DISCLAIMER: the characters don't belong to me, but to Shed. I'm just borrowing them for a while. After I'm done toying with them, I'll give them back in one piece, I promise *evil laugh* Please don't sue, all I have left in my wallet is a couple of Euro' s. Not worth the hassle.
WARNING 1: English isn't my mother tongue, so you'll probably encounter a lot of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes along the way. It's my way of annoying the hell out of everyone lol
WARNING 2: the story is set at the end of series three, but I've changed cannon just a little bit.
WARNING 3: this is my first attempt at a Bad Girls fic. For some reason I always found it incredibly difficult to crawl into the head of Nikki and Helen, probably because they are such well rounded characters. It's much easier to write in other fandoms as you can add to the characters as you go along. You have much more freedom, of course you still have basic character traits and a minimum of canon you have to adhere to, but all in all you can do as you please. This is not the case with BG fics, the amount of leeway is much more limited. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I hope I haven't deviated from the original characters too much.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Someone to Watch Over Me
By Piranha


Part 1: Helen.

The reason – Hoobastank

I'm not a perfect person
There's many things I wish I didn't do
But I continue learning
I never meant to do those things to you
And so I have to say before I go
That I just want you to know

I've found a reason for me
To change who I used to be
A reason to start over new
and the reason is you

I'm sorry that I hurt you
It's something I must live with everyday
And all the pain I put you through
I wish that I could take it all away
And be the one who catches all your tears
That's why I need you to hear

I've found a reason for me
To change who I used to be
A reason to start over new
and the reason is you

Wiping down the last glass before stacking it on the shelf behind him, the bartender hung the dish cloth up to dry before leaning back against the counter, his eyes roaming the busy room. Grateful for the momentary lull in the lunch hour madness, he sighed contentedly. The sudden giddy laughter at a nearby table gracing his face with a smile, he winked at a passing waitress before turning his attention to the woman sat at the end of the bar. With her back turned to the rest of the crowd, he could study her unabashedly. He had noticed her the moment she had walked in. It wasn't because she was beautiful, he saw beautiful women everyday, it was the profound feeling of loss and resignation emanating from her that had caught his eye. He briefly wondered what made her so sad and downhearted: a problem at work or perhaps even a cheating boyfriend?

He knew she didn't want to talk about it, everything about her just screamed that she wanted to be left alone. Occasionally sipping from her Perrier, she kept her eye glued to the television screen, so he left her to the peace and solitude she so obviously craved, content with observing her from afar. Then the door burst open, signalling the end of his short reprieve, the woman slowly slipping from his mind as a waitress walked over to the bar. Listening closely to the lengthy order, he didn't notice the lone tear sliding down the woman's face.

Sitting at the end of the bar, her fingers idly tracing the rim of her glass, Helen stared blankly at the television screen in front of her, completely lost in thought. Someone watching would think her completely engrossed in the latest E.U. debate, but in reality she couldn't care less about the bureaucrats in Brussels, she was simply waiting for the regional news to come on. As the presenter droned on about the latest policy changes, she let her mind wander over the past.

The solitude and sorrow she felt too much to handle, she had fled her own home and sought refuge in a crowded bar, thinking that perhaps surrounded by dozens of people, listening to their animated chatter and boisterous laughter, she wouldn't feel so dead and empty inside. It hadn't worked of course, she had never felt so lonely in her life. Every time she looked up, she saw a couple holding hands and talking to each other in soft, hushed tones, reminding her of what she had lost and thrown away. Nikki, every time Helen thought of her, her heart constricted painfully.

Any minute now, a verdict would be reached. A judge, who didn't even know Nikki, who hadn't seen the gentle and caring side to her, would pass judgement, probably not even realising that he held her future, her life and her sanity in his hand. The choice of this particular bar wasn't a coincidence; located close to the Court of Appeals, she wanted to feel some kind of connection to Nikki. Though Helen desperately wanted to be there in the courthouse, to hear the life altering decision first hand, she felt that she couldn't, not after what she put Nikki through. She didn't deserve to be there, as simple as that.

She had to content herself with watching the regional news, seeing and hearing Nikki one final time before her soul mate disappeared out of her life for good and Helen knew all too well that she had no one but herself to blame for that. Sure she could call in mitigating circumstances; being at opposite sides of bars, only able to spend an occasional moment together certainly didn't help. Neither did the power imbalance between them for that matter and then you had Nikki's tempestuous, provocative behaviour at times. With odds like that, you were always in for a bumpy ride.

The fact remained however that although Larkhall and Nikki put their relationship in hospital at times, she had nearly always been the one to put it in intensive care, eventually even pulling the plug on it. And for what reason? Not just because she was afraid of what others might say or think or even fear of the unknown, although both had certainly been on her mind in the beginning. No, it was a more fundamental fear, she was afraid of the power Nikki held over her heart, she was scared of what Nikki could make her do, so she did the only thing she knew, she ran.

Helen's past still had a big influence on her life; every time emotions got too much to handle, every time a situation got too hard, she walked away, trying to minimize the potential heartache. The loss of her mother had been so devastating, distressing and painful that she never wanted to go through that again. She built emotional walls around her, pushing everyone away who came too close, too afraid of being hurt again. Opening up completely to someone, letting someone know her innermost thoughts and fears was simply inconceivable to her. It was much too dangerous, it would leave her in a far too precarious and vulnerable position. She needed to protect herself, hold onto her perceived self control, so she erected impenetrable walls around her heart.

Of course she'd had boyfriends, but they were always safe, none of them were able to touch her heart. Sure she felt something for them, was even attracted to them, but she never really loved them. Like Thomas had said the night before, they never got to know the real her. They barely scratched the surface, hitting a brick wall once they started digging deeper. What Thomas didn't realise however was that he wasn't even close to chipping down a single brick. The only one who had ever reached her heart was Nikki and it had scared Helen to death. She was so scared of the power Nikki held over her heart that she didn't even give them a chance to be happy, she simply ran away once more.

The big difference between Nikki and her other lovers though is that no matter how far she ran, no matter how hard she tried to keep her at arms' length, she always came back to Nikki eventually. Until now however, she had left it too late. She had hurt Nikki too much that last time that Nikki hadn't waited for her to come back, she had moved on. Helen couldn't really blame her. "… and I'm not even sad about it", that was simply too cruel, not only did she stab her in the back, she also managed to twist the knife just that extra little bit to hurt her even more. Now she was forced to watch her soul mate walk out of her life for good.

A lone tear sliding down her face, Helen turned her attention back to the screen when the catch tune to the regional news started. Her hand gripped tightly around her glass and nervously biting her lip, she had to sit through an agonizingly long report on last night's fire on the industrial zone before the presenter moved on to the topic of Nikki's appeal. Mentally urging the woman to give the verdict already when a detailed outline of the case was given, Helen felt her heart beat in her throat. A great feeling of relief and joy swept through her as she finally learnt Nikki had been set free. This was the moment they had been working for all those years. Realising that she'd probably see Nikki for the very last time, she unconsciously moved closer, sitting on the edge of her seat as the camera swung to the steps of the Appeals' Court.

Trying to take in as much detail as she could, the image of Nikki in her black Armani suit almost too much for her, her heart clenched painfully as she zeroed in on Trisha's arm around Nikki's shoulder. <That should have been me> echoed through her mind. Whimpering softly she swallowed the lump in her throat and concentrated on what Nikki had to say. Smiling, she felt a warm sense of pride - and yes, perhaps even revenge on Fenner as she saw him scurrying away in the background- when Nikki said her piece on the state of prisons. She should have known that even when set free, Nikki would still put the welfare of her less fortunate fellow inmates above anything else. It's simply who Nikki was, her moral indignation at societal rules that were unjust and corrupt, always fighting for the underdog, it was one of the reasons why she fell in love with her in the first place.

Then the camera zoomed in on Nikki and to Helen it felt like Nikki was looking right at her, even right through her; she could clearly see how nervous and emotional Nikki was by the crack in her voice and the slight intake of breath and gripped the glass even tighter. By the time Nikki had finished her little speech, tears were running down Helen's face. She couldn't really believe that Nikki had thanked her, had told everyone she owed her freedom and even her life to her. She felt like the door had been set slightly ajar. Maybe there was hope for them after all? Maybe this was Nikki's unique way of inviting Helen back into her life, of saying that she hadn't moved on just yet, that she was still waiting for her to get back.

Then again, Nikki had told her clearly that she had a new life waiting for her once she got the appeal out of the way, effectively clearing the path for her to pursue Thomas. She wouldn't have done that if she still loved her, would she? She would have fought for her, like all those times before, wouldn't she? Maybe Nikki had really given up on her, on them? Maybe she had driven Nikki back into Trisha's arms, back into familiar territory where Nikki at least knew where she stood? At least with Trisha Nikki knew that her heart wouldn't be trampled on every time it got a bit rough. Besides, she knew how Nikki loved, she would never allow Trisha's arm around her if she didn't feel something for her. Maybe the situation was hopeless after all, maybe she should cut her losses and try to move on.

She was brought out of her musings when her cell phone started to blare out a rather awful rendition of the Scotland the Brave. Seeing Claire's name flashing on the screen, she quickly picked up but she was barely given the time to utter a hello when an overly excited Claire started to shout: "we did it Helen, we did it. Nikki's a free woman again, as she rightfully should be. This calls for a celebration. Where are you anyway, I tried you at home first?"

"I'm in plain vanilla, that little cocktail bar, but…" Helen started to say, but she got cut off again.

"Great," Claire said, "that's only about five minutes from here, I'll be right there." Before Helen could say that she wasn't really in the mood for company – all she wanted to do right now, was drown her sorrows – or even ask Claire about Nikki, her lawyer friend had called off. Leaning back a bit further into her chair, Helen sighed heavily, resigning herself to her fate. Doubts about Nikki were clouding her mind again, so maybe meeting with Claire wasn't such a bad thing after all.

