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They watch as the psych team takes James Fielding from the ward, Bernie’s hands jammed into her pockets and Serena toying with her necklace, gripping her files tightly to keep herself from reaching for her clearly shaken friend.

‘Cup of tea?’ she suggests quietly.

Bernie turns to her, her eyes wide and her brow knitted.

‘Or maybe something stronger. Come on.’ She allows herself to touch Bernie now, one hand on her elbow to gently guide her to their office, closing the door behind them.

Serena leaves Bernie standing in the middle of the room, goes straight to her desk and opens the bottom drawer, extracts her emergency wine and two glasses, pulls one of the visitors’ chairs up close to hers and sits down.

‘Come on,’ she repeats softly, opening the bottle and pouring as Bernie slowly sits.

‘Thank you,’ she murmurs, taking the glass Serena offers.

They sit in silence, knee to knee, sipping their wine. Bernie is grateful that, as always, Serena seems to know just what she needs, seems to be able to make her feel better just by being there.

She takes a deep breath, tries to coax some of the tension from her shoulders, and closes her eyes. That turns out to be a mistake, because all she can see are the awful drawings from his notebook; it’s far from being the worst image that’s ever been plastered across the insides of her eyelids but it makes her shiver, makes a frown pulls at her eyebrows. Makes her wonder how she could have misjudged him so badly, what might have happened if she’d stayed firm and resisted getting a psych consult like she’d wanted to.

And then Serena’s hand is on her arm, thumb rubbing soothing circles across her skin, and after the shock of her touch makes Bernie tense she softens, sighs. When she opens her eyes Serena is looking at her with an odd expression. Bernie racks her brain trying to place it but can’t; the closest she can come up with is fondness, but that doesn’t seem quite right.

Serena looks away, sips from her almost empty glass – but leaves her hand where it is. Bernie stops fiddling with the stem of her glass, hesitates and then cautiously touches Serena’s hand, slowly runs her fingertips across her soft skin, up her fingers and back down, traces circles around her knuckles. She feels Serena’s index finger twitch against her arm and then Serena has turned her hand so they’re palm to palm, has slipped her fingers between Bernie’s and is gripping tightly. At this angle it’s awkward, almost painful, but suddenly Bernie feels a desperate need to hold onto Serena for dear life so she does, matches Serena’s fierce grip, rubs the pad of her thumb along the side of Serena’s and feels the bump of each joint, the smooth length of each bone.

Serena lets out a shuddering little sigh. ‘It’s been quite a day,’ she says quietly.

Bernie hums in agreement.

‘Come on – finish your wine and we’ll get a taxi. I’ve some leftover Bolognese in the fridge, should be enough for three.’

Bernie hums again, then looks at her blearily and frowns. ‘What?’

‘Well, what are you going to eat if you go back to yours?’ Serena points out.

‘Fair enough,’ Bernie smiles tiredly, wisely not telling Serena that her plan was to drink a good amount of whiskey and then crawl into bed.

Serena drains her glass and looks at Bernie, doesn’t tell her the real reason she wants to take her home: that all she can think about is the wild look in Fielding’s eye and all those terrible drawings and the way he obsessed over Bernie all day, that she wants to keep her close for as long as she possibly can to remind herself that nothing happened and that Bernie is safe.

Dinner would have passed in weary silence were in not for Jason telling them all about the book he’s reading on Iron Age Britain. Serena is glad that he doesn’t expect a response from either of them, glad to be able to listen to him while gazing across the table at Bernie. As soon as their plates are cleared Jason goes to sit in front of the TV as usual. Serena waves aside Bernie’s offer to help tidy up and pushes her after him, promises to bring tea in just a moment.

When Serena comes in, a mug in each hand, Bernie curls up to make space for her on the sofa, looks at her from under her fringe and smiles. Serena feels a warmth fill her, feels her heart flutter when she sits down and Bernie shifts a little closer, feels her breath catch when Bernie’s fingers brush against hers.

Her heart flutters and her breath catches again when they say goodnight outside the guest bedroom, after Bernie put up only the tiniest token of a protest about staying over. She pulls Bernie to her and hugs her tightly, is relieved when Bernie’s arms slip around her waist, for a moment marvels at how well they fit, how good it feels to be held by Bernie. And then she brushes her lips to Bernie’s cheek and has to force herself to walk away because she suddenly wants nothing more than to be in Bernie’s arms all night, and right now she’s far too exhausted and wrung out to work out what that means.

