ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Love in the time of Corona
By Aimée


Part 1

As she scrubbed off and washed her hands thoroughly – as usual after a long, gruesome and delicate abdominal surgery, Bernie sighed – as if the hospital wasn't already operating at full capacity. Sometimes she could swear she had seen better conditions in battlefield hospitals. Since she had come back from Ukraine, she had noticed several things that could have been improved. And with that Coronavirus thing, it wasn't likely that there would be money for non-urgent matters. What a welcome back for Serena… Bernie glanced at the clock and decided she had time for a quick coffee trip – everything would look rosier with a large black coffee.

In the queue at Pulses, one of the customers coughed a little and she noted with exasperation that several people jumped back as if the poor man had bubonic plague. It wasn't as if people didn't have colds in winter… She got two coffees and brought them back to the office, hoping to catch Serena between cases. She found her partner staring mournfully at her computer screen. She put the coffee cups down on the desk, slipped behind the brunette and began massaging her shoulders. Instead of welcoming the attention, Serena shrugged her off, muttering something unintelligible.

"I'm sorry?"

"I said, we shouldn't touch each other…"

It took Bernie a minute or two to understand what Serena meant – at first she thought her partner was afraid to be discovered by other members of the staff, who did have the awkward habit of popping up unexpectedly and sometimes without knocking. And then she realised what she meant.

"What? You mean because of the virus? Come on, love! This is a hospital – we keep washing our hands! Besides… You don't really expect me to avoid contact with you altogether, do you? Even though I'm not the touchy-feely kind… That would be hard."

"You've just come back from Italy and you could be infected."

Bernie paused and took a deep breath before replying. True enough, she had just spend two days – two bloody days – stuck in a four-star hotel in Milan at a trauma surgery conference, and she had flown back to England a week before the lockdown. She didn't want to get mad at Serena, who was still very fragile after Elinor's death. And she could understand how even as a doctor, her partner could be worried – Serena had lost her mother and her daughter in a very short time – that was enough to make someone worried about her loved ones. She didn't think Serena was worried for herself. But really… Sometimes she was just the outside of enough! She sat down on the edge of the desk and enunciated slowly: "Serena – I'm not sick – I feel absolutely fine. " She just about kept herself from adding: "I'm not going to die on you." Serena sighed: "I'm sorry. It's just… A bit too much right now. What time do you clock off? We could go to Albie's – get a drink…"

Bernie didn't want to go to Albie's – or rather, she didn't really want Serena to have a drink – since Elinor's death, when she had come to Serena's, she had too often found her in a… Well, in a too-mellow mood which could only come from too much wine. However, it was probably better if Serena had a drink at Albie's than if she had a bottle by herself at home. She smiled at her lover and promised she just had one more patient to see before they could get off.

They had had a good night – they had made love slowly and caressingly and they had fallen asleep in each other's arms. The first time since Elinor's death. The first time Serena had allowed her back into her bed. Maybe it would be better now – maybe they could start a new phase of their relationship. Since Bernie hadn't planned on staying, she dropped Serena at the hospital and drove on to her place – she didn't know why she hung on to it, since she was almost never there and it would make more sense for her to move into Serena's. But…

As she got back into her car to drive to Holby, Bernie suddenly felt… Queer – tired – as if she hadn't slept for several nights. Which, she reasoned, she hadn't really, since she had been on call the nights before the last, and… Well, they hadn't slept a lot the night before either. She went straight into Pulses and ordered a double -shot latte – her need for caffeine had become overwhelming. She had a lot of admin to do – not her favourite task, but it had to be done – so she settled in her office and opened her computer. When she got up several hours later, she winced and put her hand on the small of her back – it was giving her gyps again. She almost tripped and groaned – no time for that! And then a fit of coughing made her double in two, and she couldn't bury her head in the sand any longer. She slowly made her way to the wing where the hospital had quarantined the coronavirus patients and asked one of the nurses for a thermometer and the test, although she was pretty sure that was unnecessary. She had had the flu a few times, once when she was in deployment in Sarajevo, actually, and she recognised the signs. Fuck! And triple fuck! That wasn't cool! She frantically listed in her head the people she had been in close contact with – her team, of course, but they weren't very tactile and they didn't spend that much time together, so hopefully they would be fine. Her patients – yes, they were a concern, but she disinfected her hands every time, and theatres were sterile environment, where she wore gloves and a mask. They would have to be tested anyway. And of course… Serena! What if she had infected Serena? She dug out her phone and sighed – how could she tell the truth in the most delicate way possible? There weren't that many possibilities…


Part 2

"Probably have virus – better not see you tonight. Please get tested. Love you. B."

