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working up a storm inside my head

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It’s the morning after. The morning after. The morning after they both collapsed into Serena’s bed in a fumbling, desperate, hungry mess of limbs. Serena knows they have more talking to do, but knows that they’ll make it through. She stretches her back lazily, the 600 threat count Egyptian cotton soothing against her bare skin. Beside her, a tiny snuffling noise. A noise she’d more expect from a puppy than a grown woman, and a big macho army medic of a woman at that.

Turning on her side, Serena’s eyes soften at the sight of Bernie Wolfe waking up. The woman blinks her eyes a few times and rolls her shoulders, before reaching her arms above her head, fingers linked as she stretches. The move causes the sheet to slip off her body and Serena finds herself distracted once more by the still new sensation of seeing another woman completely naked in her bed. Last night she had acknowledged the beauty of Bernie’s body (oh, she had!) but in the fresh light of a new day she finds herself once more fascinated by the swell of Bernie’s breasts, the scar tissue nestled between them, the smaller shrapnel scars dotted along her torso like silvery stars on a clear night. She’s only aware she’s staring when the object of her gaze coughs pointedly and she returns her eyes to the other woman’s face.
“Good morning, you.” Serena whispers into the stillness of the room.
“Good morning yourself,” Bernie smiles back, less guarded before she’s properly awake. Serena leans over and pressed their lips together. Bernie reciprocates, tongue lazily flicking against Serena’s lips to gain access despite the tang of morning breath.

They know they have to get up, they have to break the unspoiled peace of Serena’s bedroom, but they’re loathe to do so when the moment feels so perfect and is still so new. But Bernie still has an airport smell clinging to her so Serena nudges her towards the en suite while she grabs her silk robe from over the chair and heads downstairs to brew coffee.

She heads back upstairs with some clothes she thinks will fit Bernie as she only has what she was wearing yesterday, her own luggage having been sent on to wait in the reception of her apartment block. Serena pauses as she stands outside the en suite. She can hear Bernie singing softly to herself from inside the shower, and Serena finds it adorable. The army medic isn’t really one for showcasing herself unless it is in trauma surgery (or, Serena reminds herself with a shiver, in Serena’s bed last night) but Serena can definitely hear the soft tones of Bernie through the door. Placing the clothes on the bed, Serena strains to hear what the other woman is singing.
“But she’ll bring out the best and the worst you can be, blame it all on yourself ‘cos she’s always a woman to me…” Bernie’s voice is slightly obscured by the sound of the shower but Serena is pretty certain she knows which song her army medic is singing, and feels touched. Perhaps she’s being irrational, she thinks. But Bernie really does appear to have changed since her return. Serena smiles to herself and goes back downstairs to make them breakfast.

Bernie wanders into the kitchen as Serena is spreading raspberry jam onto her toast. She offers a plate to Bernie and gestures at the array of items the other woman can add to her toast. Bernie opts for marmalade, some of it spreading round her mouth as she bites into the food. Serena rolls her eyes fondly and reaches forward to rub her thumb across Bernie’s lips, catching the offending dollops. Without thinking, she offers it to Bernie who sucks the whole thumb into her mouth, tongue swirling around it to catch every last drop. As she releases Serena’s thumb with a slight pop, both of their eyes darken. They blush and turn back to their breakfast.

To lighten the mood Serena says the first thing that comes into her head.
“So, when’s the last time you remember me laughing while someone was bleeding?” Bernie just looks at her with a confused expression on her face. Serena tries again.
“Would you say I’m frequently kind and suddenly cruel?” Bernie’s brow furrows and then realisation dawns on her face. She wraps her arms around herself and looks away.
“You were listening?” She sounds shameful and Serena reaches forward to wrap her arms around her.
“No! Well, sort of, yes! I heard as I was putting the clothes out and then stayed for a while because it sounded so beautiful Bernie. It’s lovely to hear you sounding so happy and unguarded, darling.” Bernie’s eyes are flitting all over her face as she speaks before she freezes, mouth falling open slightly. Serena pulls her closer, fearful that Bernie will run again.
“What’s wrong?”
“You’ve never called me that before.” Bernie’s voice is a gentle whisper. Serena must look confused as Bernie elaborates. “Darling.” A pause. “I like it.”

Serena vows that she will call Bernie darling every day for the rest of her life if it will always elicit such a response.

They finish their breakfast in silence, leaned against one another by the kitchen table. Serena then puts the plates in the dishwasher and heads upstairs to get dressed herself, tugging slightly on Bernie’s hand so she joins her. It takes considerably longer than she usually would take to get dressed in a simple jumper and jeans, but kissing Bernie is still so deliciously new and tempting. Bernie treats her like a precious item that she’s scared to lose. Eventually, she’s ready and they walk back downstairs holding hands, sharing secretive smiles as they exit the house. Serena waves to her next door neighbour Gary, who looks at their entwined hands but doesn’t comment, just nods politely at them.

As Serena drives them to Bernie’s apartment block, Bernie’s hand resting lightly on her thigh, she smiles to herself in spite of the rainy weather. Serena has finally fallen truly in love. With Bernie. With a woman. And she’ll always be the woman for her.

Chapter Text

The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Serena tried so very hard not to look at the woman next to her. The woman she knew had made extra effort with her hair and had on a delicious white oxford shirt – seriously, how could what was essentially a grown up item of school uniform look so damn sexy?! Alone together, they engaged in mundane chatter. The nurse got in and got out and they were alone again. The awkward small talk continued as the lift went up. Then the lift stopped but the doors didn’t open. No overly friendly female announcer voice to inform them which level they were at. Nothing. Even Bernie had stopped making small talk. The lift was completely silent. Serena pressed the emergency assistance button.

She didn’t look at Bernie all throughout her exchange with the service personnel on the other end of the tinny line. She calmly stated what was wrong and snapped at them to hurry up. Then she turned to see the woman who had done absolutely nothing to help since they’d been stuck.

Bernie Wolfe’s eyes were blown wide and her frame was rigid. She was staring unseeingly at the doors of the lift as if that alone could will them open. Serena got the impression that Bernie would try and climb out through a narrow gap and up the lift shaft if given the opportunity. That’s when she realised. Bernie Wolfe was claustrophobic. From the tangled soup of confused emotions inside her, Serena pulled one forward: love. No matter the context, she loved Bernie and hated to see her in such a state. Softly she walked forward and whispered the army medic’s name. Bernie’s head snapped to the side, and Serena guided her to sit on the floor, pulling her head onto her shoulder. Bernie breathed deeply then spoke into Serena’s neck.
“I don’t much like feeling trapped.” Her voice was more vulnerable than Serena had ever heard it. She rubbed Bernie’s arm tenderly. “I’m glad you’re here.” That confession was one which struck Serena squarely in the chest. She desperately wanted to read more into it but didn’t want to get her hopes up too high.
“You are?”
“Yes. You’re the safest person I know, Serena.” Bernie shuffled herself even closer, and Serena wondered if she had gone delusional in her fear. She wrapped her arms around Bernie and tried to convey all the care and affection she could into the gesture. Bernie smiled into Serena’s shirt.
“Thank you, Serena.”
“No problem at all, Bernie. We’ve got each other’s backs, remember?”
With a judder and a screech the lift began to slowly ascend once more.

Serena was still flustered all day, couldn’t help but notice Bernie’s fingers and her lips and her body. She wondered how she had never before realised just how gorgeous women were. She wondered if Bernie Wolfe had held all the secrets to unlocking her sexual preferences for all this time.

They performed in theatre together, making what could have been a tricky and unusual procedure look unexpectedly easy. It was after the surgery that Bernie suggested they talked in the office. Serena agreed.

Sat in the office, red wine filled to the tops of their glasses and gazes searching deep into one another’s souls, Bernie spoke first.
“I can see how uncomfortable the whole thing is making you...” Serena felt her heart sink. Bernie was retreating back into herself.
“About as uncomfortable as you were in the lift this morning.” Bernie looked a little wounded, and Serena momentarily hated herself for bringing up the other woman’s weakness to strengthen her own argument. But she knew what she wanted. She wanted Bernie. And she would be damned if she let her get away.
“Listen, Bernie. You were scared, you were uncomfortable, you didn’t like feeling like you had no control over the situation. That’s a bit like me at the moment. I’m a bit scared and a bit uncomfortable, and I certainly am not sure how much control I’ve got over the situation. But just like in the lift we worked through it together, that’s what I want us to do now. I want to explore this new side of myself. With you. Because honestly Bernie kissing you made me realise that as wonderful as you are as a friend, I think I’ve maybe wanted a bit more than that from the start without knowing. Don’t run if it’s what you want too. Please?”
Bernie looked dumbfounded. Her eyes were flicking all over Serena’s face and she took a healthy swig of her wine.
“I do want this but… I’m scared. I’ve never properly dated a woman before either.”
“So how about we work things out together? Have dinner and watch films and drink wine and just see where things take us?”
“I… I think I’d like that.”
“Good. Now shall we finish up here and head out?”
“I think that’s a very good idea.”

They completed their paperwork and took their coats of the rack, sharing small secretive smiles as they did so. Walking off AAU, Bernie slowed slightly. Serena frowned and leaned in so that nobody would hear her.
“Are you having second thoughts, Ms Wolfe?”
“Yes. I mean no. Well, not about you. But maybe we could take the stairs on our way down?”
“That we can do, Major. That we can do.”

Later, as they sat pressed together in a wine bar not too far from the centre of Holby City, Serena couldn’t help but giggle into her drink. Bernie looked at her questioningly.
“Something funny, Ms Campbell?”
“I was just thinking that after today we’re ready to explore this new side to our relationship… One step at a time!” Serena dissolved into giggles once more as Bernie groaned affectionately at the bad joke.
“Come on, Ms Campbell. Time I got you home. And if you’re lucky, I’ll throw in a good night kiss.”
“You were getting one of those off me anyway, Major.”

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 1: Tropes

now what’s the use of being so confused

When Bernie is first released from hospital with a list of outpatient appointments longer than her arm and a body more marked than a map of the world she isn’t quite sure what to do with herself. Her kids are both busy in their respective career paths – Cam on a rotation in London and Charlie on placement in a prestigious solicitor’s office – so Bernie is loath to burden them too much. Since the divorce nearly ten years ago now she’s grown used to fending for herself. Granted, she hasn’t needed to use a walking cane before, and didn’t have the tendency to shut off into a world of post-traumatic stress, but she reckons she’ll be able to cope. She always has done.

The little café tucked down a side road off the high street in town is an accident, at first. She had gone into town to stretch her legs as much as allowed, and to buy some strawberries from the little man on the market who sells the best ones she’s ever tasted. Nowadays she embraces the little luxuries life has to offer her. It had started raining and so Bernie, conscious that her too-weary bones felt stiffer in wet weather, had ducked down a little alleyway between two buildings just off the main high street. She’d found herself facing a charming and welcoming glow from a discreet yet busy café with a sign hanging above the door declaring its name as The Cinnamon Swirl. Bernie had been drawn into its soft interior like a moth to a flame.

Behind the counter had been Serena, the owner. Serena. Bernie had first been struck by her short, glossy locks and her disarmingly charming smile. Sat on a comfortable chair in the corner, Bernie had sipped the best coffee she had tasted in a long time, delivered to her personally by Serena herself. One coffee had become two and one of the establishment’s signature cinnamon swirls, as Bernie told herself she was just sheltering from the drizzly weather outside and keeping her bones from aching. She told herself this as she received yet another of Serena’s smiles as the woman cleared away empty mugs and plates. When Bernie finally left, the rain had long stopped.

The Cinnamon Swirl becomes Bernie’s regular haunt. Serena becomes one of Bernie’s closest friends. Bernie knows she is dangerously close to falling in love with Serena (thinks she may have already done so, in fact) but pushes the feelings aside to cherish the friendship she has forged amongst caffeine and pastries. Bernie thinks Serena treats her a little differently to her other regulars. She always seems to have time to stop and chat with Bernie, perching on the arm of her chair or the edge of the table in front of her without personal space as an issue. Bernie learns that if she goes early in the morning when the café opens Serena will share the less-than-perfect bakes with her over a latte while her colleague Fletch takes care of the morning crowd of businesspeople wanting their to-go caffeine hit. Bernie learns that if she visits the café as closing time is near, Serena will bring over the unsold bakes which are going slightly stale, and together they will pick at the crumbs as they laugh over anything and nothing, long past when Serena’s evening colleague Morven has wiped down the surfaces and left.

Bernie never thought she would ever become a regular at an establishment such as The Cinnamon Swirl, but it appears the soldier in her craves order too much. Just as in the military she defined her life via morning drills and team workouts, she now schedules her life around when she will next see Serena. Her therapist mentions that she seems to be more settled now than she was when she first got blown back to Holby City, and Bernie thinks she agrees but doesn’t want to admit that she thinks she’s more settled because of Serena. For a start, she wonders if it would sound weird that her happiness has become so dependent on a woman who serves her coffee, for all intents and purposes. She thinks it makes her sound a bit like a stalker. Also, she finds she doesn’t want to share Serena with anyone, which she knows is silly because Serena has a whole group of regular customers who she laughs and chats with on an almost daily basis. Her therapist could indeed have been served coffee by the woman. But a part of Bernie wants to treasure Serena close and keep her to herself for a bit longer. Nowadays she embraces the little luxuries life has to offer. But Serena is more than just a luxury. Serena is decadence personified, an almost ethereal being that Bernie is scared will disappear if she doesn’t treasure her enough. She’d lived her whole life not knowing The Cinnamon Swirl was down the alleyway so near to where she shopped. Sometimes in the middle of the night Bernie can’t help but worry that she’s part of a children’s film of some sort where the coffee shop was all a dream or illusion, and that one day she’ll go down the little alleyway to find nothing there except dark and oppressive brickwork, the café a figment of her imagination she can no longer access. She knows some soldiers have conditions similar to hers where they are prone to imaginings and fantasy scenarios. She worries that maybe she, too, has such a condition that has not yet been diagnosed, and it unnerves her. Bernie finds she can’t imagine a life without Serena in it anymore.

Bernie goes to The Cinnamon Swirl early one morning before she has a physical therapy appointment at Holby City Hospital. She is irrationally disappointed to find Serena is not there. Instead, Fletch is working alongside a tall young man wearing dark rimmed spectacles who introduces himself as Jason. Fletch knows her by name now, and greets her warmly. Jason smiles.
“Ah! So you must be Bernie. Auntie Serena’s told me all about you.” Bernie feels her heart flutter at the knowledge that Serena has confided in her nephew about her.
“Has she?” She knows she’s fishing for information, but can’t quite help it. She wants Serena to have said nice things about her so badly she could be considered desperately needy for it.
“Yes. Your hair is much better than she described it though.” Jason’s frankness flummoxes her slightly until she starts to laugh throatily, Fletch and Jason joining in. Bernie takes her coffee and sips it slowly until she has to head to her appointment. As she gets up, Jason inquires as to what she is doing for the day. When she tells him she has an appointment, Jason beams and tells her that his Auntie Serena has gone to the hospital too for a mammogram appointment. Fletch tells Jason to quieten a little as Bernie colours at the mention of Serena’s breasts, but Jason just informs Fletch that he doesn’t understand what he’s said wrong as mammograms are important for detecting illnesses in women. Bernie leaves them to that particular conversation as she makes her way out of the café.

At the hospital she finds herself taking a detour in order to get to her physical therapy appointment. She knows she shouldn’t but her legs seem to be moving down the corridors of their own accord, her eyes scanning the signs to see where the department Serena is most likely in is located. She looks at her watch and swears when she notices she’s going to be late to her own appointment, and shuffles over to the lift to head down a floor to where the room she needs is. As she enters, a voice sounds from down the corridor, asking to hold the lift. Bernie’s heart leaps into her throat as Serena joins her, looking shocked to see her. Bernie ducks her head down and says nothing as she limps out of the lift on the right floor. Doesn’t realise Serena has followed until they’re in the waiting area and she’s sitting beside her.
“If you’re happy for me to I don’t mind waiting for you. If you head back to the café I’ll even give you a double shot latte on the house.” Serena’s smile falters when Bernie says she’s already been to The Cinnamon Swirl today. She shrugs and looks at Serena who seems so hopeful, then relents.
“Okay. I’ll need a cinnamon swirl after my appointment anyway.” Serena pats her on the knee as the physiotherapist calls for Bernie to enter the suite.

Her eagerness to be back with Serena is not missed, the physiotherapist commenting on how much effort she’s clearly putting into getting through the routines quickly and efficiently. When he makes a friendly comment about not wanting to keep her from her date, Bernie doesn’t bother to correct him, merely grits her teeth against the pain in her right leg as she pushes her foot flat against his hand to stretch the muscles. When she’s done, she exits both looking and feeling like a sweaty and aching mess. Serena doesn’t seem to care in the slightest. She just pushes Bernie’s fringe away from her eyes and offers her arm as they exit the hospital to go back to the café.

She begins to spend a lot more time in The Cinnamon Swirl, and is practically an honorary member of staff. She no longer pays for any of her food or drink as a sort of trade-off for her cleaning out the coffee machine and ensuring it is topped up with the fresh Fairtrade beans which they pride themselves on using. It isn’t quite like the army, but Bernie begins to feel another sense of kinship with her adopted colleagues. Fletch and Jason and Morven and even Henrik, the quiet man who delivers the finest quality ingredients to the coffee shop every Tuesday and Friday. Bernie meets Raf, the smartly dressed Scotsman who enters the café every morning before going to the office and spends the majority of that time smiling warmly at Fletch. She learns of Jason’s idiosyncrasies and remembers that while he dislikes coffee, he takes his tea very specifically at certain times of the day. But most of all, Bernie learns more about Serena. They spend hours upon hours after the café closes, making idle chatter over the smell of disinfectant and the taste of leftover brownies. Bernie is glad she lives close to the town centre, for it means the walk home is never that long. It also means that Serena starts joining her on it when the weather is good, seeing Bernie to her front door with a smile and a gentle squeeze of the arm.

She is sat in what is now her chair in the back corner of the café, reading the newspaper whilst her flat white cools in front of her. There is a lull in trade, so Serena makes her way over to sit by her, the two of them squished close on the one arm chair. As is now customary for them, Serena is turning to the puzzles page and pulling a pen out of her apron in order to start the crossword. They’ve found that together they’re quite good at them (Serena makes up for Bernie’s lack of pop culture knowledge, Bernie aces the geography and general history questions), and Bernie delights in the sheer domesticity of being pressed close to Serena while they muddle over obscure general knowledge clues together. She finds herself endlessly endeared by the way Serena nibbles on the end of the pen thoughtfully when a clue proves to be particularly fiendish.

They’re sat filling one in, heads resting close together, when a shadow falls across them, and Bernie looks up to see Marcus looking down at her with a courteous smile on his face. They’re back to being friends now, Bernie thinks, after years of animosity and misunderstanding. They always were good mates, and she thinks he has now forgiven her for using him to hide who she truly was. He knows that there’s no man she would rather have had children with than him, but he also knows that she was never truly in love with him. On his arm is a pretty blonde woman who seems nice enough. She smiles at him as he greets her.
“Bernie, what a surprise! Bernie, meet Ana. Ana, Bernie.” Bernie nods politely at her, her leg too stiff to get up and kiss her cheeks. She remembers Cam and Charlotte mentioning that Marcus has had a new woman in his life for a couple of years now. A pharmacist, if she remembers correctly. Bernie introduces them to Serena politely. Marcus looks a little sheepish.
“You’ll get your invite in due course, but since you’re here we may as well tell you. We’re engaged.”
“Congratulations!” She is pleased for him, truly. “Treat him better than I did, Ana.”
“I do hope you’ll come to the wedding?”
“Of course I will.” She nods.
“Both of you, in fact.” Marcus gestures to Serena. “I wouldn’t want to stop you from having company Bernie. We’ve both moved on now.” As Morven calls out Marcus and Ana’s orders, they turn away and when Serena smiles at her, Bernie finds she doesn’t have any sense of regret or longing for the past she had with the man.

The invite comes and she opens it, then starts as she sees it is addressed to Bernie & Serena. She’d forgotten that Serena was also invited, but is also pleased that she’s her plus one without the awkwardness of Bernie having to try and invite her along herself. She takes the invitation to the café and Serena rosters herself off schedule for that weekend and tells Bernie she’ll drive them to the hotel where the ceremony is taking place. Bernie thinks she’s being kind and knows that Bernie would struggle to make the long journey while her right leg is still so weak, but thinks Serena doesn’t want to call her out on the injury specifically.

It isn’t until they go to check in that Bernie realizes Marcus has assumed that she and Serena are a couple. When she says their names and the receptionist hands them the one key to a luxurious double room Bernie freezes in panic and it is Serena who takes over, graciously thanking the young woman and guiding Bernie and their cases to the elevator. Bernie only registers as they ascend that somewhere along the short journey Serena has joined their hands together.

In the room, Bernie sits on the bed in a small panic. She is fully aware of her ever-increasing attraction to Serena, and she doubts sharing a bed with her for a weekend is going to do anything to ease the fact. She wants to offer to take the floor or the bathtub, but her leg has been giving her a difficult time this week and Serena will hear none of it, admonishing Bernie lightly and telling her they can both share a bed like grownups. Bernie bites back a whimper at the thought of the very grownup activities she would love to do in a bed with Serena. She realizes she’s not listening to Serena so focuses back in on what she’s saying.
“Anyway, would it really be so bad to just pretend we’re dating for the weekend?” Bernie stares up with big wide eyes at Serena who is the picture of confidence. She finds herself shaking her head and agreeing to the whole ridiculous charade. Bernie thinks she’s a little bit foolish and a lot in love.

That evening there is a small drinks reception after dinner, and Bernie isn’t sure whether she’s dreading it or anticipating it with every fibre of her being. All throughout dinner, Serena seems determined to put on as much of a show as possible, feeding Bernie spoonful after spoonful of her dessert (Bernie tells herself she keeps accepting because of the quality of the tiramisu, not the look in Serena’s eyes as she wraps her lips around the spoon). They lean in close to one another and converse, getting trapped in the little bubble they create around themselves at The Cinnamon Swirl. How easy it would be, Bernie thinks, to lean across the short gap between them and press her lips to Serena’s. She doesn’t, though. Military self-restraint and years of staying closeted alongside the emotional pain of being unrequitedly in love with Serena Campbell at its finest.

