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Perhaps, Love

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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.

Chapter Text

As close to the equator as they were, it meant that even in the height of summer that sun set early. That meant that by the time the both of them were free, dusk had fallen and the sky had turned to flashes of red and yellow. The heat of the day had long gone and, while the soldiers were kitted out for all weathers, it meant Serena had needed to pop back to her rooms in order to change.

The temptation to go all out and try to visually seduce was overruled partly by what Serena had with her and by her desire to be comfortable. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to try in front of Bernie, it was that she knew the other woman wouldn’t mind either way. Bernie had the effect of making Serena feel beautiful regardless of what she was wearing.

Heading out and towards the bar, Serena did wonder for a moment if Bernie would have trouble finding the place but she didn’t have to worry. As she walked towards the door, there stood Bernie, out of uniform, waiting for Serena to join her.

While Serena had opted for a cosy jumper on top of the blouse she had been wearing earlier that day, Bernie had gone for her usual skinny jeans with a tartan shirt. Clearly the sudden changes in temperature didn’t affect Bernie the same way they did Serena. The compound where the staff of the centre lived was secure enough to allow Bernie to let her hair down and leave the military side of herself in her barracks – or as close to that as she ever came, especially out here.

Standing in the quickly decreasing daylight, the two women gazed longingly at each other for a good few moments before someone stepping between them, in order to enter the bar, broke the little bubble they’d found themselves in. Neither of them could get over the fact they were stood in front of each other again. It was all so surreal and yet so right.

The first to move, Bernie opened the door of the bar for Serena and gestured for her to go through first with a brief comment of: “is that a new jumper?”

Grinning with a gleam in her eyes, Serena entered and made a beeline for her usual booth. It was a secluded one in the far corner. The light didn’t penetrate too far from the actual bar and so it would afford them the privacy that Serena had decided they would need for whatever was going to happen that night. They had a great deal of talking to do.

Settling herself down, Serena waited for Bernie to join her before shuffling along to close up as much of the space as she thought she could get away with. She could feel the electricity between them and only desired more.

Bernie, settling against the back of the booth, couldn’t take her eyes off of Serena and was silently very happy that the other woman seemed as forward as she’d always been. More reserved, Bernie would have kept more space between them but at the cost of her own feelings and desires.

“So, here we are,” Serena spoke softly, her body turned towards Bernie, suddenly nervous. It was all so silly really, she thought. Yes, time had passed and yes, so much had happened, but they were still themselves. Surely that still meant something?

“Here we are,” Bernie agreed with a small but kind smile, her eyes acknowledging the tension between them.

“They do some rather nice food here too,” Serena tried to find some neutral topic to talk about. “I mean, in addition to the whisky.” She’d found the time to reapply her makeup and the shade of eye-shadow she’d picked really brought out the intense brown of her eyes, even in the poorly lit booth. It was something that Bernie noticed immediately.

“I’m starving,” Bernie admitted. “Military rations, well, they take some getting used to.”

Passing over a makeshift menu, Serena crossed her arms and watched Bernie read the card. Having eaten here many times, Serena had no need to read the menu herself. In this area of the world it wasn’t something that changed and the choices were limited. But it was far better than having no choice at all.

“I usually go for the beef stew,” Serena mused. “It’s the one thing I’ve found that really reminds me of home.”

Popping the card back on the table, Bernie nodded decisively. “Then beef stew it is.”

They could have put anything in front of Bernie and she would have eaten it. All that mattered was that she was here with Serena.

Giving Bernie a wink, Serena made her way over to the bar to order before coming back with two glasses in her hands. Handing one glass over to Bernie, their fingers brushed against one another and it almost took Bernie’s breath away. Noting the amber liquid was the whisky Serena had mentioned before, Bernie took a sip to steady her nerves before looking to see what Serena had brought back for herself. With a grin she nodded approvingly at the deep red liquid held in the wine glass.

“So, they had some after all, did they?” Bernie asked, genuinely interested.

“A generic red, yes. Probably a Merlot,” Serena answered before taking a sip. Swilling it around in her mouth she shrugged her shoulders as she swallowed. “Best red wine I’ve had in months.” That made them both chuckle before they drifted into silence once more.

“So …” Bernie started, trying to think of another topic they could talk about. “What brought you out here? I thought you had decided to stay at Holby.” Her tone was pleasant enough although there might be a slightly bitter undertone to it for anyone who paid close enough attention.

“I had,” Serena started before giving Bernie an apologetic tilt of her head. “But after you left. The atmosphere changed. Eventually it ... it didn’t feel like home. Everywhere I turned all I could see were the faces of fallen colleagues. Absent friends. I needed a change.”

Bernie’s eyes never left Serena, even as her fingers toyed absentmindedly with the rim of her glass.

“I’m sorry,” Serena added. “That I didn’t realise that sooner.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Bernie said with a shake of her head. “Timing ... well ... it’s never really worked for us, has it?”

“I suppose not,” Serena said as her face softened with sadness. Perhaps there was simply too much pain. Could they even manage to be friends after everything? Serena didn’t know and that hurt her heart even more.

“Anyway,” Serena tried to continue. “After I left Holby. I took some time off. I ... Umm ... needed to recharge ... those last few years ... they aged me ...”

Having taken to staring at her wine glass, Serena looked up at Bernie as she broke off – the grief of those years less obvious now but still showed in her eyes. It was a bond that Serena and Bernie shared. Something that Serena knew Bernie would understand without her needing to say a word. Something that would always tie the two of them together.

Without thinking, Bernie instinctively reached over to Serena. Whatever there was between them now, she would never withhold comfort from the woman next to her. Her knuckles brushed lightly over the back of Serena’s hand, silently asking permission as always. Looking down at Bernie’s hand, Serena immediately let go of the glass and turned her hand over to Bernie. As their fingers intertwined they both let out a long breath. A breath that they both felt they had been holding in for far too long. It was a touch they had needed for far too long.

The physical connection gave Serena the courage to continue.

