DISCLAIMER: The characters contained herein are not my intellectual property. They belong to Nancylee Myatt and other people that I don't associate with. If they were mine, Nikki & Nora would still be in production and we would all be very very happy. This is for fun…read - me mucking about for some entertainment in another person's sandbox, not for money. While this has been beta'd, we're not perfect and I accept full responsibility for all mistakes.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This picks up about 8 months after Reasons. With only the first chapter of this being completed, updates are going to be coming a little less frequently than a schedule I would like to maintain. My hope is that posting this will spur the muse and I will be able to hammer out the other 8 chapters. This chapter is split into two parts and you will be reading that next week as hopefully it will buy me a little time to at least complete chapter 2. Thank you to my long suffering beta, the poor bastard has to put up with my awful spelling, bless you Dirk! Lastly, read and enjoy.
FEEDBACK: To whedonistic.tendencies[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


Here's to the Night
By Whedonist


Ch. 3 – Ignorance

Oblivious to the world, my lover sleeps on her stomach. I watch the gentle rise and fall of her back. The smooth skin and toned muscle expanding and contracting in my darkened bedroom. Cocking my head to the side, I admire the gentle slope of her nose, the arch of her brow, slack and at peace and then down further to her lips, curved ever so slightly upward in sleep, like she's smirking – almost.

Is it odd to be able to want to share things with someone so much that you want to be inside their dream?

I guess it doesn't matter if it's odd or not, it's what it is.

In the time Nora and I have been together we've shared so much. I know working with her and then coming home with her has created this bond that I can't seem to find words to describe.

And really maybe that's why me not being able to work with her now is bugging me so much. We've worked separately only two times before. Neither were particularly fun, but…

Neither of us were temporarily reassigned to another partner and this time we both have been. She has Ann and I have…

Well, I'll find out today who Dan's stuck me with. Maybe it'll be Gantt or McCullough. I could stand either of them for a week or two.

My attention is drawn back to Nora's face as her brow crinkles slightly and the ghost of a smile she was wearing vanishes to be replaced with a slight frown. Did her dreams take a turn for the worse or is it something else?

Her hand reaches out and rests on my exposed upper thigh. Just as quickly as the frown came, it vanishes to allow my lover her peaceful slumber once again. I relax against the headboard and continue to watch over her.

It's not like I got much sleep last night, that stupid dream…

Nightmare really, but it happens every single time I have it.

I wake up cold and clammy, tears leaking from my eyes and the feel of a half ton of bricks sitting on my chest. Usually I can calm down enough, if Nora's sharing my bed, but on those nights we sleep apart, it's almost impossible.

Those nights I usually call Darius.

Last night, Nora was here, but sleep after I awoke was evasive and I've been looking over her for the last two hours.

I shake my head, I don't think it's normal to do so, but I don't want to move. I glance across the room at the clock on my dresser, five-thirty a.m., I could try and go back to sleep, but Nora's hand slides up my thigh igniting a small brush fire in the pit of my belly.

My lips curve upward in a smirk as I sit and up and remove my robe. I toss it towards the edge of the bed, slip down into the covers and over to Nora. Propping my head up on my arm, I use the tips of my fingers to caress the side of her face. I trail a finger down a delicate jaw, over sleep-dried lips and then change course to follow the curve of her neck and brush her hair out of the way as I travel south.

In the wake of my touch, I notice the skin pimple and ripple causing my lover to stir ever so slightly. Taking more initiative, I lean in and nibble lightly on her exposed ear. This causes the effect I was hoping for, her eyes flutter open and a low, throaty moan vibrates out of her chest and into me.

Over the years, it got harder to remember the emotion and response Erica elicted from me, but I can, without guilt, say that I don't think she ever did the things she did by just a moan.

"Nik?" my partner's sleepy voice fills the room.

"Shh," I purr in her ear, "it's early, lemme have my fun."

Acquiescing to my request, her head drops back down on the pillow and a full smile graces her beautiful lips. Shifting around, I press my body against hers and tug the sheet down around to her lower back, barely exposing the start of her bottom.

My hand glides over her flesh and my lips nip, kiss and lick along her shoulder and down her back. Coming to the edge of the sheet, I pull it the rest of the way off, letting it bunch at the edge of the bed. My need pulls me downward, laying kiss after kiss down her length, over her right cheek, to the back of her thigh and knee.

My ministrations cause her to giggle and ask, "Is this to make up for last night?"

A small snort escapes and I mumble through my quest to map her body with my lips, "Well we both sort of got naked and then promptly fell asleep."

"Hmm, true," she hums and interrupts my progress by turning over, exposing her front to me. A hand reaches out, clasps my bicep, and tugs me up to eye level with Nora. "What time is it?"

"Early enough," I whisper and close the distance between our lips. My intention was for it to be a welcome peck, but the prodding of her tongue automatically causes me to part my lips to grant her entrance.

Adjusting, I swing my leg over her and rest lightly on her hips, my hair falling around us in a curtain. I pull away from her only inches and tap the tip of her nose with my index finger.

Her smile chases away the lingering ghosts of my dream as her eyes sparkle, alive and unharmed. It also provokes in me a heat and need to claim her.

Some would call it animalistic, but I, for the need of decorum, will label it wanton and passionate. As my head lowers, I latch on to the delicate skin covering her collarbone. I pick a spot that won't be visible in work attire to suck and bite on, ensuring a mark will linger for days.

As my mouth works the flesh underneath it, my hands travel her body, stopping to play with two full, tantalizing mounds of flesh. I toy with her stiffening nipples, rolling them between my fingers and offer a slight tug when she groans approvingly.

Needing to refocus my efforts, I release the skin on her collarbone, pull back to admire my handy work and kiss it once, gently blowing across the heated surface. Scooching down, my hands grasp hips and my mouth covers a nipple. Her response is a hand tangled in my hair to hold me close and a mumbled, "Fuck."

It's a wondrous thing when you find someone whose own need drives and stokes yours. In all the liaisons I partook in to chase away the void Erica left, it was never about them. It was filling my own need and then making sure I heard neither hide nor hair from them again.

The magic of letting someone in far enough to get to that space of selflessness, where their need becomes yours and the only focus you can hold is to ensure their pleasure is a heady experience. Nora does it to me every single time and always, I always feel like I own the universe; that it rests in the palms of my hands when I leave her spent.

Her need now becomes clear as she bucks against my stomach and I feel her heat leave damp skin behind. I release my current prize and trail kisses down her tummy, lingering to kiss and bite the skin right above her bikini line. I tease her for a moment longer, wanting to hover in the purgatory of desire.

When my name passes her lips and a please is offered, I relent and lift her right leg over my shoulder to open her up to me. I only take a second to admire her before nuzzling the patch of hair and parting her lips with my tongue, taking one long sweep up to end at her clit. I swirl my tongue around the bundle of nerves and feel her tense around me. Her heel digs into my shoulder while her left leg tenses and the thigh muscle dances against my cheek.

Her hand grasps the back of my head pushing me further inside as a groan and moan follow. Not wanting to torture her, I slip two fingers inside and set a hard pace, letting my fingers and tongue work synchronically to drive my girl over the edge.

It takes her less time than anticipated as I feel her tense, inside and out. She cries out, my name falling from her lips as more of a curse than a reverence. Of course, I know that only she could make a curse sound as sexy as she does. As she relaxes, her leg falls from my shoulder to lie limply at my side.

Gently, I remove my fingers and use my tongue to clean her up; relishing in the taste and small spasms her body offers me. Now, if my hardheaded lover would see reason, she could get over herself, move in with me and wake up like this every morning.

I wonder how much convincing I'm gonna hafta do right before she pulls me up once again to her lips and kisses the nagging thoughts of her reluctance from my mind.

Nikki's hand brushes up my arm and gently squeezes my shoulder before waving goodbye to Ann and me. I watch her a moment longer than I probably should as she disappears behind Dan's office door. Sighing, I turn my attention back to my new partner in crime and offer a flourish of my hand, directing her down the hall to the task force workroom.

The door clicks shut behind us and I see that the place is empty. At seven a.m., it's not like I expected the room to be full. The team isn't due in for another hour or so and thankfully, Ann likes to be early just as much as I do.

Although, I still think that she could have used some more sleep. When we got to my place, she was slumped over the kitchen table with notes and crime scene photos spread around her.

Setting the file folder down that I gathered for Ann as she rushed to get this morning, I look her over a little bit longer. The dark circles are barely there, but she's wearing the pants from yesterday and I think Jill's shirt. Her hair's in a haphazard ponytail and she's been stifling yawn after yawn since we woke her.

"You know," she says sitting down across from me, but not looking up from the laptop she's bootin up, "staring at me won't make it look any better."

I snort. "You look fine. I just think you could have slept a little longer. I didn't think you would have fallen asleep at the kitchen table." Moving to the credenza behind me, I start making a fresh pot of coffee.

"I got enough," she grunts.

Turning to her as the coffee begins to drip in the cup I've placed under it, I ask, "Come to any conclusions about that file your boss sent you?"

"Yes, none of them good," she answers absently. "In fact," she says pulling over the conference unit on the desk and dialing a number, "I think I need to get this out to our team."

I fix two fresh cups of coffee and then place the decanter under the percolator to finish filling up as I hear talk. "Luce, where you and that partner of yours at?" Ann barks as the person on the other end picks up. She looks up at me as I place the steaming mug within her grasp and smiles gratefully.

"Getting ready to leave," the annoyed voice on the other end of the phone says through the speakers on the desk unit.

"E.T.A.?" Ann asks gathering a few papers and separating them out.

"We should hit S.F. no later than ten a.m. pacific standard time," Luce answers.