Cameron and Charlotte arrive during the middle of the drinks reception, having travelled together when their shifts ended. Bernie doesn’t notice their arrival until they’re stood in front of her and wrapping their arms around her. She introduces them rather awkwardly to Serena and they all seem to get on splendidly, to her immense delight. When Serena heads back to the bar to get herself a top-up of Shiraz and another whiskey for Bernie, both of her children smile at her.
“She’s really nice, Mum.” Charlie admits with a small smile.
“Yeah. It’s nice to see you in love.” Cam pats her on the shoulder then the pair of them head off to speak to Marcus and Ana. Bernie sits staring at the dark walls of the bar until Serena returns and hands her the drink. She used to think she was good at hiding her emotions, but it seems Serena has turned her into an open book as far as her family are concerned. Bernie isn’t sure what to think.

They head up to the room together and everything becomes awkward once more. Serena seems determined to just get things over and done with, and enters the bathroom to ready herself for bed. Bernie opens her case and pulls out her sleepwear, then blanches. She usually wears an old army t-shirt and some shorts for bed, finds they’re comfortable enough. But when she puts them on it becomes obvious just how battered she is. All down her right leg are snail trails of variant hues, the oldest silvery and faded, the newest raw and red. Under her shirt is another scar dividing her chest in two, and a matching one is on her neck. Her arms are also marked. Less so than her right leg, but still less than perfect. Bernie climbs into the bed quickly to hide them, and realizes her error as soon as she’s on the mattress. Her leg throbs painfully, and she closes her eyes and breathes deeply to try and numb the pain. Serena settles in beside her on the right side of the bed, and whispers her goodnight. Bernie, self-conscious and scared, feigns sleep to avoid replying.

In the morning Bernie wakes rather early, an old habit from her army days she doubts she will ever be rid of. She becomes acutely aware of the fact that she is sharing a bed. Sometime during the night Serena has rolled into Bernie’s right hand side, her face buried in Bernie’s armpit. Bernie in her unconscious state has managed to wrap her arm around Serena, hand in her hair. Any movement will wake the woman beside her, so Bernie closes her eyes and allows herself the idle notion of daydreaming about what life could be like if she and Serena awoke together every morning. It’s the nicest dream she’s had in a long time.

Serena begins to stir around half an hour later, her face nuzzling into Bernie’s neck in the most achingly delicious way. Bernie bites her lip to stop herself from whimpering with want for the woman beside her. Serena realizes where she is and freezes, pulling herself upwards and smiling gently down at Bernie through sleep-filled eyes. Her face is clean of make-up and her hair rumpled and Bernie thinks she looks the best she’s ever seen her. Reaching up she swipes a bit of the crust left over from sleep away from Serena’s eye, and time seems to freeze for a moment. They remain staring at one another, breathing the same air, until Serena scoots back over to her side of the bed and slips out towards the bathroom. Bernie uses the opportunity to drag herself out of bed and hastily pull on a shirt and jeans so that her scars are covered when they go down to breakfast. Serena reappears from the bathroom and raises an eyebrow at Bernie’s now fully dressed state before heading to rummage in her own case while Bernie makes use of the facilities.

Bernie feels nervous as they head down to breakfast, but when they’re sat sharing orange juice and coffee and croissants she finds she has nothing to worry about. Bernie comments on how the hotel pastries are nothing compared to those in The Cinnamon Swirl and Serena blushes and swats Bernie playfully on the arm.
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” she laughs and Bernie could almost swear there’s a flirtatious twinkle in her eyes.

The wedding itself is fairly ordinary, as far as weddings go. It is the reception afterwards where things get a little awkward for Bernie. Some of Marcus’ old colleagues, both drunk and unforgiving, approach and make some snide comments regarding her finally getting her comeuppance in the form of the IED for ditching Marcus all those years ago. Bernie shrugs and tries to move away, but she left her cane in the hotel room so has to loop her arm in Serena’s for support, and that just gives them further fuel to fan the flames with, as they turn their comments against her lesbianism. Bernie is unsure what exactly to say. She wants to go full Major Wolfe on them, but doesn’t want to make a scene on Marcus’ big day, so just looks down in the hope that they’ll get bored and move on. In the end, it is Serena who snaps at them.
“Would you be treating her this way if she was a male veteran?” The question seems to stun them into silence, and Serena continues with her tirade, her voice unnervingly calm. Bernie thinks this must be what she’s like if a customer makes a complaint. Thinks anyone who could complain about Serena Campbell is a fool.
“This woman here has given her life serving for the likes of you and me against terrorists and dictatorships across the globe. She has been injured in combat and medically retired, and is going through an intense period of rehabilitation therapy. And the only thing you can do is mock her for her service and the fact that she’s a lesbian? Why? Are you jealous that she’s braver than you’ll ever be? Are you jealous that you haven’t got a chance with her? Because believe me when I say I’ve had my fair share of relationships over the years and Bernie Wolfe is the finest of the lot. You need to take a long, hard look at yourselves and find some respect. Because frankly, none of you are worth either of our time.”

Spinning them around, Serena marches them out of the reception, into the lift and up to their room.

Bernie sits on the edge of the bed and stares at Serena.
“Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.”
“I did. They were disrespecting you and I won’t stand for that.”
“Thank you. It’s been a long time since someone stood up for me.”
“Bernie, I’d stand up for you for the rest of our lives if you’d let me.”
“What do yoummph-” Bernie has no time to finish responding as she finds herself on the receiving end of Serena pressing their lips together.

Kissing Serena is everything Bernie ever thought it would be and more. She matches Bernie’s passion with unbridled enthusiasm as Bernie finds herself pushed backwards onto the bed with Serena’s thighs either side of hers. They pause briefly, gasping for air as Bernie looks at Serena in shock.
“Do you want this?” Her voice is breathier than she had anticipated. Serena just looks at her with an expression of complete fondness upon her features as she brushes Bernie’s fringe from her eyes.
“Bernie, darling. I’ve wanted you since you first walked into my café.”

Pleasantries aside, they crush their lips together again and again until Bernie’s wandering hands have located the zip on Serena’s dress and the material falls down her body. Serena kicks it to the other side of the room and makes light work of Bernie’s suit jacket and shirt buttons. Bernie is gazing at Serena’s body in a daze, feasting upon the luscious curves and freckled skin. Serena pushes the shirt back off Bernie’s shoulders and gasps at the sight of Major Wolfe in just her bra and trousers.

When Serena leans forward and presses a feather light kiss to the rough scar tissue on her chest, Bernie freezes slightly. This is the first time she’s ever been intimate with someone after the IED, and she’s unsure just how they’ll respond to her body. Bernie sees her scars as memories, and her therapist is trying to encourage her to associate them with the heroism of the army rather than the destructive nature of war, but it is hard. Bernie is brought out of her thoughts by Serena sitting beside her on the bed, and stroking her fingers through her blonde curls. Bernie looks at the woman in front of her and decides to be brave. Kissing Serena’s lips with more than just a hint of tongue, Bernie shucks off her shirt and undoes her suit trousers, lifting her hips so the material of them and her underwear can pool down at her feet where she frowns at the shoes that she is still wearing. Serena laughs and unfastens the sensible, medically-recommended flats. She pushes them and the trousers aside to trace her eyes up the length of Bernie’s body. Bernie, for her part, is terrified as to what Serena might think, but sees only admiration in her eyes as she gently traces the jigsaw of pathways down Bernie’s right leg from thigh to ankle. When she completes the pathway in reverse with her tongue, Bernie falls back onto the bed and gives herself over to the sensation of Serena kneeling on the floor between her thighs.

When Serena is quite finished, she stands up and helps Bernie to swing her legs up onto the bed while she recovers. Cracking an eye open, Bernie moans at the sight of Serena wiping her face and licking her fingers, before leaning down to kiss Bernie who can taste herself on Serena’s tongue. Bernie sits up, and invites Serena to sit between her legs. Kissing below her ear, Bernie reaches round to sneak a hand into Serena’s underwear and finds she’s suitably wet. Serena reaches down herself and removes the offending article of clothing, then leans back into Bernie, grinding them together. Bernie lets her hand creep round to Serena’s entrance and when she enters her for the first time, Serena groans happily. Bernie has never been grateful to be alive.

In the morning Bernie wakes rather early, an old habit from her army days she doubts she will ever be rid of. She becomes acutely aware of the fact that she is sharing a bed. Today Serena is planted across her chest, and Bernie has her arms wrapped tightly around her, she can feel her breathing as she snoozes. Any movement will wake the woman in her arms, so Bernie closes her eyes and allows herself the idle notion of daydreaming about what life could be like if she and Serena awoke together every morning. But, for the first time, she rather thinks that it might just be able to happen.

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 2: Firsts

all the rules wide known they mean nothing to me

First Kiss

The first time they kiss is messy. It shouldn’t have happened that way, but had it not happened that way, they probably would have never got to the stage of dinners at Italian restaurants with extensive wine lists. The kiss is like nothing Bernie has ever experienced before and she is both shocked and relieved. Shocked that she has lost her control and kissed her best friend, her co-lead, her Serena. Relieved that Serena has kissed her back with equal passion, seems to want it, this, whatever it may be just as much. Only the clatter of a trolley outside the theatre pulls them apart, and then it is awkward pleasantries and dashes down corridors to changing rooms and cars. Bernie looks at herself in her car mirror, stares at her kiss bruised lips, and sighs. For once, she doesn’t quite know what to do.

 

First Date

It isn’t called a date, but both of them look back on it as their first anyway. Serena had taken up Bernie’s offer willingly and with a disarming smile, the kiss of a few weeks previously still fresh on their minds but no longer as awkward a topic of conversation. They spent the evening at a table for two, steam rising off pasta and creating a mist around them, enveloping them in a private, perfect bubble. They’d ordered wine by the bottle and drank happily, eyes only for one another. They’d taken as much time as possible over dessert, neither quite ready to part company just yet. They go on dates after Kiev, of course they do. But none of them are their first. That is why, when they want to celebrate a special occasion, they both know they’re going to go to the small Italian restaurant with an extensive wine list. It’s the only thing to do.

First Fight

Bernie considers Kiev their first fight. She can still never quite forgive herself for pushing Serena away, for snapping at her like she did in the middle of the ward. Perhaps it was a testament for what was to come, after the mess of separation and the joy of reconciliation. Every fight they have once they’re together is on similar terms as the first Kiev dispute. Bernie panics, she fears the worst, she tries to escape. She’s spent too long in dangerous warzones not to have the response to flee when things are bad, repairing the damage later. Serena, on the other hand, is driven by her emotion. So much so that even in their worst fights, Bernie can see that it is Serena’s love overpowering every other emotion, just like it did before Kiev. Now, Bernie tries to stay. She doesn’t bolt to the other side of the world or up to the roof. She owes it to Serena, to talk things out. Knows it’s the right thing to do.

First Time

The very night Bernie gets back from Kiev, she is guided to Serena’s bed, the woman having waited long enough for the return of the wayward trauma surgeon. Bernie, for her part, had realised over cheap vodka on cold Ukrainian nights that Serena is the woman for her, and that she also needs to start listening to her. In bed together, they allow themselves to forget the pain of the last months gone by, and to just enjoy being able to see and feel one another properly, fully, for the first time. If Serena is nervous, she hides it well, and Bernie, for her part, has no problems with chasing the pleasure she never thought she would ever get to experience with the woman in bed beside her. For the first time in a long time, Bernie knows exactly what to do.

First Child

Morven gives birth to a beautiful daughter on a cold winter’s night, Cameron beside her through the entire labour, allowing her to squeeze his hand as tightly as needed. Bernie and Serena are called from their slumber and race to the hospital in time to be there to welcome their first grandchild into the world. She’s small and tiny and both of them cannot help but find her completely gorgeous. As Morven rests, they take turns holding her, admiring her tiny tan face and her dark tufts of hair. They both agree she’s going to grow up to be a beauty, and they know they will let nothing hurt this precious child, and any others which may follow. They love her unconditionally, and know they always will do.

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 3: Pre-series

you’re my secret passion and I have no other

Opposite the gym there is a theatre. Bernie sees people come and go from it all the time as she heads to and from working out on an average evening. As she goes in, she sees the pre-show crowds hanging about, waiting to be let in so they can get a drink from the bar and leisurely make their way to their seats. On her way out, she sees them again, but leaving. It’s a long time to be in the gym, but she knows she has to do it. She enjoys it. She can see just where it is going to take her. A career in the army, hopefully rising through the ranks. She needs to be strong, she has to be. The rippling muscles aren’t a bad thing, anyway. She rather likes how powerful they make her look.

The theatre season changes and posters are displayed advertising a stint of amateur plays of new talent. Written, directed and performed by amateur drama groups of varying ages and abilities, ranging from children with disabilities through to student societies. Bernie shrugs and continues into the gym. She wants to make sure she gets to the weights in plenty of time. The gym’s gained a little popularity and she can’t always guarantee they’ll be free of salacious men who try to chat her up or demean her.

She starts going to the gym even earlier than before, to beat the men who posture and drool over her in her crop top and workout pants. She knows they deliberately commandeer the equipment so that there is nothing free for her, now that they’ve realised she isn’t going to bow to their advances. So getting there before they arrive is the key. She can put up with their remarks when she’s lifting a load of heavy metal weights.

The first time she sees her, she’s sat on the wall outside the theatre, by the stage door. Clearly she’s part of one of the shows, and has arrived early. Bernie rakes her eyes up and down her figure appreciatively. They’re probably about a similar age, but this woman is curvier, sexier, and altogether more alluring. Bernie deliberately passes just too close to her as she walks past, before crossing and heading into the gym. She doesn’t see the woman’s gaze follow her through the doors.

She started arriving to the gym early to avoid the irritating men. Now she finds herself setting off earlier just to dawdle past the theatre opposite before she enters. Bernie deliberately selects a tighter shirt to wear as she goes by, hoping it will act as a good measure to see just how interested the other woman is in her, if at all. Bernie hopes against all hopes that she is. Bernie tamps down the disappointment when she isn’t there early, and spends quite a considerable amount of time fiddling with her shoelaces and stretching, before giving up and going into the gym. She doesn’t see the woman’s face at an upstairs window of the theatre, gazing down at the street below.

It becomes a game of hit and miss. Bernie shows up early and occasionally the woman is there so they nod politely and smile (Bernie thinks this woman’s smile could light up a room, Bernie remembers that smile as the men in the gym make jibes at her, she tells herself it’s all fine so long as she can see the woman’s smile again). Sometimes the woman isn’t there, and Bernie tries not to be disappointed. She never sees the woman at the upstairs window, taking a short break from her rehearsal.

Bernie comes out of the gym late one evening, still dressed in her crop top and tight workout pants. She’s sweaty and sticky and desperate to get away from a particularly creepy man. She hears a gasp from across the street and looks up to see the pretty brunette exiting the stage door. Clearly her student theatre group’s show has finished and she’s heading home for the night. Bernie notices her eyes roaming up and down her figure, and decides to make the most of it. She flexes her muscles and winks at her.
“Good evening,” she allows a husky edge to creep into her voice. The woman smirks.
“It is now.”
They walk up the street together, bodies pressed unnecessarily close given the quiet streets due to the late hour. They separate at the end, both sneaking glances over their shoulders as they walk in opposite directions.

After that, Bernie stays in the gym later most nights, and finds herself meeting the woman afterwards for their short moonlit walk down the road. If sometimes the woman brings a lukewarm coffee from the theatre that they share outside, then that’s fine. If sometimes Bernie’s hand accidentally brushes the back of the other woman’s and their hands end up clasped together until they separate, that’s also fine.

If one night before they part ways at the end of the road their lips (and maybe their tongues, just a little bit) happen to meet then, well, that’s something that becomes a ritual too. They chase the taste of strong coffee and salty sweat until the sweeping orange light of headlights forces them to go their own separate ways.

Bernie gets her army call-up around the same time that the theatre production comes to an end. They say nothing, but Bernie can see the end date on the poster outside the theatre, and the other woman can see the new workout clothes Bernie wears, embroidered with the Her Majesty’s Armed Forces logo. They’re reluctant to part when they kiss under the street light at the end of the road.

One night. That’s all they have. That one last night. In a small B&B at the end of the road, used for theatre goers and businesspeople. One night. That’s all they have. That one last night. A night of clashing lips and soft caresses and breathy promises.

In the morning, as reality forces itself upon them, they part ways, fingers touching until the very last moment. It is only when Bernie begins her walk back home that she realizes that no matter how right it has all felt, she doesn’t even know her perfect stranger’s name. A fear strikes her heart and she turns on her heel, jogging back down the street she saw her disappear onto, looking down alleyways and into shops, even considering asking the theatre if they could name her based on description.

She never finds her. Bernie forces herself to move on with her life. She joins the army and serves as best she can for her Queen and country. She often wonders about the woman who managed to capture her heart under starry skies and over tepid coffee. She hopes that one day, she might find her intimately known stranger again.

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 4: AU

you gotta be who you wanna be

The email was as patronizing as could be imagined. Serena doubted she could have written a more condescending memo if she tried her absolute hardest, and that was saying something. Ask Ric Griffin about the one he received when he gave her a set of dusters as part of her secret Santa gift one year. No, this email from HR was truly a feat in so condescending it makes you want to stick forceps in your eyes wording.
‘Always Remember Making Yourself! Consultants need comradery, leadership and teamwork!’

Serena growled as she read that the next consultant’s training day was to be a military fitness session to try and instill ‘discipline in your field, routine in your day, and comradeship in your relationships’ amongst all consultants. She thought the mindfulness coaching had been bad, but military fitness sounded like pure torture. Pinning the leaflet to her notice board with no small amount of disdain, Serena contemplated how she could be conveniently and believably ill on the day of the event. Perhaps she could break her ankle in a drunken mishap. She had enough Shiraz in to give it a damn good try.

In the end, Serena gritted her teeth and went down outside at the appointed time on the dreaded day. Outside she stood with her colleagues, who were looking equally as thrilled. The only one of them who seemed to be actively enjoying the thought of a military fitness day was Ric. Serena rolled her eyes. Jac Naylor was scowling, and Serena went to join her.
“I hope this ordeal is over with quickly.”
“One of us will end up being admitted if we’re not careful.”
“You have a fake aneurysm and I’ll pretend to break my leg.”
“Good plan.”

Sacha Levy spoke up, asking if they should go and change into their sportswear. Hanssen nodded, and they all retreated inside to change into variations of lycra and jog suits. Upon returning outside in her lycra leggings and a vest top, Serena eyed all of her colleagues. Ric was wearing some of his boxing gym attire, and was jogging on the spot as a warm up. Everyone else appeared too annoyed about being forced to wear sportswear to be bothered. Serena vowed she would not be participating in the activities as much as possible.

A jeep rolled into the hospital car park and a figure in military fatigues got out and marched over to them with a sack filled with equipment. Serena felt her mouth go dry. The military fitness instructor was undeniably female and unquestionably attractive. Serena felt a something bubble excitedly inside her stomach at the sight of the uniform, and tried to suppress it back down. Now was not the time to realise that she had a thing for a military uniform. Or maybe it was. Serena raked her eyes up and down the woman’s form and licked her lips. Perhaps this day would be worth it, after all.
“Alright troops! First off, a quick warm up! Jog round the hospital’s perimeter and then when you get back here drop and do twenty push-ups!” The woman’s voice was loud, commanding, sure of herself. Serena bit her lip as her mind conjured up images of a sexy military commander in her bedroom. “NOW!” The woman yelled when nobody except Ric moved, and Serena found herself jogging off round the hospital with the rest of her colleagues.

By the time they made it back, sweaty and panting, the woman had set up equipment on the grass. Serena desperately hoped she didn’t put her back out attempting to do the push-ups. Ric was, of course, rapidly firing them out, smugly grinning at his own physique. Sacha was panting profusely, looking like he’d rather pull a triple shift and be banned from wearing patterned shirts than ever have to do the activity again. The rest of the consultants looked a range of bored to downright annoyed at having to spend their day in such a way.

The morning was spent doing various team-building activities, primarily involved in relay races through the obstacle course the woman had set up. Serena did not see how scrambling under a dirty net feeling sweaty and sore would ever help her to stem an abdominal bleed. But at least the instructor was very easy on the eye. Even Ric was starting to look a little worse for wear by the time it was their lunch break.

When the woman called out it was time for lunch, Serena and the others traipsed their way into Pulses to try and caffeinate themselves enough to last through the afternoon. Dom was sat at a table eating a muffin, and he smirked at the sight of the sweaty consultants.
“Oh to be a junior again! You’re lucky, Dr Copeland.” Sacha told him. Dom nodded.
“I know I am. I wanted to do it but then when I looked out of the window it turns out that there isn’t a hunky rock of a soldier leading you so there’s no good motivation.” Serena doubted what he said, as she found the woman to be of the very best sort of motivation. Finishing her sandwich and latte, she exited The Wyvern Wing and returned to where they would be completing the afternoon’s activities.

The sun was high in the sky, and the woman had taken off her jacket to leave her in a tight fitting green t-shirt which clung to her in all the right places. Serena gasped at the sight of very well defined muscles, and found herself practically salivating at the thought of just what good use those biceps could be put into. The woman turned round and smirked at Serena.
“Major Bernie Wolfe.”
“Serena Campbell.” They shook hands, and Serena tried very hard not to swoon at the sheer strength behind the gesture. They stood with their hands joined, gazing at one another with no small amount of hunger. The moment was only broken when Ric came jogging back outside, the others dawdling along behind him.

“Okay then troops! This afternoon we will be doing pair-based activities, so if you could all start coupling up please?” Bernie yelled. She paused. “As there’s an odd number of you, one of you can work with me,” Ric looked confident. Bernie turned to Serena. “How about you?” Serena suddenly thought that the afternoon might go a lot better than planned.

Serena hadn’t exercised this much since she was at school, she was certain of it. As they ran with tyres over their shoulders and tossed objects to one another and did sit ups she felt herself getting more and more tired, only spurred on by the sight of Major Wolfe before her, managing all of the tasks with ease. Bernie called that everyone could have a break for fifteen minutes before they went into the final portion of their training day. Serena collapsed down onto the grass, bone-tired and ready for bed. She gratefully accepted the bottle of water passed to her by Bernie.
“So, do you exercise much?” The Major asked. Serena raised an eyebrow.
“The only exercise I deem worth my time nowadays involves a decent sized bed and far fewer clothes.” Bernie’s eyes darkened and her eyes flickered down to Serena’s lips.
“Well that certainly seems worthwhile. Shame I couldn’t have incorporated that into this afternoon’s events.”
“Mmmm. However if you take me for a drink afterwards I’m off work tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll have gathered my strength back by then.” Serena winked.
“I must admit that I don’t have anywhere to be tomorrow,” Bernie leaned in towards her. “But the real question is, could you keep up?”
“You’ll never know if you don’t try.” Serena leaned closer again, so their lips were only millimetres apart.
“Okay then, I think it’s time for us to get back at it. Come on, Sacha!” Serena inwardly cursed Ric Griffin for being so damn keen on the actual military fitness section of the day, thoroughly ruining Serena’s keenness towards the instructor. Bernie stood and called everyone back to attention, explaining that they would be spending the afternoon going through a basic routine, and assisting their partner whenever they felt they were struggling in order to boost morale and improve communication between them. Reaching down, she pulled Serena up from the ground.

