DISCLAIMER: The story is entirely fictional. I do not own these characters, they belong to Holby City and the BBC.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
That Girl, The One I Let Get Away
Bernie leaves Albie's in a haze of unreality. Has she really split with Serena? Was it anger or disappointment that was driving her out? Or something else? She strides as far as the Holby car park and stops. She had no house to go to, no car to drive and her luggage is still in Serena's house. She progresses no further than the entrance to the hospital, where she intends to call an Uber, when her phone rings. She doesn't recognise the number.
"Hello? Is this Bernie Wolfe? Connie Beauchamp here."
"Oh, hi Connie, what can I do for you?"
"I know you weren't supposed to be starting until Monday, but I have a trauma case here that needs your expertise. Would you be able to drop by? "
Bernie thinks rapidly. It's now 5pm, Serena will be at the wedding for at least another hour and she needs to go and pack her stuff, otherwise she will have to run into her.
"Will it wait another hour or so? I'm a bit tied up at present."
"We need to go into theatre within 2 hours, so if you can get back here before 7pm, that would be great."
Bernie hangs up, cursing herself. She never could refuse an emergency trauma situation, and although she had intended to return to Nairobi, she had also given a promise to Connie that she can't break now. What to do? She calls an Uber.
At Serena's house she stuffs her clothes into her holdall and the bits and pieces into her trolley. As far as she can make out, she will never be coming back here, so she gives the house the once over, in case she has left anything behind. In their- Serena's- bedroom she sees a photo of the two of them on Serena's bedside table. She hesitates but leaves it. Then in the living room she spots a rare picture of herself and Cameron smiling at each other at Albie's. She takes that and slides it into her holdall.
She's still on autopilot, but conscious of grief withheld, masked by a layer of anger she is struggling to suppress. Serena cheated on her with a doctor so junior that Bernie wonders whether Serena actually had her wits about her. For fuck's sake- Serena could lose her job, the F1 could report sexual harassment, the possibilities are endless and it makes Bernie shudder. Was Serena really so sexually and emotionally deprived that she leaned towards anything that signalled to her?
For a moment, Bernie sags internally. Was she really such a fuckup of a partner? And how had she herself managed to resist the lure of admirers, and, let's face it, she had had a few, even in a very homophobic country? But it had never crossed her mind to go down that path. Then she finds anger again, damn Serena, she can live without her, she had proved that. Serena had made some stupid excuse about not being able to visualise Bernie pushing children on a swing or putting the bins out in her slippers. Bernie reaches under the bed for her slippers and wonders whether to leave them with a big arrow on them "LOOK! SLIPPERS!," then remembers she claimed not to own any, so she takes them. She looks at her watch. She has been there 25 minutes and needs to be on her way. She completes her packing and exits swiftly, dropping her key through the letterbox as she leaves, before she is tempted to hold onto it.
Back at Holby, she finds a spare locker where she deposits her holdall, hiding her trolley behind a bench. The she heads for the ED.
At 10.30 pm, still in scrubs, Bernie runs up to the roof, hoping not to be seen. She lights a cigarette. She has just spent 3 hours in surgery repairing a liver laceration and other damage from stab wounds that had threatened to be touch and go. Connie is good, but she's no Serena. If this had been AAU or their Trauma unit, Bernie and Serena could have wrapped this up at least half an hour earlier.
She sits down heavily on the steps where she used to bump into Dom, and breathes the smoke deep into her lungs. Now is not the time to quit smoking, obviously. A voice behind her makes her jump.
"Back in the saddle, Ms Wolfe?"
"Mr. Hanssen. Creeping up on people again, I see." Her heart is still pounding from the shock.
Hanssen comes into view wearing maroon scrubs and a hoodie. He must be pulling a night shift after the wedding, thinks Bernie.
"My intention was not to frighten you, just have a chat."
"I see," she looks at him as she stubs her cigarette out under the toe of her trainer.
"May I?" he indicates the space next to her.
"Be my guest." She feels too weary and confused to be much concerned with politeness.
"I have a confession to make," Hanssen says, not waiting for her response before continuing.
"It would seem that there is some pressure for me to return to the position of CEO. It hasn't been formally announced yet, but at an informal level I have agreed, and to that end, have been involved in certain developmental discussions."
"Let me guess .the new Trauma Unit at the ED?"
"How very perceptive of you, yes, that, among other things. You see, Ms Wolfe, Bernie, if I may, I fear the new unit, while it has funding, lacks the special expertise that you and Ms Campbell brought to the previous one. When I saw you were on the premises again this week, I persuaded Ms Beauchamp to have a chat with you. And I see that has paid off. Holby will be far the richer if we can have you heading up that unit."
Bernie turns to look at him, indecision written all over her face.
"But . I can see there may be a few bumps in the road," Hanssen says, with the merest hint of a smile.
"You can say that again," murmurs Bernie.
"I'm afraid the Holby rumour mill is putting the word round that you and Serena have separated for good. Is that true?"
"Looks like it," she says.
"Yet earlier in the week you were all set to give up your life of adventure and embrace domesticity with Ms Campbell, correct?"
"Correct," Bernie repeats wearily.
"So would it be intrusive of me to ask why the sudden change of heart?"
Bernie's instinctive reaction is to tell Hanssen to mind his own bloody business and bugger off, but she holds herself back. There is something in his tone, a note of genuine concern, and real kindness in his eyes. She has always known him, despite his frosty exterior, to be an essentially fair and warm-hearted man, and one who loves his staff and would do anything to help them.
"It would appear that I was supplanted in Ms Campbell's affections while I was away," she says tightly, unconsciously mirroring Hanssen's over -formal sentence structure.
"Really?" he is clearly amazed.
"Yes, really. Strange but true," she swipes angrily at a tear that threatens to run down her face.
For once Henrik Hanssen is completely taken aback.
"Bernie, I've been off the radar since since,"
" the Roxanna and Gaskell business, yes, I had heard. Henrik, I'm so sorry," Bernie interjects.
"Yes, well, the rumour mill clearly bypassed me on Ms Campbell's love life- apart from you, that is," he says.
Bernie takes a deep breath and decides to tell him. What can it hurt now after all? She holds back the information that Serena's 'workplace colleague' is an F1. She doesn't want Serena to get into trouble because of her.
"But this affair is over?" Hanssen asks.
"Apparently. And we also agreed to move on from it. But it's like Serena's had a personality transplant. She just told me that she didn't want to hold me back, and that I shouldn't give my life in Nairobi up for her. It was totally bizarre. And the person she had the affair with is still around. Frankly, Henrik, I think it would be better just to go back to Nairobi."
"But you resigned last week, you said."
"Yes," she admits. "It won't be easy, but there are Trauma Units all over the place."
"You would have no difficulty in being re-employed, true," Hanssen says, "but my greatest concern now is for what you have told me about Serena. I had no idea she was seeing someone else."