"Alright, I'm gonna get my notes up to you now. If you want, call me when you get them. I talked to Rory briefly last night and he'll be the one to pick you guys up if you don't want to grab a car."

She sips at the hot liquid and bobs her head as Luce speaks, "That might be better than snagging a vehicle as soon as we hit town."

I shouldn't be listening or at least I don't think I should be, but I do. Seeing how she works will help me, help us work this case together.

I watch as she snatches up a small stack of photos and arranges them on the white board behind her. What she stares at is a tableau of three crime scenes. Three bodies, three kids who can't be anymore than thirteen or fourteen years old.

Each child's photograph tells me the bodies were arranged, set up and staged. Their hands are bound in front of them to rest on their chest, their right ankles cross over the left and each is well dressed and restful looking. Well, as well resting as one can look with a line that bisects their abdomen to allow their intestines to dangle outside of their body cavity.

"View photographs, one-thirty-four, five and six, two-seventeen and eighteen and three-oh-four, five and nine." Ann's hands go to her hips as she stares at the photos.

"Okay, they're up. What am I looking for?" Luce asks as we hear more shuffling going on at the other end of the line.

"Besides the obvious, what do you see?" my friend asks.

I move to stand next to her and look the photos over in more detail. Hard to look at, yet equally hard to look away from. Anger sits heavy in the bottom of my stomach and I shake my head. What kind of monster could do such a thing?

"Uh," Luce stutters and says, "a nine, eleven and twelve year old disemboweled. A transverse cut along the lower abdominal cavity…"

"Quit reading the facts, tell me what the images say, Lucy," Ann clips. I look at my friend from the corner of my eye and see her jaw clench and quiver as she tries to get Lucy to see whatever it is that she sees.

"They're arranged obviously. It's a set up of some sort and for whatever reason our unsub wanted these kids to be found looking for the most part peaceful. If it wasn't for the wound, they would look like they're sleeping."

Ann nods and asks, "Anything else?"

I can sense that Lucy, while we are unable to see her, is probably shaking her head and gnawing at her lower lip. 'Cause I'd probably be doing the same thing.

"The crosses," I answer, "And the position of the bodies, they're the same in every single pose. It's also the same exact pose most are buried in."

The corner of Ann's mouth turns upward along with her eyebrow as she looks at me. "Oh, Lucy this Detective Nora Delaney, Nora, Luce, Luce, Nora."

"Hi, Detective," Lucy chuckles into the phone.

"Hi, Luce," I reply.

"Now that we have that out of the way. Nora what's the significance?" Ann asks me.

Shrugging, I say, "From what I can see, from what I can make of the pictures, the killer's using the kids as a means to an end. They're not the ones that are truly intended to be the victims."

"Why?" she asks a satisfied smirk gracing her fine features.

I chew on my lower lip and point out the consistencies between the photographs, "Well, between three crime scenes you have the positioning of the bodies, the clothes, all three have the same exact gold chain and cross on. The killer made sure it was visible. And the near," I swallow the bile that rises in the back of my throat, "reverence of how the bodies seem to be treated."

"Anything else?" Ann asks me.

I cock my head to the side and pick up the glaringly obvious detail that led me to my conclusions. "There's no blood," I hiss. There really is not a speck of blood in any of the photographs. "That tells us that the disembowelment is part of the ritual. It's not the cause of death and this is where they were dumped not killed. It also tells us that the act is part of the message."

Ann's face breaks out into a grin. "Exactly. Did you catch all that Luce?"

A loud whistle is followed up by, "Yeah and nice all the way around. Where have you been hiding her at, Ann?"

"She's only brought out for special occasions," my friend jokes and shoulders into me. "So, here's the deal, I'm going to get my notes up to you ASAP. In terms of focus on the investigation, I would start with the common threads in the vics. Send me updates every thirty-six hours and if you find something and think I should take a look, I want to see it immediately."

"Anything else?" the other agent asks.

"Keep the focus on any suspects you get whose age range is going to be between forty-five to fifty years old. And this isn't their first set of kills. I would look at some historical cold cases; see if anything sorta fits these cases."

I hear Lucy sigh and say, "Alright, I'll call you later tonight."

"Fine, remember Luce, the Devil's in the details and this guy's being pretty fucking specific. Be careful."

Ann begins pulling the photos down as Lucy ends the phone call, "Will do Oh Wise One."

The line goes dead and I walk over to hit the off button. "So," I say turning back to Ann who's staring at the photographs in her hand again, "This is what you usually look at at work?"

She shakes her head and looks up at me, for the first time, I see the shadow's of her job reflected in her usually, joyful brown eyes. "Sometimes," she mumbles shrugging it off. "Some are worse than others. This," she holds up the photos and shakes them at me, "aren't nearly the worst of what I've seen."

I nod, wanting to drop the subject and the implication. "If you wanna fax them up, there's a copy room a few doors down."

She nods and snatches her hand written notes from the table. "Thanks," she says and takes off at a brisk pace.

I watch her retreat and shake my head. As a cop, you see your fair share of shit. While Ann's never let on that her job takes its toll, I know it has to.

I wonder how much of that she shares with Jill. How much of that does my friend want to?

My brow furrows and I go back to my own stack of files to start sorting through. It's not my case and I need to let it go, but the images of those kids take up residence in my mind that I won't be able to shake for a while.

As I step from the stifling interior of the unmarked Police Interceptor that my new partner signed out for today, I finish off the bottle of water I've been nursing since lunch. While I have the keys to June Lee and Nora gave me explicit permission to use her baby while she was working with Ann, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Originally, I had wanted to, but within five minutes of meeting Detective Michael Toussaint, I didn't want him tainting a thing in the world I've built with Nora. Him riding in June Lee will only happen over my dead body.

So instead of riding in the comfort of our car with Nora, I get this pig headed, fils de putain, that not only causes me to lose my temper but also has me cussing in ways that would make Nora blush.

Michael emerges from the driver's side as I stand on the sidewalk to wait on him. To look at him, with his stylishly, floppy blonde hair and choirboy good looks, the automatic assumption is that he would be affable and charming. It's something he can do...until he opens his mouth.

Then it's shot to hell.

In our first five minutes together, he leered at me and then asked me out. When I turned him down, he sneered and asked, "Lemme guess you're one of them feminist, man-hating dykes?" The snort and derisive chuckle from him, set me on edge, but I didn't take the bait.

After that I shot him a nasty look that shut him up and I wasn't very nice when I reiterated my rejection. I think the exact words I used were, "I would not go on a date with you if you were the last person on the planet and the only reason for the date was to continue the human race. I would joyously saunter off into the sunset of extinction before contemplating anything more with you than a professional relationship."

He took that as a challenge this morning and insisted we go to lunch when I had to meet with Darius; he asked afterward if Darius was my "nigger boy toy".

I could handle the dyke barb, mainly because I am, a dyke, gay or lesbian, whichever synonym you would like to use, but I actually like men. The ones that aren't racist pigs at any rate.

What I couldn't handle was the use of the "n" word. Call it vestiges from my life with Erica, but the "n" word as I say because vocalizing it makes my stomach churn and it is the quickest way to see me livid and murderous. Or perhaps I feel deeply offended at ignorance in general and the use of language like that shows a level of ignorance I can't stand.

Since then and after when I, in a fashion less tactful than my lover is capable, told him to only speak to me as it pertains to the job, he's been acting like a petulant teenager.

Fine by me as long as keeps his racist homophobic remarks to himself.

He grunts at me as I start walking up the pathway to the house we were called out to. The neighborhood is at best run down and I get the feeling that it always looked this way. I don't think the neighborhood or the single family homes that line the streets have seen better days. The dirt that replaces the grass that probably never existed is muddy from the thundershowers we had last night.

Three cruisers and a forensics van crowd the street and yellow tape runs the length of the front of the small house. I unclip my badge from my belt, flash it to the uniform guarding the entrance to the scene. I step into the entry way and slip on booties and gloves.

Two techs are roping off the living room and another is dusting for prints in the kitchen. I head straight to the living room, following the trail of blood that leads me in that direction. No coroner yet. I wonder if Charlie has the day off or if he's just running late.

From the right, I step through the threshold of the hallway and look around. Archs of arterial spatter cover the TV and the wall behind it. Looking down I see two bodies, male and female, slashed and cut open. The man lies face up, eyes open and staring at the ceiling. The woman is face down and her head is turned from me. I don't need to see to know the blank look that fills her eyes.

A lamp is knocked over; the coffee table is upturned and resting on its side. The TV is silent but shows the snowy screen from the days of yore or when you unhook the cable box and there's no signal coming in.

"Nik?" I hear my name and turn from my examination of the crime scene to see Charlie crooking a finger at me, looking more troubled than I've ever seen him.

I step over an evidence marker and meet him in the hallway. From over his shoulder, I see Toussaint talking to a few uniforms.

"Charlie the bodies are in there, not out here," I joke with him, trying to lighten up the mood, but my joke falls flat.

"Where's Nora?" he asks, all business.

"Working with a task force. I'm partnered with Toussaint," I answer, my concern ratcheting up due to his unease.

He swallows, but nods. "Follow me, but leave that horse behind out here to talk to the rest of the knuckle heads."

I couldn't agree more so I say nothing as we pass the horse's ass and follow Charlie towards the back of the house. The hallway is short and underneath the scent of death and blood, the cloying scent of poverty and hopelessness churn my stomach.

He stops at a door and turns to me, concern creasing his features. "Did anyone give you any background on the nine-one-one call that came through?"

I shake my head and say, "The call came in and Toussaint took it. Charlie, dear, you are starting to worry me. What's wrong?"

He runs a hand through his hair and answers, "The victims are George and Carlene Heidecker, ages twenty-three and twenty-eight. The call was placed by their son, Lance, age eight."