The jogging went as well as could be hoped. The jumping jacks were also met with fairly good feedback. The push-ups, however, were not. As Serena tried to push herself up on her arms, all the while thinking about how tempting a nice Shiraz seemed, Bernie tried to guide her into how to do them properly. She started by placing a hand between Serena’s shoulder blades and attempting to get her to get her body in the correct position.
“Come on, Serena. You can do this.”
“I have an unfair disadvantage. My chest is weighing me downwards.” Despite her dislike of the exercise Serena was not past being flirtatious. She couldn’t see Bernie’s face at the comment.
“You need to keep your back straight, Serena.” Bernie gently chided her.
“Do I look straight to you, Major?” Serena’s next furious response was met with a loud laugh.

In the end, Bernie looked round to check that everyone else was occupied with trying to teach their peers how to improve their technique. Satisfied (and feeling a bit sorry for the man in an overly bright t-shirt and shorts being pushed to his limits by Ric), Bernie told Serena to get in her starting push-up position. When satisfied, Bernie climbed over her, keeping her body in the perfect position, and told Serena to try again but with Bernie on top as her guide. The two of them managed three perfect push-ups in tandem, both with very labored breathing by the end. Bernie could feel herself getting more and a little aroused by being so close to Serena, and rolled off her to see Serena’s eyes equally as dark and blown with lust.

When the time came for the day to be officially over, Bernie whistled through her fingers and thanked everyone for attending. Informing them that their official completion certificates would be sent through in due course (“how utterly useful, I’ll hang it by my actual medical qualifications” Jac Naylor loudly announced), she dismissed them all. Snagging Serena’s hand before she could leave, Bernie leant down to whisper in her ear.
“Now what was this about a drink?” Serena laughed.
“You’ve exhausted me, Major Wolfe. Though you’re welcome to come back to mine for one. I doubt I’d make it to the bar now.”
“Sounds good to me. You go and get changed, then I’ll follow you home.”

Inside, Serena changed back into her everyday clothes, momentarily panicking that she didn’t look good enough for the army major. As she exited the changing rooms, she bumped into Dom who had a huge grin on his face.
“So Ms Campbell, was it good for you? I say, doing the horizontal dance with a soldier in front of your colleagues.”
“Dr Copeland, she was merely assisting me in my push-up technique. Now, if you’re a good boy and cease from your merciless teasing, I may just see if she has any young, buff colleagues who may be interested in making your acquaintance.” Dom’s eyes lit up. “Do I make myself clear, Dr Copeland?”
“Yes. No gossiping about you getting down and dirty with the blonde bombshell and I might get myself a sexy soldier out of the deal. Seems fair to me.”
“Glad we agree. Goodnight, Dominic.”

Back in the carpark she met Bernie, who seemed thrilled at the sight of her. Tangling their fingers briefly, Serena brushed her lips to the army major’s cheek.
“Come on, Major Wolfe. We have all of tomorrow to see just how good a work-out we can do together.”
“Aye, aye!”

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 5: Summer

we’ll live forever in the sunlight

Serena never could say no to her little extended AAU family. Especially the Fletchlings. So when the children had been pouting about not being able to go on holiday because their Dad couldn’t afford it, and Evie was blinking her big doe-eyes up at her, Serena had crumbled. She’d rostered her entire little AAU family off in stages for a day in July (when hopefully it would be sunny and Serena was already scheduled to be off) and had planned a beach-at-home day in her back garden.

Jason wasn’t convinced, but after explaining what was going to happen, he readily helped to set up a large paddling pool and a sandpit at one end of Serena’s large garden, and had arranged sun loungers in parallel lines across the decking. He even offered to paint the shed in summery stripes of white and sky blue to turn it into a beach-hut of sorts. While he set to work on that, Serena cleared out all of her gardening equipment to its temporary new home round the side of the house, and made the inside of the shed clean enough for small children to change in should they wish.

The rest of the AAU family seemed pretty excited about the idea too, and had agreed to come over at various stages during the day when they weren’t on shift. Serena promised them ice cream and chilled wine for their trouble. Fletch couldn’t get over expressing his thanks to her. She shrugged, and told him it would be her holiday for the year too.

On the day, the weather was in their favour, and thankfully it looked set to remain sunny all day and well into the late evening. Serena put on her swimming costume underneath a floaty shirt and some capri pants. She had no doubt that at some point she was going to get thoroughly splashed by the younger Fletchlings. Heading outside, she set the hose to fill the pool while she made and ate her breakfast.

The Fletchlings arrived in a cacophony of whoops and cheers and unrepressed excitement. Serena greeted them all with hugs and hair ruffles galore before telling them to enjoy themselves for the day. Mikey immediately leapt into the pool then yelled when it was much colder than he was expecting. Ella and Theo sat in the sandpit with buckets and spades and began making sandcastles. Evie came and sat on the sun lounger next to Serena’s. Fletch and Raf followed through the gate and began to keep the children company – Fletch in the pool with Mikey, Raf constructing an entire palatial kingdom of sand with Ella and Theo.

Fletch and Raf left late in the morning to head to the hospital, and Morven arrived once her shift was complete, just in time to help hand out the ice lollies. She was brimming with excitement and her hair looked especially fluffy. When little Ella expressed a wish to try and paddle in the pool, Morven clambered in in her shorts and vest top and held the girl’s hands as she waddled through the water. Serena smiled at the scene before her and drifted off to the sounds of the contentment of children. Morven left as Serena awoke, and Jason arrived back from his shift not long after. He had brought some lollipop sticks and some coloured paper and asked the children if they would like to make some flags for their sandcastles. They eagerly agreed, even Mikey. Evie took her chance to slip into the privacy of the makeshift beach hut in order to change into her swimming costume.

Theo got bored easily, and started wailing about how much he wanted to go swimming. Serena stood and stepped out of her capri pants and shirt before scooping him up and lifting him into the water with her. Theo loved it, kicking and splashing about manically as Serena held him up in the water. Evie giggled from where she was reclining at one side.

So engrossed was she in helping Theo, Serena didn’t realise that Bernie had arrived with Fletch and Raf until Ella shouted out at noticing her father. Serena stood with Theo on her hip and looked up to be faced with a happy looking Raf and Fletch and Bernie frozen in spot staring at her. Serena felt almost naked under her stare, and blushed a little. What she and Bernie had was still so new and so precious that she wondered if she would always feel this way about her. Sensing the air becoming charged, Fletch came over and took Theo out of Serena’s arms, allowing her to climb (as daintily as she could muster) out of the pool and head up the garden towards Bernie, still rooted to the spot. When she got close, the trauma surgeon finally spoke.
“Forget Baywatch. Are you trying to kill me Serena?”
“Now what would the point of that be? Come on Ms Wolfe, I’ve shown you mine.” Bernie ducked her head a little and headed into the house to change into her swimming costume. As much as Serena wanted to chase Bernie all the way up to the master bedroom, she forced herself to stay outside.

Bernie arrived outside a little while later and Serena found herself momentarily tachycardic. Bernie was wearing a simple black halter neck bikini with a wrap and Serena thought she’d never seen her look better. Bernie looked a little awkward being so underdressed in front of her colleagues, so Serena leaned forward on her sun lounger, inviting Bernie to sit behind her. Raf and Fletch looked up to see Serena nestled between the legs of their other boss, looking sickeningly cosy as they rubbed sun screen onto one another’s skin.

They had a barbeque dinner and Bernie and Serena were content to sit snuggled together watching the young family play in both the pool and the sandpit. Jason went inside when World’s Strongest Man was due to start, asking on the way if Bernie would be staying the night. Serena knew Fletch and Raf would be smirking, but found she didn’t care as she informed him that, as long as the other woman agreed, Bernie would be staying the night. Bernie confirmed there were absolutely no problems with her regarding the arrangement.

As Theo and Ella began to get tired, Fletch and Raf dried them off with towels and dressed them in their tops and shorts to head home. They all thanked Serena for a wonderful day and she told them that it had been the best holiday she’d had in a long time, fingers linking with Bernie’s as they said their goodbyes to the children. Evie wrapped her arms around Serena happily, and after a little hesitation did the same to Bernie who looked touched by the gesture.

As the evening got quieter, Serena got a bottle of Shiraz out of her kitchen and gestured towards the pool. She and Bernie sat in it, drinking the wine and watching the sky change through hues of blue, pink and gold as the sun set. Finally the acknowledged that they needed to get out of the rapidly cooling water and into the house. The sun had set and the stars had come out to show a beautifully clear summer night. For a moment longer, Bernie and Serena stayed stood under the stars in a warm embrace. They didn’t have to go inside just yet. They were on holiday, after all.

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 6: Smut

I feel brave yet scared but I’ll stay prepared

Serena had often wondered what sex with a woman would be like.
Idle fantasies, passing thoughts, never meant to come to fruition.
But with Bernie they come alive.
Serena had often wondered what sex with a woman would be like.
By her own hand she knew her pleasure, with toys or without.
But Bernie seems to know what pleasures her on instinct.
Serena had often wondered what sex with a woman would be like.
Sometimes it’s soft, whispered words in the night.
But Bernie, not one for declarations, strokes them into her skin.
Serena had often wondered what sex with a woman would be like.
Sometimes it’s rough, all biting and tumbling and moaning.
But Bernie soothes all the pain.
Serena had often wondered what sex with a woman would be like.
Not always guaranteed due to jobs, moods, hormones.
But Bernie is always a constant.

Chapter Text

Berena Appreciation Week Day 7: Reunion

we’ll stand tall so you don’t fall

Serena appreciates that she’s maybe being just a tiny bit whiny but surely she’s allowed? When this whole ridiculous scenario first came about she’d accepted it with fairly good grace, all things considered, but now the reality of it further down the line is just downright painful.

-

Serena had settled back into life post-sabbatical delicately, and had gradually rebuilt her life with Bernie. They’d moved in together, settled into an easy rhythm once more, and were, to all intents and purposes, living the life that most couples wish for.

It therefore came as a bit of a shock when at the age of 56 Major Berenice Griselda Wolfe was contacted by her former regiment of the Royal Army Medical Corps with an offer she would be, in their eyes, daft to refuse. Five years abroad maximum, using her age, experience and skills to help those on the front lines in the brand new wars against terrorist organisations which seemed to be increasing their presence in torn-apart cities. Bernie had been both reluctant to leave Serena and eager to get her one last tour. Serena didn’t quite understand it, doubted she ever would, but the army was in her partner’s blood. The deal would end the time her previous ten-year commission would have done, meaning she could still retire from the armed services respectfully and with a hefty pension to boot. All that, and the almost-guaranteed promise that she would be fast-tracked up to the ranking of Colonel. While Major Wolfe was all well and good, the thought of Colonel Berenice Griselda Wolfe did certainly hold some substantial weight to it. She’d told them she’d think about it.

They’d discussed it, they’d cried about it, they’d fought about it. But when all was said and done, Serena knew how much it would mean to Bernie to leave the military on better grounds than she previously had done. She didn’t want to be the sort of figure Marcus had been, resentful of Bernie’s bravery. The trouble was, Serena also knew how much it would mean to herself if Bernie never came back, or was injured beyond repair. Bernie understood, and admitted that for the first time she wasn’t sure if she wanted the dry deserts and adrenaline fueled days desperately enough. Yet they still had a magnetic pull on her. She ended up accepting the commission.

They got married before she went. A small, private affair for the two of them. Outwardly, they said it was just as a security measure for all of Bernie’s official military documentation. Inwardly, they both knew that it was something they’d both been thinking about for a while but had been afraid to voice out loud. Colleagues had wanted them to have a lavish ceremony befitting their statuses, but Bernie wasn’t one for fanfare about her personal life and Serena just couldn’t face up to the thought of having a day of such joy without Elinor being there to plan and enjoy it with her.

She waved Bernie off and continued with life as best as she could at Holby City. She grew used to the sympathetic looks and began to throw herself into surgeries and board meetings, rising once more to Deputy CEO. When she told Bernie in their next Skype call her wife (her wife!) grinned broadly and blew a kiss to her through the screen. Serena knew there was no danger of Bernie finding a new Alex Dawson out in the field because she trusted Bernie wholeheartedly, and had met her comrades as they wandered through when the couple video called. There was only one other woman stationed with Bernie, who Serena was certain the trauma surgeon had no romantic or sexual interest in. Captain Young, a woman of forty two, had a young child back home who she delighted in, and a husband retired from military service with an amputated leg, training to be a parathlete.

Serena sent parcels of food and presents off their extended AAU family to her, and Bernie wrote her letters in return, knowing Serena liked to see her messy handwriting all the way from the deserts of the east. Serena kept every single one in Bernie’s old medical pack, the one she had given her as a workplace survival kit all those years ago. When the nights got lonely, she reread them and looked out to the sky, hoping that her soldier would come home safely.

Christmas was the hardest. Days when people loved the thought of family and friendship and cheer. The first Christmas after Bernie was deployed, Serena took on as many of the Christmas shifts as possible, and accepted an invitation off Raf and Fletch to come to their gathering once she was finished. It was lovely, and she doted on the now student Evie and her younger teenage siblings. But she left early, sneaking home to reread Bernie’s letters and look at old photographs of Elinor as tears fell down her face. She called Jason in his new flat near the library at 10pm as agreed, and exchanged yuletide greetings. He’d spent Christmas with Jessica, his girlfriend of three years, and her family. Curling up under the covers, Serena fell asleep dreaming of her Berenice.

Her laptop alert noise woke her at 8am on Boxing Day, and she sat up in bed looking around blearily until she realised that Bernie was trying to Skype call her. Unplugging it from the bedside table, she placed it on her lap and accepted the call, beaming at the sight of her wife. Bernie brought good Christmas greetings. She was scheduled home on a break later the coming year. It was the best Christmas present Serena could have hoped for, and the thought kept her smiling for the remainder of the festive period and well into the new year.

Bernie’s time back with her was cut short. A large terrorist attack on a city meant that all military currently enlisted needed to get back to deal with the situation. Serena tried not to be down heartened. She treasured the memories they had made while Bernie was home again and kissed her goodbye at the airport. It was only later, as she cancelled the reservations for restaurants she’d made well in advance that she allowed the tears to fall again.

It was two years before Bernie came home again. The situation was tough, and she was a higher ranking officer with considerable experience and unwavering respect and authority amongst the troops. She also did not have dependent young children who were at home missing her terribly. Serena spent the years surrounding herself with her family and friends and clutching any and all things that kept her close to Bernie. She truly now understood just what military wives went through, and began baking and socialising with other women and men waiting for their soldiers to return home.

Bernie spent a lot of her next time off tour sleeping, and Serena fretting. It was clear the situation out in the field was worse than the western media were portraying it as, for her stoic army medic had a whole map of fresh scars littering her body from collapsing buildings and minor explosives. She was also exhausted. For the first week and a half, Serena allowed her to sleep as much as she wanted to, and to eat just as much. Bernie thanked her profusely and bestowed looks of such affection upon her that Serena knew that she would forever be grateful for any time she had to spend with Berenice Wolfe. Bernie wasn’t stupid, she knew her age was catching up with her, but she had two years left and then she was proudly retired from active service. Serena massaged her wife’s sore spots and went for walks around Holby City Park with her, and spent delicious long days in bed where they tried to commit each other’s touch to memory forever.

Serena woke one morning to the news proclaiming that there had been a severe terrorist attack on a military base. The news was declaring that a serious number of British military had been killed, injured or were missing in action. Serena was frozen to her seat. She couldn’t move. Fear overcame her as she held her breath, waiting for any news on Bernie’s welfare. She didn’t go to work, couldn’t make herself. Hanssen emailed to tell her to stay at home and assured her the entire hospital’s thoughts were with her. He also told her he hadn’t called in person because he knew it was not his voice she wanted to hear.

Cameron and Charlotte came round later in the morning, knowing she would be nervous and hadn’t eaten. They too were worried, but they had gone through such feelings before and knew the importance of eating and keeping calm when the world appeared to be falling down around you. Even Jason arrived to comfort his Auntie Serena in her pain. Serena succumbed to the huge chasm of not knowing and feeling powerless against an invisible opposition.

Finally, blessedly, in the early evening, she got communication from the Bernie’s commanding officer, informing her that Bernie was alive and well and had been treating victims none stop all day, until she had to stop because of a wall collapsing onto where she was operating. She was sound, though her left leg had required minor treatment and it would have heavy scarring and the possibility of a limp in the future. Serena thanked her small mercies and cried a whole new wave of tears, this time in relief at knowing her wife was alive. Bernie video called her the very next day as soon as she got the chance, and Serena broke down once more at seeing her wife’s beautiful face smudged with dirt and lined with fatigue.

The next time Bernie was home from tour was her last, for she only had a year left in her commission. They had a belated joint 60th birthday meal for them and the children halfway through her time back home, when’s she’d readjusted to the time difference and the cold British weather and the steepness of stairs now she had a still healing leg. It was at this birthday meal, with all the family around them, that Cam and Morven announced that she was pregnant, and they were also engaged, but wanted to get married when Bernie came home for good. Serena cried out of happiness for the two of them, but also partially out of regret that Elinor never got to grow up and find love and have children. She didn’t expect Bernie’s eyes to glisten over with happy tears as she turned her face into Serena’s shoulder to try and hide her emotion, their hands clasping tightly under the table. Bernie went back to her final tour with a new sense of purpose, an extra reason to come back home.

-

The time goes far too slowly. Serena finds herself getting snappish and offhand with people, and has to remember that they all care about her. She gets angry at herself, at Bernie, at the army, at the terrorists, at the whole wide world and everything and everyone in it. As much as she loves Bernie in uniform, she begins to crave a time when she doesn’t see her in it, when the fatigues aren’t what she is wearing with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She gets angry that the army is taking things from them. At 61, they should be thinking about retirement plans and pensions and taking a rest together, not worrying about one another from the other side of the world. It’s worse than she ever remembers Kiev or her sabbatical being because now she’s had such a long time to get used to Bernie and to incorporate her into her life so fully. Serena spends her evenings circling property listings for spacious bungalows in the suburbs of Holby, all on one floor with wide floor plans purposely designed for easy access and movement. She knows she’s maybe being presumptuous, but she wants to make things as easy as possible for Bernie when she’s home for good.

Bernie misses the birth of their first granddaughter. Serena sits in the waiting room with Marcus and his new wife and Morven’s family. Even Arthur’s parents are there, proud to see their daughter-in-law moving on without forgetting her first love. When they meet her, the tiny thing that she is, Serena falls in love with her tiny fingers and tiny toes and Cameron snaps a photo of Serena gazing soppily down at his child to send to his mother. Serena has to leave the room to compose herself when Morven shyly announces that their daughter will be called Matilda Elinor Dunn. She reenters the room to hear Charlotte making a joke about them forcing their new baby into the same career as them before she can even talk by giving her such obvious initials and Serena finds the joy in her to laugh, thinks that’s the sort of comment Elinor would have made herself had she been here.

At least having a little bundle of energy driven purely by sleep and hunger is something to help her forget how sad she is at Bernie’s distance away from her. She spends considerable amounts of time at Cameron and Morven’s home, cuddling her granddaughter and singing lullabies to her. She feels slightly guilty for monopolizing the infant’s time as a form of coping mechanism, and also feels annoyed that Bernie cannot be here to spend the precious moments in the early stages of her first grandchild’s life. Cameron and Morven don’t seem to mind, and Serena tries to dwell on her happiness at being a grandmother to a child who shares a name with the daughter she will never see start a family of her own. When they told Bernie, she had been happy too, and proud of Cam and Morven for making such a choice when they never needed to. Serena thinks that when Bernie is home this little one is going to be the recipient of lots of love and affection at the hands of her grandmothers.

Finally, finally the time has come for Bernie to retire filled with pride and dignity. Serena spends weeks preparing herself for the day, and even when the time comes she finds she isn’t ready. She goes to the airport alone, the rest of the family assuring her that they’ll all drop by the very next day when Bernie has had her rest and Serena has cried all of the happy tears she may need to at seeing her wife again. Hanssen gives her an entire week off to spend with her wife, and Serena is thankful that she has such wonderful friends.

The flight back is a late one, to a private terminal at Holby City Airport. Serena heads over there and waits alongside the other partners waiting for their significant others, as Serena has done every time Bernie was due to have a break. But now it is permanent. Now it is for good. She smiles at those she recognizes from events they’ve been to as military spouses, men and women alike waiting for their significant others to return. Young children caught between sleep and excitement. Serena herself feels completely wired and ready to be reunited with her wife once more.

When Bernie steps off the plane, and walks tiredly through the gate, still limping slightly on her left leg, Serena freezes for a moment, caught in staring at the contentment mingled with dog-tiredness on her wife’s face. Bernie sees her and her face splits into two, a rare public show of total and utter unguarded emotion, and it sends Serena dashing towards her. To an outsider, Serena thinks it probably looks a little comedic, and like they’re trying to reenact an old film, but in the moment all she can focus on is Bernie, her Bernie, alive and as well as can he hoped and home forever. Safe. They all but collapse into one another’s arms and their kisses taste of salt as their tears fall freely between them as they sway unsteadily on the spot, rooted into position by the sheer force of their own feelings for one another.

“Come on, Colonel Wolfe,” Serena smiles, taking Bernie’s hand. “Let’s get you home.”
“No need, Mrs Wolfe,” Bernie replies, squeezing Serena’s hand. “I’m already with her.”

Chapter Text

an everlasting piece of art

They’d got a bit carried away the evening previously, the increasingly festive jollity of those around them (and especially Serena herself) proving a potent cocktail to lead to a night of being pressed up against one another in Serena’s bed. Before they dropped off Bernie whispered that she hadn’t got any spare clothes. Serena just huffed and said she’d drop Bernie home the next morning before shift to change into something. That seemed a sensible plan.

Bernie wakes first and her first thought is that she’s freezing cold. Her naked skin is not being thoroughly warmed by the duvet, and Serena’s migrated to the other side of the bed having likely had a flush in the night. Knowing it’s early, Bernie slithers across the space between them and wraps herself around her partner, her human hot water bottle. Bernie must be even colder than she thought because the sudden drop in temperature against her skin wakes Serena, who grumbles sleepily about Bernie being like an ice cube. Bernie just presses her lip to the nape of Serena’s neck and lets them doze off once more.