"Ha, well I think it's less a case of 'seeing' than having a quick fumble in an on-call room."
Hanssen is shocked. "Serena? You can't surely be serious. The same Serena who gave her colleagues lectures on workplace relationships?"
"The very one," says Bernie bitterly.
"And who is this person? I don't know any consultants who might be on Ms Campbell's radar in that way ." he begins.
"She's not a consultant," is all Bernie says. Hanssen looks at her steadily for a full thirty seconds.
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"Henrik, I don't want to tell tales and I don't want to get Serena or anyone else in trouble. Serena assures me the affair is over, after all."
"But? Come on, Bernie, there's something you're not saying here."
Bernie fidgets and gets out another cigarette. She holds it in her hand without lighting it, then, thinking 'in for a penny ' she says.
"Henrik, this mustn't go any further than you and you must assure me that you will take no action against Serena."
"You have my word," he replies, by now seriously alarmed.
"It was a new F1 on AAU, Leah Faulkner. And it appears she made all the running. Serena seems to have just given in to temptation."
She lights the cigarette and blows a column of smoke into the night sky, away from Hanssen.
Henrik has taken off his glasses and is cleaning them on the hem of his scrub top, a sure sign of his thinking process in action.
"I am truly alarmed by what you have told me, Ms Wolfe. And, frankly, I fear for Ms Campbell. What if this F1 takes rejection badly? She could cause serious damage to Serena's reputation."
"Quite. But if I am there it is less likely that she would do anything. With me off the scene, with Serena having more or less dismissed me, she may be less likely to capitulate."
She blows more smoke away from Hanssen, who sits quite unperturbed by it, so deeply is he thinking. Then he gets up.
"Will you do something for me, Ms Wolfe?" he asks. "Sign a two month probationary contract as Surgical Lead on the new Trauma Unit with tenure available at the end of that time if things work out. That will cover the setting up phase which you can do admirably. After that, you would be free to go if you wish. We won't tell Ms Campbell that you are staying for now. But I want to do a little digging in that time. I fear very much that Serena may have been the victim of well, a predator of some kind. She may need you at some point if things go badly."
"But..but.. I don't have anywhere to live," she stammers.
"I'll ask HR to look into that. We may have a temporary room in the consultants' guest suite. It's quite comfortable and you stand little or no chance of running into Serena there. I'll also have a word with Connie and tell her not to mention you to Ms Campbell. With any luck she may not find out you are still here for a while. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some sleuthing to attend to. Meet me in the CEO's office at 10 tomorrow morning and we'll sort out the contract. I'm sure you can get a hotel room for one night."
Bernie sits down in surprise, the whole conversation appearing almost unreal to her. But what the hell. She stubs out the last cigarette. She has nothing to lose. The NTC has already issued her termination letter and a friend has agreed to go to her apartment to pack and send on what remains of her belongings. She couldn't go back there in any case. And despite her hurt and anger, she is curious to know how someone as smart and principled as Serena Campbell could have been seduced by an F1. It won't let her go.
Serena lets herself into her house at 9pm. She stumbles as she enters, not a little inebriated from the wedding party, the mixture of champagne and Shiraz. The silence and the darkness hit her all at once. Bernie is gone. She puts on the hall light and, looking down at where she nearly fell over the mat, she sees Bernie's key. She bends to pick it up slowly, then removes her coat and goes into her living room and collapses on the sofa. For once the taste of Shiraz does not appeal. She puts her head in her hands and sobs bitterly.
8am the following morning
"Dr. Faulkner," calls Nurse Donna Jackson as Leah saunters into view.
"Yes, how can I help?" smiles Leah.
"Could you start the ward rounds, please, Ms Campbell has telephoned to say she will be late in and to start without her."
"No problem," says Leah, thinking maybe she was celebrating a bit too hard last night! Then it comes to her that Serena is probably still in bed- with Bernie Wolfe- and she bites down on her anger as she approaches the first patient.
Serena has still not appeared by 10 am and Leah is wondering how bad her hangover can really be. She goes down to Pulses to buy herself a coffee, wondering whether she should get one for Serena, too. She sees Lofty in the queue and waves at him.
"Hey," he says cheerfully.
"Hey yourself new husband," she smiles. "Not off on your honeymoon then?"
"Next week," Lofty says. "The wedding was a bit ..er..unplanned."
"I hear it was a good do, though," she says, fishing for information. She had been on duty until 9pm so had missed the party at Albie's.
"Yeah, it was great. And Jason and Greta were so happy, too. It couldn't have worked out better for us.. just a shame the third couple didn't make it."
"What do you mean? Third couple?"
"Serena and Bernie," sighs Lofty. "Everyone thought they were heading for wedded bliss too, but Dom says they broke up last night."
"Really? Good Lord, so if the Golden Couple are no more, what hope is there for the rest of us?"
"Hey, did you ever get it on with that consultant you were mooning over a while back? Remember when we were stuck in the lift?"
"Ah right. No, no, I was punching above my weight there. Had to let it go. Can't win 'em all, eh?" and Leah waves him off as he collects his drinks and orders two coffees to take upstairs.
When she returns to AAU, Serena is already there in her office. Suppressing her excitement, Leah knocks and puts the coffee down on the table.
"Heard you needed a bit of a lift this morning," she says cheekily. Serena raises red-rimmed eyes to her. She is in full war paint, but the effects of her sleepless night are evident in the slump of her shoulders.
"Oh, thanks," she says distractedly.
"Do you fancy a bite of lunch later on?" Leah asks.
"Um..no, no," Serena indicates the pile of papers on her desk. "Best get on."
Xavier Duval sidles over to Donna at the nurse's station. "Just what is going on?" he whispers anxiously. "Ms Campbell missed two scheduled ops this morning, I had to ask Mr Griffin to help."
"She broke up with Bernie last night," Donna murmurs, trying to keep her voice low.
"Oh," Xavier is shocked. "But they seemed so happy together."
"That's what we all thought but something happened, obviously. I have my suspicions but I need to be sure."
"Tell me later," he whispers and goes back to his patient.
At 9.50 am, Bernie gets out of a rental car and, looking nervously around the car park, crosses to the main entrance of the hospital, heading for the sixth floor and the CEO's office.
Hanssen has the paperwork ready and hands her a key to the Guest Consultant's Suite in an adjoining block.
"OK all organised," he says. "I'll have to dock the room cost from your pay, but it's much less than a hotel or an apartment rental. I have some research to do today and tomorrow. When I have more information, I'll text you to arrange a meeting. Don't worry about the ED staff. Connie knows you've split with Serena and want to be incognito for a while. She won't gossip, and she's assigned one theatre to you exclusively, and nurses who never leave the ED to assist you, so the chances of your presence being known elsewhere are low for the moment."
"Thank you, Henrik," says Bernie.
