DISCLAIMER: Neither Sally nor Helen belong to me, sadly. They do belong to Damian Kindler, Amanda Tapping, and Martin Wood (and some other people I'm sure). I am only borrowing them and promise to put them back where I found them with no harm done.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is about a platonic yet intimate relationship between two women who are completely comfortable with each other. There is no gettin' it on in this story! You'll have to look for that elsewhere. I have intentionally left this story open to interpretation in the timeline (and several other things). It is intended to be part of a larger work that is post-Ashley, but I am altering it very slightly and sharing it because I think other people might use it as a jumping-off point, and I'd like to read your stuff too! This is my first bit of fanfic to ever be shared with others. Please, only constructive criticism at this time (which you can leave on my fanfiction.net account under the same nom de plume). This piece is just under 3000 words. Submitted to ralst.com, fanfiction.net, and may eventually appear on anaslakeside.com. Please ask permission to keep it elsewhere. Thanks to Ana Lake for beta reading, you keep me on track!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To editor[at]feastofthemuse.com

The New
By Abnormal Newt


Helen laid propped up in bed, gathering her thoughts. The time had come to take the next step, but as much as she wanted this, something didn't feel right. She fidgeted with the covers, straightening and smoothing them over her abdomen. She gazed out across the room and realized her problem - she was alone. Very, very alone, and - she realized - she didn't want to be. Not for this. And she didn't have to be. In a moment she was out of bed and putting on a comfortingly soft, long robe. She put the cloth cover back over the cart she had brought into her room for this very purpose, and pushed it out into the hall. Taking a last glance into her room, she decided she needed nothing else. She shut the door and headed toward the tank.

"Are you awake?" Helen called gently in her mind.

A few moments later, Sally made her way to the glass front of the tank and smiled at Helen. She noted the cart and gave her a questioning look.

"It felt wrong to be alone." Helen spoke quietly.

"Then come be with me."

Helen soon found herself stepping out of the lift at the back entrance of the tank. She pushed the cart to a corner near the shower and applied the brake. As she peeled off the robe and hung it on a wall hook, she released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. She pulled the thin nightshirt over her head and hung it next to the robe. Now completely bare, she quickly took the few strides to the water and dove in.

The water around her was soothing, and Helen turned to face the surface, floating along slowly several feet below it. A shadow approached her and made its way up from her toes until it covered her entirely. Helen smiled and turned again to face the bottom, arms outstretched. Sally folded her arms across Helen's chest and with a few powerful kicks propelled them out into the middle of the tank, Helen's arms steering them in a wide arc. As they reached the center, Sally released Helen and they both made their way to the surface.

"This is much better." Helen enjoyed the quiet, the only sounds the small disturbance they made in the water. She turned onto her back and tried to let her mind empty.

Human and mermaid floated in companionable silence for a few minutes.

Helen felt some anxiety begin to build and flipped onto her stomach, pushing herself into a front crawl. Sally kept pace on her back, slowly pumping her powerful tail. She gave Helen her space, but stayed close by. Helen swam an endless loop, tracing an invisible lemniscate in the water. Finally she let up and rolled onto her back, catching her breath. As her breathing slowed, a few thoughts came rushing in, but she managed to push most of them away. One in particular spread across her consciousness. You were alone last time. She shook her head and snorted, breaking the relative silence. And look how well that turned out in the end.

Aggravated, she curled around and dived. Sally followed her at a distance. Had this been one of their usual playful swims, Sally would be weaving circles around a grinning Helen, but this was different. This night brought its own gravity. Helen had thought it would be a peaceful and joyful gravity, but what she felt at the moment was slightly anxious and frustrated, along with a sense of being very alone in the world.

Helen went deep, as deep as she could. No more regretting the past. Ignoring the pressure on her head and chest, she pushed the water behind her until she was nearly out of breath. Sally saw her body relax and came close, circling slowly. Helen came to rest, floating still in the water, eyes closed. Sally brushed her arm gently, knowing she should have headed for the surface a few meters ago. Helen's eyes opened, her frustration mellowed to a hint of sadness. The mermaid pulled Helen's head to her own chest and made short work of the distance to the surface.