*          *          *

A fortnight later, Siân tells her exactly what it means.

Siân is back on AAU again, told Serena she wanted to see the trauma unit she invested in now that it’s up and running. Neglected to tell her that far more she wants to see Bernie; she’s heard so much about Serena’s new co lead, hasn’t missed the warmth and fondness in Serena’s voice every time she talks about her and wants to see if her hunch is right.

‘You fancy her,’ she says that night, over vicious, lurid cocktails Serena had protested against but Siân had insisted on. ‘Don’t deny it,’ she adds, when Serena opens her mouth. ‘I spent half a day watching the two of you, anyone with eyes could see how you feel about each other. Just ask her out, Serena, for goodness sake.’

Serena opens and closes her mouth a few times, starts a few words and then gives up and sips her bright blue drink instead.

‘Oh,’ Siân breathes, realisation dawning. ‘You hadn’t figured that out yet, had you?’

Serena shakes her head, looks at Siân with wide eyes and downs the rest of her cocktail with a grimace.

‘So you fancy another woman, big deal. She is quite something, I must admit,’ she says with a wink. ‘Don’t worry, darling,’ she adds quickly, when Serena glares at her. ‘I wouldn’t dare make a move on someone’s who’s caught your eye. Not that she’d be interested, spent far too long gazing at you to pay any attention to little old me.’

‘Siân, what do I do?’ Serena asks helplessly.

‘You like her, yes?’

‘She’s my best friend.’

‘Not what I meant, darling,’ Siân laughs.

‘I–’ Serena hesitates, thinks back over the last few weeks, the last month, longer even than that. ‘Yes,’ she says eventually. ‘Yes, I most definitely do.’

‘Then ask her out.’

‘What if she doesn’t like me?’ Serena frowns.

‘You’re gorgeous, Rena. And she looks at you like you’re the whole world.’

‘She– she does?’ Serena asks, tugging at her hair.

‘Absolutely. Probably only hasn’t said anything because she thinks you’re straight as a die.’

‘That makes two of us,’ Serena laughs, and then sighs. ‘Oh dear. How did I not realise?’

‘You have now, that’s all that matters. And what you’re going to do, darling, is ask her out for dinner. Tomorrow. And I’m going to call you at lunch time and make sure that you have – and if you haven’t then I’ll do it for you.’

‘We’re friends and colleagues, what if it all goes horribly wrong?’

‘What if it doesn’t?’ Siân shrugs. ‘Live a little, Serena. You’ve got a stunning woman who is clearly head over heels for you. And,’ she adds, smiling lasciviously, ‘who’s a surgeon and therefore very good with her hands.’

Serena blushes, and Siân bursts out laughing. ‘Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed her fingers? Strong, long, skilled.’

‘Siân,’ Serena hisses. But her eyes glaze a little and darken a lot, and Siân silently congratulates herself.

‘I’ll call you tomorrow,’ she reminds Serena when they say goodnight. ‘Go and get your girl, tiger.’

*          *          *

Serena picks up two coffees at Pulses on her way in. She often buys coffee for Bernie, there’s nothing odd about this. What is odd, however, is the way her hands shake as she carries them, the way she mindlessly shreds the cardboard collar from her cup as she gazes, unseeing, at her computer screen waiting for Bernie to arrive. The way she stares at Bernie almost wildly when she walks in, the way she’s suddenly oh so aware of every inch of Bernie’s figure, the way she can’t tear her gaze from her fingers, Siân’s words echoing in her mind.

‘You alright?’ Bernie frowns, and then smiles when she spots the cup on her desk. ‘Thanks.’

‘Um,’ Serena starts, and then stops because Bernie is looking at her and her lungs feel like they don’t have any air in them.

‘Serena?’

‘I, uh, I just wondered if–’

She’s interrupted by a knock on the door, and Fletch asking for their help with a patient. Bernie immediately goes to follow him, and Serena knows if she lets this chance slip away then her courage will vanish and she’ll never ask, will be reduced to a mute and terrified teenager whose friend asks their crush out for them.

‘Bernie?’

‘I’ll just be a minute, Fletch,’ Bernie says, and turns back to her.

‘Would you, um, would you like to go out for dinner? With me – dinner with me,’ she stammers.

‘Sounds good,’ Bernie smiles. ‘Albie’s for burger night?’