They’re fully awoken by Jason’s exclamation from his bedroom down the hall.
“Auntie Serena, Bernie! It’s snowing!”

That does make them sit up in bed, because the weather forecast hadn’t mentioned snow but Jason isn’t the type to prank them in such a way. Bernie gets up and peeks out of the curtain, swearing at the sight that greets her. Serena joins her soon after, wrapping her toweled dressing gown around the two of them as best as she can as they survey the street below, blanketed in a thick coat of white.
“Better make a move or we’re going to be late,” Serena says into the still room. Bernie turns to put on her clothes then realizes something.
“Serena,” her voice is a little panicked. “I’m going to have to go in yesterday’s clothes! There’s no way we’ll make it back to my house in time to change.” Serena raises an eyebrow.
“Or you could just borrow a blouse off me, there’s a couple you seem fond of.” Bernie blushes. She’s taken to putting on whatever is closest when she gets up to make them coffee and sometimes that happens to be one of Serena’s blouses which got strewn across the floor the night before. Serena always gets strangely turned on by the sight of Bernie Wolfe in nothing but her leopard print blouse.

In the end, Bernie opts for one of Serena’s plainer blouses. The dark blue tucked into her own black skinny jeans makes for a slightly different look than she’d usually grace the hospital with, but it’ll do given the circumstances. They dash downstairs and hastily make some toast while Jason prattles on about how happy he is that it has snowed. They don’t share his enthusiasm when they go to start Serena’s car and it cannot move, the snow too deep and too dangerous to provide any traction.
“We’ll have to get a taxi,” Serena scrolls through her contacts until she finds the one for Holby Cars and presses dial. She’s on the phone for all of two minutes when she hangs up again, her face the picture of annoyance.
“Are they busy?” Bernie asks.
“They’re not running any cars, say it’s too risky.”
“Damn! The bus?”

They shiver all the way up Serena’s street and to the bus stop on the main road, where they wait for twenty minutes until Serena’s phone buzzes with a call from Jason.
“Hello Jason? Yes? Really. Oh. Right thank you.” She ends the call and looks at Bernie. “He says there’s just been a radio announcement from Holby City Buses saying their services are terminated until the roads are clearer.”
“So we walk?” Bernie’s voice is tentative.
“It’ll take us an hour and a half to get the hospital from here, by which time we’ll both be frozen through and exhausted. I say we go back home and call in to let them know we can’t make it until the council have cleared the roads.”

Having tramped back home, Serena called Hanssen.
“Hello, Ric Griffin speaking. Mr Hanssen is currently in a meeting.”
“Ric! How did you make it in?”
“I’ve been on nights, haven’t been able to leave.”
“Oh. Well could you please let Henrik know that myself and Ms Wolfe can’t make it in until the roads are much clearer and this snow has stopped falling?”
“Ms Wolfe will need to call in herself, we can’t take a message.”
“Oh I’ll just hand her the phone then!” Serena was exasperated. Trust Ric Griffin to actually use the hospital rulebook at this time.
“Oh, oh oh! So Ms Wolfe is with you is she? I’m assuming she stayed the night?” Ric’s voice sounded like he’d just received all his Christmas wishes at once. Serena closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Yes, Ric. And I’d thank you kindly not to relay that detail to everyone you see in the hospital. Just be content that we’ll try to arrive in as soon as we can.”
“Okay. And Serena?”
“Ric?”
“Give her my regards.” He put the phone down, leaving Serena to take some calming breaths before looking round to find Bernie.

Bernie is sat with Jason at the French doors, looking out onto the snow falling onto the back garden, which is unblemished aside from a set of paw prints likely belonging to next door’s cat. Serena’s heart clenches a little at the sight. Two of her most favourite people, childlike in their joy at the falling flakes. Serena makes a mug of tea and brings it over, sitting on Bernie’s lap so they can share the drink as they watch the snow. It’s the sort of domestic thing she never achieved throughout her entire marriage, or any of her partners since. It’s the sort of thing that is just perfect.

There’s a slight lull in the snowfall, the flakes thinner and less intense. Jason asks if he can make a snowman and Serena feels Bernie positively thrum with excitement beneath her. She looks to see not one but two faces gazing at her longingly, eyes wide and filled with innocence. Serena laughs as she stands, tells them to wrap up warm as she goes to grab her hat from where it has been drying over the radiator.

Outside they work together to build a snowman, and Jason works hard to try and make it as accurate as possible. Bernie just seems happy hefting the lumps of snow around at his request. Serena, content to watch it all, quirks an eyebrow at the scene. Bernie comes and stands next to her as Jason goes to find some gravel for decoration.
“I never got to do this with the kids,” she offers. “I was always away or when I was home for Christmas it didn’t snow. I haven’t seen the stuff for nearly thirty years.” Her voice is filled with nostalgia and a touch of longing. Serena catches her gloved hand and kisses her chilled cheek. She has no words to offer, only a small touch to show she cares.

By mid-afternoon the council have cleared the roads and so Serena offers to drive them to the hospital via Bernie’s flat so that she can pick up some clothes in case of a similar situation. When they arrive home later that night, as Serena clears out some space in her wardrobe for Bernie’s clothes, she addresses her partner.
“Bernie?”
“Mmm?”
“How would you feel about moving in?” She holds her breath as she waits for a response.
“I’d love to Serena. You have the best garden for making snowmen in.”

Chapter Text

“Hypatia was a philosopher, astronomer and mathematician. She was also one of the first recorded women to be head of an entire school. It’s also a remarkably unique name, which Greta says statistically gives her much stronger data prospects.” Jason proudly explains as he, Greta, Serena and Bernie munch on the cake he has baked (spiced banana). Greta bobs her head up and down quickly, acknowledging everything Jason says.
“That’s very impressive,” Bernie admits with raised eyebrows. “I think it’s even more unique than Berenice.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Jason smiles at Greta and pats her hand. “It actually means supreme or highest figure, which is very apt. It instils a determination in the child from birth to reach out and achieve whatever it is that they want to.” As if on cue, a shrill wail can be heard from inside the cradle beside them, fairly soft at first as the baby awakens but increasing in volume as the seconds go on. Jason picks the small baby out and wraps the pink crocheted blanket (a handmade gift from Charlotte when she visited them in hospital) around the infant. He rocks her steadily until Greta has unbuttoned her blouse. Soon, the baby is suckling greedily. Jason turns back to Serena and Bernie, who are sipping their tea and looking at one another.
“Breastfeeding is shamed in some public areas but I am not sure why.” He leans forwards towards them. “Yesterday, Greta was told off for breastfeeding in the supermarket café, which was very rude. So I told the staff that breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organisation for at least a period of six months starting from within one hour after birth. This way the baby can have optimum nutrients for growth, development and developing an immune response against certain parasites and infections. One horrid man also said it was unnatural but Greta has researched extensively the hormonal changes which a woman goes through during pregnancy to facilitate breastfeeding, so how can it be unnatural? I started to tell this to the man too but by that point Greta had finished so we decided to leave as it was a toxic environment for our baby to be in.”

After feeding, Greta winds the baby and then it is time for Bernie and Serena to hold their great-niece. Serena cradles the baby in her arms, looking down at her perfect face. No matter how many times she holds her great-niece, Serena knows she will never tire of it. She’s so tiny, and so beautiful, and she makes Serena proud to have Jason and Greta in her life. As she rocks the baby, Bernie leans forward and offers a finger, which ten tiny fingers wrap around instantly, directing it towards soft gums which suck at the skin. Jason snaps a photo of the moment to add to the ever-growing photo album which he compiling. It contains at least one photo for every day of his child’s life.

Whilst Auntie Serena and Auntie Bernie chat to Greta, Jason clears their plates and forks into the kitchen and loads the dishwasher carefully. He then uses antibacterial spray to wipe down the high-chair, so that he can meticulously lay the teddy bear bowl and spoon atop the tray. His daughter may not yet be old enough to feed herself, but Jason wants to be prepared for when she will be able to sit in a chair alone and spoon mashed potato into her mouth. Now is the perfect time to do that.

Having a baby is not easy. The labour with Greta showed that much. She had chosen to have a natural birth, despite being offered the opportunity of having a caesarean. Statistically, there was more chance of risk with a surgical procedure, so she had sweated through a long labour with Jason by her side and his Auntie Serena not too far away. The result had been a seven pounds and three ounces (slightly lower than the average, but still healthy) bundle of screaming child. Jason, never a fan of loud noises or screaming children, had taken the washed child and rocked her against his chest with his Auntie Serena by his side whilst Greta had a rest. Soon after, Auntie Bernie arrived from Nairobi. Jason had thought Auntie Serena looked happy when she met her great-niece for the first time. He was only a little bit insulted that her smile at seeing Bernie was even bigger than the one she gave his daughter. As he gazed at his daughter, Jason had promised himself that he would always strive to be the best father he could be, no matter how difficult it was.

This includes practicing making a high chain clean. It also includes practicing clipping and unclipping a carrier seat and assembling a pram. Auntie Bernie and Auntie Serena have demonstrated multiple times how to use the items, but both Jason and Greta find them a bit fiddly. Jason practices four times a day though, so he’s getting used to it. Practice and research is the way forward. So Jason reads the instruction and information manuals and works hard to make sure he can provide for his baby. Nothing will stand in the way of his daughter.

Hypatia Marjorie Elinor Haynes is only small, but she is already supreme in the eyes of her family. Great Aunt Serena and Great Aunt Bernie will be wonderful role models, ready to guide the child through whatever she turns her hand to: philosophy, astronomy, mathematics or something else entirely. Her mother Greta will never stop loving her, the child she created with Jason. Hypatia’s father Jason. He will stop at nothing to protect his daughter, named after three strong women: a female pioneer, his own mother, and cousin Elinor, who has fire and passion for everything she did. Hypatia Marjorie Elinor Haynes is a cherished child who will never want for attention. Not least from her father. Jason is the proudest Dad in the world.

Chapter Text

let the song begin with passion

Serena Campbell has been the United Kingdom’s main Eurovision commentator for more years than can be counted. Effervescent, witty and with a voice like silk which makes anyone wish they could receive a cutting comment about their performance from her, she is a household name. For many years, Serena has been joined by Henrik Hanssen in the commentary booth. A native Swede, he provides the technical details and voting facts whilst Serena gets increasingly drunk and excited. For many Brits. Serena and Henrik are the Eurovision dream team.

However, this year is different. Henrik is not able to commentate. He will still be part of the contest as the spokesperson for the United Kingdom in the grand final, but health commitments mean he cannot fly out to be in the commentary booth. The BBC have a choice. They can let Serena commentate alone, they are sure she will do a brilliant job. But two semi-finals, a grand-final and all the accompanying dress rehearsals can make for a tough week, so they would rather she share the task with somebody else. The question is: who?

Who turns out to be Bernie Wolfe, gameshow host and proud Eurovision fan. Bernie is a household name, known for presenting popular daytime quiz shows. Serena knows of her work well enough, her nephew Jason loves her shows. He is always begging his Auntie Serena to get Bernie Wolfe as a guest on her popular chat show, but it has never happened. Instead Serena’s Shiraz Hour is filled with Hollywood stars and models and pop singers. Jason is going to be very excited that she will now be working with the iconic gameshow host.

They meet at the airport, both having too hectic schedules before the Eurovision Song Contest to meet. There’s an immediate spark between them, one Serena is certainly excited to explore throughout the coming week. They fly to the country hosting and get taken to their hotel alongside the rest of the BBC crew. They’re briefed to have a good night’s rest because tomorrow, Sunday, will be the red-carpet ceremony where they will have the opportunity to interview and be interviewed by other delegations. Monday will be the dress-rehearsal of the first semi-final, where they must practice their commentaries and set-pieces. During the days they will be filming some extra scenes to slot into the breaks, where they will explore the host city and interact with the Eurovision stars in a café set up. Serena is all very used to this by now, the non-stop nature of the Eurovision Song Contest. Bernie looks a bit shell-shocked, but there’s an excitement underneath it all too that only a true Eurovision fan could have. Serena knows that Bernie has been listening to the album as much as she has and will have her favourites by now. As they part ways she whispers a goodnight to her co-host and pecks her cheek. Bernie stiffens slightly but does not pull away. Serena thinks she might try and get herself the biggest prize of all by the end of the week.

They spend Sunday morning getting to know one another and filming around the host city. They’re told to just be themselves whilst doing some stereotypical tourist activities of the area. With Henrik, Serena would always walk contently whilst looking at various things. With Bernie, she’s a little more excitable. She links her arm and pulls her towards various trinkets, the two of them conversing with market sellers and tourists and various other people as they walk along the streets. There’s a party atmosphere in the air, everyone is ready for Eurovision. Both Serena and Bernie thrive on it, the camera crews sometimes struggling to catch up as the two of them talk and talk and talk. They film more than could possibly needed and Serena knows that some editors will be working quickly to cut it down into a short segment. After a light lunch, they prepare for the red carpet, and Serena thinks that Bernie might be softening to her, just a little bit. During the evening, Bernie cosies up to Serena for a couple of selfies which Serena quickly uploads to twitter to show the world all of the fun she is having at the song contest.

They’re up early the next morning, the hotel buzzing with various delegations from countries across the world. Serena and Bernie go and meet the UK entry for an interview and some promotional photos. After that, they barely stop. The world of Eurovision is very full-on.

It’s only halfway through the dress rehearsal for semi final one that Bernie becomes acutely aware of just how gorgeous Serena is. They’re in quite a small commentary box, sharing space and jokes as they practice for the real thing. They find similar acts amusing and trade barbed quips about them. The producer tells them to ensure they have that sort of relationship during the actual broadcast. The more time she spends close to Serena watching a contest she is a lifelong fan of, the more Bernie realises that it would be very, very easy to fall for Serena Campbell. She tells herself to focus on the contest and the facts about each singer. This week she has a job to do and she won’t do it to the best of her ability if she spends half of her time pining over her co-host.

By Wednesday, Serena is in the full swing of things. Semi-final one was a success, and now they’re ready to rehearse semi-final two. This one has a few more technical details, for it is the one that the British public are allowed to vote in. They therefore spend a bit of time going over voting numbers and rules to ensure they get them right during the broadcast. Serena loves Eurovision and she loves her job of commentating every year. But this year has been made so much better by the presence of Bernie Wolfe. Serena always enjoyed Henrik, but with Bernie there’s just a spark of something extra, something special. For the first time in her life, Serena finds herself wishing that Eurovision week would pass just that little bit faster. When all of this is over, Serena is very keen to see if she can explore the something that’s going on between her and Bernie. She just has to figure out if Bernie is interested.

By the end of the rehearsal for the grand final Serena is pretty sure Bernie is interested. It is Eurovision, so naturally there are quite a few love ballads thrown into the mix of songs. For their practice commentary for one, Bernie introduces the act.
“Now, United Kingdom, this is yet another love song sung by a pretty girl, isn’t it Serena?”
“Well Bernie, she’s not my type I have to say, but yes UK, you’re in for another love song. Watch out for those dancers, I’m not sure anybody knows why they’re there.”

As the singer and her questionably placed dancers go through their rehearsal, Bernie turns to Serena.
“So, what is your type, hmm?” Her voice is quiet and questioning. Serena simply raises an eyebrow and looks Bernie up and down. Her co-host immediately turns bright red and remains so for the rest of the dress rehearsal.

They sleep in late the next morning, a luxury because they’ll be up well into the night for the grand final and they have to be on top form for the whole of that. They meet for a leisurely breakfast and chat over coffee and local food. It all feels very intimate and if Serena didn’t know any better she would say Bernie looked unnecessarily nervous. Eventually Bernie speaks.
“Um, Serena.” She glances round to check nobody is listening. “Last night, when I asked, um…” She points between them and Serena smiles.
“Yes?”
“Were you serious?” Bernie looks like her life depends on the answer to this question and under the table, unseen by everyone else, Serena lets her foot caress Bernie’s calf.
“Very much so,” she purrs in response. Bernie smiles.
“Ah, um. Me too. I mean. You know. It’s reciprocated.” She looks nervously from under her fringe and Serena’s responding smile splits her face in two.

That evening, Bernie sits in awe in the commentary box. Despite the two semi finals and all the dress rehearsals, nothing could prepare her for the sheer scale of the live grand final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Beside her, Serena smiles. She’s been to many contests over many years and is still mesmerised by the show. But to see the delight on Bernie’s face makes her stomach flip. The light to signal they’re on air illuminates and she launches into her spiel.
“Good evening to everyone back in the United Kingdom and you are, of course, watching the Eurovision Song Contest. I’m Serena Campbell, your seasoned commentator.”
“And I’m not Henrik Hanssen. No, I’m Bernie Wolfe, a lifelong Eurovision fan who now gets to share that excitement with you. And tonight, we can guarantee a stellar show filled with passion right from the start. Isn’t that right Serena?”
“It most certainly is,” Serena twines their hands together in the commentary booth. “Now, wait for it…” The presenters walk on stage and as if on cue, Bernie and Serena join them in chanting:
“GOOD EVENING EUROPE!”

Good evening Europe indeed. Both Bernie and Serena might not know which country would win the night, but they know how their evening will end. Together.

Chapter Text

Serena walks into the community centre with no small amount of regret. She’s half an hour early, but it’s the only way for her to be here on time; she wouldn’t be able to make it home and back before seven thirty otherwise. There’s a couple of chairs in the hallway so she sits on one of them and prepares to wait for someone else to arrive.

Someone else arrives not much later, a slim woman wearing an overly baggy jumper and some lycra leggings.
“Hi!” She smiles. “New recruit?”
“Oh, um. Yes.” Serena’s response is slightly strangled because this woman has just robbed her of her breath. If she’s going to end up looking like this, well, this goddess before her, she’s not complaining.
“Great!” The woman beams brighter, then pulls her jumper over her head, messing her already tangled short blonde curls. Serena’s too distracted to notice. Underneath the woman’s jumper is a very short lycra crop top, which hugs her cleavage and shows her toned stomach off to perfection. Serena always did have a weakness for a washboard stomach. How is it possible that this woman has such good abs? Serena’s certain that no number of classes will ever let her get to that standard. Serena realises she’s been staring and looks up to find the woman looking at her wearing an odd facial expression.
“Bernie Wolfe.” She holds out a hand and Serena takes it.
“Serena Campbell. I have to say, if you’re the result of coming to these classes then I may just have found some motivation.” How long did it take?” Bernie laughs.
“Sorry to disappoint but these classes alone aren’t my only evening pursuit. I’ve just come from the gym and I’m also part of a running club.” Of course she is, Serena thinks. Of course.
“Ah, well then. To be honest I don’t know why you even come to this then.” Serena waves a hand around her.
“Well, I need to make money somehow.” Bernie winks, and Serena’s mouth goes dry.
“You’re the group leader?”
“Very much the one.” Bernie shakes her head and then a young man comes through the door, wearing jogging bottoms and a vest. “Dom!” She grins at him. “Shall we head into the room and start a warm up then?”
“A warm up?” Serena’s confused. She didn’t think there would be a warm up. That sounds physical.
“Well, yes. We wouldn’t head straight into the main part of the fitness class without stretching our muscles first.” Serena’s face must show her shock because Bernie tilts her head to one side. “You are here for the fitness class, right?”

Serena blushes because she can’t say why she’s really there, she can’t. It seems stupid now in the face of this gorgeous woman but she also doesn’t relish the idea of doing some fitness after a twelve-hour shift so she shakes her head.
“No. I, ah. I’m here for the slimming group.” Bernie looks at her oddly.
“Slimming group? But you don’t need to lose any-” She’s cut off from finishing her compliment by the arrival of many more people into the hallway, some who wait for the slimming group and some who enter the room opposite, dressed ready for a fitness class with Bernie. Bernie smiles at her.
“Well, sorry you won’t be joining us, Serena. Enjoy your group. Duty calls.” She turns and jogs into the community hall with her bag slung over her shoulder. Serena smiles at her fellow slimmers as they head into the community room once the previous occupants (a mothers and toddlers group) leave.

Serena grabs a hard, plastic chair and places it in the circle of chairs her fellow club members are assembled in. She makes small talk with her fellow members and wonders where the session leader is. Then, she enters.
“Sorry I’m late everybody and wel-Serena! What a surprise!”
Serena wants to leave. She wants to get up and walk away and never come back. Instead, she smiles at her new slimming guidance leader and takes a deep breath.
“Imelda. So lovely to see you again.”

In Serena’s eyes, the session is a disaster. Imelda, having achieved Winner Slimmer of the Year for her own weight loss, has become an inspiring group leader. Most of the women love her and her recipe tips and inane mottos. ‘Why have cake when you can have some kale?’ and ‘Be a queen and eat your greens!’ feature amongst Serena’s favourite stupidly patronising quotes from the woman. She can’t wait to get home and have a nice glass of Shiraz and a piece of cake just to spite Imelda. She realises that isn’t exactly the right thing to do when she’s trying to lose weight but she’s had a hell of a day already and this has just made it worse. Perhaps she’ll just buy a dieting book and never return to this silly slim club ever again. Yes, Serena thinks. That’s exactly what she’ll do. The timings of these damn evening classes are inconvenient, anyway.

-

The next week sees Serena sat outside the community hall again. She keeps looking at the door, waiting for a certain fitness instructor to arrive. She’s decided she will continue with the slim club for a while, and not give up in the face of Imelda. And, she can also get to know the gorgeous fitness instructor better too before the session starts.

Bernie arrives fifteen minutes earlier than she did the week previously. Not that Serena’s been timing her, or anything. She jogs through the door in her crop top and compression leggings and grins at the sight of Serena.
“Hello you!” Bernie’s smile is blinding and Serena feels weak at the knees.
“Hello yourself,” she smiles demurely back.
“How was slim club?”
“A waste of my time.”
“And yet you’re still back,” Bernie tilts her head questioningly.
“Yes, well,” Serena blushes and looks at Bernie then down at the floor quickly. “Perhaps I thought I’d see where it takes me. I wouldn’t want to give up too hastily.”

She looks back up to find Bernie’s gaze piercing her to her very core. The other woman smiles shyly and steps closer to Serena.
“That sounds like a very good plan.”

Their chat is interrupted by the arrival of some more people. Serena wishes there were not any stupid classes on to interrupt her from her chat with Bernie in a community hall corridor.