Helen gasped for air as her head broke through the water. She managed to inhale some drops with the air and coughed a few times. The coughing turned into gentle sobs and tears tracked down her face along with the salty drops of water. Sally took her in one arm and turned them both onto their backs, moving lazily through the water. Helen let her head rest on the slender shoulder and found the release of tears seemed to help clear her head. As her friend held her, she admitted to herself that she wasn't as alone in the world as she sometimes felt. She also realized that her short burst of exercise had tired her more than she would have liked, and she'd need to rest a little before she got around to what she meant to do tonight.

Almost reluctantly, she turned to face Sally. "I'd best get back to dry land."

Sally complied and slowly made her way to the back of the tank. Helen still rested on her, eyes closed, taking in the feel of the water flowing over her bare skin and an arm around her that she trusted implicitly.

"We're here, dear."

Helen sighed and opened her eyes. "It'll take me a few minutes to wash up and prep. You don't need to wait here; I'll be fine." Her smile looked calm and Sally didn't question her.

"Call when you are ready."

Helen nodded and stepped out onto the concrete and toward the shower. She moved the cart clear of the shower splash and grabbed a towel from the rack above her robe and placed it within easy reach. Stepping in, she turned on the water and felt the warmth trickle down her body. For a few minutes she stood quietly, head bowed into the water, arms resting against the wall. Why do these things resurface now? I've made my decision. I've made my preparations. She grabbed a washcloth and her bar of soap and resolutely began to remove the salt from her skin. I'm ready to move on. I want this.

At last she felt like Helen Magnus again. Quickly she shampooed and rinsed her hair, her heart growing lighter than it had been in a while. Tonight would begin a new chapter in her life, a chapter without foreshadowing. There was a dull ache of the past with every heartbeat, but she felt the cool of the empowering new flowing through her veins much more powerfully. That was all she needed. One last splash of water on her face and she shut off the shower. She glanced to the cart and noted that it was still dry and covered. She toweled off quickly and slipped into her robe, then squeezed her hair out in the towel and tousled it a bit, enjoying the cool feeling of air on her damp scalp.

By now she had put the thoughts behind her, in the past where they belonged. She was focused on the task at hand. She moved the cart out into the clear, then removed the cloth cover and hung it where her robe had been. She surveyed the items once again; everything was accounted for, not that she needed much for this. Slipping a capped, large plastic syringe into the pocket of her robe, she took a second syringe, this one metal, out of its specially prepared cold bucket and fixed narrow tubing in place at the tip. She turned on a small monitor and checked the light and optics on the tubing, then moved her finger around the screen and watched the robotics respond very slightly in the right directions. Satisfied, she slipped the monitor into the other pocket of her robe and clutched the syringe and robotic tubing carefully against her body with one hand. She grabbed a fresh towel with the other and set out to her private place in Sally's sanctuary.

Helen's spot was a peninsula of rock that jutted out just before the wide expanse of water that she and Sally regularly made great use of. Boulders and plants almost completely ringed the little triangle, and the path looked like a dead end to most anyone who ever ventured into the back of the tank. The seclusion suited Helen just fine, and she was pleased to see that Sally was waiting for her at the edge of the water. She headed for the large mattress that she had placed there some years ago. Set low off the ground on a few logs and covered in deep reds and yellows, it reminded Helen of some of her more interesting travels.

Seeing Helen arrive, Sally pulled herself out of the water and rested her back against a large boulder that also served as the headboard of the bed. Helen smiled and tossed the towel at her before taking a seat on the bed. Sally began to pat her skin dry and towel her hair as Helen gently laid the metal syringe on the bed and unloaded her pockets. Reaching behind her, Helen moved several pillows away from the wall and up to the head-boulder. She drew her legs up onto the mattress and leaned sideways into the pillows, tugging her robe around her better to stay warm. Already tired from the long day, Helen focused on gathering her strength. Once again she enjoyed the quiet in Sally's domain. No ticking clocks or computer fans humming, no distant footsteps, and no one knocking at her door in the middle of the night. She sighed contentedly. "Thank you. You are always so good to me."

Sally smiled at her broadly. "You are welcome - and the same to you. Are you feeling better?"

Helen dropped a hand off the bed, which Sally took in her own. "I feel much better."

"You're ready for this, aren't you?" The words were not a question, but a statement of confidence.

Helen paused, gathering her feelings. "I know nothing can change the past. I want this, no matter. This is my choice. My chance to move on despite the past." Just expressing herself seemed to rejuvenate her somewhat. Sally squeezed her hand in full support. "I think I'd like to meditate for a bit. Get in the right frame of mind. Care to join me?"