‘No, I–’ Serena sighs, grasps at her necklace, looks up at the ceiling and takes a steeling breath. ‘I mean dinner.’ She looks at Bernie imploringly, willing her to understand.

Bernie stares at her, stunned, and then takes a cautious step towards her. ‘Serena,’ she says softly. ‘Are you, uh, are you asking me out?’

‘Yes,’ Serena says decisively, ignoring her heart hammering in her chest, her stomach swooping to her toes.

‘On a date?’ Bernie asks.

‘Yes,’ Serena repeats. ‘Um, is that, I mean, would you–’

‘Yes,’ Bernie smiles. ‘Definitely. But you’re not– I mean you– I'm a woman.’

‘I had noticed,’ Serena says dryly.

‘And you're– you've never–’

‘I've never been more than friends with a woman? Yes, I know,’ Serena says with a laugh. ‘And yet here we are.’ She holds out a hand and Bernie reaches so their fingertips just catch. ‘Tomorrow night?’ she suggests.

‘Sounds perfect,’ Bernie says shyly.

‘Ms Wolfe!’

‘I’d better–’

‘Yes, yes of course.’ Serena lets go of her hand but their eyes hold a moment longer, until Bernie shakes her head and strides out onto the ward.

I have a date with Bernie Wolfe, Serena thinks, a disbelieving smile on her face.

*          *          *

She chooses an Italian with an extensive wine list. The food is excellent, the company even more so. Bernie in candlelight takes her breath away, Bernie gazing at her with such care and want makes her heart swell, Bernie’s hand covering hers in the taxi makes her shiver, fills her with a longing so intense she thinks she might burst from it.

When they pull up outside Serena’s house, Bernie insists on getting out of the taxi and walking her to her door. Serena turns her key in the lock and then turns back to see Bernie looking at her uncertainly.

‘I think this is where you’re supposed to kiss me,’ she teases gently.

So Bernie does. She means it to be soft, but as soon as their lips touch she can’t help herself. They separate for the briefest of moments, and then Serena’s hand is tangling in Bernie’s hair and pulling her back, a quiet moan escaping her throat when Serena’s lips part and her tongue briefly touches Bernie’s.

‘I should go,’ Bernie says reluctantly, just before the taxi driver beeps his horn and makes them both jump.

‘You could come in?’ Serena suggests.

Bernie touches her cheek and shakes her head. ‘This matters to me – you matter to me. I don’t want to rush things and make a mess of us.’

‘Ok,’ Serena smiles. ‘See you tomorrow.’

‘Goodnight, Serena,’ Bernie says softly, brushing a kiss to Serena’s cheek.

‘Goodnight.’

Serena opens her door, turns on the threshold and watches Bernie get back into the taxi, holds her hand up in farewell, waits until it’s out of sight and then steps inside, locking the door behind her. She tips her head back against the wood, feels a smile spread across her face until her cheeks ache, touches the spot Bernie’s lips touched and smiles impossibly wider. When was the last time a first date – a date of any sort, in fact – made her feel like this?

*          *          *

Over the next fortnight they have dinner plenty more times – go out, just the two of them, or eat at Serena’s with Jason, Serena’s heart melting at how Bernie accepts him, how she’s always so willing to engage with him.

But Bernie always goes home. They kiss – oh, do they kiss – and their hands and lips wander, but nothing more. It’s charming to be courted like this – courted with the promise of more, that is, Serena thinks, recalling her brief and unsatisfying dalliance with Angus. A little old fashioned and chivalrous. Although she thinks she might just burst into flames if they go on like this too much longer.

She wonders aloud one evening, when a panting Bernie has extricated herself from Serena’s embrace and is slipping her jacket on, if Bernie is giving her the chance to change her mind.

‘I just want you to be sure,’ Bernie murmurs, blushing slightly. ‘I, uh, I don’t think I could survive sleeping with you and then you deciding I’m not what you want.’

Serena’s heart tugs at this, at Bernie voicing her vulnerability like this. ‘I understand,’ she says softly. ‘I don’t think I could stand losing you either. But I do want you, Bernie,’ she adds, coming close enough to touch her arm, to run a finger gently along her jawline. ‘Very much.’

Bernie looks at her, swallows hard and then smiles. ‘Soon,’ she promises, brushing the lightest of kisses to Serena’s lips.

‘I’ll hold you to that,’ Serena replies, tugging her back and kissing her firmly before making herself let go and take a step away. ‘Go on then, off with you.’

