"This will cost me an extra hour on the bars, you know," said Terri, happily chewing into a large pizza they'd picked up on the way back to the flat.
"A growing grrrl needs sustenance," replied Nikki between bites.
"Yeah, well, when you start growing a fat little tummy don't blame me."
"Abs of steel," Nikki said, proudly jabbing herself in the stomach and taking another large bite.
"Not if you keep this up."
"Then I'll have to join you on the bars."
"I figured you more for a fancy gym type, with lots of expensive exercise machines and hot and cold running personal trainers."
"Unfortunately they wouldn't let me take them on the plane."
"What is it with airlines today, huh?"
"I know, they just don't get the important things, do they?"
They both smiled at each other, their eyes locking. Terri coughed, turning away. "Erm, I don't think there's a lot to be gained by watching the club tonight. I doubt anything's going to happen. I expect the place will still be crawling with cops."
"Whatever you say, Farmer," said Nikki, grinning.
"I'd better phone your father and tell him the good news," Terri said, picking up the telephone and pulling his business card from her pocket. She got up, dialing his number as she headed for the kitchen. Nikki switched the TV on, flicking through the channels. She didn't find anything she wanted to watch despite two full cycles through all of them.
"He accepted my terms," Terri said, coming back into the room.
"You didn't expect him to?"
Terri shrugged. "I doubled my normal fee just to have a starting point to haggle a bit, he accepted it without comment. Wish I'd have trebled it now."
"How did he take you not wanting to become a permanent employee?"
"He didn't say. Maybe he'll offer again, when this is all done."
"Will you accept?"
"Didn't think so. So, what now?"
"Now we wait for a courier. He's going to get some details sent over to fill in the background to the case he wants me to look into."
"What'll we do in the mean-time?"
"There's books, videos, DVDs, and satellite television. I might even be able to come up with a pack of cards."
"Ooh, a girls' night in."
Terri's eyebrows lifted. "Let's just make it perfectly clear. There are no fairy tale four-poster beds here."
"Spoilsport," said Nikki, grinning.
"That's me." Terri smiled back, but inside she was confused. It was all happening so damned easily. Nikki was fitting into her cloistered life as if she was always meant to be here. Could she have found a real friend after all this time?
"Penny for them."
"What?" asked Terri.
"Penny for your thoughts. Or has inflation struck and it's now a pound?"
"That's a great idea."
"I can get you a jar. Every time you want to ask me a personal question you have to put a pound in the jar. That way I'd soon be a multi-millionaire and I could retire to the Bahamas."
"Yeah right, and what would you do in the Bahamas?"
"That'll cost you a pound to find out."
"Screw you, Farmer."
"You can't, you know what your mum said, it was only okay at home."
"I like to think of this as my second home now."
"Tricky," said Farmer, grinning at Nikki's quick thinking.
"That's me," she grinned back.
"How about we just find a film to watch?"
"Do you have any popcorn?"
"Sorry," Terri replied, shaking her head.
"How can you watch a movie without popcorn?"
"Oddly enough, I've managed on a fair number of occasions so far."
"Okay, what did you have in mind?"
"I don't know, I haven't checked on Sky, they've got a dozen or so movie channels, there's bound to be something on."
"Bound, now there's a good movie," said Nikki.
"It's all right, I guess. I preferred The Matrix, their follow-up."
"Yeah, well you would, all that kung fu stuff."
"I liked the science fiction aspect more. The kung fu was... exaggerated."
"You don't say."
"I do say."
"And you should know."
"Yep, I should know."
"Anyone ever tell you, you were too smug for your own good at times, Farmer?"
"Not to my face," Terri said smugly.
"Hmmm, so while we watch a movie, some fruit-loop is out there attacking innocent women?"
"What do you suggest, we go on patrol?"
"Like the Scooby gang?"
"The who?" asked Terri, puzzled.
"The Scooby gang, you know, Buffy."
"The Vampire Slayer?"
"I've never watched it."
"But you've got a mug."
Terri shrugged. "It was a present from a young boy I helped find. He'd had an argument with his parents and ran away. He had it sent to my office."
"So, you don't watch Buffy, is that what you're saying?"
"Er, no, sorry. I've seen enough real horror to not go seeking more of it for entertainment."
"Buffy's not horror," Nikki snorted. "It's comedy."
"Oh, I just figured what with the vampires and stuff... you'll have to introduce it to me, then."
"I'll do that. I'll even hold your hand during the scary bits."
"I thought you said it was a comedy?"
"It is, but it does have vampires, so I thought I'd offer."
"You're too kind," said Terri.
"Are we going to watch a movie or are we just going to talk about it all evening?"
"Call up the guide and see what's on."
"You do it, it's your TV," she said tossing the controller to Terri.
A few presses of buttons and exasperated mutterings later, "There's nothing worth watching."
"Told you," said Nikki.
"After I'd gone through all the channels when you were in the kitchen."
"You did not."
"And they say the art of conversation is dead," said Terri, rubbing her eyes.
"You sure there isn't a fairy tale four-poster around here?" asked Nikki with an evil grin.
Terri sighed. "Why me?"
The door-bell chimed. Terri flicked on the TV to show a courier standing at the door carrying a large brown bulky envelope.
"You watched me on that thing?" asked Nikki.
"You're so sneaky, with your hidden cameras and your bugs."
"I like to have an edge," Terri said, opening the door and signing for the package.
"Being Superwoman's not enough?"
"I might meet a small blonde with a fistful of Kryptonite, then where would I be?"
'At my mercy,' thought Nikki, smiling to herself.
Terri opened the envelope, pulling out some documents and photographs. She quickly read through the first few pages.
"So, what's it all about, where're we going?"
"How's the south of France sound? Marseilles, to be exact."
"Would you... come with me? I mean right inside," asked Nikki, hesitantly. Terri could see Nikki was growing more agitated by the minute.
"If you really think it's necessary."
"I do, I do. And besides, Farmer, it's your job to protect me!"
"I think you'll be safe with the doctor. They've taken an oath, you know."
"They could've lied," Nikki said petulantly.
Terri smiled. "If you want me to be there, then I'll be there, okay?"
Nikki's shoulders relaxed. "Thank you, Farmer. I know I'm being a coward, but I've got hundreds of the damn things to come out."
"I know," Terri said, instinctively taking Nikki into her arms and giving her a gentle hug. Nikki sighed, closing her eyes and leaning her head against Terri's shoulder.
"Hmm, this is nice," she mumbled into Terri's shirt.
"Don't get too attached, it's just a hug," cautioned Terri, but still smiling. 'If Nikki were a cat she'd be purring,' she thought.