My mouth momentarily drops open, but I respond accordingly and school my features waiting on him to continue.

"Apparently, two days ago, the officers out front, Broussard and Lahey responded to this house on a domestic disturbance call. They responded to this one seeing as how they already knew the couple. They come in and the kid's hiding under the kitchen table with his mama's cell phone in his hand." He sighs and hooks a finger to the door we're standing in front of. "Lance is in there. Me and Rita Tompkins have been in there since we arrived. He's not in shock, but it's not good either, Nikki."

I feel the muscles in my jaw clench and close my eyes briefly trying to center myself. This is worse than I thought.

I breathe in through my mouth and out of my nose.

"Okay," I say slowly, "let's see if we can get him to open up a little."

"I was thinkin' letting you take Lance, if the kid'll warm up to you, back to the station and leave me with your temporary partner to finish up here," Charlie offers, "Maybe we can get Rita to drive you back."

That's not a bad idea. "Alright," I reply, running my own hand through my hair.

We enter the room slowly; a twin mattress and box spring rest on the floor, an overturned egg crate and piece of plywood are the only pieces of furniture in the room. On the floor, Rita kneels in front of a little boy with soft, brown hair and pale blue eyes. I slip my badge from my belt once again and crouch down to get eye level with my potential witness.

I smile, softly, not too big, but not too fake either. I want him to trust me. "Hi," I whisper, "I'm Nikki, Lance. It's nice to meet you." I hold out my hand and clutch my badge in the other letting him see I'm part of the good guys.

He eyes skirt from my face, to my hand and to my badge. "You an officer?" he asks in a gentle, bayou accent.

I nod and hand over my badge, dropping my outstretched hand. Tentatively, he reaches out and takes the shield from my hands. His little fingers glide over the metal surface and then he hands it back to me.

"Thank you," I say and clip my badge back on to my waist. "I was wondering if maybe you and I and maybe Officer Tompkins here could go for a little ride."

"Why?" he asks, clutching at the bed sheet his hands returned to.

"Well," I say pressing my lips together trying to find the right words. "I'm thinkin' you could use a bite to eat and the other officers are doin' work that you shouldn't be around here for."

He looks me over a minute more and then over to Rita who has on an encouraging smile. Slowly, he nods and stretches out his hand.

Gratefully, I take it and we stand together before he looks up at me and asks while looking at his bare feet, "Ca…can you…carry me?"

Without thought, I hoist him in my arms and his legs wrap around my waist. I feel his face bury itself in the crook of my neck as we head past the uniforms, crime scene techs, Charlie and the bodies of his parents.

Looking up, I blink, take the heel of my hands and use them to rub my dry, tired eyes. The pressure feels great and the rubbing is taking care of the itchiness that's been annoying me for the past few minutes. Stopping, I wait for the spots to clear and my eyes to refocus as I see the two out of four of us gather their things to leave for the day.

Ann looks over at me and I shrug. We're hitting the twelfth hour in our day, but there's some stuff I want to talk to her about without the rest of our team. I hold up a stack of paper and she nods, tucking back into her own notes.

Alright, well then I can get back to this. I tap the edge of my paper with my pen, reviewing the thoughts I've put voice to on paper and try to come up with the thread. I breathe deep and remember that going back to basics is always the best option when things get too muddled.

Life to date the Sungs have trafficked close to sixty-thousand pieces of metal. Only in the last two years have the pieces they've sold been part of law enforcement caches that were meant for destruction.

There have been four police related shootings, with ten dead, in Boston, New York, Phoenix and Little Rock.

The only time that the Sungs have had to deal with a raid on one of their drops was in Boston and Houston. Both times, they got away.

I flip a few pages back in my notes and run down the list of names that I have something niggling at the back of my mind.

"NORA!" I look up and blink. Ann's arms are folded across her chest and she's glaring at me.

"Why are you yelling?" I ask as calmly as possible.

My friend glares at me and huffs, "'Cause I've been trying to get your attention for-like-ever. What are you working on over there?" I chew on my lower lip deciding on how to answer. Before I do, Ann rolls her eyes and shares first, "I am working on absolutely nothing. I thought stretching our twelve-person op would work best if we split it up differently after this morning's meeting. I mean, was I wrong in thinking that trying to get Diea in as a potential buyer a bad thing?"

I shake my head. "No, it's a better shot at getting the trio someplace central. It leaves us a little short staffed here, but…"

She sighs and tugs at her ponytail. "But it takes a robust team to manage a haphazard undercover operation and it's our best shot at flushing them out."

"It was that or fly to Costa Rica and take them out down there." I smile at her, trying to offset some of her irritation. "You have international jurisdiction?"

She snorts and shakes her head. "I'm sure I could get it. Or well, no, John'd just tell me to go do it and he'd straighten out the mess later, once we had the idiots behind bars."

"So your boss is willing to risk an international incident to snag a few gun smugglers?" I tease.

She shrugs and rolls her pen back and forth across her paper. "I know he's willing to do what it takes to do the right thing. The rest are details that can be fixed."

I arch an eyebrow at her and she winks at me, saying, "There are very few times in doing what I do with the F.B.I. that when we fuck up on jurisdictional protocol that we're unable to fix it."

"Uh-huh," I say, not entirely sure how to respond. "You ever gonna stop talkin' in riddles when discussing your work with the F.B.I.?"

"Maybe one day, Nora. Today isn't that day," she answers honestly.

The funny thing is that I can actually accept that. "Alright, then if you aren't going to break under my third degree, at least help me work this out." I sit back in my chair and begin to think aloud, "There have been four incidents, on one, the bust that was made went south and the other bust went to shit when…"

"When the Sungs decided blowing up the buyers was a better business tact than actually getting the money for the goods," she fills in, "But we're also assuming that's why the bust went south. The only thing any of the reports have said consistently is that they were set to make the exchange when charges were let off and the building began to collapse."

My fingers on my left hand drum across the tabletop. "It's not a lot."

"It's nothing, Nor." She snorts and sighs, folding her arms across her chest. I hear her foot tap from under the table.

She's right, it is nothing, but I've turned less into lots of somethings I just need to figure out what we're missing.

"We aren't seeing something here," she parrots my own thoughts back at me.

"Agreed," I lean forward and try to divine the common thread from my chicken scratch.

"Alright, so," Ann says pushing back, away from the table, goes to the large peg board to the side of the room and points at the map we put up early this morning, "The first occurrence happened in Boston, when the bust went to hell and the first sign of dirty weapons appeared. That was May two-thousand-one."

Standing, I join her as we rest against the conference room table and stare at the information. "Then there was the incident in New York, where two N.Y.P.D. uni's were gunned down outside the club in Soho. That was August of the same year."

Ann nods and grabs a Sharpie from the tray at the base of the board, uncaps it and draws a line with an arrow from Boston to New York.

"Then, from New York, we went to Little Rock. A warehouse raid gone wrong. Not related to the Sungs, but it was the second time a gun that was marked for destruction ended up back out on the streets that was traced back to Boston and the raid," I fill in the next piece.

"Right, but here's the other thing we need to consider. The guns that were marked, they were supposed to be destroyed in Pittsburgh, PA. They didn't come from Boston or New York or any of the other locations that have been marked," the brunette clips and draws a question mark over the city.

"Good question and I don't think we have the answer for it. But it's a good place to start," I say ready to turn around and start looking into the city with the big question mark over it.

"Not just yet, let's fill in the rest of this," she says, motioning me back over. "Okay from Little Rock, in February of this year, there was the bust gone bad in Houston. And I'm just throwing this out here, but why such shitty police work. I know things, especially in high pressure situations, can go bad quickly, but if I didn't know any better I would say these guns are cursed." She stands up and draws the connecting arrows and then one dotted line from Pittsburgh to Boston.

"We oughta yap at a Houngan and pick up a gris-girs." I drawl in a heavy Nawlins accent.

She rolls her eyes at me and continues, "Houston happened and then we get another incident in Phoenix. Again, this was mainly local authorities and a few Marshall's were involved here. Two were shot and three barely made it out of the building before it collapsed."

"Might as well add another question mark to this because what it sounds like to me is that charges were preset and while I'm not an explosives expert, I remember a few things from the academy. It was premeditated."

"This means the sellers were tipped off. The funny thing there as well as in Houston and Boston, the circumstances were very similar," Ann follows my train of thought.

"So there's more than one common denominator in all of this. We just need to find it." I screw my mouth to the side and hmm a little in the back of my throat.

She looks at me and is about to give voice to the thoughts that are reflected in her eyes. She's thinking the same thing I am. And I really don't want to think about those implications.

"Nor," I hear from the doorway and see Nikki resting against the open entry.

I feel my face break out into a grin and she smiles back at me, a little weary, but it's a smile.

Ann motions her in and Nikki complies, shutting the door behind her and flipping the lock.

Ignoring the federal agent in the room, she slides up to me and wraps her arms around my waist, drawing me in for a hug. Knowing there's no way anyone can walk in on us, I allow the contact here at work and revel in the closeness for a few moments before she pulls away and we both sigh.

I look her over and know something's wrong, but she's also letting me know by the gentle pressure on my waist that I shouldn't ask now. I dip my chin and give her a lopsided smile.

She returns my grin this time full force before saying, "I just wanted to let ya'll know that I'm gonna be stayin' late."

"New case?" Ann asks gathering her things.

Nikki nods and back away. "In fact, I need to head back down stairs to the interview room, I just thought I'd come say goodnight." She blows me a kiss and waves to Ann before pulling open the door, disappearing around the corner just as quickly as she appeared.

I sigh and Ann roles her eyes. "You two are so cute, it's sickening."

I scowl her way and retort, "This from the woman that looks like a four year old at Christmas every time someone says the name Jill?"