“I was trying to decide what to do next and ... well, all I could think of was you,” Serena looked back up at Bernie once more and got lost in her eyes. “You inspired me … and it turns out there are many places around the world that are in good need of a surgeon with an MBA.”

Bernie gave Serena’s hand a squeeze at that, a squeeze that mirrored the way her heart clenched at finding out her influence on Serena’s decisions.

“I bet they do,” Bernie murmured, her pride and happiness reflected in the way she looked at Serena.

It was just then that their moment was interrupted by the arrival of their food. Having almost forgotten that they were in public, both women pulled away from each other – surprised by the interruption. Hands back around her wine glass, Serena noted how Bernie’s hands were balled up in front of her before she turned to thank their server for their food.

“You’ll have to tell me what you think,” Serena said softly, motioning to the food before picking up her knife and fork.

Tucking in, Bernie made a small appreciative noise as she took her first mouthful. The tender beef in the rich sauce was just what they needed on a night like tonight. For the next few minutes the only noise that could be heard was that of cutlery scraping and clattering on plates as they both concentrated on their food. It gave them a break from the emotional heaviness of the evening. Serena was the first to break the silence.

“So, what have you been up to? Other than going back to the military.”

“Oh, not a lot,” Bernie said with a small smile as she wiped excess stew from the corner of her mouth. “They took me back without much of a fight. Surprised me, really. I’ve been stationed in a couple of war zones. Had a close call in Somalia.” The last sentence was so quiet that Serena almost missed it but that was the point, she supposed. Bernie getting into danger wasn’t something she wanted to focus on.

“I ... umm ... I mean ... I got back with Alex ... briefly ...” Bernie continued, almost afraid to look at Serena, a deep blush starting to creep up on her cheeks. “But it didn’t last. It couldn’t. It wasn’t fair on her.”

Bernie didn’t expand on why, though she hoped her meaning was clear. Bernie couldn’t move on from Serena. How could she be in a relationship with someone else when there was only ever one woman on her mind?

“Oh,” Serena replied just as softly. She assumed Bernie’s meaning but didn’t push for clarification. The thought of Bernie with Alex made Serena jealous. Drinking some more of her wine, Serena tried to ignore the discomfort that the jealousy created in her stomach and chest. She had no right to feel that way. It had been her fault after all; that they had broken up. She couldn’t blame Bernie for wanting to move on and live her life.

“I haven’t,” Serena volunteered, putting her knife and fork down on the mostly empty plate before sitting back with her wine glass. “Fleur tried a few times to play ‘match maker’” Serena made air quotes with her free hand as she grimaced at the memories of awkward dates with people she had no chemistry with. “But, it didn’t work out.”

There it was. One of the elephants in the room. Vocalised and declared. They were both single.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bernie offered as she discarded her own plate and cutlery. “You deserve to be happy.”

Serena smiled one of her trademark smiles. One of the ones that made Bernie’s heart soar any time she was privileged enough to bear witness to it.

“As do you,” Serena said, her voice full of love for the other woman. If nothing else this night had made it clear to the both of them that their feelings still existed. That they both still loved one another. Perhaps there was still hope yet.

Chapter Text

The rest of the evening had gone smoothly enough. The emotional weight of their conversation lightened, like a feather floating off into the air, after their second drink. There was no rush to get reacquainted. No pressure for anything other than friendship. It was the right easing back into their relationship that they both needed. They had always been friends first.

They talked about Cam and Charlotte; Serena listening with great interest and taking almost as much pride in their achievements as Bernie. Naturally Jason, Greta, and Gwen came up, and Serena got out her phone to show Bernie how fast the little girl was growing up. Taking the phone from Serena, Bernie looked lovingly down at the image – happy that Serena’s little family were doing so well, Serena deserved as much. Laughing over old memories and tales of Ric and Henrik, it felt like old times. They could have been in Albie’s, sharing a bottle of Shiraz and staring longingly at each other over the rims of their wine glasses.

As it was, the night came to an end all too soon. Hearing the clatter of tables and chairs behind them, Bernie looked around to see that they were the only ones left in the bar and that the staff were starting to close up. Grinning at Serena, she motioned with her head towards the front door.

“Looks like we’ve outstayed our welcome,” she said with a soft laugh.

“Wouldn’t be the first time, for me,” Serena said with a knowing glint in her eyes.

That caused a guffaw to erupt from Bernie, a clear sign that the whisky had done some work in relaxing her. That caused a bright, slightly tipsy, smile to appear on Serena’s face as she, once again, got lost in the other woman’s eyes. It took Bernie pulling away, in order to stand up, to wake Serena from her reverie and she followed. Landing a hand on Bernie’s shoulder, the pair made their way out of the bar and onto the dirt track that made up the main street of the compound.

The cool air hit them both and served to shake some of the alcohol out of their systems. Serena’s hand made its way down from Bernie’s shoulder and caressed the other woman’s arm before she took her hand away, remembering herself. The touch caused a shiver to run down Bernie’s back which she quickly judged to be because of the air and not because of the electricity that flowed between Serena and herself.

Their walk back to Serena’s door was met with a comfortable silence. So many words had passed between them that night that they didn’t feel the need for more. It wasn’t until Serena stopped outside one particular wooden door that their voices broke the stillness of the night.

“This is me,” she said, suddenly feeling awkward again.

“Ah,” Bernie murmured, hands firmly ensconced in pockets as she took a step back to look up and down the building in front of them.

“I’d offer you a coffee but I’m afraid I’m all out,” Serena added, with a tinge of teasing in her voice. Part of her wanted nothing more than to take Bernie inside and re-enact old times. But she knew, for tonight at least, that would not be.

Tilting her head, Bernie offered Serena an understanding glance as she twisted one foot on the ground, preparing to leave but wanting to stay. With one moment’s hesitation, Serena moved forward to wrap her arms around her friend and pull her into a warm hug.

“I’m so glad we got to see each other again,” Serena whispered into Bernie’s ear.

