DISCLAIMER: The characters all belong to Shed; they are not used for profit etc...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Fat Lady Sings
By Rooineck

Part 8

They crashed through the front door, wrapped around each other. Helen fumbled for a light switch, but just settled for shutting the door instead. Jackets were cast off as Helen pushed Nikki up against the wall.

"This is your last chance to back out, Nikki. Still think I'm playing with you?" She teased as she let her fingers run across Nikki's breasts. All traces of the Home Counties had been erased from her voice and the soft Scottish burr sounded to Nikki like melted chocolate, rich and viscous.

"I'm fine, thanks. Although I wouldn't mind if you did play with me, if you'll play nicely."

"I can play very nicely indeed, when I want to. Come on." She led Nikki into the kitchen, grabbed champagne from the fridge and then took her to the stairs.

"Still sure?" She asked, tightening her grip on Nikki's hand.

"Sure as you are." As Helen led the way upstairs, Nikki's hands started to roam over her behind, dipping under the skirt of the dress, touching as much skin as she could.

Once up the stairs, Helen took her hand and led her into the bedroom. Nikki was amazed as she took the lead, taking her clothes off, dipping her head to taste everywhere her hands touched.

The champagne was opened, drunk directly from the bottle, sprayed over bodies and sheets, soaking the bed and covering everything else in the room.

"You know, there's only one way to drink champagne," Nikki said dreamily.

"What's that then?"

"With a beautiful woman, of course."

"I prefer to drink it from a beautiful woman, actually." Taking Nikki by surprise, Helen rolled them over until she was straddling the taller woman.


"No, just the one. It's a new taste I've acquired." She bent her head to Nikki's body.

"Well, you certainly play hard, I'll give you that," Nikki said, several hours later, wrapped in a sheet as they lay in a different bed.

"I try my best." Helen lay on her side, above Nikki, her hand, stroking the taller woman's arm.

"You know it's seven in the morning?"

"Really? How time flies when you're having fun." Her hand crept under the sheet.

"I need to sleep!" Nikki protested.

"But once you sleep, all this will be over, and it'll be another day. I'd like today to go on forever."

"It will have to end sooner or later, or how else can you have other beautiful days?" Nikki reached up to caress Helen's hair.

"I suppose that makes sense."

"So? Are there going to be other beautiful days?"

"I think so, don't you?" Helen rolled over and stretched with feline sensuousness. Nikki forgot that she wanted to go back to sleep and pinned Helen to the bed.

"Oh yes, there are going to be lots more beautiful days."

Sean was watching them closely as they arrived that night, and he peeled Helen away from Nikki as soon as they were through the stage door.

"Where the hell have you been? I've had the press on my back all day, because you left early. There are rumours that you were too ill to go on tonight."

Catching sight of Shell Dockley watching from a corner, Helen had a very good idea of how those rumours had started.

"I'd have rung you if I'd been ill, you know that, Sean. Just calm down. You'll kill yourself, stressing like this over every little rumour."

"That's not all. Have you seen what that bloody bitch dyke has done? Only gone and got herself in the Evening Standard with a kiss and tell. Stupid cow. Why she couldn't keep it in her trousers, God only knows." He thrust the paper into her unresisting hands and there it was, a double page spread about Nikki Wade, a girl in every major city in the world with an opera house; Milan, Sydney, Vienna, Moscow, New York…the list went on and on. And slap bang in the middle was a photo of Trisha, looking every inch the wronged wife.

"I thought Trisha spent all of her time trying to get Nikki into bed?" She felt dazed, like her head was full of cotton wool. This couldn't be true, could it? Nikki had told her all about Tricia's pursuit last night, had laughed about it with her.

"Looks like she's not the only one who succeeded. How could she? No one's going to take this seriously now. Thank God it didn't break yesterday. And thank Christ she's not in Otello or Tosca. That would be the kiss of death to them."

"I doubt it. Her fan club would probably turn up every night and pack out the theatre." She walked off to her dressing room, unconscious that she still held the Standard, now screwed up, in her fist.

Had Nikki been playing her for a fool all along? Where the hell was she? What was she up to? Had everything she had told her last night been lies?

Then she caught sight of Barbara, Nikki and Shaz. Nikki and Shaz were giving each other a high five as Barbara seemed to be reading something out of the newspaper. Now it was a joke to her? Last night, Nikki Wade had been in turns sweet, tender, loving and silly. Looking at her now, it was hard to believe that she was so hard. Had last night really meant so little to her?

Unable to face her, she went directly off to her dressing room, calling Barbara over her shoulder, unable even to look at Nikki Wade right now. Tonight's performance wasn't likely to match up to last night's, but she had to try.

"How are you today?" Barbara came in and started pouring her a glass of water.

"Fine," she snapped. "Not like that. You know I only like it up to halfway or it gets too warm." Barbara gave her a look, but did as she was told, emptying the whole of the first glass down the sink.

As she was dressed and made up, she snapped more and more at Barbara, taking her frustrations out on the older woman, frustrations with Nikki and also that Barbara seemed to be in on the joke.