It was time to come clean to her anyway. Lord knows Claire had probably wondered often enough about the motives behind her rather zealous crusade for Nikki's freedom, although, to Helen's eternal gratitude, Claire had never openly questioned her about it. Snorting derisively, Helen concluded that they'd probably been friends long enough for Claire to know better. She knew all too well that pushing Helen would only result in her retreating further into her shell. She'd simply dig in her heels and refuse to budge an inch. But maybe now the time had come to talk about it. Not to get absolution from her friend as such, but maybe some advice or a listening ear wouldn't go amiss. Besides, Claire was one of the last to have seen Nikki today, maybe Nikki had said something to her?

Helen startled when a bag was unceremoniously dropped in the empty seat next to her. Looking up into Claire's sparkling blue eyes, she was immediately wrapped up in a bear hug. Releasing her a couple of seconds later, Claire began to take off her coat and said: "what are you doing in this dark corner? I almost didn't find you. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were hiding? Anyway, it'd good news, isn't it, Nikki being freed? She was just so happy and you should have heard the joyous uproar in the courtroom when she was set free …" Her coat finally properly draped over the chair, Claire looked into Helen's eyes for the first time and was surprised to see tears brimming in her eyes. "What is it? What's the matter? It is good news, isn't it?" To her utter astonishment, Helen burst into tears. Not really knowing what was going on, Claire wrapped her arms around Helen, softly rubbing her back, while murmuring: "everything's going to be all right, what is it? You know you can tell me anything."

Slowly, with lots of hiccups and hitched breaths, Helen told her the whole story. "I love her Claire, but like with everybody else I pushed her away. I pushed her away too far and now I've lost her forever. She doesn't love me anymore. And why should she? I mean, I've told her to go and fall for someone else one time and then when I finished it, I told her I wasn't even sad about it. I can't really blame her for choosing another life now she's free. All I've ever done, is give her heartache and grief."

"I wouldn't say that, by what I've heard, she gave as good as she got. You both have a very feisty temperament, you both say spur of the moment things that you regret later. You know that and she knows that. I don't think the situation is hopeless either, I mean how do you know she has chosen another life? Sure, she said she had another life waiting for her, but at the time she thought you were with Thomas. A love like yours doesn't fizzle out overnight, I'm convinced that she still loves you. When you love someone, you want the best for them, even if it's with someone else. She doesn't know that you're still interested in her," Claire said.

"So you think that I should give it a try, that I should go and see her? On the other hand, maybe she is better off with Trisha. Like you said, when you love someone completely, you want what's best for them and maybe Trisha is better suited" Helen asked.

"Stop it, I know you don't really believe that and even if you do, it's still not your choice to make, it's Nikki's. You just have to give her the option. Yes, I really think you should go and see her, otherwise you'll regret it for the rest of your life. You'll spend the rest of your life with what if's."

"But what if she says no? What if she doesn't want to see me anymore?" Helen asked.

"Well, she will say no if you don't freshen up before you go to see her," Claire smirked. "No offence, but you look like shit. But even if she says no, then at least you'll know."

"Yes, you're right, I should at least give it a go. Did Nikki say where she was going?"

"Chix, I think," Claire answered, "her friends organised a party for her. Hey, where are you going? Aren't we going to have a drink at least?"

"No, I haven't got time for a drink. I need to go home to freshen up and then to Chix, I've got to win back my woman," Helen smiled. Hugging Claire, she added: "thanks for this and sorry for springing it on you like this, I know it must have come as a shock."

"No, not really, I always thought there was something going on between the two of you. I just figured you'd tell me sooner or later. Just go, we can talk about all this later," Claire said. "Oh and good luck," she added, when Helen was practically out the door.

Pouring a bluish liquid into the shaker, the bartender looked over to the women at the end of the bar, just in time to see Helen give Claire a tiny wave before dashing out. < Well she sure seems happier> he thought < that talk with her friend must have done her the world of good>. With a smile on his face, he poured the cocktail into the glass, before finishing it off with a slice of lime and putting it on the tray of a waiting waitress.


Part 2 : Nikki.

You are the reason (C. Dion)

I figured it out
I was high and low and everything in between
I was wicked and wild, baby, you know what I mean
Till there was you, yeah, you

Something went wrong
I made a deal with the devil for an empty I.O.U.
Been to hell and back, but an angel was looking through
It was you, yeah, you
It's all because of you

You are the reason
You are the reason I wake up every day
And sleep through the night
You are the reason, the reason

In the middle of the night
I'm going down 'cause I adore you
I want to floor you

I'm giving it up
No more running around spinning my wheel
You came out of my dream and made it real
I know what I feel
It's you
It's all because of you

You are the reason
You are the reason I wake up every day
And sleep through the night
You are the reason, the reason

In the middle of the night
I'm going down 'cause I want you
I want to touch you
I want to floor you
You are the reason, baby

You are the reason
You are the reason I wake up every day
And sleep through the night
You are the reason, the reason

High up in the public gallery, listening to Sally Ann Howe's emotional account of Gossard's attack, Trisha gripped the banister so hard that her knuckles turned white. The harrowing, detailed description brought it all back to her, making her sick to the stomach: her own assault, the mortal fear she felt, the shattered trust, the overwhelming hatred, the self loathing and in a way the loss of innocence and belief in a good and righteous world. For a moment she felt herself pinned down again and she couldn't breathe, she felt his hands around her throat, slowly suffocating her. The stench of his breath in her face as he groped her violently with rough, calloused hands, leaving her paralysed with angst, unable to scream for help though desperately wanting to. Shaking like a reed, Trisha forced herself to think about something else, to concentrate on someone else, anyone but Sally Ann Howe. Looking down at Nikki in the box, she could clearly see she was affected too. All those times she went to visit her in prison, they never once talked about it; neither of them dared to bring it up, both too afraid to hurt the other.

Their eyes locked for a moment and Trisha felt all those old feelings flooding back. Feelings she had had to bury for such a long time, she had needed to suppress them in order to survive without Nikki. What a fool she had been to ever give her up. But if that judge did the right thing and set Nikki free, she wouldn't have to deny those feelings anymore. She would be given a second chance, a chance she'd grab with both hands. She loved Nikki, she loved everything about her: her passionate and wild nature, her cut throat attitude, her caring, gentle nature and her air of subdued class and sophistication. The way she completely understood her, the way she always came to the defence of weaker ones, her moral indignation of abuse of power, yes she even loved her broody nature and stubbornness and the way she sometimes craved solitude.

Paralysed by fear, not even daring to breathe, Nikki heard the judge say she had taken a life in the most vicious manner. <No, it's happening again,> she thought, <he's going to send me back to Larkhall. I can't survive another day in that hellhole. Not without my hope, not without Helen.> A deep fear caught her, leaving her rooted to the spot. Once again a total stranger would decide over her life while she stood by helplessly. She was sure her heart stopped beating when he called out her name; she didn't dare move, she didn't dare breathe or even blink.

An eternity passed before he delivered his verdict, the prolonged wait sheer torture for her already shattered nerves. Then when he said she was free to go, it just didn't register. It was too much to handle, her mind just froze. She heard someone call her name, but it sounded so hollow, it came from so far that she couldn't react. She was too much in a trance. Only when she felt someone pull her sleeve, could she move. She looked down in Di Barker's surprisingly friendly and smiling face and only when she saw, rather than heard, her say that she was free, did Nikki really believe it.

She was free! She couldn't believe it, she was really free. It was everything she had ever wanted, but never thought possible. She felt deliriously high, adrenalin and exhilaration running through her like a raging fire. She needed to get out of there, she needed to go outside to smell, taste and touch her freedom for the first time in years. A door burst open and moments later she looked into Trisha's sparkling eyes. Still clinging to the faintest of hope, she looked past Trisha to see if Helen was there, maybe she had come after all? She saw all her friends, cheering loudly, smiling brightly and hugging each other, but as she frantically looked around, she couldn't see Helen anywhere. As she was wrapped up in Trisha's tight embrace, she felt her heart break all over again. The hollow feeling returned; she felt dead and empty inside. How could she enjoy freedom without Helen by her side? She had received another life sentence, this time her prison a loveless and soulless life, a much harder burden to bear.

It felt like an eternity before they left the courtroom, the flood of well wishers hugging and kissing her making her feel slightly claustrophobic. She didn't have the heart to say anything though, everybody was just so happy, she didn't want to spoil it. It was simply a case of too much too soon; she wasn't used to big crowds anymore and felt trapped. A stampede of elephants was dancing on her chest, making her slowly suffocate. Panic gripped her, she needed air, she needed room, she couldn't breathe. At last they stepped outside and closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. That first gulp felt so liberating, intoxicating even. Gone was the stifling air of disinfectants and stale smoke that was Larkhall, gone were the people prodding and hugging her, for a moment she felt totally alone and at peace, enjoying the fresh smells of spring.

The illusion was soon shattered though, she was forced to return to the cold, harsh reality when journalists shoved a microphone down her nose. Opening her eyes, the cacophony of shouted questions, passing cars and street sounds hitting her hard, she took a deep breath of air. Straightening, as if mentally preparing herself for battle, she stepped forward. "It goes without saying that I'm delighted to be set free," she declared. Looking at the news hungry crowd for the first time, she noticed Di and Fenner scurrying away from the corner of her eye and a great rage filled her. Remembering all the things that bastard had done, not only to her, but also to countless others, she felt an overpowering urge for revenge.

"Prison is a terrible place, people don't know half of what goes on in there. There are male officers employed on female residential wings, abusing vulnerable women," she said with forceful conviction. Fenner's glare made her feel good about herself, for the very first time she came out the victor, finally she had the last word. But then she realised how hollow that statement really was; prison improvement was a worthwhile battle, one she'd definitely fight in the future, but now was not the time nor the place. She should use her limited time on television more wisely. She just knew that Helen would be watching this, she was given a final opportunity to say something to her and she needed to grab that chance with both hands. "Anyway, I was one of the lucky few inside to get access to a real education and there's one woman I've got to thank for that because she always believed in me, no matter how tough things got. I owe that woman not only my freedom, but also my life. Thank you," she said, choking on the last words as her emotions overwhelmed her. Looking straight into the camera while she delivered the heartfelt words, she felt herself tearing up inside.