“Mmm,” Bernie murmured in agreement as her eyes shut and she enjoyed the feeling of the other woman in her arms. “I think we deserved the stars aligning at least once, for us,” she said with a sad chuckle.

Serena pulled back to look into Bernie’s face, a happy longing clear in her gaze.

“I wouldn’t discount the stars aligning more than once. Who knows what the future could bring.” It might be futile hope but it was hope that Serena wanted to hold on to. It fluttered in her chest like a butterfly fighting the breeze. The joy of possibilities yet to come would carry her through whatever the next few days had planned for her, of that she was sure.

Stepping back, Serena walked over to her door only to turn back around to see if Bernie was still there. Bernie stood dutifully, only willing to move once Serena was safely inside her home. Smiling, and glad the night time hid her blushes, Bernie waved at Serena as she watched the woman open her door and enter her rooms. Once the door was closed and locked, Bernie turned and walked her way back to her own barracks and her bed, where she would be tormented through the night by images of Serena.

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The next week went by so quickly. The centre still needed a lot of work and the two women were pulled in different directions in order to get everything in tip top condition. They barely had time to talk about work, except in scheduled meetings and debriefs, let alone about personal matters. The days were long and the energy expected from both of them meant that by the end of each day one, or both, of them were exhausted.

But, soon enough, the staff had their bearings. The military personnel melded seamlessly with the civilians and they, rather miraculously Serena thought, started to work as a team. It had taken a few minor bumps in the road. An argument here. A disagreement there. But, once faced with the pair of Serena and Bernie, all arguments had faded into the distance. Promising to have each other’s backs and facing the situation as one unit, they were formidable. No one would disobey an order from Lieutenant Colonel Wolfe, and no one would dare argue with the one and only Serena Campbell.

It took two weeks before they had a moment to themselves. In a way, that had been for the best. It gave them time to adapt, like metal being given room to adjust to changing temperatures. They re-learnt how to interact again on a professional level and that helped soothe them personally.

Bernie walked into Serena’s office late one evening, just as the sun was looking as if it wanted to set, to the sight of Serena’s desk cleared to make room for as good a feast as she could put on given their current situation. Looking surprised, Bernie dropped the file she had been carrying on top of the nearby filing cabinet before offering Serena a questioning eyebrow.

“I thought we could do with a break,” Serena spoke nonchalantly, as if she couldn’t see the reason why an explanation was really needed.

“And I would agree, I just wasn’t expecting ... well, this,” Bernie said with a smile. Eyes scanning over the food, Bernie spotted the wine and hesitated.

“Don’t worry,” Serena reassured the other woman, spotting her worry before she had a chance to voice it. “I know you’re on duty. The wine’s for me. Naturally. I’ve got some cola or water, for you.”

Clearly a lot of thought had been put into what had been laid out before Bernie and that was the main reason she gave in and sat down on one side of the desk. Leaning forward, elbows resting on spread knees, Bernie regarded the food – trying to decide what to try first. With a satisfied smile, Serena moved around the desk to take a seat next to Bernie, instead of her usual seat on the far side.

“I’ve told the staff not to interrupt us unless it is of the upmost importance. We’ve been working so hard. All of us.” Serena paused in order to pick up a crisp and pop it into her mouth with a crunch. “It isn’t all going to fall apart if we take an hour or two off.”

“I never said it would,” Bernie countered the unspoken assumption that she couldn’t take a break. She gave Serena a smirk before starting to tuck in. “You don’t need to justify yourself to me, you know. You never have.”

“Not sure I can completely agree with you on that,” Serena said wistfully, thinking back to more painful memories and words she should have said, actions she should have explained, but never did.

Reaching over, Bernie’s finger drifted over the back of Serena’s hand as she smiled sympathetically at the grey haired woman. The simple touch turned into a squeeze of Serena’s hand as Bernie’s gaze spoke volumes.

“What’s in the past is in the past. I don’t need an explanation,” Bernie reiterated.

That caused emotion to clog Serena’s throat but she managed to give the woman next to her a tight smile before she needed to change the topic of conversation. Breaking away to collect her wine from where she’d left it, Serena handed Bernie a bottle of water before tucking into the food herself. She’d never quite understood how Bernie could be so forgiving; so accepting of all her faults. Although Serena could acknowledge that she would do the same for Bernie, it never felt quite the same. Not after everything.

“How much longer are you on duty for?” Serena asked after a moment’s pause.

“Until 20:00 hours,” Bernie answered, automatically in military speak rather than the usual 8pm.

“Oh, not long then, that’s good,” Serena replied good-naturedly.

“There was a report I was supposed to finish. I never have got used to all the paperwork,” Bernie half chuckled. Serena shook her head in amusement, her mind filling with memories of returning to a messy, cluttered, office. An office where Bernie had been left to her own devices and it had been clear that the administrative duties of being a consultant weren’t Bernie’s strong-suit.

“That’s why we make such a good team,” Serena said between mouthfuls of food. “We’ve always been so good together.” This time she didn’t mean purely professionally. In so many ways they were the opposite sides of the same coin. They matched each other. Supported each other. Two joined souls destined to meet. If only their lives had agreed.

With a swig of wine, Serena looked out towards the window of her office and watched the last of the day’s sun disappear behind the horizon. She understood that Bernie wanted to leave the past behind them but there was something nagging Serena in the pit of her stomach. Something she had to say.

“I am sorry, you know,” her voice only slightly louder than a whisper but still loud enough for Bernie to hear.

“Oh?” Bernie’s brow furrowed with confusion as to what Serena was apologising for.

“Well,” Serena said taking a moment to gather herself as she turned to look at Bernie. “For many of my actions, really. But, specifically, for letting you go. After what I did ...” her eyes drifted off to the side, still ashamed of the hurt she caused. “I thought letting you go would be what was best for you. The kindest course of action. I could see you needed more. More than I had the capacity to give, at the time. Or so I thought. Always been so good at assuming what others needed rather than opening myself up to other possibilities.”