She flips me off good-naturedly. "Whatever. But I do think we should pack it in. I still need to call John and check in with my team in San Francisco. And you, Ms. Delaney are going to entertain Jillian while I continue to work."

"Babysitting costs you extra, Ann." I take her cue, shuffle all of my notes together, and stuff them in her messenger bag.

"It'll be worth it," she says, grinning. "Maybe I'll be able to get a decent's night sleep while we're at."

I avoid telling her that's highly unlikely and just follow her out of the building and to the garage to sign out a car for the night.


Ch. 4 – Incongruence

The first thing that registers before my eyes flutter open is the soft lips leaving a string of kisses along my neck. The second is that I am on a ridiculously uncomfortable mattress that is most certainly not my bed or my lover's.

"Nik," Nora's voice floats up to my ears as I open my eyes, "time to get up, princess."

"I'm in the bunks aren't I?" I ask, groaning as my lower back protests. As my location makes itself fully known, I jerk up and slam against the brick of the wall.

Nora looks at me eyebrow cocked. "The doors locked and we're alone," she says, as if reading my mind.

I relax marginally and flop back over, my head making a quiet thunk against the thin mattress and springs of the cot.

"Come on," Nora urges, "I brought coffee and breakfast."

"You do love me," I tease and crack an eye open to look at the offered cup of steaming coffee sitting on the chair next to the cot.

"I do," she admits easily and leans down sealing her pledge with a kiss.

I try to pull back, but she goes to deepen the embrace. So I mumble, "I know my breath is not roses, sugga."

"Don't care," she whispers back and presses her lips against mine again.

This time I let her do her worst. I missed her last night and she has a way about her that seems to rid me of my headaches. I'm hoping that she'll work her magic now and assist in relieving the tension headache I've had since yesterday afternoon.

She climbs on to the cot, laying flush against me as I feel her right hand push my shirt up to expose my back. Her hand trails up and down, kneading the stiff muscle there. I groan as she breaks away to nuzzle my neck.

My nose buries itself in her hair and I revel in her scent. Letting her envelop me and take away the aches from yesterday.

"I missed you last night," she breathes against my skin, sending shivers down my spine to coil in the pit of my stomach, "I went back to your place and fell asleep on the couch."

"Awe, poor baby," I tease and cup her rear end.

Pulling back, I see her face scrunched up in annoyance and I giggle. "It's not funny," she pouts, "When I tried your cell and got no answer I came down and saw you were passed out."

"When?" I ask amazed that I slept through my cell and her coming to check on me.

"Oh, at about four this morning," she says, smiling.

"And it's what time now?" I wonder and maintain the hushed tones our darkened corner seems to demand.

"About five-ish. I got here and saw you, then went to go get coffee," she admits. "I thought we could use some us time before I leave to get Ann and you go back to work."

I purr my approval, if only for our temporary closeness and burrow into her side. Somehow she manages to sneak her arm under my waist and pulls me closer to her. I wrap my free leg around her and hang on.

We lay there, wrapped around each other, for how long, I don't know, but I let the seconds and minutes drift by in a lazy sort of fashion. I breathe it all in and some of the horror from yesterday ebbs to allow some of the niggling to-do list building in my head some floor space.

This won't last long. I need to grab a quick shower and start back up.

"Nikki," my lover says soothingly, "you wanna talk about it?"

I shake my head against her neck. No, I don't. Not right now.

"Okay," she says, gently pulling away, "you need to eat. And I brought you a fresh change of clothes. I hope I did okay."

I laugh and kiss the tip of her nose. "I'm sure you did fine."

It takes a moment of floundering before either of us is up right, sitting side by side as she leans over and hands me my coffee. I take a sip of the hot beverage and don't seem to mind so much that it burns my tongue a little. She got it perfect. Just enough cream and a bit of sugar.

Righting herself, she sets a bag in my lap from the bakery around the corner from my place. I look at her sideways and she blushes. The fact that she saw me here, drove back to the bakery and my apartment then came back down for me does not escape my attention and she knows it.

"Thank you," I manage around a mouth full of the beignet.

She leans her head against my shoulder and rubs my thigh. We sit in silence, enjoying the quiet. Our ability to just be is at the top of my list with her. She doesn't press, doesn't demand anything more than what I'm willing to give. I hope I do for her what she does for me.

"I should let you get moving," she whispers and goes to stand.

I sigh, but silently agree. It's going to be another bitch of a day and without Nora, yesterday seemed unnaturally long.

She leans down and kisses my forehead, my nose and then my powder sugar dusted lips. "If you can, swing by when you're on your lunch. I'll make a point to take mine then."

I nod and watch her leave.

Crumbling up the empty bag, I finish off the rest of my coffee, grab the duffel bag my lover brought and head to the showers. I don't linger when I hit the basement, making short work of my shower and getting ready. A last look in one of the locker room mirrors lets me know that my hair will do well to remain in the ponytail I have it in and thankfully, a little lip-gloss brings some color to my face.

When I hit S.C.U's floor, the morning shift has started, but my temporary pain in the derrière is nowhere to be seen. I think God may be smiling down on me this morning. I head to my desk, offering nods of good mornings to my coworkers and snatch June Lee's keys from my top drawer. Glancing over at Nora's empty desk, my decent mood flattens a little. She'd be great to have on this case with me.

Oh, well, I can make it through one measly little double homicide with an eight year old witness alone. I may not like it, but it can be done. I head for the doorway and take the steps to the parking lot. As I hit the landing to the ground floor, I see Toussaint saunter in smiling at me.

Great. Just what I need.

He tries for a charming smile that he doesn't seem to realize falls flat. I shoulder past him as he tries to catch up. "Where we off to this morning?" he asks matching me step for step.

"I was going to see the coroner and check on the progress of our victims," I offer. "Why don't you go back on inside and put together your notes from the scene?"

"Nah, I got that covered. I can come with you." He stuffs his hands in his pants pockets and I roll my eyes. "You sign out a car?"


We're standing in front of June Lee and I cringe. No, I didn't, I want to say. I want to say I wasn't expecting you to tag along.

His eyes skirt over my shoulder and zero in on Nora's baby. His eyes light up and I resist the urge kick myself.

"Now this," he says, touching the hood of our car, "is a nice piece of machinery." He waggles his eyebrows at me and licks his lips. "I had one of these in high school and it was the best for taking girls out in."

My stomach pitches and somehow I manage to find the fake socialite I buried years ago to help ease the situation. "Michael, why don't we get that car signed out. Maybe stop for a quick cup of coffee."

He shrugs and his hands drop from June Lee's hood. I spin away and hear him follow me down to the garage and to the service window to grab a car. I'll have to get June detailed when I'm off next. The oil from that thing in a suit is probably eating through my baby's baby's paint job.

As the car's brought up from the depths of the garage, he tries to slip into the driver's seat, but I dangle the keys from my hand and shake my head. I walk up to the door he so kindly opened for me and pat him on the behind, effectively pushing him out of the way. I slide in to the driver's side and drawl, "Why thank you kindly, darlin'. Now if you would be a dear and get in so we can start our day."

I slam the door closed as he jumps out of the way. Smiling as I watch him scurry, I think maybe I can have a little fun with him. My inner debutante has been stuffed away a bit too long it seems.

I clip the I.D. badge to my shirt and follow a hurried Ann down a set of non-descript hallways towards a back room. She pushes the door open and ushers me to the inside of a small conference room with a forty-inch monitor hung on the back wall. A camera is on top of the screen to look out over the room. The view on the screen splits down the middle, on the right John's face stares passively back at us as he sits behind a desk. The left side the screen displays a group of four people. I'm not sure who they are, but I know I'm about to find out.

Ann takes a jack that's hanging from the conference phone unit and plugs it into her phone. Sound comes through and I hear the conversation the four people on the left are having. Now having heard them, I can easily identify them as the team Ann has in San Francisco.

"John, Luce, Rory, Gene and Travis, Nora and I are live," she doesn't pause as another screen lights up to my right and her laptop screen is projected against the wall opposite the T.V.

She motions for me to sit across from her as John starts, "Morning, everyone."

The six of us get the pleasantries out of the way and then Lucy picks up, "Status update on file 13-96 is as follows…"

For some reason the voice doesn't match the woman. Her voice is nearly bubbly, light and high, something you would expect from a kindergarten teacher. But her looks, with deep red hair, dark blue eyes and a healthy tan, I'd more expect to see her on the news. High cheekbones, patrician nose and rounded jaw line. It's the clothes that give away her no-nonsense attitude. A green t-shirt, brown blazer and my guess, is dark blue jeans. Maybe if she stands I'll find out if I'm right.

"…the details Ann and Nora provided before we came out here were helpful. Within the last twenty-four hours, we've had several promising hits off of N.C.I.C. and ViCap. All four of us are in the process of tying those up or hoping one of them pans out."

"What's the age of the hits?" John asks.

"The first hit came from Seattle, happened six years ago. The pattern isn't the exact same, but there's enough to make us look a little harder at it. The second is local. An unsolved homicide from five years ago. The other one, that we're not looking at as closely, is from Dallas and it's the oldest. Fifteen year old unsolved and the only reason that pinged was the wound, very similar, but that's about it."

John looks down at some papers in his hands and sighs. "Alright, email us the I.D. numbers on the cases that you pinged. Ann, I hate to ask this of you, neck deep down there, but when you can a spare moment, take a look at the cases. Nora if you'd like to assist, I would be appreciative."

"Sure," I say.

"Alright. We can review tonight or early tomorrow." Ann looks up from her computer screen and asks, "Will you be back in town soon?"

"Right now it's hard to say. I'm trying to talk them out of making some bad choices. I'm laying money on the fact I'm gonna fail, but I need to try. I'll be flying out of the country in a few hours and won't be back till late tomorrow," John says, running a hand through his hair.