As she leaves, she sees Donna Jackson approaching. She gives her a sad smile and Donna touches her arm and whispers "I'm so sorry, Bernie. Let's catch up later, OK?"
Bernie catches her sleeve "Don't tell anyone you saw me here, please?" Donna smiles, and Bernie realises that she must be one of Hanssen's informants.
Bernie takes the stairs, praying she won't be seen and scoots off to her car, moving it to the Guest Suite car park and unloading her luggage. She finds a comfortable bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchenette waiting for her. Fortunately, the route from the Guest Suite to the ED does not pass near the Wyvern Wing, so Bernie is able to check in for her shift at 11am without fear of being spotted.
Three days later
Serena has been arriving at work later than usual, trying to avoid Leah, who seems to be lying in wait for her everywhere. Arriving early doesn't cut it- Leah is always early, so Serena tries not to hit Pulses or the locker room before Leah starts work. She feels empty, bereft. She wants desperately to call Bernie, to tell her what a huge mistake she made, to be with her at Christmas and just start again. But it's too late. Jason is extremely upset and moody, telling her that it was selfish of her to deprive Guinevere of her second great aunt just because of something stupid like slippers. Serena can't explain. She suggests that she might go on a yoga retreat over Christmas, (yoga? Serena would rather take an ice bath!) thinking he would be glad to be rid of her, but that makes him even more upset. So she hides in her office and lies low, also trying to avoid the pitying glances of her staff: Xavier, who witnessed her embarrassing display of anger at Bernie when she tried to give her advice on an operation; Donna, who believed that she and Bernie were a match made in heaven. Leah, who still seems to think she's in with a chance now that Bernie has gone.
It's a huge relief for Serena when she gets an email informing her that Dr. Leah Faulkner's next rotation will start the following day, and that it will be on Obs & Gynae. Let Fleur have her, thinks Serena gratefully. Somehow, she gets though the day, but as Leah is preparing to clock off, she comes to Serena's office in her street clothes to invite her for a drink. Serena brushes off the invitation by indicating the mountain of paperwork on her desk, but Leah is determined to say her goodbyes.
Donna needs Serena's signature on a form and, seeing the office door is ajar, she pushes it gently open. At that moment she sees her consultant tangled in an embrace with the much younger woman. Leah is holding Serena's face between her hands and is trying to kiss her. Donna recoils in horror and goes back to the nurse's station.
"Of course, I'm only going upstairs, so we'll keep in touch. I look forward to getting an invitation to visit your lovely home some time," and Leah winks as Serena cringes.
Henrik Hanssen has been busy. Over the last two days spent discreetly quizzing his informants, he has put together a disturbing picture of the rather odd F1 who seems to be pursuing Serena Campbell. He gets her record from HR and digs out her references.
In the EdD, Bernie is just scrubbing out of a particularly long and difficult operation when her phone beeps with an incoming message.
Could you join me in the Dog and Duck at 8pm? I have some information for you. HH
Bernie manages to clock off on time at 7pm and goes back to her suite to shower and change. She dresses down, warm flannel shirt over black T shirt, skinny denims, Timberland boots and donkey jacket, glad that she had left these winter casual clothes at Serena's. She ties her hair up and pulls a navy beanie over the top before heading out to her car.
The Dog and Duck is on the outskirts of Holby, an old pub with a fireplace, Bernie knows it well as this was one of her and Cameron's favourite meeting places when she first came back to Holby. When she arrives she is astonished to find Henrik Hanssen in a Nordic patterned sweater and corduroys, looking more like a country squire than the CEO of a large hospital.
"Welcome, Ms Wolfe," Hanssen greets her, and orders her a drink, passing her a menu.
Come on, you need to eat while we talk. The specials are good, I hear."
Bernie glances briefly at the menu and orders the Irish Stew. Hanssen does the same. Then, he starts briefing her on what is known about Leah, and Serena's relationship with her. A picture is emerging of a shadowy F1, a good seven or eight years older than the usual Med school graduates, who claims a background with Médecins Sans Frontières which turns out, in fact, to have been an internship in their London office, followed by a stint with another volunteer outfit in Pakistan. On the ward, however, she displays little of the practical self-confidence one would expect, and is clingy with Serena, constantly asking for her support. She also shows far too much interest in Ms Campbell's love life if the gossips are to be believed, and has been seen having drinks with Serena at Albie's on at least one occasion.
"I think 'lurking' is the word Nurse Jackson used to describe Leah's behaviour around Serena. And there's something else- Lofty told me that once he was stuck in the lift with Leah, and she claimed to be 'falling for' a female consultant but wouldn't say who. Later, he asked her whether she had had any success and she claims to have backed off, which, from what we know, is not true. "
Bernie brings a forkful of stew to her mouth and chews thoughtfully.
"What I don't understand is how she came to know about me, and how she got interested in Camp Bastion and what we were doing in Afghanistan if she was only working in MSF's London office as an intern".
Hanssen smiles. "Have you contacted your old friend Alexandra Dawson recently?"
Bernie tries not to act surprised. This is Hanssen, after all. "No, why?"
"Perhaps you should. Ask her what she did when she left the RAMC."
"You're kidding . Leah met Alex?"
"It's quite possible. After I checked on Dr. Faulkner's referee at MSF in London, I also did a search for anyone connected to you or Serena who could have known her. It transpires that Ms Dawson left a trail because after working here as a locum she requested a reference when she applied to MSF. She was recruited through their London office in May 2016, which coincides with the period when Dr. Faulkner took a sabbatical from Medical School and interned for MSF in London. "
"Good God!" Bernie is thunderstruck. "Leave it with me, Henrik, I'll get in touch with her."
"According to MSF she's back in the UK doing a specialism in Tropical Medicine in London."
Bernie doesn't waste time. She still has the number Alex gave her when she was working at Holby, so she sends a text and a WhatsApp message.
She doesn't have to wait long. She's just coming out of the bathroom after brushing her teeth when her phone beeps. Rather than waste time typing clumsily into an electronic device, Bernie just calls. They had had conversations since Alex left Holby and she knows Bernie was with Serena, and Bernie knows Alex has a girlfriend, too.
"Hey, urgent messages late at night! What's up, Major?"
Bernie quickly outlines the problem she's looking for information about an intern at MSF who may have overlapped with Alex' passage through that office.
"Well, now, there's a story, Bern. Have you got twenty minutes or so to listen?"
London, May 2016
"Why so gloomy, Captain? That was awesome."
"Sorry, yes, it was, but .."
"Still thinking about the One Who Got Away?"
Alex grimaced at the description as a vision of Bernie's beautiful face comes into her mind. She was trying not to cry.
"She must have been quite something, this whatever her name is ."
"She is. An awesome trauma surgeon too. But she was a higher rank than me, so we had to keep it quiet."
"And no chance of getting her back?"