Slapping Mike on the back laughing as he finished his amusing tale, she excused herself and walked back to the bar. Immediately receiving another glass of Champaign from Tracy, apparently one of their new waitresses, Nikki just stood there for a while, trying to take it all in. She didn't think it would feel like this, she felt so cut up and torn. She wanted to cry, mourn the loss of Helen, but she also didn't want to disappoint her friends, so she put up a brave face. Wearing a mask of smiles and laughs, she was slowly dying inside. But this was her life now, she just had to grunt and bare it, hopefully it would get better over time, hopefully the memory of Helen would fade.

Trying to throw off the heavy desperation she felt, she took a look around, noticing for the very first time all the changes Trisha had made. Then it dawned on her where exactly she was standing and she felt the bile rise. This is where it happened all those years ago and for a moment she was thrown back in time. She smelt the metallic tang of dried, clotted blood, she saw blood dripping from her hands and the shard of glass, slowly falling to the ground to form a little puddle and felt faint. Swaying, she had to grip the counter to stop herself from falling over. Next thing she knew Trisha was next to her, a protective arm wrapped around her. Shaking violently she allowed herself to be led to the office.

Chatting to one of their friends, Trisha kept an eye on Nikki. She was acting really strangely, almost as if she wasn't happy to be free. Oh on the outside she was all smiles and graces, but Trisha knew better. Maybe this party wasn't such a good idea after all, but when they heard there was a good chance Nikki would be set free, their friends had wanted to be there for them, to show them their support. Alarm bells going off when she saw Nikki becoming deadly pale, she rushed over. How could she have been so stupid? This was the very first time Nikki was back in the club since that fateful night that changed both their lives. No matter how many changes she made to the club, she was still scared to death sometimes, especially alone at night after lock up. It had taken her months to pluck up enough courage to even look at the bar, never mind standing next to it. Knowing exactly what Nikki was going through right now, she whispered nonsensical words and took her trembling hands into her own, leading her back into the privacy of their office, ordering Tracy not to disturb them with a mere look.

"I'm so sorry," Trisha said, making sure Nikki was comfortable on the big leather couch before handing her a large whisky. "I didn't stop to think."

"There was just so much blood," Nikki croaked, "I thought I was going to faint, stupid huh?"

"No, not at all," Trisha assured her. "I still feel like that sometimes, it will get better in time though. It's just hard the first time, I promise." Rubbing Nikki's back, feeling her relax slowly, she asked: "feeling better now?"

"Yeah, thanks," Nikki said, giving her a small smile. "it's just …."

"What?" Trisha asked when Nikki didn't continue, "you know you can tell me anything."

"I'd just like to be alone for a while, you don't mind, do you?"

"Are you sure?" Trisha asked sceptically, her eyebrows scrunching with worry. When Nikki just nodded, throwing her that puppy dog look, she simply caved in, unable to refuse her anything. "Okay, I'll leave you in peace for a while. I need to check on the bar anyway, make sure they don't drink us into bankruptcy out there. I'll come check on you in a little while, okay?"

Nikki just nodded and took another sip, grateful when the brown liquid warmed her up inside. She felt alive again. The nightmarish flashback pushed back into a dark corner of her mind, she put the now empty glass on the table before leaning back into the old, battered couch. She couldn't believe Trisha had kept it all those years, she used to hate the sight of it, branding it an ugly, uncomfortable, lumpy log. Nikki loved it though and placing one of the cushions behind her back, she laid down comfortably. Lighting a cigarette, the ashtray strategically placed on her stomach, she thought about her day. She hadn't dared imagine the judge would set her free. It all still felt like a dream, being free to do whatever she wanted, no screws looking over her shoulder or barking out orders. And she owed it all to Helen.

Helen, just thinking of her sent a myriad of emotions through her. Love, happiness, gratitude… but also regret and a feeling of loss. She was mourning what could have been. She wasn't a fan of scarecrow Dion, finding most of her songs too corny and sappy for her taste, but she did like 'the reason', she found it fitted Helen and her so perfectly. How did it go again? 'Something went wrong, I made a deal with the devil for an empty I owe you. Been to hell and back, but an angel was looking through. It was you, yeah you, it's all because of you.' Yes, Helen was her angel, without her she would never have made it. She was part of her soul, the one that made her whole, the one she had been waiting for all her life. They were angels with one wing, they could only fly while embracing each other and now she was forced to live without her. A tear sliding down her face, Nikki realised that she wouldn't be living, she would be merely existing.

Nikki was staring at the wall, not really seeing anything, when Trisha came back in. Scrambling up, she quickly dabbed her cheeks, not wanting Trisha to see her tears. She wasn't quick enough however and though Nikki's pain and sadness stabbed at her heart, Trisha didn't say anything. "Feeling better?" she asked, surprising herself with the evenness of her voice while her heart was in turmoil.

Retracting her long legs to make room for Trisha to sit, Nikki answered: "yeah, it's just so weird. I keep expecting someone to come and tell me it's time for lock up."

Realising that she couldn't prolong this any longer, it was better for them both to know where they stood, she asked: "anyone in particular?" The way Nikki just sighed 'Trisha' told her enough. "I know you Nikki, you don't make speeches like that for all the girls, she must have really got to you."

Finding all of this extremely difficult, she really didn't want to hurt Trisha, Nikki said: "Helen was there for me when most people would have run a mile." She knew she had phrased it badly the moment she had said it, Trisha's 'like I did it, you mean' and the barely contained strangled, self-depreciating sob only confirming that knowledge. Hastily she added: "hey, I didn't expect you to take a vow of celibacy."

"I've missed you Nik," Trisha said but before Nikki could answer she continued: "but I know you well enough to realise that although you still love me and probably always will, you are no longer in love with me. You're in love with her, Helen's the one you want to be with."

"I'm sorry," Nikki whispered, taking Trisha's hand into her own and giving it a light squeeze. "I know I said on the phone that I was willing to give us another go, I didn't mean to lead you on. I do love you, but it wouldn't be fair on you."

Her last bit of hope shattered, her heart breaking, Trisha gave her a wan smile and replied: "don't be sorry, it's not your fault, you can't help the way you feel." She was dying inside, but Nikki's pain and sadness was so visible, so palpable that she asked: "what are you doing here then? You should be with Helen, the two of you can finally be together."

"She doesn't want me," Nikki sobbed and began to tell her the whole story.

"I wondered what you needed that money for," she mumbled pensively. "So you set her free, just like you set me free," she added. "What?" she added when she noticed Nikki's strange look. "You didn't think I knew? I did, well not at first, but later… when I had time to think about it. Anyway, we're not talking about that." Pinning Nikki with a look, she raised her voice a bit and said: "OF course she bloody wants you. If she didn't love you anymore she wouldn't have come running to explain about Thomas, she wouldn't have said goodbye to you or thrown you that last lingering look. For Christ's sake Nikki, the woman gave up her bloody job to protect your appeal and by what you've told me her career meant everything to her. If that isn't love, I don't know what is."

"If she still loves me as you claim, why wasn't she there in the courtroom?" Nikki asked, still not convinced.

"I don't know," Trisha replied with a tired sigh. "You told her you had a new life waiting for you so she's probably convinced we're shagging each other's brains out by now. With the upbringing she had, she probably doesn't want to come between us. Or maybe she's afraid you wouldn't want her anymore after running out on you that final time. I don't know, those are questions you have to ask her. You need to go and see her, you do know that, don't you?"

"What if she tells me to piss off again, what if she doesn't want me after all?" Nikki asked.

Rolling her eyes at Nikki's stubbornness, Trisha replied: "that's just the risk you have to take. Either way, you need to know for your own peace of mind." When Nikki didn't budge, she added, quite exasperatingly: "well? What are you waiting for?"

"You're right, I have to go see her, but not today. I can't do it today. I've been to hell and back, I don't think I could take another rejection today."

Noticing the dark circles under Nikki's eyes, Trisha thought she was probably right; Nikki was exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. Opening up the safe, she said: "look, here are your wallet and all the papers you need: driver's license, insurance, … Why don't you head home, a long soak in the bath will do you the world of good. Just relax and then maybe tomorrow…?"

"Yeah, that's a good idea," Nikki said, taking the offered papers. "I might just go home, I'm tired. Erm are you okay with me being there now that we're not …. I could always go to a hotel?"

"Don't be silly, it's as much your house as it is mine. You can have the spare bedroom. Just go. Don't wait up for me, it's Friday and you know how crazy it gets then."

"Thanks Trish, for everything," Nikki said, giving her a kiss on the cheek before wrapping her up in a warm hug. "You're the best."

The door clicking in the lock signalling that she was alone again, Trisha let her emotions run free. Tears sliding down her face, she drank straight from the whisky bottle and said: "yes, I am the best, I love you enough to set you free."


Part 3: Helen vs Trisha, battle of the exes.

Thought about putting the 'theme to Jaws' here, found it most apt, but as that hasn't got any lyrics, I've settled for I've only begun to fight by Natalia

I've only begun to fight - Natalia

She wants me out of the action
She's coming hard
But this ain't the end of the battle
It's just the start

I will not fold under fire
I'm holding my spot
She waits back on the bottom

I'll be on top

I've only just begun to fight
You ain't seen nothing yet
I've just begun to fight
To prove I'm the love of your life
I'm gonna kiss every doubt from your lips baby
I've only begun to fight

It's more than just knowing you want it
It's knowing how bad
To keep it you got to be on it
With all that you have
She thinks that she'll be the victress
She should think twice
Cause I'm in this game to the finish
And I won't play nice

I've only just begun to fight
You ain't seen nothing yet
I've just begun to fight
To prove I'm the love of your life
I'm gonna kiss every doubt from your lips baby
I've only begun to fight

You'll find every woman you need right here
I won't let you forget what you got
Just getting hot!

