DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to thank my intrepid beta readers Kate and Kathy, without whom this story would have been of far lower quality. Any remaining mistakes are the responsibility of the author. All original characters and situations are the product of this author's fevered imagination and the beta readers have no responsibility for them.
SPOILERS: This story refers to some events in seasons 1-3 of Bad Girls.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Nikki drew up outside the house and parked the hire car. Hopping out of the Range Rover, she let herself into the house, wondering how Helen was getting on with her packing. The worst of the rush hour should be over by now and Nikki was keen to get out onto the M25 while things were still relatively quiet. While they were only going as far as York before stopping over, Nikki could think of better ways to spend her time than sitting in a traffic jam. Especially with a stressed Scot in the passenger seat.
Nikki sighed. They'd been together for most of a year and Helen, displaying her usual integrity, had been open about her sexuality from the start. She had come out to her family within a month of them moving in together and most of them had been supportive, if slightly puzzled by the fact that Helen had apparently decided to try women after a lifetime of sticking to men.
Helen's father, however, had stayed true to type by vehemently disapproving of his daughter's decision and informing her that she was living in a worse state of sin than she had been when she had made the decision to have Sean move in with her. Nikki had watched Helen's half of that phone conversation and had been so angry about his reaction that the only thing that had stopped her from ringing him back and giving him the benefit of her uncensored opinion had been the need to comfort her partner.
It hadn't affected their day to day life at all until Helen's Aunt Margaret, who had invited them to her cousin Graeme's wedding, had rung up to tell them, almost apologetically, that she would have to invite Helen's father as well and to ask them if they still wanted to come. Helen had hesitated for a brief but noticeable period and then firmly told her auntie that they would both be attending. She had put the phone down before adding softly "And to hell with my father and his bigoted opinions."
That had been three weeks ago and Nikki didn't think Helen realised what hard work she had been since that conversation. She covered it well, but she had been getting increasingly nervous and short tempered as the date of their trip to Scotland came closer. In turn, that had made Nikki, who had been quite calm, apprehensive about how the whole thing would go.
They'd had a number of spectacular arguments about apparently unrelated things since receiving the news and Helen, who took self deception to new heights when she was stressed, had alternated between insisting that there was nothing wrong and wearing them both out with some of the most energetic sex they'd had since the honeymoon period when they'd first started living together. Nikki didn't mind that - she preferred it to the rows and it relaxed both of them physically. She just thought that Helen would be happier, in the long term, if she faced up to how much her father's reaction was upsetting her and how worried she was about what might be said at the wedding.
She glanced at her suitcases and decided that she might as well put them in the boot of the car. She'd been packed since last night, with everything Helen had insisted they'd need, from casual clothes to midge repellent cream to a really nice dress for the actual wedding and reception. She was just glad that Helen hadn't been so traditional as to insist on a hat. They would have had another fight about that; while Nikki was aware that she was giving in to her partner more than usual there were lines she was not prepared to cross.
Coming back into the house, she heard a noise upstairs and went to investigate. Helen was standing in their room, frowning as she looked into her wardrobe, her overnight bag open on the bed next to her. Nikki took a moment to admire the shape of her legs in her jeans and joined the Scot.
"Got everything?" she asked.
"I keep thinking that I've forgotten something," Helen said with an exasperated sigh.
""Well, if I knew that it wouldn't be forgotten, would it!" Helen snapped.
"OK," Nikki said, "I'm heading for the garden. I think I'm just in the way here. Do you want to try and get away before lunch?"
"Course I do. It's a long drive."
"I'll give you half an hour, then."
"Stop managing me," Helen said and turned suddenly, zipping up her holdall with short, jerky movements.
"I thought you wanted to do another check?"
"No. Since you're obviously dying to get away, if I've missed anything I'll buy it en route. Happy?"
"Calm down, Helen," Nikki said gently. "I have packed the wedding present and made sure our outfits are in the car. There are shops in York and Scotland. But I'm sure you've got everything you need. Come on, let's go. I want to play with my new toy."
"The four wheel drive."
"Oh, I see."
"You were the one who said we might need it in the Highlands."
"Which gives you carte blanche to hire some gas guzzling monstrosity."
"Pretty much." Nikki agreed.