"No, I think that ship has sailed." Alex sighed. "I'm sorry, Leah, I really would like to be on my own now. "
"OK I understand. I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"
"Look, this was fun, but I don't think it can go any further. I'm leaving in a few days and I'm really not ready for a relationship of any kind. Can we leave it here? I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong signals."
"Of course, but you know, you may feel differently tomorrow."
Leah winked as she left.
Alex felt disgusted with herself and for the rest of the week she tried to avoid Leah, although the wretched woman seemed to pop up everywhere she went. On her last day before heading for the airport, Leah dragged her to the pub with a few others to "see her off". Alex went along, not wanting to spoil the mood. There were three of them heading for Afghanistan the following day. One had been there before and was on leave, helping to brief the new recruits. They talked about what I was like in the MSF hospital in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand Province.
"What do you do for fun?" asked Alex, thinking Camp Bastion sounds like a blast by comparison.
"Every two weeks we get a furlough- three day weekend, and we usually hit Quetta over the border."
"What's there?" Leah wanted to know.
"Lots of other international medical personnel, volunteers, NGO workers, that sort of thing. You can't really go out to bars, but there are hotels, and the NGO people have parties in their houses. It's the nearest place to let off steam."
Leah tried to stay with Alex when the others left but Alex was having none of it. She told her firmly that it was a onenight stand and that she was not ready for any sort of commitment. When they parted, Leah saluted cheekily and said "See you around, Captain."
"Not if I have anything to do with it," muttered Alex to herself.
"I take it that wasn't the end of it," says Bernie.
"Too right it wasn't."
"Three months later, I was on a furlough in Quetta and we went to this party given by the head of one of the medical volunteer programmes. And who should pop up but Leah Faulkner."
Alex explains that as Leah was not yet a qualified doctor, she couldn't get hired by MSF in the field, so she went with another outfit and got posted to Quetta in Pakistan. She came on to Alex again and Alex rebuffed her but Leah wouldn't take it. She made an official complaint to MSF that Alex had assaulted her during a party in Quetta. Alex had to face a disciplinary enquiry, but this was easily shot down because Alex' colleagues had witnessed the whole thing. Alex was also smart enough to record the conversation rejecting Leah on her phone, so the complaint was dismissed.
"And was that the end of it?"
"Pretty much. After that she couldn't get too close to me. I had to stop going to Quetta for a while, and then I put in for a transfer and got sent to Turkey instead. Leah lost her contacts at MSF after that complaint. No one would talk to her so she couldn't track me. End of."
"So she tracked me instead. How could she do that if she didn't know my name."
"It wouldn't be so difficult- she knew my unit, she could research higher ranking officers posted at the same time. And how many trauma surgeons relocated to Holby at that time? You were all over the newspapers as well as the Army media after the IED anyway."
"Yes, you're probably right."
"Bern, I had no idea she'd go and look you up. I didn't think I was giving her that much info, but obviously I did, and I'm sorry."
"Forget it, Al, how could you know she'd be so enterprising?"
"Right," a pause.
"Bern, I'm so sorry you split with Serena," says Alex as they prepare to say goodbye.
"So am I. Sorrier the more I hear," says Bernie grimly, thinking of what she'd like to do to Leah with her bayonet.
"Go get her, Major! Sounds like Serena's the victim here."
"Right. And I owe you a drink or two next time we're in the same city!"
Serena feels brighter the next day with Leah gone, a fact not unnoticed by Donna, who is still reeling from seeing Leah kissing her, or trying to. Donna isn't at all sure that Serena Campbell was a willing participant. Her sudden change of mood once Leah has gone makes everyone feel better.
However, when Serena heads out, she finds Leah standing by her car.
Fleur Fanshawe, head of Obs and Gynae, has been back in Holby for precisely one day when a ghost steps out of the shadows as she prepares to leave the hospital.
"Well, well, if it isn't the dashing Major! I heard you were on your way back to Nairobi with your tail between your legs," she says mischievously, but she has her car keys out and Bernie's expression says it all. They go and sit in her car.
"Where were you, Fanshawe? I asked you to look after her."
"I had to go back to Copenhagen for a couple of weeks. What's going on?"
Bernie gives her a brief synopsis.
"What? That little pixie waif who started on my ward today? I don't believe you."
"It's true. And I think she's stepping up her campaign. Serena's in trouble, Fleur. I need your help."
"Gosh, and there I was thinking it was my lucky day!"
Bernie rolls her eyes. "Just keep your eyes and ears open and try to gain her confidence. I think she's going to go to the next level pretty soon if Serena keeps fobbing her off."
Fleur raises an eyebrow. "Oh I do love a good intrigue! Let me at it! "
Fleur pays more attention to the F1 the following day, noting that she is reasonably proficient, doubtless from all that one-on-one tutoring from a certain Ms Campbell, but she's certainly a little unusual. Fleur has always had a swagger about her and she makes no secret of her orientation, so it's no effort to get onto Leah's gaydar. It works. After a couple of days, Leah lets Fleur find her crying in the ladies toilets. She looks dreadful, dark rings around her eyes, pale and shivering.
"Now what's all this?" Fleur appears concerned. It doesn't take long for the story to spill. Fleur secretly activates the recorder on her phone.
Later that evening she makes a visit to the Guest Consultant Suite.
Bernie is pacing up and down. "Fuck, fuck, fuck! And you say she has a recording of their encounter in the on-call room?"
"I'm afraid so. And she played part of it to me. It doesn't look good for Serena."
"Did your device capture any of that?"
"Bernie " Fleur is hesitating.
"No, no, I have to hear it. I have to know how bad it is."
Fleur presses 'Play'.
"You little slut," Serena's voice is vicious, pitched low.
"Is this what you want?" Leah is tentative.
"Yes, yes, come on, put some backbone into it for God's sake -ahhhhh!"
"I'm just trying to please you," Leah sounds like an innocent young girl.
"That's right, as you should, now harder, harder "
Fleur hits the red button. Bernie puts her head in her hands.
"I'm sorry, Bernie."
"No, no, you did right. And you know what? This tells me that this is Serena punishing herself. This is how she was when Elinor died. She lashes out at other people because she's angry with herself. She needs help, Fleur."
"Well, you're right there, Major. But Leah is planning to take this to HR tomorrow to complain that she's been taken advantage of by a senior staff member. If they get hold of this, Serena could lose her job."
"Maybe she should."
"You don't mean that. Come on, now who hasn't had the odd inappropriate liaison?" She looks hard at Bernie who blushes.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt, but you're right. We need to protect Serena, especially since I have it on good authority from the AAU spies that Leah is stalking her and she's not giving an inch. Look, could you divert her? Away from HR I mean? Could you persuade her to take it to Hanssen instead? Tomorrow afternoon, say?"
Fleur smiles. "I'll do my best."
