It had been a long five years since Bernie had left. It had taken around eighteen months for Serena to realise that Holby was no longer her home. Too many ghosts. Too many new faces. The halls no longer gave her the comfort they did not that long ago. It had been hard to leave. To leave Jason especially. But she knew he was in good hands. He had a family now and his own life, and Serena had to try and continue living her own.
That was easier said than done. With so much regret and darkness in her past. It would have been so easy to get caught up in it all and stagnated. The days where grief overwhelmed her had been growing fewer in number as time passed. Trying to take the positive from that, Serena knew it was time to move on. To find a new adventure. Somewhere her skills were needed, and where she could grow and heal.
As it turned out, the woman who had stolen her heart also influenced her future. Taking inspiration from the great Bernie Wolfe, Serena had sought out international work. Trauma, Vascular, and General surgery skills were in great demand both within, and outside of, war zones. So many areas in the world went without adequate health care. It was criminal, when you really thought about it.
So, that was what Serena found herself doing. Working first with the Red Cross, and then Doctors without Borders. As civilians they were kept out of the most dangerous places but it was still an adrenaline rush that Serena never expected to experience. It helped her understand Bernie a little more, even if that understanding came a few years too late.
With her impressive resume, Serena was needed for both her surgery and management skills. After all, someone had to get things organised. Once again, Bernie’s influence was apparent in how Serena went about her work. She’d learnt so much from the other woman, and this environment was where that really showed. The makeshift ward was set up with maximum efficiency in mind. Getting people in and out was the only way to minimise costs and maximise their effectiveness. It might not be as fast-paced as a war zone but the same logic applied. At least to Serena.
Having found herself transferred to a site in South Sudan, Serena began the routine she’d created over the last two years. It had become second nature to her and, with her usual head-strong attitude, those she worked with knew to follow her instructions. Soon she had almost everything set up just the way she liked and they were ready for their first patients.
For the first week, everything went smoothly. There were no surprises; no issues. It was all going far better than even Serena had expected. The next week she was given some news: they were to be joined by a group from a nearby military hospital. Serena had insisted that she be left in charge. She wasn’t about to let some soldier outrank her and take over. Whoever it was would have quite the fight on their hands and wouldn’t know what was about to hit them.
The day arrived and Serena was firmly ensconced in her office. Filling out paperwork, she could hear the tell-tale sound of military issue boots on the concrete down the hall. Bracing herself, she didn’t look up until her door opened and a figure clad in military fatigues marched in. Once she did the world seemed to stop. The words she had been about to say got lost in the emotion of the moment. The look of shock would have been clear on her face as she looked up towards the face of the woman stood in her office.
The face of Bernie Wolfe.
“Serena,” Bernie managed to say, although her state of shock wasn’t that much better. She had thought the description of the civilian in charge of this medical station had sounded familiar. But never in her years would she have guessed that it really would have been Serena. Looking over the woman sat at the desk, Bernie couldn’t help but notice how well she was looking. Her once brown, and then speckled hair, was now varying shades of grey – something Bernie thought looked very nice on her. The lines on her face were a little deeper, and the years were still noticeably weighing on her shoulders but there was something else. A purpose and vigour that Bernie hadn’t seen in her since before Elinor’s death.
“You look …” Bernie started to say. Gorgeous, beautiful, glorious – were all words that came into her mind. But she settled for: “good.”
“So do you,” Serena finally managed. The blonde in front of her looked, somehow, fitter than ever. The same cautious eyes. The same nervous lick of her lips. Her love for the other woman came flooding back. Playing with her necklace, Serena couldn’t help but smile as she finally relaxed enough to sit back in her chair. Her eyes raked over Bernie as if no time had passed at all. As if how they ended things had never happened.
The tension between them was palpable. All these years later and they were still connected. Heart and soul. Still, neither would assume that the other felt the same way. That either were available or interested. So much had happened, it would take more than one meeting for them to figure each other out once more.
Standing up from her desk, Serena made her way around to the other side to stand in front of Bernie. Hand still tugging on her necklace, her eyes continued to watch over the blonde’s features – trying to read all the thoughts and emotions playing behind Bernie’s eyes.
“They didn’t say who they were sending me,” Serena started before the tension she felt made her pause. She had always liked a person in uniform.
“They didn’t give me your name either,” Bernie added, hands firmly clasped in front of her. “I didn’t even know you were out here …” she said before breaking off, her eyes fixed on Serena.