She stopped at that, not wanting to make Bernie play therapist. At risk of starting to repeat herself from their evening in the bar, she gave a small shrug and a tentative smile. “As I said before. I should have realised it all so much sooner. I should have said something.”

Watching Serena carefully, Bernie wiped her hands on her combat trousers before turning in her chair. Her hand reached out to run down Serena’s arm before taking the other woman’s hand. With a tilt of her head, she looked at Serena with compassion and love.

“I could have communicated a little better too,” she acquiesced, trying to take some of Serena’s guilt away, unable to watch Serena torment herself. “I could have put my foot down and stayed. It wasn’t just you, Serena. We were both trying to make each other happy.”

“And made each other miserable in the process,” Serena finished the sentence, her thumb rubbing over the skin of Bernie’s hand.

The two women hadn’t realised how close together they were. Their chairs had already been close and now Bernie was hovering mere inches away from Serena. The tension that they had sensed in the bar flared up again and this time there was no one around to stop them from acting on it.

A quick glance down to Bernie’s lips was all it took before Serena leaned in. Soft lips met soft lips as they kissed for the first time in five years. Serena blindly reached over to place her wine glass down on the desk before she could reach to cup Bernie’s cheek. Eyes slipped closed as the universe seemed to shrink so that it was just them. Nothing else seemed to exist outside of their bubble as they pressed together, two of their hands still entwined.

Noses brushed together as Bernie’s free hand landed on Serena’s shoulder and then round her back. The first few moments were hurried. Passion lit up within each woman as they reacquainted themselves. Tongues asked for permission to deepen the kiss and Serena’s guttural moan echoed around the otherwise silent office as they let their need direct their actions. After the first few moments their actions slowed and became languid. Neither wanted to be the first to break away. Neither wanted to stop.

That decision was taken away from them both when the door to the office swung open to reveal one of Serena’s members of staff. The two women pulled apart suddenly and thanked the stars they were facing away from the door as it gave them a moment to compose themselves. Luckily the woman who had interrupted them had the good grace to pretend she hadn’t seen anything as she quickly updated Serena on a patient and then excused herself.

Smoothing down her blouse, Serena picked up her glass of wine in order to take a large drink from it. While she had wanted to kiss Bernie ever since she’d arrived in her office those two weeks ago, Serena hadn’t let herself hope that it might actually happen. Now that it had, well, where did that leave them?

Bernie had sat back in her chair and was pinching the bridge of her nose in order to try and hide her embarrassment from the woman who had barged in. Once the coast was clear, Bernie’s hand went to rest under her chin as her mind was still processing the taste of Serena on her lips.

“Should we talk ... about that?” Bernie questioned once she’d found her voice.

“I think our actions spoke loudly enough for the both of us,” Serena answered. “You know I’ve always liked you in that uniform,” She added with a teasing tone.

“Yes,” Bernie agreed with a small laugh but a more obvious blush. “But, now? After everything?”

“I’m willing to see where it goes. If you are,” Serena looked back at Bernie, knowing her eyes showed her desire for them to start over.

Bernie took a moment, her tongue flicking out to lick her lips as she thought.

“We’ll need ground rules. So we don’t repeat the past,” she said with a tentative, almost questioning approach to her words.

“I agree,” Serena nodded. “We can take this slowly. No expectations. Bernie, I want to try.”

Getting up from her chair, Bernie tugged her jacket down in a nervous movement.

“Give me a day or two to think it through?” She asked, not wishing to hurt Serena but unwilling to simply hand her heart over again when she’d only started to feel like herself once more in the last couple of years.

“Of course,” Serena said, pain seeping from her heart but she kept a tight lid on that.

“I should get back,” Bernie said, trying to excuse herself from the office. “They’ll think I’ve got lost.”

“Of course,” Serena repeated herself, unable to think of anything else to say.

With that, Bernie withdrew from the office and marched back down the hall. It was good that her shift was nearly over for all she could think about was Serena and that kiss. The possibilities were endless, including the potential heartbreak. Was Bernie strong enough to risk it all again? Only time would tell.

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Time, it seemed was never on Bernie and Serena’s side. To them, it seemed as if time were some omniscient being that liked to play with them. Bernie found that out again all too soon. She woke late the next morning to hear reports of an explosion at the medical centre. Where Serena Campbell had already started her next shift.

Chapter Text

The smoke from the explosion could be seen from miles around. The dark clouds clogged the air of what had otherwise been another glorious day, intensifying the sense of foreboding that spread throughout the area like wildfire. The sight caused Bernie to stop in her tracks. Her heart lurched at the thought of what had happened; how many people that might have been hurt or had lost their lives. The morning clinic had been in full swing. Perfect timing for maximum carnage and loss of life.

As soon as she’d heard, Bernie had got ready as quickly as possible and got her team together to go and help pick up the pieces. The bomb squad had to be sent in first to make sure there were no secondary devices but as soon as it was clear both civilians and military were on site to try and recover as many people as possible. To save as many as possible.

But, Bernie could only focus on one person. She had to find Serena. She had to know. It was chaos. A cacophony of screams, moans, the creaking building, and the crackling of the occasional fire that had yet to be put out. Her soldiers got to work, helping to move debris and started to stretcher, those who were safe to move, out of harm’s way and towards medical trucks that had quickly been arranged to take the injured away to be treated.

It would have been so easy to panic, to think of the worst and let the anxiety, and burgeoning grief, overwhelm her. But Bernie focussed on her military and medical training. It had always brought a calmness and structure to her life and this time was no different. It was something she could rely upon. Bernie tried her best to continue her search for Serena but every so often she was called off in different directions to help with other injured personnel and patients. Bernie couldn’t ignore their pleas and she knew that Serena would never forgive her if she found out that Bernie had prioritised Serena over helping others.

Eventually Bernie made her way into the main treatment room and there a nurse, clearly shaken and with cuts to her face and arms, pointed over to a corner where a pink blouse could clearly be seen peeking out from behind rubble. In a flash, Bernie was over clearing as much of the rubble away as she dared, continuously looking out for injuries or issues she would need to be careful of. Soon she cleared enough rubble away to be able to see Serena’s face.