Ann eyes his image as her brow furrows. "Are we going to have problems?"

His lips purse at the question before answering, "Honestly, Ann, and this goes for you, Lucy and Travis, we're going to. I have a feeling when I leave here I won't have endeared myself to anyone and it may get touchy."

"Yeah, but John, even with the new administration…" Lucy tries to say.

"The new administration," John interrupts, "won't interfere with anything we do at the Bureau."

Lucy's and I'm assuming Travis' eyebrows rise. Ann growls.

"Alright, let me know when you get back and if you can get a hold of me before you leave today," Ann's even tone tells me everything I need to know. She stares at her boss through the lens of the camera and I see him redden under the gaze.

"Ann…" he trails off in warning.

She shakes her head and spits, "Don't "Ann" me. If we're going to…" she stops and looks to the left of the screen and then her eyes skirt to me. She must think better of it as she changes topic, "Call me before you leave and as to our current situation here, we're tracking down some more information."

Ann looks at me saying, "Nora's been a big help here. Do you want to fill them in on what we've been working on?"

Shrugging and making a note to kick her in the ass when we get done here for being put on the spot, I fill them in, "Right now, we're looking a little more closely at the bad busts. What Ann and I were talking about last night is trying to find the dots that will connect the lines."

"As in?" Travis I think, says, "Oh, and hi Nora. I'm Travis Bustamante."

"Hi, Travis. Nice to meet you," I say smiling at him. "And the other dots…" I look to Ann and she tips her chin. "Okay, after looking at everything that the team's compiled, there's low level involvement from the A.T.F. weeks sometimes months before, but inevitably they pull out of the investigation right before any warrants are issued."

John's right eyebrow rises getting lost in the hair hanging over his forehead. The other four vacillate between a snort and a snicker at the reveal.

"We know who in the A.T.F.?" Lucy asks.

Ann and I shake our heads. "We're starting in on that. I'm waiting on some of the P.D.'s people that were involved. See if they can send me their files or copies of," Ann informs them.

"Well, then it seems that you two should tread softly. Keep Diea out of the loop on this line of investigation, Ann."

"Thanks, boss." She smiles curtly and then digs in, "I wasn't aware that calling the A.T.F. out on the carpet in an investigation they're already a part of was a bad idea."

I snicker and John smiles good-naturedly.

"Well," one of the other men grouped around Lucy sing songs, "There was that time in Salt Lake City. Wasn't it you that called the Marshall's there no talent hicks that wouldn't know how to work a crime scene if their life depended on it…"

"And then," Travis fills in, "proceeded to get shit faced with two of them and tell them all about their no talent ways?"

"You know, I had forgotten about that," Ann admits. "What were doing in Salt Lake City?"

"Hunting down Jackson Jefferies," John says.

"Right. Well, then, we'll not tip our hand to the other agency this time. Besides, I've got Nora and Nikki as drinking buddies. Not to mention Jill's here with me so…" Ann blushes, and I suppress the smirk.

"Poor Jill," Lucy says, "tell her we said hello and the offer still stands when she smartens up."

"Back off, Hanley. I know where you live," my friend warns affably. "Alright so anything else? Nora and I have work to do, unlike the rest of you."

Everyone busts up laughing and Travis is the one to not so discretely flip Ann off. When no one mentions anything else, Ann closes the call, "Alright, I will be in touch with you all later. John, we'll speak tonight."

Her boss nods his head and both sides of the screen go blank.

"So we start looking at A.T.F. agents?" I ask.

"Seems to be the case." She disconnects her phone from the conference unit and begins packing her things up. "We'll meet up with the task force in an hour and have the ones that we know start to discretely pull information."

The only thing I can think of is how much of a cluster this going to be as I follow Ann back out of the New Orleans field office of the F.B.I.

Taking a break from my interview notes and the monitor, I look around the unit floor. Very little has changed in the few days since Nora began work with the task force. Officers, in uniform and out, flitter about or remain hunched over files, folders and computer screens. It would do the department well to switch their records to digital copies, but I fear that we're a long way off.

Maybe I can pull the strings at the Auxiliary and allocate some of the charity funds to kick the process off. I'll have to talk to daddy or Norma to see if it's possible.

Looking around, the few detectives around are actually at their desk, except for one. My eyes flick to Nora's desk across from me. Toussaint has taken up residence at my partner's work space and it was only the silent threat from Dan that prevented me from upturning the chair he's sitting in.

Having him sit across from me, in my lover's space, ticks me off in new and interesting ways. I also know that my reaction to Toussaint while somewhat justified is a bit more…exacerbated by the raw absence of Nora. To say I miss her working this hellish case with me would be putting it mildly.

Her visit this morning in the Bunks was a welcome surprise. We didn't spend a lot of time together, but I'll take what I can get right now.

I let out a small grunt of frustration and go back through the few interviews I was able to get through this morning. All neighbors and all pretty much saying very similar things. Gum cracks across from me and I cringe. I look up and Toussaint's looking at me.

I raise an eyebrow at him and he says, "Ya know, what gets me about this?"

"This what?" I ask straightening up.

"Well, I mean we're sitting here looking for a killer, but what's to say this isn't a domestic situation gone wrong. You seen that place. Pig sty. The neighborhood. Those people'd shoot you and steal your fillings just as soon as look at ya." He pops his gum again and my eye twitches.

Honest to God, twitches.

I didn't think that was possible.

"So you're sayin' that because they live in a socioeconomically depressed neighborhood that it's not worth the effort to find the person or persons responsible?" I ask coolly.

"I'm saying that we're spinning our wheels lookin' for a killer that probably don't exist," he retorts, ignoring the tone of my voice.

I sit back and fold my arms across my chest. "Well, we could be looking for a killer because the murder weapon wasn't at the scene, we could be looking for a killer because there were defensive wounds on both bodies or did you miss that while you were chatting up the uniform in the tight top?"

"One, that uni's going out with yours truly tonight and two, defensive wounds aren't as conclusive as you make them out," he smirks. "Besides, which, doe eyes, your coroner friend said that they appeared to be defensive wounds not are defensive wounds. My take is the husband killed the wife then turned the knife on himself, probably all hopped up on drugs or some shit. They looked the type."

My blood runs cold as I quit seeing Toussaint sitting across from me but a detective from years ago that had almost said some very similar things. The fact that I hadn't thought about Detective Doucet in ages doesn't escape nor does the fact that that is probably one of the reasons Toussaint's rubbed me the wrong way from day one…well besides the dyke and "n" comment.

"And just what exactly would the type be, detective?" My jaw tightens and the pain it causes focuses me.

His brow crinkles briefly, looking like a frustrated five year old. "The type. The neighborhood. In case you missed it, where are our city's problems? Where do we catch the most criminals? In neighborhoods just like that with people too dumb or too fucked up to do anything about it."

He leans back in Nora's chair and snorts, "Shit, Nikki, where you been your entire career. We got problems with the niggers, the white trash, immigrants and faggots. All of 'em do nothin' but drag good people down. Those people that lived in that house, that had that kid, they ain't any different. They're animals and we're the zoo keepers."

Blood rushes through my ears. My face is hot and I know it's red. The sad thing is, is I don't even know where to start with his…his thinking.

I stand, gather my notes and a file Charlie gave me that contain the usable crime scene photos that I want to review. I stuff the keys to June Lee in my pocket and manage to say in the calmest voice I can manage, "I need to step away. I'll call you if I find anything."

I don't bother to listen to him holler at my retreating back. Instead I head straight for the parking lot and to June. Unlocking the door, I slip behind the wheel and set my files down. Her steering wheel is hot under my palms and I savor the feeling for a brief moment before starting her up to head towards the coroner's office.

Traffic's heavy for the early afternoon and I use the police placard on the visor to secure a spot in front of the building. I grab everything I need and head to Charlie's office. Hopefully he won't mind me crashing his party.

I rap lightly on his open door and his head pokes up from his furiously scribbling hand. "Nikki! What a surprise. Two times in one day." He starts to get up from his chair, but I wave him down.

"I know, but, you wouldn't mind if lil ole me came and sat for a spell would you?" I offer him a bright smile, something that takes effort today as I step into the office.

"Not at all. Come sit. What's on your mind?" he asks motioning to one of two chairs in front of his desk.

"The horse's ass that I'm stuck with on this case was a bit too much for my social graces. I thought I'd come down here so he couldn't find me." I ease into one of the chairs and cross my legs, resting the folders on my lap. "Would it be okay if I hide out for a little bit?"

His smile is warm and genuinely charming. It reminds of Nora in a way. They pull off that unassuming charm beautifully. Except with Nora, sometimes it takes her a while to get to that point.

"You come on and relax, or if you're working than that frees me up to go back to transcribing my notes from my latest autopsy." He turns his attention back to his own work and I open the file up on my lap.

The first photo is a shot of spatter. It's a clear shot of the television and the wall behind it. Markings in the photo give me height and individual markers give me the length of each spray of blood.

The next one shows the husband, posterior side with indicators at the points of entry. Nothing jumps out at me so I move to the next, this one the wife. Her shirt is sliced open on the shoulder. The garment ripped and tattered so that it hangs from the assaulted skin.

I'm about ready to flip to the next image when I see it. Barely visible amongst the other smudges of blood. A small hand print is on her shoulder. I turn to my notes and read over the description I had written down of Lance; there was no blood on him.

No one said anything about cleaning him up and there was no blood on his clothes.

"I'll be right back," I say standing and take the folders with me to hunt down our forensics analyst, Benton Faunce.

This doesn't feel right.

