DISCLAIMER: The characters all belong to Shed; they are not used for profit etc...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Zen and the Art of Horseriding
By Rooineck


Part 31

"Sarah, you're not after Nikki's cast offs again, are you?" The humour in the voice was jagged, tearing at the fragile camaraderie created between Helen and the woman called Sarah.

They both turned to look at Trish, smiling behind Sarah. The smile looked like it was pasted on, belied by the emptiness in Trish's eyes.

"Butt out Trish. This is none of your business," Sarah said harshly.

"I know, but it is fun. I take it Nikki's going to rush down here and talk to Helen herself. How butch."

Helen saw Sarah bridle at the comment, the same reaction she was having. What right had Trish to get involved in this? As Sarah reached for her mobile phone, Trish moved her hand and trapped Sarah's.

"Don't tell her I'm here. I want to talk to Nikki about as much as she wants to talk to our little friend here."

"She wants nothing to do with you, not now. You of all people should understand, Trish."

"It's not that, Sarah, and yes, I do know better. It still looks like she needs protection, though." She jerked her head at Helen, the first time either of them had acknowledged her since their tennis match of words had begun.

"I am neither of your 'little friends', and no one has any need of protection from me. I have no idea what's going on, but I'm damned if I'll stay here listening to you two wrangle like dogs over a bone. If Nikki wants to talk to me, she knows how to get hold of me. She's trying to contact me, not the other way around. And as for you, Trish, you should be ashamed of yourself, doing this to Nikki, today of all days."

"And you think that seeing you hasn't thrown her? Don't make me laugh, Helen. I know she likes you. I also know she's not sure about you."

"I'm not the one playing with her." Helen almost shouted.

"Are you sure about that?"

"Of course I am. You so desperately want to talk to her that you are willing to risk everything she worked for."

"That's right, I do. We have a history, Helen, something shared. But don't worry, I won't cramp your style, after I've talked to her, I'm off."

"Very well, suppose you talk to me, Trish." They all whirled round. Nikki was walking very slowly toward them, dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, looking like she hadn't done anything more strenuous than make a cup of tea all afternoon, except for her eyes, which seemed infinitely tired and ineffably sad.

"I think we should do this in private, Nik." Trish said, stepping forward.

"You are a cow, showing up like this. Do you realise what you've done to me?"

"I need to talk to you, urgently."

"It could have waited a day. Just until after I'd finished, couldn't it?" Nikki asked fiercely.

"I guess," Trish wilted and Sarah smirked. "And her turning up didn't throw you at all?" Trish waved her arm at Helen. "If she'd left you alone…"

"You just don't get it, do you? I'm happy to see Helen. I do not like seeing you." She said the words distinctly and separately, giving each equal emphasis, as a mother sometimes speaks to a small child. She turned towards Sarah. "Could you take Helen to the hotel, please?"

"Don't I get a say in this?" Helen was furious at the way everyone seemed to be talking about her, making decisions for her.

"Please, Helen." Nikki turned pleading spaniel eyes on her, filled with softness and Helen felt her resistance crumple.

Sarah pulled gently at her arm and she walked off like a lamb, hoping it wouldn't be to her slaughter. She didn't know why she had let Nikki manipulate her like that, or even that she could be manipulated in such a way, except that Nikki had looked so vulnerable once more and asked so gently that Helen had been unable to overcome the need to comfort her.

"You now have two minutes to justify your incursion into my life, and to promise that you will henceforth keep out of it." Nikki sat on a low wall, her eyes flickering over the once beloved features.

"Nikki…don't be like this, please."

"Tick tock, tick tock."

"That desperate to get to your new squeeze, are you?" Trish said nastily. Nikki could see her regretting the bitchiness instantly. "I'm sorry, I know what you do is up to you, I just can't help feeling…"

"Feeling what? That she's bad for me? That she's going to set me up for a fall? Jealous?"

"If I'm honest, yes, jealous. You made me feel very safe, and now we're not together, I don't feel that anymore."

"But you chose that path, Trish. You can't go back. I can't anyway." Nikki set out her stall, hoping that Trish wouldn't make a scene. After all their contact today, she still didn't really know what her ex-lover wanted with her.

"I don't know what I want. I do miss you, and I also know that we are over. Today I needed to be with you, help you."

"But you didn't, did you? You just want to be part of someone's life, because you have no other focus. There are kids out there who need a coach. Talk to Jackie about working for her. But Trish, you are no longer part of my life. I want to move on, have my own life again. But most of all, I want the World Championship. All we have worked for over the last two years. You can have what you want, let me have what I want."

"Some slapper from the TV? Is that what you want? When you have the World Championships in your grasp?"

"Except I don't do I? You saw to that. Talk about an outsider. Ladbrokes wouldn't even give Sarah odds."

"I think your TV slapper girlfriend helped." Even now, Nikki was certain she could detect a hint of jealousy.

"Except she's not."

"Not a slapper or not a girlfriend?"

"That doesn't even deserve an answer, Trish."

"Is that what you want her to be?" She could still cut to Nikki's thoughts, whatever else was going on. The knowledge hurt somehow; the familiarity with her emotional processes seeming out of place after all she had gone through since Trish had left.

"I don't know, but I do know that I don't have a chance of another relationship with you popping up like a demented rabbit at every competition. Anyway, I'm not prepared to discuss my private life with you. You forfeited that right."

"I came back because I wanted you to know I'll be around a lot; I've got a commentating job."

"That's nice." She watched Trish wince as the banality of her non-congratulations bit.

"And to tell you you need me. I'm your coach."

"Not anymore you're not. Now go away and leave me alone."

"Nikki, please, you know you still need some help. That ride wasn't good enough, and you know it."

"It was the horse, should have been called 'Nosferatu', not 'Buddy', he was such a horror story."

"It was you too, Nikki. You didn't count properly at the triple, and you know it, and you went outside the upright, not inside, that's what cost you the time."

"I lost the time because the stupid bugger didn't have a mouth, couldn't tell what his hind legs were for, and fought me all the way for his head. You weren't there, so you don't know and so you should leave it alone."

They stood, staring at each other for a moment, eyes locked and then Nikki turned her head, deliberately breaking the contact, showing Trish she wasn't wanted.

"If that's all you had to say, it could have waited. Don't ever do that to me again. If you want to sabotage someone's career, choose your own. It's not fair to crap over anyone else's dreams because yours are screwed."

She walked away, upright, not looking back, listening for footsteps following her. She was glad to know that Trish was secure, had a job, but wished that it could be well away from the sport. She didn't care for the criticism of her riding, even though she knew that she had made a mistake in the route she had taken.

She would always need Trish as a coach, at least for her riding, but would have to do without until she could find another. She knew that if Trish had come to her earlier, during the cross country runs, or even the Europeans, she would have taken her back, welcomed her, even.

Then Helen had come along, and now she wasn't as sure what she did want. Helen would certainly be hard work, given that she was very much in the public eye. She had been intrigued by the new side of Helen she had seen in Mexico, and definitely wanted to see more of that. But by the same token, she had no desire to be involved with an ego more fragile than Trish's.


Part 32

"Nikki!" I thought you'd got lost." Sarah welcomed Nikki into the hotel room.

"Something came up." Helen tried to listen as they talked quietly by the door.

"You look shattered. Sit down and have a drink. Would you like a massage?"

"Not right now. I need to talk to Helen. Thanks for looking after her."

"You're welcome. Just don't complain you're stiff tomorrow. See you later. Bye Helen."

They both watched as she left the room, listening for the click of the latch before either spoke.

"Alone at last." Nikki smiled tiredly at her and she felt her heart move in her chest.

"You do look pretty tired. Maybe we should do this another time?" She offered Nikki a final chance to pull away. If she didn't send her away now, she wasn't going to be responsible for what happened next.

"You must be kidding! If I take my eyes off you, you'll disappear, and I don't want that." Helen watched as Nikki approached her, her steps slow and measured, like a cat stalking prey. She put her glass down on the bedside table and sat facing Helen.

"What do you want, Nikki?"

"What were you doing today?"

"Watching a modern pentathlon competition."

"Ah, you see, I thought you might have come to see me."

"Such vanity." Helen said, gently mocking.

"No, not vanity. Wishful thinking." Nikki rolled her shoulders as if she had set down a heavy burden.

"Who's Sarah?" The movement brought the other woman's offer of a massage to Helen's mind.

"A friend."

"A pretty close one, I'd say."

"She's not my girlfriend, if that's what you mean."

"Is Trish?"

"No. I'm single right now. You?"

"Me too."

"Trish says you've had an eventful few months."

"She shouldn't believe everything she reads in the papers."

"Is any of it true?"

"Some of it, yes, I expect. I don't know what she's told you."

