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. 6 – Inconceivable

I recognize the rumble of the air conditioning unit as it kicks on. That's what wakes me. What keeps me awake is Nora. Her touch draws random patterns over my tummy and between the valley of my breasts. She's wearing this contemplative look that has me curious.

So I just watch her, trying to discern what she's thinking. What troubles her when she looks like that? I would usually assume that her thoughts aren't as bothersome as they could be, but I know that look. I know something's bothering her.

She's also so lost in thought that she doesn't know I'm awake, that I'm watching her stare absently at my belly.

Sunlight peeks through the parted blinds and falls across her shoulder, casting a golden hue to her lovely skin. The touch pauses so I close my eyes and go back to enjoying the feel of her with me.

I'm still worried about this case she's working with Ann. Neither has offered up much in terms of details. The little bit of time Nora and I have had together and I've asked, she just gets vague and evasive, deflecting the conversation to something else.

Something is off with my girl, but I can't place my finger on it. It has me in knots.

"I know you're awake," she says, placing her head on my tummy, her warm breath a welcome sensation on the underside of my breasts.

"Hmmm, and even if I am, you need not spoil my wool gathering, love," I retort and crack an eye open to look down at her. Her frown from earlier has been replaced by a warm smile and half lidded eyes.

As I open both eyes to look down on her, my heart tightens. She's so beautiful. And the simple fact that I've let myself open up to her so much so that she could run my world asunder is not lost on me.

If she doesn't want to move forward with me…if she says no to moving in together it will be the first nail in our coffin. I understand her not telling her family just yet. I, myself, haven't told my father that we're together. He knows we're partners at work and that's it. I understand the need to not tell anyone at work – even those we trust. We need to tread lightly there. I don't want to give up working with her, nor do we need the backlash for being out in a very male dominated world.

It's just that before we move forward, before I take her home and let my daddy know that I love her and that yes, it's dangerous, but I'm willing to risk my career for her, I need some type of commitment from her.

I said I don't want to, did not say I wouldn't. My bottom line is such that if we were forced to choose my job or Nora, I'd choose her. I just don't know if she'd choose me…

I need to know she's in as deep as I am. 'Cause if she'll have me, I want this to be a permanent thing. Sighing, I run a hand through her hair and scratch my nails lightly across her scalp. The action garners from her a low moan and a kiss to the underside of my breast.

"You want coffee?" she asks, sitting up.

"Depends on if I have to get up for it or not," I reply grinning.

She leans down and kisses my forehead before hopping off the bed. I lift my head up and watch her slip on her robe, a small pout forming on my lips as her body is covered. She tosses over her shoulder, "I'll be right back," then leaves me alone in the room.

I slump back against the bed and stare up at the ceiling. That woman will be the death of me. She is going to rip my heart out. I'm as sure of that as I am of the fact that I'm breathing.

I loved Erica. I still do in a lot of ways. Her being taken from me…that was miserable. Not something that will ever completely heal, but I've come to live with that fact.

Accepted and moved on.

Nora is another story all together. She causes such intense emotions that they are sometimes unbearable. Yet, she'll be worth it all if she feels for me half of what I do for her.

I've never thought about the future. With Erica it was always the here and now with neither of us looking further down the road than the following week. Nora's presence in my life has me considering it all. Not kids, unless she wants them, but my life, how I want and where I want it to be. All of it has her in it and the idea of her not there causes a mild panic attack.

"Hey you," she says from the doorway holding a breakfast tray in her arms, "Brooding in the morning is never a good sign. Brooding today, especially, is unacceptable."

I blink and feel wetness on my cheeks. Silently cursing myself I swipe at my cheeks and sit up, slapping the most genuine smile I can muster on my face. "And why is today so special?" I ask.

She smirks and sets the tray on the bed. It holds two cups of coffee and a jewelry box from Le Cœur. I watch as she picks up the box and comes around to my side of the bed. She kneels and crooks a finger at me, beckoning me closer.

I submit letting her kiss the corner of my mouth. I pull back to see her eyes sparkle in the morning light and she lifts the box between us. I lean back and raise an eyebrow. The lid comes open revealing two medallions.

I lean in and run a finger over the shiny metal.