‘Yes ma’am,’ Bernie grins, throwing a wink over her shoulder as she leaves. ‘Pleasant dreams.’

‘Oh, they will be,’ Serena smiles. ‘You too, darling.’

*          *          *

Two days later Bernie shows her the information Hanssen handed her, for a shiny new state of the art trauma facility in Kyiv, and Serena’s stomach plummets, her head spinning and her fingers tightening around her cup.

We’re so close, she thinks. I don’t want her to go.

But she thinks of Marcus, of his ultimatum that Bernie should choose him or the army, of Bernie’s resentment at him forcing her hand. Thinks of Edward trying to guilt her into staying at home with baby Ellie instead of going back to work and determines not to be like that, not to be that sort of partner because that isn’t what she would want Bernie to be either.

‘Obviously I’d prefer you not to go,’ she says when they’re in the office with the door safely closed.

Bernie looks at her with a mixture of relief and anxiety, like she can’t quite believe Serena means it.

‘But I would never make you choose between me and your work,’ she adds, and it might just be the hardest thing she’s ever had to make herself say but it’s true.

Bernie places the glossy brochure on her desk, closes the gap between them and envelopes Serena in a crushing hug.

‘Thank you,’ she whispers, pressing a usually forbidden kiss to the side of Serena’s head.

Serena buries her nose in Bernie’s shoulder, holds her just as tight and swallows down the lump in her throat because this feels like a farewell.

‘But I’m not going,’ Bernie murmurs into Serena’s ear.

Serena lifts her head, puts Bernie from her just enough that she can see her face. ‘Why not?’

‘I don’t want to,’ Bernie says simply.

‘Why?’ Serena persists, ignoring the part of her screaming to just be glad in favour of the niggling worry.

‘Why does it matter?’ Bernie frowns.

‘Because I don’t want you to give up an excellent career opportunity for the wrong reasons,’ Serena says, exasperated.

‘And who gets to decide what the wrong reasons are?’ Bernie challenges, heat rising within her.

They glare at each other, and then Raf knocks on the door and sticks his head inside and they have to drop it and get on with the business of healing broken bodies and saving lives.

AAU is off kilter all morning. They don’t have the time to talk beyond the clipped requests and exchanges work requires, are shorter than usual with everyone, less patient and more snappish. Until Raf takes it upon himself to fix the mood of the ward by fixing the mood of its co leads and shoves them out.

‘Go and get coffee, or go up to the roof. I couldn’t care less,’ he says. ‘Just sort out whatever’s bothering you, and don’t even think about coming back until you have.’

They both stare at him, nonplussed, then by silent agreement head for the fire escape and sit heavily beside each other on the metal steps, not quite touching.

‘I’m sorry,’ Bernie says. ‘I shouldn’t have snapped at you.’

‘And I shouldn’t have snapped at you,’ Serena sighs. ‘Truce?’

‘Truce,’ Bernie agrees. She offers her hand, and when Serena takes it she doesn’t let go.

‘Why don’t you want to go?’ Serena asks again, gently this time.

‘Because I’m starting to build a life here,’ Bernie replies quietly, gaze fixed on their joined hands resting on her scrubs. She pauses, thinking, and Serena forces herself to wait. ‘I’ve never really put down roots, never really felt like I belonged. But you’ve changed that, Serena.’ She looks up, meets Serena’s eye with a soft smile. ‘I don’t want to leave our trauma unit while it’s still finding its feet. I want to be here to get everything running smoothly, to work out all the kinks.’ She pauses again, looks down at their hands again and carefully laces their fingers. ‘And I don’t want to leave you while we’re still finding our feet.’

‘Bernie,’ Serena starts.

‘Do you not think you’re a good enough reason?’ Bernie challenges. ‘Do you not think how I feel about you is a good enough reason to stay?’

‘I don’t want to stand in the way of your career,’ Serena says quietly. ‘I don’t want you to resent me. It looks perfect for you, and I don’t want you to feel you can’t go just because of me.’

‘There’s nothing just about you, Serena,’ Bernie smiles, squeezing her hand. ‘Yes it looks amazing, yes I would get something out of it, yes it would look good on my CV. But so would continuing to develop the unit we started from scratch. And,’ she adds, free hand cupping Serena’s face, ‘I don’t want to go. I’ve found something I want to stay put for. This isn’t about choosing you over work, because you and work are so intertwined. If I stay here then I’m choosing both, which is a luxury I’ve never had.’

