DISCLAIMER: The characters are not mine, and are merely borrowed from Shed so that I can keep them busy...
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I know that according to the timeline, there's no Christmas during series 3, but I've chosen to disregard this little detail. So for the purposes of the story, it's a couple of days before Christmas, and towards the end of S3, post Nikki and Helen's break up, but pre Nikki's appeal. I've also chosen to disregard Thomas, and Karen has long since seen the error of her ways and told Fenner where to go. So they're both free and single and up for some festive fun...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Happy Christmas
By Purplepapillon


"Here, let me do that." Helen turned to face her colleague, the full skirts of her costume filling the small space behind her desk and nearly pinning Karen against the wall in the process. She reached for the zip on the back of Karen's dress and pulled it up carefully, smoothing out the fabric as she went.

"Thanks." Karen smiled at the other woman. "Now remind me again how I let myself get talked into this?"

Helen grinned back as she leaned towards the mirror, applying eyeliner much more generously than usual. "That would be me and my big mouth, getting myself into trouble as usual…"

Karen laughed, selecting a gharishly bright eyeshadow which she'd bought specifically for the occasion and beginning to apply it liberally all the way up to her eyebrows. "Well just count yourself lucky I decided to bail you out."

"Jump on a sinking ship, more like," Helen began to retort, but was interrupted by a nervous sounding tap on the door. A couple of seconds later, the door opened a crack and an embarrassed looking Josh stuck his head round, with the air of someone who felt he'd really drawn the short straw. He glanced from Karen to Helen and back again, then flushed an even deeper shade of red as his eyes lighted upon the piles of discarded clothing scattered around the room. "They're, um, ready for you now,' he stammered, before beating a hasty retreat.

Both women dissolved into giggles as the door slammed shut behind him. "Well it's now or never," Helen declared dramatically, as she put the finishing touches to her make up, and clamped the lid firmly onto her bright pink lipstick. She squeezed Karen's shoulder lightly as she passed behind her. "I won't forget this," she said softly, gratitude evident in her voice.

"Oh, I've still got time to make a break for it," Karen joked, following Helen out of the door, then making as if to run off in the opposite direction.

"Oh no you don't," Helen warned as she took Karen's elbow, just to make sure, and marched her along the corridor. "We're in this together, like it or not."

It had been Helen's idea to try and increase staff participation in the women's activities. She had thought it would build trust, bridge the 'us and them' divide which seemed to be so firmly ingrained in some of the women's minds. The P.O.s versus inmates pool competition which Gina had suggested as a starting point had gone well, so when the women had asked permission to put on a Christmas pantomime, it had seemed to Helen like the perfect setting for phase two of her plan. Karen had been all for it and Helen had clung to her support like a lifeline when, one extremely stilted morning meeting later, with Jim and Sylvia's cynicism boring into their backs, they'd both been challenged to put their money where their mouths were and had been cast in the role of the two ugly sisters in G wing's production of Cinderella. It wasn't quite what she'd had in mind, but truth be told, Helen was looking forward to it. She'd been right: rehearsals had helped foster a sense of informality and trust between them all, and she could tell that the women appreciated her and Karen 'mucking in', as it were. She'd been slightly disappointed at the other officers' lack of willingness to take part, but as governing governor and wing governor respectively, she supposed it was down to her and Karen to break the mould and set a good example. Besides, they seemed to be the only two people in the place with a sense of humour these days, and what was the point of life if you couldn't lighten up and have a little laugh at yourself every now and then?

Helen took Karen's hand in hers and they bowed again as the women's noisy applause washed over them. She knew they'd made complete idiots of themselves, but she also knew they'd played their roles with enthusiasm and won several hearts in the process. There were shouts of "you go, miss!" from the Julies, in chorus as usual, and assorted wolf whistles which Helen was pretty sure had originated with Nikki and Yvonne. The show had been a huge success and had gone without a hitch. Crystal had made a fantastic Cinderella, and had been swept off her feet by Shaz, her Prince Charming. Prison humour had been in plentiful supply, and the two Ugly Sisters had been a big hit with everyone, staff and inmates alike. Only Jim and Sylvia had remained straight faced and disapproving throughout, although, Helen thought wryly, those two would disagree with anything she suggested as a matter of principle. Still, with Karen onside, the battle was becoming a whole lot easier. Helen's eyes found Nikki in the audience, sitting in between Barbara and Yvonne, all three of them giggling at something Yvonne had just said. Helen knew Nikki approved of her plan, which meant everything to her, as Nikki's approval counted for a lot in the minds of many of the inmates. In Helen's mind too, if she were honest with herself. Their relationship might be over, but she still cherished Nikki as an important friend and ally, and she felt a tingle of warmth and relief run through her as Nikki's gaze met hers, giving her a silent 'thumbs up'.

