The red phone rings at 5.57. Serena groans, but she’s long since become accustomed to the blasted thing’s propensity to go at inopportune, inconvenient moments. AAU is short-staffed, what with Raf up on Keller and Bernie not being in, and she’s sent Fletch home early to the kids. They’ve all had a nasty stomach bug this week and the whole AAU family has been pitching in to help take care of them. Today was Bernie’s day off and therefore her turn, but she called at lunchtime and said they were all getting teary and wanting their dad so Serena waved aside his protests, assured him she and Morven would be just fine, and practically pushed him off the ward.
Which leaves just the two of them. For an instant she considers calling Bernie, but she had plans to go out this evening and Serena doesn’t want to ruin them.
‘Lou, can you call Darwin and get them to send someone down please?’
‘Yes, Ms. Campbell.’
She’s examining the just arrived patient, rattling off orders to the rest of her team and about to complain about tardy cardiothoracic surgeons, when Matteo bloody Rossini, of all people, sweeps into the trauma bay.
‘The cavalry is here,’ he says with a smile Serena supposes is meant to be charming, a flourish of his hand and a ridiculous half bow.
‘Well, get on with it then,’ she says tersely, gesturing to the patient.
Just what I needed, she grimaces. As if today couldn’t get any worse, I’m saddled with him. Give me Valentine any day.
By the time Serena gets home it’s late, and she’s tired and hungry. They were in theatre for hours, an already difficult surgery complicated by Rossini’s outrageous flirting and flouting of her direct orders. How they saved the patient is beyond her and she’s reminded just how lucky she is to work with Bernie, with someone whose challenges (and flirting) are welcome rather than grating and don’t endanger their patients. As yesterday’s leftovers reheat in the microwave she changes into her pyjamas, then eats and falls gratefully into bed, for once asleep almost as soon as her head touches the pillow.
She’s ripped awake by her phone, fumbles to answer, half expecting a request to come back for further surgery. But it’s Bernie, sounding rather the worse for wear.
‘Can you come and get me?’
‘One drink too many?’ Serena teases.
‘No, I-’ Bernie groans. ‘Hang on.’
There’s the clatter of phone on tile, then a painful retching.
‘Alright,’ Serena soothes. ‘You’re alright, darling.’
She puts her phone on speaker, continues to talk softly as she gets up, shivering a little. She swiftly changes back into her trousers, pulls Bernie’s grey hoodie over her pyjama top and pads downstairs, adds coat and scarf, slips on her shoes as there’s a flush at the other end of the phone.
‘Sorry,’ Bernie croaks. ‘Think the kids have shared.’
‘Wonderful,’ Serena says grimly. She makes a detour into the utility room, digs an old washing up bowl out of the cupboard, scribbles a hasty note to Jason and leaves it on the kitchen table, grabs a bottle of water from the fridge. ‘I’ll be with you as soon as I can, ok?’
‘‘kay. I’ll, uh, I’ll just stay put.’
Serena pushes open the door to the ladies to hear Bernie throwing up again, rushes to crouch beside her and rub her back, murmuring soothingly until Bernie rests her head on the toilet seat with a groan.
‘Bloody kids,’ she mutters. ‘How come I’m the only one of us who’s caught it?’
She blindly reaches for the flush then holds out a trembling hand in Serena’s direction. Serena takes it, rubs her knuckles, presses a kiss to them.
‘Shall we get you home?’
Bernie groans again, lifts her head and looks at Serena. Her face is pale, make up smudged, and Serena brushes her fringe from her sweaty forehead.
‘Here.’ Serena unscrews the lid of the water bottle and passes it to Bernie who gratefully rinses her mouth, grimacing at the taste.
‘Come on then.’ Serena stands, reaches down and practically hauls Bernie to her feet.
‘I’ve got you,’ she murmurs as Bernie screws her eyes shut and sways, head coming to rest heavily on Serena’s shoulder. ‘Ok?’
‘Sorry,’ Bernie whispers.
‘Not your fault, Bernie.’ She slips one arm around Bernie’s waist and holds her firmly, slowly walks her out to the car, packs her inside with the washing up bowl on her lap and drives them home.
Bernie’s been so busy trying (almost successfully) not to throw up, appreciating Serena’s hand on hers in silent comfort, that she doesn’t notice where they are until Serena opens the door to help her out.