"Barbara, were there any other sweepstakes going on this run?" An awful idea had come to her and no matter how humiliated she would be if it were true, she had to know if the whole company was laughing at her behind her back.

"One or two," Barbara said evasively and carried on hanging up changes of costume for Helen.

"Care to share?" Helen asked in a voice that brooked no arguments.

"Are you sure you want to know?" It was asked kindly, and suddenly Helen knew in her heart that her worst fears were true. Nikki had done all that for a bet. Surely Barbara didn't condone such behaviour, though?

"Of course."

"Well, no one would give odds on Sean trying to get you into bed, but there were on you saying yes," she saw Helen's face fall and carried on. "But the odds were very long, about thirty to one, I believe. I'm sorry. He always tries to get his leading ladies into bed, and has a surprisingly high success rate."

"Are there any other books on Nikki?" Helen asked in a small voice, her mind assimilating the information she had just been given. No wonder Sean had always been following her around.

"No. She's too private for that. Just her temper. Mind you, when I was working up with Opera North, she was all sweetness and light, despite all the problems. She's a pussycat, really."

"Were you working for Opera North at the same time then?"

"Me? Good gracious, no. I work for Nikki."

"For Nikki?"

"Yes, she's my employer. I travel all over with her, rather than being based in one place. It's great. We're off to St Petersburg after Rosenkavelier finishes, then to Bayreuth for the festival."

"But I thought…"

"I know you did, dear. Everybody does."

"So why are you here?"

"Because Nikki's performing in London, and it's part of her contract that I come with her." Barbara's face was puzzled.

"No, I meant why are you here with me if you work for Nikki?"

"Because she asked me to. She knows I'm good. Shaz will be too, one day, when she learns to keep her mind on her job and not her love life. Nikki's reasonable and will make sure she's not scared off for good."

"Unlike me, I suppose?" Helen asked, scowling.

"Well, you can be a little demanding at times, dear."

"Why did you agree to do it if I'm so bad?"

"Because you're not so bad, underneath. And anyway, you can't get me fired, can you?" The sweet smile did nothing to hide the truth of her words.

"Is Nikki always this devious?"

"She can be, when she wants something."

"And what does she want now?"

"I think you have a much better idea about that then I do, don't you?" She walked to the door. "I'm going to get some ice. One last word of advice for you: don't believe everything you read in the papers."

Helen sat considering those words while she waited for Barbara to return and help her dress. They implied that she knew what Helen and Nikki had been doing all night, but how could she? And that she knew what Helen had thought about Nikki the moment she had seen the paper. By her own confession, she was Nikki's employee and presumably very loyal; might she not therefore be lying to help Nikki seduce her?

Part 9

Helen had to admit that she had been a willing seductee. She was curious about how much of Nikki's kisses had been an act and how much real, and unable to deny her attraction to the taller woman. However much she had tried to dress it up, she had been curious. There was no getting away from that fact. She had concluded last night that those kisses had been real, that Nikki felt something more than just mere attraction to her; now she wasn't so sure. Trisha's article had been very convincing.

"You're still not sure, are you?" Barbara broke in upon her thoughts. "Nikki sent you this." She held up a single long-stemmed red rose.

"Very romantic. I'm sure she sends them to all her leading ladies." Helen said discouragingly in an attempt to brush her off.

"No. I've only ever known her to send one before. To Caroline Lewis."

"She sang with her?"

"Just the once. They didn't get much time together, what with their schedules. Then, of course, the crash…well…" her voice trailed off into silence.

Helen too was silent. Caroline Lewis had been a major star of the opera world. She had had a voice to die for, one that had been known to bring grown men to tears and had had a glamorous, but brief career, dying in a car crash at the age of thirty six.

"Nikki hasn't been interested in anyone since. Trisha certainly would never be her type; she's too indiscriminate. She's slept with anyone she could. Nikki wouldn't touch her with a ten foot bargepole."

"That's not what this says." Helen held up the screwed up pages of the newspaper.

"Of course not. She wanted Nikki. Nikki didn't want her. Hell hath no fury."

"Fifteen minutes, Miss Stewart." The runner outside put paid to all discussion as they rushed around to get Helen ready for her entrance.

She stood in the wings, the nerves of the first night absent now. Nikki was standing across the stage, awaiting her entrance. She tried to keep her eyes on the stage, but kept finding them drawn back to the other woman, once again resplendent in her dress costume, the silver hat sitting on top of her dark hair. As she watched, Nikki suddenly whisked off the hat and gave her a deep bow, then it was her cue and she was on.

She watched Nikki more warily, but she seemed to be unaffected by everything that had happened. Once more they declared their love, went through the whole charade and were reunited. At the end, she was surprised when Nikki almost literally swept her off her feet, kissing her in a totally unrehearsed and unexpected move.

She caught her breath; what was Nikki playing at now? The crowd were going wild, and Sean was scowling at Nikki from the wings. Nikki winked, made sure Helen was steady on her feet and released her, positioning herself for the bowing and then the curtain calls, taking no more notice of Helen.