"They're of St. Christopher," she explains, "you know Catholics love their saints and he's a protector or the patron saint of protection and for travelers."

"And to what do I this surprise?" I ask, running my hand through her hair.

She smiles at me, pressing into my hand and purrs, "Happy anniversary."

I'm a little stunned. Not to mention I feel like a bit of a heel for forgetting our first anniversary.

She smirks at me as I blush, saying, "When you didn't remember the anniversary of our partnership, I knew better than to expect you to remember today."

She turns the box around and pulls out the bracelet first. "This is yours. I…" she falters and ducks her head. Between the strands of hair that have fallen out and forward from her ponytail I see the blush in her cheeks.

I hook a finger under her chin and pull her head up. "Don't hide from me baby," I plead.

She swallows but nods. "I wasn't expecting you Nikki and my life is…complicated. I can't be out. I know that bugs you sometimes, but…I…well, since I wanted you to have a piece of me with you, something that you can rely on even when I'm not around, I thought you'd take this."

I allow her to put the bracelet around my wrist and close the clasp. I look at it and can't help the grin. "And the necklace, Nora?"

"For me, for us. A connection, something special between the two of us," she says shyly.

I cock my head to the side and pull the medallion that's hung around her neck since I've known her. But my lover shrugs it off. "I think of it this way, this," she says pinching the medal of St. Francis of Assisi between her thumb and forefinger, "is part of what made me. A relic and tradition passed on from my family."

She drops the necklace and raises the one in the box. "This is for me. For you and us. Something to start anew and one day something that we can pass down."

My mouth drops open a little and she back peddles in the cutest way, "I'm not, that is if," she huffs, "if when, whatever." She gives up and I cover the laugh with the back of my hand.

She does have the cutest way about her some times.

I lean in and kiss her, a simple kiss, something to get her to understand that I do understand. We break apart and I take the necklace she wears, pull it of and lay it on the nightstand. Gently, I remove the new one and reach around her neck to close the clasp.

The chain is just long enough to allow the medallion to rest at the top of the cleft of her breast. I lean down and kiss it along with a patch of skin to the right. My lips travel up to the side of her neck to the corner of her mouth before our foreheads rest together.

"I get it," I whisper. "I love it. Love them."

She breathes out and nods. "Good. Nikki I know you want…us and living together is something that I want to do. I just need a bit more time."

I sigh myself and curse her uncanny ability to read my mind. "But you'll give me an answer on the sooner side of the timeline?"

She nods. It's all I can ask for. "Don't doubt me. Give me a little longer and just know I love you. More than I should probably, but it can't be helped."

Again she seals this pledge with a kiss so heartfelt that the tears I didn't know I cried come back. She rises up to press me against the mattress and straddle my waist.

I wonder what time it is, but as her hands slide up my body, I remember that I couldn't care less. If I'm late, Toussaint can take a long walk off a short pier.

"Alright," Ann barks, "if you don't quit with the bouncing shit, I'm going to tie you to the chair."

I look her over and then stop my movements. Okay, I've been a little keyed up since my morning in bed with Nikki. I didn't think it was that noticeable.

I was wrong, obviously.

Ann just smirks at me and as we continue to gather the things we need. She looks around the empty room and smirks again at me, saying, "There's no way you could glow that much and still look as rested as you do. What gives Delaney?"

I shrug. I mean what can I really say that won't…well it's not like she hasn't seen it before so I say, "Anniversary. It was a really good morning."

Ann's eyes grow large as she smiles. "Ah, well then that explains it, but I swear, if you don't put a lid on it, I'm going to be forced to do something drastic. You are way too chipper for…" her mouth pinches and her hand waves in my direction, "for it being you."

I stick my tongue out at her and straighten up. "You have everything you need?"

She nods. "I talked to Diea this morning. It looks like her team's in position…"

"But what good does that do us here?" I want to know.

We file out of the conference room, down to the parking lot and into the unmarked before she answers, "I don't know, Nora. I mean thus far, we've got maybe an idea that there's a rogue agent involved in this or a fake agent. The deadline on the drop is coming up and if it goes like the others, people are going to die."