-

Week two of slim club is worse than week one. Serena gets to ensure the public humiliation ritual of her ‘wild weekly weigh-in’ as Imelda calls it. Serena is unsure what’s meant to be wild about it. Perhaps the fact that she feels like an animal in a circus when she steps on the scales and the whole room goes silent to here Imelda proclaim that Serena’s weight has increased by a pound since last week.
“Oh, Serena! Don’t want to keep those pounds now, do we! You know what they say, you have to lose some to accumulate some! Losing the pounds will make you feel so much better, you’ll be rich in confidence and charm.” Imelda is clearly enjoying herself. Serena wants to walk out and never return. This is torture.

Next she has to partake in a group discussion where she has to dissect why she’s put weight on. Serena is very tempted to say the stress of this stupid slim group has driven her to eat more. Why did Serena ever sign up to classes? She’s paying for this hell. Maybe she’ll just embrace her not-slimline body and Robbie and Edward and all the other men who tell her she’s a bit curvaceous and plump can go and rot.
“Perhaps I ate a bit too much cake that was left in the staffroom from a colleague’s birthday,” Serena supplies to the group. Imelda nods wisely.
“It’s good that you are acknowledging where your weaknesses like, Serena. We’ve all been there.” Several in the circle nod like Imelda’s little sock puppets. “You know what I always say, Serena?” Serena has a good idea and is really wishing Imelda doesn’t say it. “Why have cake, when you can have some kale?”

Serena really wants some cake now.

At the advice of her fellow slimmers, Serena purchases a box of special slim group snack bars before she leaves. Apparently, they are filling and low in calories. They say they’re chocolate and cherry flavour so Serena thinks they’ll probably be okay.

 

-

They are not okay. They are disgusting. Serena takes a bite of one in her office and has an abrupt urge to spit everything back out. The special bars have the consistency of cardboard and taste nothing like chocolate or cherry. She’s been duped.

Stalking into the staffroom, Serena notices a bag of open doughnuts on the side next to a post-it note with Fletch’s writing on: ‘Help yourself!’

Serena does. The doughnut she is munching on tastes much nicer. She takes the box of slimming snack bars out of her bag and places them next to the post-it note. At least she’s being charitable and offering the soggy cardboard overpriced slimmer bars to her colleagues.

 

-

Serena nearly doesn’t go to slim club the third week. She hated week two too much. But the thought of a toned stomach spurs her on. She walks into the community centre and is surprised to see Bernie already there.
“Serena!” Her smile is beaming and Serena’s world is instantaneously put to rights at the fact that this goddess has remembered her name. “Still back?”
“Not sure how much more I can take. Last week I was practically publicly humiliated for putting a bit of weight on and I’m pretty sure I’ve not lost any this week. It’s doing nothing for my confidence.” Serena sighs. Perhaps it’s just Imelda’s way of running things. Bernie places her hands on her shoulders and looks her in the eye.
“Serena, trust me when I say you’re gorgeous.”
“Hmm. On the contrary, I signed up to this damn thing when my daughter told me perhaps my exes were right when they said I was putting on a few pounds of middle aged spread. Gorgeous is not a word they used to describe me.”
“Well they’re stupid,” Bernie’s answer is immediate and vehement. She looks Serena up and down slowly. “You’re everything anyone could want and more, Serena.”

Serena’s sure she’s about to swoon or cry of happiness. She’s prevented from doing either by the opening of the door. Bernie steps away and into her fitness class room. She turns and gives Serena one last look, waving slightly. Serena thinks she may be in love.

-

She spends the majority of her time at slim club dreaming about what Bernie said – what Bernie might have said had they not been interrupted – in order to drown out Imelda’s patronising criticisms and ego-stroking stories of her own slimming success.

She gets up as soon as she can when the session is over, bypassing the queue at the table for the snacks which Serena wouldn’t even feed to the birds.

She’s therefore mightily surprised to find one Bernie Wolfe lounging against the wall outside. She’s smirking at Serena in a smug way which is altogether too alluring for Serena’s weak heart.
“Well, that looks like a whole lot of fun. Can I tempt you with a drink?”

Serena always has liked people who are direct about what they want.

-

“Are you sure I can’t tempt you to switch to my fitness class?” Bernie looks at her through her eyelashes as they approach the end of the bottle.
“And spend all night watching you in lycra? No thanks. My favourite form of exercise involves far fewer clothes than that…” Serena lets her voice trail off. She’s made bolder by the wine and Bernie’s compliments, which seem more genuine than any “nice arse, Serena” she ever got from Robbie or Edward. Bernie flushes and downs the rest of her glass quickly.
“Well, um… That’s not off the table, if you were interested, but I think it’s definitely for a venue other than the community centre.”

Serena grins wickedly.
“Not off the table, you say?”

-

“Bloody hell you’re good at that,” Serena collapses against a pillow, chest heaving. From between her legs, Bernie smiles smugly and kisses her over-sensitive inner thigh to make a point, nipping slightly and easing away the sting with her tongue.
“Hmm, I do admit this has to be one of the better ways to burn calories.” Bernie’s hum of pleasure vibrates against her, she’s already so sensitive and the breath of air across her alone is enough to send her heartrate skyrocketing in anticipation once more.
“Do you think they’d approve if I said how I’d lost weight when it’s my turn to contribute to the group this week?”
“Mmm… Not if you only say we got up to here… We’ve only just started…” Bernie trails her fingers lazily across Serena’s stomach, squeezing her hips reverently.
“If we keep going at this rate there’ll be nothing left of us!” Serena’s just about getting her breath back.
“Can’t have that, can we? We’ll have to have sustenance breaks. I don’t mind venturing to the kitchen for Shiraz and cake.”
“God, you’re a keeper, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know, am I?”
“Yes, Bernie, you are.”

-

Serena’s just leaving slim club when Imelda yells at her from across the room.
“Serena, dear! You’ve not paid for your next block of slimming sessions yet!”
“No Imelda, because I’m not coming back.” Serena raises an eyebrow dangerously.
“What? But you’ve not scored a slimming goal yet! You’re only three pounds away from your first certificate and group presentation!”

Serena laughs.
“Imelda, I don’t care about scoring a slimming certificate. I’ve scored something infinitely better, you see.”

Serena saunters over to the door where Bernie is waiting, gym bag slung over her shoulder. Serena gives her a lingering kiss.
“Hello darling, here’s to the future, eh?”

As Imelda looks on in shock and confusion, Serena grins to herself. That slim club had been adding an unwelcome weight to her calendar anyway.

Chapter Text

Jason Haynes has been living with his Auntie Serena for two years now. She’s wonderful and looks after him well, even if she does frequently drink too much wine and forget which coloured recycling bin is for which type of rubbish (despite Jason making a chart for the fridge and the side of the back door with the council’s rules on it in colour coded boxes). Aside from some minor personality flaws, she’s a great person to live with. She lets Jason watch unlimited episodes of World’s Strongest Man. On a large flat screen TV which is bigger than most people Jason knows has. Auntie Serena let him choose it and she paid for it. She was going to buy him one of those 3D ones but when Jason tried one out in the shop it made his head feel funny. He much prefers his flat screen for optimal World’s Strongest Man viewing. Actually, World’s Strongest Man is another reason his Auntie Serena is amazing. She works with Mr Hanssen, who is Swedish and will have World’s Strongest Man competitions with Jason. After feeling sad for a while after his Mum died, Jason now loves his life.

That isn’t to say he doesn’t feel guilty sometimes (and not just when he eats the last of the Marmite even though he knows it’s his Auntie Serena’s spread of choice). No, Jason feels guilty because his Auntie Serena doesn’t have a boyfriend. She did when Jason met her. She had Robbie. Robbie was mean to Jason and didn’t want him to live with Auntie Serena when Alan became ill. Auntie Serena chose Jason over Robbie and dumped him. Jason thinks that’s wise. Robbie is nothing compared to Jason. Jason doesn’t think Robbie would know as much about history as Jason does. His Auntie Serena briefly mentioned getting back together with Robbie but Jason still didn’t like him even though he maybe had cancer but then didn’t. But now his Auntie Serena doesn’t have a boyfriend and Jason has a girlfriend so he feels guilty. He thinks it may be a little bit his fault that she doesn’t have anybody.

So Jason decides that he’ll set about finding her a boyfriend.

He considers the world of dating apps to begin with but they scare him somewhat. He’s read too many stories of fake accounts and people getting hurt through online dating. He’d much rather meet his Auntie’s new boyfriend in person. This leaves him with a bit of a problem. Jason thinks who he would like his Auntie Serena to date. Jason thinks he’d like to see more of Mr Hanssen so he asks Auntie Serena one evening if she’d date Mr Hanssen.

Serena nearly spits her wine over the carpet.
“Date Henrik? What makes you say that, Jason?”
“He’s Swedish and likes World’s Strongest Man and you’re friends. You don’t have any hobbies so I don’t see where else you’ll find a boyfriend aside from at the hospital.”
“Jason. Henrik and I are friends and that’s that. And I never date colleagues. Also, what makes you say I want a boyfriend?”
“You don’t have one.”
“But I don’t have a girlfriend either.” Serena sips her wine, her face flushing pink.

Jason grins. His Auntie Serena is bisexual? That’s good. He now has a larger sample size of prospective partners for her. He’s sure he’ll find her one now.

Jason asks multiple women if they want to date his Auntie. The barista at Pulses, his bus driver, the librarian with the green glasses. But none of them agree. Jason has hit a problem. Most of the women he asks are straight and he has no way of knowing if they are. He starts asking them what their sexual preferences are, but people look at him strangely or are quite rude if he walks up to them in the street and asks them what their sexual orientation is. He decides he needs to consult an expert.

“Where do gay women hang out?” Fleur muses aloud one day when Jason corners her in a stairwell. “There’s a question…”
“If you could give me a specific answer within the next four minutes I would be very grateful,” Jason cuts her off.
“Why do you need to know where queer women go to unwind, anyway?” Fleur’s question is a valid one, Jason concedes.
“I am looking for a girlfriend who I deem to be suitable for my Auntie.” Jason says. Fleur grins.
“A girlfriend for Serena, the silver vixen? All my dreams have come true!”
“You won’t do.” Jason states plainly. “You are her friend and her colleague and Auntie Serena never has workplace relationships. If you could give me the places where other gay women can be found I would be very grateful.”

Fleur obliges and lists a few names of local bars where women loving women tend to go. She also drops Jason a wink and tells him to tell Serena she’ll be at one of them at half eight the following evening. Jason decides he is not going to tell his Auntie Serena this. Fleur does not fulfil all of his criteria as the perfect partner for his Auntie Serena and Jason will not settle until he’s found someone who scores the maximum in his categories. His Auntie Serena deserves the best. He’ll add Fleur to his spreadsheet for data analysis purposes though.

The next weekend finds Jason waiting outside the doors to one of the bars listed by Fleur. It is 6pm and Jason has finished his shift. Auntie Serena is working nights so won’t know Jason has been on a reconnaissance mission. There is just one problem. The doors to the bar are shut.

Jason is getting increasingly frustrated and has taken to pacing up and down outside the bar, the rhythmic activity calming him somewhat. He peers through the glass doors but can’t see anything. Suddenly, a woman’s face appears behind the glass. She’s got wavy blonde hair and is wearing a waistcoat. Jason taps on the door and the woman opens it.
“Do you work here?” Jason asks.
“Yes, I do.” She replies. This could be useful, Jason thinks.
“Why are you not open?”
“We don’t usually open until 8ish – we’re a late-night bar. People don’t come this early.”
“That’s stupid. I’m here this early.”
“Well yes, but you’re not our usual type of customer.” The woman smiles a little bit. Jason nods.
“I know. May I come inside?” The woman shrugs.
“Why not? But you might be bored for a bit until the customers arrive.”
“That’s fine. It means I can assess the suitability of every woman who enters.”
“Suitability? For what?”
“A girlfriend.”
“No offence – sorry I didn’t catch your name,” Jason informs her of this. “Jason. But most of the women who come here aren’t looking for a man. Some might be, though.”
“Oh I know. I want a woman who’s interested in women.”
“Excuse me?” The woman pauses. “Oh, I’m so sorry if I misgendered you!”
“You didn’t. I’m finding my Auntie a girlfriend. She deserves the best and with my rigorous screening process I’ll find her the best.” Jason nods, satisfied. Then pauses.
“What’s your name?”
“Oh, my name’s Bernie. Does your aunt know you’re finding her a girlfriend?”
“Not as such. But when I introduce her to the perfect woman for her she’ll be very pleased.” Jason smiles. He can’t wait to make his Auntie Serena happy with a partner who he actually likes. Bernie smiles back at him.
“I’m sure she will, Jason.”

Jason spends all night sat by the bar where Bernie makes drinks and chats with the customers. Jason sees lots of established couples and many young women. A lot of them look at him oddly but if anyone says anything Bernie just introduces him as a friend of hers. Jason likes that. It makes him feel like he’s valued. By the end of the evening Jason has decided there is nobody who frequents the bar that would be suitable for his Auntie Serena. He has, however, discovered that Bernie is an ex-soldier. That’s exciting.

The next time Auntie Serena is working a night shift Jason once again goes to the bar to continue is quest. He’s also hoping to ask Bernie more about her military career. He arrives a little later than he did last time and the bar is already open. He goes to the seat he had last time and sits down. A woman with cropped hair and a northern accent approaches him.
“Can I get you anything, mate?” He scrutinises her from behind his glasses.
“I’d like Bernie.” The woman laughs.
“So would a lot of people, mate. She doesn’t play for your team though.” Jason is confused.
“I’m not on any teams. I was once on a chess team in school but that was a long time ago. It’s also silly to have chess teams when you play it on your own. I’d have got a much higher overall ranking if the overall score hadn’t averaged mine with those of my terrible teammates.” Jason pauses. “I’d like to talk to Bernie. Who are you?”
“Alex.” The woman holds out a hand. Jason shakes it very briefly. “I own this place. Bernie works a couple of nights a week, casual like. Just to give her something to do.”
“Could I have her schedule?” Jason asks. That way he could come and see Bernie much more easily. Alex smiles.
“She’s usually in over the weekends and then Tuesday nights too. The occasional other weekday too. Are you sure I can’t get you a drink?”
“No, thank you.” Jason gets up from his bar stool. “It was nice meeting you, Alex.”

Jason returns to the lesbian bar to see Bernie the very next time she is on shift. He spends a pleasant evening chatting with her. She’s his new friend. She even points out a few women she thinks might be suitable for his Auntie Serena but they’re not up to Jason’s standards. He vows to continue and returns the next three nights Bernie is on shift.

One of them happens to be a busy Saturday night. There’s a hen party in of many, many gay women and Jason thinks this may be his chance. They’re clamouring for drinks at the bar and Bernie is run off her feet sorting them all out. At some point, Alex appears. Jason waits patiently for Bernie. That is, until one of the women knocks into him and he loudly tells her that she needs to be more careful. The whole party turns on him and Bernie has to intervene.
“Look, Jason, love. Why don’t we meet up somewhere else when I’m not on shift? Here.” She scrawls something on a napkin and hands it to him. “See you around, yeah?”

Jason goes home feeling sad and he can’t even tell Auntie Serena why he’s sad because then he would reveal that he’s looking for a girlfriend for her. Instead, he sits in his room gloomily eating yoghurts and watching repeats of Tattoo Fixers.

As promised on her scrawled napkin note, Bernie does meet him at a park on the outskirts of Holby City. She’s on time, which Jason appreciates. Bernie did, after all, suggest the meeting place. Bernie explains to him that Alex is her best friend and offered Bernie work in her bar when Bernie got discharged from the army. They talk about Bernie’s old life and Jason’s interests and their mutual love of Mary Beard documentaries. Jason thinks he prefers meeting Bernie away from the noisy bar. He feels a lot more relaxed in the park. It does mean he is less likely to find his Auntie Serena a girlfriend though, if he’s not in a place with large samples of women loving women.

They get up after a while and Bernie offers to buy Jason an ice cream from the ice cream van near the park gates. They’re in the queue and Jason is salivating at the thought of a flake ninety-nine with raspberry sauce and chocolate sprinkles when some youths push in front of them, demanding various cold treats. The ice cream man looks at Jason and Bernie apologetically but turns to the teenagers. Jason isn’t accepting this behaviour.
“Excuse me, but there is a queue and you need to join it and wait your turn.” He addresses the boys reasonably. They turn and are rather rude to them, swearing and calling Jason names which he doesn’t care for. He starts to tap his hands on his thighs to calm himself as they continue to jeer.
“Have you quite finished, gentlemen?” Bernie cuts them off and her voice is that of a military commanding officer. The rude youth gang are undeterred. One of them sneers and suddenly another has picked up a sharp stone and hurled it towards Bernie.
“No!” Jason yells, using his tall frame to block the rock from hitting his new friend. He sees the rock soaring towards them and then sees nothing at all because his glasses are knocked from his face and there is a burst of searing pain on the side of his face. He reaches to clutch it and his hand comes away wet. Blood. Jason begins to panic. He’s going to go blind. He’s going to have brain damage. He’s going to die.

Bernie yells something at the boys and they all disappear. Then she’s guiding Jason into the ice cream van, the owner of which looks startled as Bernie jumps into the driver’s seat and demands the keys to the ignition and some ice lollies. He complies, though. Bernie hands the lollies to Jason.
“Hold these by the side of your head to prevent swelling. Above this cloth to stem the blood. Don’t worry, I’ve got your glasses and I’ve driven tanks so am more than qualified for this damn thing.” She turns the keys in the ignition and with a crunch of gravel they speed away, the bemused ice cream man clinging for dear life to his whippy machine as they speed through the streets.

They must look an odd site, especially as Bernie finds the chimes of the ice cream van and begins blasting them as she pulls them into the ambulance bay of Holby City Hospital. Jason wonders if she may even be slightly enjoying the bizarre situation they find themselves in. Bernie leaps out of the van and collects Jason, depositing him in a wheelchair from by the door and handing the ice cream man his keys back with a polite thank you. A member of the ED staff must recognise Jason, because they’re immediately transferred to AAU.

Auntie Serena comes barrelling out towards him soon after, still in her scrubs and clearly straight from theatre. Jason still can’t wear his glasses so she’s all blurry. Jason’s never been so glad to see her. Even when she’s all fuzzy.
“Jason darling are you alright?” She places her hands on his shoulders and removes the now liquid ice lolly packs and the cloth from the side of his head.
“Of course not, Auntie Serena. I’ve had a rock thrown at my head.”

In the chair beside the bed, Bernie snorts.
“And who are you?” Serena addresses Bernie.
“That’s Bernie. The rock was aimed at her because she was defending me and she drove the ice cream van here so we could be treated by you.” Jason supplies.
“Right.” Serena pauses, unsure how to unravel that information just now. “Well, let’s get you cleaned up. Morven?” She summons the junior doctor. “Come and clean Jason up, will you? And arrange some scans? It appears superficial but I’d like to be sure.”

As Morven cleans him up, Auntie Serena hovers nervously nearby. Jason hates it.
“Please sit down, Auntie Serena. You’re distracting me.”
“There’s no room.”
“Plenty of room for two on here,” Bernie grins, scooting along the chair by the bed. Auntie Serena looks at the chair and then at Bernie and then smiles a very small smile.
“Well then, if you insist.”

 

As Morven treats him, Jason is forced to listen to Auntie Serena and Bernie getting to know one another. He’s pleased they appear to be getting along. They’re talking about lots of things, some of them very quietly and Jason can barely hear. At one point, Bernie definitely offers to take Auntie Serena out for a coffee sometime. That’s good, Jason thinks. Hopefully he can come along too and they can all be friends together. Jason will have to have tea though. He doesn’t like coffee.

Finally, he’s all stitched up and Morven hands him his glasses back. He places them on the edge of his nose and turns to speak to Bernie and Auntie Serena now he can see them clearly. They’re sat very snugly together. Bernie’s hand is also rather high up Auntie Serena’s thigh, stroking her softly through her scrubs. Auntie Serena doesn’t seem to mind very much. In fact, she’s leaning into Bernie and playing with her hair. She’s also giggling. Auntie Serena never giggles. Not even when she was with Robbie.

Oh.

Jason pauses and reassess the situation which he finds himself in. He has inadvertently introduced his single bisexual Auntie Serena to his single lesbian friend Bernie. They are both of a similar age. They are both very kind to him and are nice people. They both appear to be very, very interested in one another. The way Serena is currently cosied up to Bernie is certainly not at all comparable with how she used to be whenever Robbie came over. And she didn’t love Robbie nearly enough to let him get that close to her at her place of work, Jason’s sure of it.

Somehow, he realises, Jason was so busy being friends with Bernie that it escaped his notice that she is the perfect partner for his Auntie Serena. She fulfils every single one of his categories and he never even had to officially test her. Jason smiles smugly. He knew he’d find Auntie Serena a girlfriend. He shuffles to the edge of the bed and stands up.
“Well, if you two are going to sit around flirting all day I’m going to go and get the bus home by myself. I have a spreadsheet to update.”

-

Chapter Text

“Thank you!” Jason chirpily thanks his favourite bus driver as he gets off the city centre shuttle bus at the end of the street. She smiles and waves before she pulls the bus away from the kerb. Jason smiles and feels content. Bernie’s not just his favourite bus driver, she’s also his friend.

Jason’s still in a good mood when he unlocks the house and calls out to his Auntie Serena that he’s home. He takes off his shoes and places them in their exact place on the shoe rack (between his football boots and his Doctor Who slippers) before pulling his slippers off the rack and putting them on. He strides into the sitting room and asks Auntie Serena if they can now watch Mary Beard, please. Jason pauses. Robbie’s here. No matter, he can watch Mary Beard too.
“Good evening, Robbie. Are you here to watch Mary Beard with Auntie Serena and I?”
“No I’m bloody well not. Who in their right mind watches Mary Beard for fun?”
“Me and Auntie Serena,” Jason responds.
“She only watches it because she’s stuck living with an idiot like you!” Robbie retaliates. Jason, flabbergasted by this statement, turns to Auntie Serena who looks shocked.
“Do you not like Mary Beard, Auntie Serena?”
“Of course I do, Jason. Robbie was assuming.” She turns to her boyfriend. “We’re going to be watching Mary Beard now, are you staying or going?” Robbie sulks and then gets up and slouches to the door.
“I’ll see you next Friday, Serena.”

Jason notes that Robbie doesn’t address him. That’s rather impolite.

Jason sits in his favourite armchair and considers it a small victory that Auntie Serena prioritises him over Robbie. Jason doesn’t like Robbie.