"What the hell are you playing at, Nikki?" Sean stormed at her after the curtain calls had all been taken.

"I just felt like it, that's all. Thought it added a touch of drama." She shrugged and carried on walking past him.

"You keep your hands off Helen beyond what is asked of your role." He put himself in front of her, forcing her to stop. Neither of them seemed to even notice the people around them, all of whom were listening unashamedly.

"I'll do what I like, Sean, now, if you'll excuse me…" She tried to push past him, but he held his ground.

"You'll do what I tell you as long as you're in this production. I'm in charge here, and you'd do well to remember that."

"Or what, Sean? You'll sack me? Go on then. There are other jobs out there." She spoke with a bravado she did not feel. She wanted to stay around for a bit, see what would happen with Helen. She couldn't believe she'd sent the rose and hoped that Helen didn't quite understand its significance. What she had had with Caroline was incredible, and couldn't be repeated, but her interest in Helen was beginning to dominate her thoughts.

"Don't push me, Wade. You keep your filthy paws off Helen or I'll have you out of here so fast, your feet won't touch the ground."

"Why are you so keen to keep her away from my impure touch? Afraid she won't fancy you once she knows what a real woman is like?" She flicked her hat at him. "I'd stick to Trisha, if I were you. You're both equally sad and so perfectly matched."

This time she was successful at pushing past him as he seemed to deflate at the mention of Trisha. A thought struck her and she retraced her steps.

"A word of advice, though. I wouldn't encourage Trisha to libel me; she really can't afford the legal fees, although as it can only enhance my reputation, the damages shouldn't be too high. Bitter women turn on people, Sean, and when she turns on you, I would worry." She patted his cheek and he looked as though he would explode; a pulse was beating in his temple and his face was scarlet.

She passed Helen, standing engrossed in their row and leaned in and kissed her again, gently, on the cheek, knowing that from Sean's position it wouldn't look quite so innocent.

"I'm gonna fucking have you, Wade" he shouted after her as she jauntily strode along to her dressing room.

"You're just jealous because I'm more butch than you" she retorted camply as she shut the door behind her, before collapsing in a heap, unable to believe she had behaved so brazenly.

"You all right, man?" Denny asked her as she didn't move.

"I'll be fine, I just can't believe I did that," she breathed, trying to get used to the fact that she would probably be without a job tomorrow.

"I can. It was wicked." Shaz said.

"What are you two doing in here anyway?"

"I just wanted to check with you about Tosca."

"Tosca? What about it?" Nikki was puzzled. She had nothing to do with Tosca.

"Man, I knew you'd forget. The trampoline? Remember? Bouncy bouncy Stewart?"


"Aha, I believe she's got it."

"No way, Den. You've got to call it off."

"How can I, everyfinks sorted now."

"I don't care. Do it, and you'll get nothing. If you don't do it, then I'll pay you in full, ok?"

"Why the sudden change of heart?" Denny asked suspiciously.

"Let's just say the scales have fallen from my eyes." She grinned. "And hers," she added.

"Come again?"

"A Road to Damascus moment all round."

Denny looked at Shaz, twirling her finger round at her temple, mouthing 'she's bonkers'.

"I'm not mad, Denny, I think I'm in love."

"You're sick, she's a fucking mad bitch."

"No, she's alright, underneath. But the trampoline's off. That much is certain."

"Shell won't like that; she's counting on it for her big break."

"Shell shouldn't know anything about it, Denny. And anyway, how would that get her a break?" Nikki said sharply.

Denny was silent.

"I'd come clean, if I were you, young lady. I'm not in the mood for games right now."

There was a knock at the door. The three of them all looked at each other. The knock sounded again, this time accompanied by Barbara's voice; "Nikki".

"Come in Babs," she said, opening the door. "What can I do for you? Two urban terrorists, only slightly used?" Shaz and Denny rushed for the door.

"And Denny, I mean it, OK?"

"Yes Nik."

Part 10

"Right, what can I do for you?" she asked Barbara, shutting the door on Denny and Shaz.

"Helen asked if you could come along to her dressing room."

"Did she now? And what did you tell her?"

"I said I'd ask you, but she'd be better off coming to see you."

"You can take the girl out of the diva, but you can't take the diva out of the girl, it seems. Is she OK?"

"Sean's in there, badmouthing you."

"And that would be different because?"

"It's not really a laughing matter, Nikki. She read all about you in the papers today, and she's pretty upset."

"Did you give her the rose?"

"Of course. She assumed you give them to all your leading ladies. I put her straight about that."

"You what? How could you? That's private." She slumped in a chair and put her head in her hands.

"And it was over two years ago, Nikki. You can't go on like this. It's not healthy. She's dead, get over it."

"Piss off Barbara. You're sacked. Go and work for Helen. I don't want to see you again." As Barbara moved to comfort her, she jumped from the chair, brushing her hands away. "Don't. I love Caroline, OK? And I'm not ready for anything else."

"You were ready to sleep with Helen." Barbara stood her ground.

