Greatest Gift

This fic happened when I needed a distraction and HappyLove asked me "Have you ever thought about Bernie's parents? If they are still alive? Would Bernie bring Serena to them? What would happen?" Now, I haven't written actual fanfic in ages and I'm trying to gather courage to start a huge (for me) AU, so I'm practicing by writing a few short fics first.

Thank you, as always, lysachan for beta-reading. I never post a story before you've gone through them.

Fic title from the Brian Tracy quote, "The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance."

Bernie's mum had passed away when Charlotte was ten, Cameron a few years older. Cancer. It was fast and Bernie was away for most of it, not because she didn't care, but because her family had kept her in the dark about the severity of it all until it was almost too late. One morning her brother rang her to tell her she needed to come home at once. She barely made it back in time to say goodbye.

As she sat by her mother's hospital bed, holding a frail hand in hers, Bernie dutifully listened as her mother told her to be a good wife and mother, and to take care of her father. "Get a job at St. James or Holby City, be home more."

Bernie had given her mum a faint smile which probably came out as more of a grimace, but she hadn't made a promise. She knew it'd be one she wouldn't keep. It left Bernie feeling like she'd let her mum down. She was found lacking.

On the day of the funeral, her father told her he was selling the house Bernie and her brothers had grown up in, and he'd be moving closer to one of Bernie's brothers. Then he told Bernie she should go back to the desert where she was needed the most. Bernie had smiled a little, looking away, not daring to really feel everything the words threatened to make her feel. Her father understood. Had always understood. It wasn't that Bernie wasn't needed at home. Of course, she was. Cameron and Charlotte needed her, Marcus too, in his way. It was just... She was needed more out there. In the field. That's where her specialty was in demand, where she knew she'd be of most use.

Bernie had always been a daddy's girl. As the youngest kid, after two brothers, she was born. Her mother had wanted a little girl to dote on. To dress her in pretty clothes and to help do her hair. Someone to teach all the home making skills, someone who would want to learn from her. Her husband already had his boys to teach things to; they had their fishing trips and footie. Now she had someone to pass on everything she knew.

Only Bernie wasn't a girly girl. She was a tomboy, running and trying to keep up with her brothers, playing footie and getting scrapes and bruises, hair always a mess and grass stains on her clothes.

And Bernie knew that while her mother loved her, she wasn't what her mother had wanted. Hoped.

So she sought acceptance from her father, who didn't mind that his daughter didn't like to wear dresses or have long hair. He certainly didn't mind she showed no interest in boys and he was perfectly accepting when she told him she planned on joining the army.

Her dad had lived close to her brother for nearly ten years but, recently, had to move to a care home. Bernie and her brothers had made sure it was a good one. It seemed like the right choice, both because of his age, and how he started to find things hard to do, and also because he was lonely. At the care home he had others to talk to, had made friends, seemed happy enough. Bernie visited him as often as she could, Charlotte more so, and Cam now and again, usually when dragged along by Charlotte or Bernie.

When Bernie went to Kiev, she stopped by to tell him. He asked what was wrong. Usually, when she was leaving, it was like she was thrumming with energy... She was looking forward to whatever waited, ready for the next tour, eager to the point he sometimes thought she might just run all the way instead of bothering with a plane.

This time, she was looking lost. Like she didn't want to go but saw no alternative. He wanted to ask about it but they didn't really talk. They never had, in their family. Feelings and sentiments were expressed by looks or, on rare occasions, by touches.

So no, he didn't ask. Just looked as she said goodbye and promised to come and see him first thing when she comes back. Promised to send a card or two.

And then she is back and it's like she's a completely different Bernie. Now he has to ask. Was Kiev truly that wonderful? She seemed unhappy when she left, now it's clear she's happy, there's a light in her eyes.

Bernie's a little surprised, didn't realize it would be so obvious, how much loving Serena and having that love returned affects her.

Bernie says that no, it wasn't Kiev, but someone here at home.

That catches his attention.

She knows he's waiting for her to just tell him. She hesitates. She's never said anything to him about it, about any of it. Never told him about Alex. Why she really divorced Marcus. And it scares her to tell him. Scares her so, so much that she wants to run. She has to grab the seat to stay sitting. Because, after Cam and Charlotte, her father has been the most important person in her life. But Serena… This incredible, wonderful, loving woman who entered Bernie's life cursing her car, but still greeting Bernie with a bright smile that robbed Bernie of her breath. Even for her beloved father, Bernie won't give her up, won't hide her. And she hopes against hope that he'll be all right with what she's about to tell him.