"I'll take what I can get."
"I'll bet you will, but time's up, Nikki I'm afraid, we should be getting you to the Doc's." Nikki resentfully allowed herself to be gently pushed away from her safe haven.
"You will hold my hand when they break out the pliers, won't you?"
"I think they'll need me to hold you down, especially when they start with the heated needles."
"It's not funny, Farmer," Nikki pouted. "I don't like doctors at the best of times, let alone ones I know are going to hurt me."
"I doubt the doc will actually do it himself. Probably get one of his nurses to do the dirty work. He'll just take a quick look and send you a huge bill for the privilege." Nikki's father had arranged for her to be booked into one of the prestigious, but very expensive, private clinics in Harley Street.
"Will she be a babe?" asked Nikki, perking up a bit at the idea.
"For the money they'll doubtless be charging your dad, I think it highly likely."
"Well, come on, Farmer, what are we waiting for, let's go!"
* * *
Against either of their expectations it was a young female doctor who saw them. She was happy for Terri to accompany them into the surgery, once they explained she was Nikki's personal bodyguard. Harley Street doctors were obviously used to that sort of thing.
"I thought you'd get a nurse to do this -- ow!" Nikki said. She was lying face down on a deeply padded leather examination table. The room was more how Nikki imagined a gentleman's club to be decorated than a doctor's surgery.
"That's one down, only another forty-seven to go," the doctor said cheerily, dropping the stitch into a stainless steel dish.
"Forty seven!" Nikki exclaimed. "Jesus, I'll never survive," she groaned, gripping Terri's hand harder still.
"I'm sorry, Ms Takis, but you heal faster than anticipated. Some of your stitches are getting a little over-grown, I'm having to dig for them. That's why I'm not asking my nurse to do it. He's a bit squeamish at the sight of blood," she said, chuckling to herself at her little joke. She merrily continued snipping, digging, and tugging her way down Nikki's back.
"Remind me not to get cut up by a loony again, will you Farmer -- ow! " she squealed for the fifteenth time, scrunching up her eyes so hard a few tears squeezed out and ran down her cheeks.
"Doc, can't you do something about the pain?" asked Terri.
"I can give you a quick spray with a mild numbing agent, will that do?" asked the doctor.
"Please," Nikki said gratefully. The doctor left for a moment to get the aerosol.
"Damn doctors, no sense of other people's discomfort. They're the same the world over." said Terri, tracing her thumb across Nikki's cheek, removing another stray tear.
"Sorry, Farmer, you must think me a total wuss," Nikki said, biting her bottom lip in pain.
"Shshhh, Nikki, it's okay. It'll soon be over and we can get out of here. How about we go find some new DVDs to buy? There might be a small cafe somewhere nearby, we can order some ice-cream sundaes?"
"Sounds good," she mumbled into the table. The doctor returned and sprayed Nikki's back. Ten minutes later all the stitches were removed and the wound re-covered.
"It's not going to split back open when I'm least expecting it, is it, Doc?" Nikki asked, attempting to button up her shirt with trembling hands. Terri gently pushed her hands aside, doing up her buttons for her.
"Just take it easy for a week or so," said the doctor. "I wouldn't recommend swimming for at least a month, and try not to disturb the scab too much. Let nature takes its course and you'll be good as new, with nothing but a faint scar to show for your little adventure."
"Thanks, Doc, though I wished you'd have used the spray earlier," Nikki said, sniffing.
"Expensive item, we only use such things when we must," the doctor said cheerily, pulling her latex gloves off and dropping them in a bin.
"Nikki, you go on and wait outside for me a moment. I'd like a word with the doctor," said Terri, gently propelling Nikki towards the door. Nikki stood by the open door, uncertain, looking back at Terri.
"There's not a problem, is there, Farmer?"
"No, no problem, Nikki. You go on, I'll only be a minute." Terri said, smiling warmly.
"Okay, see you in a minute." She closed the door behind her. Terri's smile dropped and her eyes narrowed. She slowly turned around.
"Can I help?" asked the doctor.
* * *
"I thought you said we were going to the south of France, not this... this Southampton place," said Nikki indignantly. They were on a train heading away from London, towards the south coast of England. It had been two days since Nikki's stitches came out, and to Terri's eyes at least, Nikki seemed fully fit and back to normal. They had watched the club again the previous night but nothing of any significance had happened. The night of Nikki's return from the doctors had been spent eating ice-cream and popcorn -- which they'd made a point of stocking up on -- and watching DVDs on Terri's big screen television. Terri was somewhat surprised to discover she had enjoyed herself immensely, chatting about movies and munching popcorn, which she had to admit had added greatly to the experience.
"Patience is a virtue," replied Terri, looking out the window at the passing countryside.
"I don't see how the south of England can be mistaken for the south of France."
"It can't. Well, it shouldn't be, put it that way. I did read once of a tourist who thought he was driving to Newcastle in the far north, from the southern port of Dover. When the police finally caught up with him he'd driven round the London orbital motorway about ten times. So I guess you can never underestimate the ability of folks to get things wrong."
Nikki laughed at the story. Terri found herself unaccountably pleased to have made her happy.
"So why are we going to Southampton and not Marseilles?"
"It's pretty simple really, we're joining a vessel at Southampton oil terminal that sails for Port-de-Bouc in the morning."
"And where does the south of France fit into all this?"
"Port-de-Bouc is the major oil terminal a few kilometres down the coast from Marseilles."
"Think you've got it all worked out, huh?"
"Nope, it was all written down in the stuff your Dad sent, which, if I'm not mistaken, I told you to read, and inwardly digest, before we left, did I not?"
"Yeah, yeah, I was busy."
"Yeah, I had lots of things to do," Nikki said defensively.
"Hey, is that a cow?" Nikki said, pointing out of the window.
"I expect so, we killed off all the bears centuries ago," Terri said, smiling, closing her eyes and leaning back into the comfortable seats of the first class carriage. When Nikki's father organised things they certainly were organised.
"So, what's our cover?"
"It's tricky, but we should manage. You're playing the part of the owner's daughter on a fact-finding mission to see what it's like to run an oil tanker, and I'm going as your personal bodyguard. Think we'll be able to pull it off?" A smile hovered fleetingly about Terri's lips as she slid her sunglasses down from the top of her head.
"Very funny, Farmer, ha ha."
"Thought you'd like it."
"Farmer, can I ask you a question?" asked Nikki after a short pause.
"It won't cost me a pound?"
"On the house."
"What did you say to the doctor the other day, after I left?"
"Nothing much," Terri's voice an icy monotone.