"You know what I mean." Nikki leant so far forward she was almost touching Helen, their lips almost a handbreadth apart.

They sat there, staring into each other's eyes. Helen didn't even flinch when she licked her suddenly dry lips, whispering 'yes'. They sat locked like that for a moment.

"Whew. This is getting heavy. Would you like to have dinner with me?" Nikki sat back smiling.

"You still owe me a dinner from Mexico," Helen reminded her, surprised that Nikki had changed the mood from intimate to amicable. She was uncertain as to how Nikki would react to her revelation, or her reference to Nikki's 'vanishing lady' act in Mexico.

"Believe me, I intend to rectify that as soon as possible. What do you fancy? This is a city that can give you anything you want."

"Anything?" Helen repeated the word suggestively, loving the flush that bloomed on Nikki's cheeks, that she had provoked it.

"Pretty much anything, anyway." Nikki took a deep breath and stood up.

"Good. I don't mind what we eat. You're the one who's been running around all day, you choose." She left the teasing. There would be plenty of time for that, and she had certainly made it clear how she felt about the athlete.


Part 33

Nikki followed as Helen led the way to her hotel. The air was balmy and they walked in a companionable silence, their hands lightly brushing now and then.

Dinner had been a pleasant affair in a small, out of the way restaurant. Simple food, cooked to perfection and thumped onto their table by an overworked waitress. They had talked, about everything under the sun, but avoiding the subject of them at all costs. Nikki had also tried to skirt the subject of the day's competition, brushing it off with a 'could do better'.

It was late now, and she had sat watching Helen eat dessert ('no, I can't, I'm in training') fighting an ever-increasing need to yawn. She had been touched that when she had expressed a desire to try Helen's food, she had fed her, rather than offered the plate. The intimacy of the gesture had not been lost on her, and made her smile.

"So, here we are." Helen said, leaning back against the door, holding up her key.

"Here we are indeed." Nikki took the key and unlocked the door for Helen, letting her into the suite. "Thank you for a lovely evening." They stood facing each other across the threshold for a long moment.

"Is that it?" Helen asked, as Nikki moved to turn.


"You spend all this energy trying to get me alone all day, and then we don't even talk?"

"I thought…"

"I think you think too much, Nikki. Come in and stop making the place look untidy." She pulled Nikki into the suite. "I know you're tired, but it's not like you have to do anything tomorrow, is it?"

"No, just sleep and relax." Nikki agreed.

"Then come in and have a nightcap or a coffee or something."

"If you're sure you don't mind?"

"Nikki! Don't be so polite, it doesn't suit you." She found this new, vulnerable Nikki strange to deal with; she was used to the brash riding teacher, the arrogant fencer, but not this uncertain creature beside her. "Of course I don't mind. It's been a lovely evening and I don't want it to end."

"Is that what's it's been?" Nikki gave her a lazy half smile.

"Did you think it was something else?" She raised her eyebrow.

"I thought it might have been a great first date." Nikki hung her head, finding the toe of her shoe interesting.

"I think it's the best first date I've had in a long time." Helen agreed and her smile caught at Nikki's heart.

"Me too."

"So, how do your first dates usually end?"

"Not usually with me falling asleep on the sofa, I have to confess," Nikki stifled a gargantuan yawn as she stretched.

"Can you stop doing that, it's catching." Helen hid her milder yawn behind her hand.

"Oh no, it's much more fun when you can make other people yawn too." She lay back and kicked off her shoes, tucking one leg underneath her.

"Lay back if you like." Helen poured two glasses of wine from the bottle in the fridge and gave one to Nikki, overriding her protestations.

"Where will you sit?"

"Here." She took up on corner of the sofa and patted her lap. "If you want to lie down, I have a pillow you can hire."

"Are you sure?" Nikki eyed her suspiciously.

"All I'm suggesting is that you put your head in my lap while we talk. I'm not proposing marriage, you know."

"Sorry," she smiled. "I don't know where my manners have gone. That would be lovely, thank you."

"Comfy?" Helen asked as Nikki stretched the length of her body along the sofa, her feet hanging off the end.

"Mmm, very. You have a lovely lap." She felt Helen's fingers as they started stroking her hair gently, the rhythm soothing. "If you keep that up though, I'll be asleep in about two seconds."

"Does that matter?"

"It'd be a bit of a dull ending to a perfect evening." Nikki could hear that her own voice was full of sleep.

"I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing right now," Helen declared

"I can."

"Behave. You're nearly asleep. I think that that's about as close as you are going to get to going to bed with me tonight."

"Shame, I was looking forward to waking up with you tomorrow." She was just letting responses come out of her mouth now, too tired to care how she was coming across.

"Maybe that's what we should do then, go to bed."

"Really?" Nikki half sat up, her eyes fighting closure.

"To sleep, that's all."

"Helen, we don't have to do anything you don't want to do, you know that. If you want, I can go back to my hotel right now." She swung her body awkwardly and they both slipped off the sofa onto the floor, Helen rolling on top of Nikki. "Then again.." she swallowed as Helen's lips came closer and kissed hers softly.

She shut her eyes, waiting for the next assault, then felt Helen's weight move off her.

"Come on you, you need to get to bed."

"This wasn't quite how I thought it would be." Nikki protested as Helen hauled her to her feet and led her into the bedroom.

"You didn't like being kissed?"

"Oh yeah, that's great." She sat on the bed and allowed Helen to start unbuttoning her shirt, a beatific smile on her face. "What are you doing?"

"Putting you to bed."

"Are you coming too?" She felt completely stoned, as if she didn't belong to the world. She knew that the moment she put her head on the pillow, she would be out like a light, and had no intention of allowing her evening with Helen to be cut so short.

"I thought I'd join you, yes."



Part 34

It was light when she woke, the unfamiliar feeling of a body draped across hers making her uncomfortable. A face nuzzled into her shoulder and an arm was draped around her and she felt the imprint of Nikki's body spooning her.

She felt Nikki stir, and turned as she did, so that their positions were reversed. She couldn't resist tasting Nikki's skin as it looked so soft and inviting. She kissed the shoulder, then ran her tongue across it, tasting salt, a hint of shower gel and Nikki. It was delicious.

Nikki grasped her hand, and pulled her closer and she nestled up against her, luxuriating in her warmth. As she ran her hand up Nikki's leg and side, fascinated by the texture of her skin, the sleeping woman gave a contented sigh and rolled over onto her back.

Helen gave her a moment to settle then continued her exploration of Nikki's naked body with her fingertips, leaning on her elbow so that she could better see Nikki's body react.

She'd never been to bed with a woman before, not like this, and she savoured this time to herself as she allowed herself to adjust to the thought. Since that night in her Mexico hotel room, she had dreamed of being in bed with Nikki many times, and had gone out with a few colleagues, more as an experiment than anything, but had never taken any of them to her bed.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" She flinched guiltily away as she brought her eyes to meet Nikki's. "Don't stop, that was lovely." She watched as Nikki stretched, completely unselfconscious, and unaware of the effect that seeing her breasts move was having on Helen.

"Ow, ow, ow, ow…"

"What is it, what's wrong?" Helen panicked for a second, afraid that Nikki was seriously injured, and fleetingly hoping not, so that they wouldn't have to admit to being in the same room. She quashed the thought quickly.

"I'm just sore, that's all. I had a strenuous day yesterday, and I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing one now." She reached slowly for Helen, although the actress wasn't sure if it was out of deference to her inexperience or Nikki's aches and pains.

The two of them came together, and for the first time, kissed properly, neither trying to prove a point. Helen's mind was whirling. This was everything she had expected, and yet felt bizarre. She fought the urge to giggle nervously as Nikki's tongue stroked across her lips.

"Are you OK?" Nikki's eyes gazed into hers, concerned.

"Wonderful. You?" She giggled again, her nervousness not quite displaced by the sensations Nikki was arousing in her body.

"Better than I've been for a long time." Nikki grinned. "This is a much better way to wake up than by a Mickey Mouse alarm clock at 5am on a winter's morning to go jogging. I could get quite used to this."

"Not at 5 am on a winter's morning ever!"

"Shame, this is a perfect way to wake up." Nikki's hands were constantly moving, gently stroking across her skin, slowly tracing the sweep of a curve, the softness of her belly. "You feel nice."

"Thank you, so do you."

Suddenly Nikki threw the covers back, taking her by surprise. She made a move to cover herself, but Nikki's hands stopped her.

"I just want to look. You're beautiful. You should get naked more often."

"Yeah, and the kids would love that in pantomime!"

"I'd certainly go more often." She lowered her head, kissing the small dolphin tattoo that adorned Helen's stomach. "This is cute."