Running a hand through my hair, I sigh in equal parts exasperation and annoyance. I chew on my lower lip and think out loud. "So then why were you and your department called into this?" I turn my head to look in her direction and qualify, "You specifically told me that what you and your team usually handle is hard to solve cases usually involving murders, serial killers or kidnappings. Gun smuggling isn't on that list."

"Nope, it's not, but with John, sometimes people ask him for favors." She shrugs it off. "We've worked a few cases that fall outside the scope of the definition of our department."

I nod. "Clearly. And you are the only one from your department here."

Her eyebrow arcs and she cocks her head to the side. "Just what exactly are you getting at?"

I crank the engine over and let it idle before voicing my thoughts, "Nothing…or look, I'm just trying to pick apart the anomalies here. Your department's involvement is one. I mean do you ever really think about why you get called into something outside the parameters of your field?"

Her face sours for a brief moment and she shakes her head. "No. There's never been a need."

She's never asked a question like that…

That's not Ann, at least not the Ann I know.

"What about your boss?" I ask. "These favors have to come from somewhere. Have you talked to him?"

"Yeah, he was on his way back into D.C. He'll be landing before lunch. We can give him a call then and hopefully get a bit more background info. I don't like it, but you're right. It's an oddity that may have some answers."

"So, where to now?" I ask, stopping at a light.

"Honestly, I'm not jazzed about working out of the precinct. Too many eyes and ears," Ann answers.

My fingers drum on the steering wheel and I say, "Our options then are my place or Nikki's."

I watch my friend stare out of the windshield, trying to come to a decision. It's not like the choices are great, but she's right. It isn't safe at the precinct.

It's the first time I've ever really felt that way which is upsetting enough. Nikki and I are there more than our homes.

"Alright, let's go to your place. I can sign some equipment out at the field office and set up camp in the living room," she says and turns to me with a grin. "Just means you'll be with Nikki more. Oh, and she can help keep Jill occupied some."

Moving to the right lane to hop on the highway, I ask, "Why not just work out of the field office?"

"Too suspicious. Besides, have you talked to a standard agent?" Ann shifts in her seat to lean against the passenger door.

"The only F.B.I. agents I've worked with was on a case with Dan. The two had about as much personality as a gnat," I say grinning.

Ann snorts. "That's the other reason. Most agents are way too serious. It's like they think they're the only ones that do important work." She runs her hand through hair and I hop off the highway weaving through an alley to hit Press Street. "Needless to say there are very few in the Bureau that I can stand to be around for longer than ten minutes."

"So you went to work for them 'cause?" I wonder.

"If you worked with John and Luce, you'd understand. I don't want to be anywhere else," she states plainly. I hang a left and pull in front of the gates to the Bureau's NOLA field office.

Ann passes me her key card to open the gates and I stare at the building. It's a four story, red brick rectangle that actually looks like a gigantic brick. Obviously, the architect didn't draw on historical architecture for inspiration.

Hell, I've seen projects that look better.

Waving the card over the access point, the gates rumble and part for us to drive forward. Slipping into a visitor's parking space, Ann unclips her seat belt and says, "Stay put, I won't be but a few minutes.

I give it a few minutes of her being gone with the engine off and the windows down before I decide that it really isn't worth it. I crank the engine, roll the windows up and put the air conditioning on full blast. Sighing in relief, I take my cell phone out and look at the display. Two missed calls from Nikki.

Why didn't I hear my cell?

Shrugging it off, I dial my partner and wait for her to pick up.

"Beaumont," she answers. I frown at the anxiety and tension I hear. What the hell does she have going on?

"Nik, it's me," I answer.

"Hey, where are you? I went to the conference room y'all have been holed up in and no one was there." I hear chatter in the background and the distinct click of her heals before it fades away and no background noise comes through.

"The rest of the team is needed on the sting. Ann and I have ended up working the investigative part of the investigation by our lonesome. Is everything okay?"

She sighs and huffs. The look I know she's wearing brings a smile unbidden to my face. It's a pout. "I…yeah, just a little worried there for a minute. This case…" she stops and I hear someone call her name. "I'll be there in a minute," she tells them. "Baby, I need to go."

"Okay, Nikki," I try to reassure her, "love you."

I hear the smile as she says, "Me too. I need to go before I break off my Mihara's in Toussaint's rear end."

