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what a lovely way to burn

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Bernie peels off her scrub top and drops it in the hamper, the vest underneath clinging to her skin. She wouldn’t have expected AAU’s broken air conditioning to get to her this much. The arid, dry heat of the desert never used to bother her, but this suffocating humidity is misery.

Sitting on the bench in front of her locker, she’s trying to work up the energy to finish changing when the door to the locker room swings open. Serena breezes in, plops down beside Bernie with a huff.

“And I thought menopause was hot!” She waves the halves of her silk blouse in an attempt to generate some air flow, letting the fabric fall back off her shoulders and pool at her elbows.

“Give me Afghanistan any day,” Bernie says, eyes lingering a bit on the freckles that dust the pale skin of Serena’s shoulders, the column of her neck.

“The desert over Holby?” Serena looks at her like she’s grown a second head. “I shudder to think.”

Bernie chuckles, stretching her long legs out in front of her. “It grows on you, I suppose. And the night sky there is stunning.” She rubs at a scuff on her trainer with the toe of her other shoe. “Besides, there’s not a lot keeping me here, if I’m honest.”

“I know things are hard now, but they will get better. You’ll see.” The care in Serena’s voice warms Bernie’s chest in a way the oppressive heat never could.

“I know, it’s just...” She huffs a sigh, the damp tendrils of her fringe fluttering a bit. “No marriage, no house, kids who won’t give me the time of day. Not quite the new start I was looking for.”

She starts at the touch of Serena’s hand, the soft fingers curling over her own, meets those warm eyes with a hint of a smile.

“Then you should make a start of your own.” Serena jostles their joined hands, squeezing gently. “Get out there again, find someone new.”

Bernie barks out a disbelieving laugh.

“Oh yes, I’m quite a catch! Most women are looking for broke workaholics who live in grotty flats.” Serena just rolls her eyes, the blouse slipping further down her arm as she gestures.

“I’m not saying you should run out and get married, Bernie. Or even date seriously.” A wicked sparkle shows in her eyes. “You know what you need?”

“What?”

“Some raw, sweaty, unadulterated, vigorous, passion.” Her voice drops a full octave when she says it, the words practically dripping from her lips, tugging at Bernie’s insides like a cord tethered to the base of her spine. Serena’s face colors further. “Sorry, it’s the heat.”

Despite the temperature of the room, Bernie feels the prickle of goosebumps along her skin. She licks her suddenly dry lips, eyes following the path of a bead of sweat that makes its way down Serena’s neck, pooling in the hollow of her collarbone.

“Are you offering?” Bernie wishes she could take the words back as soon as she says them, Serena turning toward her with shock in her wide eyes.

“Me?” she says, clearly flustered, eyes sliding away, looking anywhere but at Bernie’s face.

“It’s a joke, Serena,” Bernie says carefully, doesn’t want to make her any more uncomfortable. Something flits across Serena’s face, and Bernie can almost see her pull in on herself.

“Right, because women aren’t banging down the door of middle-aged workaholics in orthopedic shoes.”

“That’s not what I said.” Bernie hitches a leg up on the bench, turning to face Serena more fully. “I think that anyone, man or woman, would be incredibly lucky to have you.” The last words stick a bit in her throat, as her mind veers down a less than appropriate, and very enticing path.

Serena finally meets her gaze with a soft smile, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.

“That’s very nice of you, Bernie,” she says with a pat to Bernie’s hand. “But I have no illusions about my prospects this side of fifty. Besides, who could possibly meet my standards?”

Bernie can see Serena putting up a brave front, and it strikes her that Serena really believes that it would take some kind of aberration for someone to be attracted to her. Irrational anger surges in her, along with desire to find anyone who’s ever made Serena feel less than and introduce him to what her children referred to at The Major when they were in trouble.

More than that, Bernie wants to show Serena that she’s wrong.

“I’m not being nice,” Bernie says softly. “I’m being honest. Serena, you’re beautiful.”

She reaches up, her hand moving seemingly of its own volition,and brushes the back of her knuckles along the edge of Serena’s jaw. Somewhere along the way, they’ve gravitated closer, until there’s mere inches of space left between them. Her eyes flit over Serena’s face, taking in the flush of her cheeks, the rapid flutter of her pulse at the base of her neck, lingering on her mouth for a breathless moment that seems to last an eternity.

