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The Window Seat

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When Serena Campbell enters her home an hour past the end of her shift she is bone weary from a day of intricate surgeries combined with the usual stresses of running AAU without the expert assistance of her lover. (She refuses to think about how much she’d initially resented having Bernie Wolfe on her ward and how she hadn’t wanted to share its running with another consultant, especially not someone who’d been making waves throughout the hospital with her maverick ways.) Bernie has a couple of days off, so Serena's had to manage without the trauma surgeon today.

She sheds her coat, hat, and shoes, all of them wet from the incessant rain, then pads, in stocking-clad feet, down the hall and into the kitchen, which is bare of any sign of food preparation or her lover, although there's an opened bottle of Shiraz on the table and a glass beside it. Serena pours herself a glass of wine, gratefully takes a hefty swallow, then carries the bottle and glass into the sitting room. Which she thinks is also lacking in any sign of Berenice bloody Wolfe, until a movement on the window seat catches her eye and she spots a familiar blonde head bent over the book which is resting in Bernie's lap. Her right hand holds a mug of what smells like Chamomile tea, and she has a number of cushions at her back. There's a stack of leather bound books at the opposite end of the window seat; most of them are thick tomes, but the gilt lettering on their spines is too faded to be distinct at the distance from which Serena's standing.

“I'm glad someone is comfortable,” she says, rather caustically.

Bernie visibly startles, jerking the mug of tea so violently that some sloshes out, splashing her hand.

“Shit!” she exclaims, quickly putting aside the book in her lap and swinging her legs around to slide off the window seat. She stands up and hurries past Serena, heading into the kitchen where she hears water being run, no doubt over Bernie's right hand.

The brunette sets down the bottle of wine and the glass on the coffee table, then moves into the kitchen. “Do you need the ED?” she asks, somewhat perfunctorily.

“No.”

“Good because I really don't want to drag back to the hospital again tonight.”

“Don't worry,” Bernie says, “I wouldn't dream of disturbing you.”

Serena opens her mouth to retort, sarcastically in all probability, but is stopped by the doorbell unexpectedly ringing.

“Who the hell is that at this time of the day?”

Bernie doesn’t answer. She just rubs a tea towel across her dripping hand, then goes to the front door. Serena hears a brief murmur of voices, then her lover returns carrying a large brown paper carrier bag from which is emanating the delicious scent of Italian food.

“I knew you wouldn’t want to go back out in the rain,” Bernie says, her voice low and sounding choked with emotion, “and I knew you’d had a hard day, between your texts and the conversation I had with Raf earlier, so I thought I’d order your favourites from that little Italian place with the extensive wine list that you love.” She’s serving up the food onto two plates as she talks, her back firmly turned to Serena. “I just thought it’d be nice to treat you and order it as a takeaway so we wouldn’t have to go back out and neither of us would have to cook, either.”

Bernie turns around and sets the plates down on the table, then says, “I’ll be back in a minute” before disappearing through the door.

Serena stares at the food, mouth slightly ajar, then she mentally kicks herself for being surprised, because of course Bernie Wolfe would do this. This is the woman, after all, who put together an ‘In case of emergency’ kit for her when she returned to work after being suspended following the theft of her car and the laptop therein. The trauma surgeon has a caring streak a mile wide.

Serena fetches the wine from the sitting room, then pours some into a glass for Bernie, before she sits down to eat, feeling ravenous now that she has food in front of her.

She’s already eaten more than half her meal when Bernie returns, and Serena feels a stab of guilt when she sees the patch of reddened skin on the back of the blonde’s right hand.

“Are you okay?” she asks worriedly, reaching for Bernie’s hand.

“Fine,” Bernie says in a clipped tone, picking up her cutlery, thereby circumventing Serena’s attempt to touch her.

“I’m sorry,” Serena says.

Bernie shrugs, her mouth full of pasta, but Serena notes that the blonde doesn’t meet her eyes.

“I was jealous, when I saw you sitting there, all cosy and comfortable, relaxing out of the rain.”

That does make Bernie’s head lift and Serena swallows hard as she sees how red Bernie’s eyes are and realises that she’s been crying.

