DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Shed Productions. I am borrowing them for entertainment purposes only and not for financial gain.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.

A Stewart Christmas Carol
By Nico

Part 11

Helen barely noticed her surroundings when they arrived at the next location; she was too busy thinking about how awful it would be for Nikki to be stuck in prison a second time. Without realising it, she started thinking of strategies to get her out of there, ways that she could prove that Fenner was a lying bastard so that Nikki would be cleared of any wrongdoing. When she noticed they had actually stopped, she shook her head as she remembered what she had been thinking about, Nikki was still free and always would be if she had anything to do with it.

Her heart sank, when she saw that once again she was back at Larkhall, she was beginning to detest the place. She knew what she was here for, but could she go through having to see Nikki in jail for a second time? The first time was heartbreaking enough, and Helen had always hated having to leave her behind bars while she was free to go where she wished. She followed the spirit down a familiar corridor and she found herself in the visitor's room. She spotted Nikki straightaway, and was quite surprised to see herself sitting in front of her.

"Hiya Nikki." Helen greeted her as she always had.

"Hi." Nikki replied flatly, trying to mask the shock she had experienced when Helen appeared.

"How are you?"

"Oh I'm just wonderful; I'm banged up in this shithole, once again. What are you doing here anyway? I didn't send you a VO, I couldn't have cos I don't have a bloody clue where you live." Nikki said bitterly.

"Denny collared me after Karen's funeral and she gave up her VO for me because she knew I wanted to see you. It's been quite a while since I've been here." Helen scanned the visitor's room of Larkhall.

"That's the same thought I had when I ended up back here. Gotta be what thirty years since we….." Nikki broke off, she couldn't say the words.

"Yes it must be that long." Helen felt the pain coming from Nikki, and knew exactly how that felt, she felt that way constantly.

They fell in to an awkward silence, Nikki was acutely aware of what she still wanted after all this time, and Helen also aware of what she had thrown away. She had played it safe and lost out on everything she could have had.

"Nikki I…."


"Nothing." Helen couldn't say the words, even after all this time.

"So what are you really here for? Want another cause to fight for? Feeling guilty because you weren't here the first time around? Well I've got news for you, I'm not getting out this time, they've thrown away the bloody key."

"Nikki…….that's not fair." Helen felt like crying.

"No? Well I'll tell you something for nothing darlin' it wasn't very bloody fair what you did to me either. It's always the same with women, things get difficult and they always up and leave." Nikki was venting 30 years of hurt and anger.

"I had no choice!" Helen said a little louder than she had intended, she lowered her voice, "you know how things were at the time, we would have gotten caught eventually and I would never have seen you again. I did what I thought I had to."

"We ended up not seeing each other anyway. I'm sorry Helen but your excuses don't cut any ice with me." Nikki knew she wasn't being fair, but it still hurt.

"I didn't stop caring you know." her eyes filled with tears. "You can think whatever you like about me but I want you to know that what I felt for you never changed."

"I know but now I'm stuck back in here and you're married." she said pointing to Helen's left hand, "it's too late for us, we had our chance and we blew it. But in case you were wondering, despite the fact that you hurt me, I always loved you and I still do." Nikki's tone softened somewhat.

"I made a mess of things, I'm sorry." even after thirty years of knowing how she felt, Helen couldn't tell Nikki she loved her, because words didn't come easily to her.

"None of that matters now, it's all in the past and that's where it should stay. It took me a long time to be able to function without you. And even though things aren't perfect I manage to get by, life goes on." Nikki knew Helen still couldn't tell her how she felt but that wasn't anything unusual.

"I probably shouldn't have come." it hurt Helen to hear Nikki talk this way.

"Don't say that, at least we got to see each other again. I know there were things we probably both wanted to discuss but it's better left alone, it was a long time ago now and we should both forget about it." Nikki knew it was impossible to forget, the last thirty years had been testament to that but she wanted to keep the pain to a minimum.

"Yes, you're probably right." she had no choice but to agree.

"How was Karen's funeral?"

"It was beautiful, if you can use such a word when talking about a funeral. The hymns were well chosen and Yvonne said a few words. I felt like crying when she read the poem she had written for Karen."

"But you didn't actually cry? Mind you, getting emotional isn't your style, no change there then." Nikki couldn't stop herself from saying it.

"This was a mistake." Helen went to stand up, the remark had hit its target, and the hurt in her eyes was unmistakable.

"Don't go, I shouldn't have said that, I was out of order and I'm sorry. Stay, please?" Nikki looked apologetic and Helen couldn't resist her brown puppy dog eyes. That was something else that had never changed.

They spent the remainder of the visit talking about neutral subjects and when it was time to leave, they shook hands in an unspoken agreement that to get too close would be dangerous. They knew that it was the final time they would see each other; they said silent goodbyes with their eyes and parted. They looked at each other for as long as they could before Helen was out of sight. It was only later on, when they were both alone, that the tears fell.

Helen took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a pain in the region of her chest reminded her that she had been holding her breath. Out of all the things she had seen, that had to rank as being one of the most painful things she had to watch. After all the special things they shared, it had been reduced to nothing other than an awkward conversation and a gap between them that felt far too wide to bridge.

"Are you ok?" the spirit placed a hand on Helen's arm.

"Yeah, yeah I think so. That was just very hard to watch."

"I'm sure it must have been. It's never very easy to see an intimate relationship reduced to nothing more than forced polite friendliness."

"Even after all that time, I still couldn't bring myself to tell her that I loved her. Why do I find it so difficult?" Helen began to chew on her thumbnail, a habit she thought she had gotten rid of.

"You know why, it all comes back down to fear. She told you she still loved you and yet you were still afraid to tell her that you did too. You know you fear being rejected but yet you also fear being alone and these two things come in to direct conflict with each other. But don't forget, the woman you have just seen is the old Helen, and you aren't like that anymore, you've changed."

"Have I though? Can I really go and see Nikki and tell her how I feel? I don't feel strong enough, what if I mess it up and hurt her again?" Helen felt all the old doubts come crowding back.

"Listen to me and listen good." the spirit took on a stern expression, "you can do whatever you set your mind to, and the more you want it, the more determined you will be. You are stronger than you realise, and you will be fine. The only reason you are thinking like this is because you've just seen yourself with Nikki and her reaction to you wasn't what you had wished for, despite knowing how things would be. Don't give up now, remember what you promised to do and stick with it, you know you're not a quitter Helen."

"You're right I'm sorry, I'm just tired and I've seen things tonight that I never thought I would have to see. It was hard to watch that conversation between me and Nikki, I wanted to throw my arms around her but obviously the other version of me wasn't feeling quite that brave. It was just a bit upsetting that's all." Helen smiled as she tried not to let it bother her.

"You'll be back where you belong soon. Just remember who and what is waiting for you and you'll be ok. Should we move on to the final location?"

"You mean I've only got one to go?" Helen's eyes lit up, she hoped it wouldn't take very long.

"Yes, one more thing to see and then I can drop you off back at your office."

"Drop me? Yeah sounds about right, especially the way you fly." Helen snorted.

"Are you still bitching about my flying? I did slow down because you were about to barf."

"Yes you did but it was the deliberate bumping afterwards I really took offence to."

"Typical woman, always moaning, never happy." the spirit grinned.

"Shut up and take me where I'm supposed to go, or you might just find yourself having to learn the finer points of issuing a parking ticket."

"Back to that again are we? You know that threat is beginning to wear a little thin."