I hate hold music. It seems to be the only thing I can think of right now. I've been bounced from Quantico, Topeka, Des Moines and now finally, hopefully, my last stop of the day, St. Louis. I've been tryin' to track down Special Agent Dean Williams formally of the Pittsburgh field office.

So far, the only thing I've managed to learn is that Williams either can't seem to find a city that he likes or no one in the Bureau knows what to do with him so he's getting passed from office to office until they find a way to run him out of the organization.

At least that's my take. Why would someone do that to themselves? Admittedly, I've traveled little. To Virginia to visit Ann and Jill, for work when the need calls for it, but never have I really felt the need to leave New Orleans. I love my city. Between the people and the food why bother leaving. You just end up in another location with different people, that are probably dumber than the ones you just left and I can guarantee that the food's crappier. No wonder Ann fled down here. I would have too.

The music finally kicks off and a voice says, "Williams."

"Agent Dean Williams?" I ask, wanting clarification.

"You're talking to him. Who's this?" he asks.

"Detective Nora Delaney of the New Orleans Police. I've been trying to track you down most of this morning. Agent Williams, you are a hard man to get a hold of." I sit up in my chair and read over the list of questions I need to ask.

"Well," he laughs, "They like to move me around for some reason. What can I do for you Detective?"

"Recently, I've been assigned to a joint task force with the Bureau, A.T.F. and my department in regards to a trio of brothers, the Sungs, and illegal arms…"

"This have to do with the guns slated for destruction in Pittsburgh?" he interrupts.

"Yep," I answer and hear him groan. "What I'm trying to figure out is how the guns ended up in Boston and I need to know who else was involved?" I pause trying to decide on how much to divulge and who's in earshot of my conversation. Luckily, no one is as I glance around. Deciding to go with my gut, I explain, "There've also been some inconsistencies that have come up that…I'm hoping you could shed some light on."

He clucks into the phone and says, "Ya know that stint in Pittsburgh's caused me some grief. I've had other people ask, when the guns surfaced in Little Rock and Phoenix…but something tells me this is a little different. Are you at liberty to tell me what inconsistencies you've found?"

"I can say a little," I answer honestly. "The bit of digging I've done really doesn't tell me anything. It's the fact that it's not telling me anything that's the inconsistency." I lean back in my chair and pick up the notes I've jotted down. "In your report, the guns were confiscated on a run of the mill bust. You also stated that you catalogued and your partner at the time, Justin Grant, crated and carried through on the chain of evidence." I take a breath and just go for it, "Yours and Justin's are the only consistent reports there. The rest vary in the number of guns collected, timing and also the number of agents that was in on the raid."

"That's because the other agents with us weren't all Bureau. Three of them were and one was on loan to us from the A.T.F.," he says.

"That's not listed in any of the other reports." I sit up and flip over the papers that were emailed to Ann.

"Look, detective, I'm going to put this as nicely as possible and maybe you'll get the lesson. We went in six men strong. We came out six men strong. When the guns went missing and my boss reamed me and Justin for it, we started to dig." He pauses and I hear a chair squeak. "We dug because there were only six people that had access to the weapons before they went missing. When it came to that on-loan A.T.F. agent, the agency had no record of the guy existing. When it was brought up, Justin got shipped to Atlanta and I've been bounced around. Now tell me, what does that tell you?"

Damn it.

"And it's exactly why we're asking these questions," I clip.

He sighs and the image I have in my head is a frustrated agent sitting at a desk in a place he doesn't really want to be at just 'cause he was doing his job. "Give me an address."

I get ready to rattle off the precinct address, think better of it and give him my home instead. Talking to the guy, I'm not sure how safe it is.

"Alright, I'll FedEx the information I have. You'll have it tomorrow at the latest. Now, if you'll let me be, I have more paper cuts to get."

"Wait, speaking of Justin. I've been trying to find him. Is he still in Atlanta?" I rush out before he has a chance to hang up.

"Last I heard from him, he left the Bureau. Was tired of the politics. Tell him I said hello if you find him. And if you do, tell him the Pirates are still a God awful team."

I want to ask what the hell he's talking about but the line goes dead before that.

Sighing, I cradle the receiver and stand. I need to talk to Ann. With Megan working the undercover portion for this task force, Ann and I are stuck manning the teams, which means that with the limited resources, it's pretty much just Ann and me.

I stand and grab my notes, stuff them into the messenger bag and find Ann coming from the restroom.

"Go grab your things, I need you to come with me to run an errand," I say.

Her eyebrow goes up and her lips purse. Then she shrugs and does as I said. She follows me outside and to June Lee. I go to fish the keys from my pocket when I remember that Nikki has my car.


"You gave Nikki your precious El Camino." She stands next to me smiling.

It's a Smart Aleck smile and my only response is to stick my tongue out at her.

"We could sign one out?" she offers.

I scowl. Unmarked cars might as well have five-oh painted on the side. It's why I drive my car. Easier to blend in.

"And speaking of, what is up with that?" she demands poking my arm.

"Up with what?"

"You and giving June Lee over to Nikki like it's nothing. How come you never let me drive her?" Ann nearly pouts.

I say the first thing that pops into my head, "'Cause she's better in bed than you." Her mouth drops open and I grin.

Ha! Now if I could just learn to do that with Nikki.


Ch. 5 – Inopportune

Fleeing Charlie's office, I take off for the steps and go up a flight, hang a right at the landing and barge through the last door on my left. I haven't had a lot of time to get to know Benton Faunce, the man that's responsible for developing and helping to analyze the majority of the cases the forensics team processes, but the few run-ins we've had have been pleasant.

He's smart and good natured and a little… funny – funny in the weird way not funny in the ha-ha way. Like always, when Nora and I have had to come to him, he's working on the computer, cleaning up digital photographs or analyzing some other piece of information pulled from a scene.

He looks up and grins as I wrap on the open door making my presence known and grins. "Detective Beaumont, what a nice surprise."

I smile back and say, "Well, it's good to know that I'm liked, but Benton, I will admit to having ulterior motives." I take the dark mocha colored hand being offered in greeting and shake it gently.

"I suppose that's alright," he says, releasing my hand and offering me a stool to sit on. As I sit he asks, "Where is Detective Delaney?"

I can't stop the laugh that comes through and I shake my head. It seems that Nora attracts men of the African American persuasion. Between Dan and Benton then the few times we've been to watch Darius perform, a few of his friends have hit on her. But Benton has made his intentions quite clear. It's really quite funny. Maybe one day she'll tell him the reasons that she can't.

"Nora's working on another case, unfortunately, but I will tell her you send your regards." I grin at him and he ducks his head.

Men are really so easy.

"Now, on to my ulterior motives," I say and set the file on the lab table. "I was reviewing the photos from that double homicide, the Heidecker case."

"Did you find something?" he perks up now, a light coming into his eyes. "I haven't had time to go through the photos and do the analysis on the spatter patterns. I've been swamped with a case in trial and the district attorney is being a son of a bear about it. It was next on my stack though."

"Well, I don't really know which is why I'm here." I pull the photograph from the stack and hand it to him. Pointing out the handprint, I ask, "Can you zoom in on this and confirm what I think it is?"

"Depends on what you think it is?"

"A hand print. A child's." My face sours with the need to understand.

"We can blow it up. What's the case number?" he asks rolling over to a different keyboard and monitor.

"Thirteen dash seven-sixty-four."

He nods and types in the numbers. A file with thumbnail photographs pops up and he looks at the photo I handed him. Selecting the corresponding file, he opens it and the image is blown up on the screen. I stand and look over his shoulder as he zooms in on the image.

He hems and haws a second before saying, "I would confirm with Charlie, but that looks like a handprint to me. Do you have the rest of the photos?"

"I do," I answer.

"Can I see them a minute?" he asks, spinning around and going to a board that holds another set of photos and begins taking them down.

I hand him my file and he begins putting up the photos. I watch as the crime scene is recreated before us.

"Here's what gets me," he says and I'm not sure if he's talking more to himself or to me, but I offer an encouraging sound before he continues, "All of those stupid C.S.I. shows or NCIS or whatever they've got on TV now are just pretty damn funny. What government agency, barring one or two units at the F.B.I., has the money to spend on equipment like that? Besides which half of it is bunk science anyhow, then to top it off, you get lab geeks, and yes I know I'm a lab geek out there with guns running people down…I mean really, what world are they living in?"

His hands go to his hips and he shakes his head looking over the collage. "You know what would happen if you gave our forensics unit guns? They'd shoot their toes off."

I snort and chuckle at his accurate interpretation of what exactly would happen. Honestly, that always gets me too. There's a reason why the department is broken up into Units.

"Hmmm," he hums and goes to squint at a few photos. Turning away from the board he goes to his computer, pulls up the digital copies of the photos, selects a few and drops them into a new window.

Admittedly, some computer stuff is lost on me. This is one of them.

"Alright, this is going to take me some time," he says.


"I want to do a three-d model of the scene. I would do it anyhow so are you going to be around later today?" He finally turns to look at me and I see the cogs in his head turning.

"I'll be around all day today. I know you hate to say anything not confirmed, but Benton, you think you could tell me what you see?"

He sighs and runs a hand over the top of his head. "Alright," he finally says standing and going back to the photos. Pointing at two he indicates the spatter against the walls. "If you look here and here. The spatter patterns indicate that the attack responsible for this set of blood drops was fast, mean. These here," he indicates a large section of the wall where blood sprays cover over a third of it, "are what we call medium velocity spatter, this tells me that the blood was traveling at a velocity of a between five to twenty-five feet per second."

He then moves to the other photographs and points to another area of spatter. "These patterns here are not medium velocity. These are low velocity sprays which travel at a freefall rate to a max of five feet per second."

"And you can tell this how?" I ask.