I've only just begun to fight
You ain't seen nothing yet
I've just begun to fight
To prove I'm the love of your life
I'm gonna kiss every doubt from your lips baby
I've only begun to fight

Don't count me out
I've only begun to fight
Don't count me out
I've only begun to fight

Sighing Tracy bent down to get another bottle of Champaign out of the fridge. Pulling off the cap with only a little bang, she poured it out expertly, getting just the right amount of froth, before putting it in front of Trisha. Never saying a word, she leaned back against the counter as Trisha thanked her with a tiny smile, never quite reaching her eyes. Staring at the dancing crowd, Tracy thought back to earlier that afternoon. Trisha had looked so happy then, walking in with Nikki, that it pained Tracy to see her so heartbroken. From behind the bar, she had studied them both, walking around and chatting to their friends and had immediately known they wouldn't be together long.

Though they made a strikingly beautiful couple, undoubtedly turning heads wherever they went, they weren't right for each other, not anymore. Too much had happened. She didn't doubt they loved each other deeply and they probably were deliriously happy for nine years, but the spark was gone. They were two atoms circling around each other, never quite hitting it off, the chemistry just wasn't there anymore. She knew that Trisha was still very much in love with Nikki, it was obvious in everything she did and said, the little touches, the adoring stares, but it was also plain to see Nikki didn't feel the same anymore. The sadness in those haunted brown eyes told Tracy all she needed to know, Trisha was heading for a fall.

Watching hasty retreat and the whispered plea to give Trisha some privacy, Tracy knew she had been right. She desperately wanted to console Trisha, but she knew better. Trisha was a very proud and private person, it would pain her to know someone had witnesses her heartache. So she waited, making sure no one entered the office unannounced. When Trisha finally emerged, all evidence of her tears was gone, but her eyes had lost that sparkle. Tracy wanted to rush over, wrap her up in cotton wool and whisper that everything would be alright, but it was to soon. Trisha's broken heart needed to heal, she needed a friend right now. But later … who knew? Anything was possible.

Sinking down in the bath, surrounded by luxurious amounts of foam, Helen sighed softly. The warmth slowly dulling her senses, she stretched out and let her mind wander. She couldn't believe Nikki had thanked her on national television. Yes, she had helped Claire with the appeal, but so had countless others: Trisha, Marion, Sally Ann Howe, … Still Nikki chose to thank her and in such emotional, moving way; it really came from the heart. And even though they weren't together anymore, Nikki was still protecting her. Words so carefully chosen, not wanting to damage her career or her relationship with Thomas, it had moved her beyond belief.

Nikki truly was amazing. Helen couldn't believe how stupid she had been to ever let her go? Maybe she didn't know all that much about love, always confusing it with sex and companionship in the past, but even she knew that what they had was unique and once in a lifetime. A love so captivating and deeply emotional that at times Helen had feared she'd get burnt by the intensity of it all. But time and time again, she was drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.

Though Plato was the first to introduce the concept of soul mates, Helen found his views too stifling and preferred Aristophanes' version. The Greek playwright argued that in the beginning of time we were all born with four arms and four legs. Essentially we were two people rolled into one, we already belonged to our soul mate. Sons of the earth, daughters of the sun and children of the moon all lived together and they were so happy, the Gods felt obsolete. Angered by the insolence of the mortals, Zeus decided to punish them all and with one perfectly aimed thunderbolt, he separated them, each person losing his or her soul mate, forcing mankind to eternally search for his other half.

That's exactly how she felt about Nikki. All her life she had felt incomplete, like a big part of her was missing. She searched for it in vain and then she met Nikki. Finally the world made sense, she felt whole at last. Nikki was the other part of her soul, the actual half of herself, the one she had been looking for all her life. True love wasn't two souls coming together, but one soul finding it's other half.

The water becoming cold, Helen stepped out of the bath and wrapped a big towel around herself. Not bothering to dry herself, leaving tiny droplets of water all over the floor, she walked to the bedroom and opened her cupboard. A pensive look on her face, she ran her hand over her clothes, mentally dismissing each item of her list. Wanting to impress Nikki, she decided to go for hip hugging pants and a low cut top in the end, remembering all to well the excited gleam in Nikki's eyes each time she had shown a bit of cleavage in Larkhall. Satisfied with her choice, she went back to the bathroom for the finishing touches. Dabbing some perfume on strategic places, she took a final look at herself in the mirror. Pleased with the reflection staring back at her, she curled some stray hairs behind her ear in an unconscious move and exited the bathroom. Grabbing her leather coat and purse from the couch, she closed the door behind her, just as the cab pulled up.

Caught in the evening traffic jam, Helen became more and more nervous. She had been so intent on the idea of winning Nikki back, that she hadn't even thought about how exactly she was going to pull that off. What was she going to say to Nikki? How could she convince her to give her another chance? It wasn't like she was going to fall into her arms the moment she walked in. It would need some convincing, some explaining even. She needed to make sure Nikki understood that she wanted her, only her. That she wouldn't run away again like a frightened child when the going got rough, that she was there for the long haul, that she'd love her for ever. Helen was still thinking when the cab pulled up in front of Chix. <Oh well, I'll just have to wing it>, she though as she paid the driver.

When she entered the club, the party was still going strong, but Nikki was nowhere to be found. Slowly moving forward, trying not to bump into anyone, she scanned the whole room until her eye fell on Trisha. The other woman hadn't spotted her yet, so Helen took the time to quietly observe her. Trisha really looked magnificent, an ice cool blonde with perfect figure, sipping from her Champaign as if she owned the world. How could she ever compete with her? As if Trisha felt she was being watched, she turned around to face her and pinned Helen down with a piercing stare.

Gulping audibly, more than a little intimidated by that look, Helen gathered up all her courage and walked over, never breaking eye contact. <Two can play this game>, she thought. Stopping right beside Trisha, enjoying towering over her she asked: "hello Trisha, could I speak to Nikki, please?" Refusing to blink as Trisha gave her a slow once over, she had to smirk when Trisha caved in first.

Hopping off the bar stool, Trisha gave her a rather subdued 'follow me' as she led Helen to the office. <So this is who Nikki left me for>, she thought. <Well, she might have looked mighty fine in those power suits she wore in Larkhall, she looks even better now. I can definitely understand what Nikki sees in her. So Helen decided to take the first step? Good. No need to make it easier on her though, Nikki's heart is at stake.> Opening the door to the office, Trisha motioned Helen to enter.

Her heart racing at the thought of seeing Nikki, Helen brushed past Trisha, only to find the office empty. Spinning around on her heels, she glared at Trisha, suspecting the blonde was playing some kind of mind game with her. Totally unphased by the glare, Trisha pushed herself off the door and moved towards a tiny cabinet. "Sit down," she told Helen, "we need to talk." When Helen stubbornly refused to take a seat, but kept staring at her, her arms crossed over her chest, Trisha rather briskly ordered: "I said, sit down in that chair."

Nikki's 'don't you wish it was electric' bubbling to the surface, Helen had to suppress a nervous giggle and sat down, looking back at Trisha with a rather defiant gaze. <So this is how Nikki felt all those times>, she mused.

"I need a drink for this," Trisha mumbled under her breath. Unscrewing the top of the whisky bottle, she poured herself a shot. Holding the bottle out to Helen, she screwed the top back on when Helen shook her head. Leaning back against the cabinet, the glass of scotch loosely in her hand, she asked: "why do you need to talk to Nikki?"

"That's none of your business," Helen replied a little more gruffly than she intended, her nerves getting the better of her.

"Humour me," Trisha smiled rather predatorily before taking a sip.

"I want to congratulate her, tell her how happy I am for her," Helen answered vaguely, fully aware of the dangerous situation she was in. Not wanting this to escalate into a battle of the exes, she felt like she was walking an emotional minefield. Though she'd fight for Nikki if she had to, doing ten rounds with Trisha wasn't what she had in mind for tonight. She needed to see Nikki, she'd take care of Trisha later.

"IS that all?" Trisha asked tauntingly. "Well, I'll be sure to pass the message on."

Her jaw set firm, Helen stubbornly refused Trisha to intimidate her. "No, I need to see her, I want to tell her myself."

Suddenly tired of this cat and mouse game, in truth she was never any good at psychological warfare, Trisha sighed deeply. Putting her glass down on the table, she said: "look Helen, Nikki told me all about the two of you. You need to make your mind up: either you want her or you don't. If you don't want her, you need to tell her that and stop dangling yourself in front of her like an enticing carrot. If you do want her, you need to tell her and for fuck sake, make sure you mean it. You'd hurt her immensely if you said you loved her only to retract it later on or run away again. It would simply crush her. She may act all tough, inside is a fragile heart. She wouldn't survive you walking out on her again."

Angered beyond belief by Trisha's gall, Helen had to admit it was the truth and with a small voice, she admitted: "I know."

"If you know, why do you keep breaking her heart time and time again?" Trisha asked rather forcefully. In a much gentler voice, she continued: "look, I genuinely believe that you love her. You wouldn't have given up your job if you didn't or do ten rounds of hell with me. All I'm saying is, don't toy with her heart. You need to be sure about how you feel, it's only fair, not only towards yourself, but especially towards Nikki. Trust and honesty are very important to Nikki. If you want to be with her, you'll have to show her she can trust you, that you'll always be open and honest with her. She needs to hear your inner most thoughts, the secret desires you harbour or the failures that haunt your thoughts during the day. Running away from your won emotions, hiding them from her is something Nikki won't accept. Nikki's at home," Trisha said, rattling off an address. "Whatever you do, don't pressure her, not today. Emotionally she's not up to it," Trisha warned her, telling her about the flashback.

"Why are you doing this?" Helen asked, awed at the sacrifice Trisha was willing to make.

"I love her, I love her enough to let her go. I've felt how Nikki loved and I won't settle for anything less. Despite this evening's evidence to the contrary, I like you Stewart. I think you'll be good for Nikki, above anything else Nikki deserves to be happy," Trisha simply said.

"Thank you," Helen said sincerely, giving Trisha an impromptu hug.

When she was alone again, Trisha wrangly asked herself: "why do I always get the hugs, but never the woman?"

Passing the office on her way to the cellar, Tracy couldn't help overhearing most of the conversation. In truth, curiosity got the better of her and she had tried to make herself look busy by an airshaft, knowing it was the best place to eavesdrop. What she heard, made Trisha go up even more in her esteem. "If only she could love me like that," she sighed.


