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The River Inside

Chapter Text

It was two days after the lunch at the restaurant before Serena saw Bernie again. The ED was busy with tourists and vineyard workers who had managed to get themselves into a variety of painful scrapes and Serena found herself busy until late in the evenings. She had sent Bernie a couple of friendly texts but had received only brief answers. She assumed that Bernie was just as busy as she was, so she was prepared to let it go at first, but by Wednesday evening and still no word from her, Serena was a little puzzled and, yes, hurt. She had assumed that their friendship was one in which regular contact would be a feature, and she had also assumed that Bernie’s withdrawal from initiating anything more than a platonic friendship was born of a desire to protect that friendship. The radio silence was, therefore, disturbing.

Serena was also trying desperately to avoid Driss and thinking of a way to refuse his offer of a trip to Morocco. Sami’s whispered aside had confirmed her suspicions that Driss may have designs on her, something she had no desire to encourage by placing herself alone with him on his home territory. She knew time was running out and that he would soon be coming to renew his offer, not taking no for an answer, but it wasn’t something she felt she could ask any of her colleagues or friends to help her with. So she opted for the only strategy she could think of which was to wait and say nothing in the hope that he might not follow up, and if he did, throw herself on Yves Charpentier’s mercy and beg him to insist he couldn’t spare her. She could imagine his withering look already.

On Wednesday, Serena was packing up her belongings preparing to leave when it occurred to her that Bernie’s evening clinic should be finishing at about that time. She navigated the corridors to the Gynaecology Department and was gratified to see Bernie’s office door open and a light on. Tapping softly, Serena poked her head around the door. Jax was at the filing cabinet and looked up, a brilliant smile lighting up his face.

“Well, if it isn’t the Queen of the ED come to visit,” he quipped in his affected British accent. Serena laughed and looked across him to where Bernie was frowning at her computer screen.

“Hi, Serena,” Bernie mumbled, looking briefly in her direction.

“Hi yourself, Major. I saw your light on and wondered if you fancied joining me for dinner? I’m too shattered to cook. All those RTC’s and artery repairs- how DO people manage to get themselves into such messes I’ll never know!”  She finally stopped talking, aware that Bernie’s reaction was not exactly encouraging. Serena felt unaccountably nervous, as if she had done something wrong but she couldn’t for the life of her imagine what it might be.

Bernie finally turned to face her, eyes partially masked by her glasses so that Serena could not read her expression.

“Oh, I..um..I’ve still got rather a lot to get through,” she said.

Serena could see Jax’s eyebrows raise.

“Hey, Bernie, you go right on and take a break. There’s nothing here that won’t wait till morning, right? Your first surgery isn’t till 10.30, plenty of time to get a bit of admin done first thing.”

“Well, it’s not just admin,” Bernie said, getting up from her desk and moving around to where a scan of a woman’s pelvic area was displayed on a screen.

 “Tricky adnexal adhesiolysis tomorrow,” Bernie said, not making eye contact with Serena. “I need a bit of time to think that one through.”

“Come on Bernie, you can do a laparoscopic adhesiolysis in your sleep,” Jax said. “And I can come in with you on that one if you need a second pair of eyes.”

“Well, we may need to discuss this further- I’m not sure we can get it all with a laparoscopy, that’s why I want to spend a bit of time going through these scans.”

Jax shrugged and turned to Serena. “Well I’m meeting Sami at Café Bleu in ten minutes. They have a great menu on Wednesdays, you’re welcome to join us, both of you.”

“Well, thank you,” said Serena warmly, “I’d love to. Are you sure we can’t entice you Bernie?”

Bernie flapped her hand. “No, no, you go on without me. I really need to concentrate.”

“Well, stop by for a drink when you finish? Or we could order some food for you to take away?”

“No, it’s fine, really. Another day maybe,” and she went back to peering at her screen.

Serena held up her hands as if to say “I give up”, then turning to Jax, she said “Well come on then, Bouchard, I’ll race you!”