"Come on, Farmer, I know you said something."
"It's not important now, it's all in the past."
"I wanna know," Nikki said stubbornly.
"I simply reminded her of her duty as a doctor."
"I sort of figured it was something like that. You didn't, erm, hurt her or anything, did you?"
"Never laid a finger on her, though the callous bitch would've deserved it."
"Which of the Farmer's rules did she break?"
"She--," Terri paused, an inner truth revealing itself to her. "She was hurting a good friend of mine, which could have been avoided, all for the sake of a few lousy quid."
"She was only doing her job."
"No, she wasn't, she was failing in her job."
"What did you say to her?"
"I pointed out that the love of money was the root of all evil... amongst other things."
"Is that all?"
"Would I lie?"
Nikki considered it for a moment. "Think she took any notice?"
"Oh yeah, she won't be pulling a stunt like that again in a hurry, least not while I'm around."
Nikki couldn't help smiling at her dark knight defending her behind her back. "Farmer, did you just say 'good friend' a moment ago?" she asked, thinking back to what Terri had said.
Terri paused again. "Yeah, I guess I did."
"Would you like us to be?" Terri said, a touch of uncertainty in her voice.
"I'd like that very much, Farmer."
"Then it's official, we're good friends," said Terri. Nikki grinned broadly, launching herself at Terri and wrapping her arms around her startled bodyguard. "Hey, steady on there, friend, we're not dating or anything."
"I know, but I hug all my friends when we first meet," Nikki whispered in her ear, underlining her remark with an extra squeeze before letting go of Terri.
"But we met over a week ago, remember we were both there at the time."
"Yeah, but now we're officially friends, we weren't then."
* * *
The taxi dropped them off at the gangplank leading up to the oil tanker, the SS Golden Fleece. At just over one hundred and thirty five thousand tons displacement it was an impressive sight. The side of the ship towered up above them with imperious majesty.
"What do we do now?" asked a slightly overawed Nikki.
"I guess we pick up our bags and climb on up the gangplank, unless you reckon they've got slaves for that sort of thing," replied Terri, shouldering her bag and starting up the steps of the steeply raked aluminium ladder.
"Farmer, what about my suitcases?"
"Told you to pack light."
"I can't carry these, what about my back?"
"Easy, make two journeys," said Farmer, still climbing upward.
"I thought you were my friend!" Nikki shouted up at her.
Terri stopped. 'You had to go and tell her didn't you, loudmouthed twit!' she admonished herself. She sighed, looking up at the top of the ladder she could see some men leaning over the railing grinning down at her, waiting to see what she'd do. They'd apparently been drawn to Nikki's shouting down on the jetty and came to see what the fuss was about.
Shaking her head she turned and made her way back down to the bottom of the steps.
"You rang, Milady?"
"Yes, thank you Farmer, would you be kind enough to carry my bags up the gangplank for me please?"
Terri pursed her lips and looked up at the sailors looking down at them both. She turned back to Nikki, who was smiling beatifically at her.
"Certainly, your Highness," she growled, slinging her own bag diagonally across her shoulders. She effortlessly picked up both suitcases, sliding one of them under her right arm, leaving her left arm free. Without warning she scooped Nikki off her feet and over her shoulder, then marched back towards the metal stairway again.
"Farmer, put me down!"
"When we get to the top. Wouldn't want you to tire yourself out now," Terri grunted as she made her way up the steps.
"Farmer, I'm warning you, this is not funny."
"Never said it was."
"Farmer, I'll bite you in the butt if you don't put me down right now."
"Then you'll fall in the water and I really don't feel like diving in after you, so keep still and enjoy the ride... friend," she said, somehow making the last word sound like an insult.
"Oooooh, you are so dead, Farmer," Nikki snarled, her face turning bright red, a combination of acute embarrassment and hanging upside down.
They reached the top of the swaying staircase, much to the amazement of the watching sailors. "Where can I drop this?" Terri asked one of them.
"My cabin's number four on the lower deck," said the nearest sailor, in a heavy Greek accent.
"Don't think you want to share your cabin with a really pissed off daughter of the ship's owner, do you?" said Terri, grinning at the man.
"I'd take my chances," he said, grinning back.
Terri swung round so that Nikki was facing the man. "What do you reckon, Boss, you wanna camp down with our friend here?" Terri said, addressing Nikki's backside.
Nikki braced herself on Terri's lower back, pushing herself up to meet the man face to face. "Hi, could you tell me where the captain's cabin is, I've got to arrange a keel-hauling."
He laughed and pointed to a door at the base of the superstructure. "Through that door there, up the first set of stairs then take the elevator to the top floor. The captain's cabin is to your right as you come out."
"Thanks," she said and smacked Terri on the rump. "Onward, slave, take me to our new leader."
"If I'm going to get keel-hauled it might as well be for a sheep as a lamb," said Terri moving across the deck to the ship's edge. She made to toss Nikki over the hand-rail. Nikki shrieked at the top of her voice followed by a fit of giggling.
A man leaned over the bridge wing high above them, shouting something in Greek.
"What did he say," asked Nikki breathlessly, calming down from her laughter.
"I think he's a bit miffed that some silly women are disturbing his watch."
"Is he important?"
"Don't know, couldn't see the number of bars on his shoulder."
"Guess you ought to put me down, huh, Farmer?"
"I guess so," Terri said, lowering Nikki to the deck. "Maybe we should go and present ourselves?" she added.
"Right. And Farmer, thanks for that."
"It's been a while since I laughed so much."
"Perhaps we should both get out more?"
"Wherever you want to go, I'll always be with you."
Terri raised an eyebrow and looked at Nikki. The blonde blushed slightly. "That didn't come out quite the way it sounded in my head before I said it."
"Sounded all right to me," said Terri, stepping over the raised threshold of the door and disappearing inside the accommodation. Nikki looked around the deck at the sailors looking back at her. She smiled at them and cleared her throat. "She's British," as if that explained everything.
"She's very strong," one of them said, leaving the others to nod rapidly in agreement.
"You have no idea," she said, grinning.
* * *
Terri knocked on the door to the captain's cabin. They'd dropped their bags in the corridor, not knowing where else to put them.
"Come," a voice called through the door. They entered the room. It was huge in comparison to the ones they'd passed on the way to the lift. Rank obviously had its privileges.
"Captain," Nikki said, walking forward and offering her hand to shake.
"And you are?" he said, ignoring the hand.
"She's someone who can lose you your job," Terri stepped forward, looming over the man. "Easy, Tiger," cautioned Nikki. Terri glared at the man, but stepped back slightly.