Part 4: Helen vs. Nikki, mending of hearts.

At last – Ella Fitzgerald (amongst others).

At last
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song

At last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I have looked at you

I found a dream, that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known

You smiled, you smiled
And then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine at last

I found a dream
That I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill, to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known

You smiled you smiled
And then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last
At last
At last

Peering through the curtains when she heard a cab pull up, the old woman had to smile: Nikki was finally back where she belonged. She had been so pleased hearing about her release on the lunchtime news. Putting her knitting down in her lap, she thought back to all those years ago when she first met Nikki. She was ashamed to admit it now, but she had been as shocked and outraged as the rest of the street when Trisha and Nikki moved in. Lesbians, especially back in those days, were something you read about in the paper or secretly gossiped about at the hairdresser's while sipping a cup of tea. Never had she expected a couple to move in right next door. And they both seemed so normal! Not that Alice expected three headed, web footed hairy purple aliens to show up, but she did expect them to look…. Well, a bit more butch.

Her prejudices and fears had disappeared as soon as she got to know them better; never had she met sweeter, more helpful neighbours, always ready to lend her a hand. Whether it was cleaning out the gutters, doing her shopping or just sit with her for a while to chat when she was feeling lonely or depressed. She loved them both dearly, they were the daughters she never had. She had to admit though, Nikki held a very special place in her heart. Sharing her passion for old music and books and reminding Alice of her late husband, they had spent many afternoons just listening to music or chatting about nothing and everything.

Alice was devastated when Nikki was sent down, especially when she learnt that Nikki stubbornly refused to see anyone. It pained her to know that such a gentle, caring soul was locked up behind bars, just for protecting the one she loved. Then Trisha told her about the appeal and Alice sprung into action, organising petitions and rallying support and now Nikki was finally home. Noticing the sad look on Nikki's face and her slumped shoulders, the old woman wondered what was wrong. She would have thought Nikki to be ecstatic to be set free, but that certainly didn't seem to be the case. Maybe her premonition had come true? As Nikki disappeared from sight, Alice reminded herself to pop in tomorrow for one of their chats.

Though the hot bath had done her the world of good, Nikki still felt restless. Images of her flashback still floating through her mind, she felt ill at ease and tense. She just couldn't seem to find any peace. She needed a distraction, but not used to making her own decisions anymore, she was unsure of what to do. Still only clad in her old bathrobe, a black silken one that only came to mid thigh, she roamed around aimlessly. She picked out a book, but gave up after five minutes, her mind couldn't settle down long enough to read past the first page. Finally she decided to have a cup of tea, at least the boring, mundane task would leave her with something to do.

Entering the kitchen, her mouth fell open with shock; she couldn't believe all the changes Trisha had made. Only now did she realise that time hadn't stood still for Trisha, that she had gone on living. Somehow she had expected everything to remain the same, that Trisha and the house hadn't changed at all. Sighing, she shook her head at the stupidity of that though. How could she expect everything to remain the same when she herself had changed so much? Really liking the new look, it made the room look so much airier, she began looking through the cupboards in search of the mugs. Finally finding them, smiling brightly when she found her favourite one, she poured her tea.

Holding the tray with remarkable ease, she had worked in nightclubs for far too long to forget that ability, she carried her tea and biscuits to the living room. Trisha not being there to admonish her, she sank down on the couch and put her feet on the coffee table, sighing deeply. She hadn't had the luxury of doing absolutely nothing, relaxing and just be, for such a long time that it felt like heaven on earth. No one to tell her off, no Fenner lurking in the background to taunt her, no harsh, piercing screams cutting through the silence. After a while the total silence got on her nerves though, she was so used to a constant background murmur, even at night, that the total lack of noise left her somewhat unsettled.

Never one to watch a lot of television, not even knowing what was on now, she walked over to the stereo installation. Grateful that at least that hadn't changed, she really didn't feel like deciphering a cryptic user's manual right now, she put one of her favourite CD's in. Moments later, the soft, warm voice of Ella Fitzgerald floated through the room. Laying back down on the couch, her hand over her eyes, she listened to the music, feeling herself drift into a a world of her own.

Arriving at the house, double checking if she had the right address, Helen paid the driver and stepped out of the cab. She couldn't believe her eyes, Nikki's house was huge. Every time she had thought about Nikki's past, she had just assumed she lived in a tiny flat like she did. She now wondered just how successful Chix really was Nikki always shrugging and changing the subject when she asked about her past. There certainly had been a huge crowd earlier on and it wasn't even evening yet! More than a little intimidated by Nikki's apparent wealth, she felt even more nervous, thinking Nikki was probably way out of her league. But she had come too far to give up now the finish was in sight; mustering up all her courage, she walked to Nikki's front door, determined to win her back.

Nikki was just enjoying 'Summertime', really hearing the wind blowing through the cotton through the music, when the doorbell rang. More than a little annoyed at the interruption, she got up, determined to give the damn salesman a piece of her mind. Totally forgetting about her scantily dressed state, she turned the volume of the stereo down before opening the door with an angry swing. "Helen," she gasped totally flabbergasted.

Her eyes going wide at the sight, Nikki really looked magnificent in her tiny robe, her hair all mussed up, Helen unconsciously licked her lips, a lecherous gleam in her eye. "Hiya Nikki," she gushed, her voice betraying the calm and collected look she wanted to convey. When Nikki just stood there, rooted to the spot, she asked: "can I come in?"

"Yes, yes of course," Nikki stammered, opening the door wider to let Helen pass. Shaking her head to get rid of the cobwebs, she led her to the living room. Motioning Helen to take a seat, Nikki sank down on the couch and just stared at her. She couldn't believe that Helen was here, in her house. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined Helen coming to see her, taking the first step. <Hold your horse Wade, not so fast,> a little voice inside her said, <you don't know what she's here for yet.>

Finding Nikki with a look of utter confusion on her head totally adorable, Helen had to smile. Walking into the lounge, she took a good look around, approving of the cosy, homely feel of the room. She sat down on the nearby easy chair and looked at Nikki expectantly. The silence stretching out, she realised that it was up to her to take the first step and said: "I had to see you, tell you how happy I am for you."

"It's all a bit of a dream right now," Nikki managed to reply, the emotions of seeing Helen again overwhelming her.

"You'll get used to it," Helen replied, smiling brightly. She still felt too anxious and nervous to reveal the real reason of her visit. She needed small talk to gather up enough courage to ask, beg and implore Nikki for another chance.

"I could never have done it without you Helen, you know that. You stood by me when no one else gave a damn. If you only knew what that meant," Nikki declared emotionally, her voice croaking on the last word. Knowing she would cry if she kept looking at Helen, she lowered her head, her emotions becoming a bit too much all of a sudden.

Totally focused on Nikki, Helen hadn't missed the motion however and thinking that her coming here had upset Nikki, Helen replied, meaning every word: "I wouldn't have missed it for the world." Remembering Trisha's advice of not pressuring Nikki, she added: "I'd better go."

Realising that she wasn't ready to let Helen go just yet, not really knowing if she'd see her again, Nikki quickly got up and said: "how rude of me not to offer you a drink. Would you like one? A drink?" In her heart desperately hoping she'd say yes, she looked at Helen expectantly.

Not able to say no to that puppy dog look, Helen replied: "I could stay for one I suppose. Tea if you have any." When Nikki mumbled something about brewing a fresh pot, Helen followed her to the kitchen. Watching her pottering about, opening cupboards and slicing lemons, she realised that this was a side to Nikki she hadn't seen yet. She loved her dearly, but there was still so much of Nikki she didn't know, the micro cosmos of Larkhall preventing them to get to know each other properly. She didn't know how she liked her tea, what her favourite food was or if she liked to cook. Realising that she'd never find out these little things of Nikki if she didn't do something now, she grabbed her chance. The longer she put it off, the harder it would become anyway. "Thomas and I split up," she blurted out. "I've been such a fool Nikki."

Spinning around at that statement, her mind reeling and almost dropping the knife she held in her hand, Nikki felt her heart stop beating for a moment. A myriad of emotions shot through her: surprise, amazement, happiness, but also worry and confusion. Did this mean she still had a chance or had Helen only come to blame her? She was just about to ask when Helen spoke again.

As the silence stretched out, Helen realised that her statement could be taken the wrong way. <Just how is Nikki supposed to react to that,> she mentally admonished herself, < you haven't exactly made yourself clear Stewart.> She knew she needed to make a bold statement, eradicate all doubt from Nikki's mind. "No, let me say it" she said when she saw Nikki was about to speak, "Thomas is gorgeous. He's everything you could want in a man…. But I want a woman."

There, she had said it. Though putting her heart on the line like that, making herself vulnerable, would have scared her to death in the past, now she felt oddly relieved, like a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She had finally admitted the truth, both to herself and to Nikki and it felt liberating. She felt totally at peace with herself for the first time. Anxiously she studied Nikki's face, trying to gauge her reaction.

Hearing how wonderful Thomas was, Nikki felt her heart crumble. Down and dejected, all she wanted to do was curl up and die. But then Helen said she wanted a woman and Nikki felt herself come to life again. She simply couldn't believe it, Helen wanted her. Swallowing awkwardly, the overwhelming emotions threatening to choke her up, she whispered: "we'll take things slowly."

Hearing that, Helen's heart started to beat again and unable to contain her happiness, elation and relief, she smiled brightly. Strong emotions thickening her accent, she drawled: "yeah, real slow." Staring into Nikki's eyes, seeing nothing but love and devotion in them, Helen decided she couldn't wait any longer. Her love for Nikki denied and pushed away for so long, her passion threatened to overflow and grabbing Nikki by the lapels of her robe, she kissed her wildly, hungrily. When they finally came up for air, Helen couldn't help but smile, amazed by her own ferocity. Only Nikki could ignite that kind of passion and fire in her.

Smiling brightly, Nikki asked: "I believe you wanted some tea?" The kiss affecting her deeply, her hands shaking so much that the cup and saucer rattled she led Helen back to the couch, needing a moment to wrap her head around the latest development.