Helen smiled for the first time since she had come into the room and kissed her, slipping her arms around the taller woman's waist. They stood together for a second before Helen moved away and picked up her bag.
"What was that about?" Nikki asked.
"Do I need a reason to kiss my partner?"
"No. I just wondered."
Helen looked fondly at her. "I love the way you get such pleasure from little things."
"Being inside 'll do that for you." Nikki said and then bit her lip as Helen's face changed. That was the other thing her father had made great play of, when he'd found out. According to James Stewart, Nikki's violent tendencies and criminal record were just further proof of the moral degeneracy her lesbianism demonstrated in the first place. The mood, which had lightened slightly, soured again.
"I'll go and get my coat," Helen said.
Nikki did a last quick tour of the house, making sure that everything was switched off and secured and then climbed into the driver's seat. Helen was already belted in, her face abstracted as she fiddled with the controls on the car stereo. She put her hand on Nikki's thigh when she'd closed the door, an attempt at making peace.
"Radio or CD?" she asked.
"Whatever you want," Nikki said, "I've got a powerful car, the open road and a beautiful woman in the seat next to me. I don't care what the soundtrack is."
"Bloody Toad of Toad Hall," Helen said teasingly, and leaned across to kiss her cheek. Nikki squeezed the hand on her thigh reassuringly, then checked her mirrors, indicated and pulled out into the road, enjoying the feeling of driving a bigger car than usual.
They chatted about inconsequential things as they drove round the M25 and though Helen was still tense she seemed less nervous than she had been for days. Nikki supposed that now they were actually on their way they were committed - there was no turning back and that must be a relief in itself. At least Nikki hoped so.
They'd made it part way up the M1 in amicable silence when Helen nudged Nikki and pointed at the fuel gauge, which was looking dangerously low. Nikki glanced at the dashboard and swore.
"This thing really does drink diesel, doesn't it?" Helen commented.
"Doesn't matter, we've got services in three miles," Nikki said. "We can get a coffee, if you want."
"I don't think I'll bother. I wouldn't mind using the toilets, though."
"I bet the shop sells chocolate."
"Not the good stuff," Helen said firmly. Nikki smiled. What Helen didn't know was that there was a box of her favourite Charbonnel et Walker tucked away in Nikki's suitcase. It was an extravagant purchase, but Nikki thought Helen might need it to get through the next few days. And if not - she'd enjoy it anyway.
Pulling into the petrol station, Nikki filled up the tank, paid and then drove over to the main services.
"See you in the shop?" she asked. Helen nodded and vanished in the direction of the facilities. Nikki navigated her way around the stressed families, salesmen and random screaming children, giving the noisy games room and burger bar a wide berth and headed for the newsagents. At least there'd be papers there. After her years in Larkhall Nikki had become an unrepentant current affairs junkie - while she had mostly concentrated on classic literature while she had been locked up, she had quickly got back into the swing of events once she could influence them on the outside.
Walking past the shelves and shelves of chocolate, boiled sweets, snacks and tacky souvenirs, she headed straight for the newspapers and magazines. One thing about motorway service stations, they usually had a wide range of material, everything from 'Woman's Own' to 'Coarse Fishing Monthly'. This close to London, there were often foreign publications as well.
Nikki disregarded the 'lifestyle' section and the wedding and home makeover magazines, homing in on the current affairs. She picked up the Economist and the New Statesman, hesitating before finally selecting the Spectator for balance. She spared a brief glance upwards toward the 'top shelf' magazines, feeling her usual weary contempt for the products of the porn industry. Frowning, she realised that Gay Times and Diva were both up there, next to a variety of titles she didn't want to think about too closely. The Diva was the latest issue and she snagged a copy, adding it to her other purchases and going to stand in the queue, which was stretching down most of the shop. She took a moment to wonder if it was a deliberate tactic to encourage impulse buying, before grabbing a couple of bottles of mineral water and a packet of the crisps she knew Helen liked.
Five minutes later, as she'd finally got to near the front of the line and was watching a toddler work up to a truly spectacular tantrum in the next aisle because his mother was refusing to buy him a packet of sweets, Helen walked up to stand beside her. Nikki turned and smiled at her.
"Just about. It was filthy in there," Helen said fastidiously, "dysentery outbreak waiting to happen."