***

Alone in her office, Bernie took a deep breath and leaned her arms miserably against the desk. She dared not let Serena see how unhappy she was that her friend might be moving on after Bernie had backed away from taking their kiss any further. In the back of her mind, Bernie had been close to reversing that decision, but the last few days had shown her that Serena would almost certainly not welcome it now that things were heading in a more exciting direction for her. Wearily she gathered up her jacket and handbag and made her way out of the hospital. Tomorrow she would take back her hire car. No need for that any more either. For the final month of her stay she would stick to focusing on her work.

***

Jax had been right, the menu at Café Bleu, a traditional establishment that had recently undergone refurbishment under new owners, was excellent for the price, a fact borne out by the lack of vacant tables. When Serena arrived with Jax, Sami was trying to keep a table for them that would only just seat 3 people.

“Where’s Bernie?” asked Sami, who had grown very fond of the shy, awkward gynaecological surgeon.

“Said she was too busy to come,” answered Serena, looking meaningfully at Jax. He shrugged.

“I don't get it. She’s a genius in surgery and always on top of her cases. I don’t see why she couldn’t take an evening off for God’s sake.”

“Hey, is something up between you?” Sami asked in alarm.

“What do you mean, ‘between us’?”  Serena asked, taking her first sip of the excellent Syrah Sami had ordered.

“Well, you two always seem pretty close…I thought maybe you were….together?”

“No, no, we’re friends, but nothing else,” Serena said, trying to keep her face expressionless.

At that moment the waiter came to take their order, so they switched to discussing the menu.

“I’ll have the pork medallions,” Jax said, but Sami interceded “No, you can’t, because then I can’t taste yours.”

“Oh, right, OK, so hold that, I’ll have the ….what are you having, then? So I can choose something different.”

Serena rolled her eyes and, ignoring them, leaned forward and said “I’ll have the steack au poivre, dauphinoise potatoes and a side salad, no starter.”

“Me too,” Sami said, snapping the menu shut.

“OK so I’ll take the marinated mushrooms followed by the grilled swordfish,” Jax said.

“So you don’t eat pork but you drink wine?” Serena teased Sami.

He sighed. “I’m not religious, but we never had pork in Morocco growing up, and when I moved to France, I just went on avoiding it. People in Morocco think it’s dirty- it’s a kind of mindset it’s hard to get out of.”

“OK, OK,” said Jax, brandishing his fork as a steaming plate of mushrooms in garlic and parsley was put down in front of him, “let’s not do the food taboos right now. I’d rather talk about Bernie.”

Serena’s heart sank. Picking up her fork she stabbed one of Jax’s mushrooms and squashed it onto a piece of bread.

“What about her?   Mmmmm, this is excellent!”

Sami picked up a piece of bread and did the same. “You’re right,” he agreed.

“Hey!” Jax said, protecting his plate with his arms. “Actually, Serena I’m glad we’ve got you alone, I need to tell you that woman is pining like crazy.”

“Who? Bernie? Pining for whom?”

“Well, that’s the thing,” Jax said between mouthfuls. He took a swig of wine. “At first I thought it was her kids, you know, Cameron coming over but the daughter not wanting to talk to her. Then I thought it might be someone she’d met outside. But I only had to spend five minutes in surgery or in the office with the two of you to realise who it is. Don’t tell me you’re not aware, Serena?”

Serena groaned. “I didn’t want to talk about this.”

“Well you must be the only one,” Sami said. “Souad and Naïma have both commented on what an attractive pair you make, and I have to say I agree. And I know Bernie’s gay.”

“How did you know that?” she asked, surprised.

Sami tapped his nose. “Call it my gaydar,” he winked.  “And in fact everyone seems to have put you two together, except…..”

“Driss!” said Serena, and they all started laughing. “If only! That would be the perfect get-out clause.”

“So tell,” ordered Jax, waving his fork at her.

