Nikola loved show night. The applause, the accolades, Helen in a dress; these were all amazing things (especially when they did a Latin number). He wasn't so fond of the quick costume changes between the opening number and the walk down the stairs, but Helen's nervous, beaming smile made his heart ricochet around his chest.
The opening tonight had a musical theatre flavour, the predominantly ballroom dancers in one group, the Latin dancers in the other, and Janette and Aljaž bridging the groups. Being that his dance would be ballroom that evening, the choreographers had thrown him into the Latin group. As he danced, pirouetting and doing kicks in time with the others, he saw Henry and Ashley sat with Helen's friend in the audience.
Henry grinned when they made eye contact. The squeeze of recognition (and, dare he say, affection?) for the two rugrats fuelled his dancing. This opening, then the Quickstep with their mother? He suddenly needed the two kids to… approve of him, he guessed.
"Get your head out of your ass," Abby hissed through her stage grin. "Karen's about ready to kick it."
"My head or my ass?" he asked, smile still firmly in place. The music finished before she could answer, and as they sprinted backstage, he waved to the kids.
It looked like he was just waving to the audience, as usual, but Ashley all but vibrated in her chair as she waved back.
Yes, their Quickstep was gonna go off without a hitch.
"Don't say I never give you anything," he murmured, handing her a cold bottle of water. They were due backstage for the après-dance Instagram interview, but no way was he going anywhere without either of them having a drink. Helen just nodded, opened the bottle, and downed half of it. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
Opening the door, they hit their mark, and stood for a few seconds, panting dramatically. Then, grinning, Helen unleashed a happy laugh, her real smile shining through the glossy pink lip gloss. "My children were in the audience!"
"You really upped your dancing for them," he mentioned, hugging her shoulders. He longed to give her more than a hug but it would have to wait. No point giving the cameras more than they deserved.
She nodded. "I miss them terribly. I can't wait to hear what they think of being here."
"And their thoughts on us getting two more tens?"
They jumped again, the excitement not fully out of their system. "We got more tens! Thank you so much for teaching me!" she gushed. Even though he knew she was hamming it up for the camera, he couldn't help but preen. But then she pouted. "And now I have to wait until after the end of the show to hug them."
He hugged her again, desperately wishing he could kiss her lips and drown in them, making do with kissing her forehead. "Soon draga. And just think, next week you'll have twice the dance moves to teach them."
"If we get voted through," she said. Eyes wide, she turned to the camera and said, "Please vote for us. Nikola wants to be in the quarter finals more than anything." Her hand never left his chest.
"And cut," murmured the crewmember. "Thanks guys."
Instantly, Helen crumbled, only staying on her feet because of Nikola's hand on her waist. "I'm never doing Quickstep again."
Nikola nodded, smiling indulgently at her as he manoeuvred them away from the doors and camera. "Uh huh?"
Her eyes were so blue, looking up at him, that his breath caught. "I'd rather do the Rumba."
"That can be arranged," he whispered, daring and low. He almost whooped seeing her blush, but the sound became strangled when she pushed him into a darkened room.
They missed the next two couples, barely making it back onstage (grinning) in time for the closing credits. The minute the director yelled, "Cut!" Helen made a beeline for Ashley, Henry, and James. Abby sidled up to Nikola, nudging him with her elbow. "Nice lip gloss."
His eyes went wide.
"Your secret's safe with me," she added, her voice gentle and soothing. "Just pray Will doesn't notice."
"Will doesn't notice what?" Will asked, gambolling over to join them.
"Notice you're missing some sequins from your shirt. Nikoka's complaining," she explained, the words falling smoothly from her mouth.
"He noticed that?" Will asked, incredulous. His voice got fainter the further Abby moved him away. Shrugging, Nikola looked over at Helen, currently brushing hair out of Ashley's eyes. In that simple gesture, he realised something.
He wanted that with her. Not just kissing in dark rooms or hotels or on hilltops, or park lanes, or doorsteps, but to be able to join her without anyone raising an eyebrow. Their eyes met. She smiled, waved him over, and Nikola knew, as he walked to them (Ashley bouncing in her seat), he'd always go to her.