"Like you." Helen moved to push Nikki onto her back and laughed as she blushed. "I wouldn't mind looking either. This is all new to me, remember?"

"New? I thought you'd, well, you know, after Mexico…" Nikki tried to sit up, but Helen's weight kept her pinned to the bed.

"No. I wanted it to be…" She trailed off, not keen to admit to Nikki that although she had been out with other women, she hadn't wanted anyone to touch her before Nikki had.

"Shh, sweetheart. It doesn't matter. I'll be gentle with you."

"Who said I wanted you to be gentle?" Helen asked coyly.

"I shall be whatever you want me to be, in that case." Every word was interspersed with a kiss on a different part of her anatomy, wherever Nikki could reach.

"I don't know about what I want you to be, but I know where I want you to be, and that's just right," Helen replied as Nikki's searching mouth found her breast, trailing her tongue over the skin, her now released fingers fluttering across Helen's back and buttocks.

"Mmmm," was Nikki's only reply as she tasted Helen, her tongue laying a trail around the breast, languorously enjoying the taste and feel of the soft skin in her mouth. "Delicious."

"What are you doing?" She moved slightly, aware of the stab of arousal she felt.

"Enjoying myself, you too, I hope?" She arched an eyebrow quizzically, and moving her body under Helen's. "Yes, you are, aren't you?" She smiled, and instead of mortification, Helen felt sexy.

This woman wanted her body, wanted to touch and taste it, smell it and see it. It was the most erotic thing she had ever encountered, to have someone spend this much time just stroking her, touching her, arousing her.

"Is there anything you…" She opened her eyes at Nikki's question, having just been enjoying the sensation of Nikki's soft skin and hard body under her. She could feel her own dampness on Nikki's belly as she moved, Nikki's hands never ceasing in their movement over her body as she in turns lay on top of her or sat up, her legs astride Nikki.

"What?" She tried to think instead of just feeling and it took her a moment to adjust.

"Well, you know, is there something you …um…like?" She found Nikki's shyness very touching, in contrast to their current intimacy. That this woman could feel so timid after the way she had touched her seemed poignant, stirring tender feelings in the region of her heart.

"No, this is fine, sweetheart." She noticed the endearment immediately, and as Nikki's eyes widened, saw that she had done so too. She tried to distract them both from her words, lowering her mouth to Nikki's breast, taking the nipple slowly into her mouth, ripping a groan from Nikki's throat.

She slid her body lower down, getting more comfortable, still astride the taller woman, stopping as she felt their centres connect. She felt the shock show on her face as Nikki's hips twitched under hers, pushing them closer together as she felt the heat build up, not sure if was coming from inside her, or Nikki.



They spoke at the same moment and she grinned into Nikki's eyes.

"I hope not, it's far too good to be Hell." She allowed her mouth to resume its exploration of Nikki's torso, tasting the salty sweat and perfume intermingling on her tongue.

Suddenly she was on her back, Nikki having reversed their positions and she was inside Nikki's legs, feeling her wetness on her thigh.

"This must be Heaven then." Nikki captured her eyes as she moved above her, her lips and tongue creating a pathway of heat down Helen's body as she moved lower, creating an aching void where her weight had been.

"Nikki…" She felt the sense of loss translate to her voice, pleading the other woman's name.

"Shh, darling." This time neither acknowledged the words, accepting that here, in this moment, they were right.

She was conscious that Nikki's brown eyes were still boring into hers as she lowered her shoulders between Helen's legs. She felt the hint of breath across her wetness, causing her to gasp. Her entire being was focussed between her legs and on watching Nikki's head drop.

She fell back onto the pillows, revelling in the feel of Nikki's fingers tenderly opening her, feeling her look at her, really look at her most intimate place, in a way no-one, not even her gynaecologist had ever done.

She waited, unaware she was holding her breath, until she felt Nikki's soft exhalation across her, the gentleness of it extracting a soft noise from her, flowing into a sigh as she felt Nikki's tongue take a tentative stroke, long and sensuous, along her.

"Christ…" She felt Nikki's hair brush against her thigh, the sensation heightening the exquisite pulse between her legs. Her hands moved, uncontrolled by her, to Nikki's head, and she half-raised herself as Nikki's tongue moved more rapidly, exploring, testing, tasting, penetrating every intimate part of her, circling her most sensitive spot, causing her to forget herself, forget everything except the sensations Nikki was arousing in her.

She heard herself crying out, unsure what words she wanted to frame, as Nikki's skilful tongue opened up her innermost self, and felt that the connection wasn't just here, this moment, but something further.

She felt herself falling from a precipice, her body not belonging to her. She heard soft words from Nikki's mouth, nonsense, such as she spoke to a fractious horse. 'Shh, darling; quiet my love'.

After a few minutes she found herself staring at Nikki, feeling those never-resting fingers running over her body again, making her shiver.

"Stop that." She batted Nikki's hand away. "It gives me goose-bumps." She showed Nikki the evidence.

"Mmm, let me just check these." Before she knew what was happening, Nikki's hot mouth had latched onto her breast.

"Nikki! You're incorrigible." She pulled Nikki's head away and leant into her for a kiss.

"I can't even spell that, let alone know what it means, so I can't be it." Nikki said when she got her breath back.

"I'll show you what it means," Helen replied as she let her tongue trail over Nikki's shoulder, along her collar bone, feeling the insistent pulse in her neck under her tongue. She ran her hands through Nikki's hair, that soft hair that had teased her so just a few minutes before.

"Are you sure?" She thought she would kill this new sensitive Nikki, always checking, not letting her get on with anything.

"Well if you're not interested…" She pulled back, calling Nikki's bluff.

"I never said I wasn't interested, I only thought that you know, this all being pretty strange to you, you might want to have some time to yourself, to think or something." Nikki's arms reached out to her, pulling their naked bodies back together again.

She resumed her attack on Nikki's body, turning her over, trying to touch Nikki the way she had touched her, until she felt the other woman shaking. Sure she had succeeded, she looked up, only to see a grimace on Nikki's face, half-turned towards her.

"Are you OK?"


"Well, you don't look like you're enjoying yourself very much. Is that passion or pain?"

"Actually, it tickles."


"What can I say, my back's sensitive." Nikki shrugged. "Owww," she screeched as Helen ran her nails down the skin. "What was that for?"

"Just so I know the difference." She rolled Nikki back over, so that once more she was astride the athlete. This time, she slid her body down, allowing her fingers to trail in abstract patterns on the flesh, gradually moving them lower and lower, until they covered the dark triangle of hair.

She looked up to find Nikki watching her intently, and felt her legs move apart slightly, an open invitation to her touch.

"Talk about breakfast in bed." She heard Nikki's voice beside her ear. "That was delicious."

She lay languidly, a lassitude in her bones, feeling Nikki's arm underneath her, her other hand caressing her face, feeling a finger drawn across her cheek.


"Hey you." Nikki smiled at her, lovingly, making her want to cry for a moment, then hugged her to her. "Are you OK?"

"I feel…replete. I don't think I can move right now." She raised her head to meet Nikki and they kissed. "Whew, that was, well, pretty special."

"Thank you; I am to please." There was a twinkle in Nikki's eye.

"If I'd known it would be like that, I'd never have let you go in Mexico."

"If I'd known it would be like that, I'd never of left." They rubbed noses, Nikki's hands constantly touching her, as if to test that she were real, make sure that Helen was still there.

"It wouldn't have been the same."

"No," Nikki agreed. She lay back, closing her eyes, as if relieved that Helen hadn't tried to run away.

"Do you want anything?" Helen tried to find the strength to move.

"Is that a trick question?" Nikki opened one eye.

"No, I just thought that maybe you needed something to eat or drink. Or did you have too much already?" She was taken aback by her own boldness.

"Not backward at coming forward, are you?" Nikki's voice had returned to its normal amused drawl.

"I just wondered if you want a coffee or something." She tried to distract Nikki from her arch words, hoping that she wasn't having second thoughts now.

"That'd be great, thanks." She lay there unmoving, watching Helen order up some food as well as the drinks.


Part 35


"So indeed." Nikki started at her. She broke off from cleaning her plate with toast. Helen hadn't thought that anyone could actually eat that much, certainly not for breakfast, anyway.

"What now?" The words formed on her lips, but Nikki spoke them first. "That depends on you, I guess. I have to say that I don't want this to be the end, though." She shrugged and popped the last crust in her mouth, making Helen shiver as she followed her actions. Just thinking about that mouth and what it could do reminded her of the incredible high that Nikki had brought her to.

"What do you mean?" Helen asked, puzzled.

"Well, do you want to carry this on for a start?" Nikki was watching her and Helen saw the muscles bunch up under her skin, and noticed that Nikki was breathing faster.