"Miss Takis, I presume," he said, finally taking Nikki's hand. "And you must be Miss Farmer, the companion," he said, turning to Terri.
"That'd be me," she said, not offering her hand to shake.
"I'm not sure why either of you want to be on board my ship, but I must do as I'm told." It was obvious he wasn't happy with the situation.
"I'm not here to spy on anyone, I'm just getting a feel for the company as a whole. We'll do our best not to get in anyone's way," smiled Nikki.
"Please bear in mind that this is a working ship and many places are dangerous, especially to inexperienced civilians such as yourselves."
"We'll keep that in mind, Captain."
"Naturally you'll have the owner's cabin. It's down the corridor, past the bridge, next to the chief engineer's cabin. I've asked the third officer, Martina Gerhard, to be your guide during your stay. She's a good officer, I'm sure she can answer any of your questions. Enjoy your voyage, ladies," he said, returning to his paperwork.
"Where might we find Martina?" asked Terri.
"I expect she's on the bridge at the moment," he said without looking up. They left the cabin, Terri closing the door behind them.
"He's a barrel of laughs," she said to Nikki in a low voice.
"Maybe he's got something to hide?"
"Shall we take our bags to the cabin, then go find this Martina?"
"Sounds like a plan."
The owner's cabin was as large as the captain's. It consisted of a day room, a shower and bathroom, plus a separate bedroom. Most of the cabins on the ship consisted of a single room. Terri dropped Nikki's suitcases on the bed before shrugging out of her own bag.
"Er, Farmer, there's only one bed," said Nikki, looking directly at Terri.
"S'okay I can sleep on the couch in the living room."
"It's called a day room."
"You'll have to get with the programme, Farmer. It's now port and starboard, fore and aft, not left and right, front and back. Walls are bulkheads and floors and ceilings are deckheads."
"Yeah, well the captain's a deckhead, let's hope the third mate's a bit more human."
"We can take it in turns."
"To sleep in the bed."
"No, you take it, I've had to put up with a lot worse in my time."
"If you insist."
"You could at least have haggled just a little more."
"You've said it now, so I'm keeping it, the bed is mine," Nikki said in triumph.
"And I seem to recall you wanting to organise a keel-haul," Terri said, advancing on Nikki.
"Now, Farmer, quit it, or I'll be forced to call some of those sailor boys to come and restrain you," she said, laughing, but prudently backing up all the same.
Before Terri could respond someone knocked on the door. Nikki hastily leapt around Terri and raced into the dayroom to open it.
"Evening, Ma'am, I'm this deck's steward. Is there anything I can get either of you ladies?"
"Got any handcuffs?"
"Never mind, I think she's calmed down now."
"Er, right. Dinner will be at nineteen hundred hours in the officer's mess."
"Where would that be?"
"Two decks down, straight across from the lift."
"Thanks," said Nikki, closing the door.
"Handcuffs?" whispered Terri directly into Nikki's ear.
Nikki jumped in shock. "Jesus, don't do that, Farmer! How many times have I told you to get a bell or something, creeping up on people like that ain't right."
"Oh, and handcuffing them is?"
"You'd probably enjoy it. Control freaks are all the same," Nikki said, grinning.
"He seemed like a nice boy, if you know what I mean?" Terri said, ignoring Nikki's comment.
"Who, the steward?"
"No, the guy in the leopard skin loincloth swinging past the window."
"It's porthole, not window."
"Any more perfectly good words I'm not allowed to use?"
"Probably, but I'll feed them in gradually, so you're not overwhelmed. And if you mean the steward was a bit camp, then yes, most stewards are. It seems to go with the territory."
"So we're safe in our beds, or in some cases, sofas?"
"Oh, I don't know, Farmer, I reckon if you flex those muscles at him he might have a change of heart."
"What about this third mate, reckon I've got a chance with her?"
"Who knows, we haven't even met, you might not be her type."
"I bet I could turn her head, if I wanted to."
"Are you purposefully trying to aggravate me, Farmer," Nikki said, trying hard to disguise her annoyance but failing miserably.
"Is it working?"
"Good, that'll give you something to think about when you're tucked up in that nice big double bed and I'm stuck on the sofa," she paused. "And to think I gave up hunting loonies to be here. Shall we go to dinner now?"
Nikki's eyes narrowed. "Farmer," she growled.
The ship shuddered as the tugs began to pull in earnest. The cargo booms had been disconnected several hours previously as the cargo loading was completed. Nikki watched transfixed from the bridge wing as the bow of the immense tanker swung out into the estuary.
"Awesome," breathed Nikki softly. Terri turned to look at her charge. The sun was just rising, catching the young woman's blonde hair, bathing it in a shimmering glow.
"I didn't think you were a morning person," replied Terri, wiping her face with a towel draped casually round her neck. She'd been exercising on the poop deck since before dawn, her sports vest now stained with a deep vee of sweat down to her tight running shorts, her long muscled legs gleaming in the sunshine.
"Oh, I'm not, but I didn't want to miss this, my first departure."
"It's only leaving port, Nikki, it's not sailing for America with a band playing, and streamers and stuff, you know," Terri said, smiling at the young woman's exuberance.
"Yeah, but it's just so... big. I've never been on anything so huge before. They've all been toys compared to this."
"Size isn't everything."
"I wouldn't know," Nikki sniffed haughtily.
The captain came out onto the wing from the wheelhouse. "Would you care to operate the wheel, Miss Takis?" he asked.
"Could I?" she said with undisguised glee.
"As long as you do as you're told and don't go crazy," he smiled.
Terri regarded the captain thoughtfully. 'Must've realised sucking up to the boss's daughter was a good career move,' Terri grinned to herself.
"The thought of Miss Takis driving amuses you, Miss Farmer?"
"The thought of Miss Takis doing most things amuses me," Terri replied. Nikki gave her a quick shove in protest, pursing her lips. Terri stepped past her, back towards the poop deck at the rear of the accommodation. As she did so her shoulder caught Nikki, making her stumble slightly.
"Sorry," Terri said sweetly.
"Don't mind her, Captain, she's just jealous because you didn't ask her to drive," snorted Nikki, loud enough for Terri to hear, as the bodyguard gracefully slid down the metal stair's handrails to the lower deck.
"I've been watching her do her stuff; flips, twirls, kicks and punches. She's quite impressive."
"Yeah, that's Farmer. Impressive's a good description," Nikki said, dreamily. The captain turned to look at Nikki.
"I see you're not the only one smitten, Miss Takis."
"What?" she said, coming out of her reverie. She followed where the Captain was looking. Several crewmen, and a couple of the junior engineering officers, had found themselves convenient spots to watch Terri as she performed her workout.