Serena sighed. “It’s true we were attracted to one another. And I knew she was gay, but I’ve never had a relationship with a woman so maybe I was slow to make the connection. Anyway, that day we operated on Souad, when we didn’t know if she would recover, she kissed me. In the locker room. And I kissed her back. And I thought, well, OK let’s do this. But then she decided it was, well, too complicated, and that was that. We stayed just friends. Only now, I’m not so sure. She seems to have lost interest in being even friends.”

Jax snorted. “For a remarkably clever woman you’re incredibly thick sometimes, Serena.”

“What do you mean?” she asked indignantly.

“Well, it’s obvious………ever since Driss issued his very public invitation to you to go to Morocco with him, she’s shut down. She’s jealous, you idiot. She thinks you’re about to run off to Marrakesh with Mr. Smooth!”

Serena looked at him open-mouthed. “But…she can’t possibly think….I mean, give me some credit for taste, oh sorry, Sami, no offence intended!”

Sami laughed. “He may be related to me through Souad, and I adore her, and my aunt, but he’s very much not my favourite person. He hates gay people for one! Mr. Alpha male with his Rolex and his fancy cars. He and Naima were at each other’s throats for years, he drove her crazy. OK so he’s better now, and he’s kind to Souad, but being a diplomat has given him a real superiority complex. I’d never think a woman like you would go for a guy like him, Serena.”

“But a jealous lover would think like that,” Jax put in.

The second course arrived and Serena busied herself for a moment sorting cutlery and laying her napkin across her lap. What Jax had said had suddenly turned on a light in her head. What if it was true? What if they were both idiots pining for each other?

“So what do you suggest?” Serena asked, cutting into her steak.

“Let me ponder a little,” Jax said, winking, and pouring her more wine.

***

When Jax arrived in the morning, Bernie was already there. Pale, expressionless, but going methodically through her case files before the first surgery.

“So what did you decide about the adnexal adhesiolysis?” Jax asked her.

“It’s risky, very risky to do it laparoscopically,” she answered, having the details clear in her mind. “We need to have a plan B in case we have  to open her up.”

“Can you run through it with me?”

Five minutes later he had to concur. They would be extremely lucky to complete the operation in a way that was minimally invasive.

“Look, I know you can cope if something goes wrong and we nick an artery,” he said, “but I can’t help you if I can’t stand for long enough. I think we should have Serena on standby, what do you say?”

“Mmm. Let’s reserve judgement on that, but just call the ED and ask them to be prepared to send someone senior if we run into trouble.”

Jax looked hard at her but she wouldn’t meet his gaze so he picked up the phone and asked to speak to Marie-O. The brief conversation was in rapid French; Bernie didn’t detect anything unusual, certainly not that Jax had casually slipped in a reference to “the standard  arrangement” which he knew Marie-O would interpret as meaning “send Serena”.

However, as it happened, Bernie’s use of the laparoscope was so flawless that she managed to remove the most dangerously placed adhesion without further invasion, and Serena was not needed. Jax was impressed.

“God, that was good, Wolfe!” he said. “I never would have been able to do that last one as deftly as you did. In fact, it would have been me calling for Serena!”

“Well, just as well it wasn’t you then,” was all she would say, but he could see she was very pleased with herself. It had been a stunning piece of digital surgery and Jax seriously believed there was hardly a surgeon in the whole area who could have performed it as well as Bernie Wolfe.

But it left him with another dilemma.

***

Serena had been fully expecting to have to go and assist Bernie and Jax with an open adnexal adhesiolysis, but when the time passed and no call came, she simply carried on with her usual duties of seeing to the walking wounded coming into the ED. By midday she was sitting in the doctors' office with Maury Fonseca, door open, when she caught the flash of wheels passing her door. Looking up and peering through the window, she saw Marie-O at the nurse’s station bending to talk to a doctor in a wheelchair. She was nodding and seemed to glance in Serena’s direction. Jax then turned around and wheeled himself off the ward without talking to Serena. She felt suddenly exposed, as though everyone was looking at her, but carried on as if nothing had happened.