I chuckle as the line goes dead, knowing that if she's willing to break a shoe to cause this guy pain, she must be miserable.

I watch Ann come out of the front door, loaded down with duffle bags. My eyes bulge and I scramble out of the car to help. As I reach her half way up the steps, she gratefully lets me help and we trek back to the car to stuff the five bags into the trunk.

Ambling out of the parking lot, I head back the way we came and make the twenty minute drive to my place in fifteen. Taking liberties with my placard, I park up front, grab the bags and head up to my apartment.

Opening the door, I hear music, heavy guitar, bass and drums fill my living room. Ann and I step around the half wall and see Jill half way turned away from us reading a book and bobbing her head along to the music.

My friend looks at me and gently sets her bags down, bringing her index finger against her lips. I nod and follow her direction, setting the bags down. I watch as she sneaks up on her wife to get close enough to bark in her ear.

The brunette jumps off the couch, let's out a squeak while swatting Ann with the hardback book she has in her hands. "Damnit, Ann!"

My friend is all giggles as she says, "Serves you right for not paying attention."

Jill's hands go to her hips, causing the robe she's wearing to raise exposing more of her long legs. I smirk and bring in the equipment to the living room.

This causes the model to look between the two of us suspiciously. "What's going on?"

"Setting up camp Flemming and Delaney. We're moving our base of operations here," Ann answers helping me drag some of the equipment out of the bags and on to the compact folding tables I pulled out. "You remember our arrangement about work?"

Jill's lips purse, but she nods.

"Good, now help us set up and earn your keep," Ann half jokes, wiggling her eyebrows.

"Ya know, just 'cause I helped Lee with the audio/video room at the high school you've been having me handle all of the tech stuff at home," Jill pouts.

Ann winks at her and says to me, "Just 'cause I have the gun and badge, I'm the one that usually get's pegged as the guy in this relationship. I call bullshit. My prissy wife gots me beat there hands down. When she's not working, I'm lucky if I can get her out of her jammies."

Jill flips her wife off, saying, "You don't want to have sex ever again?"

I shake my head. Better to let them sort this out while I just busy myself with the set up.

I glare at our A.D.A., Bernard "Bernie" Birdsall. I'm not even sure where to start with this…my jaw clenches, stifling the string of curses. I tap my foot instead and continue to glare.

Who names their child Bernard? With a last name of Birdsall. It's a horrible joke on alliteration that should be criminal. The name is clearly indicative of the man. At five-foot-ten-inches, a gleaming crown framed in a halo of thinning dirty blonde hair, unflattering glasses and the suit.

Why should I even bother, I've seen bodies seep better colors.

"…so you see detective, the grandmother's being uncooperative," he finishes. I'm not sure what the first half was, but I know what it boiled down to...

….him covering his ass.

Never mind the fact that I actually have a witness, if I could talk to them. Never mind that my "partner" isn't helping matters with his bigoted remarks earlier when the maternal grandmother, Joyce Elm, brought the boy down so that we could talk or the fact that there are two dead people.

"Look," I say calmly, remembering that my daddy always seemed to get what he wanted from people when he was laying on the Beaumont charm. I just need to not be petulant. "I understand the situation is less than ideal, counselor." I step into his personal space and lay a hand on his forearm. "Let me talk to him with his grandmother there. We have to anyhow legally. You and Toussaint can observe through the window and if I over step my bounds than give the door a little knock."

I bat my lashes at him and know I have him when he licks his lips. I watch him nod and grace him with a full smile.

I take a deep breath and spin towards the interview room. I also try to remember why we're here and collect myself. After the reports and the labs came back, we figured that Lance had definitely witnessed the murder, could point a finger at the killer or killers. The scenario that Benton and I mocked up seemed to be the best we have to go on.

The only thing that seemed to make sense was that the assailant let Lance watch, cleaned him up after and then threatened him. It also explains why we really couldn't get anything from the boy initially.

Squaring my shoulders, I push the door open and hit one of the light switches to take down some of the harsh florescent lights. Even if we are in an interview room intended for children, the lighting in government buildings is usually God-awful.