"OK," Nikki said. "I'll cross my legs to the next services, then."
"You do that."
Nikki turned back to the checkout assistant as they got to the front of the queue, putting her purchases down on the till. She didn't spare him much attention, too busy fishing out her wallet, but his reaction when he got to the Diva caught her notice. Up till then he'd been pretty indifferent, scanning her purchases through like a machine, obviously thinking more about whatever interested him than the job in hand. When he picked up the magazine he looked at both of them, a quick, furtive study that couldn't have been more obvious if he'd tried.
Internally, Nikki rolled her eyes. 'Yes, dykes exist,' she imagined saying to him, 'and they don't all wear dungarees.' Once, in her younger, more aggressive days, she might have done. Now she merely favoured him with a beaming smile as he looked at her, then at Helen, obviously trying to work out who was the dominant one in the relationship. Who was the 'man'.
He blushed as he caught her knowing, amused gaze and leaned over "Do you want this one in a bag?" he asked quietly.
Nikki frowned. "No," she said, in the exact second that Helen said "Yes."
Startled, Nikki glanced at her partner, who was looking down, refusing to meet her eyes. Slowly, she reached out and slid Diva into the middle of her other purchases, hiding the cover. "Put it all in one bag, OK?"
The boy at the counter ducked his head and did as he was told before ringing through the purchase and letting them go. On the way out to the car Helen put her hand on Nikki's arm.
"No, it's fine," Nikki said. "You want to drive for a while?"
Nikki handed over the keys and then waited as Helen adjusted the seat and mirrors, making herself comfortable. They pulled out of the car park in tense silence and Nikki sighed and concentrated on the rich, lush scenery she could see out of the window, the slightly dissonant hum of the traffic providing a soundtrack to her thoughts. She was so distracted that she started slightly when Helen spoke.
"You see, this is one of the things I hate about being gay. It's the way it seems to give everyone the idea that they've permission to look at you and speculate about your sex life."
Nikki bit back the impulse to tell Helen she was being paranoid. Her partner didn't need that at the moment. Instead she shrugged. "I think he was just a bit embarrassed."
"Bollocks," Helen said robustly, swerving across lanes and cutting up a business type in a Ford Mondeo. "He was undressing us both with his eyes. It was perfectly clear what was going through his mind."
"We're not that obvious. It's not like we go round in T shirts with slogans on! For all he knew I'm a dyke and you're my best friend."
"You weren't watching his face." Helen retorted.
"No I wasn't. For one simple reason. His bloody opinion doesn't matter!" Nikki said. "Who I sleep with and why and how I do it is my business, so long as it's between consenting adults in private. If he wants to find material for his wet dreams he can do it in those magazines they were selling."
"So you don't care that we're featuring in his filthy little fantasies?"
"No," Nikki said, "when I'm with you, all I'm thinking about is you. The fact that some sad bastard wants to imagine two women together doesn't come into my mind."
Helen frowned. Nikki reached out and touched her shoulder, careful not to distract her from driving. "Helen, he may see you as nothing but a lesbian. You don't have to define yourself that way. It's only part of what you are. Just like the fact that you're Scottish doesn't define you."
"I suppose," Helen said quietly, "I just hate being put in a category."
"The people who do don't know you. Or they're not worth knowing," Nikki said.
Helen was silent for a little while and then took her eyes of the road long enough to glance at Nikki and smile. Her forehead had smoothed out and her scowl had gone.
"I love you, Nikki Wade."
"Good, because I prefer it to be mutual. Less embarrassing that way."
They got to York mid afternoon and checked into their hotel. Standing by the window of their room, Helen looked out across the city.
"Fancy a walk round the walls?"
"That sounds like a good idea."
They wrapped up warm, Nikki in her battered old leather jacket and Helen in a more modern waterproof and set out. After a certain amount of getting lost in the winding streets and lingering to look into shop windows they found one of the gates and climbed the steps up onto the wide grey stone walkway on top of the walls, strolling along hand in hand as they pointed things out to each other. The warm late August sunlight bathed them in light and heat, compensating for the colder temperature of the North and the wind that sighed across the top of the parapets beside them.
"It's so flat," Helen commented.
"Flood plain of two rivers," Nikki said.