"Medium velocity spatter has a diameter of less than three millimeters per drop, but usually no less than one. You also have to be able to identify the difference between the originating spatter, splatter and cast off. Low velocity spatter has a diameter of three millimeters per drop or greater," he answers.

Still not seeing the big deal, "And…?" I ask.

He gives a short laugh and shakes his head. "And…what this tells me is that whoever the killer is took their time after they gave the first few strikes. Looking at the bodies, I think it's safe to assume the weapon used was a knife. So if you look at the woman, she was stabbed in the neck, hitting the jugular vein. Now, I need to confirm with Charlie but just from a cursory glance and the trajectory of the spatter patterns, my bet is that the killer hit the neck first. That would have been enough to issue a killing blow.

Now, here's the thing. That first strike, if I'm right, is where the medium velocity spatter comes from. The other," he points to another photo and the spatter, "came with the other strikes, but it also came at a lower velocity. Meaning, less force was used to deliver the other wounds, less rage."

I chew on my lower lip, putting together what he said, trying to recreate the scene in my mind. "So, the first blow was vicious. The rest were, what, slower…" my mouth falls open a little as his implications sink in, "The rest of the blows were deliberate and playful."

"Exactly," he says grinning at me. Becoming a little more excited at my insight he continues, "Also, given the elongation of the patterns and the tails of the spatter, the blood that trails behind the main drop, the lines here" he says pointing to the tails on a few drops, "I can tell you with sufficient accuracy the convergence point…"

"Refresh my memory again, darlin'. As you know Nora's the one that gets this a bit better than me."

"Right, the convergence point just gives me the location of the origination of the spatter. So where the victim was standing which will also give me the height of the attacker." He rocks back on his heels and stuffs his hands in his pockets raising his eyebrows at me.

"Okay I'll bite, how tall do you think the attacker was?" I inquire, feeling the knot in my tummy clench a little more.

"Four and a half to five feet tall. Charlie's autopsy will actually provide the definitive answer given the angle of the stab wounds but your victims were either attacked by a little person or the killer was kneeling."

I drum my fingers along the glass of the display case waiting for the sales lady to bring my order from the back. I look over at Ann eyeing up one of the cases, a ring case and smirk. I would like to get out of here and grab some lunch. I would have liked to do that with Nikki, but when I called her she was out with her temporary partner chasing down a lead.

"Ms. Delaney," Mary, the lady that's helped me over the past three weeks, comes from the back holding a small shopping bag. "Here you are."

I smile and take the bag from her, saying, "Thank you."

"Was there anything else that I can do for you?" Mary smiles at me and my mouth twitches into a smile. She's got the look on her that says she wants a bigger commission.

She's been pleasant enough so I turn to ask Ann, "Do you see anything you like?"

Ann looks at me and shrugs. "Meh, Jill's birthday's already past but Christmas is coming up."

I go over and look at the rings she was browsing. All of them platinum with very few diamonds.

"She hates gold and she's not big on diamonds, but she likes other gem stones. They have a sapphire ring that I think she'd like." Ann chews her lip nervously.

"Which one?" I inquire. She points to a delicate ring that looks like vines with small flowers on it. The centers of the flowers are where the sapphires set. It's pretty and very much Jill. "You should get it."

Her eyebrow arcs at the firmness in my tone. "Just like that?"

I nod. "Yep. She'll love it. Go with your gut, Flemming." I wink at her and she grins. "Mary, my friend here would like to look at this ring."

She scurries over and helps Ann with her purchase. We both of walk out of Le Cœur, slightly lighter in the pocket than when we went in, but personally, it was very much worth it.

Ann seems pleased with the overall purchase. Now the question is will she be able to wait until Christmas to give the present to her wife or will she cave, like she usually does and only wait a few days.

We slide into the grey Police Interceptor that I've signed out for the day when my phone rings. I don't bother reading the display before I answer, "Delaney."

"Nora, dear," my mother's voice sounds in my ear.


"Hi mom," I chirp at her. It's not like I dislike my mother. I actually lover her. She's an amazing woman, but she also has the ability to get on every single nerve I have and push my buttons in a way that is unrivaled, even by Nikki.

"How are you, honey?" she asks.

"Good. Busy actually, big case. What can I do for you?" I ask wanting to keep the conversation as short as possible.

"Oh well, shoot. I was hopin' I could talk you into family supper this Sunday," she says, sounding slightly disappointed.

"That wouldn't be bad, but I don't know when this will be wrapped up. I've got federal agents here with me on the case; actually, do you remember Ann?"

"The brunette girl you went through the academy with?" Leave it to my mom for that to be the only thing she remembers. I didn't bring Ann around much, but often enough that my mother should remember her a bit better.

"That's the one. She's working on the case with me so I just don't think it will be possible for me to get away." I sigh and Ann gives me a look.

"Well, then, I guess we could do it another time. Although if you want, why don't you bring her along. It's been ages since I saw her," my mother pushes.

"Ma, I just don't know if that's a good idea." Trying to dissuade her is near impossible, but one can hope.

"Nonsense. You should bring her," she states.

"Seriously, I don't think we'll have the time," I put enough force behind my words that I know she'll back off.

"Well then, why don't you come the following Sunday. Bring Dan." …Or maybe not.


"Mom," I warn, "Dan was my partner and now he's my boss. Dan and I were not, are not and will not ever be anything more than colleagues."

"Hi, Mrs. Delaney!" Ann shouts next to me.

"OH! Is that Ann, Nora put her on please," my mom coos.

Well fuck.

I pass the phone off as Ann and my mother start talking. I tune out the conversation and begin thumping my head on the steering wheel. Like I need this.

I stop beating myself up when I hear Ann say, "Yeah, sure. We can probably swing by tomorrow. Would that be okay?"

My eyes grow large and I waive my hands in the universal "no" gesture, but Ann ignores me and blathers on, "Great, well I look forward to seeing you again too. Bye Mrs. Delaney."

I groan as Ann closes my phone and hands it back to me.

"You couldn't a just told her no?" I whine.

She makes a face at me and scowls. "Ya know Nor, I'm usually pretty quiet when it comes to you and your family. I get it, we all got baggage, but do me a favor and take it from someone who knows what it's like to not have a mom around and can spot a good one, cut her some slack. Maybe if you loosen up and let her in, you'll see that she does love you. That maybe just maybe you could let her in as much as she deserves."

I huff, turn the motor over and head back to the station.

"So, Williams said he'd send his file over?" she asks trying to change the topic.

"Yeah," I say letting her. "I don't know how well this is going to end Ann."

I see her shrug out of the corner of my eye. "It could end a bunch of different ways. I know we're going neck deep into something."

"And it's dangerous," I interrupt.

"Yeah it is. But if there is a dirty agent somewhere in the mix, we need to find them and neutralize."

"We could actually see this thing through to the drop date," I venture.

"Yeah, and then what? My guess is the bust goes south. Unless we finger the dirty agent."

"If there is a dirty agent," I say, playing Devil's Advocate.

"What else could it be?" she presses.

I shrug and turn into an open space in front of the station. "Dunno, someone impersonating an officer. From what Williams said, the A.T.F. had no records of the guy that he was working with."

She turns to me and rests her back against the passenger side door as we idle. "Well then it could be that Williams is making it all up and it was him or his partner, Maddow."

I shake my head. "While it isn't impossible. I don't think so. The guy was solid."

"You know all of this by a phone call?" she asks.

"I know people. I don't need to see a face to know if someone's blowing smoke or not. This guy, he was…as honest as I think he could be. I think maybe they jerked him around more than what he let on, but…"

"So then that leaves us with someone impersonating a federal officer or a dirty federal officer." Her nose scrunches in disgust at either possibility. "So that leaves us where?"

"Well, if we don't die during the drop, we'll need a strong case to take to any prosecutor. If not actual death, career suicide's always an option," my tone at best glib.

"Uh-huh," she moans getting out of the car. I follow her and she looks at me over the hood of the car and exclaims, "We are soooo fucked!"

Silently, I agree.

Armstrong Elementary comes into view and I pull in front by the office. After spending the second half of my day interviewing a few more neighbors and re-interviewing another two I'm exhausted, but there really isn't much that can be done about it. My only saving grace this afternoon has been a rather subdued Toussaint.

Perhaps my hasty departure took the wind from his sails.

At least one can hope as it seems to spring eternal and all that other nonsense.

I've only filled him in on the barest of details Benton and Charlie shared. I'm not sure it would do much good. Considering his views, I doubt he'd care much anyhow.

It's frustrating sometimes, being a cop. More than I ever really thought possible. There are days when you feel like you can save the world. Especially when Nora and I clear a particularly hard case and the family is thankful. It does so much. It helps them heal. It helps us know that we're doing something to make a difference and until recently, I never considered the impact it would have on their confidence of the police. I know it helps there too.

But cops like Toussaint, Doucet and others that are actually few and far between, but still manage to do more damage than they know. It takes one bad experience with a cop for people to think that we're all like that.

Sighing, I shake my head and exit the car, following Toussaint up to the offices.

We step inside and a young girl, maybe twenty, smiles at us and says, "Can I help you?"

"Hi," Toussaint smiles back, laying on the charm. His idea of charm reminds me of a girl I met while travelling. Slick, slimy, smarmy and the sad part is that it actually worked on quite a few people. "I'm Detective Michael Toussaint and this is Detective Nikki Beaumont. We need to speak with the teacher of Lance Heidecker."

Her smile falters as she fusses, "That poor little guy. We heard what happened around here. The grandmother called. I guess she has him now." I watch as she types a few things in the computer that sits to our right.

"We wouldn't know where the child was placed. We're actually just following up. Child Services handles all of that," Toussaint answers.