“You were the one who insisted I had an extra day off today, as well as my rostered one tomorrow,” she says, her voice sounding a little hoarse. “You said I deserved it because my shifts yesterday and the day before overran so much, dealing with the trauma patients from the RTC on Tuesday and from the building site yesterday. And I offered to come in today, offered twice in fact, but you assured me that you could manage without me.”

“Which I did,” Serena exclaims, then swallows down her outrage. “Sorry.”

Bernie just ducks her head and continues eating, and Serena returns her attention to finishing her meal, realising guiltily that she’s not enjoying it as much as Bernie had probably expected when she’d ordered it. It’s her own fault, she knows, coming home in a bad mood and promptly taking it out on Bernie, who’s done nothing to deserve Serena’s temper. Bernie truly had deserved to have the extra day off today: she’d left work more than two hours past the end of her shift on Tuesday thanks to a multiple car pile up on the motorway and had come home to eat two bananas and a slice of toast before crawling into bed and falling instantly asleep; the previous day had seen her leaving the hospital even later as the accident at the building site had happened much later in the afternoon than the RTC on Tuesday.

They finish their meal in a tense silence, Serena wondering desperately if there’s a way to apologise to her lover that won’t sound completely feeble.

“I’ll clear up,” Serena tells Bernie once their plates are empty. “Thanks for doing this.”

Bernie lifts her head again, eyebrows raised, and Serena elaborates, “Thank you for ordering my favourite food from my favourite restaurant for me. I appreciate it.”

Bernie nods, then slips away from the table and disappears through the kitchen door and Serena blows out a breath, trying to release the anger that she’s just now realising she’s still feeling, despite it being completely irrational.

She clears the table of everything but the wine, pouring out another glass for herself, which she drinks sitting at the kitchen table as she tries to work out how to make up for the fact that she’s hurt Bernie.

Eventually, she feels calm enough to take what’s left of the bottle of wine and her glass into the sitting room, which she’s surprised to find is deserted. The window seat is neat, the cushions arranged in their usual array along its width and the pile of books is missing.

Serena frowns, then sets down the wine bottle and her almost empty glass on the coffee table, before making her way upstairs. There’s no sign of Bernie in Serena’s bedroom and the ensuite is empty. She steps back out onto the landing and calls for her lover, without getting any response. Worried now she hurries back downstairs where she notices that Bernie’s pale pink wool coat and her boots are missing from their usual spots in the hall. Serena frowns more deeply, then goes in search of her phone, which she discovers is still in her handbag.

She unlocks it and finds a text message from Bernie: Thought you might need some space so gone back to mine. B x

Serena isn’t usually prone to swearing, but on seeing this message she curses herself in no uncertain terms. Bernie’s been living at her house for weeks since her return from Kyiv and until now Serena had assumed that she’d put her own house on the market. She pockets her phone, then checks that both the front and back doors are locked, turns on the dishwasher, turns off the lights downstairs before making her way upstairs with the last of the bottle of wine in her glass.

Back in her bedroom, Serena looks in the wardrobe and notes that the kitbag Bernie favours over a proper suitcase, is missing and all of her clothes are gone, as well as her toiletries from the ensuite.

She sits down on the side of the bed, clutching her phone to her chest and fighting not to sob unrestrainedly, wondering how she could’ve been so foolish as to behave like such a bitch that Bernie had fled rather than staying and trying to fix things. She wants to rail against the blonde, blame her for always running away, but she cannot, not really. Her behaviour towards Bernie since she got home has hardly been loving or caring.

She puts out the lights, but leaves the curtains open, then lies on her bed, gazing unseeingly out of the window at the rain, thinking that the weather entirely suits her mood.

She lets the tears come, trying her best to let go of the irrational anger that’s infected her since she got home and saw Bernie looking so cosy and comfortable in the window seat.

Once she’s cried herself out, she mops her face dry of her tears, then unlocks her phone and hits the call button, hoping that Bernie will answer.

Wolfe, says Bernie and Serena opens her mouth to respond before the blonde’s voice continues and she realises that she’s reached Bernie’s voicemail. I can’t answer right now so leave a message and I’ll call you back.