"I think we deserve a little reward after that." Helen raised her glass to Karen's with a resounding clink, then lifted it to her lips and let the clear liquid drain down her throat. They were back in her office, supposedly changing back into their normal 'governor' attire, but so far they'd done little more than chatter excitedly. They were both buzzing, although whether it was the thrill of the performance or the lingering effects of the few shots they'd consumed beforehand for Dutch courage, Helen, couldn't say. Either way though, she could tell that neither herself nor Karen were in any particular hurry to return to normality. She reached for the bottle and topped up both of their glasses. "What say we get out of this get-up, and we'll go for a proper celebratory drink?"

Karen grinned. "Sounds great. Now if you could just do the honours with that damn zip of mine…"

"You could always keep it on… the colour suits you," Helen teased, then, after a stern look from Karen, obligingly reached for the zip. With one swift, co-ordinated movement, Karen pulled a pair of jeans on under the dress, then, turning away from Helen, slipped it off over her shoulders, stepping out of it to leave a crumpled pile of bright yellow satin on the floor. Helen knew she should look away, for the sake of politeness, but there was something tantalisingly seductive about Karen's plain black bra, the way it perfectly emphasised the pale skin of her back and enunciated her adequately toned stomach muscles, while the jeans clung to her figure in all the right places, completing the picture and defying Helen to look away. She allowed her gaze to linger for a few moments, then diverted her eyes hastily as Karen turned to face her, faint colour rising in her cheeks as Karen buttoned up her shirt.

"Right, let me go and wash this muck off." Karen indicated her heavily made up face. "Then I'm good to go."

Helen could do little more than nod in agreement and watch speechlessly as Karen strode out of the room.

Helen surveyed the empty bottle of wine between them on the table. One celebratory drink had quickly become two, then three and she was now beginning to feel the effects. Not that that was a bad thing. She needed a little escapism after the eventful first few weeks she'd had as governing governor. And Karen was one of the few people at Larkhall she had time for these days. Ever since she'd finally come to her senses and given Jim Fenner the push, she'd been like a different person, like the Karen who'd first come to Larkhall and Helen was thoroughly looking forward to their new, improved working relationship. Next to her, Karen drained the contents of her glass and turned to Helen. "One more, for the road?"

Helen glanced at her watch, more out of habit than any pressing need to be elsewhere, then looked back up at Karen. "Sure, why not?"

As Karen made her way to the bar, Helen watched her, marvelling again at how well those jeans seemed to mould themselves to Karen's form. Evidently, however, she was not the only person entertaining such thoughts, and she watched with a slightly surprising stab of jealousy as some leather jacketed guy standing by the bar put his hand on Karen's bottom and gave it a squeeze. Her envy soon gave way to amusement as she saw Karen turn and start to lay into the man, the flash of anger in her eyes detectable even from that distance. At that point, she wouldn't have traded places with him for the world, as she knew full well what a tongue Karen had on her when she was worked up. Fortunately, the barman chose that moment to present Karen with two glasses of wine and Helen bit down on her lip to curb her laughter as Karen delivered one final curt remark to the man, then turned on her heel and stalked back towards the table. As Karen leaned over to set Helen's drink down in front of her, Helen caught a flash of cleavage and blushed as the image of Karen in her bra came flooding back into her mind, blocking all lines of intelligent thought. She blinked a couple of times to will it away, then turned to the other woman. "I saw you giving that guy what for," she began.

"Men." Karen made a sound of disgust. "Cretins, the lot of them."

Helen made a noise of agreement as her eyes met Karen's, then lingered for a few moments in a look of understanding. Helen blinked, torn between a desire to reach out and touch Karen, and the need to look away before she said something she might later regret. Eventually, the barman made her decision for her, choosing that exact moment to escape from the clamouring of his customers and change the CD. Both women winced as cheesy Christmas hits began to blare out from the speaker just above them.

"Great, that's all we need," Helen muttered.

"Scrooge," Karen teased. "I take it you're not a fan of the big day."

"Not so much." Helen's voice softened. "It kind of lost its magic after Sean and I split up." She sighed. "And I couldn't spend it with Nikki" she added, inside her head.

Karen's face filled with sympathy. Helen's break-up with Sean had been old news by the time of her arrival at Larkhall, but she'd heard the staffroom gossip and knew how he'd turned up and humiliated her in front of inmates and staff alike. It made her want to punch the guy. "So how are you spending it this year?"

"I thought I might work actually. Sad, eh?" Helen smiled wryly. "What about you?"

"Work." Karen grinned as Helen flushed, embarrassed by her previous comment. "It's ok. Ross is spending it with his dad, so it beats sitting home alone."

Helen laughed. "I still can't believe you have a son Ross's age. You don't look anywhere near old enough."

