"You're back!" Ashley yelled, seeing Helen walk into the kitchen at James' house.
"Hello my darlings," she said, having the wind squished out of her when two sets of arms wrapped around her. Ruffling Henry's hair first, then Ashley's, she asked, "How was your weekend?"
"I got to stay up until ten!" Ashley announced, bouncing.
"James couldn't get her to sleep before then," Henry explained. "We got to have hot chocolate too."
"Well," she breathed, "we best make our afternoon out a short one."
Ashley cheered whilst Henry asked, "Are you dancing next week?" Helen nodded. The results show wouldn't be shown for several hours yet. Henry nodded back and grinned. "Awesome. Is Nikola coming with us?"
Helen flushed, and blinked. "... No?"
"Leave your poor aunt alone, Henry," said James, coming into the kitchen. "She gets enough of that from the mediocre hounds camping outside her dance rehearsals." Hugging Helen, he asked, "But are you spending time with Nikola today? Inquiring minds must know."
Scoffing, she rolled her eyes. "The man is exhausted after last night and we start the quickstep Monday, so he's deigned to give us the day off."
Henry shrugged and took out his phone, meandering away, whilst Ashley sat at the table, swinging her legs as she read a book. James just looked at Helen. "Something's happened between you, hasn't it?"
"Tea? I'm parched."
"I'll boil the kettle."
"Avoidance doesn't work," he told her in a sing-song manner, over the rumbling boil of the kettle.
"It does when there's a child is in the room," she sing-songed back, looking pointedly at Ashley, still reading her book.
"Ashley, my dear miscreant, could you read in the drawing room? Mummy and I need to have a word."
"But I'm reading here," she complained. "It's cold in there."
"Go get changed first then, darling," Helen told her.
"Fine," she sighed. "Just because uncle James wants to gossip."
"I do not gossip!" James argued, aghast and grinning as Ashley walked out the room. He turned to Helen. "Give me the gossip."
Helen rolled her eyes. "There isn't much to tell…"
Abby whooped as Nikola all but dropped a tray full of drinks onto the table. "Another Blackpool night done!" she announced, taking a glass each for her and Will. She pushed the tray towards Helen, Amy, and Nikola, who was trying to drag Giovanni out of his chair by his ear. "Gio, move your ass."
He muttered something about Americans and Serbs, but it was in English so they knew he didn't mean any malice. He sat down one seat over, whilst Nikola grabbed his drink and plopped down next to Helen. "And another chance to survive!" he announced, clinking glasses with Abby, then Giovanni, then Helen. "Sorry you're out, Amy."
"We tried our best," she surmised, smiling. "But I get to watch you all now without worrying!" Even over the raucous pub crowd, Helen could hear the South Wales accent tingeing Amy's words. It was adorable with her (although she'd never admit it).
"Aren't you joining?" Helen asked, holding up her drink.
Amy shook her head. "It plays merry havoc with my meds if I'm honest, and I'll be off soon." She smiled at Abby, "I'm going home for a few days."
They squealed and started chatting excitedly about weddings and plans. Helen caught Nikola's eye. They both smiled nervously then looked away. Helen bit her lip, then grinned as she sipped her wine - Nikola's hand was on her lower back, his thumb stroking.
True to her word, Amy left soon after, waving at them all. Will decided to get a round in. "Gotta keep you dancers hydrated," he said after making a note of what everyone was drinking. Giovanni and Abby were deep in conversation, and Nikola was still stroking Helen's back.
"How does it feel to be top of the leaderboard?" he murmured later, close to her ear.
"Now that I have feeling back in my legs? Amazing," she replied, grinning. "Thank you for being such a good teacher."
"And just think, I still have more to teach you."
Helen looked at his lips. "Oh really?"
Waggling his eyebrows, he replied, "Sure. We have the quickstep next week and that's a whole new dance." He leant in closer, "You're gonna have to keep up with me, Doctor Magnus."
"Don't I always?" she shot back, arching her eyebrow.
"We get it, you flirt all the time," Giovanni complained with a laugh, throwing a wadded up napkin at them. "Either kiss or drink your wine!"
Laughing, Helen drank whilst Nikola threw the napkin back. It bounced off Giovanni's head and landed neatly in Abby's drink.
"Look what you've done, Nikola! You've ruined Abigail's drink. Come signora, I shall get you a new one!"