"And so is my bloody patience! Before I make good on my threat, you might want to consider taking me to the next location." Helen stood with her hands on her hips, she was enjoying herself, and it was taking her mind off things.

"Yes ma'am!"

"Don't call me ma'am; I'm not the bloody queen!" Helen hated it.

"Stop your yakking woman and let's get going." the spirit said cheekily with a smile.

"Well hurry it up then, I'm not getting any younger."

The spirit grabbed Helen and they flew off in to the sky.

"Yeah I can see what you mean." the spirit kept a straight face.

"You cheeky sod!" Helen said, before they both ended up in fits of giggles.

They continued chatting away until they reached the final location, and Helen wondered who she would be married to. She hadn't asked the question so far, she really didn't want to know because she knew it wasn't Nikki. She took a deep breath and began to walk hesitantly towards the house she could see in front of her.

Part 12

They entered a neat little semi in a quiet road, and Helen instantly knew that she lived there. The decoration was entirely to her taste and things seemed to be just how she would like them but the house felt strange, it didn't feel like a happy house. It didn't have the same warmth as a house that was a home. It felt too neat and structured, and although Helen wasn't a slob, she wasn't always a hundred percent tidy either. But the house was spotless, there wasn't a single object out of place and it all felt false somehow. Helen entered the living room and saw herself sitting on a chair, whilst a man sat opposite her. She nearly fainted with shock; she was married to Dominic McAllister!

"I can see you're shocked, but that's what's supposed to happen if you don't change. You bumped in to Dominic a couple of years after Nikki was released and he still had feelings for you. You only considered him a friend but he asked you to marry him and you agreed because you hate being alone."

"How could marry him? He isn't Nikki." she said softly.

"I know, but that's what would have happened, had you not decided to change."

"Helen, did you visit your friend today?" Dominic put the newspaper down and looked at Helen suspiciously; she was quiet and had been for a while.

"Yes I did." she replied.


"Oh it was nice, I hadn't seen her for such a long time and we had a lot to catch up on." Helen smiled, but her younger self knew she was lying. She didn't dare tell Dom where she had been.

"Oh that's nice dear." Dominic said absentmindedly, he had already stopped listening and had picked up the newspaper again. He still wasn't entirely convinced that something wasn't wrong, Helen didn't look happy but he couldn't blame her, he wasn't happy either.

Helen tried to find something to do, Dom was reading the paper as usual and she was feeling restless. The visit was still unsettling her, it brought back a lot of old feelings she thought she had managed to keep control of. She picked up a book and found her page, as she heard Dom clear his throat. She looked up at him; it usually meant he was going to say something.

"What's the matter?"

"You don't regret marrying me do you? I mean do you have any regrets at all?" even though they weren't happy, he didn't want to think it had all been a waste of time.

"No." Helen smiled and shook her head, it had been what he wanted to hear and he went back to reading his paper.

She knew it wasn't true, she had regretted every minute of every day that she had been apart from Nikki and wished she hadn't made the wrong decision all those years ago. But she would never tell him, she didn't want to hurt his feelings and as usual ignored her own.

"No need to tell me why I said no, I didn't want to hurt his feelings." Helen knew at once why.

"Yes that's right, it's already been explained to you hasn't it?"

"Yes it has." Helen smiled, "are we nearly finished yet?"

"Yes we can go now I think." the spirit remembered what was about to happen and knew he should get Helen out before she saw what happened next.

The front door slammed and an attractive young woman came in to the room, she was in her mid-twenties and the resemblance to Helen was uncanny. The younger Helen was shell-shocked, that couldn't be her daughter surely?

"Hiya mum! Hi dad." the woman was indeed her daughter.

"Hiya Nic." Helen had decided to name her daughter Nicole; it wasn't Nikki but as close as she could get without Dom cottoning on, but he had noticed anyway.

"Dad?" Nicole looked at her mother quizzically and then back at her father.

"What?" he said irritably, he hadn't even noticed her come in. He loved his daughter but he left the parenting to Helen, because it meant he got peace and quiet when he required it.

"I said hi."

"Oh hi." he went back to reading his paper as Helen and Nicole disappeared in to the kitchen.

Nicole saw her mother was looking a little down and pulled her in to her arms for a hug. That's when Helen's tears began to fall. Nicole thought it might be about Nikki, Helen had told her all about her as soon as she began to notice that her parents weren't like other people's. She hadn't been shocked at all, she knew deep down her parents weren't right for each other and often wondered what it would be like to see her mum and Nikki together again after all those years. Helen had once shown her the small picture she had taken from Nikki's file and Nicole had to agree, she was a very attractive woman.

"Are you upset about Nikki mum?" Nicole asked once Helen's tears had subsided.

"I went to see her today."

"Oh my god! That's great! What did she say?" Nicole had tried to persuade her mother many times to see Nikki but had met with a brick wall.

"Don't get excited, nothing has changed. She still loves me but she's back in prison."

"Good god, what for?" Nicole poured two glasses of wine and passed a cigarette to her mother. They could hear Dom grumbling in the front room because they were smoking.

"She has been accused of Karen's murder." Helen took a sip of her wine and a deep drag of her cigarette.

"There is no way she could have killed her." Nicole had never met Nikki obviously but even she knew from the way her mother had described her that she would never have killed Karen.

"You're right, she didn't, Fenner did." Helen had often spoken of her time at Larkhall and Nicole was familiar with Fenner, even though she had never met him. But she didn't know about what he had done to her mother, Helen had made sure she kept it a secret, not even Dom knew.

Before she could answer, Dominic came in to the kitchen.

"Fenner did what?"

"Oh nothing, we were just talking about the old days." Helen attempted to smile.

"Is there any chance of getting some dinner today? Or are you two both too busy talking?" Dom had never gotten along particularly well with his daughter; she had always been closer to Helen. Helen lavished attention on her; she filled the gap that had appeared in her life when she had left Nikki behind.

Nicole found her father a hard person to get on with, when she had been small he had been ok to be around but as she got older he became morose and irritable. She often thought her mother needed somebody stronger, somebody who had a bit of fire in them, somebody who was her equal. Nikki would have been the perfect person but Helen was adamant that she had married Dom for better or for worse, even though it was usually for worse.

"Yes I'm sorry, I'll get started on dinner." Helen stood up.

"It's ok mum, you sit down, I'll do dinner."

"I don't care who does it, so long as I get fed." Dominic disappeared back in to the living room.

"You know something mum? I love dad but you would have been far better off with Nikki. He's such a miserable bugger." Nicole began to chop some ingredients for dinner.

"Well it's too late now." Helen sighed and took a sip of her wine.

"It's never too late." Nicole rested the knife on the edge of the board as she looked at Helen.

"It is this time, I'm thirty years too late." Helen lit another cigarette; it was the only thing that seemed to settle her nerves these days.

The spirit watched as Helen looked mesmerised by what she was seeing; it was obvious she was quite taken with her daughter. He knew this hadn't been the right place to bring her, after all Helen really did want a child and Dominic had been able to provide her with one. The spirit cursed inwardly, his intention had been to show how unhappy her life would be without Nikki. But they had stayed too long and she had seen the one and only positive thing to come out of the entire mess that was her life.

"How come Dominic is so miserable? He always had a smile for people; I'm not that bad surely?"

"Ever remember Zandra Plackett?"

"Of course I do, you mean he and she were, you know?" Helen put two and two together.

"Yes, they were quite keen on each other and then when Zandra died Dom took it hard."

