretty fond of him myself,” Bernie murmured. “How about you remind me how that one went, hmm?”
Serena stifled a laugh, and schooling her face into something resembling the anguished, exasperated and frankly horny state she had been in that day, she muttered darkly, “Will this do?” and she surged forward into Bernie’s space, a hand going to her neck, the other into the silky hair she had always loved. Bernie’s own arms came up around Serena’s shoulders, and the reminiscing forgotten, they kissed deeply, sliding down into the nest of cushions and blankets.
They had shared countless kisses over the years. Some stood out in their memory: those early, awkward kisses where neither was quite certain of the other; kisses of parting and of reunion; of passion and of tenderness. But each kiss was new and thrilling, as though it was the first time they had kissed. And each touch, each caress, each whispering stroke of skin against skin was new, too.
Bernie rose to her knees, and pausing only long enough to put a couple more logs on the fire, she took the hem of her pyjama top and stretched up tall as she removed it. The firelight on her beautiful body took Serena’s breath away all over again, and she drew Bernie back down to her, loving the feeling of her full weight against her own body. She held her closely as Bernie started to move against her, kissing her throat, her shoulders, every bit of skin she could find. It wasn’t long before Bernie, frustrated, raised herself up and slipped the buttons of Serena’s top undone, one by one, little noises of appreciation escaping her as Serena’s body was gradually revealed to her.
She had always loved the curves and dips of Serena’s body, and she worshipped them now with hands and mouth and voice. Serena had been delighted to learn early on that her taciturn lover became positively effusive in the heat of the moment, and she basked in the firelight and Bernie’s praise equally now, as she felt sure hands move down her body, sliding inside her trousers and pushing them down her hips. She shifted to allow Bernie to remove them altogether, and sighed in pleasure at the feeling of the open fire radiating its heat over her nakedness. Heat of another kind was building, too, and as Bernie repositioned herself, Serena urged her to take her own trousers off, revealing glistening curls that made Serena’s mouth water.
“Come up here,” she murmured, her hands holding Bernie’s hips firmly and tugging towards her. Bernie’s eyes glittered in the light of the fire, the candles, and she eased herself up Serena’s body, her hands leaning on the sofa for support. She gasped as Serena’s tongue found her and stroked her surely through her wetness, and all other thoughts fled her mind as she drifted in the sensation. Gone were the memories of early uncertainty, of guilty consciences for bad decisions made: now there was only Serena, and her, and the love that was between them.
Serena’s hands were still on her hips, and she brought a hand round now to let her thumb stroke firmly in Bernie’s curls as her tongue moved again and again, over and around and inside her sex. Time didn’t mean a thing, nor darkness and light. She was in a world of Serena’s making now, every touch and sensation a gift and a promise. Only when Serena murmured her name into her own body did she come back to a sense of reality, just as the pleasure unfurled from deep within her, and her arms trembled to keep her upright. Sliding from beneath her, Serena sat holding her, her hand stroking over where her mouth had been, fingers reaching and filling her as she drifted blissfully through her orgasm.
“So beautiful, my Bernie,” Serena whispered, her eyes wide in the low light. And then Bernie was kissing her again, the taste and scent of herself making her feel drunk and powerful, and she rolled them both over, bringing Serena back to the floor, pulling a cushion into place under her hips as her hand slid between her thighs, her fingers deep inside her with no need for gentleness. A log crackled in the grate, and Serena didn’t know whether the sparks she saw were from the fire or from the sensations flooding her body. She pushed her hips higher to meet Bernie’s thrusts, and brought a hand up to cup her breast, her thumb stroking over the tight nipple, but Bernie practically growled as she used her free hand to grasp Serena’s wrist, pressing it to the floor.
“No distractions,” she ground out through clenched teeth, and Serena met her burning gaze, and in a gesture of total submission, she brought her other hand up, easing it under their joined hands above her head. Spurred on in a way she didn’t entirely understand, Bernie redoubled her efforts, her whole body surging against Serena’s. It was the extra momentum that Serena had needed, and all at once she was shuddering, muscles contracting as she struggled not to claim the control she had relinquished to Bernie. But Bernie released her wrists now, and pulled the softest blanket across both of their bodies as she held Serena close.
They came down together, their breathing settling into a steadier rhythm. The fire was burning low, and Bernie felt the she could happily fall asleep there with Serena in her arms, but there was a sudden hum, a soft beeping of appliances turning back on, and the little reading light cam back on with a little electrical fizz.
They smiled at each other, cuddled a little closer.
“Do you think we should sort the fridge out?” Bernie asked reluctantly.
“I think you should leave everything exactly where it is and take me to bed, that’s what I think,” Serena replied without hesitation.
Pausing only to wrap a blanket around Serena’s shoulders, Bernie did exactly she was told.