Helen couldn't believe that Nikki was thinking of tea at a time like this and as soon as they sat down on the couch, not an inch of space between them, she attacked Nikki's lips again. When Nikki pulled away, Helen scrunched her eyebrows in confusion and moving back a bit, she asked: "what is it? What's the matter?"

Unsure how to proceed, Nikki nervously stammered: "it's not that I don't want this, God you don't know how much I want this, but I need to know… Why the sudden change of heart?"

Deciding it was only a fair question, she had acted rather frivolously with Nikki's heart in the past, Helen sat back. Trying to get her thoughts in the right order, she wiped her forehead. A serious expression on her face, she answered: "I love you, I've always loved you, ever since our big confrontation on the landing in Larkhall. You complete me, you're the other part of my soul, but I was afraid. Not so much of what our love would do to my career if someone found out or the changes in lifestyle it implied, although that certainly played a big part in the beginning. No, I was afraid of what our love would mean, of the power you would have over me that I did what I always do, I ran.

You see, my mother died when I was very young, leaving me devastated. She meant everything to me, she was my world. I vowed to myself that I would never experience a pain like that again and built a wall around my heart. I was so used to my defence mechanism that I used it automatically, shutting out even the people I cared about. Then I met you and you managed to occupy a place in my heart in a matter of seconds, scaring me to death. I was so afraid that you'd gain some kind of leverage over me, that I clung to my last bit of self control and pushed you away. When that didn't help, when you didn't allow being pushed away, I did the next best thing, I ran. But no matter how hard I pushed, no matter how far I ran, there was something about you that drew me back in.

It's like Thomas said last night, I wasn't being honest with myself. After he left me at the restaurant, I took a long, hard look at myself and realised that he was right, I push everyone away, they keep hitting a brick wall as soon as they dig a little deeper. I realised that although you penetrated that wall easily, I kept coming back for more. Unconsciously I already knew what you meant to me, rationally I just wasn't ready yet to accept that. You're under my skin, the drug I can't live without. A life without you just seems void and pointless, not worth living. I just had to come and see you, beg you to give me another chance. I realised that I had to stop running and let you in, otherwise I would lose you forever. The paradox of my behaviour finally hit me: So afraid you'd end up hurting me, I didn't even allow us to be happy. Desperately wanting to avoid pain, I was putting myself in pain. I don't want to be afraid anymore, I want to be happy and I know I can only be happy with you. You're the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, you're my one true love."

"Okay, I can understand that," Nikki said. "You were afraid, but what about after the riot? You said you weren't even sad about it."

Sighing deeply, Helen looked at her hands for a moment, really not wanting to get into this now. Cradling Nikki's head with one hand, softly rubbing her cheek, she said: "I do agree we need to talk about all that, but do we have to do it tonight? It's your first day of freedom, we can be properly together for the first time."

Clasping her hand over Helen's before giving it a kiss, Nikki replied: "you're right, now is not the time. Besides, I promised you a good time when I got out, remember? Why don't we go out to celebrate tonight, my treat?" Remembering Nikki's other promise, to make love to her all night long, Helen could only nod. "Great," Nikki smiled. "I just need to go change. Make yourself at home, I'll be right back."

Left alone in the living room, Helen found herself restless and started roaming around. The tastefully decorated room teaching her different aspects of Nikki's complex personality, she studied the black and white photographs on the wall before moving onto the book cupboard. Reading the titles, recognising a lot of them as she had the same ones at home, she concluded Nikki had a very eclectic taste. Humming along with the music, she turned the volume up when a song she loved started. <This is how I feel about Nikki>, she thought.

Standing in the hallway, Nikki paused for a moment to look at Helen. She couldn't believe she was with the woman of her dreams. She was so happy she wanted to shout her love from the rooftops. Watching Helen softly sway to the music, she walked in. "Dance with me," she whispered, smiling brightly when Helen granted her the simple request with a bright smile of her own. Finding the words portrayed exactly how she felt, she softly sang along: "I found a dream that I could speak to. A dream that I can call my own. I found a thrill to press my cheek to, a thrill that I have never known. You smiled, you smiled and then the spell was cast. And here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last."

When the music died down, she looked into Helen's eyes and said: "I love you so much Helen. Like Keats said so eloquently way before me: < I cannot exist without you. I am forgetful over everything but seeing you again. My life seems to stop there, I see no further. You have absorbed me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I were dissolving. I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for religion. … I have shuddered at it …. I shudder no more. I could die for religion. I could die for you. My creed is love and you are its only tenet. You have ravished me away with a power I cannot resist. My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you>

As another cab pulled up, Alice peeked through the curtains again. A brightly smiling and laughing Nikki came out of the house, her arm lovingly wrapped around the woman she saw earlier. <That must be the woman she thanked on television> Alice thought. She always knew that Trisha and Nikki were a thing of the past. She knew it would be quite impossible for them to pick up where they had left off all those years ago. Too much had happened it the meantime, they had both changed too much.

Although Trisha and Nikki were a good couple, Alice knew that they weren't soul mates. They weren't meant to be. She had known that early on, but didn't have the heart to tell either of them, it was something they had to figure out on their own. But it looked like Nikki had found her soul mate, now she only had Trisha to worry about. Maybe she could set her up with Tracy? Not now of course, but in a couple of months? Coming up with dastardly plans to get Trisha and Tracy together, Alice kept on knitting, a mischievous smile on her face


Keats' quote: extracts from his letter to Fanny Brawne


Part 5

Every single day - Natalia (Nikki)

You're more than everything I want
You're more than everything I need
You're everything I prayed for
Better than my wildest dreams
But this weary heart of mine

Just feels so out of place sometimes
Since I found you baby
Nothing is the way it seems

And in my darkest hour
You will find a way
To pull me out of the shade
'Cause in my darkest hour
I will hold on to this love we celebrate
Every single day

I remember rights done wrong
Heartaches that I've overcome
I've had my share of losing
But now I know where I belong

And in my darkest hour
You will find a way
To pull me out of the shade
'Cause in my darkest hour
I will hold on to this love we celebrate
Every single day

I just can't wait to fly away with you
No matter where or when
And I'm so thankful that I found you babe
I never want this journey to end

And in my darkest hour
You will find a way
To pull me out of the shade
'Cause in my darkest hour
I will hold on to this love we celebrate
Every single day

And in my darkest hour
You will find a way
To pull me out of the shade
'Cause in my darkest hour
I will hold on to this love we celebrate
Every single day

Every single day

Shelter – Natalia (Helen)

With every heartache we've traveled so far
Every dark night has a day
For every tear's sake we follow a star
To the shelter of our love

Loneliness fades and happiness invades me
With you in my life, you're the way to my serenity
So undaunted you and I have mended
Our seams and plights
No situation's gonna steer us away
From our eternity


In a black room, you kissed my aging wound
Then I saw without sight the true meaning
Of what real love can do
And when you are with me,
I'm never feeling empty
I'm filled with your light I'm satisfied
I never cease to be surprised with joy for you


Finding peace in the shelter of our love
Every sweet in the shelter of our love
An oasis in the dessert
It's the shade over the sand
Give me peace
Give me shelter
Oh yeah, oh yeah

On their way back to Helen's place, all snuggled up together in the back of the cab, not an inch of space between them, Nikki felt a warm sense of peace invade her. No words were needed right now, she was content just holding Helen's hand, secure in the knowledge that they were together at last after such a long time. Gone were the dark days of loneliness and despair, for the first time in her life she was truly happy. She was at peace with herself; all her worries, all the haunting memories were temporarily pushed aside. The only thing that counted was here and now. No one had ever made her feel this way by simply being near or smiling at her. Helen's smile, it had the most beguiling effect on her, making her heart skip a beat, making her feel like she could take on the world.

Silently she watched Helen's profile, still finding it hard to believe she was really here. The soft, subdued light of the moon lightly caressed Helen's face, giving her an almost ethereal glow and Nikki's breath hitched, awed by the beauty of the woman sitting beside her, making her want her even more. Desperately suppressing a groan when Helen unconsciously licked her lips, Nikki felt the old, familiar rush of desire course through her veins and had to dip her head to hide the blush creeping to her cheeks. Deciding it was safer all around if she kept herself distracted, a quick fumble in the back of the cab wasn't what she had in mind for tonight, Nikki thought back to their evening.

The evening had flown by; sharing a bottle of wine over dinner, they had talked and laughed, really getting to know each other. Swapping stories, their hands always caressing, Nikki had felt intoxicated, not only by the wine, but especially with love. She didn't think it possible, but she had fallen in love with Helen even more. It was an evening of firsts: her first day of freedom, their first dance and now their first date, another milestone reached. Smiling to herself, Nikki thought they did everything in reverse: they had broken up repeatedly before declaring their undying love, they had made love little over a year ago, but were only now out on their first date. Their first time together, just thinking about it turned her on even more and now she was going home with Helen. She could finally make good on the promise she had made down the block, to make love to her all night long. Wide eyed, her mouth dry and her heart racing, she squeezed Helen's hand quite involuntarily, smiling when Helen threw her a questioning gaze. Her voice thick with ill concealed lust, she whispered into Helen's ear: "how am I doing on my promise so far?"

Noticing Nikki's flushed face and slightly increased breathing, Helen smiled and leaned closer, leaving hardly an inch of space between their mouths. Seductively she purred: "the evening isn't over yet. You still have another promise to fulfil, remember?"

The expectant, mischievous gleam in Helen's eyes, not escaping her attention, Nikki found herself blushing at the ease with which Helen seemed to read her thoughts. <How could I possibly forget?> she thought, the promise keeping her going for so long in Larkhall. Gulping audibly as Helen traced her lips with a finger, all she could mutter was a very hoarse "I remember" before pulling down for a passionate, hungry kiss.