"I know he was upset but I didn't realise just how close they really were."

"He's miserable just like you are, I'm not saying he doesn't care for you because he does but he wanted her just like you want Nikki. That's why he has never gotten on particularly well with you or Nicole, he felt guilty, as if he was cheating on Zandra."

"So basically we both entered in to the marriage thinking it would make things better but it didn't, it only made things worse in the end. The only good thing to come out of it was Nicole." Helen's face took on a soft expression as she looked at her daughter.

"Yes that's true. I should never have brought you here." the spirit was worried now, it had been bad judgment on his part to ever have thought of bringing her here but there had been things here that she needed to see.

"Just because I have a daughter here in the future, does not mean I am going to jeopardise everything just so that I can have a child. She's beautiful and she's caring, she is everything I would want in a daughter, but just imagine the type of child Nikki and I could have. I want my babies to look like Nikki." Helen smiled dreamily; she could just imagine a horde of tiny Nikki Wades.

"You mean this hasn't influenced you in any way?" the spirit was surprised; he knew how much Helen longed for a baby.

"No, I'm still determined that I want Nikki back, I want a home and babies with her. Dominic is a really nice bloke but he isn't Nikki and Nicole doesn't exist yet and she never will." Helen felt sad about it but that was how things were.

"That's a relief, because I saw you going all soppy over her and I just panicked a bit." the spirit visibly relaxed and Helen chuckled.

"You worry too much! I was just thinking that's all, it was quite a shock to see me as a mother, even though I want kids, I never really saw myself as being able to create and be responsible for another tiny human being. Then it got me thinking about how I wished Nikki was her parent and not Dominic, which set me thinking about how much I wanted Nikki's baby." Helen got quiet.

"Don't start getting miserable again, there is every chance you and Nikki will have babies. But first you have to talk to her, and you can't talk to her if we are standing here all night, so how about we go?"

"We're finished?"

"Yes, that's the end and you've seen all you needed to see. So did you like the future very much?" the spirit already knew the answer.

"Hell no! I want my Nikki back, and I'm going to move heaven and earth to do it. So what happens now?" Helen grinned, she felt very hopeful for the future, she would get down on her hands and knees to apologise to Nikki and would pray she would take her back.

"I take you back to your office and you wake up in the morning and start your new life. What you do is up to you but you know the consequences if you don't change, so warning given! And job done!"

"Right come on then Thomas! Escort me back to my office."

"Yes milady." he tipped an imaginary hat and they were off.

Helen was back in her office ten minutes later and got tearful as she prepared to say goodbye to Thomas. She really liked the spirits and in a funny sort of way had enjoyed the time she spent with them even though the things she had to see weren't pleasant. She was sorry to say goodbye to them, they had been friendly to her when she hadn't felt as if she deserved it. They had helped her more than they would ever know and she would always be grateful to them.

"Here you go then, back safe and sound." he smiled at her.

"Thank you; I truly appreciate what you've done for me tonight."

"No problem, it's all part of the service. I wish you all the best for the future, and I hope you manage to sort things out with Nikki, you both deserve to be happy."

"Oh and before you go, don't be too hard on Sean and Kylie will you?" Helen still couldn't help feeling she needed to giggle uncontrollably at the second spirit's chosen name.

"I can't promise you anything, I've behaved myself for quite a while tonight but I'm desperate to go and get my own back on them." the spirit rubbed his hands together and grinned wickedly.

"Oh go on then, everybody deserves a bit of fun." Helen smiled.

"Right I'm out of here, take care, and be happy ok?"

"I'm going to try, thank you." the spirit held his arms out for a hug and Helen walked in to them. They pulled apart and he disappeared with a wave.

"Thank god all that's over." Helen flopped down on to the sofa with relief.

She finally felt like she had control over her life now and because she understood herself, she could finally begin to sort things out at last. Her first priority was to go to Nikki; the rest would be sorted out later when she knew one way or the other about whether she would forgive her. She stretched out on the sofa and picked up the bottle of vodka, she looked at it for a couple of minutes and then put it back down; she didn't need to rely on it anymore. She slid further down the couch and closed her eyes, she was tired and she needed to sleep, because she had a very busy day ahead of her.

Part 13

Helen woke up and blinked slowly, as watery daylight filtered in through the window. She looked at her watch, it was 9am, and she hadn't noticed where she was. Knowing it was a Saturday, she snuggled back down, which was something she rarely did these days. She was just drifting back off to sleep when she sat bolt upright and blinked, her office came in to focus.

"Christmas Eve, the spirits, Karen's party, Nikki! Oh shit!" Helen thought as she jumped up off the couch. She tripped over the vodka bottle that had been on the floor beside the couch, "oh buggery bollocks!" she exclaimed as she nearly ended up on the deck.

She rushed around shoving her things in to her bag, whilst simultaneously trying to make herself look less untidy, so that she could escape her office. Her secretary jumped out of her skin when Helen came crashing through her office door.

"Bloody 'ell Miss Stewart! Are you in some sort of a hurry?" her secretary was the only member of staff besides Thomas who refused to be put off by her manner.

"I am as it happens Laura, what are you doing here? It's Christmas Eve."

"I'm down on the rota as having to work. You put me down remember?" she had been a bit pissed off about it; she would rather have been at home with her boyfriend.

"Oh yeah I did. I'm really sorry about that. Why don't you skiddaddle?" Helen smiled.

"What?" Laura thought she had gone loco.

"Grab your stuff and go home. I'm not hanging around either; I've got more important places to be. Bollocks to the lot of them!" Helen pointed in the general direction of the other offices.

"You're the boss! You don't need to tell me twice." Laura grinned and picked her stuff up, as she followed Helen out of the office.

"Merry Christmas, have a good one."

"You too Miss Stewart!" she shot off down the corridor, as Helen followed her with a big smile on her face.

She had just gotten to her car when a voice she recognised called out her name. She groaned inwardly and turned around with a smile firmly plastered on her face, she hadn't stopped smiling since she had woken up.

"Morning Thomas."

"Morning Helen, you're late arriving today."

"Actually I'm very late leaving. I didn't make it home last night." she opened the car door and threw her briefcase and handbag in.

"I don't know, you workaholics!" Thomas grinned, he was glad Helen seemed to be in a good mood.

"Can I do something for you?" Helen wondered if he actually had a specific reason for wanting to talk.

"Oh no, not really. I just thought we could have a chat." he shrugged his shoulders in what he hoped was a casually sexy manner.

"Sorry I can't, I have to be somewhere. I'm now officially on holiday." she hoped he would take the hint, that she was eager to leave.

"Oh yes, you mentioned the other day you were going somewhere. Anywhere nice?" he was trying desperately to think of anything to keep her there a little longer.

"Might be." Helen said cryptically and her smile widened, as she thought about Nikki. Thomas mistook her smile as confirmation that she fancied him.

'Oh I'm definitely in with a chance here.' he thought, "don't keep me in suspense." he said.

"I'm going to London, to a friend's party."

"Oh that's nice, you usually take a guest to these things don't you?" Thomas wasn't very subtle with his hints.

"I suppose you do usually but I'm going alone. Well I should say I'm arriving alone anyway." Helen could see he was eager to know if she was single or not.

"Got someone special have you? What's his name? Anyone I know?"

"HER name is Nikki and no, you don't know her." Helen tried to keep a straight face as Thomas did his bunny in the headlights routine.

"Oh well I wouldn't have thought that about you." he tried to sound uninterested but deep down he was a bit peeved about it.