-

The next Friday, Jason gets on the Holby City Centre shuttle bus and shows his pass to Bernie. She grins at him. He’s the only person on the bus at the moment so she pauses and pulls something from her bag before she starts driving.
“I noticed your bus pass wallet was getting a bit cracked so I got you this,” she smiles nervously. Jason accepts it through the little hole for money and his smile nearly splits his face in two. It’s a black bus pass wallet with a picture of the TARDIS on alongside the Doctor Who logo. It’s much better than the council standard-issue plain one he has at the moment.
“Thank you very much Bernie, that’s very generous!” Jason beams and goes to sit in his favourite seat at the front of the bus, where he can talk to Bernie as she drives.

The Holby City Centre shuttle bus does circular routes around the city centre and surrounding areas, stopping at the major train and bus stations, alongside supermarkets and other large places which many people may need to get too. Jason can get this bus to the hospital if he ever needs to see his Auntie Serena when she’s on shift. Once, when he had nothing else to do, Jason stayed on the bus for the whole entire route and it took around an hour and a half. It was an enjoyable afternoon.

Today, Jason spends his entire afternoon on the bus. He doesn’t get off once, just talks to Bernie and looks at the familiar buildings of Holby City as they go past again and again on the circular journeys. Eventually, Bernie addresses him.
“Jason, love. My shift ends soon, you might want to get off at your street this time round.” Jason pauses.
“If I stay on until your shift ends, I could just get a different shuttle bus and do that circular route for a while.” To Jason, that sounds like a very appealing plan. Bernie looks at him curiously.
“Do you not want to go home, Jason?” Jason shakes his head.
“No. Robbie’s there tonight.”
“Who’s Robbie?”
“Auntie Serena’s boyfriend. He’s the human equivalent of a potato and he is horrible to me. I’d much rather stay on the buses if you don’t mind.” Bernie smiles gently at him.
“Do you not think your Auntie Serena will be worried if you don’t come home?” Jason pauses. He hadn’t thought of that.
“Maybe. But I’d rather go back when Robbie’s closer to leaving.”
“How about this, Jason?” Bernie looks at the road as she talks. Jason’s glad – he likes feeling safe when he’s being driven. “I let you stay on this bus until I drive it back to the depot and clock off. From there, I’ll see you on another bus that’ll get you home safely at a reasonable hour. You can text your aunt to tell her you’re on your way so she isn’t worried.”

Jason nods to himself, considering.
“Okay Bernie. Thank you for letting me stay on the bus.”

-

Serena’s stood lamenting in her bonnet so doesn’t notice the bus pull up into the hospital bus stop. Robbie finally picks up his phone.
“Robbie? You don’t happen to be able to help me with my engine? The car won’t start and I remember you saying you had helped your brother with his car once. What? You can’t get away? Can’t you tell them it’s urgent? Oh! Talk me through it then? What do you mean you can’t? Did you even help your brother or were you posturing to me?” Serena huffs down the line before jabbing the end call button. The more time she spends in a relationship with the policeman, the more she is considering ending the relationship. A familiar voice yells to her and she looks up.
“Auntie Serena!”
“Jason! What are you doing here?” She looks at her nephew bounding towards her.
“I was on the shuttle bus and noticed you here. Is the car broken?”
“Yes, Jason. And nobody can help,” Serena sighs. Another voice adds to their conversation.
“Engine been growling or whining? Any intermittent smell of hot or burning rubber?” Serena looks up to see a gorgeous woman with legs for miles leaning against the side of the bus and smoking. Never has a high-vis vest looked so alluring, Serena thinks. As the woman pushes up off the vehicle and walks over in what Serena assumes would be the most indecent anti public health guidelines smoking ad ever, she extinguishes the cigarette and looks down into the engine. Serena looks at this beautiful angel.
“Alternator might be cactus,” the woman shrugs. She then tinkers around with bits and pieces and pulls a multi-tool from her pocket to sort a few things. Serena looks on, feeling far too many different emotions. Eventually, the woman asks Serena to turn the keys. The engine roars to life and Serena beams.
“Not the alternator,” she grins.
“Oh, I could kiss you!” Serena exclaims in delight. The woman blushes and ducks her head.
“Perhaps not while I’m covered in oil.” She wipes her hands on her fluorescent vest and Serena hands her some wet wipes for her face.
“No, well. Let me give you my number so I can take you for a thank you drink sometime.” Serena writes her personal mobile number on her hospital business card and hands it to the blonde bus driver. “I’m Serena, by the way.”
“Oh I know who you are. Jason never stops talking about his Auntie Serena.” She smiles softly and looks at Jason, who is looking at Bernie like she’s a magician.
“You fixed Auntie Serena’s car, Bernie! That’s amazing.” Serena pauses.
“You’re Jason’s bus driver friend Bernie?”
“I am indeed.” The woman ducks her head and looks at Serena through her fringe. Serena notes that it seems to be a habit the woman has. “Pleasure to meet you, Serena. Now, if I don’t get a move on the next shuttle will be here and I’ll be in a lot of trouble for being so late. See you around.” They shake hands for slightly too long to be considered merely platonic and Bernie, alongside Jason, boards the bus once more and drives away. Serena watches the bus until it turns away onto the main road beyond the hospital driveway.

-

Serena and Bernie go for a quiet drink in a small bar on the outskirts of Holby City. They do a nice Shiraz which makes Serena happy, alongside a good whisky selection for Bernie, who prefers that as her tipple of choice. They’re getting along tremendously, joking and laughing about anything and nothing. A treacherous part of Serena’s mind reminds her that this is more fun than she’s had with Robbie on any dates he’s taken her on. Serena ignores it and tries not to think about how lovely Bernie looks with her cheeks flushed from the alcohol and laughter.

They’re just about to leave so Serena can get home to Jason when Bernie touches her arm briefly.
“Look, Serena. Um. Before you go, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Yes?” Serena’s pretty sure she’d answer anything this woman asked of her.
“There’s a job going down at the bus depot. Mainly sweeping up and sorting lost property, answering the phone too. It’s not the most glamourous job but I think Jason might enjoy being around the buses all the time? If he’s interested and hands me a CV I can drop it into the office for him and have a word. No pressure though, it was just a thought. He’s a great kid and I thought of him when I saw the vacancy.”

Bernie’s so blasé about the whole thing but Serena can feel tears pricking her eyes. She can’t remember when a virtual stranger has ever been so nice and thoughtful, so considerate about Jason’s needs and abilities without being rude or patronising. She nods, too afraid that her voice will crack if she speaks too much.
“Thank you, Bernie, I’ll mention it to him.”

-

Jason loves the idea of working for the bus depot.
“I’ll see all of the buses, old and new models! And help people if they leave things behind on buses. And I’ll work at the same place as Bernie!” He pauses, hand on his chin in consideration. “But I won’t be able to ride the Holby City Centre shuttle bus as much with her. That’s a shame. Still, I’ll go and print off my CV.”

Serena beams, happy to see her nephew so happy.

-

Serena’s sat in her sitting room with Robbie one evening, trying to postpone his inevitable wandering hands, when Jason comes bounding through the front door.
“Auntie Serena! Auntie Serena! I got the job!” He is the picture of enthusiasm, his face lit up with equal joy and pride. Serena’s heart sings.
“Well done Jason, I’m very proud.”
“Yeah, great.” Robbie says, though his voice lacks any real delight at Jason’s announcement. “What are you doing?”
“I’m a bus depot assistant.” Jason says the official title with such pride that Serena beams at him.
“A bus depot assistant? So a crummy little cleaner, then? That’s the best you can do?” Robbie speaks with disgust and Serena wonders what she ever saw in this man.
“My friend Bernie is a bus driver and she says bus depot assistants are invaluable.” Jason counters Robbie. Robbie laughs.
“Well, being a bus driver isn’t exactly a great career, is it? They’re all thickwits who transport morons who can’t drive.” Jason looks offended and Serena is also annoyed. How dare Robbie insult both Bernie and Jason. She can’t even defend his behaviour and finds she doesn’t want to. Robbie then mutters to himself under his breath. Serena hears the word ‘retard’ and hits the roof. She stands and faces Robbie.
“How dare you?! How very dare you? I’ve had enough of your egotistical attitude and your posturing and lying and desperate attempts to avoid doing anything that isn’t getting me into bed. If you can’t handle Jason and his abilities and work then you can’t have me. We’re a package deal. Get out. Now. And don’t even bother calling again.”
“But Serena-” Robbie’s protests die on his lips at the look Serena gives him. He slopes towards the door.

Serena returns to the lounge to see she’s had a text from Bernie.
‘Heard the good news from Jason – do both of you want to go for a celebratory drink sometime? :)’

Serena’s heart, bruised from her sudden breakup, starts to come alive once more.

-

At Jason’s request, Bernie comes around to Serena’s house for their celebratory drinks. He doesn’t, as a general rule, like going to bars and pubs. Bernie turns up with a bottle of Shiraz and Serena flushes that she remembered her favourite drink. Bernie’s also brought Jason a pen which is shaped like a dalek and Jason loves it immediately. Serena can’t believe that she ever considered Robbie as a partner when there are so many more considerate people out there.

Jason has two glasses of orange juice whilst Serena and Bernie share the bottle of Shiraz. He then heads up to bed at the appropriate time, bidding them goodnight.

Serena and Bernie proceed to get horrendously drunk.

-

Serena’s got her hand up Bernie’s top and they’re kissing and kissing and kissing. She’s not exactly sure how this came about, but she’s not about to stop. She’s drunk and frisky and Bernie’s got her earlobe in her mouth and it’s the best way to spend an evening. Somewhere amidst the sounds of gasping and ragged breathing, she hears Bernie speak.
“Serena, what about your boyfriend? I’m not going further while you’re in a relationship.”
“Hmm?” Serena forgot she even had a boyfriend.
“Yes, the one Jason says looks like a potato?” Oh. That boyfriend.
“I broke up with Robbie. He’s boring and rude and arrogant and oh, Bernie, please, yes.” Serena grinds herself against the bus driver’s thigh, working herself up into a frenzy. It’s been far too long since she’s been in a state like this. Robbie certainly hasn’t stoked a fire like this inside her. Bernie moans and leans back up to capture Serena’s lips. The night’s just getting started.

-

Serena wakes in the morning in a heap on her living room floor. Her back aches. In fact, every muscle aches like they’ve not ached in a long time. She feels well and truly shagged to tatters. Her head also hurts. Beside her, another crumpled figure stirs. Serena looks down into the eyes of a sleep-rumpled Bernie Wolfe.
“Mmmnhgggggg” is the bus driver’s first (not very coherent) utterance of the morning.
“Good morning yourself,” Serena drawls, sitting up slowly. Bernie’s eyes widen and her index finger reaches out to trace a distinctive teeth shaped bruise on Serena’s shoulder. Serena takes a moment to try and remember getting it, thinks she’ll have to revisit that another time.
“Ding dong,” Bernie says.
“It should be ding ding, Bernie, buses don’t go dong,” Jason walks into the sitting room with a mug of tea in his hand, his hair still damp from his morning shower. Serena suddenly becomes very aware of how very naked she and Bernie are and pulls the sofa throw over them.
“Quite right Jason,” Bernie agrees, her voice solemn. Under the throw, her fingers trace up the inside of Serena’s thigh. “Ding ding indeed.”

-

Chapter Text

“Berenice, I simply think that if you turn your experiences into a fictional world, you will have solved your career problem. I am offering you a lucrative deal and a way out of meaningless work. Please, take time to think this over properly before you refuse me outright.”

Major Berenice Griselda Wolfe does not like being told what to do. She gives orders and barks at her subordinates to keep up with her way of doing things. So her retirement from the military is proving to be more than a little tricky. She thought she was ready to face the civilian world once more. Had bought a little house in a suburb of Holby City and decided to spend her days reading and working out. Unfortunately for her, it turned out that she has a little bit of a problem.

Bernie Wolfe cannot live a life that stays in silence. The first week of retirement had been hell. She’d tossed and turned and found herself in a heap on the floor surrounded by the horrors she had seen throughout her life. One terrible, terrible day, Bernie had crawled under the table in the dining room and shouted until she was hoarse at the intruders invading her base camp when she was unarmed and alone. She’d grabbed a stack of plates from the draining board and flung them at the entrance to the tent, tears streaming down her face and her voice cracking. In the end it was her phone that had broken her out of reverie. She slowly realised that she was sat under her kitchen table, surrounded by smashed crockery. Her friend Henrik, who was on the phone, was stood knocking at her front door, simply wanting to pay a visit to one of his friends.

After that, Bernie realised that she needed to get the help of a professional and found the courage to start seeing a therapist.

To her intense surprise, Bernie actually likes therapy. She’s found a therapist who she likes and can get along with, and who understands her in equal measure. Bernie’s slowly coming to terms with the fact that she’s been infected with the terrible parasite which crawls its way into most armed forces personnel: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The things which Bernie had thought she had packed up and locked away in the back of her mind have come back to haunt her now she’s away from the whirring of the Chinooks and the banging of the gunfire and the comforting background chatter which can always be found on military base camps.

And these horrors become all the more real when Bernie has no background noise to distract her. It’s time then, Bernie thinks, to start thinking about getting a job.

Getting a job isn’t too easy for Berenice Wolfe. For a start, there’s not many jobs available in much of the UK at the moment, and Holby City is no exception. Secondly, her age is proving to be an issue. Most companies appear to want to hire young people, fresh out of education and untarnished with war-spattered memories. It’s proving to be a problem. Bernie’s skillset lends itself to only a few jobs which she isn’t getting hired for. It turns out that schemes aimed to get ex-armed forces personnel into the world of work don’t matter: if she so much as mentions her PTSD in an interview, she can visibly see the person behind the desk pale and then smile falsely. She knows she’s never going to get a job again.

It’s this desperation that leads to her accepting her friend Henrik’s offer of a publishing deal, if she can write down her experiences into a series of wartime thriller books. Bernie’s a little apprehensive but also excited. She’s known Henrik since they were in college English class together, he’s now a legend amongst publishers. He tells her how wartime thrillers and memoirs are now becoming more desirable thanks to J K Rowling’s foray into the genre under her pseudonym. He believes in Bernie, says she’s got the experience and creative flair to create something truly breath-taking. Bernie’s not sure. It’s been a long time since she picked up a pen and wrote down anything that wasn’t a crossword answer. But she does like a challenge, and this is certainly one of those. She always did enjoy English at school.

Bernie starts by going into the city centre to buy a pack of pens and some notebooks. She grabs a 100 pack of black ballpoints and some A4 notebooks with various colours of covers. It all comes to just over £10. Bernie laments the days where she could have gone to Woolworths and got the lot for a much cheaper price. Woolworths shut down while she was abroad on tour. She returned to find her favourite high street shop had ceased to exist. Bernie still mourns the loss. Their pick ‘n’ mix counter was the best source for good value chocolate and honeycomb bites.

On her way back to the bus stop, Bernie notices a little café on the corner of a row of shops. It looks inviting, welcoming, calm. She’s tempted by the aromas wafting out of the door but pauses. She’s just spent a fortune on stationery and she’s currently living off her military pension. As much as she loves a good coffee, today is not the day to go and buy one. She’d probably need a bank loan to pay for the damn thing, anyway. Civilian life is expensive, these days.

-

Writing is hard. She doesn’t really know where to begin. She’ll find she has the best ideas at the strangest times (usually the middle of the night) and then when she gets to write it down the imaginings have disappeared from her mind like leaves in the autumnal breeze. It doesn’t help that Bernie has to put the TV on the background to give her some much-needed white noise so she doesn’t do what she did the first time she tried to write. She’d wasted an entire pen and spent hours scrubbing black ink off her hands after she’d snapped the damn thing in stress as her memories filled the room around her, paralysing her in her seat and choking her with their vicious content. The TV may be good at providing background noise, but it isn’t half distracting. She’s not sure she’ll ever get anything published at this rate. Why must daytime property shows be so captivating?

-

It’s her therapist who suggests that she finds somewhere that’s not her house, somewhere neutral where she has no associations. Perhaps where there’s other people to ground her and comfort her. Maybe a library? Bernie thinks a library might still be too quiet, but the idea of having nondescript people around her appeals. She thanks her therapist and vows to try it.

Her therapist also suggests that she tries to write down her own bad memories, the ones that haunt her the most. Suggests that she tries to turn them into something that somebody else faces, not her. Whoever her characters are can deal with the burden and come out on the other side stronger, happier, seeing where they are now. Bernie is reminded by her therapist that Major Wolfe has lived through her military career and doesn’t need to dwell in the past. It’s time to let it go, pass it on, share it with others. It sounds difficult, but Bernie knows it’s what Henrik wants from her books. Thinks that maybe Henrik knew all along that writing could be a form of therapy for her. He’s wise like that, is Henrik Hanssen.

-

The library is an unmitigated disaster. Bernie spends her time sat staring at the paper before her and feeling guilty that she hasn’t touched a book despite entering a library. There are some students on flashy laptops clicking away and the creak of a trolley as a librarian shelves books. It’s not silent, but it’s also not loud enough. Bernie makes zero progress and leaves three hours after she arrived feeling defeated. Maybe nowhere will ever make her feel normal again.

-

Her therapist tells her of websites that exist where one can play background noise. Train stations and rain storms and coffee shops. Bernie pauses. Coffee shops. She thanks her therapist for the suggestion and talks some more about some of her worst memories of the wars she’s fought. It’s not easy, talking about things she’s kept bottled up for so long, but it helps, a bit. Her therapist never forces anything. Instead, she can stop talking about something and switch to a different, meaningless topic. Something harmless as she works her way back round to the topic that could harm her. She feels a bit brave, sometimes, in therapy. Braver than when she’s faced enemy fire with barely any equipment to save her.

An idea has blossomed in her head that makes her feel fizzy with excitement. She’s not very good at the internet, wouldn’t know a hashtag from a hash brown on most days. But in her mind, there is a clear image of a coffee shop on the corner of a street in the centre of Holby City. Why should she have the sounds of a fake coffee shop when she can go and sit in the real thing? And, perhaps, have a good cup of coffee as she writes.

-

The Coffee Shop On The Corner turns out to be the name of the place. It’s unassuming but inviting all at the same time, less stuck in order and procedure than some of the larger chain stores. Bernie walks in to the smell of high quality coffee brewing. She stands in the doorway and inhales the smell, a soft smile on her face, trying to absorb the atmosphere of the place, comforting and luxurious and just what Bernie needs. The sunlight filtering in behind her makes her look like some sort of angel, albeit a bedraggled, windswept one with the look of a golden retriever puppy turned into woman. That’s the first impression the manager gets of her, anyway.

Bernie joins the queue at the counter and is served quite quickly by a woman with short brown hair shot through with grey. Bernie’s foremost thought is that the woman has the most disarming smile.
“Hello, what can I get for you today?”

Her voice is exquisite. Soft honey and chocolate spread drizzled over warm pancakes, if that can be a type of voice. Bernie is so mesmerised by this woman that she forgets to reply. It takes a gentle smile and subtle raise of the eyebrow for Bernie to shake her head and clear her daydreams.
“Oh! Oui. Yes. Um. Salaam alaykum. Je voudrais un café au lait and a chocolate pastry please.” Bernie then realises that she’s just used too many languages and hasn’t made sense and wants the ground to swallow her whole. Why has she turned into a nervous wreck just to order coffee? Luckily, the woman laughs and notes down the order on a small piece of paper.
“Are you staying or taking it away with you?”

Bernie seriously contemplates leaving and never returning, but she has a book to write. Henrik messaged her this morning asking how far she was with it. “Two words which will likely be crossed out anyway” probably isn’t the response he’s wanting.
“Staying in, please.” The woman beams and Bernie’s stomach flip flops ever so slightly. She wants to make this woman smile that brightly forever. She pays the required amount and finds it isn’t as expensive as she had expected. Especially when the service here is already better than any other café she’s ever been in.
“Go grab yourself a seat and I’ll bring it over,” the woman’s smile is ever-present and Bernie can’t stop staring at her. She makes her way to a comfortable looking seat by a sturdy table and unpacks her notebook and pens. Around her, the chatter of friends and colleagues envelopes her. The coffee machine hisses and spits and the bell above the door tinkles gently as people arrive and leave. This is the right sort of noise, Bernie thinks. As a coffee and pain au chocolat is placed beside her Bernie looks up and smiles.
“Thank you, um?”
“Serena,” the woman replies. Bernie thinks it’s a perfect name for her. “And you are?” Her voice trails teasingly and Bernie blushes, for some inconceivable reason she doesn’t have the energy to examine too closely right now.
“Bernie,” she replies, softly.
“Well, enjoy your coffee, Bernie,” Serena touches her shoulder gently and walks back behind the counter. Bernie takes a sip of her coffee and closes her eyes as she savours the first mouthful of the best coffee she’s ever tasted.
Bernie picks up her pen and, for the first time since she accepted Henrik’s offer, words come easily to her.

-

The Coffee Shop On The Corner becomes Bernie’s second home. She’s there early most days, just after the morning rush has blown in and out like a daily gale of stress and caffeine consumption. She stays there until mid-afternoon, writing and writing and writing. Her notebooks become full of drafts and edits and snippets of a story. Bernie’s story, told through the eyes of Major Jodie Lamb, her new protagonist. She’s everything Bernie is – chaotic, private, far too stubborn for her own good. As she writes, Bernie can see her own demons from a distant perspective. She can see how they’ve become so bad for her, how she can distance herself from the foes of her past who have lodged inside her head.

She drinks an unholy amount of hot drinks. Coffee, tea, sugary sweet hot chocolate that tastes like a dental cavity waiting to happen. She’s slowly working her way through the entire menu, seeing if she can find something new and exciting that she’s never tasted before.

A constant through all of her musing is Serena. Serena stays behind her counter a lot, serving her customers with flair and charm. But in quiet moments when her assistants have everything covered, she always gravitates towards Bernie and engages her in conversation. It’s nice, Bernie thinks, to touch base with reality every so often, when she’s so immersed in the battlefields which, although are fictional on paper, are oh-so-real inside her head.

As much as she loves the coffee and the pastries, Bernie also begins to crave Serena’s soft smile and silky voice. Serena, unknowingly, is helping Bernie to write her way to being in better mental health. Not curing her PTSD, of course not, Bernie’s not that naïve. But getting some perspective on her experiences is certainly helping her be more confident in bringing them up in her therapy sessions.

-

Around the time Bernie finishes handwriting her first draft of book one, she and Serena become firm friends. Henrik had suggested that Bernie write her books as a series, each focusing on a large challenge faced in the soldier’s career. It would be better reading, he suggested, than cramming every difficulty into one book. Bernie’s therapist agrees. Focusing on one large traumatic event at a time allows it to be described and dissected in forensic detail, making it much less monstrous.