The other woman was unconscious, with a nasty gash to her temple and dust covered whatever blood had not. Quickly, with hands that had a shake to them that Bernie tried to ignore, the blonde reached over to Serena’s pulse point on her neck. She could have cried with relief when she felt a slow but steady beating against her fingers.

“I need help over here!” Bernie shouted, leaving no room for argument. She was going to save Serena. There was no question about it. If Bernie was really the best trauma surgeon the UK had to offer then it would be all right. At least that was what Bernie tried to tell herself as she cleared more of the rubble to find a shard of metal had embedded itself into Serena’s abdomen.

The initial blast hadn’t penetrated this room. What had done the damage were the falling breeze blocks, medical equipment, and the beams of the ceiling. Stepping over Serena, Bernie knelt down once more as she was joined by other medical personnel. Initial checks were done and triage started. It all passed in a blur to Bernie. Try as she might she couldn’t separate herself from the situation in order to act impartially.

Offering up the occasional nugget of information, Bernie watched the others work impatiently, her fingers itching to get in there and repair the damage. But she restrained herself. The only movement she allowed herself was to reach down and take Serena’s hand in hers, willing her own strength to be passed to the other woman. Willing her to survive what life had thrown at her, once again.

In only a few minutes they were carefully moving Serena onto a stretcher and lifting her up and out of the room. Serena’s hand slipped from Bernie’s grasp as a hand came up to grasp Bernie’s shoulder. Looking away from Serena for the first time since she’d found the woman, Bernie realised she had tears in her eyes as she looked towards the blurry image of the man who was stopping her.

It was clear that Serena meant a great deal to Bernie and so it was clear that she would not be able to tend to her. Serena needed someone untroubled by emotion. The man she soon recognised as her friend and subordinate, Major Scott, was speaking to her – reassuring Bernie – but everything seemed to have slowed down and she couldn’t process his words. Trying to shake off the empty pit of dread that was forming in her stomach, Bernie nodded in agreement to whatever the Major had to say without taking it in.

As quickly as everyone had come to Serena’s aid, they were gone. Leaving Bernie in an empty room save for the piles of building and medical material scattered around her. Tucking some free strands of hair behind her ears and smoothing her uniform down, Bernie tried to clear her mind. She was needed in the here and now. That was where she could do some good. It was up to others to help Serena now.

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It had taken several hours for the area to be fully evacuated and for everyone to be accounted for. Who was responsible for the blast was still to be determined but that was far from Bernie’s mind and, thankfully, wasn’t her job. Bernie had stayed until they were certain that everyone had been found. Putting her skills to use, she followed one of the more severely injured patients to another hospital where she ended up operating on them for several hours.

Leaning heavily over a sink, Bernie wiped sweat off of her brow with the back of her wrist as she tried to summon the energy to clean up and leave. She’d heard from one of the nurses that Serena was in the same hospital. Bernie hadn’t asked for an update yet. She couldn’t risk hearing any bad news until she was out of theatre so it was better to hear nothing at all.

Rounding a corner, Bernie finally let herself think about Serena again. Every fibre of her being needed to know that the other woman was all right. Bernie didn’t know what she would do if the worst had happened.

Approaching the ICU, Bernie slowed before tentatively opening the door. Her face a picture of worry, she was approached by a doctor and soon directed to a bed in the far corner. There lay Serena, still unconscious but very much alive. Still intubated, she would need time to heal from her internal injuries, which had been severe, but everyone was confident she would pull through.

Almost collapsing into a chair that had appeared next to the bed as soon as she’d walked up to it, Bernie let out an almighty sigh of relief. Reaching over, she took Serena’s hand in hers and let her thumb run over the reassuringly warm skin. Leaning her head on her forearm, Bernie couldn’t stop some of her tears of the day from seeping out. Dampness wet her arms, which she hastily brushed away in favour of smiling at Serena with a watery expression.

Serena was going to be all right. They would all have to grieve the ones they had lost but for now, Bernie could rest.

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The first thing that Serena became aware of was the aching that seemed to wrack her body. The analgesia she had been given was doing a good job of taking away most of her pain but it didn’t stop her from feeling as if she’d been hit by a lorry or bus. Light seemed to be burning through her closed eyelids as she resisted the pull to wake up. Her mind started to recall the moments of that morning. The yelling down the halls – a warning that came too late – before the almighty sound that had boomed through the building. Serena couldn’t remember getting hurt and that was probably for the best.

Three days had passed since the explosion and Serena’s surgery, and every possible moment Bernie had been there. The military had been gracious enough to give her some time off. After all she’d done and all her achievements, it was the least she deserved. The first Bernie knew that Serena was waking up was when she spotted Serena’s tongue poking out to try and wet her dry and cracked lips. Standing up and over Serena, Bernie called out to the other woman – trying to coax her out of the warm cocoon of sleep.

“Serena? Serena, can you hear me? It’s Bernie. Can you open your eyes for me?”

There was a low but quiet groan as Serena disagreed with the other woman’s desire for her to open her eyes.

“Come on, Serena. Show me those beautiful brown eyes of yours.”

Slowly, Serena creaked one eye open and then the other. Grimacing, her breathing picked up in pace as the discomfort of the light seemed to seep into her very soul. Sensing her discomfort, Bernie reached behind the bed to turn the overhead light off, hoping that would encourage Serena to keep her eyes open.

“Good girl,” Bernie murmured as her hand stroked through Serena’s hair. “You had me worried there.”

“A ... After everything,” Serena started to say after a moment or two of clearing her throat. “I’m not that easy to kill.” It was a joke that Serena hoped would pull a little of the worry from Bernie’s features.

“Ha, if you say so Campbell.”

Just like that, an easy comfort fell between the two of them. Bernie gazed lovingly down at Serena, looking deep into her eyes and hoping that would effectively communicate her love and adoration for the other woman.