"Thought what about me?" Helen had thought she would feel angry, but found she felt surprisingly calm.

"That you were one of those women, you just don't look the type." he stuck his nose in the air.

"Oh not that old chestnut Thomas. You know, it won't kill you to say the word lesbian! Look, I'm gay and if that bothers you then tough." Helen shook her head at him, at one time something like this would have bothered her but she knew this was who the real Helen Stewart was and she wasn't going to hide any longer.

"It doesn't bother me at all." he didn't sound convincing, "well I er better let you get on with things then, don't want you to be late for your….girlfriend." the last word seemed to choke him.

"Don't worry about that, I'll make sure I'm on time. Merry Christmas, have a nice holiday."

"You too Helen, see you in the New Year?"

"Maybe." she smiled cryptically again as he wandered off muttering under his breath.

Helen started the engine and reversed out of her parking space; she swung a left at the gate and went home to make herself presentable.

Trish was in the kitchen making breakfast when Nikki finally surfaced; she yawned and ruffled her hair as she collapsed in to a chair. Trish smiled at her and carried on making some toast. A short while later, she placed a cup of coffee and toast in front of Nikki.

"You're quiet this morning." Trish hoped Nikki wasn't going to be in a bad mood all day; she hated seeing her like that because there was nothing she could do to help.

"Sorry." Nikki smiled sheepishly, she had in fact been deep in thought about Helen, "I was just thinking about Helen, I think I will try and find her, she might not want me but I have to know one way or the other right?"

"Yes you do. I'm glad you decided to do it, you never know Nik, you might be pleasantly surprised." Trish took a sip of her coffee and smiled.

"Well as Helen would say, you never know what's gonna happen." Nikki felt hopeful for reasons she couldn't fathom, "what time are we due at Karen's?"

"You've got a memory like a sieve Nik, we're due there at half six, we told Karen we would get there a bit earlier to give her a hand. And we're picking Claire up at quarter past." Trish stood up and placed her crockery in the sink.

"Time to get a bit of gardening in then." Nikki stood up and stretched.

"It's bloody freezing though! You won't get much digging done, the ground will be frozen." Trish thought Nikki had gone mad.

"You should know me by now Trish; I'm an expert at digging holes for myself!" Nikki giggled and went to get her coat.

She had no intention of doing any gardening, she wanted some fresh air and a bit of time to herself. She entered Trish's shed and lit up a cigarette as she perched on a wooden box, her mind was taken back to the shed at Larkhall. She remembered the day she had placed Helen's hand on her breast. She smiled as she thought about her reaction, it had rattled her but not for quite the same reason that Nikki thought at first. It was only later on that Helen had told her that it had shocked her in to admitting her feelings for her, even if it took a while longer to finally let Nikki in on them. She lit up another cigarette as she finished the first one and thought it was about time she quit, it had become a habit to light up when she had nothing else to do. She was startled from her thoughts as Trish bellowed across the garden to her.

"Nikki, get in here, you've got a phone call."

"Who is it?" Nikki shouted back.

"Come and find out you lazy sod!" Trish shouted as Nikki shook her head and sidled off across the garden.

Karen was whizzing around the living room, like a whirlwind. She had the hoover in one hand and a duster and a tin of Mr. Sheen in the other. She had just started on her third circuit as the phone rang. She let it ring thinking that Jim would pick it up on the extension in the bedroom because he knew she was busy. She sighed when the answering machine kicked in.

"Lazy bastard." she thought as she switched the hoover off.

"Hello? Are you there Karen? Pick up, it's me."

"Don't hang up!" she said to the room as she rushed to pick up the phone, "Hiya!" Karen was happy to hear the voice on the other end.

"How are you?"

"I'm fine and you?"

"I'm great, listen; it looks like I'm coming to this party after all."

"Oh that's brilliant!" Karen was over the moon.

"Be good to see you, it's been a while." the voice on the other end of the phone sounded happy.

"Yvonne, it's only been three bloody days!" Karen chuckled. She and Yvonne were close, closer than she wanted to admit to.

"Yeah but you know what three days is like in Larkhall." Yvonne couldn't wait to get out; she knew Karen was with Fenner but it didn't stop her feeling the way she did about her.

"So are you out yet?" Karen changed the subject; she didn't want to get in to something she wasn't sure she could handle.

"I'm waiting for Bodybag to come and get me, shouldn't be long now."

"How about I come and meet you then?" Karen picked up her car keys, the cleaning could wait till later, and in any case the house was already spotless.

"I'd like that." Yvonne grinned like an idiot at the other end.

"Great, I'll be outside waiting for you then."

"Ok and Karen?"


"Thanks, I appreciate this."

"My pleasure, see you later."

"See you later." Yvonne put the phone down and sauntered back up the wing with a smile playing on her face. Being with Karen for more than thirty seconds without anybody else butting in was going to be absolute luxury.

"Jim! I'm popping out, I should be back by lunchtime." Karen shouted up the stairs to Fenner who was still in his pit.

"Yeah whatever. By the time you get back I'll have gone out anyway, I'm meeting a few of the lads down the pub remember?"

"Well I'll see you when I see you then?"

"Yeah." he grunted before turning over and attempting to get some more sleep before he had to get up.

Helen was rushing around town like an idiot trying to find something to wear for the party. She had plenty of clothes but she wanted something special, she wanted to make a good impression on Nikki. She had already packed her stuff and made a reservation at one of the hotels in London, just a few miles away from Karen's house. As soon as she was done shopping then she would make her way down there.

She spotted a little dark blue dress in a shop window and went in to try it on, it wasn't a colour she would normally wear but the shop assistant told her it really suited her. The first dress she tried on was too big, and it was at that point that she realised just how much weight she had lost. Normally she didn't notice that her clothes were loose, and she never looked at herself in the mirror. She asked for the next size down and it fitted her perfectly, she looked at the dress from all angles and decided it was perfect. She paid for her dress and rushed off to buy some new shoes to go with it.

When she had finished shopping, she stopped off to get herself a coffee and a sandwich, she hadn't eaten since the previous lunchtime and her stomach was rumbling loudly. She took a bite of her food and a sip of her coffee, before picking her mobile up and dialing Karen's number. She thought turning up unannounced would be rude of her. She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as she waited for an answer.

"Hello." it was Fenner.

Helen ended the call and threw her phone on to the passenger seat as if it was red hot. She shouldn't have been surprised that Fenner answered because she knew he lived with Karen but having him answer the phone to her had caught her unawares. She decided that if showing up unannounced to Karen's party was rude, then she would just have to appear rude; there was no way she was going to talk to Fenner.

She finished her coffee and looked at her watch; it was about time she set off. She put the car in to gear and pulled away, heading straight for the motorway and London.

Yvonne's first glimpse of the outside was of Karen leaning against her car whilst she smoked a cigarette. Yvonne's heart leapt for joy, she would only have Karen to herself for a limited amount of time and decided to make the most of it. She strode purposefully towards her, looking for all the world to be a confident woman but on the inside she was a quivering wreck. She hadn't even felt that way about Charlie, she realised this must be something special, or at least it would have been if Karen felt the same.

Karen looked at Yvonne intently as she came walking towards her, her heart skipped a beat and not for the first time she felt frightened by it all. She had an insight in to how Helen must have felt, and if she had been half as scared as Karen was feeling then she must have been terrified. She threw her cigarette away and pulled Yvonne in to her arms for a hug, she had to admit it felt right to be holding her that way.