"Shouldn't they be working?" Nikki asked, frowning.
"It's their breakfast break. I can't really expect them to go elsewhere or look the other way when a fine looking, semi-naked woman decides to perform impromptu gymnastics for them, now can I?" he said, chuckling.
Nikki continued to frown. Hardly any breakfast was being consumed. Not that it would have been easy to eat with so many mouths hanging open.
"That's enough of that!" said Nikki marching towards the stairway down to the lower deck.
"What about your steering lesson, Miss Takis?"
"Later," she replied curtly.
* * *
"Are you still angry with me at the shove in front of the captain?" asked Terri, freshly showered and drinking some tea. She was lounging on the day bed in their cabin, the stewards having already been in and tidied away the bedclothes.
"Wasn't that that I was mad at, as well you know," grumped Nikki.
"What was it then, I didn't do nothing else."
"You practically put on a peep show for the crew," Nikki said indignantly.
Terri frowned. "I did no such thing."
"Don't tell me you don't know what you're doing when you let fly with those high kicks wearing those skimpy shorts of yours."
Terri burst out laughing. "So that's what all this is about?" She'd been more than a little puzzled at Nikki's sudden appearance on the poop deck demanding she accompany her to their cabin. When she'd refused to say what was on her mind, Terri had simply shrugged and gone off to take a shower.
"Damn it, Farmer, it's not funny!"
"Seems that way to me," Terri said, taking another sip of her tea. "Uggh, I do not like long-life milk!" she grimaced. Nikki didn't reply. "Besides, what's it to you if I want to show my all to the world?"
"You're my bodyguard, I expect you to behave with a little decorum." Even Nikki knew that sounded a little feeble.
"What's really bothering you Nikki?" Terri asked quietly.
Nikki came and sat down beside her. She looked into Terri eyes. "I... I don't like to share you, Farmer." she said haltingly. "I know I've got no real hold over you, and I now you're not like that. It's stupid of me, isn't it," Nikki wound down, tears forming in her eyes.
Terri put down her mug. "No, Nikki, it's not stupid, I understand, really I do." She took Nikki, in her arms, gently pushing her head onto her broad shoulder. "Please believe me when I tell you that I'm deeply flattered you feel that way about me. If I were to have a girlfriend, in that sense, I can't think of a better one than you. It's just that... well, I..." she hesitated "You're right, I'm not like that. Please don't be angry, especially with me. I'd hate to disappoint you."
Nikki closed her eyes, helpless to stop the tears. She felt foolish and embarrassed, especially with Terri showing her nothing but kindness and understanding. "I... I think I've fallen in love with you, Farmer, and it's clouding my judgement."
"Shssh, Nikki, you don't need to explain anything to me."
Nikki pulled away from their embrace and stood up. 'Any moment now she's gonna say it,' she thought dejectedly.
"Please, Nikki, we can still be friends, can't we?" Terri asked.
Nikki spun round, closing her eyes tight shut. 'I knew it!' her voice screamed in her head. She slowly turned back to Terri, surprised by the pain in her eyes. "Yes... yes of course we're friends, and we always will be," she smiled weakly at Terri.
"Come'ere," Terri said, holding out her arms. Nikki stepped forward but instead of embracing Terri she just squeezed her shoulder and stepped back.
"I think I need some fresh air. I'll see you later." She stood in the doorway looking back at Terri. "I'm sorry, Farmer." Before Terri could respond, she was gone.
Terri sat on the day bed, letting her head rest on the back of the seat. "Shit!" she said to an empty room and closed her eyes. She rubbed her hands over her face, trying to rub away the anguish she felt. "Crap, crap, crap, with a side order of crap!" Sudden anger bubbled up past her control. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth turned down. God, she wanted to punch somebody so hard, anybody, it didn't really matter who.
She forced her fists to unclench, knowing that it was herself who she was really angry at, not anyone else. "You're such a friggin' coward, Farmer," she growled, settling for a half-hearted punch to the day bed's upholstery.
* * *
"Miss Takis?" said the officer. Nikki was looking out over the ship's railings watching the coast slip away over the horizon.
"Yeah, for my sins, that's me," she replied, not looking up
"Hi, Martina Gerhard," the woman said, holding out her hand. "The captain said I was to give you the VIP guided tour." She spoke with a thick German accent.
Nikki continued to watch the fast diminishing land. She shook her head. "I should've given her more time. I always do that, just too damn impatient," she mumbled.
"I'm sorry, Ms Takis?"
"Oh, don't mind me, Ms Gerhard, just wallowing in some self-pity. What was it you wanted?"
"Ah, yes, the captain. Nice guy, shame about the manners."
"Yes, he can be a little, how you say, abrupt, no?"
"I say abrupt, yes." She finally turned to the third mate. "I'm supposed to be learning how to run a ship, reckon you can teach me?"
"I can try, Ms Takis, but shouldn't you be learning how to run a company instead?" she asked, smiling slightly. Nikki smiled back, feeling a bit better than she had a moment ago.
"You're probably right, but then how would I learn all about all your dark, dirty little secrets?" Martina's face became immediately serious. "Relax, Martina, I'm only joking," said Nikki.
The third mate tentatively smiled again. "Of course, Ms Takis."
"And Nikki will do fine."
"Thank you, Nikki. Where would you like to start?"
"Where would you suggest?"
"We are an oil tanker, perhaps a walk of the main deck to look at the cargo tanks?"
"I'm all yours, Martina, lead on."
"Will Ms Farmer be joining us?"
"I doubt it," Nikki said, miserably.
* * *
Terri paced restlessly around the rear deck, like a tiger in a cage. Every now and again she'd stop to look over the railing at the wake. But a few moments of watching the churning water only made her feel more restless. Something about the roiling water unsettled her greatly and she wasn't in the mood to analyse why.
'Damn it, Farmer, why must you hide? Haven't you been alone long enough?' she scolded herself as she paced. 'Fate does you a wonderful twist for once, and what do you do, you run and hide, like you always do, like you've done all your life, you coward.'
She was stopped in her thoughts by the sounding of a klaxon and shouting. Men started running along the side of the accommodation towards the main deck. Not knowing what else to do she sprinted after them, easily catching the tail enders.
"What's going on?" she asked as they ran.
"Been an accident in the for'd pump room," he replied.
"What sort of accident?"
"Not sure, something about a gassing, I think."
"A gassing, what does that mean?"
"Someone's gone into a chamber that's not been vented. Gas from the cargo is poisonous, it only takes a few minutes to kill you," the man gasped out as they ran.