Bernie lies sleepless in the darkness of her room. She has always known Serena has a powerful self-destructive side. Even before Elinor died, there were moments in their intimate life which had short-circuited Bernie's brain. Oh, is that what she wants? Well, I suppose I can do that but it's just never occurred to me before. Bernie's love for Serena meant she would do anything at all to make her happy, but sometimes her own lack of sexual experience left her unprepared for the range and variety of human desire. And the darkness. It's been a learning curve for Bernie, this other side of Serena, but she knows, as well as she knows herself, that Serena would never take advantage in the way that Leah is suggesting. Leah forced herself into Serena's orbit, and she unleashed the devil of desire at a time when Serena was low and missing Bernie, missing intimacy, physical contact. The fact that Serena has not repeated the experience, has continued to reject Leah, despite having lost Bernie, tells Bernie all she needs to know.
If anyone had asked Leah if she was a vindictive person, she would have found it hard to answer. Until she met Captain Alex Dawson, she had been happy to rack up experiences which mostly left her untouched. She had no problems in being gay and no problems finding lovers, particularly of the one-night stand variety. She had left home at 16, escaping from narrow-minded parents who were disgusted by her sexuality and her refusal to hide it. She had found refuge with her godmother who had let her live in her house until she finished Sixth Form College, then she had drifted. Her grades were not quite good enough for Medical School so she did a year in Biomedical Sciences in her home city of Cardiff, living in student residences and running up debts. When she did eventually make it to Medical School, she knew it would be a struggle. She found an older woman, an admin assistant at the university, who fancied her and took her to live with her where she humiliated and punished her for being submissive. Leah didn't care. She liked Mona well enough and she tolerated the humiliation in the bedroom because Mona was otherwise generous and kept her debt -free. Mona also leaked details of assignments and exams when she could, so Leah could cram in advance. It worked well for both of them until Mona was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to resign from her job and go and live with her sister in Manchester. Leah at this time had had enough of studying, so, having passed the first part of her medical degree, she took a sabbatical and got the internship with MSF.
Alex Dawson was unlike anyone Leah had ever met. Attractive, charming but down to earth and not in the least bit snobby. Her unselfconscious tales of heroics in the RAMC were the stuff of fantasies and Leah for the first time found herself hero-worshipping a woman she could actually talk to and interact with. Alex was only in London for 10 days, but Leah fell, and she fell hard. She could also see that Alex had been badly hurt by someone, which made Leah furious. When she managed to get alongside her during a drunken night out, she made sure Captain Dawson knew that she, Leah, could make it all better. That had worked well enough to get her into Alex' bed, but then Alex had got all maudlin and turfed Leah out into the night. Leah knew this was just a guilt reaction, so she persisted. Alex was polite and although not overjoyed to have Leah hanging around, she didn't kick her, as many others had done in the past. Leah decided to hang on, Alex would soon have a change of heart. This obsession drove her to volunteer for doctorsabroad.com, which had a posting in Quetta. The rest was history.
Leah couldn't say what it was that motivated her to try to hurt Alex by making a complaint to MSF. Needless to say it was a massive misjudgement that got Leah blocked by all her former colleagues and, when word leaked to her new colleagues in Quetta, she found herself ostracized. In her mind, this was all the fault of the famous Major Berenice Wolfe, who had started this by being the one standing between her and Alex. Leah had done her research based on what Alex had let slip about the major, and it was easy to identify her. During the remainder of her time in Pakistan, Leah devoted herself to finding out all she could about Berenice Wolfe, and tracking her since she had left the RAMC. Alex had given her a massive clue- Holby City hospital. Facebook gave her the rest. Bernie Wolfe was tagged in a number of photos on the Facebook pages of Holby staff, but the one that struck gold was a certain Serena Campbell, who seemed to have few inhibitions about letting complete strangers into her life on social media. She clearly didn't know much about privacy settings. The Major herself had no social media presence that Leah could find, but who needed it when Serena Campbell was so obliging? She was also devastatingly attractive, Leah found, and fond of a glass or five of Shiraz. And it also transpired that the World Famous Trauma Surgeon had buggered off adventuring in Africa, leaving her partner behind in Holby. Hmmm.
By this time, Leah had resumed her studies at Medical School and was preparing for her F1 year. She had been working her way towards Serena Campbell for quite some time. By pure chance, her medical school was Bristol, which was one of those feeding hospitals in the Holby area with trainee doctors. It was easier than it looked to get assigned there and to ask for AAU. Leah was now ready to atone for her previous error of judgement. She had Serena Campbell exactly where she wanted her. Phase One had gone splendidly- the gallivanting trauma surgeon had returned from Nairobi to find her beloved partner unfaithful. In the fallout from that revelation, they had split. Serena was now inconsolable, especially by Leah, which she had made crystal clear in a humiliating conversation which had left Leah in no doubt at all about her future intentions. As payment for that brutal rejection, she was about to lose her job and her reputation. She would be toxic, and some of that toxicity would stick to Bernie Wolfe. Leah had considered making a play for the Wolfe herself, but that was very short-lived. As soon as Bernie figured out that Serena had been unfaithful, she was off.
When Leah reports for work the day after confiding in Fleur Fanshawe, she tries to look pathetic and bedraggled, suffering. Fleur is solicitous and takes her into the office.
"I know you want to go to HR with this complaint," she says, perching on the desk in front of Leah, "but I suggest you take it higher. I know the soon to be re-appointed CEO well, and he has absolutely no tolerance for misbehaviour of any kind. HR will begin an investigation which could drag on, but Henrik's involvement could speed things up considerably. What do you say?"
"Could you, I mean will you go with me to see Mr Hanssen?" asks Leah, affecting the pose of a frightened kitten and giving Fleur the full baby blues treatment through her contact lenses.
"Absolutely, let me arrange it," smiles Fleur, ushering her out of the office and quickly texting Bernie "We're on. Tell Henrik."
The reinstated Holby CEO adjusts the pencils on his desk so that they are exactly parallel as he listens to the sorry tale of the F1 being hauled into an on-call room and assaulted by one of his most reliable consultants. He tries not to flinch as Leah plays a section of their interaction that she recorded, just a soundbite, thankfully. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Fleur perched on the side of the sofa, arms folded, eyes fixed on the rather dull, air force blue NHS carpet.
"This is a very serious complaint, Dr. Faulkner. While this is ongoing I need you to avoid any and all contact with Ms Campbell. She will be placed on immediate suspension, as is customary, and we will take this forward. Please do not discuss this case with anyone. Once we have established all the facts and given Ms Campbell the opportunity to put forward a defence, we will call you back in. There is no need to suspend you at the moment, but you will be under Ms Fanshawe's direct supervision, and any hint of an attempt to discuss the case with others will result in your own suspension. Am I clear?"
"Yes, Mr. Hanssen. Thank you." Leah looks down demurely as Hanssen prepares to dismiss her. He raises his eyebrows and addresses Fleur.
"Ms Fanshawe, I leave Dr. Faulkner in your capable hands. I'll be in touch."