"Hiya Karen." Yvonne tried to keep her voice steady as she clung on to her.

"Hi yourself." Karen pulled away and smiled, she didn't trust herself to say any more than that. Her heart was already beating rapidly with being so close to her.

They grinned stupidly at one another for a few seconds before they decided it was time they got out of the cold. They both climbed in to Karen's car and set off back to the house.

Nikki was lazing in front of the TV when Trish came bustling in to the room with a cup of coffee for her. She handed it to a much happier looking Nikki, and Trish was surprised at the change in her.

"What's up with you all of a sudden?" Trish flopped down on to a chair across the other side of the room.

"I've just had some good news."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yvonne is being let out today." Nikki looked at her watch, "in fact, she will be out by now but it was touch and go for a while whether they would keep her there until after the holidays. She is going to Karen's tonight; I can't wait to see her."

"That's great news; the two of you are pretty close aren't you?" Trish put her coffee down and looked over at Nikki.

"Yeah, we got to know each other pretty well and we just clicked. It will be great to see her again, I know it's only been a few days but you get used to being around your friends 24/7 and it feels strange when they aren't around anymore."

"I'm sure it does. Have you figured out what you're going to wear yet?"

"I've had a quick look through my stuff but I can't quite decide. I want something special you know?"

"If we hurry we can get in to town, have a look for something and be back before it gets too late." Trish smiled, she knew Nikki would be up for it, and she could do with getting something special herself, she really wanted to impress Claire.

"Fantastic, lets go." Nikki shot up off the couch and put her coat on, she couldn't wait to go shopping again.

Helen lay in the bath as her mind drifted. She was imagining what it would be like to hold Nikki in her arms again after all that time, to feel her soft lips against her own. The warm water caressed her body, and she longed for Nikki to do the same, but it wasn't about sex, it was about being as close as she possibly could to the woman she loved. She stretched out in the bath and allowed herself a few erotic thoughts before guilt took over, she looked at her watch instead.

"Oh shit!" she pulled the plug and stood up, she wrapped a big fluffy bath towel around herself and stepped from the bath. She rushed out of the bathroom, it was already 6:30pm, and she had no idea where the time had gone. It didn't give her long to get ready, and she wanted to look her absolute best for Nikki.

A few miles away, the same scene was being played out at Trish's place because Nikki had also taken too long in the bath. It was something she hadn't had the luxury of while she had been banged up. Trish had rudely interrupted her when she banged on the door, making Nikki jump violently. As soon as her heart had stopped racing, she toweled herself dry and started to get dressed. Twenty minutes later, she surveyed the tight black trousers and the skimpy backless top that showed off a good deal of her midriff, and pronounced herself satisfied. She had to look her best tonight, she had a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach and she didn't know why. She put it down to having her freedom at last and didn't give much more thought to it.

They left in a taxi soon after, and went straight to Claire's place. When Nikki saw her walking down the path with a big grin on her face, she was convinced Claire had already started a little party of her own. She got in to the back seat and sat next to Trish, smiling like an idiot.

"What's wrong with you? You been let out on day release from the local nut house?" Nikki remarked dryly from the passenger seat.

"Oh don't mind me, I'm just feeling rather cheerful tonight." Claire was feeling cheerful for two reasons. One reason was because she knew Trish fancied her and the second one had to be kept a secret

"Have you been drinking?" Nikki grinned; she still wasn't convinced that Claire was just feeling happy.

"I admit I've had a couple of shots but I'm not pissed." Claire had needed a drink after the afternoon she'd had.

She had been pottering around the house when the phone rang; she answered it and was speechless when she heard the familiar Scottish accent of her best friend on the other end of the phone. She had sat and listened as Helen explained everything. She poured her heart out and Claire was surprised by the change in her, Helen wasn't usually the type to reveal her feelings. They had spent two hours on the phone and they were now closer than ever. Claire was glad to finally have her friend back and Helen felt like things were starting to fall in to place for the first time in a long time.

Claire had called Karen and told her that Helen would be going to the party because Helen didn't want to have to face Fenner on the phone again. Karen had been really happy that she was going to the party and had promised not to tell Nikki but Yvonne hadn't shared her enthusiasm. She knew how much Helen had hurt Nikki the first time around and she didn't want to see her friend get hurt all over again

Nikki exited the taxi and followed Trish and Claire up Karen's path. She shook her head in amusement at how they flirted with each other. She knew Trish was a woman on the pull but she hadn't realised Claire was that way inclined. They whispered to each other on the step while they waited for Karen to open the door, and Nikki deliberately hung back, she had no desire to listen to them whisper sweet nothings to each other because it only made her miss Helen more. In fact, Claire had been informing Trish that Helen was coming to the party, and they were both talking about how they hoped Nikki would forgive her.

"Hello ladies, come in." Karen greeted them all warmly with hugs and kisses.

"Hiya Nikki." Karen smiled at her and Nikki wondered what was going on, why did people keep grinning at her like simpletons?

"Hi Karen. Don't tell me, you've stopped going to therapy as well?" Nikki rolled her eyes and chuckled.

"What are you going on about?" Karen frowned as she looked at Nikki.

"Never mind." Nikki handed a couple of bottles of wine over and went off in search of Yvonne as Karen followed, with a knowing grin on her face.

They all congregated in the kitchen, as people usually do at parties, and were enjoying a particularly funny conversation about Bodybag, when the door bell went. They all seemed to be suddenly on edge and Nikki noticed the strange atmosphere.

"What the fuck is going on with you lot? Am I missing something here?" Nikki surveyed each face suspiciously.

"Not at all Nikki, what gave you that idea? Claire could you get that for me?" Karen wanted to give Claire the opportunity to greet her friend. She would have let Nikki go but they all knew she had a tendency to be volatile in certain situations and they weren't sure what she would do.

"Sure, I'll be right back." Claire skipped off to the front door eagerly.

An apprehensive Helen stood on the front door step shivering in her dress, partly due to the cold but mostly due to the fact that she knew Nikki wasn't very far away. Helen saw a shadow coming up the hall and took a deep breath; there was no backing out now. Claire opened the door and her face broke out in to the biggest smile Helen had ever seen.

"Helen!" she said as quietly as she could and grabbed hold of Helen in a bear hug.

"Hiya Claire." Helen held on tightly to her friend, it felt good to see her again.

"It's so good to see you babe." Claire felt the tears start.

"It's great to see you too, I missed you." Helen was close to tears herself.

"I missed you too. Nikki's inside, I bet you can't wait to see her."

"I am looking forward to it but I'm dreading it at the same time." Helen shivered once again.

"Hey come on, don't worry. I'm sure it will all work out." Claire took hold of her hand and pulled her inside.

Nikki was bent double with laughter, Yvonne had just been telling her about the Julies latest antics and she was still laughing when Claire appeared with Helen. Nikki casually glanced over, and then did a double take when she realised who it was. Time seemed to stand still as they looked at each other.

"Hiya Nikki." Helen said, as Nikki looked at her thoroughly stunned.

Part 14

All eyes were on Nikki as they waited for her to say something; there would have been total silence except for the ticking of the kitchen clock, and Helen's heartbeat, which she was sure everybody could hear. Helen was waiting patiently, hoping against hope that Nikki wouldn't reject her. Nikki opened her mouth several times to speak but nothing came out, so Helen decided it was probably best if she said something.

"How are you Nikki?" she said softly, but she kept her distance.

"Fine thanks, you?" Nikki was shocked; she didn't know what else to say.

