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Freedom

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I never thought I'd get ever get here, Nikki thought as she entered the courtroom of the Old Bailey, handcuffed to her personal officer, Di Barker, and Principle Officer Jim Fenner. I never thought I'd have the chance. Up until Helen, nobody seemed to care. The courtroom was packed. Claire Walker, her lawyer, and Marion McLaughlin, the barrister handling her case were conferring in one corner of the courtroom while the barrister for the Crown Prosecution Service sat reviewing his notes.

The arguments had been made for the release of one Nicola Wade, initially incarcerated for life for the murder of a police officer, on the grounds that the conviction was unsafe. Nikki had attacked the police officer that had been sexually assaulting her long time life partner at the club they co-owned. For quite a time previous, the local coppers had been harassing the gay and lesbian club owners but this particular cop had taken it upon himself to attempt to rape Trisha, Nikki's partner of 8 years. In a fit of rage, Nikki had attacked him with a bottle. What they hadn't known at the time, but was learned of during the appeals process, was that this same police officer had a history of sexual assault and aggression towards women.

It was the best news Nikki had heard as she awaited the date for her court hearing. Now the time was here and Nikki was nervous, terrified and anxious. While she hadn't anticipated this day happening for a long time, she also dreaded the thought that she might have to go back to Larkhall. Plenty of 'what if' scenarios had plagued her thoughts as she'd returned to her cell the night before. Most she had discarded as improbable but nevertheless she was wired. She tossed and turned more times than she could count. It was about the only time she ever thought of taking something to relieve the anxiety and let her sleep.

When she bid farewell to her friends at Larkhall in the morning, she was aware that she might not be back that day, if at all, and thus appreciated the hugs she received from them. She walked out with tears on her cheeks and her head held high. Again she was handcuffed to Di Barker and Jim Fenner as she walked in to the courtroom. She glanced around the room. Again her lawyers and the CPS barrister were in their usual spots, several of her friends were up in the public gallery behind her while she and the screws were in the dock. They stood as the appellate court judges came in and sat down. When the judges announced their decision that her previous conviction was unsafe and changed her conviction to manslaughter, she remained still. Even when they stated that she was free to go, Nikki could scarcely believe it.

"Nikki, you're free to go," Di Barker stated with a smile on her face. Jim Fenner, however, seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face. If it had been up to him, Nikki was sure that she'd be in Larkhall so long that she'd die there. Di's comment struck her into movement. Soon she was receiving congratulatory hugs from her solicitor and barrister, Trisha and a few of her friends that had come to see her freed. But the one person she hadn't seen was the one she wanted to see most...Helen Stewart.

Nikki had thought to ask Claire where Helen might be but then discarded it. She knew Claire and Helen were friends, but she didn't want to seem overly forward in asking. For all Nikki knew, Helen hadn't told anyone, aside from Dominic McAllister, and quite possibly Dr. Waugh about their on-again / off-again relationship. She didn't have much chance to think about it further as they left the courtroom amidst a flurry of media attention, all seeking to find out about this woman who'd appealed her life sentence for the murder of a police officer. They clamoured at her with their microphones, recorders and cameras until she gave a statement. A powerful one at that and not without barbed commentary on corrupt male prison officers on female residential wings. Although Helen Stewart was not there in person Nikki had hoped she was watching somewhere. Nikki felt she owed Helen a deep debt of gratitude for getting her to focus on her release when Nikki felt it was all for naught. And so without naming names, she publicly thanked Helen for being there for her when no one else was, encouraging her to make something of herself.

The congratulatory party at Chix, the club that she and Trisha had managed and run was almost a blur. While she was appreciative of all the folks that had turned out, some she remembered, but others felt like strangers to her. Nikki looked around not quite believing it was real. Not even when Helen showed up at the club to congratulate her and wish her the best. Nikki still felt like someone was going to come round and tell her it was time for lockup. It was surreal.