"Sleeping with someone is not the same, and you know it."

"Like you have ever been able to tell the difference, Nikki. It's not like you've been out tomcatting around, is it? You haven't slept with anyone since Caroline."

"I was drunk and high on getting one over Sean, that's all." Nikki said sulkily.

"Don't give me that. You've been interested in her since the day you met, or you'd never have asked me to be her dresser. It's high time you stopped feeling sorry for yourself and got back into the land of the living. Go to her, now!"

Surprised by Barbara's commanding tone, Nikki was up out of her seat and halfway along the corridor before she stopped to think. Barbara had obviously anticipated this because she was right behind her with a look on her face that brooked no nonsense.

"Now, Nikki."

"Yes Mum."

"Don't you Mum me, or I'll tan your hide. Get in there and don't screw this up by coming across all hard and tough."

Shocked at the normally urbane Barbara's choice of language, she knocked at Helen's door. The normally imperious 'Come' had been replaced by her opening the door herself. Things had certainly changed for Helen too, it seemed.



They stood, looking at each other, each trying to assess what the other was feeling, neither particularly wanting to speak first.

"How are you?" Nikki asked eventually.

"Burning with a million questions."

"Why don't we go somewhere and you can ask them." Nikki suggested. Maybe Barbara was right, and she needed to slough off Caroline's memory.

"Sounds good to me. Would you like to change first?" Helen asked. Nikki looked down at herself; she was still wearing her costume, or most of it at any rate.

"I thought you liked it?"

"You look better without clothes." The sentence was uttered before either of them thought about it. Nikki gave Helen a double take as Helen realised what she had said. She blushed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean…um, I meant…"

Nikki closed the distance between them, taking Helen's hand in her own. It was then that she noticed that she was holding the rose.

"Shh." Her other hand moved to Helen's hair, stroking it gently and they stood there for a long moment. "I'd better get changed if we're getting out of here tonight." She smiled wickedly. "Or we could always get ourselves locked in. That bed's huge and it's about time it had somebody as beautiful as you in it."

"On the stage you mean?" Helen's face was shocked. "I couldn't; what would people think?"

"Would they have to know?"

Part 11

"I'm starving."

"Didn't you think about food?" Helen sat up, the cover around her breasts.

"Yes, and then I concluded that we could raid your fridge. Don't you have food in there?" Nikki grinned slyly. "Barbara told me that you had ordered enough smoked salmon to feed the five thousand, and insisted that you have at least five boxes of Bendicks chocolates in your dressing room. We can eat that."

"What about something to drink?"

"Champagne, of course. Only the best for my woman."

"Your woman? I'm my own woman, Nikki Wade." Helen tried to flounce, but was unable to in the bed.

"On the contrary, you're mine now." Nikki replied quietly and deliberately, looking into her eyes. "Helen, I…"

"What happened with Caroline?" Helen couldn't help asking the question, almost afraid of what Nikki would say next.

"I was young, in love. It was wonderful, then came the crash. I've just been throwing myself into work ever since, really. To be honest, I don't really want to talk about it; it's history. I'm far more interested in the future." Her hand started tracing patterns on Helen's skin.

"And Trisha?" Helen gasped, but refusing to be deflected.

"Trisha's fun. She knows what's going on and so it's easy to pick up information from her. She's been around the block a few times with a lot of people, so there's no way I'd go near her, but she's been a useful distraction where you're concerned." Nikki shrugged.

"Where I'm concerned? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you gave Barbara the sweepstake on a plate, don't forget; then you've kinda been getting under my skin since then. Watching Sean fawning over you and pawing you hasn't been much fun. I've wanted to smack him everyday for you, over and above for myself."

"Very caveman. Is that how you usually get woman to come to bed with you, smack them over the head?"

"Only on their very delectable bottoms, when they deserve it and ask nicely," Nikki said, her hands still roaming, stroking lightly.

"So why, if you're not in the market, cultivate such a…a…" Helen searched for the right word. "Playgirl image?"

"Oh, I'm not in the market any more, that's for certain. It just happened that way, that's all. I've been out with women in every city, why not? But I've not been interested in anybody for a long time; until now."

"And what's changed now?" Helen asked archly.

"Nothing much, I just fancy my chances with someone."

"Nikki, it's not going to work, not in the long term, you know."

"That depends on how much you want to make it work, and I want to try, at least."

Helen's only answer was a whimper as Nikki's hands finally crept back to the triangle of hair between her thighs.

"I don't like getting up this early." Helen stretched, still naked across the bed.

"Neither do I, and I'm not sure I'm going to be anything but distracted, thinking about this bed when I'm in it with Karen tonight." Nikki yawned. "We have to hide in one of the dressing rooms. Yours has a shower, so that's where I'm headed." She dressed quickly in the sweater and jeans that she had worn in the day before.

"What are you going to do today?"

"Get caught, if you don't get a move on, then we'll have to explain to Sean what we did all night in a bed, naked, in a locked theatre." She started picking up the empty champagne and water bottles and empty packets of food that they had consumed at varying stages during the night. "Then I think sleep, or I'll never go on tonight. Haven't you got rehearsals?"