The rest of the day seemed to drag. Maury offered to go out to pick up some food, and Serena agreed, not feeling much like getting changed and going out on her own. The ED was quiet for a change, and at 6pm, she was just starting to feel hungry again as Maury described his grandmother’s Cuban roast pork, when suddenly the phones started ringing and voices were raised. They both looked up as Marie-O stuck her head round the door.

“Ambulance crew picking up victims of an RTC. ETA eight minutes. Let’s get briefed.”

They both rose and went to the nurse’s station where one of the other nurses was writing on a notepad and Marie-O was reading from it.

“OK, pregnant woman driver involved in collision with a van. The van driver seems to be having a heart attack. The crew are stabilising him, but we need to get him up to CT as soon as they arrive. Maury, you take the man up to CT and brief them, then get back down here.  Serena, the woman has possible multiple fractures in her arm and shoulder and she is almost eight months pregnant. We need Obs and Gynae for this. I’ll call.”

By the time the ambulance arrived, Bernie had joined the team waiting in the ED reception. Maury went in first with a porter and they got the van driver out of the ambulance and on his way to CT. The woman came next. She was clearly in a lot of pain and holding her very swollen stomach. Serena and Marie-O got her into a bay and Bernie started her checklist while Serena checked the arms and shoulders.

“We have a multiple fracture of the ulna- she must have been hit side on, and a broken clavicle, at the very least, but we need X-Rays to determine the exact damage,” she announced in French.

Bernie was shouting “bring me a portable ultrasound” as she tried to determine if the woman was in pain from her stomach or just the other injuries. She was clearly stunned and her responses were far from clear, so Bernie slapped gel on the probe and studied the screen intensely.

“I can’t see any damage to the baby,” she said finally, wiping the gel off the woman’s stomach.

“My baby, is my baby OK?” the woman was crying.

Serena took her hand. “Your baby is fine. We’re going to X-Ray your shoulder and arm and try to fix them in surgery, but I have this wonderful obstetric specialist here with me. She’ll be with you the whole time, and she’ll take care of the baby, OK?”

The woman nodded, then her head fell back as the painkillers kicked in.

Forty-five minutes later, Bernie, Serena and Maury were scrubbed in ready to operate, having checked the X-Rays and planned the repairs needed. The patient was calm and the baby stable, but Bernie was taking no chances.

Allocating the simple clavicle repair to Maury, Serena asked Bernie to help her with the ulna, and as they worked closely, side by side, Serena said quietly in English.

“Anyone would say you’ve been avoiding me. Have I done something wrong?”

Bernie kept her eyes down. “No. Why would you say that?”

“Well, you never seem to be available for lunch or dinner or even coffee any more. I‘ve missed you.”

“Really?” Bernie replied in a low voice. “Well I just thought you’d be busy planning your trip to Morocco with ..what’s his name? Driss.”

Serena nearly laughed aloud, but conscious of Maury nearby and knowing he spoke good English, she swallowed the giggle that rose in her chest. When she had regained control of herself, she said, “You surely don’t think I’d go off on holiday with him?”

“Why not? Rich, attractive man,” Bernie murmured back as she skilfully threaded a pin through the bone.

“And that’s what you think of me, is it?” Serena asked, her eyes above her mask flashing  dangerously. “That I’d run off to Marrakech with the first good looking guy with money that rocks up?”

"No, but you seemed, how shall I say? not averse to his charms,” Bernie mumbled, still not making eye contact.

“Well, Berenice Wolfe, that just goes to show that you don’t know me at all. If I was planning a romantic escape to Marrakech I know exactly who I’d want to go with. And it wouldn’t be Driss Alaoui.”

She raised her eyes to meet Bernie’s shocked and puzzled gaze, then an alarm went off and Serena looked down.