Karen shot Helen a cheeky look. "Is that why you were checking me out earlier?"

Helen did a double take and cursed imperceptibly under her breath as she blushed yet again. The woman really didn't take any prisoners, did she? Still, she couldn't deny that she'd been admiring Karen's body… Yet somehow, she couldn't quite admit it either. So she took the only course of action she could think of. She changed the subject.

"We'll have to smuggle a couple of these in on Christmas day," she said, indicating the wine bottles. "That'll make the whole charade more bearable."

"Sounds good." Karen was not to be deterred. "I don't mind, you know."

"Don't mind what?" Helen questioned cautiously, far from convinced that she wanted to hear the answer.

"You checking me out. It's a darn sight better than tossers like him." Karen motioned with her head towards the guy she'd previously encountered at the bar.

"Hmmm." Helen didn't know what to say. She supposed she should be relieved at being placed higher in the pecking order than Mr Leather Jacket. Truth be told, she'd found Karen attractive since day one. But right now, Karen was obviously just a little bit drunk, and Helen was wary of saying too much, of disclosing something she'd regret in the morning. She had to work with this woman, after all. And no matter how things might seem now, she knew what a sordid den of gossip Larkhall could be. Best to just avoid the issue altogether, she concluded, let it all blow over. "Want to share a cab?" she asked with forced cheerfulness.

Karen mentally rolled her eyes. How much plainer did she have to make it? She'd always thought it was just men who were dense when it came to these kinds of things, but it seemed women were no different. It was no secret that Helen had dated women since breaking up with Sean. Well, if Larkhall gossip was to believed anyway, which usually, it was. She didn't know who exactly, but it didn't really make any difference. What mattered now was that Helen was single, attractive and attracted, and that Karen was more than ready for a bit of fun. It had been a long time. Still, she'd let her off the hook for the time being. It was only fair. Grinning wickedly she allowed Helen to continue talking, meandering from one subject to another, while Karen quietly and calmly sipped at the rest of her wine.

Half an hour later, the taxi drew to a stop outside Karen's flat. Helen checked that the driver was happy to wait a few moments before stepping out to walk Karen to her front door. She wasn't quite sure why; it wasn't as if Karen was all that drunk, but somehow it just seemed the right thing to do. And Karen didn't seem to be objecting. Karen fumbled around in her bag, located her keys and then turned to Helen.

"I'm glad I let you talk me into today," she stated, her phrasing deliberately ambiguous.

"The pantomime?" Helen questioned, both anticipating and dreading Karen's answer.

"All of it." Karen smiled then paused, thoughtfully. "Goodnight Helen." She opened her arms, ready to enclose the other woman in a hug.

Helen returned the gesture, holding the other woman tightly, acutely aware of the feeling of Karen's body against her own. "Goodnight. And happy Christmas." She leaned her face in to plant a soft kiss on Karen's cheek and her momentary hesitation before pulling back allowed Karen to seize her chance. Turning her face slightly, Karen brought her lips into contact with Helen's, briefly and gently, redefining the kiss and lingering for just long enough to allow a tingle of anticipation to travel the length of Helen's spine. When the kiss ended, Helen paused for a second, surveying the woman in front of her, then resmed the contact, more decisively this time, their lips closing over each other, and Helen's gloved hands raking their way through Karen's loose blonde hair. Helen felt her inhibitions and her initial embarrassment at having been caught admiring Karen melt away as Karen's warm mouth enclosed hers again and again, as Karen's tongue curved around her own, and she knew, suddenly, that she wasn't ready for the night to end just yet.

"Want to come in?" Karen murmured softly in her ear.

Helen's assent was more of a soft moan than anything else as she felt one of Karen's hands creep inside her coat, as she felt the soft warmth of Karen's breath on her ear, then enveloping her mouth once more. The stunned taxi driver meanwhile thought Christmas had come early and his mouth hung open as he watched the two women, each strikingly beautiful in their own way, putting on this performance in front of him. He observed them for a while, simultaneously jealous and aroused, allowing himself to be drawn off into an intricate fantasy inside his head. He jumped suddenly as a sharp rapping on the window brought him rudely back to reality, Helen's mildly irirtated face filling his vision as he turned. He blinked and rolled the window down, trying in vain to mask his guilty expression.

Helen was torn between an inexplicable urge to giggle and the desire to throw something at the man. Instead she opted for neither, and passed a ten pound note through the lowered window. "No need to wait after all." She smiled, a little too sweetly. "Show's over. Happy Christmas." She paused and turned her face away. "Cretin," she muttered under her breath, just loud enough for the unfortunate man to hear.

Her parting shot delivered, Helen turned sharply on her heel and, leaving the driver wide eyed and open-mouthed, marched decisively towards the doorway where Karen stood waiting.

The End

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