‘So you aren’t staying for me?’

‘Not only for you,’ Bernie corrects. ‘I know you would let me go, however much it hurt you, and I love you for it. But if you’re going to give me the choice then you have to accept my decision – and I choose you, Serena, every time.’

Bernie looks at Serena expectantly but she says nothing, just stares at her.

‘Serena?’ she frowns.

‘You love me,’ Serena says quietly.

‘Oh,’ Bernie breathes. ‘Well – yes,’ she says simply, because what else is there to say?

Bernie looks down at their hands, at Serena’s perfect, elegant fingers, smiles when Serena shuffles closer and lays her head on her shoulder.

‘I thought I might have to wait a lifetime for you to say that,’ Serena teases.

‘Not exactly the perfect moment,’ Bernie says ruefully. ‘Just sort of slipped out.’

‘I think you saying it made it the perfect moment,’ she murmurs, and Bernie nuzzles into her hair, presses a kiss to the top of her head. ‘You know, Jason’s not back until Thursday,’ she adds almost casually, her free hand gripping Bernie’s knee, thumb circling the inside of the joint.

Bernie’s shiver has nothing to do with the breeze, and everything to do with the thinness of her scrubs and the teasing rasp of Serena’s thumbnail along the inside of her thigh. ‘Dinner?’

‘Tonight?’ Serena asks hopefully, her hand moving a little higher.

‘My place?’

Serena raises her head and meets her eye; this close Bernie can see her irises sparkle and her pupils widen, can’t help but moan softly at the want so evident in every part of her.

‘Ok,’ Serena breathes. ‘Shall I bring dessert?’

‘Just yourself,’ Bernie whispers, and then blushes when Serena’s eyes darken even further and she realises she said it out loud. ‘Um, I mean, uh–’

Serena leans close and presses a swift kiss to her lips. ‘That I can manage,’ she smiles.

‘Is the roof subject to the same rules as the rest of the hospital?’

‘Why?’ Serena asks, nose lightly rubbing Bernie’s.

‘Because I think I might go mad if I don’t kiss you.’

‘Well, we can’t have that. I think it probably counts as us sorting ourselves out so we’re in a fit state to get back to work, don’t you?’

‘Essential for the smooth running of the ward, I’d say,’ Bernie agrees.

‘Quite,’ Serena murmurs, her lips against Bernie’s.

*

Bernie’s surgery overruns. Serena lingers past the end of her shift, catching up on the ever-growing accumulation of paperwork on her desk, until she sees the assisting registrar walk back onto the ward, and then springs up. She pokes her head into the scrub room to find Bernie at the sink.

‘Go ok?’ she asks quietly.

Bernie looks up at her and smiles, the weariness vanishing from her face, and for a moment Serena forgets where they are, gets lost in the warmth of Bernie’s eyes. And then she remembers, clears her throat and makes herself look away.

‘I’m heading off now. I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later?’

Bernie doesn’t reply. Serena looks at her again, finds Bernie gazing at her with a combination of longing and anxiety, and flushes at the thought of later, of what dinner at Bernie’s with no need for her to get home means.

‘Serena we don’t– I mean it’s not– if you don’t–’

Serena glances over her shoulder and then steps closer, leans against the sink just inches from Bernie. ‘I do,’ she says, daring to grasp Bernie’s elbow. ‘But, uh, but if you don’t then–’

‘I do,’ Bernie says firmly, her fingers lighting on the back of Serena’s hand. ‘God, I do.’

‘Right,’ Serena says breathlessly. ‘Right. I’ll, uh, I’ll just go and–’

‘I’ll text you when I get home,’ Bernie promises.

‘Ok,’ Serena replies, reluctantly slipping her hand from Bernie. She can’t quite stop herself turning back at the door, a smile on her lips as her eyes meet Bernie’s again.

‘Or are you going to watch me finish up here?’ Bernie teases, and with a roll of her eyes Serena finally walks away.

*          *          *

Serena does bring dessert. Bernie opens the door to find her brandishing a bottle of Shiraz in one hand and a cheesecake far too big for two in the other, wearing a fresh scarlet blouse with an overnight bag over her shoulder.

‘Hello you,’ Bernie smiles, taking the wine and dessert and ushering her inside.

‘Something smells good,’ Serena says, following her nose into the kitchen.

‘That would be you.’

‘Nice line.’

‘Thank you,’ Bernie grins. ‘Shall I take that?’