“We have a bleed. Bernie swap places with Maury and keep your eye on her stats.”

While Serena and Maury fixed the bleed, Bernie stood monitoring the patient, her face blank but her mind reeling.

When they had finished and were scrubbing out, the patient being closely monitored in Recovery, Bernie asked.
“What did you mean, you know exactly who you’d want to go with?”

“I think you’d better come into the office. We need to have little talk,” Serena replied.

When they emerged onto the ward, heading for the office, Serena saw Marie-O suddenly put down the telephone and drop her eyes. And as Serena ushered Bernie into the office and turned to close the door, she saw Maury behind them intercepted by Marie-O and diverted to the nurse’s station.

Serena closed the door and stood with her back to it. Bernie fidgeted nervously in front of her.

“Bernie, who did you think I meant?” she asked.

“I..I don’t know,” Bernie stammered.

“Yes, you do,” Serena replied calmly. “We’ve been idiots. Both of us. There’s only one person I want to go with and that’s you, Bernie. “

“You..want to go with ? You mean…you’re planning…?” Bernie could hardly string her words together.

Serena stepped forward and looked into Bernie’s eyes. “If you’re game, Bernie. Because I know I am,” and, grasping Bernie’s upper arms she launched herself at her lips. Bernie staggered backwards until her back hit the wall, and Serena pinned her there with her body weight, reaching her hands up to Bernie’s messy little pony tail and pulling that soft, glorious hair free as she deepened the kiss, hearing Bernie moan as she opened her mouth to let her in, her hands coming automatically to Serena’s hips as she relaxed into the kiss.

Serena didn’t know how long she stood kissing Bernie against the wall, and quite frankly she didn’t care as long as Bernie kept kissing her back like this. When she heard the noise outside the office it took her a while to identify it as the sound of people cheering, and suddenly, the world came in. Serena pulled back, conscious of the spectacle they were offering their colleagues, in a glass-fronted office with the blinds open. She looked up. Bernie was panting slightly, her eyes still wide in amazement, a flush on her cheeks, her lips pink and swollen. Serena thought she had never seen anything so beautiful. She smiled as reassuringly as possible, then turned and went to the door.

“Thank you for the audience,” she said, “you can all go back to work now.”

Turning back into the room from her grinning, delighted colleagues, she said. “Well, Major, was that convincing enough for you? “

Bernie shook her head a little as if in disbelief, her hair flopping over her eyes as she did so.

“I never thought…..”

“No, that’s your problem. You tried to think for me. To imagine that kissing you made me feel uncomfortable. Well you were wrong. There’s nothing I want to do more…lots more. So let’s get out of these scrubs and go home, shall we? “

“B-but what about the pregnant patient?”

“Oh I think your colleague has that covered,” smiled Serena, collecting her things and flinging open the door, where she saw Jax deep in conversation with Marie-O, and Maury slouching against the desk nodding.

“You’re now officially off-duty, ladies,” said Jax. “The night shift is coming on and I’ll be in an on-call room for the pregnant patient if needed. Dr. Fonseca has also offered to do a double shift and will take tomorrow off. So we’re all good, I think.”

Serena smiled and took Bernie firmly by the hand. “Thank you all very much, and good night. See you tomorrow.”

***

When Serena and Bernie had rounded the corner leading off the ward, Jax asked.

“Was that Driss Alaoui I saw leaving as I was coming in?”

Marie-O nodded, a wicked smile lighting up her usually stern face. “He came looking for Serena again, something about arranging to go with her to Marrakech. I pointed him in the direction of the office. We had a great view. “

Jax started laughing. “What did he say?”

“Nothing. I said ‘well, Monsieur Alaoui,  I think that’s your answer right there’. He just stomped off!”

“Well done, Marie-O! I owe you a drink or two for helping me out today.”

“Don’t mention it Dr. Bouchard. We can’t have a Dream Team without a dream, now, can we?”