"I think that would be an excellent idea." Sally drew herself upright against the boulder and rolled her shoulders back, relaxing into her posture. On the bed, Helen was doing the same, placing a pillow beneath her and folding her legs into a relaxed half-lotus. With each breath, Helen focused on bringing in love, and releasing fear. She knew she couldn't do this and harbor fear or resentment. She wanted to do this right in every way she could. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would be everything she could make it.

The women sat in silence, preparing themselves. Helen felt herself relaxing and lightening. Still focused on her breath, she reached over and picked up the cold metal syringe and held it to her heart. She breathed consciously for a few minutes more before silently calling out to her companion.

"I'm ready."

Sally took a few more breaths and slowly opened her eyes and stretched her fingers, then her arms, and gently rolled her neck. Helen stirred as she heard Sally move. Unfolding herself, Helen set the precious bit of metal back down on the bed and removed her robe, then slid under the wine red comforter, stuffing the pillow under her knees in the process. Sally took the robe and laid it over a low boulder, then scooted closer to the bed.

"Anything I can do?"

Helen reached over and squeezed her arm. "Be close." She picked up the monitor, turned it on, and handed it to the mermaid. "Best not look for a minute. Might get bumpy." Helen picked up the metal syringe and tubing and tucked them under the covers. Bracing herself, she laid the metal on her bare abdomen, then took the loose end of the tubing and gently guided it into herself. "I think that's that."

Sally handed the monitor back to Helen and leaned in, both out of curiosity and to fulfill Helen's request. Helen dipped her head to touch Sally's shoulder for a moment, her appreciation evident in the gesture. Together they watched the monitor as Helen navigated the robotic tubing to the right area of her own tissue.

"Here," she stated with confidence. She caught Sally's gaze and held it for a moment, seeming to draw the last bit of what she needed from the exchange. I am not alone. "Hold this for me?"

Sally held the monitor in place as Helen took the metal syringe in both hands. She wrapped her left around the cold barrel and her right over the plunger. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and depressed the plunger quickly. For a few moments she laid still, breath held. When Helen finally released the breath, a few tears began to fall as well. Before the emotions could overwhelm her, she disconnected the tubing and reconnected it to the plastic syringe. This time she depressed the plunger very, very slowly, breathing deeply and watching the screen that Sally still held for her.

At last the second syringe was empty, but Helen left everything in place, laying the plastic on her abdomen and taking the monitor back in both hands. Sally carefully slid an arm under Helen's neck and pressed their heads gently together. Helen sniffled and more tears fell, but her joy was obvious. She stared in awe at the view the tiny optics provided. It's done. She knew the small battery for the light wouldn't last much longer, and she wasn't going to miss a single moment of the view.

Several minutes passed as if seconds, and the light faded. Helen let the monitor fall onto the bed next to her and wrapped her arms around Sally, twisting slightly in search of more contact. She buried her face in her friend's shoulder and sobbed quietly. Sally held her and rocked her, rubbing her back slowly. She could tell Helen was about finished with this day. Finally, Helen's tired arms relaxed their grip and Sally guided her back down into the bed. One look told her just how exhausted her protector was, and she reached over Helen and gathered the loose paraphernalia, putting it back in the pockets of the robe. Helen made no attempt to remove the last bit, and barely moved as Sally reached under the covers and carefully withdrew the tubing from her body. Sally placed the last piece in a pocket with the rest.

Turning back to Helen, she saw a slender hand disappear under the comforter and knew where it had come to rest. She pulled the cover up over Helen's shoulders and tucked it loosely around her. Helen's eyes fluttered open for a moment and she gave Sally a small smile. There was a glow around her, despite the exhaustion, that was serene and beautiful. Sally watched her for a moment, then placed a hand on her stomach, feeling Helen's fingers under hers. Helen's eyes stayed closed, but she turned her head slightly and her lips curled upwards again. "Tell her to make herself at home."

A soft laugh echoed happily in Helen's mind as Sally kissed her forehead, then sat back and placed her other hand at the crown of her head. "Sweet dreams, you two." For a few minutes, Sally focused a feeling of love and security through both hands. She was pleased to see that Helen was fast asleep when she finished. Ever so quietly, she slid back into the water and headed to her own night's rest.

The End

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