"Yes. Full dress for Tosca today."

"That'll be fun. Would you like a real knife to use on Fenner?"


"Only a suggestion. You'd be doing the female population of the world a favour." Nikki laughed.

"Yes, but what would poor Sylvia do? She'd have to start following Sean around."

"It's about time the old battle-axe retired. She's been bringing misery to singers for generations. Mind you, then she'd probably haunt the place, and as they cleared the stalls at night, they'd find her, camped out under her Mark's and Sparks carriers."


"Terrifying, I'd say. Come on you, or do I have to drag you naked back to your dressing room?"

"Tempting though that thought is, I think I'll decline." They heard a noise. "What was that?" Footsteps were heading from the dressing rooms towards the stage.

"Probably Harry unlocking. Quick, down here." Nikki dived off the stage and into a unfamiliar corridor, Helen hot on her heels, carrying her clothes. They followed it down and round and found themselves under the stage.

Helen started to get dressed as Nikki kept a look out from the door, although she wasn't really looking at the corridor.

"I've lost my bra." Helen said, sounding scared.

"It must be upstairs somewhere. You didn't drop it on the way down here, did you?"

"I don't remember picking it up."

"Well, it's not as if your name is in it, is it? I'll but you a new one." Nikki returned her attentions to the door now that Helen had clothes on again.

"But someone will know what we've been up to!"

"No," Nikki corrected. "They'll know that someone was up to no good up there, but they won't know who." She crossed the room and took Helen in her arms and kissed her. "Don't tell me you regret it?"

"No, I never said that. Last night was wonderful."

"That's good, I like a satisfied customer." She kissed Helen again, but they broke apart as they heard voices coming from the stage above their heads.

"I'm not doing it, I tell you."

"You'll do what you're told bitch, or it'll happen anyway and I'll make sure that you and your girlfriend get all the blame. There'll probably be a police investigation and you'll be charged with malicious wounding or even attempted murder."

"No one will help you."

"You'd be surprised. I know people who are always willing to help out a lady in distress. And the bitch will get what's coming to her, and I'll get what's coming to me."

Helen looked at Nikki, asking the question.

"Denny and Dockley, I think," Nikki whispered.

"What are they talking about?"

"I've got a feeling I know. Look, go back to the dressing rooms, and I'll go and distract them, OK?"

"Are you sure?"

"Denny won't question me, and Dockley's no match. It'll be fine. Go on now." They separated and Nikki made her way to the stage.

"What's going on here?" Nikki's voice rang out in the deserted auditorium with an authority she didn't feel.

"Nikki, Shell found out about the trampoline and wants it to go ahead, but today, during the rehearsal." Denny rushed up to Nikki, half hiding behind her like a little kid being bullied hiding behind a teacher.

"There will be no trampoline, Shell."

"No, I s'pose you've bottled out of it now." Shell sneered. "You're a loser, Wade. Always have been and always will be. I've got a chance and I'm willing to take it, even if you won't."

"It's not a chance, and I was never going to hurt Helen. You're sick and twisted, you know that?"

"You'd do well not to cross me, Wade. I've got friends, and I am going to star in Tosca this season, and show Stewart up for the flaky talent she doesn't have."

"Piss off Dockley. If anything happens to Helen, you'll never sing professionally again." Nikki turned on her heel and walked straight into Denny.

"Denny, don't do anything she tells you. You and Shaz are coming out with me now."

"I'm shifting on Tosca."

"No, today you're sick. Get out of here and back to the digs. I'll be along in an hour or so, OK?"

"I'll get you Wade," they heard as they walked off the stage.


"Denny, she's all talk. Don't worry about it. She can't do anything to you, and she won't do anything on her own." They went their separate ways. "And Den, don't forget to sign out if you've signed in today – I want no doubts as to where you were."

Part 12

"That's that." She dusted her hands theatrically, and drew Helen's bra from her sleeve, like a stage magician.

"Where did you find that?" Helen asked.

"I grabbed it off the edge of the bed as I passed. You should be careful where you leave your clothes, Miss Stewart, people might get the wrong idea about you."

"I didn't leave it anywhere; as far as I recall you ripped it off me and then swung it over your head."

"Yes, well, moving swiftly on…"

"What was all that about?"

"Shell's after Denny to do something for her and strangely enough, Den isn't keen. It's all under control now." She smiled at Helen. "I wouldn't go walking down any dark alleys with Dockley though, or turn your back to her."

"Why? She's always been ok with me."

"She's your understudy and she wants to be a star and doesn't seem to mind too much how she gets there. In any good thriller, that equals you lying dangerously ill or having had an accident. And she doesn't like your high-handed attitude, although she's not alone in that."

"What do you mean, my high-handed attitude?"

"Didn't you keep Prince Charles waiting because they hadn't got the right brand of make-up in your dressing room?"

"Oh, that." Helen coloured and hung her head. "I, um, get pretty nervous, you know, and I think it just comes out wrong."