The grandmother looks up and gives me a hesitant smile. Her hair is thin and gray; her eyes are a dull blue, the kind of shade that reflects the beating the person behind them took. Joyce Elm has not had it easy that much is painfully clear. Now, after everything, she's forced to bury her daughter and raise her grandchild.

An ache in my chest throbs at her situation and I commit to doing everything I can to find the persons responsible. No one should have to bury their children.

Looking down from the couch, I see Lance sitting playing with some Lego's. His shaggy hair falling over his eyes. He's wearing tattered cut off jeans and a blue and grey stripped shirt.

"Hi, Mrs. Elm." I smile at her in what I hope is a warm and comforting fashion. "Thank you for comin' on down and letting me talk to Lance one more time."

I perch on the edge of the couch next to her and farthest away from the boy.

"It isn't any trouble," her voice cracks and a tissue emerges from her shirt. "I've been…making arrangements for my daughter and son-in-law." She sniffles and I nod sympathetically.

"Would you like anything to drink? I can have someone get some coffee, water perhaps?" I offer.

She shakes her head. "No, Y'all have a job t'do. I just," she drops her head and voice, leaning in to me, "I jus' didn't like them other two is all."

I pat her hand and nod. "I don't like them much either myself, but on the plus side, you get to go home soon and I'm here for another four hours."

She laughs lightly and nods. I look at Lance and she angles her chin that way saying, "Go on, let's get this over with so we can go."

"Thank you." I drop to my knees and move between the boy and his grandmother, resting my back against the couch. "Hi, Lance," I say barely above a whisper, "You remember me?"

He waits a beat, snapping a blue block in place before looking up and nodding. Then he goes back to building the…whatever it is that he's building. I'm not sure what to do. The kid is a few years younger than I was when I lost my mother and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

So, I do what I would have wanted someone to do with me when my mom fell ill and we spent countless hours in hospitals. When in less than a year I watched her go from a force of nature to a huddled mass in a bed that was kissed goodbye in the predawn hours a couple of weeks before Christmas.

I pick up a few blocks and begin building something. I snap together a base and allow the creation to take shape. Lance's curiosity piques and he begins to help me. Snapping blocks into place to build the port side of my lopsided Lego boat. It takes us a little bit, him and I just sitting there working together. His grandmother's forgotten and for the briefest of moments, I think he manages to forget that he's been orphaned. That the reason he's here is to help me solve the murder of his parents.

He offers me a small smile, showing me how to build the deck of the boat using a green flat piece to tuck inside the hollow portion of the boat to snap into place.

"So," I venture, "the day we met. It was a hard day, Lance. I was hoping that you could tell me about it. I know it's scary to think about, but it would help us."

He looks at me a moment, judging me in a way that only children are able to. Then he goes back to the boat to build the mast from the smaller square blocks.

"You know, when I was little, before my mama passed away, she'd sit with me and we would make things. Drawings, crafts, coasters – whatever we wanted. On those really bad school days, she'd always know and have a little project waiting to take my mind off of it," I share with him.

He blinks and looks at me. "Mama didn't like crafts much," he says slowly.

"Some moms don't. What did your mom like to do?" I probe.

He sets the boat down and folds his hands in his lap. "Other stuff. She liked the T.V. and she liked baking. She always had cookies, but," his face grows dark for a second, "she never let me eat 'em."

"My mama wouldn't ever let me have sweets either. Maybe one or two after dinner, but most days she said no to me too." I lean forward on the ABC carpet and lay a hand on his knee. "Lance, buddy, I need some help. I need you to tell me who hurt your mommy and daddy."

He looks at me in earnest, but like usual, I don't meet his gaze. I'm afraid of what I'll see there. How much of myself I'll see reflected, how much sadness and disappointment will be waiting for me is too much to bear. So instead, I look at where my hand is resting, trying to find the courage to meet his eyes steady before our time today is up.

His small hand covers mine and I marvel at the size difference. I noticed how fragile he felt that first day. So withdrawn and quiet. I close my eyes briefly, knowing that I owe him more than the barest of glances in eye contact that I've been giving him.

I blink and look up at him, finally meeting his gaze head on. The dark brown eyes look nearly black. A shiver crawls up my spine, curls around the base of my neck and over my heart. What I feel in my gut is not what I was expecting when we locked eyes.