Bernie huffs her way into The Coffee Shop On The Corner early, knowing she’s got a long day ahead, her laptop bag slung over her shoulder. She’s got to type up her draft to send to Henrik so he can start the formal editing process. She had asked if she could just give him her notebooks but he had declined. Major Berenice Wolfe, who can barely turn a computer on most days, must type up an entire novel. She thinks it’s going to take a while.

Bernie is pecking away at her keyboard when Serena comes over to see her. She’s spent an hour stabbing at keys and squinting through her reading glasses at her own pages of scrawl and Bernie is ready to throw the damn contraption across the room. She’s cursing under her breath, mindful of the woman nursing a young child by the window, when a large flat white slides across the table in front of her. Bernie inhales its aroma and looks up, smiling.
“Thank you. That’s just what I need.”
“Not a problem,” Serena sits down next to her. “Now, what are you doing today?”
“Trying to type up my bloody handwritten novel so my publisher can get it edited.”
“Not very good at typing?”
“Not at all.” Bernie sighs. Serena pulls the laptop towards herself and smiles gently.
“Luckily for you, I am excellent with my hands.” She winks at Bernie and the soldier is suddenly paralysed as her head fills with many, many not appropriate thoughts. She’s surprised, hasn’t really thought of Serena, or well, anyone so intensely like that. She stammers out a hurried thanks and concentrates very hard on her coffee.

Over the next week, Serena does very little behind the counter of The Coffee Shop On The Corner, instead leaving her assistants to sort the customers. She spends her days typing up Bernie’s first story at a much faster rate than Bernie would ever manage. It also turns out that Serena enjoys reading and is more than happy to provide Bernie with some pointers from an audience perspective. Bernie finds the feedback invaluable as she’s making subtle changes to her story and writing style.

While she types, Serena talks to Bernie about everything and nothing and steadily, Bernie feels herself growing closer to Serena, hanging off her every word. The woman is unlike anyone Bernie’s ever met before. She’s clever and charming and witty and has the best coffee Bernie has ever tasted. It’s an intoxicating combination, Bernie feels constantly drunk on how calm she feels in The Coffee Shop On The Corner, the constant background noise keeping her errant thoughts at bay.

-

Finally, the first draft is completed. Bernie smiles at Serena and doesn’t know how to show her gratitude. Instead, she orders the most expensive coffee and cake on the menu, offers to share it with the coffee shop owner.

-

No sooner has her first draft been sent to a mightily relieved Hanssen, Bernie is at work starting book two. She had thought she would have a short break, but half a day in her silent house had caused her mind to go into overdrive, her senses filling with the smell of smoke and the sound of her heartbeat as she worked out where the enemy attack was going to be coming from. Bernie had almost ran out of her house and to her safe space, The Coffee Shop On The Corner. Serena had seen her and raised an eyebrow in questioning. Bernie, not ready to reveal that broken part of her just yet, had simply ordered a large double shot latte and sat in the corner to start planning Major Jodie Lamb’s next adventure.

-

She’s sketching rough plans for her second novel in her notebook when Serena approaches. Bernie’s in a window seat today. It’s raining outside and the pitter patter of the raindrops against the glass is a welcome addition to the coffee machine and background chatter. Bernie’s own private symphony of safety with Serena’s voice front and centre as the soloist.
“Book two?” Serena nods at the notebook.
“Yes,” Bernie smiles. “Here’s hoping book one sells enough copies to warrant a market for book two.”
“You’re harsh on yourself. Having had an exclusive preview of book one I can say that it should fly off the shelves. Really true to life stuff, soldier.”

Serena knows Bernie was a soldier, knows she’s writing these books based on her experience. Doesn’t known Bernie’s writing them as a form of mild therapy.

“Would you, um, help me type it up again? When I’m done?”
“Of course. You just let me know when that is. I can’t wait.”

One of Serena’s assistants calls to her and she gets up to leave with a soft squeeze of Bernie’s shoulder. Bernie turns back to her storyline plotting, a small smile gracing her features.

-

Henrik loves book one, has a smug smile as he tells Bernie he was right, she does have a flair for writing wartime action stories. It still requires a few rounds of editing but he’s confident it will sell. He plans on strongly marketing her debut novel and warns her to expect some short press interviews for book clubs and newspapers. Bernie nods. She’s coped with enemy fire, she can cope with some interviews.

-

Bernie walks into The Coffee Shop On The Corner late one afternoon. She’s had a busy day and this is her first opportunity of going to her favourite café. Serena greets her warmly.
“Bernie! Hi!”
“Got something for you,” Bernie says shyly, offering a package wrapped hastily in brown paper. Serena grins and moves to sit at one of the back tables. She removes the packaging slowly and chirps in delight when she sees the contents.
“Called To Action by Major B. Wolfe.” Serena looks at Bernie, her eyes shining in fondness. “Oh Bernie, it’s brilliant. I’m so pleased. You should have said it was out!”
“It, um. It isn’t yet. This is one of my pre-release copies. Open the front page.” Serena does so.
“To everyone who has ever served in the forces – even if I never met you. To Henrik, for being a constant source of wisdom and friendship. And to Serena, without whom this book likely wouldn’t be here.” Bernie looks down, blushing. Dedicating her book to Serena had seemed like the natural choice at the time, but now she’s anxious, worried Serena will think it’s bizarre or creepy. Who even dedicates their first novel to the owner of their favourite coffee shop? But Serena is smiling with silent tears tracking down her face. Bernie is unprepared for her to surge forward and crush Bernie into a hug like no other Bernie has ever received. Above her own laboured breathing, Bernie can just make out Serena whispering into her neck “thank you thank you thank you” over and over again. Bernie’s heart flutters.

When Serena has calmed down and dried her tears of joy, it’s time for her to shut the coffee shop for the day. Bernie, at Serena’s insistence, stays inside, waiting. When she’s done, Serena turns to her.
“Well, Major B. Wolfe, published author, time for a drink, my treat.” Bernie blushes.
“You know my usual.” Serena looks at her askance.
“I’m not giving you an out of hours coffee! It’s time for an alcoholic drink. I’ve got several lovely bottles of Shiraz in my flat upstairs. If you don’t drink red, let me know. I can go and get you something else.”
“Red’s fine,” Bernie’s too busy considering that Serena has invited her back to her home for a drink.

-

“So, a fully published author, hmm?” Serena says as she places two glasses on the coffee table in front of them. Bernie’s perched on the edge of the sofa, too nervous to relax. Serena runs a hand through her hair, tousling the curls, and Bernie looks at her, her eyes a little wild.
“Serena?” Her voice cracking gives away her nerves.
“Bernie,” Serena whispers, then brings their lips together gently. It takes Bernie a moment to realise what’s just happened and Serena’s moving backwards before Bernie surges forward once again, kissing Serena with everything she has to give. It feels so right and so good that Bernie’s doubtful of ever stopping kissing Serena. They kiss and kiss and somehow end up in Serena’s bedroom, hands caressing and clothes being shed. Bernie’s last coherent thought is something about celebrating her first publication. Then she gives herself over to the exquisite pleasure of just feeling.

-

She’s in unfamiliar quarters. Has she been captured? Made a prisoner of war? She strains to hear anything familiar – a laugh, a voice, a siren. Nothing. Silence. Bernie can feel her pulse rocketing, she lies still and tries to squint through the gloom which surrounds her. Somewhere to her left, something shifts. A body. Is she about to be ambushed? The figure moves again, looming up to her from the darkness. Adrenaline surges through her veins. She’s going to die. She’s going to die.
“Don’t touch me!” Bernie yells into the gloom, launching herself towards the person and pinning them down beneath her. “I know thirteen different ways to kill you with my bare hands and I’ll use any of them if you try and harm me or my regiment!” Bernie tightens her grip around her assailant’s wrists. She’s scared and on self-defence mode and suddenly above the sound of her adrenaline-fuelled heartbeat she can hear her captor’s voice.
“Bernie, Bernie, can you hear me? It’s me, Bernie. Serena. Please let go, you’re hurting me. Bernie?”

Bernie lets go as if she’s been burned and jumps out of the bed. She’s just assaulted the woman she spent the previous evening wringing pleasure from. She deserves to go to Hell.

-

Half an hour later, dressed in some of Serena’s old sweats and nursing a cup of sweet tea, Bernie looks at Serena, who is sat against the headboard next to her.
“Look, Serena. I haven’t been entirely honest with you…”

Bernie tells Serena everything. She tells her about her PTSD diagnosis and her therapy and how her writing is a way of her coming to terms with all she’s been through. She explains how she gets spooked by silence and spends so much time in the coffee shop because of its soothing background noises. For the first time in a long time, Bernie allows herself to cry and be held by another person. It’s cathartic and freeing and Bernie thinks she’s very lucky to have somebody as understanding as Serena, who rocks Bernie close to her and promises that she’ll get a white noise machine or a low volume radio for when Bernie stays over again. Bernie’s just glad that she’s not put Serena off, that there’ll be an again, a future, with this woman. After having so little when she was discharged, Bernie now feels like she’s got a fresh start. A new chapter.

-

Major B. Wolfe is a bestselling thriller writer, specialising in wartime novels. This is the fourth book in the Major Jodie Lamb series of adventures. She lives in Holby City with her wife Serena and their recently adopted kitten, Jason.

-

Chapter Text

“And then the plane flies high over the clouds and you can see everything far below! Look, Gwenny, can you see the clouds? And the tiny, tiny buildings? We’re getting closer to landing now!”
“I can see Granny Serena! She’s waving at us! Hello Granny Serena!” Young Guinevere shrieks excitedly and waves at Serena, who grins widely at her granddaughter (well, great-niece if you’re being overly technical) and waves back.
“Hello Guinevere!”
“We’re going to land now, Nana Bunny! A million miles and hour so we can see Granny Serena quicker and sooner and NOW!” Guinevere shrieks, steering an imaginary steering wheel frantically. Serena’s glad that this young one can’t get behind the wheel of a car yet. Guinevere turns around and pouts. “The WINGS, Nana Bunny, the WINGS!”

Ever the good soldier, Bernie stretches her arms out wide and twists her upper body to and fro, making the appropriate noises.
“NEEEOWWWWWWWNNNNNNNN! NEEEEEOWWWWWWWWWWNNNNNNN! NEEEEEOWNNNNNNN! Soon we’ll be landing, pilot Gwenny!”
“Yes! Yes! YES!” The young girl shrieks delightedly, her pigtails bouncing as she laughs. Serena captures the photo on her phone, as a lasting memento that Major Berenice Griselda Wolfe, the woman with a bad back and legs for days, can indeed squeeze herself into an old carboard box which once contained bananas delivered to the local supermarket. But she’ll only do that if pressured by the unique force that is Guinevere Elinor Haynes. The young thing has already got Bernie wrapped right around her little finger, and she’s not even at school yet. She’ll be an absolute terror as she grows up and Serena can’t wait.

The plane lands and Guinevere clambers out and runs over to Serena.
“Granny Serena! Me and Nana Bunny came ALL THE WAY to Naye… Ni…” She pauses, her eyebrows furrowing in concentration as she tries to remember the new word Granny Serena and Nana Bunny taught her when they were showing her the photos of the giraffes.
“Nairobi,” Bernie supplies, having finally extricated all of her long limbs from the cardboard box without breaking the sides of the contraption that will also provide her flight home today.
“Yes! Nai-ro-bee.” Guinevere announces proudly. “Now we’s can see the giraffes and the lions and the elephants!”
“Yes, we can, Gwenny! Where to first, hmm?” Bernie looks at her granddaughter seriously, as if they truly are in Nairobi and about to go on a safari at the airport. Serena wonders why Bernie ever thought she was a bad mother, she’s a brilliant grandmother.
“I want to go with Granny Serena on safari!”
“Oh, is Nana Bunny not coming too?” Serena asks, wondering why Bernie has suddenly fallen out of favour. Guinevere affixes her with a look that no toddler should ever have. It’s one she’s clearly mastered from Serena already.
“There’s no real animals in here, Granny Serena. Nana Bunny will have to pretend to be a giraffe because she’s tall and good at pretending.”

Bernie’s face is an absolute picture but as soon as two large, wide eyes look up at her she nods and stretches, morphing into a human giraffe. Serena sits on the floor with Guinevere on her knee and looks up at Bernie, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
“Oh, look, Guinevere! A giraffe!”
“Yes! A giraffe!” Guinevere claps her hands excitedly as Bernie dutifully moves over, emphasising her height.
“Now, Guinevere, if you hold your hand very flat, the giraffes are very friendly and will take food from you.” Serena uncurls her granddaughter’s fist and places a custard cream biscuit on it. Bernie looks at her before leaning forward and pulling the biscuit off Guinevere’s palm. Guinevere giggles.
“Giraffes eating biscuits!!” She giggles some more. “Giraffes don’t eat biscuits reeeeallllly, do they Granny Serena?”
“No, sweetheart, they don’t – aren’t you a clever girl?”
“Yes, I am.” Guinevere says seriously. Serena bites back a laugh. She’s definitely Jason and Greta’s child.
“Now, Guinevere, what’s next on our safari?”
“LIONS!” The young girl yells, almost perforating Serena’s eardrum in her volume. They both look at Bernie expectantly and the trauma surgeon rolls her eyes fondly before getting on all fours. The look she gives Serena once in position is definitely one which says ‘I want to eat you alive’ and Serena looks away and gulps. The comment she was about to make is definitely not appropriate for young ears.

In their hypothetical safari, the lions are much friendlier than the ones on real safari. Well, this one lion is, anyway. So friendly that it allows Guinevere to tousle and tug at its mane (“even though Daddy says girl lions don’t have manes” Guinevere announces proudly) and this very special lion even offers Guinevere a ride on its back.
“Granny Serena come too?” Guinevere asks, looking up at Serena fondly from where she’s perched on Bernie The Lion’s back.
“I think only one little brave person is allowed on this lion, young lady,” Serena smiles. Guinevere looks annoyed at this.
“But you’ll ride Nana Bunny the lion later, Granny Serena?” Her question is innocent and honest but Bernie still snorts with laughter and has to turn it into a fearsome roar. Serena raises an eyebrow and looks her wife in the eye.
“Yes, I’ll definitely be riding Nana Bunny later.”

After their safari, Guinevere takes a nap, overexcited and overtired from all of their imaginary games. Serena helps Bernie up off the floor and guides her to the sofa.
“Come on, you. Lie on your front and I’ll go and grab you a heat pack. Don’t look at me like that – I know you’ll be needing it if you’re going to soldier on through part two when she’s recharged her batteries.”

Bernie smiles softly at her wife as she applies the heat pack and sighs happily. Her back’s much stronger than it was, but cramming yourself into cardboard aeroplanes and spending half an hour crawling round the house giving lion rides certainly takes its toll. Bernie reaches behind her and tugs Serena down beside her on the sofa for a cuddle while Guinevere is asleep. It doesn’t hurt for them both to rest for a little bit…

They’re woken up from their spontaneous nap by Guinevere clambering up and onto them, chattering away about how if they don’t hurry up they’ll miss their flight back home and they’ll be stuck in Nairobi forever. Serena slides down onto the floor and helps Bernie round too.

Guinevere announces that this time, they’re going to bring Granny Serena home from Nairobi too, so she toddles to fetch a third box from under the stairs which she orders Serena to climb in. Serena is about to protest but it would take a stronger woman than she is to say no to the toddler with pigtails and a dress covered in glittery stars. Her body protests as she lowers herself into the far too-small box behind Bernie’s, who is grinning at her smugly. She’s going to swipe fondly at Bernie when their pilot starts her announcements.
“Get ready to take off at a bazillion miles an hour so we can fly home to Mummy and Daddy!!”

-

Jason unlocks the front door to Auntie Serena’s house, where she and Auntie Bernie have been babysitting Guinevere whilst he and Greta were at work. He hears strange noises coming from the sitting room.
“NEEEEOOWWWWWWWNNN!! NEEEEEOOOOWWNNNNN! NEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWN!”
His daughter and aunts are all sat in cardboard boxes, arms outstretched and swaying enthusiastically. He snaps a photo on his phone of the three of them then walks further into the room. He’s a little unsure about what to make of the pretend situation. Guinevere notices him and grins.
“Daddy’s at the airport! Time to land!”

His daughter hops out of her box (which Jason notices is adorned with various crayon scribbles) and runs over to him.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! Today Nana Bunny and I flew all the way to Nayroobe and met Granny Serena and we all flew home to see you!” His daughter is filled with joy and childish delight. It makes Jason feel very grown-up.
“Did you, Guinevere? Why don’t you come home and tell your Mummy and me over supper?”

-

Chapter Text

Charlotte’s birthday is a rather elaborate affair, not really Bernie’s cup of tea at all. But for the first time, she’s been invited by her daughter to join in the celebrations, so she’s definitely attending. She’s wrangled herself off work for an entire weekend and owes Ric Griffin a large number of favours for this. It’ll be worth it, though. It’s a “Girls’ Weekend” and Bernie’s never been on one in her life. She’ll just tag along and smile and pay for whatever Charlotte asks her to.

It starts on Friday night at a budget hotel in the centre of Holby. Charlotte’s booked them all rooms on the same floor, with the instructions that they get their best clothes on before they hit the bar. Bernie ends up arriving a little late because of a trauma call at the end of her shift, but Charlotte’s happy enough to see her when she arrives and buys her a gin and tonic. Charlotte’s celebrating finishing her law exams and her birthday all at once, her last big party before she becomes a serious corporate lawyer. Bernie smiles at her daughter, buoyed by her successes in something other than medicine. She sits at the bar, watching her daughter and her friends having fun, wishing she had somebody older to talk to.

Saturday morning is free, left for Charlotte and her friends to sleep off their hangovers. Bernie’s up early, has breakfast and then makes use of the hotel’s gym facilities. They’re adequately equipped and the room is empty save for a couple of middle aged men attempting to lift weights in the corner. Bernie puts her headphones in and starts her usual gym routine. Working out always calms her nerves. And yes, she is nervous about somehow ruining her daughter’s weekend and never being invited to anything ever again.

Saturday afternoon they all go for lunch at a posh restaurant before heading on to a wine tasting event. Bernie thinks it’s all a bit pointless and fancy but it’s what makes Charlotte happy. Never really one to fuss over wine, Bernie thinks she’ll just sip everything and nod. She certainly won’t be making extensive notes.

They enter the place where the wine tasting is being held a little early, earlier than the instructor in fact. She arrives very soon though, and the breath is pulled from Bernie’s lungs. The instructor is stunning. Short hair streaked through with grey, a curvaceous figure emphasised by her wraparound dress and a beaming smile. Charlotte, stood beside her, must hear Bernie’s sharp intake of breath because she turns and smiles and whispers to her mum.
“She your type then, Mum?”

Bernie blushes deeply and nods quickly.

Bernie, to her credit, tries very hard to focus on the wine tasting activities. She sniffs and sips from the small glasses after swirling it round, and holds the wine in her mouth to savour the taste. The fact that she spends a considerable amount of time studying the session leader from across the room is just her being diligent in her focus on the course. Naturally.

 

It’s when they reach the stage of the wine tasting where they try the red wines that Bernie’s resolve is well and truly put to the test. Serena, the instructor, smiles as she picks up a glass of deep red wine.
“And this is a Shiraz. It’s my absolute favourite and if you don’t enjoy it I’m afraid you’ll have to leave the session.” Serena winks then takes a deep sip of her wine, before moaning at the taste. Bernie feels a sudden rush of wetness between her legs as her mind supplies images of Serena moaning in a different situation.

As everybody else sips their wine Bernie can’t help but imagine the taste of the rich fruitiness on Serena’s tongue. She almost chokes on her wine and dashes outside to breathe in some of the cool night air, making feeble excuses along the way.

She’s stood against the wall, breathing deeply, when Serena appears beside her, one eyebrow raised questioningly.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine thanks,” Bernie answers in a single breath.
“Something appears to have got you all distracted in there, anything in particular?” Serena smirks and leans towards Bernie, her fingers just brushing her elbow. Bernie closes her eyes, wonders if she should risk ruining her daughter’s birthday by propositioning the wine tasting instructor. It’s not worth it, Bernie decides.
“Nothing in particular, no.” Bernie sighs. Serena steps closer.
“Someone rather than a something?” Her voice drips with promise and before she can fully comprehend what’s happening Serena’s lips are on hers, her body crowding her, pushing her back against the bricks. Almost as soon as it’s started, Serena pulls back, her eyes fluttering closed.
“Sorry,” she apologises.
“Are you kidding?” Bernie’s response is immediate. “I’ve been wanting to do that all evening.”

It turns out the taste of the Shiraz is even better when it’s combined with something that must uniquely be Serena. They’re still kissing when Charlotte comes to find them some time later. Bernie had quite forgotten that Serena was supposed to be running an expensive wine tasting session. Serena apologises to Charlotte and re-enters the building, Bernie following behind in a trance-like state.

When the wine tasting has finished, Charlotte informs Bernie that they’re all moving onto a nightclub and a few bars around central Holby City. Bernie tells her daughter that she might go and get an early night. Charlotte looks at her cheekily, then pointedly glances at Serena.
“Make sure you get some sleep too, mother!” She steps back just in time to avoid Bernie’s friendly swipe at her, giggling. “See you at breakfast, Mum!”

Bernie’s the last in the room after everyone has left. She helps Serena tidy up the glasses and wine. When all is done, Serena turns to Bernie and holds out her hand.
“Now, where were we?”

-

“Serena?” Bernie says the name softly, the sounds whispering through the stillness of the room as she traces patterns onto the woman’s shoulders.
“Mmm? Yes, Bernie?” Serena’s eyes are fluttered shut in delight. She stretches like a pleased cat as Bernie moves her fingers between her shoulder blades.
“Do all your wine tasting sessions end with you in the bed of one of the people at it?”
“No, only this one. Though I hope future ones also end in your bed too, Bernie.” Serena opens one eye and smirks at her cheekily.
“That can be arranged,” Bernie murmurs as she moves her lips to lave at Serena’s chest. “That can most definitely be arranged.”

Chapter Text

How lucky she is, Serena thinks, to have found somebody who loves her unconditionally, despite her bossiness, despite her drive, despite her Depression – in fact, to have found someone who loves her almost because of those very things. Two souls, two imperfect, tarnished, life-hardened souls, colliding, coming together, fusing as one partnership – us against the world, strong together. Always.

How lucky she is too, Serena thinks, to have found somebody who, alongside loving her strongly, boldly, freely, is willing to give and receive and listen to everything Serena asks for, even if she doesn’t ask with words? To be able to add another finger, a tongue, a little nip to a collarbone just there (oh yes, Bernie, there, please, don’t stop, oh yes) without the need for direction or assistance. To be able to map Serena’s body instantly without the need for navigation systems and memorisation of routes. To just know that there, just under her ribs, is sensitive, ticklish, will always elicit a giggle. To know that just there, on the inside of her thighs, Serena is especially sensitive to teeth scrapes and little suckling bites. And, yes, please, Serena wants them. Wants them more than she could ever say. More than she’d dare to admit. But to have that wanting acknowledged without the need for words? Well. Serena’s a very lucky lady indeed.