Without thinking, Bernie closes the gap between them. She feels Serena’s surprised little gasp, and then all she can think about is how soft Serena’s lips are, how right they feel beneath her own.

Some part of her brain finally comes to its senses, and Bernie forces herself to break the kiss. She knows she should apologize, but the sight of Serena’s heavily lidded eyes, and slightly parted lips short circuits her brain.

Before she can formulate the words, Serena’s hands are grabbing at her shoulders, reeling her back in, crashing their mouths together.

All of the reasons this is a terrible idea disappear as Bernie curls her hand behind Serena’s neck, fingers brushing through the soft, short hair at her nape, tilting her head just so and slanting their lips together more firmly.

Bernie quickly discovers that Serena kisses the way she does everything else she enjoys - with total abandon. Her tongue swipes against Bernie’s lips, demanding entrance, and Bernie is all too happy to grant it. She feels Serena fumbling at the back of her head. There’s a sharp tug and the distant ping of her hair clip bouncing off a locker and clattering to the floor, and then Serena’s hands are buried in her hair, blunt nails scratching lightly against her scalp, sending shivers of sensation skittering down her spine as they kiss again and again.

The world around them disappears in a haze of heat and lust, all Bernie can think of is getting closer to Serena, feeling more of her. She slides her hands around Serena’s back, finally exploring those incredible curves she’s been trying her hardest to not fantasize about (and failing spectacularly), the warmth of Serena’s body radiating through the thin silk of her vest.

Serena must have the same idea, because her hands are everywhere, mapping every inch of Bernie’s neck and back, the lean muscle of her bare shoulders, fingers trailing fire every place she touches. With a low growl, Bernie tugs, sliding Serena along the bench, until she’s close enough that their breasts are crushed together and one of Serena’s legs is hooked around her own.

Through it all they’re kissing like it’s the only thing keeping them alive, practically devouring one another. The shift in position must hike up Serena’s vest a bit, and when Bernie’s hand drags along the curve of her back the silk gives way to velvet soft skin. She slides back up just beneath the hem, fingers counting the bumps of Serena’s spine, eager for more. Serena moans at the contact, her hips jerking helplessly against Bernie’s thigh.

Something clatters outside the locker room, piercing the bubble around them. They jerk apart, both panting, eyes fixed on the door.

No one comes in, thank god, but the moment is well and truly broken, a new tension replacing the miasma of desire that surrounded them only moments before. Bernie dares to glance at Serena, immediately realizes she’s made a mistake. The sight of Serena, dark eyed, lips kiss-swollen and smeared with the remnants of her lipstick, nipples pressing visible against the thin fabric of her vest, paints a picture that has Bernie balling her hands into fists, nails biting into her palms to stop herself from reaching out.

Her knee-jerk reaction is to run. Run far, run fast, and never come back. The part of her brain that’s helped repress her desires her whole life is screaming that she was out of line, that Serena didn’t want this, that she’s going to ruin everything. But those fears are belied by the memory of Serena’s eager hands on her skin, the way she pulled Bernie closer instead of pushing her away. Even now, she’s not fleeing in horror, just watching Bernie carefully, like she’s some sort of skittish animal ready to bolt.

Bernie pushes back against the fear pounding through her veins, the voice in her head. She has the power to choose, and this time she’s going to choose to be brave.

Slowly, she reaches out again, takes Serena’s hand in her own, and something like relief flashes in Serena’s eyes.

“So...” Bernie starts, words quickly failing her.

“So,” Serena parrots back, a hint of a grin curling the corner of her mouth.

Pushing back the desire to kiss the mischievous look off her beautiful face, Bernie clears her throat.

“I, ah, was wondering, well, hoping, that I could take you out? On a, um, date.” Bernie practically rolls her eyes at herself. Leave it to her to make a total hash of asking out a woman who’d practically been in her lap only moments earlier.

“Going about things a little bit backwards, aren’t we, Ms. Wolfe?”

“I’ve never been known to follow the rules.”

Serena laughs outright at that, bringing a rare full grin to Bernie’s face. She stands, settling her blouse back on her shoulders, glances in the mirror and swipes at the worst of the lipstick smudges with her thumb. Stepping close, enough that Bernie has to crane her neck a bit to look up at her, Serena bends down, brushes a soft kiss against Bernie’s lips.

“Pick me up at seven.” Serena pulls back with a wink, and saunters out of the locker room, Bernie’s eyes following the sway of her hips as she goes.