"Since when were you into geography?"
"Never. I just read a novel set in York once."
"It wasn't very good. One of the things it did have was great chunks of information every so often. Some of it stuck."
Helen nodded. She knew that Nikki had been on a limited ration of books before she'd started as wing governor and given her permission to have more than the usual allowance of titles in her cell. As a result she'd often had to re read the ones she did borrow several times before returning them to the library, and could usually quote passages from her favourites verbatim. The ex con sometimes joked that it had been one of the things that had turned her into a critic instead of just a reader, the situation forcing her to analyse the writers' tricks and techniques as a way of keeping her interest up when she knew the story already.
The Scot slipped her arm comfortably around the taller woman's waist and felt Nikki put her left arm around her shoulders, returning the gesture. Helen didn't have to say anything - she knew that Nikki understood why she had hugged her and appreciated it.
They were standing on a section of the wall near the Lord Mayor's Walk, overlooking the Minster, and the area was busy with tourists. A family group sailed past - a severe looking man and his harried wife, with a group of gangling teenage boys in tow. The parents ignored them, beyond a glare from the man and a disapproving sniff from the woman, but the boys started to stare and whisper as soon as they came into sight, their conversation going on as they vanished into the distance, together with much nudging and glancing back.
Nikki glared at them as she felt Helen stiffen slightly and move away, covering the action with a comment about the Rose window in the Minster. She scowled and resisted the impulse to kiss Helen, knowing that it was only a form of marking her territory and that her partner wouldn't accept it; she would recognise it or what it was and be angry with Nikki for even having the thought. For just a second Nikki wished she lived in a world where people could simply be accepted on their own merits instead of who they chose to go to bed with, and then shrugged, putting the impractical hope aside. Impractical for today, anyway.
"D'you want to go and get a cup of tea?" she asked.
Helen nodded silently and they made their way to Taylor's, where they had a light meal before returning to the hotel via another bout of window shopping. Once they were back in their room Helen went for a bath while Nikki settled down with the Economist magazine. She looked up as she heard the sound of swearing from the bathroom and crossed over to the doorway. Helen was standing, naked, rooting through her sponge bag.
"What's the matter?" Nikki asked.
"Forgotten my razor. I need to shave my legs. What with everything else that's been going on ..."
'With how distracted you've been worrying about your father' Nikki supplied mentally.
"Well borrow mine, then."
She crossed over to her stuff and hauled the razor out. "New blade. It won't catch."
"Thanks," Helen said gratefully, "the last thing I want to do is look like some hairy legged stereotype in front of my family."
Nikki stilled, hardly able to believe her ears. Then she turned, thrusting the razor at Helen, who took it from her hand, slightly startled.
"You know what, Helen? The problem isn't when other people think crap about you. The problem is when you internalise it. If you're going to start believing it and hating yourself for what you are, then you're on a fucking slippery slope!"
Now it was Helen's turn to glare.
"You're talking bollocks!" she said. "I get upset about one little thing and you turn it into an opportunity to psychoanalyse me."
"It's not one little thing! You've been bloody impossible since you found out that your father would be at the wedding!"
"He doesn't influence my decisions!"
"No, but he sure as hell casts a long shadow over your moods. Just what did he do when you were a kid that made you so scared of him? You're an adult woman, Helen, with a successful career. Get over him!"
"I don't know. You never talk about it. Maybe you should."
"To a professional, I suppose," Helen said bitterly, "emerge smiling and happy about my new identity. Able to live up to your 'out and proud' standards."
"Don't twist my words," Nikki warned, aware that three weeks of strain was spilling out now and that she was starting to lose control of her temper, always a danger with the Scot, who seemed to have the knack of pushing her buttons in a way no one else could. 'Probably' Nikki thought bitterly 'because her opinion matters so bloody much to me.'
"I'm not. You should hear yourself. You sound like a page from textbook on political correctness!"
"Well, I'm sorry if I shock you," Nikki said, "but I've never been ashamed of what I am or who I go to bed with. And anyone who tries to make me can fuck off!"
"Well, hurray for you," Helen retorted, "but some of us don't live in a vacuum and we actually care what other people think."
Helen didn't throw anything, but Nikki got the impression that it was a close run thing. Instead, her jaw firmed.