Once they have gone, Henrik picks up the phone. "Ms. Campbell? I wonder if you could spare me a moment of your time."
Serena's day couldn't be made any worse. Or so she believes. Sitting in her office fanning herself through a succession of hot flushes, she is also seriously hungover and drowning in paperwork. Every day after work, Leah is waiting for her. Every time she goes to Pulses, Leah contrives to be there. Serena has been as brutal as she can about the fact that this was a one-off thing in the on-call room, an experience she now bitterly regrets, but Leah seems to think that Bernie's departure has opened the door wider.
If Serena ever thought that by letting Bernie go she was being noble, she has had plenty of time to unthink it. Her self-disgust at the weakness she gave into by pulling Leah into the on-call room triggered the belief that she was unworthy of Bernie; that and the fact that Bernie could obviously cope with a long distance relationship much better than Serena. The three weeks of radio silence, when she tried so many times to call and message Bernie, only to get no reply, planted the seed of doubt in her mind about whether their relationship could survive. Serena has always been confident in her sexuality, but the years of humiliation with Edward, and her mother's constant put-downs have made her crave reassurance in her relationship. This is something Bernie, who struggles with communication, has overlooked. In Serena's mind, Bernie accepted her suggestion that their lives were diverging much too hastily, which led her to believe that Bernie wanted out of the relationship. That and the vague suggestion that she might have someone else in Nairobi. So she let her go. The pain and the emptiness have since been unbearable.
Henrik Hanssen's face does nothing to ease the strain of the day. Fifteen minutes later, Serena is back outside the office in a state of absolute shock, clutching a suspension notice. She heads back to her office and falls into her chair, stunned.
Donna Jackson puts her phone back into her pocket after reading Hanssen's text and goes to Serena's office.
"Ms Campbell ." she sees the look on Serena's face. "Is there something wrong?"
Serena looks up at her and bursts into tears. Donna closes the door and goes over to her, patting her on the shoulder.
"What is it? Is there anything I can do to help?"
"No," sobs Serena. "I've been suspended, and it's all my fault. I should have seen this coming."
Bit by bit, Donna extracts the information that Leah has brought a complaint of sexual harassment against her. Serena doesn't go into detail, and Donna is not aware of the incident in the on-call room, just that Leah had obviously been pursuing Serena, something Donna had also seen for herself.
"I'm so sorry, Serena. But I saw the way she was throwing herself at you. I'm more than willing to give evidence."
"Thank you, Donna. Is there " Serena tries to swallow her humiliation "is there anyone else, do you think, who saw or overheard anything that would support my claim that she was pursuing me, not the other way round?"
"Let me ask around discreetly, OK? Don't worry, Serena, we'll stand up for you. I always thought she was creepy, the way she hung on to your coat-tails. Zav saw it, too."
Serena gathers her things and dries her eyes. Having the support of her staff was critical. But would they feel the same if they knew what she had done? Serena hurries out to her car, head down.
Henrik Hanssen has spent two more days painstakingly gathering evidence from his staff about the relationship between Leah and Serena. He doesn't believe in giving people a free pass if they transgress, but petty vindictiveness is something he can't tolerate. Serena has been unwise, that much is clear, but the accusation of sexual harassment is just as clearly unsustainable. He has not informed HR of anything beyond the fact of Ms Campbell's suspension pending an investigation into an as yet unproven allegation.
Leah is surprised but secretly glad to see Serena Campbell in Hanssen's office when she answers his summons. She shoots her a long look but Serena breaks eye contact and looks down. Serena is composed but she is pale and her cheeks are sunken.
Hanssen is brisk and businesslike.
"Dr. Faulkner, we have looked into your complaint, and I have asked Ms Campbell to attend today so that we can resolve this appropriately."
Leah suppresses a smirk.
"The substance of your complaint is as follows: firstly, that Ms Campbell subjected you to several months of innuendo and sexual suggestion; that she kissed you on several occasions; and that she dragged you into an on-call room on the 10th December last year where she coerced you into performing sex acts on her."
Serena is squirming. Leah looks up and looks directly at Hanssen, her eyes wide and innocent.
"Yes, that's right."
"So could you please start by telling us how this situation began."
Leah clears her throat.
"On October 1st last year, Ms Campbell's birthday, she invited me to have drinks with her at Albie's. She told me about her relationship with Ms Wolfe, who was in Nairobi, and she made it clear that she was very lonely."
"I see," Hanssen lets a pause develop. "And why do you think Ms Campbell was targeting you? What had you told her, for example, about yourself that might have encouraged her?"
"She knew I was gay. I mentioned a previous relationship. That's why she opened up to me."
"I see. So what did Ms Campbell say or do to suggest that you might be the solution to her loneliness?"
"Well, she she put her hand on my knee and told me her house wasn't far away."
"And how did you respond?"
"I..I was taken aback. Ms Campbell is a consultant and I'm an F1. She's much older than me. I was shocked, to tell you the truth. But I made an excuse and left."
Serena quirks an eyebrow but remains silent. Leah is finding it hard now to make eye contact with her.
"So why didn't you simply tell Ms Campbell that her behaviour was unacceptable and that you were not interested?"
"Well, like I said, I was intimidated. She's much more powerful than me. I thought that if I just left and didn't take her hint, she would understand I wasn't interested."
The story continues in the same way. According to Leah, it is Serena who kisses Leah on more than one occasion, beginning with the kiss in the office. It is Serena who says "I can't help myself" as a reason for kissing her, not Leah. When they get to the description of the night in the on-call room, Serena practically rapes Leah, if her version is to be believed.
"And when Ms Wolfe arrived on December 11th, how did Ms Campbell react?"
"She threatened me she said that if I said anything to Ms Wolfe about our relationship she would end my career."
"And did you? Say anything to Ms Wolfe?"
"No, of course not. But she knew. She worked it out. You could see. That's why she left again. She decided to break up with Ms Campbell because of her infidelity."
"And after Ms Wolfe's departure- how did Ms Campbell act around you?"
"She was angry with me. She accused me of telling Ms Wolfe about us, which led to Ms Wolfe ending the relationship."
"And what decided you to bring this complaint? After all, by your own admission there was no sexual activity between you after December 10th, so why wait until now to complain?"
Leah looks down, trying for the little girl lost look. This is the part she's been working on, the weakest part of her case.
"I was traumatised. By the encounter in the on-call room. I know it was wrong of me to let myself be suckered in, but it was a power thing. She overpowered me, I mean with her attention to me, and I was kind of fascinated. But it felt wrong. She was forcing me to do stuff I didn't want to. Then, afterwards, threatening me. When I moved to Ms Fanshawe's ward I felt safer, but I kept bumping into Ms Campbell and she warned me once or twice not to say anything."
Hanssen sits back in his chair, steeples his fingers.