Blinking several times, eventually Serena’s eyes grew accustomed to the lowered lighting level and she was able to focus properly on Bernie’s face. Still very pale, she gave the other woman a weak smile as she mentally took stock of herself and the situation. Her memory was a little fuzzy but she could tell that it had been a close call. The worry that had been pinching at Bernie’s eyes seemed to confirm her suspicions.

“What happened?” Her voice sounded dry and unused. Bernie reached for some water from the bedside table, wanting to help soothe the rawness she heard.

“There was an explosion. At the centre. They don’t know who yet but they have their suspicions. You were caught in the blast.” Bernie stopped short of listing Serena’s injuries, not wanting to put too much on the woman too soon.

Serena’s lips drew into a thin line as the words jogged some more of her memory. The boom of the blast was sure to never leave her mind.

“I was in the treatment room?” She asked, wanting to check that she was remembering facts and not creating images to fit the gaps.

“Yes,” Bernie nodded. “I found you. Got you out of there as fast as possible.” Her eyes darted away from Serena’s as regret tightened her features. “I couldn’t come with you. I had to stay and help the others.”

“You did your job. I would have done the same,” Serena reassured Bernie before reaching out to find the other woman’s hand. Finding Bernie’s forearm, Serena clumsily ran her hand down the other woman’s arm until her fingers had found their home: intertwined with Bernie’s.

Managing to give Serena’s hand a small squeeze, Bernie smiled gratefully at her. “I know. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard though. Seeing you like that … I’d always accepted it could happen to me but …”

“Not to me,” Serena finished the sentence with a knowing smile. It was why fraternisation within the military was not allowed. Someone could not perform their duties, undistracted, if they were too busy worrying about someone else. Better to be unbiased and clear-headed.

Seeing Serena in the aftermath of the blast had terrified Bernie more than she would ever admit. It had brought home the reality of her feelings for the woman laid out in front of her. Bernie knew she would never let her go. Not unless Serena wanted her to. But this time Bernie would make her feelings very clear on the matter.

Leaning down, Bernie pressed a kiss to Serena’s forehead. Her feelings, their relationship, could wait. For now Serena was more important.

“You’re probably tired. You should rest.”

The kiss garnered a curious look from Serena but Bernie just shook her head with a huff of a chuckle.

“We can talk later. Rest. Heal.”

With a soft sigh, Serena closed her eyes again and did as she was told. Too tired to do much else. As Bernie ran her thumb over Serena’s knuckles, the grey haired woman drifted off into a relatively peaceful slumber as her battered body started to heal.

Chapter Text

A few weeks later and they were both back in Serena’s leafy, detached, suburban home. Bernie had come to the end of her current tour and had accompanied Serena home. Serena had been given extended leave from her role due to the extent of her injuries and she planned to make the most of it. She’d ended up in hospital, in South Sudan, for two weeks before she was deemed fit enough to be discharged and it was a further week before she was fit enough to travel. The length of time it had taken for her to start to feel like herself, had surprised Serena and had given her a new perspective on what it was like to be a patient. Still, Bernie had been there every step of the way and that had improved the entire ordeal.

Once home, it became clear that Serena’s wounds weren’t only physical. The nightmares had started as soon as she’d left the hospital. Each time she woke to the sound of a bomb blast. Bernie had taken to staying with her each night. Her presence seemingly the only way Serena could calm down enough to sleep. So intent on looking after Serena, Bernie hadn’t brought up their feelings for one another again although it had been playing at the back of her mind. Once it seemed that Serena was mentally in a good place for that conversation then they would have it, not before.

Having agreed to go back to counselling, once home, Serena had kept her word and gone a couple of days after their return. Time was a good teacher and Serena knew that, however the prospect made her feel, that it was the right thing to do. That didn’t stop her from asking Bernie to stay with her. The house was too big and empty for her to want to be on her own, and Serena couldn’t deny herself the comfort of having Bernie near. The feel of her hair, the warmth of her body, and her unique scent were enough to ward off any nightmare, at least for a while.

A few days later, they had got into a routine of sorts, very domestic in how they interacted with each other. The night was still and the stars shone brightly from the cloudless sky above. Serena liked to sleep with the curtains open now. The night sky was a soothing blanket from the horrors of reality. The two women slept, bathed in the gentle light that spread across the room like a slow moving stream.

It became clear that Serena was getting lost again in the darkness of her memories. Her body tensed and she groaned, agitated by what was playing out again in her mind. The sound woke Bernie and she quickly realised what was happening. Watching Serena, her heart broke at the pain and distress she saw playing out over the other woman’s face. She was about to call out to Serena, to wake her, when Serena suddenly woke with a gasp. Eyes flying open, she quickly pushed herself up as her body fought to readjust and remember. Bernie followed her to a sitting position and stayed close. Pushing the bedding off of Serena, Bernie tried to help the other feel less constricted, knowing that Serena’s nightmares involved being restrained by the rubble that had buried her in the treatment room.

Covering her face with her hands, Serena took deep breaths as she began to come down from the adrenaline spike that the nightmare had caused. Shaking slightly, she wiped the light sheen of perspiration from her brow before her frame slumped forward – elbows leaning on her thighs. Bernie was there immediately, long arms wrapping around Serena and holding her. Nuzzling her grey hair, Bernie rubbed soft circles into Serena’s back as they sat in silence, neither acknowledging nor ignoring what had happened.

Minutes felt like an eternity, but eventually Serena moved her head to face Bernie with a tired smile. Bernie guided them both to lie back down as they moved to face each other in the bed. Their intimacy in these moments was born out of their connection and obvious love for one another. It might, for now, be unvoiced but it was clearly there.

The night was so quiet that neither wanted to be the first to disturb it. Reaching out, Serena tangled her hand in Bernie’s hair as her eyes misted over with emotion that the blonde couldn’t read. So much so that she was surprised when Serena leaned over to press a kiss to her lips.