She gestures to Serena’s bag and Serena blushes slightly, tightens her grip on the strap.

‘I, well I didn’t want to presume but–’

Bernie steps closer, puts both bottle and dessert on the counter and rests her hands on Serena’s waist. She looks into Serena’s eyes and for once reads her correctly instead of jumping to entirely the wrong conclusion, recognises her nerves for just that rather than uncertainty or unwillingness, sees the underlying desire and trust and – love, she thinks, even if Serena hasn’t voiced it yet.

So she holds Serena’s gaze, gives her the chance to see all that in her eyes too. And then she kisses her, soft and tender, smiles against Serena’s lips, smiles at her tiny moan, at the sigh when she draws back and rests their foreheads together.

‘Not presuming,’ she says quietly.

‘Ready to stop being chivalrous now, hm?’ Serena teases gently, and it’s Bernie’s turn to blush.

‘I just didn’t want to rush.’

‘I know, darling. But I can assure you that while I may still be a tad nervous I am very much ready. In fact,’ Serena adds, her hand trailing up Bernie’s ribcage, thumb just brushing the underside of her breast, ‘if I don’t get to take you to bed tonight I think I might spontaneously combust.’

Bernie can’t keep a moan from escaping at Serena’s touch, Serena’s tone, Serena’s words. ‘Well we can’t have that,’ she murmurs, echoing Serena’s words from earlier and regretfully pulling away. ‘Although I think we’d probably better eat first.’

‘Worried I’ll run out of energy?’ Serena asks, eyes raking Bernie’s figure as she moves to the hob.

‘Worried I will, more like,’ she admits.

‘I’ll go easy on you, darling.’

‘Don’t,’ Bernie says quickly, looking over her shoulder.

‘Ok,’ Serena murmurs, suddenly struggling to hear over the rush of blood in her ears, struggling to think beyond the incredible darkness of Bernie’s eyes.

But she makes herself behave, makes herself sit at the table as Bernie dishes up curry and rice, as she sits across from her and between mouthfuls explains how she learnt to make this in Afghanistan.

‘It’s delicious,’ Serena says truthfully, and Bernie smiles shyly like she isn’t used to her cooking being complimented. ‘I think I might keep you,’ she adds with a wink, her eyes glittering.

‘I think I’d like that very much,’ Bernie replies, gazing at her from beneath her fringe, and Serena beams at her, holds her eye a heartbeat longer and then returns to her curry with relish.

*

The cheesecake ends up being left in the fridge for later. When their plates are cleared Bernie moves to take Serena’s, but Serena tugs her hand and pulls her down onto her lap. Bernie can’t keep from yelping in surprise, gathers her wits enough to respond when Serena kisses her and she feels the smug smile on her lips.

She really is very good at kissing, Bernie thinks. And – other things, her brain adds when one of Serena’s hands slips under the hem of her shirt and smooths across her back while the other cups her breast, thumb teasing across her nipple.

‘Time for dessert?’ Serena suggests, her voice lower than Bernie has ever heard it before.

‘Whatever the lady desires,’ she replies, standing and offering her hand.

Bernie points Serena in the direction of the bathroom, tells her to help herself to anything she needs, and then flits around her bedroom, nearly vibrating with nerves and desire. They swap places, Bernie pleasantly detained against the door frame with a minty fresh kiss that makes her knees tremble.

‘On you go,’ Serena says with a wink and sashays past her.

Bernie blinks, stares at her and then almost stumbles down the hall. She grips the edge of the sink and stares at herself in the mirror, gives herself a stern talking to about not panicking, about how this is Serena – the woman she trusts above anyone else, the woman she loves. A woman who knows her own heart and mind and isn’t about to bolt – who knows her heart and mind too, who understands her fears and foibles and still wants her.

When Bernie comes back she freezes in the doorway again. Because Serena has pulled back the covers and is lying in her bed, stark naked, with dark eyes and the tiniest anxious crease in her brow.

‘Alright?’

‘Think I’ve forgotten how to breathe,’ Bernie says hoarsely, taking in all the pale skin and soft curves she’s so far only imagined, and Serena smiles. ‘God, you’re gorgeous,’ she adds, stepping into the room.

Serena’s smile widens. ‘And you’re overdressed.’

‘You don’t like my shirt?’ Bernie asks innocently, fingers drifting to the top button and toying with it before slowly slipping it through the hole, her eyes fixed on Serena’s.

