"I choose you."
If Serena Campbell had expected anyone to be at her door, it would never have been her. No, she was too resigned to the fact that the image of her beloved would belong in Nairobi, in a heat haze of memories tied to the South of France, that she would keep a hold of far more than the last few in a pub, or in an office disagreeing. No, not disagreeing... separating. So when Serena heard the knock at the door, that disturbed her from her meal for one and her Grand Designs, she had thought it perhaps someone from work, or Jason and Greta needing help with Guinevere. They were small possibilities, yes, but they were more probable than a bedraggled looking Berenice Wolfe on her doorstep, saying those three words before Serena had even opened her door fully. She was dumbfounded.
"No, I need to get it out." Bernie wasn't making eye contact, which was usual for her, but she pushed past Serena and into the hallway. Her hands out, palms splayed as she seemed to struggle finding the words. Story of her life, but she needed to get them out now. It had been weeks since Jason's Wedding, and since she'd seen Serena. She always got flustered seeing her again after a while; making her surprise. Serena was just so... effortless, to Bernie. Always in charge, polished, and in control, even when she wasn't. Stunning, where Bernie thought herself as more... dragged through the hedge backwards. Always turning up out of the blue, it was practically her modus operandi. Now, she was rambling, getting her words out as fast as she could before she failed herself. "You said your bit and I left, but six months ago it was exactly the same. But this time it's me. The high flying job or family. I choose you. You're family. Jason and Greta and Guinevere are family. Cam and Char' are my family. All of you."
"I-" Serena's mouth failed her because Bernie looked up and finally met her eyes. God, she loved Bernie's eyes. Always had, even when they were friends, before anything else. Those eyes, so guarded yet at the same time so expressive. They crinkled at the edges and their hue was chocolate. In the light, it was like whiskey. Serena simply stood speechless at Bernie in Holby, in her house! She was meant to be in Nairobi, for Christ's sake, living her dreams. But Bernie was looking at her with those brown eyes and Serena could only look back, as Bernie's voice went soft. So soft, it nearly broke.
"And I've spent too much of my life running away from people who loved me." A step closer to her. "I love you, Serena, I never stopped. I couldn't even if I wanted to. There wasn't anyone in Nairobi. I just-" She looked upwards to the ceiling, her tongue coming out to lick her lips as she let out a light laugh of desperation. "It was a stupid lie to make you not feel guilty." Eyes back to Serena. Her voice was so tender. "Because I know you, Serena. Not at well as I'd like, but a lot more than you think. I've seen you at your worst, and you've seen me. There's no hidden side of you that I won't love. That I don't already love. I know that life has screwed you over, I know about your Mum and what an arse Edward was. Ric told me. Hell, Raf told me after Kiev and Jason told me at Ellie's funeral. You've got all these people looking out for you, Serena. I want to be one of those people. I want you to be able to talk to me, and for me to talk to you. I know you think I can't do without the adrenaline."
It was Serena who looked away then. Her heart clenching, remembering her words. Stupid, stupid woman. And Bernie speaking of Ric, and Raf, and Jason. She hadn't known about those conversations, she liked to think of herself as less transparent than that, even if those were some of her harshest times. Serena was desperate in her mind to refute Bernie's claims, but how could she, when she knew the scars on her back from her mother's rings had been kissed slowly and precisely by the woman she loved, when Bernie had acted as a buffer between her and Edward at the funeral, or saved Jason's life after the accident? Their romance had been one tragedy after another, one crisis after another. Ric had told Serena, over Shiraz, the truth of how Bernie had been after she had gone. The truth about the trauma unit. Serena knew bits and bobs, of course, but Bernie had remained tight-lipped, because she had been too close to the edge, even then, over Eleanor.
"Truth is, I didn't think I could either." Bernie pulled her back to the present. Earnest now, she took another step towards Serena. "Till I did. With you. On our ward, at Holby." A smile tugged at her lips, knowing that Serena had to be remembering all those times too. The good times. They were the times when they had fallen in love, whether it was over a man with a tap stuck up his backside, or saving an unborn child and the mother from a car crash. They had fallen in love over wine and over fish and chip nights. Over endless cups of coffee and paperwork. That's what Bernie was trying to get at; she hadn't been a Major then. For the first time, she had been content with what she had. That had been an NHS life with the woman she loved, a wonderful ward and their trauma unit. With friends and her kids and her double shifts. She would never have swapped that for the battlefield. Or for Africa. "You think that's not enough for me?
"I never went back to Kenya. I mean, I couldn't, I didn't have a job. Cam had been putting me up till I find a place, and I didn't know what I was doing until I saw that they were readvertising the Trauma Lead position in the ED, and I just jumped in the car to your leafy detached, and all I know is..." Bernie was willing her words. "I think, what I'm trying to say is that... you could never hold me back. Serena... you lift me up." Bernie never would have been what she is now if not for Serena. Serena had helped her in so many ways, with learning to love the civilian life, for giving her a place to belong and for letting her be herself, for loving her even when she had been utterly crap at keeping in contact. And she knew that they needed change, but this time, it wasn't the sort of change you got by running away to Sudan, or to Africa. It was change that could be made right here, with talking to each other and learning what it was to be a couple again. A proper short-distance couple. One where Serena could come home and talk about work and the patients and the staff. One where Bernie could still get her trauma thrills and push herself, even if it was on a car accident and not an IED. A life where they could get fish and chips and guzzle two bottles of wine even though they have an early shift in the morning. Where they could hang around Albie's till the early hours because who cares, they had the weekend off together in bed. Waking up in the morning, and having nowhere to be but with each other.
"Bernie-" Serena tried to cut in again, and Bernie looked down, chuckling to herself.
"Cheesy, I know, but I've never been good with words. All I know is-"
Bernie never finished her sentance, as Serena had launched herself forwards, grabbing the other woman and kissing her furiously. Bernie reacted instantly, her arms going round Serena and pulling her in tight, as Serena's hand found its way into Bernie's hair, moaning under the assault on her lips at the softness, at the rightness of it all. Bernie loved her. Bernie loved her, and she wasn't going anywhere. Even after everything, even after all that Serena thought she deserved, Bernie loved her. And by God, did she love Bernie Wolfe. Always and every day.