"Hiya, Nikki."

"How'd you know where to find me?" Nikki asked, but figured Claire might have mentioned it to Helen.

"Bit o' detective work," Helen had responded.

The conversation was short and somewhat stilted for the both of them; neither of them entirely sure of what to say, now that they were out of the prison setting, aside from thank yous. Particularly, since as far as Nikki was concerned, Helen was still attached to Dr. Waugh. Nikki didn't think that Helen was still interested in her. It was only prodding from Trisha that convinced her to seek Helen out. Nikki only hoped that Helen hadn't gotten far. When she saw a hire car pull around the corner away from her, Nikki felt deflated. Her chance had all but disappeared. She'd all but closed her eyes in a prayer to the deities when she heard the soft Scottish lilt behind her.

"Ya lookin' for somebody?" It was the sweetest voice that Nikki'd ever heard. It was also a renewed opportunity and she'd be damned if she didn't make the first move. She started with an invite back to the club, but she hadn't expected the revelation that Helen made to her. To say she was startled was an understatement, but given the turbulence of their relationship thus far, Nikki was still hesitant. Not only was Helen stating her underlying intentions that wanted Nikki, but in fact she wanted a woman. Her desire for another woman was enough to be honest with herself and with Nikki.

"We'll take things slow," Nikki responded, with renewed hope.

"Yea, dead slow." Though Helen's actions spoke louder than her words as she drew Nikki into first one kiss, then another. In broad daylight, in public. A release of emotions and more kisses ensued as they moved off the sidewalk into the office-building doorway. They'd briefly returned to Chix to continue the party until Nikki had thanked the crowd for being there and supporting her. Nikki had been a reluctant but formidable leader inside the prison, but seeing her free with friends around her, Helen could see why she was liked. Nikki had a certain ease with others that drew them to her and she was confident in herself. She spoke her mind and was passionate. And while Helen knew and could understand how that often went against Nikki within the prison walls, she could see that benefiting Nikki on the outside as she pulled her life together. After final goodbyes, Nikki led Helen out the doors of Chix once again and looking out at the street.

"This might sound a bit daft, and perhaps presumptuous, but where do we go from here? I mean, you've got your place, and I've got a flat above the club. I don't want to rush things, but..." Nikki knew she was rambling. For once she wasn't quite sure what to say.

Helen placed a finger on Nikki's lips to give her pause. "Nikki, we've got all the time in the world. You're free. There's no time constraints, no lock-up, no prison. We've got time to figure things out proper. We'll have to sort things out but doesn't have to be right now."

Nikki was at a loss. She knew Helen was right. There was nothing that needed to be done straight off. Except perhaps her stomach, which decided to protest then and there that it was hungry. It had suddenly dawned on her that she actually hadn't eaten anything solid since the previous night. She'd been too nervous to eat the sandwich Claire had brought her during lunch break down in the court brief room, and she'd had only a few nibbles of catered food at the club. Nikki looked up Helen sheepishly.

"Do you mind if we go somewhere to eat? Now that things have calmed a bit, my stomach's let me know its wants food now."

"Ya fancy a curry?"

"I'd fancy just about anything. Just so long as it's edible. Gods, I won't miss Chez Larkhall food anytime soon."

Helen pulled out her mobile and dialled the number for a hire car. As they waited for their ride, she asked Nikki, "How about we pick up a bottle or two of wine, pick up a curry and come back to my flat? We don't have to do anything more strenuous than figuring out what's on the tele or what video to put in the player."

"Sounds wonderful. Thank you, Helen. For everything." Nikki produced a couple of roses for Helen that she'd taken from one of the bouquets from inside the club. When Helen had briefly gone to the Ladies Room, Nikki had them wrapped together with some baby's breath and enfolded them. She'd tucked them gently into her long inner coat pocket before they'd left. A red rose for love, a peach rose for gratitude, and an orange rose for desire.