His head tilts to the side and he shrugs, giving me an answer I was not expecting, "Daddy, he hurt mama a lot. She's always cryin' and bein' mean to me. So when Daddy was hurtin' mama, I hurt'em both."

I rock back. Not sure I heard that right, but the strangled gasp behind me tells me that I did indeed hear him right.

A sharp rap on the door cuts us off and I scramble up and out.

I gnaw on my lower lip as I hit the expressway. Ann and Jill are chattering on happily, but the only thing I can seem to think about is the voicemail I just picked up from Nikki. I need to get someplace quiet and alone to talk to her.

Half tempted to hit the sirens on the car, I press the accelerator down and make it over to my childhood home in record time. It's not like I want to head over, but I promised Ann and Ann promised my mother.

Mama doesn't know it yet, but she's getting Jill as a bonus prize.

I hit the drive way, kill the engine and escort my friends inside. A T.V. is chattering away towards the kitchen and I assume it's the small thirteen-inch black and white that's sat on our kitchen counter for as long as I can remember.

"Ma?" I call out ushering the girls into the living room to take a seat. My mother's head pops out of the doorway to the kitchen and her face lights up. A twinge of guilt pulls at my chest.

I'm not sure what the guilt is for…cutting off my family as much as I can, not seeing my mom enough or the fact that I've built a small nest of lies that I'm living with and she's suffering for it.

I shake it off as her arms wrap around me in a tight hug. "Nora Marie, it's been too long since I've seen you," she clucks. "Now let me have a look at you." She takes it upon herself to spin me around and swats my rear end. "You're too skinny!" she declares and Ann and Jill snort from their positions on the couch.

We turn to them and I say, "Ma, you remember Ann and this is my other friend, Jill. Jill this is my mom, Nancy."

"Hi," Jill beams and stands, "it's nice to meet you."

My mother's a sucker for good manners and if it's one thing Jill's good at is playing well behaved. The three begin chatting and I excuse myself, run upstairs and hit my old room. I close the door as I press the '1' for the speed dial to Nikki.

It takes a few rings longer than normal, but she finally picks up, "Beaumont."

"Hi you," I say automatically.

"Hey, hang on a sec," she tells me as the phone gets muffled. I'm not really sure where she's at but I assume she's getting somewhere where she can have a bit of privacy to talk.

I few seconds later, she comes back, "I wanna go home."

"That bad?" I ask.

"Worse than we thought," she moans, her voice carrying a heavier tint of melancholy than it usually does with a hard case.

"Talk to me," I plead, sitting down on the small twin bed that's been the same since I was ten.

"Nor," she swallows, the tears evident in her wavering voice, "it…we got the killer. Confessed in interrogation."

"Well that's a good thing. Who's the A.D.A.?" I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees.

"No, it's not and Birdsall. Nora the little boy confessed. Lance, their eight year old son said he did it."

"What? Nikki, that…how?" is all I can seem to manage and process.

She swallows and explains, "It started with a hand print. I went to Benton and we drew up a scenario and reenactment. The theory we were working off of was that the killer brought the parents down to level with Lance and the little boy watched. It explained a lot." My lover's voice goes quiet and she fills the rest in, "So we thought we'd bring Lance back to talk to him. He confessed while we were talking."

"Yeah, but you can't…" I try to say.

"We can prove it," her statement is final and I know that she wouldn't be telling me this if it weren't true.

My chest tightens and all I can think of is getting her home to take care of her. "When will you be done?"

"Soon. Dan, he…there's paperwork left. We're keeping out of the rest. I'm not sure what the D.A.'s office is gonna do with it all."

"Alright, I'll be there shortly. I'm at my mom's with Jill and Ann." I flop back on my bed, dust rising from the quilt that's on top.

"Your moms?" she asks.

"Yeah, mom wanted to see Ann and Jill decided that she'd come along for the ride," I reply.

"Oh, I didn't know they knew…you know it's…never mind. I'm going to finish up the paperwork and wait for you," she stammers.

"See you soon, baby," I get out before the line goes dead.

I stare blankly up at the stuccoed ceiling, shaken by the outcome of her case. I've never heard her sound that bad before. I know we've had some tough cases, but this is the worst.