"But you're voice is unbelievable, how can you be nervous about it?" Nikki stepped in and lifted Helen's chin with her finger, forcing her to look into her eyes as she spoke.

"I just get nervous, that's all."

"You're one of the best singers on Earth."

"I feel like I'm a fake, and that one day I'll get found out." She hung her head again as Nikki hugged her tightly.

"You have no reason to be nervous, ever."

There was a knock at the door and they sprang apart as Sean opened the door without waiting for an answer. Nikki followed his eyes as Helen whipped her bra out of sight.

"Good morning, Helen." He leant forward and kissed her on the cheeks and turned to Nikki. "What are you doing here?"

"I just swung by to wish Helen luck in the rehearsal today. Have a good one, darling. I'll see you tonight." The two of them watched her leave.

"Darling? What was that all about?" Sean turned on Helen, his eyes narrowed as soon as the door had shut behind Nikki.

"It's just her way of talking, Sean. Right, what's the plan for today?"

Three months passed, and the season was coming to a close. Nikki had managed to keep Dockley away from Helen; Helen had kept Sean at bay and they had managed to keep their relationship a secret from most of the cast, although most of the crew seemed to have found out. They had managed to get themselves locked in the Opera House twice more, although with better planning. The season had been a resounding success, confirming Sean's appointment as Artistic Director and Helen's reputation as a must see star.

"What's your schedule like after this?" Nikki asked idly as they lay sprawled across the sofa in Helen's house.

"Booked solid for the next two years, really. I'm recording in Switzerland next week for three weeks, then the States after that; I have a charity concert in Japan, followed by a two week run at Beijing Opera. More recordings, then Milan, Vienna and Bayreuth. Then back for the Proms. They've asked me to do Rule Britannia at the Last Night, but I haven't come up with a costume idea yet."

"Helen, that's eight months away, there's plenty of time yet."

"What are you up to?"

"I've got a couple of weeks off, then I'm recording in LA. I'm off to Sydney for a few months after that, then Russia. I'll be at one or two of the Proms."

"What are you doing with your time off?" Helen asked curiously, aware suddenly that she didn't really know what Nikki did with her free time. At the theatre, in breaks, all she ever seemed to do was read trashy novels or sleep.

"Dunno yet."

"You could always come to Switzerland with me." Helen made the suggestion casually, aware that she didn't want to say goodbye to Nikki just yet. After the first two weeks, where they had spent every night together one way or another, things had calmed down, mainly because it felt like they never slept when they were together. They were currently spending three or four nights a week together, generally at Helen's place.

"Are you sure?" Nikki was surprised. This was the first time Helen had mentioned the future.

"Yes, why not? It could be fun, all that après ski. You do ski, don't you?"

"No. Never tried it. I'd prefer to go tobogganing."

"Heathen." Helen threw a pillow at her. "Skiing's great fun. I'll teach you."

"Hm, we'll see. You have to get out of bed first, and you're not exactly known for being an early riser, are you?"

"Probably because I don't get any sleep with you around."

"Me? It's not my fault. You want to stay up all night practicing your technique."

"Well, now we actually have a day off together, what are we going to do?" asked Helen.

"I have a few ideas…"

"What, stay in bed all day?" Helen laughed at the eagerness on Nikki's face. "I'd like to go and do something, actually."

"That's good, because I have plans. First things first, though; a shower and lunch." Nikki hustled Helen until she got up and they disappeared into the shower together, giggling and laughing.

Part 13

"What are we doing here, Nikki?" Helen said as they approached the Opera House. She stopped, forcing Nikki to stop with her.

"Well, you know, I though a night at the Opera would be a romantic escape together." Nikki said innocently.

"I'm a bit sick of this place, you know."

"Oh, I think you'll want to be here tonight. See how Shell does in your absence. I think it'll be a lot of fun."

"You're up to something, Nicola Wade."

"C'est moi? No, never," she protested, leading Helen firmly by the hand. "Come on, we'll be late."

"Late? Late for what?"

"A surprise."

"A surprise?"

"Will you stop repeating after me? It makes you sound like a parrot."

"A parrot?"

"Stop trying to wind me up, because it won't work." She led them inside, checking their coats and leading Helen onwards, upwards and along until they stood outside a door. "After you madame," Nikki said, bowing low, with a flourish.

Helen entered a box, taking in the fact that there were only two chairs in it, a table, laid for two, candles glowing in the dim light. The curtains facing the stage were drawn, so she couldn't see which box they were in. The whole ambiance was pure romance, down to the rose, sprayed silver, lying across one of the plates, and the champagne chilling in the cooler beside the table.

"This is beautiful, Nikki, thank you." She leaned up to peck Nikki on the cheek.

"For you, the world, my dear." Nikki pulled out a chair and allowed Helen to seat herself before opening the champagne and pouring for them both. There was a strawberry resting in each glass, and the flavour was subtly different. They sat there, chatting, giggling and just being companionably silent in turns until a waiter materialised.