"Dr. Faulkner, I have investigated your complaint with great thoroughness. It would appear that the encounters you describe are accurate insofar as we can corroborate your presence with Ms Campbell on those days at those times."
Leah smiles demurely.
"But your version of those interactions is at odds with the versions given here in these witness statements by other staff members."
Leah's mouth opens in an "o" shape.
Hanssen has a folder on the desk in front of him from which he takes a stack of witness statements. He holds them up.
"You may have thought you were unobserved, but in a hospital that is a very difficult thing to achieve. I had to go to a wide range of staff members to piece together this information. I put out an enquiry for anyone who had observed any interaction between yourself and Ms Campbell, or who had overheard anything relevant, to come forward without telling them why. This is the result. As you yourself can see, some of these people do not actually know you or Ms Campbell personally. Such as the porter, Rudy, who overheard Ms Campbell telling you that any relationship between you was over and that she was not interested. That was last week, as observed in the car park, where you had been waiting by Ms Campbell's car. And then there is Mr. Copeland from Keller ward who was in Albie's the night you say Ms Campbell propositioned you. He clearly saw you put your hand on her knee and saw her leave shortly afterwards, looking somewhat troubled. Or Nurse Chiltern from Keller ward with whom you had a conversation in a lift that made it clear that you had quote 'fallen for' a female consultant and were wondering what to do about it. Ms Campbell's own ward staff have also observed a number of interactions which clearly make you the instigator of these advances, not Ms Campbell."
Leah looks up with tears in her eyes.
"But but.. of course they would support her."
"You are not hearing me, Dr. Faulkner. I did not ask anyone to speak in Ms Campbell's defence. I merely asked for any witnesses to describe what they had seen. I did not specify the reason for my enquiry. The picture that emerges is clear, I think."
"But..but what about my recording the on-call room. That proves it."
Hanssen looks over at Serena. She addresses him, not Leah.
"Henrik, I have confessed to you that I did, in fact, have a sexual encounter with Dr Faulkner in the on -call room. It was totally unprofessional and inappropriate. I am willing to accept whatever sanctions the hospital wishes to make in this case as I accept full responsibility for my poor judgement. However, not only was this encounter totally consensual, it was the culmination of several months of Dr Faulkner pursuing me. Afterwards, I did not threaten Dr Faulkner. She told me that she would not talk about it and as far as I am aware she didn't. My act of infidelity with Dr Faulkner was not the main reason for Ms Wolfe and I to separate. We simply agreed that our lives were going in different directions. You and I have heard only a clip from that recording, which suggests a scenario that is, in fact, quite inaccurate. If you could get hold of the entire recording, I believe a different picture would emerge."
"Dr Faulkner, did you record the entire interaction?" asks Hanssen
"Er..no..that is to say.. just a bit. But it was all the same."
Hanssen gets to his feet and opens the door.
"Ms Fanshawe, would you come in, please."
Fleur enters. She is carrying a laptop with a USB inserted.
"Dr. Faulkner has perhaps forgotten, but she downloaded the entire recording into her work PC. She then edited the clip in her phone to cut out the parts she didn't want us to hear," says Fleur, sitting down and placing the laptop on the desk. "This, for example."
"God, Serena, I've wanted you for so long, dreamed about doing this, just wanted to [heavy breathing] taste you, touch you, mmm "
Fleur presses stop and looks at Leah, eyebrows raised. Leah is blushing furiously.
"I won't play the rest of it to spare Ms Campbell's blushes, but I can assure you, Henrik, that it substantiates Ms Campbell's claim that the encounter was consensual, and also that Dr Faulkner had clearly been pursuing Ms Campbell prior to this."
She leaves the room.
Hanssen's eyebrows are raised as he asks: "Well, Dr. Faulkner, what do you have to say to this?"
Leah appears lost for words. A tear appears in her eye and slides slowly, in cinematographic fashion, down her cheek.
"I did a little more investigating, because I'm thorough like that when it comes to the integrity of my staff., especially my senior consultants. Your references are good but they fail to mention a certain episode which would shed some light on the current complaint."
Serena raises her head in surprise, but Leah looks blank.
"The incident in which you accused a doctor with MSF of assaulting you in Pakistan occurred when you were no longer with that organisation, for example, and your employer at that time, or your line manager, who wrote your reference, was possibly not aware of the accusation since it was made directly to MSF in Afghanistan, not via them."
A look of panic is starting to appear on Leah's face and she looks down at her lap, while Serena's eyebrows are going up. Hanssen presses a button on his phone and ten seconds later the door opens. Serena doesn't know the person who enters, but as soon as she crosses Leah's line of vision, she can see Leah start in horror.
"Ms Campbell, allow me to introduce Dr. Alexandra Dawson, former anaesthetist with MSF and captain in the RAMC, serving in the same unit as Ms Wolfe. "
Alex smiles warmly at Serena. "It's good to finally meet you, Serena. Bernie has told me so much about you."
"Er, likewise, Alex," says a surprised Serena.
"Dr. Dawson, please tell us the circumstances of your relationship with Dr. Faulkner, and the outcome."
Alex tells her story in plain and simple language. She also has a print out of MSF's investigation results in which they conclude that Leah's complaint is "totally unfounded and malicious in intent."
Serena turns to Leah with an expression of disdain. Leah is giving a creditable impression of a snail retreating inside its shell.
"So tell me, Dr. Faulkner," she says, in a voice heavily overlaid with irony, "what you hoped to achieve by initiating relationships with Dr. Dawson and myself, and then accusing us of fictitious assaults?"
Leah says nothing. Alex steps in.
"With all due respect, Serena, I don't believe that either you or I are the real targets of Dr. Faulkner's malice."
Leah turns her blue gaze on Alex. "I loved you," she bursts out. "I loved you but you just didn't see me. You could only see her."
Serena meets Alex's eyes as the penny drops.
"Bernie. It was Bernie you wanted to hurt. Is that right, Leah?" asks Serena.
Leah nods. She is crying too hard to answer.
"You wanted Alex, but you thought she rejected you because she was still in love with Bernie. So you tracked Bernie, and you found me. And you tried to hurt Bernie by stealing me away from her. Then by causing a scandal to discredit me."
Hanssen looks at Alex and nods. She gets up and leaves the room.
"So now we appear to have established the truth of these sorry affairs," Hanssen says. "The evidence totally exonerates Ms Campbell of the charge you made against her, although it doesn't excuse her of unprofessionalism in conducting a workplace relationship with a junior colleague on hospital property. I shall deal with this separately."
He pauses and taps a pencil on the blotter.
"Dr. Faulkner, it is my view that you are a damaged young woman. It would be irresponsible of me not to dismiss you from this hospital with immediate effect. Furthermore, I need to inform your Medical School of what has happened here so that they can take appropriate action with regard to your medical career."
Leah is still looking at the carpet, sobbing. Hanssen's voice gets a little gentler.