‘Oh no, I do,’ Serena says, swallowing hard. ‘Just right now I’d rather it was on the floor.’

Bernie smiles, works her way down the buttons as she slowly walks closer, watching as Serena’s eyes follow her hands and darken further, as her chest starts to rise and fall more rapidly.

‘God, Bernie,’ she groans when Bernie finally reaches the bottom and slips the black cotton from her shoulders to pool carelessly on the floor.

‘What about these?’ Bernie asks, fingers now on the button of her jeans.

‘I think they need to go too,’ Serena manages.

So Bernie peels them down her legs, sends up thanks for the core strength keeping her from falling over.

‘Enough?’ she asks when she’s down to her underwear, plain black but matching at least.

‘I think I’d like to deal with the rest myself,’ Serena says, sitting up and holding out her hands.

Her underwear is dispatched of post-haste, without fuss or hesitation, and somehow they’re lying pressed together and Bernie’s breath hitches and her mind goes blank and suddenly it’s all too much.

‘Bernie?’ Serena says softly, squeezing her shoulder. ‘Look at me, darling.’

Bernie forces her eyes open, forces herself to focus on Serena’s face.

‘Ok?’

Bernie opens her mouth to reassure her but the words won’t come out.

‘It’s alright,’ Serena soothes, her hand gently rubbing up and down Bernie’s arm. ‘It’s alright, darling. Just breathe, hm?’

Bernie nods, resists the urge to close her eyes and instead keeps them fixed on Serena’s until she feels herself calm again. And then she buries her face in Serena’s shoulder, embarrassment rushing through her.

‘Sorry,’ Bernie mutters.

‘It’s ok,’ Serena murmurs, rolling onto her back and pulling Bernie with her, wrapping both arms around her and holding her firmly.

‘This isn’t how tonight was supposed to go.’

Serena chuckles and presses a kiss to Bernie’s hair. ‘We’re in your bed together, minus all our clothes – I’d say that was a success.’

Bernie manages a laugh at that, slowly raises her head. ‘I’m sorry,’ she repeats, but Serena just shakes her head and smiles softly.

‘Would you like to tell me what that was about?’

Bernie feels her pulse speed up again, closes her eyes and focuses on the feel of Serena breathing beneath her and pulls herself back before the panic sets in. ‘It just – I don’t know, just all felt too much. Like I don’t deserve this and I’m going to ruin it all and hurt you and–’ She pauses, catches her breath again, gazes at Serena helplessly.

‘You do deserve this, darling,’ Serena says seriously. ‘And we’re going to do our very best not to let either of us ruin things, alright?’

Bernie bites her lip and nods.

‘And we don’t have to do anything you don’t feel ready for.’

‘I should be the one reassuring you,’ Bernie laments.

Serena smiles, and trails her fingers soothingly up and down Bernie’s spine. She fights it but can’t quite suppress a tiny moan at how Bernie’s hips press down against hers.

‘Sorry,’ she mutters, closing her eyes. ‘Just ignore my suddenly adolescent hormonal body.’

‘I’d rather not,’ Bernie murmurs, rolling her hips experimentally.

Serena moans again, uses every ounce of willpower to keep herself from arching up into Bernie. ‘Bernie, I mean it. We don’t have to do anything.’

‘I know,’ Bernie murmurs, beginning to trail open-mouthed kisses down Serena's neck. ‘I want to,’ she adds, the words vibrating against Serena's throat. ‘You're just so fucking gorgeous, Serena, and I want this so much.’

‘Me too, darling,’ Serena says, coaxing Bernie to look at her.

Bernie is so open and vulnerable it takes her breath away, and she has to blink back tears. She brushes Bernie's fringe from her eyes and frames her face with both hands, draws her down and kisses her, kisses her over and over until Bernie slips one thigh between hers and presses against her. She throws back her head and groans, then gasps when Bernie takes full advantage of her exposed throat with kisses and licks and scrapes of her teeth.

Their hips begin to roll, soon finding a rhythm that works for both of them, their breasts press together deliciously, their lips and hands roam as much as they can while still remaining in such close contact. Serena finds herself shuddering before Bernie has even really touched her, feels Bernie shaking in her arms too, tickles the small of her back so she presses down and arches up at the same time, a gentle orgasm washing over her as Bernie gasps her name and buries her face in the curve of her neck.