"Of course!" She leaned in, nuzzling Nikki's shoulder.

"I don't mean now, I mean as in a, well, relationship."

"A relationship? Isn't that the equivalent of a lesbian marriage?"

"Ha bloody ha. No, that's moving in together on the second date."

"Well you work pretty fast, getting me into bed on the first date." Helen said, diverting Nikki's questioning.

"Actually no, you took me to bed, as far as I can remember. If you sleep first, it's not the first date anymore."

"Semantic, semantics. You got me into bed on the first date." Helen said triumphantly.

"Which means you were willing to come to bed on the first date." She was reminded.

"I was worried about you and wanted to make sure you were alright." She defended herself.


Helen kept quiet. There was no real answer to that. But she didn't want to return to what they had been talking about. She had no idea where she wanted this to go, and wasn't prepared to talk about it until she did. She liked Nikki very much, but wasn't sure she could cope with all the baggage that came with her, both as far as Nikki's career was concerned, or her own.

"You see, you wanted me as much as I wanted you," Nikki carried on blithely.

"You fell asleep."

"I'd had a hard day!"

"OK, you win. I hopped into bed with you at the first opportunity. Happy now?"

"Yup." When Nikki was like this, it was impossible not to like her. She'd never seen Nikki so silly before. She was so upbeat, that aside from the odd grimace, reminding them both that her muscles hurt, it was impossible to believe that when she was competing she was so serious about winning.

Nikki grabbed her and wrestled her back to the bed, upsetting coffee mugs along the way.


"It doesn't matter – it's a hotel, they'll service the room."

"Not with us in it, they won't."

"We could go to my hotel; it's not as posh, but it's OK."

"Nicola Wade, you are insatiable."

"I know what that means, and you're right, especially when it comes to you."

"Seriously, Nikki, we can't spend all day in here." She wanted some time to think. Nikki might think any relationship with her would be easy, but it wouldn't; she simply had too much at stake.

"I guess not. I'll have to catch up with Sarah and get me some massaging, unless you're any good at it?"

"I think you'd better find Sarah." A jealous thought flashed into her mind; Nikki had said last night that she was single, but she hadn't explained what either Sarah or Trish were doing here. "Who is she, anyway?"

"Sarah? Friend, advisor, masseur…take your pick." She shrugged, bringing forth another groan, this time of pain.

"You and she seem pretty close." Helen got up, throwing on a robe, and started to move around, picking up clothes from the floor where she had dropped them last night, getting Nikki into bed. She wasn't sure she wanted to know just how close.

"I guess we are." Nikki sat up in the bed, her arms over her knees, her expression blank.

"Intimate, even," Helen continued as if Nikki hadn't spoken. She knew that she was deliberately trying to be provocative, picking a fight even, but she couldn't seem to help herself. This was all moving a bit fast. What did Nikki even see in her, anyway?


Helen finished what she was doing and turned to face Nikki. They regarded each other, unspeaking.

"You want to know how intimate, I take it?" Nikki eventually asked.

"Yes, actually, I would."

"Why?" Nikki said truculently. "Jealous, are we?"

Helen didn't want to admit that she was jealous of Sarah, of her easy intimacy with Nikki. She said her next words without even thinking how they sounded.

"Nikki, I know nothing about you, or her. For all I know, this could be some attempt to snare me into some sordid, grubby story for the newspapers back home. And then Trish turns up; very convenient all round, really, isn't it?"

"You really are something else, Helen." Nikki leapt out of bed and walked around to Helen, naked. "You seem to think the world revolves around you. You're paranoid, you know that?"

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that somebody's not out to get you."

"You know, I'd thought better of you. I thought I'd found someone special, someone that I had something special with." She dressed quickly, not bothering with underwear, which she stuffed into her jacket pockets. "Best check the corridor, make sure I'm not 'observed creeping' from your hotel room." She made the appropriate quotation gestures and stood, waiting to see what would happen next.

After what seemed like an hour, Helen opened to the door of the suite, checking through the peephole first. She couldn't help herself. It was in part that Nikki was right – she wasn't sure she wanted to have Nikki spotted creeping out of her hotel room, as if they had been having a sordid affair, it was more than that. She did it because she knew already how Nikki would react.

"Well, that's answered that question, hasn't it?" Nikki flounced out of the room, not looking back, a bra strap hanging out of her pocket. "Thanks for a great shag."

"Nikki..." She didn't want Nikki to go, but she couldn't take the risk that she would hang around, find out just how unlovable she was.

Nikki stopped halfway down the corridor and looked back. Helen fought the urge to tell her about the bra and merely whispered 'good luck'.

"What the fuck do you mean by that?" Nikki was back, invading her space, pressed right up against her in the doorway. Faced with those eyes, red-rimmed, exhausted and full of sadness, she looked around her briefly.

"What I mean is what I say. Good luck in the World Championships."

"That's bollocks, Helen. Say what you mean, and get it over with. Don't pick a fight with me for no reason and then throw me out, hiding behind your celebrity. I have feelings too, you know." She grasped Helen's hands, pulling them towards her, forcing Helen's body to follow suit.

Once more, she nervously glanced around her, then pulled Nikki back into the room, making sure to shut the door quickly.


"It's a great shag and goodbye? Is that it? You decided you didn't like women after all, so bog off? Or did you enjoy it, and it's just you don't like me?" Nikki interrupted her, eyes half-closed as she thought out the possibilities. "Or is it that you don't want this to be in the papers? Can't face being called a dyke?"

As Helen looked down, unable to tell the truth, knowing what Nikki would read into her silence, she felt Nikki's fingers grasp her chin, forcing her face back up. Helen smelt the odour of sex on them.

"It's not that simple!" She cried, anxious to defend herself, but uncertain if she would. She wanted Nikki to go before she made a fool of herself and begged her to stay.

"It is that simple. You followed me here, don't deny it. Even if you persuaded people that it was work. Have you got something lined up in New Zealand next?" Hypnotised by Nikki's almost black eyes boring into hers, Helen nodded as far as she could.

She was bothered by the way Nikki kept talking to her; she thought that Helen was something special. She mustn't find out that it was an all an act, that Helen couldn't cope with everything, which is why she kept having her 'little problems', like her cocaine habit. She was clean now, but it wouldn't last; it never did.


"Because I thought you're something special too." Those eyes were worse than a truth drug. She hadn't ever meant to say those words out loud, despite the fact that she had crossed continents, arranging her life according to Nikki's schedule.

"Were or am?" Nikki was insistent.

"Are." She said it in a small voice that almost she didn't hear. Her mind was screaming at her, telling her that she was making a terrible mistake, that as soon as Nikki really got to know her, she would dump her straightaway.

"Then that's settled. We both like each other; can't we give this a chance instead of fighting like teenagers?" She smiled that warm smile; the one Helen was beginning to think of as reserved for her.

"Please don't Nikki. It's not that simple, and you know it." It was never going to be that simple, not as long as Nikki was involved with her.

"It is that simple, and you know it. We have things we need to do, both of us, but it won't be forever."

"What about the publicity?" She played what she thought of as her trump card – Nikki was so protective of her own career, she would never jeopardise Helen's.

"We'll brave it together. I don't care if people know." Nikki shrugged, giving her a wide-eyed stare.

"I do! I care who knows! I care who tells my family!" She was in danger of getting in way too deep. Nikki would never stay with her once she knew the real Helen. She tried one more time to put her off.

"Helen, sweetie, after all your sexploits being plastered across the Sundays every week, won't they be happy for you to settle down?" Nikki moved their bodies together, holding Helen tightly, letting her head rest on the smaller woman's shoulder. "I love you; I won't let anything happen to you."

Helen stiffened at Nikki's final sentence and pushed her away.

"How can you say that? You can't love me; you don't even know me."

"Because it's true. I know enough about you, Helen."

"You don't know me!"

"I've seen enough to know."

"We won't be happy together."

"I'd like to try. Wouldn't you?" She stepped forward again, her fingers gripping Helen's hands. "All I've been able to think about for the last three months is you. I've regretted walking away in that hotel room so many times. Please, let's just give it a go?"

"I'm impossible to live with."

"So am I. I get up at 5, can't stand interruptions to my routine and like everything always the same."

"Nikki…" She had an answer for everything, inappropriately reminding Helen of the end of 'Some Like It Hot'.

"Helen…" Nikki matched her whining tone. Helen could see in her eyes that she knew that the more she pushed, the weaker Helen was getting. She wanted to give in, she really did, but she didn't think she could cope with Nikki's rejection when it came; and it surely would.

"This isn't fair."

"And making me walk away is? Please, just let me love you?"

"And what do you get in return?"

"The most beautiful woman in the world." Nikki's mouth carried a hint of a smile as she brushed hair from Helen's face.