‘Should’ve taken me to my flat,’ she protests feebly. ‘Don’t want either of you getting it.’
‘If I was going to get it I would’ve done by now, and Jason’ll give you a wide berth. Come on,’ she insists. ‘I’m hardly going to leave you on your own like this.’
Bernie hasn’t the energy to argue, lets Serena bundle her inside, supporting her weight upstairs and into her bedroom. She leaves her sitting on the edge of the bed while she goes into the bathroom to rinse the basin.
‘Bugger,’ Bernie says, launching herself after Serena and crumpling in a heap over the toilet.
Serena kneels beside her and smooths her hand between her shoulder blades as she retches again, as she fights to catch her breath. ‘Nothing left?’ she asks softly.
‘Mm,’ Bernie groans, resting her head on her arm, the cool porcelain blissful against her hot, clammy skin.
‘Why don’t we get you into bed, hm?’
Bernie looks at her, closing her eyes quickly as the room seems to spin and the light skewers into her brain.
‘Maybe just-’ she sighs, swallows. ‘Maybe just stay here a bit longer?’
‘Ok,’ Serena smiles, stroking her hair. ‘Let’s get you cleaned up though.’
She pushes herself off the floor, rummages for make up wipes and dampens a flannel under the cold tap.
‘Look at me, darling?’
Bernie slowly raises her head, opens her eyes slightly and meets Serena’s concerned gaze, feels herself being scrutinised. And then Serena takes her chin in one hand, begins to gently wipe away the remains of her make up. Bernie’s eyes flutter closed again and she relaxes into Serena’s touch, surrenders herself to being cared for.
‘Mm,’ she moans gratefully when something cool is passed across her forehead. And then groans in protest when both it and Serena’s hand vanish. She hears the running of a tap then: ‘Here.’
She opens her eyes a crack to see Serena holding out the flannel in one hand, a toothbrush in the other.
‘Just going to get you something to wear.’
Bernie takes the cloth and presses it to her now aching head, clumsily brushes her teeth, breathing deeply as she contemplates moving.
Serena quickly gets herself ready for bed again, digs out an old, oversized t-shirt for Bernie and leaves it on the end of the bed.
‘How does standing up sound?’
‘Horrible,’ Bernie grimaces but shifts herself anyway, using the toilet to haul herself to her feet, reaching for the wall to steady herself.
‘Mm. Bit spinny.’
‘I’ll be quick,’ Serena says, starting on her shirt buttons.
‘Promises, promises,’ Bernie manages with a shaky half smile, earning her a gentle swat to her arm.
Soon she’s in just her knickers, and Serena slips an arm around her waist.
‘Come on,’ she coaxes. ‘Lean on me.’
They shuffle through to the bedroom, and Serena deposits her on the bed again.
Bernie complies without protest and Serena slips the soft t-shirt over her head, carefully pulling it down.
‘There,’ she says, brushing a kiss to her warm forehead. ‘Get yourself comfy, I won’t be long.’
She watches as Bernie slowly lies down, sighing with relief at not having to hold herself up any more, then slips back into the bathroom to put Bernie’s clothes into the washing basket, finish rinsing the basin, fill a glass and run the flannel under the cold tap again, squeezing it out until it’s just barely damp.
‘Flannel’s on the bedside table if you feel too hot,’ she murmurs. ‘And some water. And the basin’s on the floor next to you, although if the kids are anything to go by I don’t think you’ll need it. I’ve left the bathroom light on in case you need to get up. And you wake me if you feel worse, or if you need anything, ok?’
‘‘kay,’ Bernie says wearily. ‘S’rena?’
‘You’re very welcome,’ Serena smiles, settling under the covers beside her. ‘But if I do happen to catch it from you I expect the same,’ she says dryly.
‘Course,’ Bernie breathes. ‘Promise.’ And then, a whisper: ‘Closer?’
Serena shifts behind her, slips an arm loosely around her waist. Bernie clumsily finds her hand, can’t manage to lace their fingers so just covers it with her own.
‘‘m lucky to have you.’
‘And don’t you forget it,’ Serena teases, pressing a kiss to her shoulder.
‘Never,’ Bernie says softly, sleepily, but seriously, hand gently pressing Serena’s into the mattress. ‘Never,’ she repeats, and then yawns.
‘Sleep, darling,’ Serena says, kissing her shoulder again. ‘I’ve got you.’