"Why would somebody do that, you're all trained, aren't you?"
"I think it's your friend and the third mate."
The colour drained from Terri's face. Without another word she sprinted to full speed, easily passing all the running men making their way forward up the long main deck.
At the bow of the ship a small raised deck stood proud, a shipwide bulkhead with a door in it, acting as its support. Terri jumped through the open door, landing on some mesh decking. She took a moment to look around, assessing the situation. It was a narrow room filled with nothing but heavy mesh mezzanine decks, connected by a series of metal stairways leading down into the gloom far below. The acrid smell of crude oil assaulted her nostrils.
"What's happening?" she barked at a man standing by the deck's railings looking down.
"I've sent Peterson to get some breathing gear. This one's not been refilled since the last exercise," he said disgustedly, kicking at some apparatus lying on the deck beside him.
"Where are they?"
"Down on the pump plates five decks down," he said.
Terri started for the stairs. "Wait, you can't go down there without breathing gear. The gas will kill you too."
She stopped, turning back to the man. "How long have they got?"
He shrugged. "Could be dead already. That stuff sneaks up on you and you just go to sleep, never to wake up. If it's any consolation, it's completely painless."
"Not to me it's not!"
The man shrugged. "I'm sorry."
"There must be something we can do?" Terri shouted, panic beginning to take hold.
Terri sprang forward, grabbing the man by the front of his boiler suit. "Yes?" she screamed in his face.
"There's a couple of resuscitators in a cabinet down on the bottom deck. They're automatic, just put them on and turn the big valve, they force the wearer to breathe, even if they're unconscious." By the time he'd finished speaking he was alone, Terri had simply jumped over the railing and disappeared from sight.
"Jesus!" he said, running to the handrail. He watched, astonished, as she caught a support stanchion, swinging out then letting go at the full length of her arc, dropping cat-like to the deck below. No sooner had she landed than she performed the same stunt again, dropping down to the deck below that one. "Jesus," he said again.
Terri reached the bottom plates in less than ten seconds, bruised and winded. Some of the drops had been further than she'd have liked, but luckily the decks were of heavy meshing, instead of solid checker plate, and had a good deal of spring in them. Martina and Nikki were sprawled out on the floor, Martina with a nasty cut on her forehead. She'd apparently fallen down the last flight of steps. Still holding her breath, Terri turned Nikki over, touching her throat. Her eyes were closed and there was no sign of breathing. Worse still, she could feel no pulse. Not stopping to check the third mate, Terri jumped over Nikki, heading for a bright red box bolted to the wall.
For some reason her hands weren't responding as quickly as her brain. Frustrated that the box wasn't opening as fast as it should, she stepped back and kicked the glass fibre door straight off its hinges. Reaching into the shattered box she grabbed the two resuscitators and ran back to the two women on the deck. The resuscitator consisted of two small oxygen cylinders in a webbing framework. A rubber mask connected to one of the bottles via a large valve that Terri turned. A little gauge on the side of the valve assembly started to rise and fall.
"Come on, Nikki, breathe for me," she said clamping the mask across Nikki's nose and swollen blue lips. Satisfied that the machine had taken over Nikki's breathing, she crawled over to Martina and did the same for her, rolling her onto her back first to fit it properly.
She blinked away the darkness that was beginning to surround her, swaying slightly as she knelt over the prone form of Nikki.
"Come on, baby, breathe for me. That's it, you're... doing fine." 'God, I feel sleepy, so... tired... got to sit down. Oh, I am already.' Random thoughts drifted through her rapidly clouding mind.
"'Scuse me, Nikki, I think I need a quick pull." Her arm felt like lead as she tugged at the mask over Nikki's face, her eyelids drooping involuntarily over her eyes. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, the mask came free and she took a deep, cleansing breath from the mask. Time sped back up and the lights brightened all around her as she took another lungful. 'Damn, that stuff's sneaky, I didn't even smell it' she gasped, hurriedly placing the mask back over Nikki's face.
"Nikki, wake up, you're scaring me, sweetheart," she said, lightly tapping Nikki on the cheek. She leant down, placing her head on Nikki's chest, listening for any signs of a heartbeat returning. She could hear nothing but the roaring of blood through her own ears.
"Come on, damn you!" she shouted, trying to jog Nikki back to consciousness. There was still no response. She could hear shouting and movement way up above as people began to descend the stairways. 'Must've got the breathing gear,' she thought foggily.
She stood up, "Come on, what's taking so long? My friend's dying here, you sons of bitches, get your arses down here!" she screamed up at them, but they were still a long way up and moving slowly in the bulky breathing equipment.
"Shit, this isn't good, Nikki," she said squatting down and taking another deep breath from the resuscitator. "Damn you, you stupid bitch, don't you dare die on me, your father will never pay me now," she shouted at Nikki's limp form. Tears were forming in her eyes and running unbidden down her cheeks. She wiped them away angrily.
"Screw you, Takis," she shouted, pressing down on Nikki's chest in a steady stream of pulses. "Come on, start, you bastard!" she roared at Nikki's chest, willing her heart to kick back into life.
"Please, Nikki, please. If you wake up I'll be truthful with you this time, I promise, no more lies. Never again, no more lies." She frantically pressed on Nikki's chest again.
Nikki's eyes flickered open and she immediately struggled against the mask. Terri let out a whoop of joy. "No, you must leave... it on, honey, it's... helping you to breathe," she panted. The world around her was beginning to drift into darkness again.
Nikki managed to pull the mask off her face. "Farmer?"
"Yeah, it's me Nikki, put... you must... mask... back on, darling. It's keeping you... alive," she whispered, swaying as the room started to spin.
"If this is keeping me alive, Farmer, what's keeping you alive?" Nikki croaked in alarm.
"Damned if I know," Terri managed to smile before she passed out, falling on top of Nikki.
* * *
Terri slowly rose to a bleary consciousness. She opened her eyes, immediately shutting them again at the blinding light and the pounding in her head. 'Shit, that hurt,' she groaned.
'Did I imagine that,' she pondered. 'Only one way to find out, I guess.' She tentatively opened one eye to a narrow slit.
"Come on, Farmer, I know you're in there. It's time to wake up and greet the world."
"In the flesh, thanks to you, Supergirl."
"Oh, yes," said Nikki smiling. "I understand I owe you my life."
"Maybe," Terri croaked. "You wouldn't happen to have a glass of water and some aspirin would you?"
"I can manage that, for a hero, I reckon." Nikki got up from the bed and disappeared into the day room. She returned with a glass and some pills in her hand. "The chief steward said you'd probably have a major headache when you woke up. It's a side effect of the gas. I know I sure did."