"I'm ok. It's……good to see you again." Helen longed to wrap Nikki in her arms but she didn't want to push her too far.

"It's good to see you too." Nikki seemed to recover from her shock a little. She noticed how stunningly beautiful Helen looked in her dress. Although she had lost a lot of weight and looked tired, she still looked perfect as far as Nikki was concerned.

"Congratulations on getting out." Helen didn't know what to make of Nikki's seemingly friendly tone.

"Well if it wasn't for you and Claire, then I would never have had my freedom, thank you." Nikki took a sip of her drink to lubricate her throat, "did you have far to come tonight?" Nikki was dangerously polite.

They all breathed a sigh of relief; Nikki hadn't gone through the roof after all……

"I traveled down from Darrow this morning, I'm staying at the Regal." Helen smiled, but couldn't help thinking things weren't going as well as they seemed.

"Ah right, not too far away then." Nikki lit a cigarette to calm her nerves. She felt angry but she still loved Helen, and she wasn't sure what to do. She wasn't even sure how Helen felt about her, was she just being friendly? Was she with somebody else? And why did she even care after having her heart broken?

"As of this morning, I'm no longer employed by the home office, I handed my notice in. It's taken me this last year to finally admit that I don't give a toss about my job anymore." Helen looked at Nikki, hoping she would understand what she was trying to say.

"Pity you couldn't have figured that out sooner, might have saved us all a lot of trouble." sarcasm crept in to Nikki's voice, the anger inside her was beginning to get the better of her.

"Nikki…." Trish warned. She could see she was being unfair; she hadn't given Helen a chance to explain yet.

"No it's ok Trish, I deserved that." Helen patted a surprised Trish on the arm. Trish had always assumed Helen would resent her for being Nikki's ex.

Nikki's head snapped up, she was expecting Helen to fight back, to say something that she knew she would react to but instead acted in a way that seemed to be totally out of character. Usually an argument would ensue and they would say things they both regretted but here she was actually taking the blame. Confusion spread across Nikki's face and Helen knew exactly what she was thinking.

"What's the matter Nikki? Don't you recognise me anymore?" Helen spoke softly with a hint of a smile. She kept trying, she could see Nikki was struggling with her emotions and knew she had to stick with it.

"Well, I was wondering what you'd done with Helen." Nikki couldn't stop the smile that found its way on to her face. She loved Helen so much but she was still hurt by what she had done. Why was life never simple?

Helen thought it was now or never and took a few steps closer to Nikki, coming to a stop just a few inches away from her. She looked up in to her eyes and everything else seemed to disappear.

"I've been thinking a lot lately, I've said and done a lot of things I'm not proud of, I can't change what I've done but I can try and put things right, I'm no longer afraid to admit how I feel." Helen's breathing quickened, and her mouth felt dry.

"Is that an apology for leaving me?" Nikki concentrated only on Helen and didn't notice what was happening in the room. They were all smiling and giving each other the thumbs up, even Yvonne had relented and forgiven Helen by that point.

"It's more than an apology. It's a solemn promise never to do anything like that to you, ever again." Helen's face took on a sincere look; she wanted Nikki to know she meant every word.

"Does that mean what I think it means?" Nikki's heart leapt, she wanted to believe Helen still loved her but at the same time the anger was getting stronger.

"What do you think it means?" Helen's voice became husky, just the way Nikki liked it.

"I was hoping it meant you still, well you know." Nikki was finding it difficult; she had become aware everybody else was part of a conversation that should have been private.

"I still love you Nikki, I never stopped loving you. But I'm not afraid to say it now and I don't care who knows, I would stand in the middle of Trafalgar square and broadcast it if I could. But if I've hurt you too much for you to forgive me then I can accept that and I wouldn't blame you for it." Helen's eyes searched Nikki's face for any indication of what her next move would be.

"I thought I would hate you, I tried to convince myself that I would but I can't. Hating you would mean that I cared and I don't." Nikki regretted it as soon as she had said it, she didn't mean it. She had said the first thing that came in to her head when she had realised that Helen had opened up and was vulnerable. The look on Helen's face was too much to bear.

"I'm sorry, I really am, I never meant to hurt you." Helen said quietly, she was heartbroken; Nikki obviously didn't love her anymore. "I'll see you before I go Claire, Karen I'll phone you because we need to talk. It was nice to see you all, take care Nikki." Helen left the kitchen and Nikki watched her go.

"Nikki I'm warning you, you better shift your arse now and go and talk to the poor girl." Yvonne didn't look happy, despite the fact that Nikki was her best friend, she admired Helen for having the guts to admit she had been wrong and for being brave enough to apologise for it.

"Like a lot of things in my life, it's already too bloody late!" Nikki shook her head in despair.

"For fuck sake go after her Nikki, she loves you. If you don't then I will never forgive you!" Trish looked mightily pissed off and it brought Nikki to her senses.

Nikki ran down the path and looked up and down the street, she saw Helen quite a distance away up the road, for a small woman she could certainly shift when she wanted to. Nikki felt awful, what she had just done wasn't fair, Helen had tried to make things right and she shouldn't have reacted the way she did. She needed Helen, more than she ever thought possible.

"Helen! Wait!" she shouted after her but Helen picked up the pace. Nikki ran full speed after her and it wasn't long before she caught up with her.

She grabbed hold of Helen and turned her around to face her. Usually Nikki would have seen anger in Helen's eyes after an argument but she could only see heartbreak and it made her feel like a total bastard. She took hold of Helen's hand and stroked her thumb over the back of it.

"I love you." Nikki spoke with an intensity that made Helen shiver.

"Do you? Or are you only saying that because you feel guilty about what you just said?" Helen's tears were running down her face unchecked, she no longer cared that she wasn't in control of her emotions. It hurt like hell and she wished the ache in her heart would stop.

"You've told me you love me more in the last five minutes than you did the entire time we were together." Nikki smiled, "of course I still love you Helen, what I feel for you isn't something that will just disappear in five minutes, in fact, I think it's something that will last a lifetime." Nikki pulled Helen closer and gently wiped her tears away.

"We need to talk, we need to know where we stand." Helen had to be practical, because she knew if she wasn't then she could so easily get carried away, and judging by the look on Nikki's face then so could she.

"You're right. There are lots of things we need to say but for now they can wait because a year is a long time and I never thought I would see you again." Nikki rubbed the back of Helen's neck comfortingly.

"So what does this mean then?" Helen was being cautious, she knew that just because Nikki loved her, it didn't guarantee her forgiveness, nor did it mean they would get back together.

"It means that I want you back, I want us to be together. A new start, just the two of us, like it was meant to be. We will talk I promise but for now, I want to concentrate on spending some time with you."

"I just have to say something before we close the subject for now. It's got to be all or nothing Nikki because we've waited a long time for this and I've kept you at arms length for long enough. I want to totally commit to you." Helen squeezed Nikki's hand tighter, "there can be no more running away, from either of us, we have to learn to communicate properly and share our feelings." Helen could see Nikki was looking very surprised indeed, "I'm not going to hide anymore, I'm tired of it, I've accepted I'm gay and I don't have a problem with it. I will tell my father and the rest of my family and if they don't like it then I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I love you and I'm proud to be loved by you, and the world will have to just deal with that." Helen gave the speech that she had always wished she could.

"I fully agree. You really have changed, and I'm proud of you. I love you too." Nikki felt overwhelmed, Helen was saying the words she had always wanted to hear, "come here."