Serena swore and sent the – luckily empty – mug she had on her desk flying. Not again – it wasn't fair! She couldn't lose someone else again. And especially not Bernie! She couldn't live without Bernie. She tried to persuade herself that her lover would be fine – after all, she was still – relatively – young, in good health, but… "But her lungs have been damaged in that damned RTC…" nagged a little voice in her brain… "You know she sometimes can't catch her breath properly…"

Ten minutes later, she was in the "corona" wing, demanding to see Bernie.

"She isn't here, Ms Campbell. She tested positive but seemed well enough to go home and quarantine herself there. Plus… You know Ms Wolfe – she insisted – in fact, she was adamant there was no way we would keep her here – and since we don't have enough beds…"

Serena abruptly cut the conversation and headed out. She hailed a cab and directed him to Bernie's. She rang the bell until her lover came to the door and her heart almost broke when Bernie opened and ushered her in wearing a surgical mask. The blonde looked terrible.

"Have you been tested?" was Bernie's first question.

"Not yet – I had to see you first. How are you?"

"I'm all right – I'll be fine. You shouldn't be here, you know. And – well – and please don't say I told you so, but …You were right. I shouldn't have touched you."

Serena smirked: "We did rather more than touch, if my memory serves me right…"

Bernie groaned: "The last thing you need is to catch it as well, Serena."

"And who's going to take care of you?"

"I don't need taking care of. I'll go to bed, drink tea, take paracetamol and wait it out. You can't be here, really."

"Bernie – I'm not going to leave you sick and alone!"

"Serena – please! I'm too tired to argue with you. Just – please go!"

Serena never could resist Bernie's pleading look. She wanted to hug her but…

"All right – I'll go, but I'll come back tomorrow after work."

The next day, Serena did get tested and the test was negative. She thought fleetingly that luckily, the test didn't measure blood alcohol level, because she could still feel the hangover from the Shiraz she had drunk the night before after leaving Bernie. Actually, by sheer luck, it seemed that Bernie was the only one infected in the trauma bay. Serena's thoughts wandered to her lover during the day. She hated that the blonde was so self-sufficient she always refused help. She couldn't wait for her shift to be over. She finally handed off her last cases to Raf and left Holby for Bernie's. Like the previous day, she rang the bell but this time she got no answer. Thanking the gods she had thought of taking the key before leaving that morning, she let herself in and went straight to the bedroom, where she found a semi-unconscious Bernie. Her face was chalk-white and beads of perspiration ran on her brow. She struggled to take harsh, rasping breaths and only opened her eyes briefly when she heard Serena come in. She tried to say something but it came in a fit of coughing. Serena dug into her pocket and phoned for an ambulance – whether her lover wanted it or not, she was going back to the hospital.


Part 3

Ten days… For ten days, she had felt as if she was slowly dying, and for the first time in ten days, taking a breath didn't feel like ripping her lungs apart. Bernie stared at the ceiling and took another breath – yeah, still not agonising. To be honest, she only knew it was ten days because a nurse had told her – she only had hazy recollections of the last week. She remembered Serena finding her in a bad way and calling an ambulance – she remembered the ride – so much more uncomfortable riding on a stretcher than sitting. And then, not a lot… Mr Grey, the consultant pneumologist, had told her the day before that she had had an acute case of the virus, with pneumonia, and since her left lung had already been damaged, she had been very close to death. She seemed, however, to be remarkably resilient and now on her way to recovery. She wanted to see Serena, but she would have to wait a while longer. She asked for her phone and composed a short email as the next best thing: "My love – thank you for not listening when I told you to stay away. You may well have saved my life, and I want to spend the rest of that life with you. Stay safe and I'll see you soon. I love you. B."


The End

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