Terri opened both her eyes and groaned. "Oh, god, somebody shoot me, shoot me now," she whined pathetically.
"I'd rather not, now that I've just got you back again."
Terri sat up, gratefully accepted the drink and the pills. She'd swallowed the water and the medicine before she noticed she was naked and sitting up in full view of Nikki. She hastily pulled the sheet back up to cover herself.
"Sorry about that."
"Don't be, I was kind of enjoying the view," smiled Nikki. Terri blushed and looked the other way. "How's my champion feeling now?" she asked, sitting on the bed and taking Terri's hand in her own.
"Like I went under a low slung bridge and forgot to duck." She closed her eyes, cringing at the pain. "How's Martina? Is she... "
"No, she's fine. Seems the bang on the head worked in her favour. It slowed her whole body down enough to survive till you got there. A few minutes longer and she'd have been lost." She went quiet for a moment, looking down at her hands. "We both would," she said, quietly.
"Lucky I was passing by then," said Terri smiling, then grimacing as the muscles required to smile made her head hurt more.
"You're my guardian angel, Farmer, I'd expect nothing less."
Terri snorted, which was another mistake. She held the chilled glass to her forehead, rolling it back and forth.
"Remind me to keep you locked up for the rest of the voyage. You're just too dangerous to be let out on your own," Terri said, keeping her eyes closed.
"If you stay here with me, I might consider it."
An awkward silence descended upon them.
"Look, about yesterday..."
"The day before yesterday," Nikki interrupted.
"You've slept for nearly eighteen hours, Farmer."
Terri slumped back onto the bed. "Gee, I guess being a regular all round superhero can really take it out of a gal."
"Don't kid about it, Farmer, you are a superhero."
Terri snorted and immediately regretted it again. "I wish I'd stop doing that," she groaned, rubbing her forehead. "I'm not a superhero. Just a slow bodyguard finally doing her job, is what I am."
"I suppose ordinary people swing and jump their way down over a hundred feet in less time than it takes normal people to get down one ladder?"
Terri shrugged, looking a little sheepish. "It seemed the best thing to do at the time. Damn foolish really, I could've broke my neck then we'd all have been screwed. Some hero."
"But you didn't break your neck and you saved us both. The chief steward said if you hadn't done what you did, we'd both be goners."
Terri looked up at Nikki, still holding hands. "What were you both doing down there, or shouldn't I ask?"
"I wanted to see what was down there, I was curious. Martina thought it was safe. The chief engineer's had a look down there and found a leaking coupling on one of the pumps. It let some of the cargo pool in the bilges underneath the bottom deck. There shouldn't normally have been a problem. The whole thing was just an accident."
"Chief engineer, chief steward, you have been rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty, haven't you?" Terri grinned up at Nikki.
"I'm the boss's daughter, they've got to be nice to me."
"Yeah, of course they do. Look, about the day before yesterday, I... "
"It's all right, Farmer, you don't need to say anything. I understand, it's okay, really."
'No, you don't understand, Nikki,' Terri thought regretfully. 'Go on tell her, you promised remember?' "No, Nikki, I have a confession. I want to be honest. I..."
There was a knock at the door. Terri frowned. 'Not now, please, not now!'
"I'll get it," said Nikki, letting go Terri's hand and leaving to answer the door. It was Martina, in her dress uniform.
"May I come in?"
"Of course," replied Nikki, stepping back to allow Martina in.
"I've just come off watch, and I thought I'd check on Ms Farmer to see if she had recovered yet."
"Yes, she's awake, go on through, she won't mind."
'The hell I won't!' thought Terri, her acute hearing picking up every word. Martina hesitantly stood in the doorway to the bedroom.
"Ms Farmer. I'm glad to see you're awake. You had us all worried." She moved into the room and stood beside the bed. "I brought you something. As a small way of saying thank you for saving my life. It's not much really," she said, handing Terri a small box, "but I can't get to the shops at the moment," she smiled shyly, not knowing if Terri would appreciate the gesture.
"This isn't necessary, Martina, I was only doing my job."
"No, if you only did your job you would have picked Nikki up and got her out of there. You didn't, you stayed and saved us both. I am forever in your debt."
Terri didn't know what to say, her usual caustic wit having deserted her. She opened the small box. Inside was an old battered naval compass. On the back a St Christopher was engraved with the words "Enjoy the journey, but arrive home safely" written in German.
"It was my grandfather's, during the war. He passed it onto my father when he joined the navy. He in turn passed it onto me when I joined the merchant navy. It means a great deal to me, but I want you to have it." She leant down and gave Terri a squeeze on the arm. "Be well my friend, safe journeys always." Terri watched silently as Martina left the cabin. She looked at the compass again, still too stunned to say anything.
"Finally, Farmer doesn't know what to say. Strike one for Martina."
"She didn't need to do that," Terri said, finding her voice again.
"No, but she wanted to. Get used to it, Farmer, you really are a hero to some of us."
Terri scowled, but was more than a little pleased to discover that it didn't hurt so much, causing her to smile. She carefully put the compass back in its box and put it on the stand beside the bed. "It was a nice gesture, but I'll give it back to her before we leave."
"Won't that offend her?"
"Not if I slip it into her stuff with a thank-you note before we leave." Terri smiled again, pleased with the plan.
Nikki sat down on the bed again and once more took Terri's hand. "Now, what was that about a confession?"
Terri looked everywhere but at Nikki, finally settling on staring out the porthole.
"If it's too difficult for you, Farmer, we can do this another time," Nikki said gently.
"No... I want you to know."
Terri lapsed into silence. Nikki wasn't sure what to do or say. It was obvious that Terri was trying to find the words. Finally the troubled woman turned back to Nikki.
"When I told you I wasn't like that... well, how does that expression go? I was, um, being a bit economical with the truth."
'I knew it!' rejoiced Nikki mentally. She smiled, leaning towards Terri hopefully.
"Farmer, whatever you want to tell me, you know it's just between you and me. You know that, right? You do trust me, don't you?"
"Of course, Nikki, but... god, this is so hard." Terri swallowed, looking as miserable as she felt. "Well, the truth is... it's true... I'm not like that."
Nikki frowned, her shoulders slumping. "Oh," she said, not hiding her disappointment.
"No, you don't understand," said Terri quickly, seeing the look on her friend's face. "I'm not... like anything, that's what I mean."
"You're right, I don't understand," said Nikki, puzzled. "What do you mean you're not like anything?"
"I'm not gay, I'm not straight, I'm just... me." Terri sighed wearily.
"I don't get it."