She wrapped her arms around Helen and pulled her close; Helen buried her face in Nikki's neck and ran her hands up and down her bare back. The physical response had never changed; they both found themselves tingling when they touched. Having Helen back in her arms felt wonderful and she never wanted to let go. Nikki tilted Helen's head back and their lips slowly and tentatively touched. They lost themselves in the kiss and immediately felt they were back where they belonged. Helen knew they had difficulties ahead of them but she was finally back where she was meant to be, with the person she was meant to be with. She felt that once they had talked things thorough, everything would be fine and the weight from her shoulders had lifted.

"Wow." Helen said breathlessly as the kiss ended. She didn't care that they were standing in the middle of the street.

"I know how you feel." Nikki was having the same sort of feeling, "lets get back, I think we could both do with a drink." Nikki took hold of Helen's hand and entwined their fingers as they walked back towards Karen's.

"Good idea, it's bloody freezing out here. And I know you're cold." Helen winked at Nikki as she pointed to her chest.

"Have you been staring at my boobs again?" she felt much better, her anger had gone. Something about Helen told her that maybe she'd had her reasons for doing what she did and she had no reason to doubt that.

"I couldn't fail to notice them sweetheart, they're beautiful just like the rest of you." Helen let go of Nikki's hand and leaned in to her as she placed her arms round her waist.

"In that case then darling, you're forgiven." Nikki emphasized the last bit, Helen caught the double meaning and her heart soared, "now come on woman, it's brass monkeys out here!"

"You're the boss, lead on." Helen smiled.

"What?" Nikki wasn't sure she was hearing correctly, this 'new' Helen was hard to get to grips with.

"I had all the power at Larkhall, now it's your turn." Helen spoke playfully; "I'll let you boss me about for a bit." Helen smiled seductively.

"I think I like the sound of that!" Nikki giggled as she dragged Helen off towards the house. She still couldn't quite believe that after all this time, she had Helen back, and her prayers really had been answered.

Helen took a deep breath; she was so happy that she was back with Nikki. All she had to do now was face Karen, she couldn't even begin to imagine how she would start that conversation off, but now that she had Nikki, she was sure she would be strong enough to do anything.

Part 15

As soon as Helen and Nikki entered the kitchen, the conversation stopped and big grins were flashed in their direction. Both women couldn't help smiling as it was so obvious what they had all been talking about prior to their arrival. Helen would once have been embarrassed by the attention, but she found that she didn't mind at all now. It felt good to have people know she loved Nikki for a change instead of having to hide it.

"You two speaking again now?" Yvonne stood with her arms folded and grinned.

"Yes we are, and we're back together again." Nikki placed a kiss on Helen's forehead and they clung on to each other.

"About bloody time! I lost count of how many times I wanted to sit you both down and tell you to sort yourselves out." Yvonne gave them both a hug.

"Sometimes you just have to let people work it out for themselves, but these two are unusually slow." Trish giggled as Nikki shot her a mock glare.

"We got there in the end." Helen beamed as Nikki winked at her.

"I think this calls for a celebration!" Karen started topping their glasses up, "Helen what would you like to drink?"

"Hmmm what would I like to drink Nikki?" Helen knew Nikki would enjoy playing this little game.

"I think a vodka and coke." Nikki knew what Helen was up to and decided to play along, the 'old' Helen would never have relinquished control so readily and she knew how much she must trust her.

"Yeah vodka and coke thanks Karen." Helen giggled as Karen rolled her eyes at them.

"Doesn't it make you sick?" Karen said as she handed Helen's drink over.

"Oh I don't know, I think it's sweet myself." Yvonne's face took on a dreamy look and Karen quickly looked away.

Helen knew people weren't due to start arriving for another half an hour yet and she didn't want to start having a discussion about Fenner whilst there was a house full of people. So she decided now was the time to get it all out in the open. She was sorry that she hadn't had a chance to tell Nikki in private before anybody else found but there hadn't been time. Helen cleared her throat nervously and looked straight at Karen.

"Karen, I've got something I need to tell you." Helen looked uncomfortable, Nikki glanced at her questioningly.

"If you are going to reveal all your secrets from your time at Larkhall then I would rather not know." Karen smiled.

"This isn't easy for me to say, and I'm not quite sure how to say it, other than to just come right out with it. Jim Fenner assaulted me." Helen tried to keep her eyes on Karen and not on the floor where they wanted to be; after all she had nothing to be ashamed of.

Helen felt Nikki's arm hug her tighter and she felt relieved, she thought she would have gone nuts. Meanwhile, Nikki was seething, she didn't think she had ever been so furious but she kept quiet knowing that Helen would appreciate her not losing her temper. Helen took a look around the room and the only one who didn't look surprised was Yvonne, a look of understanding passed between them and she nodded for her to carry on.

"It happened one night in the office when I went to get a couple of files. I wanted to get to the filing cabinet but Jim was in the way, and when I asked him politely if I could get a couple of files, he grabbed me and threw me up against the filing cabinet." Helen's voice began to falter.

"It's ok sweetheart, I'm here. Take your time." Nikki whispered in Helen's ear and felt her lean against her. Nikki felt like making sure Fenner was tortured painfully and slowly.

"He tried to kiss me, I wouldn't let him but he grabbed my head and forced his tongue in to my mouth. I was trying to push him away, I couldn't breathe, and his hands were all over me." Helen cracked and the tears started, Nikki wrapped her arms tighter around her, "he was trying to put his hands inside my shirt and he ripped it. He…….he...he put his hand between my legs and I couldn't fight him off. He was grabbing at me roughly and he kept trying to…….." A sob escaped Helen's throat and Nikki rubbed her back comfortingly. "He kept trying to take my clothes off but I eventually managed to push him away and I ran off down the wing. He tried to shrug it off the next day but I wouldn't allow it, he wasn't even sorry about it." now Helen had gotten it off her chest, she felt a bit better about it.

The room remained quiet and Karen's expression was unreadable, Nikki thought she would have at least asked Helen if she was ok but she didn't utter a word. Claire had moved to Helen's side and was now rubbing her arm, whilst Nikki gently stroked her hair.

"Well say something Karen!" Nikki snapped.

"I don't know what to say." Karen was shocked, but it didn't really surprise her where Jim was concerned.

"You could at least ask the poor girl if she's alright." Yvonne chipped in; she was disgusted with how Karen was handling the situation.

"When was this supposed to have taken place? And if Jim really did assault you then why didn't you report it?" Karen ignored Yvonne and spoke to Helen.

"Why do you think Karen? He knew all about Nikki and I, he would have taken great delight in getting us split up. It happened about a month after I took the job of lifer liaison officer." Helen noticed that Karen seemed to be standing on her own on one side of the kitchen while everybody else stood beside her in a silent gesture of support. Helen didn't notice the look of realisation on Nikki's face, now she knew what had happened, it explained a few things.

"You pissed off and left her anyway so what was the bloody point?" Karen lit a cigarette. Deep down she knew she had made a mistake in getting together with Jim but was loathe to admit it.

"I left because it was getting too hard for us to hide how we felt. If I had reported Jim then Nikki and I would never have…..." Helen stopped, just before she let it slip that they would never have known how much in love they were if they hadn't spent the night together when Nikki had escaped.

"You would never have what?" Karen regarded her suspiciously.

"We would never have been able to spend the amount of time together that we did, he would have made sure Helen was sacked and I was punished." Nikki finished Helen's sentence for her, she didn't care if they found out that she had escaped, but she knew Helen would get in to trouble if it was mentioned.