How very lucky she is alongside all that, Serena thinks, to have found somebody who loves her strongly, gives everything she has, but also is willing to take, to be selfish, to be demanding. Is it a women thing? Serena muses as she leans over Bernie, stretching her own muscles, stretching her fingers inside Bernie, stretching and stretching and giving everything to the woman she adores. With her previous partners (with men, but then, Bernie’s her first, last, only woman, so perhaps that’s an unfair judgement, Serena thinks), Serena liked receiving (oh how she liked receiving) but it was monotonous, boring, usually to the satisfaction of her partner more than herself. With Bernie, she can give it to her fast, slow, hard, soft, demanding, growling, pleading, ordering, asking, telling, loving. Always loving. Serena’s never been able to show her love like this before. In a way so animalistic, so basic, yet so, so special. So rare. So precious. Maybe she’s just never had a love like this to show before.

How lucky she is, Serena thinks, to have found somebody who will give, who will take, who will love Serena no matter what. Stroking Bernie’s hair – not golden curls, or a halo, or any other overexaggerated, poetic piece of prose – no, stroking Bernie’s sweat-matted, greasy, darker-roots showing-where-the-dye-is-fading hair, Serena smiles to herself as Bernie sleeps, exhausted after a night of giving and receiving and loving. They’re not perfect. They never will be perfect. But this. The two of them. Their love for one another. That’s as close to perfect as Serena’s ever going to get. And she’s going to take it. In every which way she can.

Chapter Text

There’s a knock on the door and Serena rushes to pull her dressing gown on over her nightdress, while untangling her keys from the rest of the contents of her bag. She knows Jason is waiting on the delivery of some history book or another and doesn’t relish the thought of trekking to the local delivery office if she misses the postman.

In her haste to open the door, she feels her dressing gown tie come loose and the fabric slip down her arm, baring her shoulder to the brisk morning air.

“I say, ding dong!”

 

Serena looks up to see not the regular postman, but a brand new postwoman, someone she’s never seen before. A postwoman who has currently turned as red as a Royal Mail van and has one of her hands clamped over her mouth as if she can’t quite believe she said the words out loud.

Serena smiles, suddenly less bothered about fixing her attire now she knows it isn’t the balding man with a lecherous smile she was expecting. Instead, she focuses on the dishevelled mess of a postwoman before her, still frozen in place after her outburst. Inclining her head towards the large textbook-shaped parcel in the woman’s other hand, Serena grins.

“My, what a substantial package you have there. Are you going to give it to me?”

 

The woman opens and shuts her mouth a few times, seemingly rendered mute by the whole interaction. Eventually, she manages to offer the parcel out to her and reaches for her digital signing device.

“Can I, um, take your name and signature please?” Her eyes glance up at Serena then at everything else but Serena - the hanging baskets, the doorstep, even next door’s wheelie bins.

“Serena Campbell. And I think it’s only fair that I get your name in return, it isn’t everyday a beautiful woman turns up on my doorstep with something too big to fill my letterbox,” Serena winks.

 

The woman goes pillar box red again and Serena laughs as her mouth struggles to form words once more.

“It’s, ah, um, ah, it’s Bernie. Bernie Wolfe.” She eventually manages. Serena lets her eyes rake over the woman’s athletic form, lingering on her bare calves in her practical combat shorts. They’re the calves of a woman who walks several miles a day delivering letters.

 

“Well, Bernie Wolfe, postwoman extraordinaire, you can knock on my door anytime.” Serena leans forward and brushes a kiss to the woman’s cheek. “I’ll see you around.”

 

After closing the door, Serena peers through the curtains as the flustered postwoman takes a good 5 minutes to stand on the doorstep before finally moving on to continue her rounds. Reaching for her laptop, Serena opens up her browser and grabs her bank card from her purse. She suddenly has a desire to do a lot of online shopping.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, Serena Campbell – have we met?” Serena’s eyes sparkled as she took Bernie’s hand for far longer than necessary. The elevator doors closed behind them and they stayed frozen in place, simply gazing at one another.
Bernie smiled timidly and ran her thumb over the back of Serena’s hand.
“Um, did you, uh, did you have a nice time last night then?”

Serena smiled at her, equally bashful.
“I did, yes. We should do it again sometime.”

The doors opened and a porter pulled an empty wheelchair backwards into the lift, pushing into Serena. She fell forwards and Bernie’s arms instantly reached out to wrap around her. Mindful of gossip, every nerve in Serena’s was screaming at her to step away and put a respectable distance between herself and her co-lead. Instead, Serena simply leaned further into the trauma surgeon, breathing in the smell of coffee on her clothes.

The porter left. The lift continued upwards. Serena and Bernie remained together.

It was only when they reached AAU that they split. It was only in the office that Serena remembered to ask Bernie what Hanssen had wanted. It was only in the office that Bernie handed her the glossy brochures advertising a more exciting life in Ukraine.

Serena’s heart broke then mended itself when she kissed Bernie. She kissed Bernie like she’d wanted to kiss her last night, looking at her in the candlelight at the Italian restaurant with an extensive wine list. She kissed Bernie like she never wanted to stop kissing Bernie. She didn’t want to stop kissing her.

Raf’s knock interrupted them and brought the day crashing around them. They had a ward to run. They had patients to see. They had lives to save.

Bernie had never heard anything so ridiculous as wanting to cryopreserve a body after death. Death and frontline medicine go hand in hand. Throughout her career, Bernie had seen too many people be greeted by death and never come back. Cryopreservation was not going to save her patient. Cryopreservation was not going to allow this woman to be reunited with her husband when medicine has advanced. Yet Bernie still helped Serena find a way to grant this woman’s dying wishes. Out of all the organs she’s ever seen, Bernie understands the heart the least.

It is only when they’d seen the woman off on her journey to be frozen that she turned to Serena and asked the question which had been on her mind all day. Serena’s response startled her. Bernie looked at the empty ambulance bay then back at Serena, her thoughts on the glossy brochures still in the office.

-

“Where’ve you been?” Serena smiled gently as Bernie entered the office.
“I, uh. I went to see Hanssen.” Bernie couldn’t look at Serena. Her co-lead seemed on edge, nerves wracking her whole frame. “I, uh. I rejected the secondment.”
“You what?”
“I rejected it, Serena. Earlier, in the lift and then in the ambulance bay, the things you said. Now’s the time to work out what we have, Serena. I don’t want to throw that away.”

Serena beamed, tears filling her eyes as she looked at the woman in front of her.

“You know… Jason’s not back ‘til Thursday.”
“Dinner?”
“Tonight?”
“My place?”
“Okay.”

Chapter Text

“You look as bored as I feel,” Bernie looks up to see the woman addressing her and her stomach flips slightly. She’s got short brown hair and a smile which makes Bernie feel a little bit weak. She nods and gestures to the bar behind them.
“Can I get you a drink?”

The woman’s smile widens.
“Shiraz, please.”

-

The woman is called Serena and she’s the one bright spot in an otherwise highly dull day.
“So, why are you at this wedding?”
“Edward is my ex-husband and I’m keeping up appearances.” Serena grimaces. “You?”
“I once worked with Liberty. There was supposed to be a group of us coming but Ric’s field trip got delayed coming home due to bad weather; Arthur’s wife’s gone into labour and Dom says he’s ill. Though I rather suspect if anything he’s hungover.” Bernie shrugs helplessly. Serena raises an eyebrow.
“If you worked with Liberty, I assume you work in a school?”
“Yes, for my sins. What about you?”
“I’m a surgeon at Holby City Hospital.”
“Wow, high-flyer then.” Bernie tips her glass towards Serena, who colours.
“I just like being the best.”
“That I can believe.” Bernie’s voice softens. “You’re certainly the best in this room. Edward was a fool to let you go for Liberty.”

Serena is about to respond when Elinor appears, her pink bridesmaid dress swishing around her as she stands between the two women.
“Mum! What are you doing talking with Ms Wolfe?! That’s like SO embarrassing.”

Serena looks at her teenage daughter then at Bernie, who is now wearing a wide-eyed expression.
“Ms Wolfe?”
“That would be me,” Bernie confirms.
“Uh, yeah.” Elinor rolls her eyes. “Ms Wolfe is my geography teacher.”

Bernie looks awkwardly at Serena who looks between her daughter and her new companion.
“Ellie, what’s wrong with me sitting having a drink with your teacher?”
“Uh, the fact she’s MY TEACHER?” Elinor snarks back.
“Teachers are allowed to talk to people, Elinor,” Serena retorts.
“Yeah, other teachers or whatever. Not the parents of their students. That’s, like, way unprofessional.”

Serena looks at Bernie who seems a little intimidated by her daughter. Whilst Serena can imagine Bernie being a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, she’s clearly a bit out of her depth at this wedding. Bernie opens her mouth a couple of times before patting her hands against her thighs and standing from her bar stool.
“I’ll, um, I’ll actually be off. It was nice meeting you, Serena. See you at school, Ellie.”

As the woman walks away, Serena tries to bite back the tears she can feel springing to her eyes.
“Thank you, Elinor,” is all she can manage to say, her throat to choked up to say anything more.

-

Every time Bernie has a geography lesson with Elinor Campbell’s class she feels awkward. The girl tried pushing the boundaries the first lesson after the wedding but Bernie soon put her back in her place. She won’t tolerate any misbehaviour in her classroom. Still though, she finds herself wishing she could just slip her phone number to Elinor to give to her mother, can’t help an endless stream of what-ifs running through her head whenever she is reminded of Serena.

-

It’s parents evening and Bernie is trying not to fall asleep as she tells parent after parent after carer that their child is very enthusiastic or a bit too chatty or could achieve higher grades if they tried a little harder and didn’t just do the bare minimum. It’s near the end of the evening when someone bustles into the seat before her, breathing a little heavily as if they’ve been trying to do the circuit of all the teachers in record time before the evening ends.

Bernie looks up, faux-smile already in place, then freezes.
“Serena,” she breathes.
“Bernie,” Serena smiles back.
“How are you?”
“Why don’t you tell me about Elinor’s progress first then we can catch up ourselves,” Serena smiles. Bernie nods.
“Right. Ellie’s a bright girl, she has a lot of potential. She just likes to push boundaries and see how much she can get away with. If she channelled her efforts into her coursework, she’d find her grades went up considerably.”

Serena nods.
“I thought as much, all her teachers have been saying the same,” she sighs. “It’s just so difficult, being a single parent to a stroppy teenager and a surgeon who works long hours. By the time I get home she says she’s done all of her work and is usually in a mood with me for being so late. As awful as he was, sometimes I miss Edward being there to at least share the parenting duties.”

Bernie reaches out to touch her hand.
“You’re doing a brilliant job, Serena. It can’t be easy. Really, it’s up to Elinor to try to understand your schedule and that you too are human. She’s the one making the choices to act up in class and chat back to her teachers, not you.”
“I know that, Bernie. I know. But sometimes I feel so guilty for doing other things which puts me first. Like thinking about dating.” The look she sends Bernie is filled with meaning. “I want to do it, Lord knows I want to do it,” Serena chuckles and her eyes flash with promise before becoming sad once more. “But then I feel like it’s just another time when I’m putting myself before her.”
“No, Serena. No.” Bernie says vehemently. “If you want to date then that’s an example of you trying to take care of yourself alongside Ellie. It’s not a way you’ve failed her. Edward has gone and got remarried and she’s not angry with him, is she? She clearly cares about you and wants your attention and yes, you should care for her, as you clearly do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t also find someone to look after you from time to time.” Bernie pauses. “And I’m not just saying that because of my own selfish interests.”

Serena smiles.
“Thank you, Bernie.”

Bernie rips a piece of paper from her planner, scribbles something on it and slides it across the table.
“I wanted to give you that at the wedding. Better late than never though, hmm?”

Serena looks down at the phone number and smiles.
“I’ll call you, Ms Wolfe.”

As she stands up and leaves the hall, Bernie smiles softly. This has certainly been the most productive parents evening she’s ever had.

-

Chapter Text

This was a mistake, Bernie thinks. A terrible, terrible mistake. As Serena’s hands card through her hair Bernie closes her eyes and remembers just how this situation came about.

 

-

 

“Ah, um. That’s very flattering, Ms Fanshawe.” Bernie stammered down the phone as the CEO of Le Fleur Perfumes continued to compliment her down the phone from Denmark, where she was currently based. “Yes, ah, of course you can stay with me whilst you’re here on business. I’m sure Wolfe and Co would be delighted to stock your products.”

Ms Fanshawe had then made a very bold assumption which had Bernie blushing to the tips of her ears.

“No, Ms Fanshawe, no.” Her voice must have seemed a little too firm because suddenly Fleur’s voice was no longer as silky smooth as it had been. Worried that she’d ruin a good business deal if she didn’t correct herself soon, Bernie hastily continued. “It’s just that you sharing my bed might upset my, uh, wife.”

 

-

 

Two hours later had seen Bernie across the road and in the head office of one Serena Campbell, CEO of Passion de Vin, the largest suppliers of fine wines this side of France.

 

When Bernie had first met Serena, it had not been a pleasant affair. Serena had vowed a life-long-take-it-to-the-grave grudge against Wolfe and Co since Bernie’s father had snubbed her on a contract and chosen to supply their stores from a Dutch company. Serena had been infuriated. Dutch wine! What did the Dutch know about wine? Bernie, desperate to make friends rather than enemies with the woman whose office was directly opposite her own, had managed to soften Serena’s attitude by arranging a small deal with Passion de Vin which was now a healthy mutually beneficial business arrangement. Serena had a large buyer of the wines she sourced. Bernie had both a greater range of wines available in her stores and the beginnings of friendship with another businesswoman.

 

The beginnings of friendship was one thing. What Bernie was about to suggest was another entirely. Armed with luxury chocolates; the sort of coffee which sold for eye-watering prices in her stores; and a tester selection of Le Fleur cosmetics for good measure, Bernie arrived on bended knee before the desk of the famous wine merchant.

“My, my, Ms Wolfe. What a selection of bribes these look to be. Is this where you tell me you’re cancelling your contract and I hurl the coffee beans at your head?” Serena raised one perfect eyebrow dangerously. Bernie shook her head and dropped her items on the CEO’s desk.

“No, Serena. I, uh, please. I.” She waved her arms around helplessly.

“Please tell me you’re not like this in the boardroom, it’s a terrible business persona.”

“No! No, Serena. I, um, please can you? No. Ah. I.” Bernie sighed. “I need you to be my wife.”

 

The look on Serena’s face was a combination of several emotions which Bernie couldn’t name.

“Sorry, forget I said anything.”

“Bernie, are you proposing?” Serena’s brow was furrowed. “We’ve not even had a date yet.”

 

The word ‘yet’ gave Bernie some hope but now was not the time to dwell on the minutiae of speech.

“No. Not proposing proposing. Just. I have a client staying with me next weekend and she was being all, you know.”

“No I don’t know. Do tell, Bernie.” Serena’s eyes gleamed wickedly. Bernie rocked on her heels awkwardly.

“Please don’t make me explain, Serena.”

“On the contrary, Bernie, if you’re asking me to be your wife then I deserve to know all the details.” Serena got up and walked around her desk so she was toe to toe with Bernie, her signature leopard print heels putting them at the same height.

“Every.”

She placed her right hand on Bernie’s arm.

“Last.”

She placed her left hand on Bernie’s waist.

“Detail.”

She whispered into Bernie’s ear before turning and walking back to sit behind her desk. Bernie remained fixated to the spot for several seconds before she could resume speaking again.

“You know, all, oh yes Ms Wolfe, how delightful you sound Ms Wolfe, I look forward to staying Ms Wolfe, I’m sure we can find lots to do Ms Wolfe, can I sleep in your bed Ms Wolfe,” Bernie finally responded. “So, I, um. I told her I have a wife. So now I need to produce a wife for her to meet. And, um, so I came here.”

“You needed a fake wife to meet a client and the first person you thought of was me?” Serena’s voice had gone soft and once again Bernie felt a flicker of hope ignite inside her.

“Well, uh. Yes. If you say no, I suppose I could ask Abi, my head of accounts.”

“No need,” Serena cut in quickly. “I’ll do it. Though I warn you some of my ex-partners have said that I can be very demanding.”

 

Bernie gulped.

 

-

 

So now Bernie lies with her head in in Serena’s lap as she brushes her hair into something which doesn’t resemble the usual tangles Bernie has. Serena has been briefed on where everything is in Bernie’s house and they’ve created a backstory for their relationship. Now they are just waiting for the arrival of Fleur Fanshawe herself.

 

-

 

Fleur, never one to do as she’s expected to do, surprises them. Rather than knocking at the door, she knocks on the window to the sitting room where Serena is still carding her fingers through Bernie’s hair. In her shock to get up and to the door, Bernie nearly gives Serena headbutts Serena on the nose.

“My, my, Ms Wolfe. What a lovely home you have. And an even lovelier wife.” Fleur purrs as she’s shown into the sitting room. Bernie dips her head and it is Serena who takes over the conversation, telling Fleur all about their home and how they met and their respective businesses.

“You must do a deal with Bernie here!” Serena enthuses to the petite redhead. “She always buys me Le Fleur perfume; it would mean so much to her to be able to stock it in her stores.”

 

Fleur leans in close and sniffs Serena’s neck. Bernie feels a spike of jealousy shoot through her.

“Ah yes, Mrs Wolfe.” Both Bernie and Serena share a shocked glance at Fleur’s words, everything suddenly seeming a little more real. “You’re currently wearing my latest scent, Slaque, aren’t you?”

 

They settle down to coffee whilst Bernie and Fleur discuss the business arrangement.

“Coffee, darling?” Serena asks as she brings in the cafetière.

“Yes please, darling.” Bernie responds.

“Milk, darling?” Serena asks, her face momentarily showing her concern at not knowing Bernie’s coffee order.

“Of course, darling.” Bernie replies, conscious that Fleur is listening.

“Sugar, darling?”

“Surely you know by now, darling?” Bernie laughs awkwardly then tries not to wince as she watches Serena put an unholy amount of sugar into her drink. She takes a sip and tries not to grimace.

“Thank you, darling.”

 

-

 

Later, when Bernie and Fleur have signed their business agreements, Fleur announces that she no longer needs to stay the night.

“There’s a charming lady who I am keen to make the acquaintance of whilst I am here in the UK. And since we are all done here, I think I’ll call in on her.”

“Another business contact?” Bernie asks.

“Oh no.” Fleur looks between Bernie and Serena and winks. “I always say business is for the boardroom, not the bedroom. And since you two are sharing the main bed here, I rather feel I’ll be much more comfortable elsewhere.”

Bernie gapes, momentarily stunned. She hadn’t considered that she and Serena are going to have to share her bed tonight. Her insides feel warm at the thought.

 

-

 

Bernie shows Fleur to the door so the cosmetics businesswoman can continue on her way.

“Thank you for coming, Ms Fanshawe.”

“It wasn’t a problem, I enjoyed doing business with you.”

 

Bernie nods and waves Fleur goodbye. Fleur has taken a couple of steps before she turns round again.

“Oh, and Bernie?”

“Yes?”

“I know you’re not actually married but it was sweet of you to try and let me down gently.” Bernie opens her mouth in shock. She felt sure she and Serena had been convincing. “But you should consider putting a ring on it, you and Serena complement each other beautifully. Au revoir.”

 

As Fleur drives away, Bernie is aware of somebody else coming into the hallway.

“It’s late,” Serena says, gesturing to the dusk which is settling in. Bernie immediately knows what to reply.

“Stay the night with me.”

Chapter Text

Prince Edward is nothing if not selfish. His ego is larger than the Kingdom and all he wants is one thing: a wife. And he knows just who he wants to be his bride.

Legend tells of a beauty who lies in a castle, trapped in an eternal slumber as punishment for her ambition and curiosity. Legend says she’s the most beautiful woman around. If Edward marries her he will have a wife and, perhaps most importantly, the rule of all of her Realm. He will be famous for his bravery and freeing the fair lady from her rest.

There’s only one drawback: Edward is a coward and a slave to every vice known to man. He’d rather spend his time drinking liquor in the public houses than hacking through the thick vines which surround the now infamous castle. Many Princes have failed in their quest, victim to the dragons and enchantments which make up the guard of the Princess. It’s too risky.

So risky, in fact, that Edward decides on a cunning plan.

He sends knight after knight off on the most high of quests, each with the same instruction: rescue my Princess and bring her back to me. He promises a hefty pension and early retirement in exchange for their discretion. Never mention that it was you, not I, who saved her. Each knight fails. Edward is getting desperate. He’s gambled away half of his Kingdom, he needs to marry this Princess.

On his last resort, Edward sends Berenice, the daughter of one of the finest Knights his father had. Berenice should by all accounts be a maiden but she’s a fine horsewoman and Edward doesn’t mind losing her in his quest to get a wife. Berenice stands before him and accepts his orders.

It’s a tough quest but Berenice is determined. It’s less about getting Prince Edward a wife but more about proving herself as an equal to all of the knights who have gone before her. Being a woman does not make her inferior.

The quest is difficult but Bernie slashes through the vines with her sword methodically and charms the dragons who try to stop her on her way. The riddles and enchantments which surround the Princess are no match for her logic and skill.

Finally, Berenice reaches the chamber and gasps. The Princess is beautiful. She knows what she must do, she must wake the Princess and take her back to Prince Edward. Berenice gently shakes the shoulder of the sleeping beauty but nothing happens. She tries calling to her “Princess, Princess, please arise,” but still she doesn’t stir. Berenice thinks this may be the hardest part of the quest but she is not about to give up now. She’s come this far, perhaps after a rest she’ll feel recharged.

As she lies on the floor and slips into slumber, Berenice has a vision come to her as she dreams. The magical being before her tells her that the sleeping beauty may only be awoken by True Love’s Kiss. Bernie protests, saying she is here on a mission for her master. The figure in her dream smiles and gives Berenice some advice.

“Her ladyship will only find True Love with one who is as curious, as ambitious as she. All but you have failed at passing through the challenges which protect her. Touch her soft lips and part. Part with your master and build life anew here.”

Berenice awakens and looks at the sleeping beauty before her. As she bows her head and presses her lips to those of the Princess, there’s an undeniable shift in the chemistry of the castle. It feels like a Happily Ever After.