“I hope you will,” Serena says, misery leaking into her voice despite herself. “Please ring me whenever you get this, however late. I’m sorry, Bernie. I’m sorry that I came home in such a bad mood and took it out on you. I’m sorry that I wasn’t more sympathetic when I startled you and made you splash hot tea on yourself. I’m sorry that I made you feel guilty for taking an extra day off when I’d both insisted you took today off and insisted that you didn’t need to come into the hospital. And I’m deeply sorry that you felt that you had to give me space, making you go out in the rain, when we could’ve been taking advantage of Jason’s absence to cuddle up together on the sofa and watch something we both like on the television. I wish you were here right now as I could do with a cuddle.”

She stifles a sob, then adds, “I love you and I’m very sorry I hurt you so much this evening. I hope that the fact you took all your stuff with you doesn’t mean you won’t be coming back.” She’s sobbing by this time and she cuts the call without saying goodbye, unable to get out any further words.

She falls into an uncomfortable doze, worn out as much by the emotional outburst as by her day at work, and is startled awake by her phone ringing about twenty minutes later. She feels her stomach drop at the same as her heart soars when she sees the caller ID is Bernie’s.

“B-Bernie,” she gasps. “I’m s-sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Shh, shh, it’s okay, love, it’s okay. I’m sorry, too.”

“Y-you are? Why?”

“I shouldn’t have run out on you. That was cruel, especially taking all my stuff with me.”

“Why did you take your stuff?”

“I wanted to make you suffer a bit, to punish you. Which was, as I said, a cruel thing to do.”

“I deserve to be punished for how horrible I was to you.”

“No, you don’t,” Bernie says firmly. “I should’ve stayed and talked things through with you. Running away is a bad habit and I promise there won’t be a third time.”

“Good,” Serena breathes. “I don’t like it when you run away.”

“Me either,” Bernie says, sounding quite shy. “I, um, I’m outside. Can I come in?”

“Oh!” Serena gasps, then pushes herself upright. “I’ve locked and bolted the door.”

Bernie chuckles. “I know, love, that’s why I’m asking if I can come in.”

“I’ll be down.” Serena tosses her phone aside, then shoves her feet into her bedroom slippers and hurries down the stairs, rushing to unbolt the door and let her lover back into the house.

Bernie steps through the door and Serena doesn’t even wait for her to shed her wet coat before she throws herself into the blonde’s arms. “I’m so sorry,” she gasps. “Please forgive me.”

“Shh, love, it’s okay,” Bernie says, and kisses her deeply. When she releases Serena, she adds, “Let me get rid of my wet things, then we’ll go upstairs and talk, okay?”

“Thank you.”

Bernie gives her a soft smile. “We’ll work things out, I promise.” She slips off her coat, which Serena hangs up, then removes her boots, before grabbing her bag and offering Serena her hand.

“Shall we?”

Serena nods, takes it, and lets Bernie lead her back upstairs. They take turns using the ensuite, then change into their pyjamas, Bernie sporting the pair that Serena bought her for Christmas after discovering the blonde normally slept in a rather threadbare RAMC t-shirt and some jogging trousers. Since Bernie tends to feel the cold more than Serena the pyjamas are made of brushed cotton and keep her lover toasty warm.

They sit side by side, resting their backs against the pillows they’ve piled against the headboard, Serena’s right hand held securely in Bernie’s left.

The blonde lifts her hand to press a kiss to Serena’s knuckles. “Why don’t you tell me about your day?” Bernie suggests softly.

“I’d rather hear about yours.”

“Let’s start with yours,” Bernie says, “since I know it wasn’t an easy one. Then I’ll tell you about mine.”

Serena swallows, then nods. “Okay.”

Bernie listens attentively, occasionally squeezing Serena’s hand, which makes her feel stronger.

Once her narrative concludes, Bernie kisses her, then asks, “Do you feel better now?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Good. Now let’s have a cuddle before I tell you about my day.”

They settle down, Serena beginning to feel sleepy as the day’s tension melts away while she listens to Bernie talking about her day off.