“Serena …” Bernie said sadly, knowing the other’s penchant for unhealthy coping mechanisms in times of emotional distress. Still, the pull to do more than just hold Serena was great, and the conflict and doubt shone heavily in Bernie’s eyes.

Pulling back just enough to see Bernie’s eyes shining in the starlight, Serena gave her a reassuring smile. It was undeniable that Serena wanted something to help her ignore the painful memories but this was more than that. This was about bonding, and love, and commitment, through everything that life could throw at them.

“I love you,” were the only words of explanation that Serena could give, the rest was up to Bernie.

Always one to show her feelings through her actions rather than words, Bernie lunged towards Serena. The force of the lunge pushed Serena onto her back and Bernie ended up settled half on top of the other woman. Their lips met in a heated mix of passion and love. Both of Serena’s hands ended up threaded through Bernie’s hair as a low groan resonated from Serena’s throat. Years may have passed but, in this moment, it felt like no time at all.

Spreading her legs a little, Serena allowed a gap for Bernie’s leg to drop into the space she made. Their hips rolled upwards at almost the same time, eliciting a moan from one woman and a gasp from the other as they pressed against the apex of each other’s thighs. The noises they made were swallowed up in their kisses which neither seemed to want to stop.

Serena nipped at Bernie’s bottom lip as she felt the other move to settle more directly on top of her. A hand drifted down to the hem of Serena’s pyjama top before Bernie’s fingers started to dance soft patterns against Serena’s stomach.

Opening her mouth, Serena pressed forward with her tongue to kiss Bernie more thoroughly before she felt the heat of the woman pull away. Feeling bereft, Serena moaned at the lack of contact and opened her eyes to look imploringly at Bernie.

“Are you sure? I need to know,” Bernie asked, needing Serena’s clear consent before she would continue.

“More than I’ve ever been,” Serena replied. “I want you, Bernie. Now. Here.”

As if to emphasise her point, Serena’s hands ran down Bernie’s back and dipped underneath the waistband of the boxer shorts that Bernie was wearing. Staring with darkened eyes up at the blonde, Serena spread her hands over Bernie’s behind before squeezing the other woman’s buttocks and pulling her to grind against Serena’s thigh. That caused a needy, almost desperate, prolonged moan to escape from Bernie, her mouth hanging open. Nodding her understanding, Bernie settled back down against Serena as she pushed back against the woman’s hands, wanting more than anything to feel Serena’s touch on her body.

Laying kisses and nips to Serena’s jawline, Bernie continued her exploration of the woman’s stomach before finally working her way up to brush against Serena’s breast. The pyjama top resisted Bernie’s attempts at travelling any further up Serena’s body. With a small huff of frustration, Bernie withdrew her hand in order to start unbuttoning Serena’s top. A chuckle escaped from Serena as she watched Bernie’s attempt at undressing her.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone was in a hurry,” Serena teased, twirling a strand of blonde hair between her fingers. Her tongue flicked out to brush against her bottom lip, feeling where Bernie’s lips had been not that long ago.

“I’ve spent five years wanting to do this with you again,” Bernie said, her voice low with desire. “Five years with just my memories and imagination.” As she finished the sentence the last button on Serena’s top popped undone and Bernie quickly pushed the two halves off of Serena’s body. Her pale skin called out to Bernie in the moonlight and she couldn’t help but lean down to press a kiss to Serena’s sternum.

“Reality is so much better,” Bernie managed to say against Serena’s skin before her lips were wrapping around an already puckered nipple. Arching up towards Bernie, Serena groaned, her voice jarring against the quiet of the night.

“So much better,” Serena repeated in complete agreement. Her hands had slipped out from Bernie’s boxer shorts when the other woman and slipped further down her body and now she was pulling Bernie’s t-shirt up so that her fingers could access the smooth expanse of Bernie’s back.

Feeling Serena pulling at her top, Bernie pulled back momentarily to hastily remove the t-shirt. Looking down at Serena, Bernie smiled, feeling lighter than she had done in years. Serena’s hands snaked up Bernie’s torso to cup the blonde’s breasts as she too smiled gloriously back up at Bernie.

Pushing her chest against Serena’s hands, Bernie was soon back down and kissing Serena. Torso against torso. Skin against skin. Bernie’s fingers ran up Serena’s sides as their breasts pressed together in their heated union. Serena’s finger nails were once again raking up and down Bernie’s back as they moaned their combined approval against each other’s lips.

Soon, Bernie was once again making her way down Serena’s body and Serena didn’t try to stop her. The throbbing, hot need, pooling between her legs had her squirming at every press of Bernie’s lips and every tug of her teeth. Smothering every inch of Serena in kisses, Bernie made sure to give the other woman’s breasts special attention. Tongue running up and over one nipple and then the other, Bernie revelled in the noises she could wring out of Serena through such a simple action. Serena’s fingers once again in blonde hair, Bernie teased as she sucked and nipped at the woman’s chest, only releasing her once she felt Serena start to pull almost painfully on her hair. That was the sign Bernie needed to know it was time to continue her adventure.

Pulling back, and giving herself time to calm a little, Bernie flashed a grin at Serena before tugging at the other woman’s pyjama bottoms. Serena didn’t need telling twice and she lifted her hips in order to aid Bernie with the removal of her last piece of clothing. Once naked, Serena lay back against the bed not at all embarrassed by her own nudity. It wasn’t even because Bernie had seen it all before. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world: to be there, naked, with Bernie.

Deciding it would be better to continue her own undressing now, Bernie quickly removed her boxer shorts before settling between Serena’s legs. Her eyes fixed on the curls beginning to glisten with Serena’s desire, Bernie ran her hands up the other woman’s legs – trying to decide what she wanted to do first. Noticing Bernie’s indecision, Serena reached out for Bernie and pulled her so that they were face to face again.

“I want to be able to see your face,” Serena whispered against Bernie’s lips before kissing her lover softly.