Terri pulled her knees up, crossing an arm over the top and resting her forehead against it. "I've never been with... anyone. Never wanted anyone... before now. You're looking at a genuine thirty-year-old virgin," she whispered.
Nikki didn't know what to say. She tried to think of something, and a couple of times came close to speaking, but each time she said nothing, closing her mouth again. Terri's confession had taken her completely by surprise.
"But surely... well, you know, you have feelings, desires, needs?" she asked finally.
Terri's face remained firmly hidden behind her arm. She just shook her head in denial.
"Being a virgin doesn't make you sexless, Farmer, just... unproven."
"Look, Nikki, all I can tell you is I don't know what I am, okay, let's just leave it at that."
Nikki could see that Terri was close to tears. "Hey, Farmer, it's okay, really," she said soothingly, sliding forward and putting her arm around Terri's shoulder. Terri turned immediately, burying her head in the crook of Nikki's neck, grabbing the startled blonde and holding on with tenacious strength.
"It's okay, Farmer, I've got you. You're safe now." She could feel Terri shaking as emotion overtook the older woman. Warm tears soaked through Nikki's shirt. She gently stroked Terri's long black hair, waiting for the tears to stop.
"I'm sorry, Nikki," Terri gasped between sobs. "I've spent all my life on my own, never wanting anyone's company, but lately, well, I've started feeling so lonely, and you came into my life. I... I felt so disorientated, so out of control," she sobbed. "So helpless, and when I saw you lying on the floor of the pump room and I thought... thought you were dead, I felt I would die, I was panicking so much..."
"Shssh, Farmer, it's okay. You're the most together person I've ever met. A little scary at times maybe, but so together it's not true."
"You... you really think so?"
Terri's crying tailed off to some quiet sobs and a few trembles. "Oh Christ, I hate this," she moaned.
"Am I really that bad?" asked Nikki, knowing that wasn't what Terri meant, but hoping a joke might cheer her a bit.
"No not that, I mean this whole emotion thing. It sucks!"
Nikki smiled. "I know, Farmer, I know. Welcome to the real world of us mortals."
"Sod the real world, I wanna stay here."
"Getting comfortable, are we?"
"Yeah," Terri said dreamily, nestling her head a little further up Nikki's shoulder like some overgrown cat. 'A big black shiny panther,' thought Nikki, smiling at the idea.
"Farmer, believe me, I want us to cuddle for days on end, but do you think you might relax a bit with the grip, it's getting a bit hard to breathe here."
Terri released her death hold on Nikki and tried to pull away, suddenly conscious of her weight resting on top of the smaller woman. "God, I'm sorry, Nikki, you should have said something."
"It's okay, Farmer, I just did. Now come back and cuddle some more. Just... quit with the bear hugs, 'kay?" she said, smiling and pulling the scarcely resisting Terri back against her shoulder. "There, that's much better."
Terri closed her eyes, relaxing against the warm body beneath her.
"You rest some more now, Farmer, I'm here to take care of you, like you took care of me." She stroked Terri's hair again, her other hand gently rubbing the small of the troubled woman's back. "We'll talk some more when you're more yourself." It wasn't long before Terri's breathing evened out and deepened into sleep. Nikki closed her eyes and relaxed, joining her complex friend in sleep, a contented smile playing on her lips.
* * *
Terri awoke an hour later, her nap more an emotional reaction than a genuine need to sleep. Nikki was snoring gently just above her head. She smiled at the sound before closing her eyes and groaning. Had she really broken down and cried on Nikki's shoulder? She couldn't believe it. Thirty years old and blubbering like a baby. She couldn't remember the last time she cried it was so long ago. 'Oh, Nikki, what have you done to me?' she wondered.
Nikki's snoring turned into a snuffling noise followed by a sharp intake of breath. Terri could feel Nikki swivel her head from side to side. She could just imagine the cutely rumpled look of bleary confusion on the young woman's face. She groaned silently again. 'God, she's killing me' she chided herself. 'This has got to stop if I'm going to do my job properly.'
"Hey," Nikki said, when she realised Terri was awake too.
"You feeling better?"
"Only a little?"
"Nikki, I'm sorry, but this can't go on," Terri said softly, not daring to look Nikki in the eyes.
"Why?" Nikki asked quietly, trying to keep the hurt out of her voice.
"Because... because I can't handle it," Terri sighed.
"Farmer, I think I know you enough now to tell you that you're the toughest person I've ever met. If you can't handle it, then no one can, and plenty of lesser people do. So I have to say you're wrong."
"But I can't handle this emotional stuff, Nikki, I just... can't," mumbled Terri, still keeping her head tucked firmly into the crook of Nikki's neck.
Nikki placed a couple of fingers under Terri's chin, gently forcing her to look up to face her. "Farmer, yes you can. I'll be with you, we can do this together, the two of us."
Terri searched Nikki's eyes for any sign of duplicity, but could see none. "I... want to trust you Nikki, but it's really hard, I'm not sure I'm capable."
"Then I'll teach you."
"Can you do that, can you teach someone to trust so deeply?"
"I'll give it my best shot."
"Ever the pragmatist?" Nikki said, smiling down at Terri.
"I need to know," Terri almost whispered, swallowing hard and feeling more vulnerable than she'd done in all her adult life.
"By holding you whenever you need to be held. By being there for you whenever you need me close. By teaching you to share your feelings with me when they get too much for one person. By holding your coat when you feel the need to defend my honour. Things like that," she said, smiling gently.
Terri swallowed again and licked her dry lips. "You'd do all that for me?"
"Why, Nikki, why me?"
"Because I love you."
"We hardly know each other."
"Doesn't matter, my soul's found its mate, the rest can catch up later, there's plenty of time for that."
"Got it all worked out, huh?"
"What if I find I don't like playing on your team, what if I find I prefer the company of men?"
"Let's find out, shall we?" Before Terri could answer Nikki leaned down and softly kissed her on the lips.
"How did that feel, revolting or pleasurable?"
"Hmmm, not sure, maybe we should try again?"
"Perhaps we should get one of those sailor boys in here and you can try us both out, see which one you prefer?"
"Nah, leave that for another day, Right now I think we should keep experimenting between just the two of us; see how it goes. In the name of research, of course."
"Of course," Nikki said smiling.
She leant down for another kiss but Terri put her hand up between them, stopping her a few inches from her face. "Nikki, promise me you won't abuse my trust. I think it would kill me if you did."
"I'd never do anything to hurt you, Farmer, I promise," she said, leaning in and kissing Terri again. And again.
* * *
Continued - Part 3 (Conclusion)
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