"Wait, weren't the papers saying something about Abigail and that Zimmerman fellow?" James interrupted as Helen drank her tea.
"They also say I've been shagging Nikola since week two," she reminded him.
James nodded. "Fair. Continue."
"I should really be going," said Helen, looking at her watch. "I'm catching an early train back to London in the morning."
"Picking up your kids?" Will asked, a bit bleary eyed. She nodded. "It's nice your kids like you dancing… Is your ex still bugging you?"
That stopped her short. Flushing, she replied, "No. He's been following the rules of the restraining order."
"That's cool. Sorry he's a dick. You deserve to have fun. You're so cool."
"And you're so drunk," Helen pointed out. "You best be off too."
"Is that an invitation to join you?"
She laughed. "No, it's me, as a medical doctor, suggesting you go back to your hotel room to sleep it off."
"But you need someone to walk you home, protect you from the the… Uh…" He narrowed his eyes. "I'm so drunk. Ignore me."
"We do, frequently," Nikola whispered as Will's head met the table. "Come on, Helen, I'm going that way."
She shook her head, smiling. "Aren't you celebrating with the others?"
The both looked over to the bar. Giovanni had his hand on Abby's hip as she leant in to whisper something. A few feet away were some of the other dancers, and in the opposite direction were some of the crew. Nikola shook his head. "I'll celebrate when we win."
"When?" she asked, grinning as she stood. He nodded. "You're very certain of yourself."
"With you as my partner, and me as your teacher," he said, standing so close she could smell the remnants of his aftershave - spicy and electric at the same time - and count the freckles on his temples, "of course we're gonna win."
"Yes yes, you flirt, you drink. Get to the good bit," James groused.
Helen blinked. "You're worse than the gossip sites Kate follows."
"Well, this is me," Helen murmured outside her hotel door, leaning her back against it. "Thank you for walking me back." He shrugged, and smiled, and that heavy, obvious tension fell between them. He licked his lips, his eyes darting all over her face. "Nikola, I--"
"Helen, I--" They spoke together. Laughing, Helen touched his wool jacket's lapel. "After you," he murmured.
"I really like yo… your jacket," she told him, licking her lips.
"I uh… really like your jacket too," he echoed, touching her arm.
The seconds stretched. All she wanted was to bridge that gap but she knew a kiss wouldn't be enough. "I should…"
He nodded, but neither moved away. With as much grace the drunken gods gave her, she moved her head closer, almost sighing when he cradled her cheek in his hand. "Can I kiss you?" he whispered, his thumb gentle on her cheekbone.
James stared at her. "And?"
Helen's phone rang. Looking at the caller ID, she shrugged at James. "And nothing. Hi Kate," she greeted over the phone.
"We need to rearrange your Monday," she said. Looking at James, Helen shrugged again and smiled.
"Can I kiss you?"
Eyes wide, she nods. The first brush of his lips against hers is soft and electrifying, frying all her neurons. Eyes closing, all she needs is his mouth on hers, his body hard against her. Clenching her hand around his lapel, she flattens herself against him, his hand on her lower back. This was bliss, all she had imagined and more. Everything's screaming for her to drag him into her room and explore all of him, but she can't. "Nikola," she says, a prayer and a pant as he kisses her neck. "Nikola, wait."
"Wait?" he asks, bemused and kiss-drunk.
"Wait," she repeats, smiling. "I want to win the show, but I don't want to risk ruining our dancing rapport with whatever this is," she indicates between them.
"In case it goes bad?" he asks. His voice is so quiet, unsure, the opposite of his usual manner, that she can't help but kiss his cheek.
She nods. "We're going to win the show, and then we'll… celebrate." She arches her brow, smiling suggestively, and his whole face lights up.
"You're very certain of that," he murmurs, his smirk wicked as he edges closer, crowding her against the door.
"With you as my teacher," she replies, pecking a kiss on his lips, "I can win anything. But for now," another small kiss, "we keep our hands family friendly."
"Ok," he says, kissing her again. "Are you sure?"
Their kiss is lingering, his lips worshipping hers. "Ok. I trust you, and your judgment."
With one last kiss, he steps away, eyes dark. Unlocking the door, she steps across the threshold. Turning back, she leans forward and crooks a finger, licking her lips. "Starting tomorrow?"
"Hvala Bogu," he mutters, running his hands into her hair as they kiss. The door slams firmly shut.