Helen went rigid for a split second before emitting a low pitched growl and moulding herself further to Nikki's form. Nikki's hand slowly wandered from her hips to her back, slipping under her vest, making Helen's breath hitch as the fingers started tracing slow circles. Slowly the hand crept upwards, leaving behind a trail of goose bumps and quivering muscles. Pulling back from Helen's swollen lips, thinking the pink flush on her cheeks looked really adorable, Nikki began placing open mouthed kisses along Helen's jaw. Craning her neck, Helen arched backwards, giving Nikki all the access she needed. Totally oblivious to their surroundings, far too hypnotised by each other, they were startled when the cab driver called out "ladies, we're here," pulling up in front of Helen's house. Springing apart at the most unwelcome interruption, Nikki cursed under her breath as she noticed the cabbie watching them intently through the rear view window. Letting go of Helen's by now very wrinkled top, she was immensely pleased to see she wasn't the only one affected. One look at Helen's dilated eyes, darkened by desire, she knew there was really only one option. Throwing some money at the driver, probably paying way too much for the short drive, she grabbed Helen by the hand and practically dragged her out of the cab.

The short walk over only subduing her raging hormones, Helen fiddled with the lock, almost letting her keys drop when Nikki leaned in to whisper: "I want you, all night long." Once the door was closed, she attacked Nikki with animal ferocity, pinning her against the front door. Her tongue duelling with Nikki's over control of the kiss, she pushed Nikki's Armani jacket to the floor. Releasing Nikki's bruised and swollen lips long enough to whisper an emotional, heartfelt "I love you Nicola", she moved her hands under Nikki's shirt, relishing the feel of muscles quivering under her light touch. Groaning softly at the whispered words of love, Nikki just couldn't answer, Helen's lips were simply too near, she had to taste them again, feel them against her own. She nibbled softly on Helen's lower lip, immediately laving the faint pain with her tongue. When Helen couldn't hold back a moan, Nikki invaded her mouth, swirling her tongue around Helen's.

Feeling liquid desire course through her veins, Nikki realised they had to move from there and quickly. Otherwise they'd only end up shagging each other senseless against the front door and that wasn't exactly what she had in mind with taking things slowly. "Bedroom" she croaked before kissing Helen hungrily again. Slowly she pushed her backwards, mindful not to bump into any walls, her lips still attached to Helen's. Entering the bedroom, she pushed Helen's jacket off her shoulders while exploring every inch of her mouth. Agonisingly slowly she trailed her fingers to the opening of Helen's top, giving her breast a light brush before attacking the tiny buttons. Not able to open them fast enough, she ripped the top open, sending buttons flying everywhere before letting the top slip to the floor.

Moaning at Nikki's unexpected aggressiveness, Helen felt faint, she couldn't think, she couldn't breathe. Slowly trailing her fingers back up Helen's arms, leaving goose bumps in their wake, Nikki cupped a breast through the black sating bra, enjoying the weight in her hand before unhurriedly rolling the nipple between her fingers. When she felt Helen's knees buckle at the touch, she scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way. Sinking down on the bed with Helen straddling her, she looked into her eyes, breathing raggedly. Reaching up with a trembling hand, she caressed Helen's cheek before tucking away some stray hairs behind her ear. Reverently she whispered: "I love you Helen, now and forever." The heartfelt emotions behind the simple words turning her on even more, Helen kissed her without any hesitation, a deep kiss of fire and passion. Slowly they tasted each other, leaving them moaning in each other's mouth.

Trailing open mouthed kisses from Helen's lips to her collarbone, Nikki sucked on her pulse point, marking Helen as hers, her hand unhurriedly caressing her back. Deftly opening Helen's bra with one hand, she licked her lips in anticipation, making Helen groan at the lustfilled look in her eyes. The goddess like vision before her drawing a very throaty growl from Nikki, she whispered huskily "you're beautiful Helen." Trailing a finger over a nipple, making it rock hard, she kissed and licked her way down, making Helen claw her fingers into Nikki's back as she arched her back. She flicked her tongue over a nipple and licked it unhurriedly, making Helen whimper almost inaudibly. Opening her lips to take the nipple into her mouth, she sucked it before biting down gently.

Her fingers crawled down ever so slowly, making Helen's stomach quiver and flutter at the light touch. She opened Helen's pants, slowly pushing her hand inside, finding the thin material of the satin undie soaked with want. Helen groaned again and began rocking against the hand, inviting it to venture down further. Pushing the flimsy material aside, Nikki trailed a finger through the copious amounts of wetness, making Helen whimper and resume her rocking. Slowly she pushed a finger in, soon followed by a second one, venturing in and out, matching the rhythm set by Helen's rocking hips. Keeping a constant pressure on Helen's engorged and throbbing clit, she pumped harder and faster with each thrust. Feeling the first signs of Helen's impending orgasm, she curled her fingers, finding that special spot.

Breathlessly Helen called out Nikki's name as she came, she was flying, the rollercoaster ride she was on carried her to the top of the world, leaving her writhing in ecstasy. Riding out the last waves, she kissed Nikki passionately before slumping against her shoulder. Her breathing still erratic, she eased back after a while to let Nikki retract her still trapped fingers, moaning as she watched Nikki lick them clean. The exquisite taste of Helen's juices coating her fingers not nearly enough to satisfy her burning hunger for the woman she loved, Nikki whispered "I need to taste you", making Helen shudder at the husky confession. Snaking her arms around Helen, she turned them around, pushing Helen's pants and panties off as she went down to kneel on the floor.

Kissing her way back up Helen's leg, she softly nibbled on a thigh, leaving Helen quivering in anticipation. Inhaling the musky smell of Helen's obvious desire, Nikki felt herself grow even wetter and shuddered. Pulling a leg over her shoulder, she licked her lips before sliding her tongue all along Helen's slit, eagerly lapping at the sweet ambrosia pooled there before turning to her very swollen clit. She lapped slowly, flicking her tongue over it ever so lightly before taking the nub between her lips and sucking it. With slow sucks and tender strokes she got Helen to call out her name, gyrating her hips at Nikki's incessant tongue. Feeling the end was near, Nikki replaced her mouth with her thumb, drawing hard eights on the pulsating clit. Licking her way down, she pushed her tongue inside, immediately feeling the spasms of Helen's release. Gently coaxing her down, her tongue darted out to taste the oozing honey. Crawling her way back up Helen's spent and worn out body, she kissed Helen passionately. Enjoying the taste of her own juices and something uniquely Nikki, Helen kissed her languidly, her tongue plundering Nikki's mouth. "You're amazing," she whispered, softly caressing Nikki's cheek. Feeling Nikki shudder at the feather light touch, she smiled predatorily and added "your turn sweetheart."

A passing truck waking her from her slumber, Nikki wondered where she was for a second, none of the shadows looking familiar. Then she remembered and a huge smile appeared on her face, her heart beating faster. She glanced down their bodies all snuggled up together, the sheets a crumpled mess at the foot of the bed and felt her heart contract. What an amazing night, they had made love practically all night long, finally falling asleep from sheer exhaustion. She had to pinch herself to realise that this was real, that this was her life now. Carefully, reverently, she let hr fingers trail over Helen's arm, fascinated by the goose bumps that appeared. Startled by Helen's soft moan, her fingers halted their lazy exploration, only to resume again when Helen sighed happily and snuggled in even closer, still deeply asleep. "The beauty of your glowing body beckons me. To taste, to touch, to love, … how I hunger to know you so completely," she whispered softly before leaning in and planting a light kiss on Helen's cheek. Feeling her eyelids grow heavy again, she pulled the covers over them and laid back down, falling asleep pretty quickly.

Later that night a thirsty Helen managed to extricate herself from Nikki, who stirred, but kept on sleeping. Tiptoeing back into the bedroom, she paused for a moment, listening to Nikki's slow and steady breathing. She looked so peaceful in slumber, almost angelic, that it took Helen's breath away, filling her heart with pride, joy and love to be calling Nikki hers. Carefully she climbed back into bed, propping herself up on one arm, determined to enjoy the treasure sleeping beside her. Nikki laid on her stomach, splaid out in all her glory, the blankets regressed to her thighs, leaving Helen an unrestricted view of her back. Tiny freckles peppering the olive coloured skin, Helen slowly trailed a finger over Nikki's back, needing to hold back a moan as she remembered scratching Nikki's back in the throws of passion. She looked at Nikki's face, so peaceful, a content smile curling around her lips and felt those lips kissing and licking her all over, leaving her a quivering mess. As if Nikki knew she was being watched, she seductively licked her lips before settling down again, sighing softly in her sleep.

Scooting even closer, Helen trailed a finger over Nikki's shoulder in lazy circles, making Nikki murmur incoherently. Trailing her fingers to Nikki's neck, she softly caressed her hair, the light touch waking Nikki up. "Shh, go back to sleep," Helen whispered, but Nikki turned herself onto her back. "What a gorgeous sight to wake up to," she said before capturing Helen's lips with her own. Moaning softly, she allowed Helen to deepen the kiss, enjoying Helen's slow exploration of her mouth. Gently combing her fingers through Nikki's ruffled hair, Helen whispered: "I love you Nikki, I can't bear the thought of living without you. <There's a moment when I look at you and no speech is left in me. My tongue breaks, the fire races under my skin and I tremble and grow pale for I'm dying of such love.> I want to spend the rest of my life with you Nikki, this is only the beginning."

Nikki's heart brimming at Helen's declaration of love, she pulled Helen's lips to her own again and kissed her softly, like it was the first time. When they finally came up for air, she caressed Helen's flushed cheek, enjoying the feel of holding Helen close. A mischievous grin on her face, she looked Helen in the eye and coyly asked "round six?", before throwing the covers over them again, shutting out the rest of the world.

Trisha's face distorted with anguish, turning slightly blue as Gossard kept squeezing, her blouse torn, Gossard pawing her breasts, …. It was all burnt on Nikki's mind. Reliving it over and over again, she trashed about the bed violently, screaming "get off her, you bastard" so loudly that it woke Helen. Still groggy from sleep Helen looked around helplessly for a moment until she realised that Nikki was in the throws of a violent nightmare. Scooting closer, mindful of Nikki's flailing arms, she tried to wake her up. When calling out her name didn't help, she nudged and shook her until Nikki's eyes finally opened. Noticing the wild and ferocious look in them, she had to gulp. Combing her fingers through Nikki's hair in a soothing way, she whispered: "shhh, it's alright sweetheart, you're only dreaming, you're safe here." When she felt Nikki slowly relax, the ragged breathing evening out, she asked: "feeling better?"