"Don't…" She pushed Nikki's hand away. She must be blind.

"What?" She could feel the frustration building up inside Nikki, like a physical thing. "Tell you how beautiful you are? That's silly. You won awards for it."

"When I was made up. I'm not like …her." She gestured frantically.

"Her?" Nikki's face was bemused.

"You know."

"No, I don't. To me you're beautiful, even when you're red-faced, sweaty and angry, frustrated by learning to ride. Please give us a chance, Helen."

"I don't know…"

"What have you got to lose?" Nikki pleaded.

"Don't do this to me."

"After what we shared last night and this morning, I would ride through fire for you. You're worth it to me."

"I'm not to me."

"That's cool. It's what I see that matters."

"Are you always this convinced you're right?"

"No, not always. But this time I am."

"And what about Trish?"

"What about her? She's history. She has been for a while now. You're the one that matters. Please?" She pulled Helen to her, letting their lips meet. Helen couldn't help but kiss her back. She felt safe in Nikki's arms, like the world didn't exist.

"Stop doing that. I can't think with you touching me." She managed to extract herself.

"I can't help it. You make me want to touch you." She slipped a hand inside the robe Helen was wearing, causing her to gasp. Helen ineffectually tried to slap the hand away.

"If I do give you a chance and I decide it's not working, what then?"

"We discuss it, Helen. It's not a unilateral decision, being together, and it's not one to take to decide we shouldn't be."

Nikki once more pulled her in for a kiss, the hand pulling the cord from the robe until it was gaping open in front.

"So we're going to keep seeing each other then?"

"Yes." She echoed her body, not her mind, knowing all the time that it was a terrible mistake, that Nikki would wake up soon and realise that her image of Helen was just that: an image created from her acting and her celebrity.

"Good, that's what I like to hear." She lowered her lips to Helen's neck, eliciting a gasp. "I think we should celebrate."


Part 36

She struggled through the last five minutes of rowing, gritting her teeth and feeling 'the burn'. She hated the rowing machine with a passion hitherto reserved for traffic wardens. For all the exhortation from Antoine, Sarah and even, in the past, Trish, she had never come to terms with a 30 stroke rate, and had moaned that that was practically Steve Redgrave's gold medal pace.

She was tempted to cut her workout short, until Helen came into the gym, her body revealed just enough by her short shorts and crop-top bra. The woman seemed to know when Nikki was thinking about skiving, as she always appeared, got onto the running machine in front of her, and started her own warm-up.

After three weeks, Nikki was used to the view she was treated to at six-fifteen am precisely every morning and looked forward to it. She found it touching that Helen had started working out at that time in the morning, just for her, although Helen assured her that it was a miracle she was working out at all.

She was starting to look better, leaner, harder and less flabby. Even her clothes were fitting better now, although the riding she was doing for the pioneer mini-series was helping too.

Nikki had managed to get a few rides with Helen into their schedules, and it was a pleasure to see how confidant she had become. It also meant that they could go off on their own more, taking picnics with them.

They had such a ride planned for today, as Nikki was leaving for New Zealand tomorrow, giving her two weeks to settle in for the World Championships. Helen would follow her in ten days, but they wouldn't see each other until competition day now.

She grunted as she reached two minutes, upping her work rate, feeling the heaviness in her muscles as their effort increased. She still had a half hour run after this, but at least she'd finished the weights.

As the clock displayed four zeros, she released her feet and slumped forward, panting, wiping her face with the hem of her t-shirt, already soaked with sweat, panting, gulping air into her burning lungs.

"You always look like you're about to pass out when you come off that thing."

"Bloody feels like it too." She drank water before looking up at Helen standing above her.

"Only half an hour to go."

"You've become a martinet since you started going to the gym."

"Come on, lazybones, then we can get in the sauna."

"Now you're talking." She scrambled up, anxious to get onto the most relaxing part of her daily regimen. "I did tell you that Antoine and me are fencing today, didn't I?"

"Yup, right after the 'oh my God, that was wonderful' part of last night, just before you fell asleep."

"Did I?" Nikki couldn't quite remember.

"Yup. You really know how to make a girl feel wanted."

"Shit, sorry."

"It's alright. I'm used to it now. Just as long as I get your full attention this afternoon."

"Yessir," Nikki said, saluting smartly.

"Stop that, or I'll really give you something to make up to me."

Helen's stroppiness over hiding their relationship was galling to Nikki. She had told her family that she was 'seeing someone new', but hadn't quite managed to tell them anything other than that to date, promising to bring 'Nik' home to meet them all at the first opportunity.

But, at this time of the morning, it wasn't even as if anyone else was present in the gym. Besides, Helen wasn't all that well known her in Australia, and Nikki just wished she'd take the risk sometimes. She wanted to shout it out to the world that she was in love with Helen, and had done so, whilst they were taking a walk in the middle of the Botanical Gardens one afternoon, deeply embarrassing Helen, but great fun, nonetheless.

It was a constant bone of contention between them, but Nikki was trying not to let it interfere with her preparations for the World Championships, not bringing the issue up with Helen if she could help it. There would be time enough to cross those hurdles when they came up.

She pushed herself on the treadmill, watching Helen trying to keep up with her for three minutes out of the corner of her eye, smiling when she had to drop her pace back.

"You need more practice, that's all."

"I need to run as fast as you like a hole in the head, Nicola Wade. It's not normal, did you know that?"

"You should see the triathlon or the iron men – they're the nutters. And what about the London Marathon?"

"I don't know why I do this, especially at this stupid time."

"It's because you love me," Nikki teased.


"Helen, no one else is here, OK? It's just the two of us. And don't call me that. Trish used to, and it annoyed me then." She didn't mention that it was doubly annoying now Helen was using it to hide her sex from her family.

"Sorry." Helen's eyes were downcast and Nikki knew she had sounded like a petulant child. She was going to miss Helen, and wasn't looking forward to their separation.

They finished their running a few moments apart and Nikki stretched and warmed down as she waited for Helen to struggle the last few hundred metres.

"God, I hate that."

"Why do you do it then?"

"Because it means spending more time with you, but why do you do it so early?" Helen whined.

"So I can spend more of the day with you, pumpkin."

"Hardly, you've got training every other minute and I hardly see you now that we're filming. And you're asleep by ten every night."

"I need my beauty sleep," Nikki claimed, laughing.

"You're always beautiful, but you're snoring isn't your best trait."

"Oh yeah? And what is then?" She threw her towel so that it encircled Helen's neck and pulled her towards the changing room as she walked backwards, releasing Helen when she saw that impatient look in her eye, trying to mask her own sigh of impatience at Helen's attitude.

"Oh, I don't know. Your wit, charm and body would have to be pretty high up there, I guess."

"Thank you, kind mistress," Nikki bowed her out of the room, holding the door open for her.

"Eeek!" Helen squeaked as Nikki's hands dropped the towel and grabbed her.

"Shh, you don't want anyone to hear us do you," she whispered in Helen's ear, gratified to see the goose-bumps rising on Helen's neck and arms. Helen shook her head and pulled Nikki into a kiss.

"Helen, what if somebody saw us?" Nikki tried to keep the sarcasm from her voice, not altogether successfully.

"As you are at great pains to point out, there's no one around at this time. Now, what about that sauna?"


Part 37

"It's going to be quiet without you."

"I know. I'll miss you too." Helen watched Nikki sprawl onto the grass beside her, dumping a backpack and a blanket to the ground. She left Helen to unpack, picking blades of grass and sucking them. Helen could almost feel her withdrawing already, despite the fact that they would have the night together.

"It's been a wonderful few weeks."


"Until George Bush got kidnapped by aliens whilst whisking Shergar and Cherie Blair to his secret love-nest in EuroDisney."

"Yes, I guess so."

"Are you actually listening to anything I'm saying, Nikki?"


"I just wondered if you wanted diet Coke or ginger beer?" She gave up. Nikki didn't belong to her anymore, and she didn't know how to handle it. Antoine had tried to tell her, but it was one thing being told that Nikki would get like this, and another thing seeing her disassociate entirely, especially as she had been so attentive to Helen over the past three weeks.

"Ginger beer, and lashings of it!" Nikki replied in her best 'Famous Five' voice. They grinned at each other, and then the moment of easy camaraderie was gone, replaced with Nikki's brooding silence.

"Is it always going to be like this?"

"Like what?" Nikki looked at her, as Helen reached out to touch her to get her attention.

"You being like this when you have a competition." She tried to say it gently, knowing full well that it would upset Nikki.

"What the hell do you think I've got on my plate? I'm competing in the World Championships in two weeks. The only thing more important in my career is the Olympics. It's like you being distracted before you film, learning your lines and stuff."