"Excuse me, miss." Helen moved her arms as a covered dish was placed before her, throwing Nikki a quizzical look. She knew the waiter, although in his more normal guise as Harry, one of the stage managers.

"Thank you." As covered dish was placed in front of Nikki and Harry was gone, as silently as he had appeared.

"Bon appetit, Helen." Nikki removed both covers with a flourish to reveal a package wrapped in newspaper. Helen stared at hers for a moment before the familiar, but long forgotten smell of salt and vinegar rose to her nose.

"Is this what I think it is?" She asked Nikki, suppressing her laughter.

"Depends what you think it is," came the non-response. Nikki had already unwrapped hers and the sharp tang of the vinegar filled the room.

"I haven't had fish and chips in years."

"Well, I get sick of posh, fancy food, so I thought I'd go back to basics." She grinned unrepentantly at Helen. "I hope you don't mind?"

"No, it's a pleasure." She took a chip and tasted it. Her personal trainer would have a fit if he could see her now, but it was divine and she couldn't give a monkey's. The fish too was perfectly cooked, the batter crisp and light.

There was silence as they devoured the food in front of them. Neither had had much to eat during the day as Nikki had rushed her from one London sight to the next, taking in Madam Tussards; the London Dungeon; the Tower and the Eye.

"That was wonderful, thank you Nikki. Never let it be said that you can't show a girl a good time." She sighed. "It's been a great day. I can't remember the last time I went sightseeing. Although you really shouldn't have tried to get into every Japanese photo. That was very naughty." She smiled at the remembrance of Nikki posing in ever sillier positions as she sought to be immortalised on fifty different cameras.

"There's a part of me that has an urge to let foreigners think we're all mad eccentrics." Nikki waved her hand lazily. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. It certainly made a change from having that anal retentive Parr having a go at me all day."

Harry came back and took away the detritus of their meal, bringing some cold water and orange juice with him. Nikki promptly started on the soft drinks, mixing the juice with her wine, after feeding Helen the strawberry, succulent and juicy.

Things nearly got a bit out of hand, until they heard the orchestra start tuning up and Nikki drew the curtains, blowing out the candles, so that they weren't silhouetted against the light. They sat there, savouring the unfamiliar experience of just sitting and watching an opera for pleasure.

"So, what's so special about tonight?" Helen asked Nikki.

"Well, I rather wanted to hear Michelle Dockley caterwauling herself out of a career and spend time with you. Does anything have to be up?" Nikki sounded too innocent, but Helen let it pass as the overture sounded.

For the next several hours they were in turns appalled, hysterical with laughter and in almost pain as Shell Dockley managed to mangle both the liberetto and the music. The supporting cast were trying their best, but Dockley's lack of talent glowed like a beacon.

"How on earth did she get the part of understudy?" Helen marvelled after a particularly bad spell.

"Depends on who she was studying under," Nikki said without thinking.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you don't think she got this job on merit, do you?" They winced as a particularly high note was struck, too sharp and Nikki swore she could feel her glass vibrating under her fingers.

As the music built to a crescendo, and Tosca prepared to throw herself off the battlements, Nikki sat up, expectantly, raising her hitherto unused opera glasses to her eyes. Surprised, because they were very close to the stage, Helen gave her a sideways glance, before returning her attention to the action on the stage. Michelle climbed the two steps, the police agent rushed in and she disappeared from sight, over the battlements.

Only to reappear a few seconds later, surprise all over her face, before vanishing once again. She reappeared four more times, once laughing, and then becoming increasingly angrier as her face appeared above the battlements again and again.

"What's going on?" Helen rounded on Nikki. "You knew about this, didn't you?"

"Kind of." Nikki had the grace to look sheepish. "I think we should go for coffee while we discuss it, though; I have a feeling I don't want to be anywhere around after this performance." She took Helen's hand and led her from the box and out of the theatre.

They ended up in a small bistro, drinking liqueurs and coffee as Nikki explained the whole story of the trampoline. Helen sat there in silence as Nikki tried to explain about taking her down a peg or two, very bashfully.

"So, let me get this right. You thought I was a stuck-up, pretentious, conceited, prima donna who needed teaching a lesson? So you decided that to set me up, as you set Shell up this evening, was the best way of teaching me manners?"

"Pretty much, yes." Nikki agreed, digging into a slice of Sachertorte.

"And what changed your mind about me?"

"Um, when you kissed me, I think."

"You think?" Helen smiled, amused because Nikki was blushing.

"OK, you remember that night you and Sean met Trish and I in the restaurant?"

"Yes. You were a pig, making me walk to the car."

"Well, I first thought then that the demanding, arrogant bitch we all knew and hated at work wasn't you. And then, when we had the first full dress rehearsal the next day, and we kissed, I thought that if we hadn't stopped, I was going to have to make love to you on stage, right there and then. And then you just grew on me, I guess. After the opening night, I called it all off. Then, because Dockley was being such a bitch, I thought she should have a taste of her own medicine. She wanted the limelight and headlines, now she's got them." She shrugged.

"You have a sick and evil mind, Nicola Wade."