"Yeah" Nikki replied almost inaudibly, embarrassed that someone had witnessed her frailty. "I'm sorry for waking you up, I must have scared you to death. Not the best way to end our night, is it? I didn't say anything, did I."

"Nothing that I could understand," Helen said. "Don't worry about waking me up, everybody gets nightmares from time to time, it's only natural. It has been an emotional day for you, that's probably what caused it. Do you want to talk about it?" When she saw Nikki's reluctance, she added: "you know you can talk to me about anything. I'll always be here for you. Maybe talking about it with someone will help, make it seems less frightening somehow?" Still caressing Nikki's hair, she looked at her with a gentle smile, trying not to frighten her off while Nikki's mind worked overtime.

Never one to divulge much of her anxieties, Nikki had mentioned to no one the terrifying nightmares that haunted her occasionally. She never once talked about the nights she woke up in a sweat, screaming at the inner demons plaguing her. Admired for her tough as nails attitude in Larkhall, who could really blame her for keeping her fears to herself? Talking about them would only have made her vulnerable to the taunts and jibes of her fellow inmates, making her lose her top dog position. But she knew she could trust Helen and maybe she was right, maybe talking about it would help?

Staring at the ceiling, she took a hitching breath before saying: "In my dreams I was back at Diva's, that's what Chix was called before. I walked one of our waitresses home while Trisha did the lock up. When she wasn't out yet by the time I got back, I want back in… That's when I found them… Gossard was trying to rape Trisha…. She just looked so frightened. I froze for a second, not knowing what to do….. I knew I had to do something, Trisha was already turning slightly blue so I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, an empty bottle from one of the tables. ….. I ran over and smashed it on his head as hard as I could, but he didn't move. He just laughed, saying he'd do me after he was done with Trisha and squeezed her throat even harder…. I tried to pull him off her, but he was just too heavy.. … I jumped on his back, hitting him as hard as I could, forgetting I still had a shard of the bottle in my hand… He fell on top of Trisha who just screamed, desperate to get from under him… There was just so much blood, on my hands, on the floor, on my clothes, on Trisha… I tried to save him, I tried to stop the blood as best as I could, I called an ambulance, but he died anyway… In my dream I turned him around and it wasn't Gossard I saw it was Fenner and when I looked at Trisha, she wasn't there, it was you …. I killed a man Helen. I didn't mean to, but I did. His children will never know their father all because of me and that's something I have to live with for the rest of my life. I took a man's life and although the court has forgiven me for that yesterday, I don't think I can forgive myself that easily. I still think about what I could have done differently, how I could have gotten him off Trisha without killing him, but I still don't know."

Nikki looked at Helen expectantly, but Helen didn't know the answer. She didn't quite know how to reply and remembering her question in the library so long ago, asking Nikki if she was a cold blooded killer, she could now understand Nikki's indignation, the hurt look on her face, so much better. "How often do you have these nightmares?" she asked.

"I used to have them every night at first," Nikki admitted, "but then they became less and less frequent as I resigned myself to the fact that I'm a killer. Accepting that responsibility lessened my mind's burden I suppose. I only have them now and again, usually when something happens to trigger the memory like going back to Chix for the first time today or…"

"Fenner assaulting me," Helen finished for her.

"Yeah," Nikki said with a resigned sigh. "I guess I felt responsible, someone I love was assaulted again and I felt powerless. There was nothing I could do to prevent it from happening again."

Hugging Nikki closely, Helen whispered: "you know my assault isn't your fault. It took me a long time to realise that it isn't my fault either. It's nobody's fault but Fenner's. I don't want you thinking like that. Though I didn't act like it at the time, I was really grateful for you threatening Fenner. He didn't dare come near me after that. Anyway, these nightmares, have you talked to anyone about them?"

"No, not really, you know what prison's like Helen, you need to protect your image. Talking about my nightmares would only have made me look weak. When it got too much to handle, I just kicked the shit out of a punch bag in the gym, that helped to get rid of my frustrations. Besides, who was there to talk to? Doctor No No? I think not. Trisha? I couldn't put her though the pain of those memories again. Barbara? Although she was a pretty good listener, I don't think she would have understood. You? We already had so few precious moments together, I didn't want to burden you with my fears and insecurities. No, I just kept them to myself."

"Well, you don't have to anymore, I'm here for you. I want to know everything about you, what makes you happy, what makes you angry or sad. You don't have to be afraid of talking to me," Helen said.

"Thanks," Nikki replied sincerely, "you were right, talking about it really helped."

Though she hadn't lied, the talk had really done her the world of good, easing away the worries and memories, Nikki had trouble falling asleep again. She should be tired as hell, they had made love for hours and she had gone through a whirlwind of emotions in just a few hours time, but her body was so used to early mornings in Larkhall that she was wide awake. Knowing there was no use in waiting for sleep to come, she slowly and carefully extricated herself from Helen's rather tenacious grip and got out of bed. Picking up a bathrobe from the hook on the bathroom door, the same one she had worn on the night of her escape, she padded to the kitchen. Putting the kettle on for some tea, she searched in vain for her cigarettes until she remembered that Helen had practically ravished her by the front door. Picking up the jacket so haplessly thrown on the floor, she got her cigarettes and lighter out, before carefully hanging the jacket over a chair. The kettle whistling she made her tea and took the mug outside, knowing Helen wouldn't appreciate her smoking in the house.

Sitting down on the hard wooden bench, she took a deep breath, enjoying the cold and crisp spring air. The sun rising slowly, showering the world in a warm, reddish glow, Nikki sipped her tea, occasionally dragging on her fag. How she had missed this, watching the sunrise, the birds chirping and twittering all around her, …. Just relaxing, feeling all doubts, problems and worries slowly fade away as she enjoyed the wonder of nature. She had Helen to thank for this, without her she would still be queuing for a bowl of sloppy porridge right about now.

The music from the radio in the kitchen finding its way outside, Nikki paused to listen to the lyrics, realising how true they rang. Helen was more than anything she wanted or needed, she was better than her wildest dreams. As her nightmare proved, in her darkest hour Helen would always find a way to pull her out of the shade. She felt so unbelievably lucky having Helen by her side, that she would cherish and celebrate their love every single day. Starting now. Beginning to feel the early morning chill, Nikki went back inside, determined to surprise Helen with breakfast in bed.

The clock radio turning on, Helen groaned and buried her head deeper into the pillow, not wanting to get up just yet. Not feeling Nikki beside her, she sprang up, thinking that it was all a dream until she heard her potter about in the kitchen. Stretching out languidly, she fluffed up the pillows and sat up, not wanting to leave the warm cocoon of the bed just yet, knowing it would irrevocably end last night. Besides, she knew Nikki needed some time alone to chase away her nightmare. It occurred to her once more what a wonderful mix of volatile emotions, quirky contradictions and little insecurities Nikki really was. It would take Helen a lifetime to know her completely, but it also meant that she was walking a thin line between letting her brood and offering her assurances.

Nikki's anguish last night had torn her apart. All she wanted to do was slay all the demons that plagued Nikki, wrap her up in her arms and never let go. She didn't want to smother her however. Nikki had a fiercely independent streak running through her, pressuring her too hard would only result in Nikki seeing herself as weak and clamming up again, too embarrassed to talk about her insecurities to Helen. She desperately wanted Nikki to know that she was there for her, that she'd do just about anything to make her happy.

At the same time Helen realised that the same went for her. Now she had someone to talk to and confide in, a shoulder to cry on, someone who would be there for her no matter what. Though she hated to admit it, Helen needed that. She needed someone to watch over her. Nikki had always been there for her, watching her back and protecting her. Although her methods might not have been all too conventional, it was the intention that counted. She had saved Monica's life and convinced her to push through with the appeal, she had made sure the prisoners behaved themselves when the officers were out on strike, she had taken care of Fenner after her assault and she had comforted her when the pressure got too much for her by kissing her in her cell. Hell, she had even broken out of prison to make up with her. With every single thing Nikki said or did, she felt cherished and adored. She didn't crave candle light dinners, romantic gestures or dozens of roses, just being with Nikki made her heart beat faster.

Unlike her Nikki had understood from the start the deeply emotional connection they shared and had embraced it fully, realising that this was THE love affair others kept yearning for. The true love all those sappy songs kept referring to, the eternal love all those romance novels bragged about. Helen had always laughed at it, ridiculing the portrayal as idealistic drivel, playing on man's wish for a happy ending, telling herself it would never happen to her. Until now that is. She had never loved someone so completely and felt humbled by it. Listening to the song on the radio, she had to admit, this was how Nikki made her feel: "In a black room, you kissed my aging wound. Then I saw without sight the true meaning Of what real love can do. And when you are with me, I'm never feeling empty. I'm filled with your light I'm satisfied. I never cease to be surprised with joy for you."

Sure, they'd have fights and arguments in the days and years to come, they were both too hot tempered, stubborn and passionate not to – and if she was completely honest, watching Nikki with her temper unleashed was sexy as hell - , but they'd never tear into each other just for the sake of it. They'd never stop talking to each other or working at their relationship, for Helen knew that what they had was worth fighting for. She knew they'd make it, they had overcome so much already that failing just wasn't an option anymore. She loved Nikki too much to ever let her go again.

Helen looked up as Nikki entered with a tray in her hand and her eyes began to tear. Though she didn't need romantic gestures from Nikki, that didn't mean she didn't appreciate them. "I made you breakfast," Nikki said. "I didn't really know what you like, so I made a bit of everything. I hope you like it." Putting the tray on Helen's legs, she crawled back into bed, looking at Helen expectantly.

"Thank you," Helen replied, giving Nikki a quick kiss. "No one has given me breakfast in bed before, you 're so good to me."

"Like Ella sings 'I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood, I know I could always be good to one who'll watch over me'," Nikki said sincerely before pinching a strawberry, earning her a light slap on the wrist.

"Hey, hands off, that's mine," Helen laughed, realising that this was the beginning of the rest of her life.

The End

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