"Nikki, I'm not criticising you…"

"Like hell you're not. I have to do this, Helen, or all I'll think about will be you, and I just can't afford that. I don't think I'm going to get another crack at these, so I want to give it my best shot. All I need is for you to support me, like I've supported you these last few weeks."

She was on her feet now, pacing restlessly the way she always did when angry. In a way, it gave Helen a crumb of comfort that she was able to read Nikki so easily; it meant that they were close.

"I know, love. And I'm grateful." She still wasn't sure about the early morning runs, even though she knew they were good for her.

"I always thought acting was easy; learning your lines and not bumping into the furniture and all that." She talked with her hands, wide-armed gestures in the Gallic style. "But it's not, is it? And what I have to do isn't either. Trish is going to be there, you're going to be there and…" She stopped, sat down and refused to look at Helen.

"And what, Nikki?"


"You're not scared are you? Big, butch Nikki Wade scared of a competition?" She asked gently, afraid that Nikki would take it the wrong way.

"Yes." The work was barely a whisper, piercing through to Helen's heart.

"Hey, you'll be fine. You can shoot better than them, swim faster, jump higher, and beat the crap out of them all. You'll do great, and I look forward to putting a medal on the mantelpiece when we get home. Even if you don't get a medal, as long as you do your best, it'll be fine. I'll love you anyway." She gathered Nikki into her arms, uncertain if she were crying or not.

After a few minutes, Nikki pulled away, wiping at her eyes, but when she raised them to Helen, they were bright.

"What did you say?"

"You'll be fine." She started packing away, most of the food untouched.

"No, after that?" She knew what Nikki meant. So far she had resisted using the 'l' word to Nikki, although it had cropped up in her musings about the dark-haired athlete more than once.

"I can't remember," she claimed.

"Oh, I think I might be able to help you," Nikki said, crawling up beside her and pulling her on top of her.

"My memory's terrible."

"Then I may just have to show you." Nikki reached up, behind Helen and she could feel those long fingers fumbling away at her bra.

"What are you doing?"

"Nothing much, just passing time," Nikki replied. "There!"

Helen couldn't mistake the triumph in Nikki's voice as her breasts fell free from their harness.

"I need that back on if we're going to ride home."

"Oh, we'll be riding alright, just not home for a while." Nikki's grin was devilish and wolfish at the same time. Helen was grateful to have her attention again, no matter how brief the period. Nikki always made her feel like she was first prize in life's lottery, a million pounds.

"What about all this?" She gestured feebly, her mind nowhere near the food and animals.

"It'll still be there when you've come." She felt a stab in her groin at Nikki's words.

"What about you?"

"They'll still be there when we've finished; don't worry so much."

Within a minute, she was unable to concentrate on anything more than Nikki's fingers and mouth. She was naked, uncaring that she was lying on a blanket in the middle of nowhere, her lover making her body sing.

"Nikki…" She was unable to complete more than a name as her body took over, numbing her mind of anything except the physical experience as Nikki moved her, letting her tongue and fingers roam across the smooth skin.

"You're so beautiful…" were the last words she heard as Nikki's mouth descended on her nipple, her fingers, stroking ever downwards, feet nudging her own aside. She felt Nikki's nakedness in their shared warmth, then the familiar ache started and she felt herself growing wet as Nikki's fingers touched the curls at the junction of her legs, a soft touch that she wanted more of.

Nikki felt as well as heard Helen's groan, delighting in the way Helen's body reacted to her. She had always considered Helen to be so far up herself that she expected her to be repressed, not this abandoned, passionate creature lying naked before her, writhing against her touch, trying to get Nikki to touch her more intimately.

She used her nails along the softness of Helen's inner thigh, looking down her body, a nipple still between her teeth. Her legs opened invitingly, giving her fingers more access.

Helen's body was such a revelation after Trish's, softer, not as lean and hard. The muscles were less toned and the skin more sensitive; so much more sensitive as she felt Helen's heartbeat increase under her head.

She moved her fingers, and Helen's hips moved, her throat making a small noise that sounded almost like purring. She was rather like a cat, stretching out sensually as Nikki's fingers found their mark.

She was very wet. Nikki released Helen's nipple and moved her head, bringing her fingers up to her mouth, tasting them, her eyes on Helen's face. She was watching her and Nikki knew how much pleasure it gave her to see Nikki enjoying everything about her body.

"Wonderful," she said, answering the unspoken question, the hint of doubt in Helen's eyes.

She returned her hand, running it intimately over Helen, feeling her muscles tense and then relax as she dipped her hand lower, stroking, using the wetness. Her finger slipped inside, almost of it's own accord, as she watched Helen's face.

She used her fingers, watching the expressions pass over Helen's face, feeling her tighten around her fingers and her body tense as she approached her climax.

"God, Nikki…fuck…" The words were almost torn from her, expelled each time she exhaled. "I love you."

They both lay still for a moment, each recovering, Nikki holding Helen slightly to her, her fingers trapped and losing feeling.

She separated herself, smiling at the noise their bodies made as they separated, feeling their skins cling to each other as they would never let go. It was how she felt at going away tonight, even as she knew that emotionally she was withdrawing her mind from Helen as surely as she was now removing her body.

"Hey, you OK?" She chose not to think about Helen's words. They were what she wanted to hear, but not now. This was the wrong time. She hoped that Helen had forgotten them herself, just said them in the heat of the moment.

Helen's eyes were screwed tightly shut, her face slowly becoming more relaxed.

"You have very talented fingers, you know. If you ever give up the day job, I'm sure I can think of something for you to do."

"I may just take you up on that, Helen." She leant forward and kissed her, savouring the taste of her mouth.

"Oh, I hope you will." She made as if to sit up, then let her body fall back. "I don't know what you do to me, but I always feel like I've been put through the wringer when you've had your wicked way with me. That was amazing."

"Would you like a drink?" Nikki offered the bottle of water casually, letting Helen reach out for it before upending it all over her belly, the chilled liquid immediately making Helen's skin pucker into goose bumps.

"You bitch!" Helen jumped up to chase her, but gave up seeing Nikki a scant 5 yards away, knowing she wouldn't catch her now, and reluctant to do so, in case she hurt herself.

"You almost sabotaged my shooting hand!" Nikki held up her right hand, slowly moving the fingers that had been held captive by Helen, still unable to bend them properly.

"And that gives you the right to throw freezing water all over me, does it?"

"Well, now you come to mention it, yes." Nikki replied.

"Poor baby. Come here and let me kiss it better." She approached Nikki slowly, like a skittish horse. When they were within touching distance, she reached out, watching Nikki stare at her suspiciously, but allowing her self to be touched.

She reached out to her and felt Nikki relax into her arms, enfolding her in turn. She felt herself being hugged hard, fingertips tracing her spine. In her turn she returned the soft caresses, until Nikki was laughing so hard she could barely stand up.

"Please, please stop. I surrender – I can't take any more." Nikki's breath was coming in gasps now, and Helen knew from the look on her face it wasn't all from the tickling. She knelt with her legs astride Nikki's struggling, laughing body.

"It's enough when I say so," she said, once more reaching down, but this time allowing her touch to soothe, until Nikki was still, her red face and the tear stains from the corners of her eyes the only sign.

"What am I going to do with you, Nicola Wade?"

"I've got more than a few suggestions…" Nikki started, until her words were swallowed by Helen's kiss.

"I've got more than a few ideas of my own." She let her lips move over Nikki's body, allowing hers to slide down as her lips moved lower.

She could taste herself on Nikki's belly, their sweat intermingled, with that taste that was so deliciously Nikki. She smelt Nikki's excitement before her mouth reached the dark hair.

"Anyone would think you were enjoying yourself." She looked up, into Nikki's eyes, almost black now that she was aroused.

"Oh, but I am…" Her words were lost in a groan as Helen's fingers probed her opening, her mouth just behind it.

"Good. Now lie back and think of England," Helen said, smiling at the effect her touch was having on the taller woman.

She let her mouth explore thoroughly, her tongue travelling leisurely, hearing Nikki whimper every now and again. She let her mouth blaze a path back up until she was beside Nikki's ear.

"I think you should get on your knees," she whispered, watching Nikki's eyes widen at her brazenness.


Part 38

Nikki sat on the plane, her mind already looking forward. Helen could see her from the viewing area, looking miles away already. She had upgraded her to business class for the relatively short flight, and knew that Nikki wouldn't really care, except for the fact that she could now stretch out properly.

Helen had already planned that they would fly back to Australia first, before flying home. They needed a break, some time away from the world together, and she couldn't think of a better place than the vast emptiness of Australia, with it's incredible diversity. If Nikki wanted beaches, she could have them; if it was metropolitan or rural life she wanted, she would get it.