She starts by telling him that when she left, she thought that the relationship was over. That she'd destroyed everything by being too afraid and too cowardly. She'd said goodbye for three months but thought it was really forever.

And now that she's back, she's been forgiven for having run off. She's been given another chance. And she's happy.

"She makes me happy," Bernie says, watching her father's face for a reaction. When there's nothing, Bernie continues. "Serena, that's her name. She's the most incredible woman I've ever met. She's incredibly intelligent, funny, stubborn, kind, loving... Soon after we met, she said she has a passion for holding lifelong, take-it-to-the-grave grudges, but she's forgiven me every time I've messed up. She's proud, but not arrogant. She's has a daughter who is in Uni and a nephew she took in earlier this year. A lovely young man, Cameron's age. Oh, and Serena is a surgeon, too. I don't know if I said that. I might have mentioned her before. She was the head of AAU when I started to work at Holby and now we're co-leads, sharing a ward and an office."

Finally Bernie stops, realizes she's probably never gushed about any person to anyone in her life like she just did about Serena to her father. It makes her duck her head to hide the blushing behind her hair.

Her father is quiet, still. Finally, Bernie looks up at him again, her heart thudding in her chest. Her father has always been the one to accept her as she is, but is this too much? She thinks she knows how her mother would have reacted, but she isn't as sure about him. Is this something he can accept? If not, it'll be hard for Bernie to have their relationship strained, but she knows she could never give up Serena now. Not for anything. She wants to prod her father into talking but knows they're cut from the same cloth and he needs time to form his thoughts into words.

Finally, with his eyes steadily gazing into hers, her father speaks.

"So, the queen of the castle gave up half her kingdom for you, you thanked her by running off, and she still forgave you? I think you've found yourself a keeper, Bernie."

Bernie presses her lips together to keep from smiling too widely. But she can't stop the relief and joy from shining in her eyes.

Her father places his hand on her knee and tells her: "I'd like to meet this Serena."

Bernie nods, feels overwhelmed again by his ready acceptance. No denial, no shock, no questions asked. Just plain acceptance.

She promises she'll bring Serena by soon. Maybe they could all go out for coffees somewhere, make it a bit special. He says he'd like that.

It's just two weeks later that they're set to meet. It's close to Christmas now, and Serena and Bernie have been on different shifts. Serena is coming off of a night shift and is meeting Bernie and her father for a breakfast. It's not an ideal time, because Serena is tired after a long night, but Bernie only has a few more hours before she's going to work for a double shift. (They're working their behinds off to get a day off together during Christmas, to spend it with all the kids.)

Serena is running a few minutes late because of a complication in surgery. She is nervous as it is, even though Bernie has told her again and again that her father is looking forward to meeting her, and that everything will be fine. Which is all good and dandy, but Serena's parents are no longer alive, and there's only Ellie for Bernie to meet and to worry about; something that will happen later in the week.

Serena hasn't had to "meet the parent(s)" since she was in her twenties, and the idea is somewhat daunting. She'd wanted to get some time after work to unwind and relax and get ready. Have a cup of coffee before having a cup of coffee. Now she's rushing from surgery to the locker room and updating Raf on everything as she's half running out of the door.

Serena reaches the breakfast place almost on time, she's only five minutes late. She'd decided earlier to just greet Bernie by touching her shoulder and then, of course, shake hands with her father. But she's so flustered about being late, and so nervous about meeting this very important person in Bernie's life, that she forgets all about the plan and just kisses Bernie out of habit. She then freezes for a moment, before awkwardly greeting her father. She's a bit embarrassed about being so awkward (she's not a bloody teenager for heaven's sake), she's good with people and most people do like her. Wherein lies the issue, Serena knows. She wants Bernie's father to like her. Wants this for Bernie, more so than for herself.

She catches Bernie's eyes and relaxes when she sees nothing but love with a little bit of mirth mixed in. She decides to shake off the awkwardness, keep calm and carry on.

Serena wraps Bernie's father around her little finger in no time. She's lively and lovely, full of charm, and she makes him laugh, something Bernie knows he doesn't do much these days. And Bernie feels incredibly grateful. Lucky. For having a father like him. For having Serena. For being here, in this very moment.

The end