The young woman takes a Post-It and scribbles something down "Well, Lance's teacher is Ms. Katy Sillman. She's on the first floor here. Second grade, room one-oh-nine." She passes the note to Toussaint and smiles at us.

I resist the roll of my eyes and follow him out of the office door and down the hallway.

He whistles loudly and flicks the note in his hand. "Name and phone number, how about that, Beaumont."

Oh, eww. Just eww. I understand that my perspective is, shall we say skewed, but honestly, why are straight women so dumb? Not saying I haven't met my share of lesbians who put up with too much crap from their partner, but I can honestly say, on average, heterosexual women are far more likely to put up with unnecessary crap from men just because they think that it's okay for the man to do whatever. Whatever the what maybe.

I will stand firmly behind what Erica used to say, "No piece of ass is usually worth that much trouble."

I get that sometimes it's more than just a "piece of ass" and emotions tend to muddy the waters, but on the whole, it's a valid statement.

We stop in front of room one-oh-nine and Toussaint raps lightly. A soft, "Come in," is heard so we enter. The class isn't' huge. Could probably sit about thirty kids, but Ms. Sillman has the place decorated nicely. Colorful. Lots of arts and crafts mixed in with the basics of mathematics.

"Yes?" a woman maybe twenty-five years old stands from behind her desk and looks us over.

I size her up myself, five-foot-seven, Nora's height, shoulder length light brown hair and green eyes that reflect mostly kindness and a hint of suspicion stare back at me. Round curves beneath tan slacks and a blue blouse tell me that she's not in fantastic shape, but she carries the air of someone comfortable with herself and body. She's pretty.

"Hi, Ms. Sillman. I'm Detective Toussaint and this is Detective Beaumont. We're here to talk about Lance Heidecker."

"Oh, my," she sits back down and indicates two seats to her right to bring in front of her desk. "Of course. What can I do for you?"

After situating ourselves, Toussaint takes point and I observe. "Well, we were just wanting to get a better understanding of his home life."

"Ah, I see," she clucks, leans down and pulls a file from her drawer. "I'm not really sure how much of this to share. I mean the most I have is speculation."

"Well, Lance is your student. Next to his mom and dad you had the most interaction with him," Toussaint pacifies.

"It's just…I mean I only suspected and there was never really enough to go to Children Services about," she bemoans. "I mean when do you raise the red flag and what if you're wrong?"

We both nod encouragingly and she carries on. "Lance is a quiet kid, ya know. Shy. No friends to speak of. Most of the children usually find someone to bond with. Find a playmate, but not Lance. That alone was enough to pique my curiosity."

She opens up the file and removes some drawings. "Then about four months ago, right before summer break and we started second grade, because I've had him since he was in first, I'd notice little things, red marks, a few bruises. Nothin' one could really do much about. Especially if I asked what happened. It was always 'I fell, Ms. Sillman or some other cop out."

She sighs and shakes her head. "When we came back from summer break and we started back to our arts and crafts hour Tuesdays and Thursdays, I really became concerned. I even let the principal know, but I was never told if he followed up on anything."

She hands over two drawings. One to Toussaint and one to me. I look over the offered image and internally cringe. It's nothing bloody or even what I would call disturbing. What it speaks of is child not too happy.

"See," she explains, "developmentally, most eight or nine year olds will draw their family, pets, maybe cartoon characters or things that interest them, that cause them joy. Lance didn't. At least he hasn't. No real color except the red's and blues you see there. All the rest in black and grey."

The picture I'm holding is of the woods, black trunks and black leaves. The only speck of color is a red circle on one of the trunks. The red wax clings to the construction paper, thick and dark.

I hand over the drawing and Toussaint asked, "Was there anything else? Besides the marks and the drawings?"

Her lips turn down in a frown and she shakes her head. "Those are enough. At least for me. Now with his parents being gone…I'm just besides myself. I don't think he had a happy home, but no one deserves to lose their parents at such a young age."

"Indeed, indeed," Toussaint agrees.


I glance down at my watch as I step into S.C.U.'s bull pen. Miraculously, the place is quiet. A few detectives milling about, but it seems subdued. I figure at least we can thank God for small favors.

The one person I want to see though isn't at her desk. I frown and spot Georgia coming from the copy room. "Georgia!" I holler for her.

Her head snaps up from the paper in her hand and she grins. I cross the room quickly and ask, "You ain't by chance seen my partner around here have you?"

She smiles and says, "Actually, I think she and Toussaint are in Interview Two making a mess of the space with their case."

"Thanks," is all I offer as I turn heel and head in the direction of the interview rooms.

It's ten past seven; I'm tired and more than cranky. Pausing at the door I overhear Toussaint talking. Nikki said that she didn't like him, that was all she said and that she'd be happy when we went back to the status quo. I agreed. Working with Ann's actually pretty fun. We mesh that way, but… I work best with Nikki. Ann and I are a lot alike, especially about a case.

In short, there's not enough balance.

With Nikki, the best thing is that we do approach things differently. She gives me the balance I need to make me a better cop. I may not ever admit it to her. At least not right now 'cause she'd never let me hear the end of it, but maybe someday soon.

Now Toussaint, for Nikki to say that she doesn't like him…that tells me quite a bit. Enough to know that the guy's a jerk. Even if I wasn't overhearing him hit on my partner, my lover that way. I'd still know.

Annoyed that I let his pestering carry on this long, I don't bother knocking as I open the door and poke my head inside. "Hey," I say smiling at my girl.

"Hey back, there partner," she purrs at me, smiling.

I flick my eyes to Toussaint. His face darkens briefly before he breaks into a smile. Hmm, that doesn't really match with what I heard. I look him in the eyes and it takes me a second, but I see everything I need to.

The guy's an ass.

"You about ready?" I ask.

She leans back and stretches her arms over her head, lacing her fingers together. "Yes actually. I would like to sleep in a normal bed," she answers.

"Well, don't forget," I say smirking, "We got that double date."

"Oh really?" Toussaint butts in. "Is that why you won't go out with me? Seeing someone already?"

I see Nikki's jaw twitch, the anger flashing in her eyes. I wonder if this moron knows how close he's coming to bear the full brunt of a pissed Beaumont.

It would serve him right.

"No, Toussaint," Nikki says, gathering her things. "I won't go out with you because I like to date those who have a higher I.Q. than a lobster."

With that, she slings her bag over her shoulder and saunters out the door. I linger for a moment and eye him. "Look, I'm gonna tell you this only once. Lay off my partner. When I get done with this task force, I'll be partnered with her again. I don't need you pissing her off."

He sucks his teeth and shrugs. "What are you gonna do about it?"

"I'll have your ass reassigned to meter maid." I smile and add, "After, I tell our L.T. I caught you down in the quarter feeling up a sixteen year old."

I don't bother listening for a response. Truth is I don't care what he has to say. I'll make good on my threat. Even if Nikki takes away his manhood in a fit. I'll finish the job.

I hit the stairwell and see her waiting on me. A smirk gracing her beautiful face. "What took you so long?"

Shaking my head, I shrug. "Just friendly chit chat between colleagues."

"Uh-huh," she hums.

We stride down the stairs, to the front parking lot and over to my baby when Nikki tosses me the keys to June Lee. I gratefully slip behind the wheel, sigh when she turns over and I rev her engine.

I make short work of the drive to my partners and before we even get inside Nikki's apartment she's pinned me against its door. Lips covering mine as one hand curls in my hair and the other opens the door. I can only accept the sudden assault and moan disapprovingly as she pulls back and pecks me on the nose.

"Missed you today," she says, shutting the door.

"Ditto," I mirror her sentiment and pull her towards the bedroom. I unclip my gun and badge and lay it on my night stand as she does the same with hers. "I sent Ann home with an unmarked. I think the plan was dinner and maybe a nightcap. Not sure, though. You wanna call?"

I kick my shoes off and hop on the bed to lean against the headboard. I watch her undress, enjoying the unintentional strip tease.

As she glances over her shoulder and unhooks her bra, I'm not as certain as I was a moment ago about the unintentional part of her getting undressed. I smirk at her and call her on it, "Tease."

"Hmm, yup," she says, turning to me completely nude. I watch the sway of her hips and breasts as she saunters over to me, crawls up the bed and lays on top of me. Feeling slightly over dressed and cheated I reach for my cell.

"Let me call Jill and Ann and see what time they want to eat." She nods curling into me a little more.

I dial my home and get Jill on the second ring, "Heya there lady."

"Nora, I have bad news," she says.

"What's wrong?" I await a response while running my hands over the back of Nikki's right shoulder.

"It's Ann. I don't think we're going to be able to make it tonight," Jill's sighs sounding only slightly miffed.

"She was fine when she left the station house," I say and switch the phone to my other ear to rub Nikki's other shoulder.

"Yeah she was fine when she got home too, but then, well she sorta did this mattress face plant thing and I haven't been able to get her to stir."

I laugh and shake my head. Well that figures. "Ya know, it's alright. I think an early night would do us all some good."

"True, I'm just afraid that you're going to have an Ann shaped imprint in your bed when we leave," she pouts.

"Well maybe we can have her do the other side and make a blow up doll for you," I joke with her.

She snickers and says, "Hmm, that's really not a bad idea. Then I could take her everywhere."

Oh, dear Lord. Why did I go there?

"Uh-huh. Alright well on that note, I'll see you in the morning. Good night, hon," I say.

"G'night Nora." Jill disconnects and I set the phone on the stand.

I look down at Nikki and shake my head. Well there went my plans. I watch her sleep a moment longer and then maneuver her under the covers. Standing, I quickly strip and climb back into bed to spoon her from behind. She pushes against me and mumbles "G'night, Nora. Love you."

I kiss her temple and drift off into a sorely needed decent night's sleep.

Part 6

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