"Get out," she said.
"You heard me. I want to have a bath in peace."
"Please yourself," Nikki said, retreating, and watched as Helen closed and locked the door in her face. She threw herself on the bed to avoid pacing and tried to get her breathing back under control. She still hadn't calmed down when Helen emerged from the bathroom in a fluffy white bathrobe, the slight pinkness of her skin showing where she had shaved her legs.
"Well?" Helen said.
"Are you willing to apologise?"
Nikki felt a cold ball of rage form in her stomach.
"Right," Nikki said softly. Helen watched, puzzled, as her partner went to the phone and called room service.
"Hi, this is 215. Can we have a couple of bottles of mineral water, and ... do you have champagne? What kind?" Nikki listened and then nodded. "OK, that'll do. No, put it on the tab."
"What's that for?" Helen asked.
"We'll need it later." Nikki said cryptically, then sat down on the bed, taking off her shoes and jacket. She glanced around the room and then, of all things, started unpacking her suitcase, hanging her things neatly in the wardrobe next to her discarded jacket. Helen gave up trying to understand what Nikki was doing and took the opportunity to get dressed before crossing to the window, looking out across the lights of York as she tried to calm down.
She jumped slightly when there was a loud knock at the door and glanced back, distracted from her contemplation of the illuminated Minster, as a young woman dressed in the hotel's livery wheeled a trolley with the order through the door. Nikki smiled at the girl and tipped her, tucking a crisp note into her hand and then strolled over and dropped her wallet on the table, placing a lingering kiss onto Helen's neck as she passed her.
Helen swallowed as the waitress reacted to what she saw, glancing at both of them before making her excuses and leaving. Nikki closed the door behind her, putting the 'Do not Disturb' sign on the outside before firmly turning the key in the lock.
"What was all that about?" Helen asked. Nikki didn't reply, unbuttoning her cuffs and rolling her sleeves up, revealing toned forearms. Helen felt her anger rise "I said, what was all that about?"
"Oh, just making it perfectly obvious what we are. What you are to me."
"I don't understand."
"You should. Last night I had my mouth between your legs and you liked it. You liked it enough to come twice."
"Don't be crude," Helen said, shocked.
"I'm not being crude," Nikki said, "crude would be describing what you did to me first to make me come."
"The point is, darling, that we're dykes. We both enjoy fucking other women."
"I am aware of what being a dyke means."
Nikki walked up to Helen, challenge radiating from every line of her body.
"It's more than that - I've had enough affairs with straight women to know that the biggest admirer of a good hard cock likes to experiment once in awhile, see what it's like to be with someone who knows what they're doing and not just put up with the standard thirty second's foreplay followed by a battering that surprises you into an orgasm. Which is how I know you're the same as me. It's not just an experiment, or a holiday for you. You like women. You like to fuck them and you like the way they are, the way they smell and taste, the way they move and think and behave. You came to it late, but you're a natural."
Helen looked at her dangerously, her jaw set in taut angry lines. "Do you want to tell me what the point of this is? Apart from ensuring that I go to this wedding on my own?"
"The point is that I don't understand why you're lying to yourself about what we are to each other! We've had most of a year Helen. It's been more that nice. It's been right for both of us. So what is your problem?!"
"My problem is that I don't see why the rest of my life should be defined by one aspect of my personality. That's not a lifestyle choice. It's a disability!"
"So being a dyke means being less good, less worthy. Is that it?" Nikki demanded. "We're not really people because we don't fancy men."
"That's not what I said."
"Yes it was."
"You're deliberately misunderstanding me!"
"Am I? You don't want to touch me in public, you don't want people to think we have a life together, you don't want the hotel staff to know we're in a relationship .... Well guess what, Helen, we're in a room with a double bed. I think they've worked it out!"
"I'm not having this conversation!" Helen said angrily. She snatched up her coat and went to the door.
"That's right," Nikki said, "run away. Well you can run as far and as fast as you like, Helen. You can't run away from what you are. Believe me. I've seen people try."
"Sod you, Nikki Wade," Helen said furiously, wrenching the door open and slamming it behind her.