After that it's all a bit of a blur, really. There's kissing – a lot of kissing. The slide of hot, increasingly sweaty skin against skin. Her hands on Bernie and Bernie's hands on her. Moans and sighs and whines and gasps falling from both of their mouths. The heady, delicious smell of their mingled desire. Coming and coming and coming again, entirely at the mercy of Bernie's hands and lips – and Bernie at the mercy of hers.

One thing is clear, though – will always remain clear, whenever she thinks of this night: the first time she feels Bernie's arousal, slick and sticky on her fingers. And the look in Bernie's eyes when she slowly slides one finger inside her: mingled love and lust and just a tinge of worry.

‘You feel so, so good,’ Serena murmurs, a feral smile curling her lips, and the worry vanishes from Bernie’s eyes. ‘Mm, to think I've been missing out on this my entire life.’

*          *          *

In the morning they’re rudely awoken by Bernie’s alarm. Serena groans, mumbles something disgruntled and disapproving and snuggles in closer. Bernie smiles, reaches awkwardly for the snooze button and allows herself nine precious minutes to just hold Serena, to bask in how glorious it is to hold her.

Serena groans again when it goes for a second time. Bernie kisses her bare shoulder, smiles against her skin, switches it off and gets up; they do have work later, after all.

Serena rolls onto her back, yawns and stretches, cat-like, her toes catching in the rumpled sheets. She aches deliciously all over, her entire body feels well exercised and she’s exhausted, knows work is going to be a challenge today: not staying awake, she’s worked longer shifts on far less sleep than this. No, the challenge is going to be keeping the smile from her face, keeping herself from gazing at Bernie in wonder and want when every cell is constantly reminding her of the night they just shared.

‘Morning, sleepyhead,’ Bernie teases.

‘Good morning,’ Serena smiles. She sits up, not bothering to tug the sheet to cover herself, looks at the tray in Bernie’s hands and laughs. ‘Cheesecake for breakfast?’

‘It has cereal, dairy and fruit components,’ Bernie reasons, setting it on the bedside table and getting back into bed. ‘Besides I think we both deserve a treat, the amount of calories we burned last night.’

‘Not going to argue with that,’ Serena says, shifting so they’re pressed together and kissing her slowly, smiling when she pulls away and Bernie chases her lips, ghosting another kiss to them like she can’t bear to be parted. ‘You alright?’ she asks softly.

‘Very,’ Bernie smiles. ‘You?’

‘Mm, never better. Is that coffee I smell?’

‘It is indeed.’ Bernie passes her a mug then picks up her own, watches from beneath her fringe as Serena takes her first sip.

‘Perfect,’ she hums contentedly. And then she reaches for Bernie’s hand, tangles their fingers and rests them on her bare thigh, her thumb lightly caressing Bernie’s.

They sit in silence for a while, sipping their coffees, until Bernie tries to slip her hand free to reach for the cheesecake and Serena tightens her grip, pressing their palms together.

‘Serena?’

‘You’re my best friend, you know.’

‘And you’re mine.’

‘How many people, especially at our age, get to fall in love with their best friend?’

Serena hears Bernie’s breath hitch, hears her swallow, doesn’t need to look to know she’s blinking back tears.

‘And how many of those get to share cheesecake for breakfast in bed?’ Bernie asks hoarsely.

Serena laughs. ‘Well, aren’t we the lucky ones?’

‘Yes,’ Bernie says, squeezing Serena’s hand and then reaching to set down her mug and pick up the cheesecake, just managing to keep the fork from slipping off the plate. ‘The luckiest, I’d say,’ she adds with a smile, scooping the point off the slice and offering it to Serena.

Serena’s eyes flick to the laden fork, then to Bernie’s eyes, then to Bernie’s lips. She leans closer, watches Bernie’s eyes flutter closed in anticipation, then at the last moment changes direction and steals the cheesecake instead.

‘Tease,’ Bernie accuses, eyes sparkling with mirth.

‘Better that you learn now what happens if you offer me dessert,’ Serena says. But she can’t resist Bernie’s pout and leans in again, this time capturing Bernie’s lips and kissing her thoroughly, smiling when Bernie licks along her lips and into her mouth, seeking out the taste of the cheesecake.

‘Excellent choice,’ Bernie grins.

‘I thought so,’ Serena agrees, her gaze fixed on Bernie’s, clear that she doesn’t mean the dessert. She leans into Bernie and kisses her again, her free hand stroking down her side to settle in the dip of her waist. ‘Yes. Definitely keeping you, darling.’