“Yes, well, I didn’t tell many people. Cam’s been keeping an eye on Jason for me. I told them I’d be travelling.” Suddenly becoming aware of the chain digging into the back of her neck, Serena let go of her necklace and wrapped her arms around herself. “Less worry,” she said with a nod, assuming Bernie would understand her reasoning.
Bernie inhaled as she nodded, a small smile appearing on her face as she understood why Cam hadn’t mentioned Serena’s new job. She’d known that Serena had left Holby but, since their breakup, she hadn’t felt that she had the right to keep enquiring about Serena. Cam and Ric were kind enough to keep her informed every so often, but since Serena’s departure there had only been a trickle of information available – an amount that wasn’t enough for Bernie. Five years later and thoughts of Serena still consumed her. They always would.
“So, I suppose we will be working together ... again,” Serena mused, amused by the concept.
“Looks like it,” Bernie agreed, wishing that the two of them could interact with as much ease as they used to.
“I do hope your superiors haven’t given you the impression that you’re here to take over, Major,” Serena warned with a knowing smirk. If nothing else, having Bernie here was an advantage. Bernie knew how Serena thought and worked, and vice versa. Serena was not someone to be trifled with and Bernie would know that.
“It’s Lieutenant Colonel now,” Bernie corrected, having accepted a promotion when she had joined back up.
“Oh, I do apologise,” Serena’s smile changed to a proud one, happy for Bernie. One day, perhaps, she would learn to recognise the different military insignia and their meanings. “Congratulations,” she added.
“I’m willing to work … as equals … if you are,” Bernie offered as an olive branch. Arguing over who the biggest dog was in this fight would get neither of them anywhere and Bernie knew that Serena wouldn’t give that fight up.
Nodding, Serena took a deep breath before smiling warmly – her earlier indignation and frostiness at the proposed takeover washed away by the woman in front of her.
“Equals,” Serena agreed. “I think you’ll find everything here to be to your liking. I did take inspiration from a certain trauma unit,” she admitted. “We could get a drink later, if you’d like. I could bring you up to speed.”
Bernie’s eyes widened, but then she really shouldn’t have been surprised. Serena had always been the more forward one of the two of them.
“Or ... or not, if that’s not what you want,” Serena started to say as she mistook Bernie’s surprise for disapproval.
“Yes,” Bernie interjected, hand reaching out towards Serena before remembering herself and pulling back. “I would like that,” she reiterated with a nervous smile of her own.
“Right, then,” Serena responded, as happiness bloomed inside her chest. What she would have given to walk straight up to Bernie and hug her, right then and there. But, she knew that this wasn’t the right time nor place. They had so much to catch up on. So much to say. Emotions best kept for off-work hours.
Realising she’d been staring at Serena for far too long for it to look normal, Bernie – still stood to attention – looked down at her hands, eyelashes fluttering as she did so. “I’m sure I’ll be able to find my way around. My team is already getting settled in. I’ve ordered them to not get in your way,” she added the last as she looked back up at Serena, hoping her eyes communicated all that her words couldn’t say. She wanted them to get along. No bitterness or pain. It would be better for everyone if they could work as a team.
“I’ll be right here, if you need me,” Serena said, with a lightness that she had not been expecting to feel that day. “My shift finishes at 6. There’s a bar not far from our accommodations. It’s where most of the staff like to spend their off time. From what I recall, they serve a nice whisky.”
She remembered. Of course she remembered. Bernie’s face lit up at that. Not at the whisky, per say, but because Serena had suggested it.
“Do you have to import your own Shiraz or do they have that here as well?” Bernie teased.
“They don’t have Shiraz, no,” Serena admitted wistfully. “But I’ve learnt to compromise. Sometimes, I’ve even been known to drink whisky."
“I must have rubbed off on you more than I’d imagined,” Bernie replied with a chuckle. “How’s 7 for you?”
The offer gave them both a chance to decompress from their shifts, and get changed, before meeting up.
You’ve rubbed off on me more than you know, Serena thought as she turned away from Bernie to move back behind her desk.
“Perfect,” Serena said once she was sat back down at her desk. She almost added that she hoped Bernie would keep the uniform on but something stopped her. She didn’t want to push her luck. Not yet.
Giving Serena a half salute, Bernie grinned before exiting the office and saw about organising the rest of her shift. This mission had just got a damn sight more interesting and Bernie couldn’t deny the renewed longing, which was making itself known in her chest, just from the sight of Serena.