After she had gone, Nikki paced angrily for a while and then swore aloud, cursing herself and her fierce temper. She hadn't planned to take that tone with Helen, though she had meant every word that she said. She acknowledged to herself that her actions in front of the waitress had been deliberately provocative, considering the emotional state the Scot was in, but she was beginning to be at her wit's end as to how to cope with her partner's fears and insecurities. Now that her anger was subsiding she felt lost and alone. She should have felt justified and sure of herself - instead she only felt empty, without anyone there to talk to about the situation. She wished that Trisha wasn't abroad and out of contact. Nikki sighed. It wasn't though she didn't know what her friend would say. She could hear her speaking the words. 'Now you've calmed down, go and talk to her. Sort it out. You know you want to.'
Nikki picked up her mobile and phoned Helen's number but the call went straight to voice mail. Her partner was obviously choosing not to pick up her calls. Nikki paced some more then decided that she might as well get some fresh air. Shrugging on her leather jacket, she let herself out of the room and went for a walk.
She wandered around the darkened streets for a while, looking at the old buildings and reading the historical plaques, glancing through pub and restaurant windows at the scenes of warmth and conviviality inside, wishing fiercely that Helen was with her and as happy to hold her hand or link arms as she normally was in London. Nikki missed the warm presence by her side and the lively intelligence of the other woman's conversation, her firmly expressed opinions. She missed looking at her and seeing the happiness in her face, of having the chance to admire her features, or enjoy the way she laughed, full throated, daring the world not to find the same things funny. She missed the feeling of rightness that having the Scot close always gave her, as though her life had finally balanced itself, all of the elements coming to rest in their appointed place.
She was standing across the road from Clifford's tower, staring gloomily at the floodlit keep and wondering how it must have been for the Jews on that dreadful day, huddling inside for protection and hearing the mob come inexorably closer, when a familiar voice spoke from beside her.
"Penny for them?"
"You wouldn't want to know," Nikki said, quietly.
"That good, eh?"
"I came back to the hotel room and you weren't there."
"I needed to get out. How did you find me?"
"York's not that big. I figured you'd stay inside the walls."
"Am I that predictable?"
"Sometimes. Besides, I've made a close study of your personality. It's my specialist subject."
"No. Tell me what you need. What you want. Let's fix this. We owe it to each other."
"I want you to talk to me," Nikki said. She threw up her hands in exasperation. "I know you're scared, and that's fine. It's different, being with a woman in our day to day world, where everyone is either gay or OK with the idea. What you're doing now is far harder. You're taking your ex con, dyke partner home to meet your family. The people you love and want to approve of you. I know it's not easy."
"Are you accusing me of being a coward?" Helen demanded.
"No. In the circumstances you're being braver than I would be. I went through this at sixteen and I knew from the way my parents reacted that I would never be accepted by my family as long as I was what I was. So it was a simple choice for me. Live a lie for the rest of my life, or tell them to fuck off. You're older, you still have links with your family; they're important to you. Your Dad's going to be there. It's not as clear cut."
"Except it is," Helen said. She bowed her head to hide her tears, a gesture of pain Nikki hated to see because it made it hard for her to think; Helen only did it when she was very distressed. The Scot spoke through tightened lips, "I don't want women in general. You're the only one I want. In my life, in my bed. It's you, Nikki, only and always you. And now, when I have the chance to introduce you to some of the people who're important to me, I'm afraid. It feels as though I'm ashamed of you, of what we are, of what we have. Do you know how that makes me feel? It feels like I'm betraying you. Betraying us."
Nikki stepped across to stand beside Helen. She slipped her hand into the other woman's, knowing that Helen needed her space at the moment. Needed not to be overwhelmed.
"Being fickle?" she said softly. Helen turned startled eyes towards her. Nikki reached across to brush the tears from her eyelashes. Helen stood perfectly still; eyelids closed, lips parted, letting her.
She seemed heedless of the fact that they were standing in a well lit public space, with other pedestrians walking past every few seconds and cars driving along on the road nearby. Even when a group of lads in a beaten up old rustbucket cheered and heckled them as they slowed down to take a look, the driver sounding the horn loudly, Helen didn't react. Nikki moved to place herself between Helen and the road.