She was going to miss Nikki. The last few weeks had been incredible, even if she spent every moment wondering if this was the time that Nikki would spot that she was a fraud. She felt like a little child underneath; unsure and uncertain about the way worked. In some ways it was very exhilarating, but most of the time it was scary.

She thought the time apart might be good for both of them; they had spent so much time together recently that her acting skills were at full stretch, trying to persuade Nikki that everything was perfect. Inside, she knew it wasn't.

Yet she was also still wary of Nikki's life away from her. She was with Sarah, and whilst it would have been very satisfying to make Sarah fly economy, she knew it would be churlish to do so, so she had paid for her to be upgraded too. Nikki's gratitude had almost made her change her mind.

She still wasn't sure about Sarah, and what place she had in Nikki's heart. They had been friends for a long time; that much was obvious. What wasn't so obvious was how they had acquired their closeness.

Who was she kidding? She was jealous as hell of Sarah, of her claims on Nikki's time, and the fact that she too got to touch Nikki's body. Her role wasn't even that clear. It seemed to be a cross between physio, masseur and coach.

She turned away as the plane taxied towards the runway. She was dying to go on a bender of some sort – drink or drugs, it didn't matter that much to her, but the thought of Nikki's disappointment in her stopped her from acting on the desire.

Nikki had been so good for her, encouraging her to change her lifestyle, quit the drugs, eat healthier and even exercise. What did she give her in return?

They had rowed last night, a flash of violent anger filling the room as Nikki tried to triple check her stuff, Helen distracting her by every means at her disposal. She had been unprepared for Nikki's reaction, which in retrospect was stupid, given how seriously she took learning her lines.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Trying to seduce you," Helen had said in her most seductive tones, wearing a baby-doll nightie and sucking her finger in what she thought was an enticing manner.

"Well don't, I'm too busy." Nikki had barely looked at her, checking her fencing gear for the umpteenth time.

"Too busy for me?" She had aimed for coquette, reaching out to touch Nikki as she brushed past, carrying her wash bag.

"Helen…" She hadn't even paid attention to the dangerous tone, like a dog growling when approached.

"You don't love me anymore." She cringed, even as she made the accusation, unable to stop her over-reaction. She had felt so rejected after the wonderful afternoon they had spent together. "You're sick of me already."

"I don't need this right now, Helen." Nikki finally stopped moving, but as she turned to look at Helen, she knew that she was hiding contempt.

"I knew it would happen." The tears came unbidden, as she accepted the real truth. Nikki knew she wasn't worth it all. Even with their beautiful afternoon, she had failed.

"Don't be a silly sausage," Nikki had told her, taking her and hugging her.

She pushed her away. She knew the truth now though, that Nikki had had enough and was working up to saying goodbye tomorrow. Maybe one more shag for luck, but she was going to give Helen the brush-off at the airport.

"Don't touch me, you bitch. You were only in this for the money, weren't you?" Once started, she couldn't stop, even though she knew she was alienating the other woman more and more, not that it mattered, now she had decided to get rid of Helen.

She was getting almost hysterical, working herself up more and more, tears and snot pouring down her face in roughly equal measures; sobbing loud, gulping sobs, inconsolable.

"Stop it!" The slap was completely unexpected, a bolt from the blue, but it had shut her up. She had stared reproachfully at Nikki, holding her cheek.

"I don't know what's got into you, but right now, at this minute, I'm busy. I'm shitting bricks about this event." Nikki spoke quietly and deliberately. "It's like you doing this mini-series – a chance to start again, make your mark in something important to you. Remember when you had to learn your lines?"

Helen nodded dumbly. She had made a histrionic fuss about that, too; saying that Nikki's breathing when she was asleep disturbed her ability to learn.

"I tried so hard to help you with that. I played that little whinging child for three hours straight, and then I had to go and sleep in Sarah's room so I could give you the space you needed." Helen nodded again, once more feeling the jealousy she had felt when she realised that she had driven Nikki to Sarah.

"I love you, Helen. So much it hurts sometimes. But right now, I need all the help and support you can give me, and if that means putting up with me packing everything five times, then live with it. I won't have you ruining everything I've done over the last few years. Otherwise you'd be no better than Trish."

She had kissed Helen then, tenderly, not passionately, as she hugged her so tightly Helen could barely breathe.

Later, after Helen had come back from the bar, just on the right side of sober, Nikki had taken her to bed and loved her for hours; whispering to her in the soft moonlight piercing their windows just what she meant to her.

Helen had tried to respond in kind, quoting all the romantic passages from Shakespeare that she knew, ending with poetry, until Nikki slept in her arms, her breath fanning Helen's face.

She hadn't slept though, knowing that this would be at an end in the morning, already braced for Nikki's absolute distance and trying not to read too much into it, preferring instead to focus on the feel of holding Nikki now; feeling her turn and snuggle closer into Helen's body; hearing her murmur her name as she slept.

She had cried, quietly, in the night, tasting the salt on her lips, feeling the tears running down her face. For Nikki, it would all be over too soon, the competition she had trained so hard for over in a few weeks. If she had a good showing, she had said she would like a crack at the Olympics, missing out on the last ones because of injury, and possibly being too old for the next ones.

If…there were so many ifs. Neither of them had talked about the future, beyond arranging for Helen to fly out and watch the Championships. It was as if, for Nikki, the world stopped on that day.

She hadn't mentioned her family to Helen, or seemed to tell anyone beyond her immediate circle, except for shouting to the world in the park in Australia. She was very self-contained, and Helen didn't quite know how to handle that.

Helen had woken up one night, a week ago now, to find Nikki staring at her.

"What?" She had looked so closed, completely unreadable and unreachable.

"Just staring."

"Why?" Bemused by sleep, Helen had thought that Nikki was about to run away, unable to face the pressures of her life.


"Because what?" She had sat up then, as her mind returned to wakefulness.

"Because you're so beautiful."

"So are you."

"Not like you; people pay to see you. I'd pay to see you, if you weren't in bed beside me. I love you."

"No you don't. Don't be so daft." She had laughed, trying to distract Nikki.

"Of course I do." Nikki's face in the pre-dawn had been surprised, as if Helen had accused her of lying.

"Nikki, it's late, and I want to go back to sleep."

"Then sleep." She had hugged Helen to her, soothing her. She still didn't know what it meant, or why Nikki had been awake, even. It disturbed her, somehow.

She had asked Nikki about it the next day, but had understood nothing of what she had said.

"I want to make sure you're not a dream, that I'm going to wake up and find you gone."

She didn't get it; perhaps she never would. All she knew was that the physical and emotional distance between them was growing ever wider, and she wasn't sure how to get it back.

She had never been as intimate with anyone as she had been with Nikki. It was like a whole different world. No, it was standing somewhere new to look at the same world, seeing it differently through Nikki's eyes.

Nikki wasn't as shallow as the people she knew, nearly all from the media. That was it. She took her time, making sure that the people around her were ok. She was considerate, to both Helen, and anyone else she was with.

But not now. Now she was in her own world, one so far removed from Helen that she thought it was a different planet.

She wasn't even sure she could cope without Nikki now; and that scared her. Just having someone 'normal' around, someone to keep her feet on the ground. She smiled to herself. When she was with Nikki she felt she could fly; no feet on the ground there.

For her, Nikki made the impossible possible. She wondered once more what Nikki got out of all this; why she stuck around. Maybe she was honest and had integrity? Helen considered the probability, debating it over and over again.

Her mobile rang.


"Hi gorgeous, I just wanted to say I'm missing you and that I love you."

"Nikki!" She felt her breath leave her.

"Who did you think it would be? The Loch Ness Monster?"

"I didn't expect to hear from you, that's all."

"The wonders of modern technology. I've gotta go, I'm stuffing Sarah at backgammon."

"No worries." She gave an imitation of the Australian accent that she knew Nikki loved, as her heart felt like it had found new buoyancy. "Call me tonight."

"Of course. Laters."


Part 39

"Nikki? It's your turn."

"I don't think I want to play after all."

"You, not whop my arse at backgammon? That's a first."

"I need sleep."

"Helen been keeping you up nights, has she?"

"Sarah…" She heard the warning note in her own voice. Helen was forbidden territory to most of her friends. She wanted to keep her to herself, as if by sharing her, she would lose her.

"I've never seen you quite so besotted," Sarah continued. "She must be something pretty special.

"She is," Nikki agreed.

"Then why isn't she here?"

"I couldn't concentrate with her around. She's too much of a distraction."

"I hear that she's been joining you in the gym."


"She's looking pretty hot right now."


"Are you ever going to talk to me about her?"

"What's there to say, Sarah? She's really special, but at the moment, I don't know where it's going, how it's going to end up or what's going to happen. I do know that she's not a puppy."