"There is, however, one thing I am prepared to do for you. This complaint has not yet been forwarded to HR, so it has not entered the official hospital records. It is up to me how we do this. I would like to make you a proposal."
Leah looks up cautiously, blinking through her tears.
"I am prepared to give you the opportunity of withdrawing the complaint against Ms Campbell so that what goes on record is limited. This is for both your own and Ms Campbell's sake as well as the need to save on unnecessary paperwork. However, the quid pro quo is that you agree to get counselling therapy before deciding whether or not to resume your medical career. I can refer you to the Psych Unit here at Holby."
"So, you mean my medical school doesn't need to know what happened?"
"No, that is not what I meant. I will have to give them an account, together with the recommendation that you pause your medical career until you have received appropriate therapy from a professional and been assessed as fit to resume. But the specific details of the complaint can be suppressed if you withdraw it."
"Then please go and pack up your things and meet me in HR in fifteen minutes. "
Leah gets up and leaves the room.
"So, Ms Campbell," Hanssen takes his glasses off and polishes them on his tie.
"I'm sorry, Henrik, I know you'll have to fire me for this. And I totally deserve it. It was unprofessional and "
"And unworthy of you, Serena. I'm not going to fire you. I'm not even going to suspend you because I think you've suffered enough, and good consultants are hard to find. But let this be a warning. If this was a one-off, which I fervently hope it was, it is never to be repeated. I can see that Dr Faulkner put you under a great deal of pressure, and that you were feeling vulnerable. But if there is a next time, it will be the disciplinary board."
Serena nods fervently, as Hanssen stands up.
"Stay there, Serena. I'm going to HR to deal with Dr Faulkner's release from duty. In the meantime there's someone you need to talk to."
He leaves the room and Serena hears him say a few words to someone outside. The door opens and closes again. Serena looks up.
"Bernie! I thought you had gone back to Nairobi!"
"They wouldn't have me," Bernie laughs, tossing her hair. "And besides, I had to come and rescue you from the clutches of Dr. Faulkner!"
Serena's eyes fill with tears, then she stands and moves into the circle of Bernie's waiting arms.
7pm the same evening
"So, you see, I felt I had to let you go because I had spoiled everything. I was unworthy of you," Serena says, putting down her cup.
They are drinking tea in Serena's house. Tea because Bernie wants to keep a clear head and she doesn't want Serena getting over-emotional with alcohol.
"I thought we had gone past that," Bernie says, tenderly, holding one of Serena's hands.
"When I promised to wait for you for eternity, that's what I meant. The fact that you were unfaithful, even if it was as the victim of a stalker, made me realise I was not making things easy for you. "
"And then you suggested you might have someone else in Nairobi," sniffs Serena, wiping her nose with a tissue.
Bernie drops her hand and looks at her horrified. "Oh no, no Serena. That isn't what I meant at all! I was trying to make you feel better by suggesting that I might not be alone for long if we split. I absolutely was NOT referring to any specific person."
"I was so stupid," says Serena sadly. "I nearly lost the love of my life over a silly misunderstanding."
"And these!" Bernie reaches into her bag and brings out her slippers. They both laugh, then Serena says a little shyly "Do you think we could put these back in the bedroom where they belong?"
Bernie looks at her for a long moment.
"The slippers, yes. As a reminder and a promise. But we need to get a few things straight before I follow them."
She inches forward on the sofa and takes Serena's hand again, stroking the knuckles.
"You hurt me, Serena. I can't pretend you didn't. As I said before, this is not insurmountable, we can survive it. But we have to address the root cause. I take responsibility for some of that because I was a crap correspondent. I need to do better with communication. If I'm to come back, to settle here in Holby, to run the Trauma Unit in the ED, which is where I've been for the last week, we need to have some ground rules."
"Agreed. You need to answer your phone and messages. Don't leave me wondering where you are, if you're hurt, busy, whatever . we need to be on the same wavelength."
"You're right. And I promise to do my best and borrow someone's phone to let you know next time this one is dropped, lost or whatever."
Serena pulls an "Oh, you!" face. Bernie continues.
"But you need to share your feelings with me, and let me in if something is going on. If you had only told me earlier about Dr. Faulkner, maybe none of this would have happened."
"I'm still amazed by how you and Henrik figured it all out," Serena says. "I mean, I know my own staff would have supported me with regard to her pursuing me, but the rest it's just incredible. I should have thanked Alex for coming here in person to help me."
"You'll have a chance. She's staying overnight and I thought we could take her to lunch tomorrow before she gets the train back to London."
"So where is she now?"
"Fleur took her out for drinks."
They both burst into giggles, Bernie honking uncontrollably at the thought of Fleur trying to get into Alex' skin tight jeans.
"So where's she staying?"
"In my Guest Consultant Suite at the hospital."
Bernie raises her eyebrows. "Well, I rather think that's your call, Ms Campbell! Wouldn't want to make you jealous."
Serena smacks her on the knee.
"I was thinking along the lines of Linguine Puttanesca and a nice bottle of Shiraz with a rerun of the 'Carol' DVD?"
She waggles her eyebrows.
"Well, that's a very tempting offer ." Bernie smiles. "And could lead to one falling asleep on the sofa, not really in a fit state to drive back."
"Precisely. Shall I start making the sauce?"
"I'll just go and grab my overnight stuff. Give me 30 minutes."
25 minutes later, Bernie is ringing the bell to be let back in. The sight that greets her eyes is not what she expected. Instead of the enticing aroma of a rich, spicy tomato sauce, she is hit with a whiff of baby vomit. Serena opens the door holding a squalling Guinevere to her shoulder, dabbing at her shirt with kitchen roll.
"Sorry, Bernie.. the best laid plans and all that! Greta cut her finger and Jason's had to take her to the ED. We're babysitting for the night."
Bernie steps inside, takes off her coat and boots and puts on the slippers she left there.
"Give her to me. Now go and make that sauce!"
As Serena chops garlic and opens a can of tomatoes and another of anchovies, she hears Bernie talking to Guinevere in the living room.
"Sshh, it's OK darling, Auntie Bernie's here, everything's OK."
Serena puts her head round the door. Bernie is rocking Guinevere, who has stopped crying and is looking up at her with an expression of adoration. Bernie is making funny faces to amuse Guinevere, the two of them so picture perfect that Serena silently reaches for her phone to capture the moment. Before she can put it away, Bernie looks up and sees her.
"I hope that's not going on your Facebook page," she says, a little self-consciously.
"No, darling," Serena replies. "It's for the family photo album."
Bernie's eyes fill with tears and she says "Come here, Auntie Serena."
Serena goes to sit on the sofa next to Bernie, warning her "my hands smell of garlic."
Bernie reaches over to kiss her, Guinevere gurgling happily between them. As they break apart, panting slightly, Serena says "I could just kiss you for ever and ever."
"How about eternity?"
"Eternity will do nicely!"
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