"Suppose so." Karen wasn't convinced, "where's your proof that Jim attacked you?"

"Oh excuse me, I'm so sorry but I forgot to keep the fucking bruises!" Helen remarked sarcastically. She knew Karen would resist any attempt to believe her.

"Without proof then nothing can be done, and you obviously can't report him now anyway because your relationship with Nikki and your professional conduct would both be subjected to microscopic scrutiny." Karen folded her arms and looked back and forth between them.

"I don't give a fuck about reporting him Karen. I'm trying to tell you what he's like, you know what he did to me and you can do far better than a bastard like that." Helen stood up straight and started gesticulating wildly with her hands as Nikki ducked out of the way.

"I think that's entirely my business don't you?" Karen looked indignant.

"Oh for god sake, wake up Karen! Fenner is a first class bastard and he always will be. Look what he did to Dockley, not to mention what he did to Rachel, and he's doing it to others as well. He doesn't give a shit about you." Nikki took a long swallow of her drink and banged the glass down.

"We all know Shell specifically lured him to her cell the night she stabbed him. Dockley wasn't a victim." Karen glared at Nikki.

"Even if she was a willing participant, it doesn't mean that he had the right to do it. He was breaking the rules!" Helen was getting exasperated with Karen's attitude.

"Yeah and that's something that you would know all about isn't it Helen? I mean lets face it, you aren't exactly innocent." Karen was turning nasty.

"Hey! That's not fair Karen, they were in love. Helen is nothing like that scumbag Fenner." Yvonne jumped back in to the argument.

"I've never had sex with Nikki in Larkhall Karen, I never once overstepped that particular boundary, but I know Fenner did. I know he was having a sexual relationship with Shell, I also know he was having a sexual relationship with Rachel Hicks but I can't bloody prove it!" Helen gave Nikki's arm a squeeze as she passed her another drink.

Trish and Claire had retreated to the kitchen table and were sitting together watching the proceedings, Larkhall wasn't something these two were overly familiar with on a regular basis but it sounded like a bloody awful place to be. It didn't seem to make much difference whether you worked there or were jailed there, the end result was the same, you came out worse than when you went in.

"Look Helen, whether you had sex with Nikki or not while she was in Larkhall has bugger all to do with me, you don't work for the prison service anymore and I'm not going to tell tales on you. But without proof that Jim actually assaulted you then there isn't anything I can do." Karen said stubbornly.

Helen closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead, she just wasn't getting through to Karen, no matter how hard she tried.

"You're not listening to me. I really would love to see him out on his arse, but in all probability that isn't going to happen. You need to kick him to the kerb, he's no good for you Karen, and if he stays then you'll end up regretting it." Helen couldn't stop thinking about Karen's funeral.

"Look, he may not be perfect but we get along fine." Karen couldn't believe the things she was coming out with. Pride was a funny thing; it made you say things you wouldn't even contemplate had your mind been working properly.

"So I'm a liar am I Karen?" Helen looked as if she would spit feathers, "look, if you want proof then just go and ask Jo and Susie ok?"

"How do you know Jo and Susie?" Nikki whipped around to face Helen; she could tell she knew more than she was letting on.

"It doesn't matter how I know them but Jim has been raping Susie for a while, and the poor girl can't do anything to stop him. Jo told her to write a letter to the papers so that they could get area management to sit up and take notice. They knew they couldn't tell you because you wouldn't listen, you think the sun shines out of his arse!" Helen felt all the tension building back up again, her previous sense of calm had now evaporated.

"That's a very serious allegation." Karen took on a professional tone.

"He's a licentious misogynist bastard Karen, and I've tried my best to get you to see to it. But I'm warning you, if you don't do something about it then I will. I may have a lot to lose but a lot of the women he's abused can't speak up for themselves, whereas I can. So it's entirely up to you." Helen looked defiantly at Karen and Nikki's heart swelled with pride as she looked at her partner.

Karen stayed silent and Yvonne was fast losing her self control, she loved Karen but she could be so blind at times. She walked across the kitchen to face Karen.

"What are you going to do about it?" Yvonne forgot she loved Karen for a moment and squared up to her.

"I really don't think this is any of your business." Karen glared at Yvonne.

"That's where you're wrong, because this includes several of my friends. Both on the outside and on the inside. Do you realise how hard it must have been for Helen to tell you what he did to her? Shall I tell you how hard it was? It's one of the hardest things she's ever had to say, it feels like one of the worst times in her life and it made her feel totally isolated because she couldn't tell anybody about it. I know cos I've been there, it happened to me when I was at school. Helen shouldn't be the one on trial here, so before you pass judgment on her, take a step back and look at that bastard of a boyfriend of yours, because he's the only guilty one around here." Yvonne spoke in a harsh tone, she wanted Karen to start waking up to him.

"Why do you care so much about my bloody personal life?" Karen's voice rose several octaves.

"You really wanna know?" Yvonne reached across and planted her lips on Karen's.

Karen's eyes shot open in shock, she knew Yvonne seemed to have a thing about her but she hadn't realised it was quite that serious. After several seconds she gave in and forgot about the others and kissed Yvonne back. As soon as she felt Karen respond, Yvonne pulled away.

"I love you, that's why I care so much." Yvonne looked Karen straight in the eye and then turned away, "Nikki give us a fag will ya?" she took a cigarette from Nikki and then went into the garden for some fresh air, after what had just happened, she needed to cool down.

Karen stood speechless, she wasn't sure whether she had enjoyed the kiss or not. She had responded, of that much she was sure, but was it just a reflex? Or was this what she really wanted? She was aware of several pairs of eyes looking in her direction and she blushed slightly. What a bloody mess this party was turning in to. They had had 2 arguments, a touching reunion, a startling insight in to the exact evil nature of Jim Fenner, an admission of love, and all before 7:30pm.

"Look Helen…..." Karen was about to apologise.

"It's ok." Helen pre-empted her, "there is no need to apologise as far as I'm concerned. Just promise me that you will think long and hard about what I told you." Helen was in a forgiving mood, she knew it would help Karen in the long run.

"I promise I'll do something about him." Karen meant it; she couldn't in all honesty stay with a man she couldn't trust. And then there was Yvonne, she shouldn't be avoiding the issue.

"And Yvonne?" Nikki looked questioningly at Karen.

"I don't know." now that Karen thought about it, her feelings ran a lot deeper than friendliness.

"Go and talk to her Karen. Take it from me, she'll need to be reassured." Helen's tone was friendly, and Karen couldn't understand why, after all she had more or less made it clear that she thought she was a liar.

"Helen's right." Nikki had remembered that when she told Helen she loved her, she had wanted reassurance that Helen felt the same but she didn't get it until much later.

"Go and tell Yvonne you're in love with her." Helen winked at Karen and she blushed again.

"How did you know? I wasn't even sure myself."

"I've been there remember? I know what it's like; it's not hard to spot the signs. Nervous twitch, tongue dragging on the floor, that sort of thing." Helen smiled warmly at her.

"I'm really sorry Helen, and thank you." Karen meant it; it wasn't the first time she had had to apologise to somebody for letting her pride get in the way.

Karen gave Helen a hug and then went outside to talk to Yvonne. She hoped that Nikki and Helen wouldn't be the only couple to get together that night. She realised now how much she wanted Yvonne, she had wanted her since they first set eyes on each other, and she was going to make sure she knew it.

Part 16

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