"Not a pup…oh, I see. Not just for Christmas?"

"No, not just for Christmas." She felt the grin spread slowly over her face as she talked about Helen.

"You have got it bad."

"I know. I think about her all the time, which is why I need to do this."

"Not having her around is going to make training easier?" Sarah asked.

"I doubt it, but she is a bit hard work sometimes."


"Um-mm. Is it that obvious?"

"Only when I'm around you both. I think she worries about us."

"If she met your boyfriend, I doubt she'd be so worried. He's gorgeous; even I would fancy him."

"Except he's mine. Have you told her I've got a boyfriend? Or that I'm your cousin?"

"No. She just thinks that you're a masseur, friend, confidant."

"She thinks I'm competition, Nikki."

"Don't be so soft, of course she doesn't."

"Of course she does. She doesn't see what you see in her, and she's worried that this is just a way of unwinding for you, that you're not serious about it."

"Sarah, I don't think I've ever cared as much for anyone in my life."

"But you care more about something else, and she won't like playing second fiddle to that for long."

"And you think she'd give up her career for me?"

"The difference is, you wouldn't ask her to. You're much more emotionally secure than she is. Have you read her cuttings file? She's been into rehab more times than the Osbournes. You know she's used?"

"She's clean now, that's what counts."

"How long for, Nikki? A week, a month? Until you upset her or piss her off?"

"She needs someone to believe in her. I do."

"She needs to believe in herself." Sarah sighed. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."

"And you think Helen's going to do that?" Nikki was starting to get angry now. She had considered all that Sarah had already said. She knew the risks of getting involved with someone like Helen, insecure and high-maintenance. Trouble was, she wasn't sure that she was going to escape unscathed either.

"No, but she might. And what if she does it in two weeks time? It's going to be a problem."

"She won't. She's going to be busy as hell for the next two weeks, and then she's going to be with me for a while. Anyway, I have a few plans."

"Like what?"

"She's going to find a few surprises now and again."

"Been bending that plastic again, have we?"

"Yup. I'm not sure if I can afford it, so I'd better win here, get a few extra dollars for the pot. Using Barney for the lessons makes sure that he gets fed. The cats can find their own dinner."

"You're all heart."

"I must say," Nikki said, leaning back into her seat and stretching her legs, "I like having a rich girlfriend. I could get used to this." She accepted a glass of orange juice from the steward.

"Yeah, but it killed her to give me an upgrade too. You need to tell her about me, Nikki."

"She has to learn to trust me. I love her, but I am not going to pander to her every whim. She's an actress, and she gets too much of that."

"Love already?"

"Love already."


"I know." She could feel the goofy smile spread over her face.

"Ah, bless."

"I just hope she feels the same about me."

"Oh, she does, believe me."

"You sure?" Nikki knew she sounded slightly doubtful, but she really wasn't sure if what Helen felt for her was infatuation, or if she really did care for her.

"It's written all over both your faces. When you came in from your ride yesterday, you were both glowing."

Nikki blushed. She was glowing in more than one place, having managed to get slightly sunburnt during their outdoor lovemaking.

"Just make sure she's not a bunny boiler. She's followed you halfway across the world. If that's not a stalker, then I don't know who is."

"A woman who couldn't resist my multiple charms. That's what she is." Nikki said, aware that she sounded slightly too smug.

"You know, I don't know whether to be more worried about you or her."

"What do you mean?"

"I think I should be warning you not to hurt her. She's very fragile."

"Do you think I don't know that? Of course I'm not going to hurt her."

"You already are, Nikki. Every time you go into competition, you withdraw from everyone around you except Anton, and in the past, Trish. She doesn't know how to handle it."

"She's got a bit of a problem with it, I guess."

"Because you don't talk to her, tell her about your self-doubts. She doesn't know that you're scared, that you get so you can barely talk to anybody."

"Trish knew that and look at what she did to me."

"She's an idiot. Except she wants to still coach you."

"She was a good coach."

"She was, and it worked so well because you were lovers, and she understood the pressures, even if she did hold you back. Helen won't understand that you need someone like that unless you tell her."

"I'm not sure Helen could cope with someone as flawed as she is."

"Nikki, we are all flawed. None of us is perfect, and you know that better than anyone. Give her a chance. If she knows that you shit yourself before every competition, like she does before every show, she's not going to think any the less of you."

"I think she needs me to be strong for a while. She needs me to believe in her before she believes in herself."

"You can't give her inner strength, or carry her forever."

"She's got that strength of mind that she needs, I think she just doesn't use it. She's scared that people only like the public her. It makes me want to hold her, look after her. She's so vulnerable, but she comes across as so overconfident."

"She'll come through with you behind her. She's a very lucky woman that you love her so much." She rubbed Nikki's arm.

"I just hope that she realises it."


Part 40

'Thnx 4 the flowers. U r so sweet & very naughty. Thnx.'

Helen pressed the 'send' button, transmitting her text to Nikki. She had found the flowers waiting for her at the set. It was the fourth time she had had a gift from Nikki in the week and a half since she had gone to New Zealand. So far there had been chocolates, found on her bed the first night Nikki had gone; a book of love poetry, inscribed to her; and a small silver horse charm.

Nikki was so incredibly romantic, and Helen had sent innumerable texts to her, as well as ringing Nikki every night. Their conversations had ranged over myriad subjects, but had been constant in their avoidance of the future; their future.

In three days, Helen would be arriving in Wellington, to watch the competition, hopefully to see Nikki win. She couldn't wait. Nikki had dominated her thoughts even more than she ever had before they got together. Every waking moment was concentrated on what the athlete would be doing at that moment, what she was eating, drinking, how she was spending her time.

She could see her, intensely concentrating on patience or backgammon, trying to beat Sarah, or more rarely Anton. Once or twice they had played chess or backgammon together, but Helen was very aware of her limitations. She didn't have the patience to think ahead, and invariably made stupid mistakes, leading to a quick and easy victory for Nikki. She thought that Nikki must be bored playing her, knowing that she wouldn't even have to do much to win.

She held the silver horse up, watching as it reflected the light, admiring the workmanship. Something told her that it was an original, not just a ready-made charm, bought on the spur of the moment. It was Nikki giving her something special, and she was grateful.

She had been unable to think of anything special to do for Nikki, at least that wouldn't distract her, or tempt her off of her diet, and had settled for love letters, many texts and communicating with Sarah to arrange nights out for Nikki, treats to reward her, like a night at the theatre, or arranging a favourite book for her.

She hated having to go through Sarah, wondering what, if anything, Nikki had disclosed about their relationship to her. Nikki's 'aide' was always perfectly friendly, positively encouraging, in fact. It spooked Helen. Either nothing was going on, or Sarah was very confident in her relationship with Nikki. She wondered if she would ever feel like that herself.

She looked over at the envelope on the table, unable to take her eyes from it for long. It was an invitation for an interview, a not uncommon request in her line of work.

Except that it was from Trish.

What would a sports commentator want with her? What was Trish up to? She had wondered if Trish was going to do her 'Fatal Attraction' bit and warn her off; but this seemed too legit. Battle lines had been drawn, but very much in secret, and Helen wasn't sure where they were right now.

Still, she wouldn't have to worry for too long; the interview was in an hour. She got up, dropping her phone, knowing that Nikki would be doing something right now, not doing what she was doing, mooning around with her phone, waiting for a message, buts something exciting, something vital.

She pulled the doors of the hotel wardrobe apart, cursing her lack of foresight. A location interview was prized by both interviewer and interviewee alike; but did she have a thing to wear?

At the far right, she caught a glimpse of the unfamiliar. It was Nikki's only dress. A classic LBD, short enough to show Nikki's endless legs, but decent enough to stretch over the rest of her elongated frame.

She grasped it, pulling it to her, smelling that oh-so-familiar smell, the one that rocked her very existence just by its presence in the room. She felt compelled to hold it close to her, even try it on, as if it alone held the power to link her to Nikki tonight.

It slid slowly over her head, the faint aura of perfume from where it had been carried in Nikki's bag permeating her nostrils. She almost felt the physical presence beside her, reaching out to tough before the illusion faded.

The dress settled on her. What barely covered Nikki's modesty demurely reached almost to her knees, the elbow-length arms becoming three-quarter length on her smaller body. It felt wrong – designed for another woman, as indeed it was, and yet so right and so comfortable at the same time.

She smirked a little to herself in the mirror as she applied lipstick, in a suitable 'scarlet woman' colour. Trisha would recognise the dress; how could she not? Nikki had confessed to having bought it years ago, and having worn it at practically every competition closing ceremony since.

The battle lines would be very clear indeed.

Part 41

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