Bracing herself on one elbow, Bernie swallowed before nodding. Soft lips grazed soft lips as Bernie’s knuckles dragged up the inside of Serena’s thigh until she reached her goal. Both women shuddered at the first touch of fingertips to wet, hot, folds. Reacquainting herself, intimately, with Serena, Bernie rubbed their noses together as she looked down at the other woman. Love shone in her eyes and her touches spoke of care. Bernie wanted to take care of Serena and that was what she would do.

Keeping her eyes locked on her lover, watching for any moment of discomfort or that the other woman wanted to stop, Bernie pressed first one finger and then two into Serena’s entrance. With a steady, sure movement, Bernie felt the silky heat of Serena surround her and watched as the woman’s head fell back against the pillows. Delighting in the stretch, Serena’s face was a mix of relief and happiness. It had been too long for both of them.

“Okay?” Bernie checked, squeezing her own thighs together in order to provide herself with some relief from the sight Serena was affording her.

“More,” Serena almost begged, needing Bernie to keep going. Staring up at Bernie with wide eyes, Serena gripped one of Bernie’s shoulders tightly as she urged the other on.

Capturing Serena’s lips with her own, Bernie’s fingers set to work, creating a steady rhythm that Serena’s hips could match. Almost every breath brought forth a moan or whimper from Serena as she rolled her hips down against her lover. Feeling pleasure build deep within her, Serena reached to grasp Bernie’s hair and pull her head back. More than anything this was what Serena needed. Their connection. Their love. It heightened all the sensations that Bernie was producing within her.

“More,” Serena repeated, the urgency clear in her gaze as her body continued its climb to ecstasy.

A shudder ran down Bernie’s spine at the order she was given. Not wanting to tease Serena when she was so far gone down the rabbit hole of pleasure, Bernie added her thumb to Serena’s clit as her fingers curled within the woman’s passage. Serena’s world shrank until it was just Bernie’s eyes watching her and Bernie’s hand between her legs. Panting and moaning in the most deliciously desperate manner, Serena felt the coil within her tighten immeasurably before it released suddenly. White hot pleasure ripped through her and wracked her body. Luckily the windows were closed so the neighbours wouldn’t hear Serena’s ecstasy as her muscles contracted around Bernie’s fingers.

Watching what was, in Bernie’s opinion, one of the best sights in the world, the blonde groaned at the intimacy as she could see how blown Serena’s pupils were and how flushed her cheeks were even in the semi-darkness of the night. Keeping her hand moving, Bernie eased Serena through her orgasm until she was sure any more would have the woman flinching away, too sensitive to carry on.

Slumping against the bed, Serena finally let her eyes slip closed as she relished in how relaxed every part of her body felt. How loved she felt. A smile grew on her face as she let herself catch her breath and felt Bernie carefully remove her hand.

“You haven’t lost your touch,” Serena chuckled as she eventually reopened her eyes to stare adoringly at the blonde.

“You have that effect on me,” Bernie countered, smiling down at Serena before pressing a kiss to her lover’s lips. She had tried to keep it calm and gentle, knowing Serena’s current state of mind, but Bernie couldn’t help the hints of her own desire that communicated an urgency to Serena.

“Let me return the favour,” Serena murmured against Bernie’s lips, her hand, having let go of the blonde’s shoulder, travelled down the lithe body above her.

Bernie didn’t want to take the time to move and so stayed hovering over Serena as the anticipation grew in her stomach. Spreading her legs, Bernie rested her forehead against her lover’s and felt utterly safe in Serena’s arms for what was to come.

Pulling her own legs up towards her body, Serena cradled Bernie between her knees as her fingers gently probed between the other woman’s legs. Knowing the extent of Bernie’s need, Serena didn’t waste time. Gathering some of the wetness she found, she pressed gently against Bernie’s entrance, eyes looking to the woman for encouragement.

“Serena, please,” Bernie moaned as she pressed back against the finger and groaned when she felt the welcome intrusion start to stretch her.

Sliding two fingers into Bernie’s heat, Serena began to pump them in and out, continually monitoring Bernie for clues of what the woman needed. Cupping her lover as her fingers moved, she pressed up against the blonde’s labia and wasn’t surprised to find the blonde grind herself against the palm of her hand.

Panting, Bernie, already tightly wound from watching Serena fall apart, knew she wouldn’t last long. Nuzzling against Serena’s cheek, she couldn’t keep her head up as her body rocked back and forth, intense desire undoing some of her everyday reserve.

Feeling Serena curl her fingers within her was more than Bernie could take. A long stream of: “I love you, I love you, God, I love you,” fell from Bernie’s lips as she climaxed. Clenching around Serena, Bernie’s thighs trembled with the exertion as she rode out the sweet waves of pleasure that coursed through her body.

Caressing Bernie’s hair, Serena eventually withdrew her own hand before Bernie’s legs finally gave out and she collapsed, as carefully as she could, on top of Serena. Her head resting against Serena’s neck, Bernie felt her lover’s legs and arms wrap around her, cocooning her in warmth and comfort.

Feeling elated, Serena pressed a series of kisses to Bernie’s hair as she enjoyed the simplicity of holding the woman she loved.

“Sorry,” Bernie murmured, causing a frown to appear on Serena’s face.

“What for?”

“That wasn’t the way I wanted to say I love you for the first time again,” Bernie explained, pulling her head back to give Serena an apologetic glance.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Serena shook her head and gave Bernie’s torso a squeeze. “It seemed like perfect timing to me.”

“I was just so overwhelmed …” Bernie started before falling silent at Serena’s insistent shushing.

“At your most vulnerable; most honest; most open, you said you loved me. What more could I want?”

At that, Bernie smiled and nuzzled back against Serena’s neck.

“Perhaps this time, we can make it work,” Bernie said a few minutes later, her voice muffled against Serena’s skin. “I want this to work.”

“I certainly want to try,” Serena said, unable to feel anything other than happiness in this moment.

“Then we will try,” Bernie stated, and in her mind the matter was settled.

It was settled too, in Serena’s mind. As sleep started to pull them back into its welcoming embrace, only one thought appeared in Serena’s mind: Perhaps, this time, love would be enough.