"You never gave up on me," Nikki said, thoughtfully. "Not when I was being an idiot, pushing against you, getting jealous of Dominic. You stepped out into the unknown for me, into a new world. You trusted I'd be there to catch you. You took the biggest risk there is with your whole heart. And we both know how you feel about risk. You're not fickle, Helen Stewart. Anything but."
Helen opened her eyes and looked at Nikki. They searched each other's faces, seeking and finding the familiar love and reassurance there. Helen stepped wordlessly into Nikki's personal space and Nikki linked her arms around the other woman's shoulders. "So long as we can talk to each other, we're fine," she said softly. Helen nodded and they moved closer, holding each other. After a couple of minutes Helen chuckled and Nikki looked down at her, puzzled.
"Is this the time to mention I actually feel a little nostalgia for cock, sometimes?"
"Sure," Nikki said, "so long as it's not attached to anyone else, I don't care."
"You heard me." She bent her head and kissed Helen, making it last. "There are ways."
"You mean...." Helen ducked her head. Nikki raised her chin gently with two fingers and smiled down at her.
"Wait till we're back from this holiday. I know where to go to get what you need, in London. And I'll take great pleasure in showing you that kind of good time."
Nikki noted the husky tone of Helen's voice and smiled. "Something for you to look forward to."
"I can't believe we're having this conversation."
"Why? I can do it and talk about it. I'm versatile, me."
"What you are is shameless."
Helen shook her head, apparently realising she wasn't going to win this one. "Come to bed."
"See what I mean?"
"No. Just to sleep. I'm tired."
"OK," Nikki said easily. "We're going to have to talk about this properly, sometime."
"When we get back home. I'll be calmer when this wedding's over."
"It's just ..."
"It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does. It matters when I let him reach into my life and hurt the woman I love."
As they walked side by side Helen slipped her arm through Nikki's and moved closer to her. She began to talk. Nikki listened, navigating for both of them.
"It wasn't a village I grew up in, but that was the mentality. I was the wee, poor orphan girl and the minister's daughter. After my mother died, he threw himself into his work. His duty took over his life. And he saw part of his duty as raising a good, Christian woman. I never felt free until I got to university. I never felt grown up till I got my first pay cheque."
"Jesus," Nikki said.
"It must have been similar for you, growing up on military bases. Everyone knowing what your father did."
"I suppose," Nikki said, "but I wasn't the only one. We were all in the same boat."
Helen nodded, acknowledging the point, then fell silent for the rest of their walk.
When they got back to the hotel she undressed and crawled into bed, naked. Lying back, she looked over at where Nikki was preparing to put on a pair of pyjamas.
"Don't do that," she instructed, " I want to feel your skin tonight."
Nikki smiled, thinking she knew where this was going, but when she got into bed Helen didn't start kissing her or any of her other usual preliminaries to making love. Instead, she embraced the taller woman, settling in by her side and sighing as she felt their bodies mold together, long practice leading them both to a comfortable position.
"That feels so good," she said a couple of minutes later, when all they had done was lie quietly together, feeling each other's warmth and closeness.
"Make the most of it," Nikki said, abstractedly.
"We're in twin beds in Scotland."
"What?!" Helen shot upright, turning to glare at Nikki. "Why?"
"I thought ... Helen, you told me you didn't want to rub your family's noses in it. I know you used to go this hotel when you were a teenager and the staff know your family. I thought it'd be for the best."
"Are we at least sharing the same room?"
"Well, in your own words, Nikki, I think they might work it out."
"I'm sorry. I should have asked. But ...."
"But I've been impossible to talk to about this for the last three weeks," Helen said, "and now I'm paying the price."
She lay back on the pillows, folding her arms. Nikki hesitated, trying to work out if the Stewart temper was going to express itself, then laid a tentative hand on Helen's shoulder. "Am I forgiven?"
"Yes," Helen said, turning to face her, "on one condition."
"You phone the hotel in the morning and you change our bed to a double."
"What if they haven't got one spare?"
"We push the beds together," Helen said firmly, "I can't do this unless I have you to hold at night. I can only try because you're with me and I know you'll support me."
"Really?" Nikki asked, dumbfounded. She felt a warm glow fill her.
"Yes," Helen said, taking hold of her again. "I may not have felt grown up until I got my first pay packet. I certainly never felt whole until I admitted how I felt about you to myself."
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