"I know. It's why you love me." She grinned, her head on one side.

"I'm sorry?"

"It was just a turn of phrase, that's all. Don't panic." Nikki backpeddled as fast as she could. She knew that she was in love with Helen, but obviously it wasn't mutual. Neither of them had uttered the L-word as yet, and it looked like it wasn't going to happen now, either. Helen looked uncomfortable and looked like she was about to bolt, whether to the Ladies or out of here was another question.

Helen rushed to the Ladies. She needed to think. Nikki seemed to have read her mind, but she was loathe to say anything to Nikki. Barbara had more than hinted that Nikki had very strong feelings for Helen, mainly when she was trying to sound out Helen's feelings for Nikki. She hadn't actually come out and asked Helen if her intentions towards Nikki were honourable, but she had made her opinion perfectly clear – if Helen wasn't in for the long haul, she should bow out now.

Well, she had no intention of bowing out of Nikki's life, or even allowing Nikki to bow out of hers. That was why she had asked Nikki to go to Switzerland with her; but she wasn't sure that they could make this work, either. She was booked up for several years in advance, and Nikki probably was too. They were going to be thousands of miles away from each other most of the time, and long-distance relationships never worked in her opinion.

Did Nikki care for her enough to try and make it work? That was a totally different question altogether. She had to know, sooner or later. She had a few more performances than Nikki in London, and while Nikki wasn't working, they could spend time together. As for what would happen after that, well, why shouldn't she just ask Nikki straight out? She had already brought her a present to mark their time together; a tiny platinum rose on a chain. She had noticed Nikki's plain silver one often enough, and knew that this wouldn't go unworn.

She leant forward, examining her face in the mirror. This was the night, she determined, the night she would say something to Nikki about their future, their future together.

Nikki was smoking, as always, when she got back. A second glass by her place told Helen what she had been doing in her absence. When she saw Helen approaching, she smiled uncertainly and half stood.

"Are you OK? I was just about to send out a search party."

"I'm fine. I just had to move around a bit, that's all."

"Would you like some air, we could go for a walk?"

"Yes, I think I'd like that. Thank you." She watched as Nikki called for the bill, and then just left notes on the table without really looking at it. She helped Helen on with her coat and then let her take her arm as they strolled together down through the crowds of tourists, south, towards the river. Eventually they found themselves outside Embankment station, looking over the river at the South Bank and the further along, the Palace of Westminster, lit up against the night. The lights between the lampposts hung immobile, making Nikki think as always, of Christmas decorations.


"Yes." Nikki's heart flew to her throat. Helen had sounded so apprehensive. Maybe this was where she was going to get the brush off. And in her favourite place in London too. How unfair could life get?

"You know we talked about going to Switzerland next week?"

"Yes." She drew the syllable out, wanting to put off the agony as long as possible. Just when she thought she'd found someone to love, it was all going to be ripped away from her. She should never have become involved. Helen was now going to tell her how impossible all this was, how it would never work, how they'd never see each other and she'd be left, like last time. This time it would be worse, because the woman she wanted, didn't want her. Maybe she should make a pre-emptive strike, tell Helen thanks for the good times, but now it was time to move on?

"Well, I've been thinking." Helen spoke again before Nikki could give voice to her own thoughts. She dropped Helen's arm and leant over, watching the dark river flow beneath them, wondering briefly how it would feel to have the waters closing over her head and then oblivion.

"I think we should try and co-ordinate our schedules, make it so that we have more time together. What do you think?" The words had come out in such a rush that it took Nikki a few moments to comprehend her.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I just thought that, you know, what we have is, you know…Oh, I forgot." Helen fished in her pocket. "I got this for you." She handed over the small box, her hand trembling.

"Wow, it's beautiful," Nikki said, running her fingers over the rose and angling it to catch the light. "Thank you, thank you so much." She leant forward and kissed Helen on the lips. They stayed that way briefly, Helen tasting Cointreau, coffee and cigarettes and then they were apart, staring at each other.

After a few moments just staring into her eyes, Nikki pulled her away and they walked to the street. Nikki hailed a cab and a few minutes later, they were on their way to Hampstead, still with no further words spoken between them. Once at Helen's she allowed herself to be led up to the front door and opened it for them. Once more they stood there, just staring at each other.

"I think I should be wearing this, don't you?" Nikki said, waving the box which was still in her hand. She bared her neck to Helen. "Would you mind?"

Once more with shaking hands, Helen reached up and unclasped Nikki's necklace, replacing it with her rose.


"How does it look?" Nikki examined her reflection in the hallway mirror.

"I'll need to see it properly, examine it from every angle, in every light. I should be able to tell you in, I don't know, forty or fifty years?" Helen said, catching Nikki's reflected eye.

"Well then, I guess we should start your appraisal straightaway. Let's try under the moonlight in the bedroom first?"

"That sounds like a plan to me." She stopped and hesitated as Nikki turned to the stairs. "Nikki…"

"Shh, Helen." Nikki's finger covered her lips. "I love you too, okay?"

The End

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