I blink and briefly curse the A.T.F., John Malone and Ann for pulling me away from Nikki when she could so obviously use me more.


Sitting up, I slip the phone back into my jeans pocket and make my way downstairs to the voices of my friends and mother. I hit the landing and stop at the sight. My mother sits in my father's old recliner talking and laughing with my two friends.

She's so open and warm with the two of them. The tightness in my chest increases as I think of Nikki, of one day being able to maybe bring her around so my mom can get to know her better. They only met a few times and each encounter was brief.

"…and what about you ladies?" my mother asks. "I've been known to hound my daughter about her love life and I don't know if it's 'cause of her career or her inability to settle down."

I blanche. They wouldn't would they? They can't…

"Well," Ann stammers and Jill remains silent.

My mother takes their discomfort as something else when she jokes, "Surely two beautiful girls like you can't be single. Who's the lucky men?"

Ann shakes her head and reaches a decision. "Actually Mrs. Delaney," she swallows and I can't move, paralyzed as the words tumble from Ann's lips, "I'm married. Got married in Ninety-Four."

"Oh, how lovely, Nora never mentioned it," my mom glows at the news.

"Well, I got, no, well…" she scratches the back of her neck and then takes her hand to lace fingers with Jill, holding it up for my mother to see, "We, Jill and I got married in Denmark, out of the country, while she was working."

Silence lays heavy in the room and in the back of my mind I wonder if I went deaf.

And somewhere between Ann's confession and the silence I find the strength to move. I barrel the rest of the way off the landing and come to a standstill by mom.

Ann looks at me, in an almost apologetic way, but I'm not really sure what to say or do.

"Uh, well, isn't that," my mom tries to say.

"You guys, I just got a call, need to head back to the station," I inform them.

"You're always running off," my mom huffs and stands. "I suppose it's meant to be. I just remembered I had some errands to run. I trust you will have a good day." My mom stiffly plants a kiss on my cheek and walks from the room.

The other two stand and follow me out of the house as I lock the front door behind me. I don't even know where to begin or what to say.

The last half hour leaving me emotionally numb.

We're half way down the street when Jill cuts in from the backseat, "Ann Louise Flemming I can't believe you."

Ann's head pivot's to the back as she adjust herself to be able to look at me and Jill at the same time. I cringe as Jill nearly screeches, "You know how Nora feels and you just went…"

"Stop," Ann's voice is firm but soft. We stop at a red light and I look over at her. Her eyes are hard as she says, "Nora, I love you. Next to the screechy brunette in the backseat, you're my most favorite woman on the planet." She reaches back and grabs her wife's hand. "But let's be perfectly clear here. I won't sit back, lie and not be proud of having Jill as my wife. It's disrespectful to her, me and the bond we share."

The light changes and I direct my gaze back to the road. "I…we'll talk about this later," I say as I merge on the expressway and back to the station house and Nikki.


Ch. 7 – Inferno

Pacing the length of my girlfriend's living room, I press the phone to my ear trying to hear Nora over the engines to the plane roaring around her. Between her putout tone and the fact that I can't believe what I'm hearing, I'm ready to blow a gasket.


That's not right either.

I'm ready to tell Ann and the F.B.I. they can take their case and stick it where the sun don't shine.

After the horror that was Wednesday and the less than stellar Thursday, Friday isn't looking so hot either. At six p.m. Nora and Ann decide to call while they're en route to the airport to leave town together.

And she won't tell me where!

My jaw clenches as she sputters on the other end of the phone, "Would you just relax?"

Would I just…what!

I pinch the bridge of my nose, willing for patience.


It doesn't come.

"Nora, just how in the hell would you like me to calm down?" I spit.

I spin just before running into the fireplace and march the other way.

"Look, it's not that bad. Ann and I will be home by Sunday night, Monday morning at the latest," she says. She says that as if it's supposed to make everything alright.

"So you just want me to accept the fact that after the week we've had, you taking off to parts unknown is just acceptable?"

Doesn't she see?

"Yes, yes I do. It's our job Nikki," she clips.

"Oh bullshit Nora! You won't even tell me where in the hell you're going. As your partner at work…Hell Nora! As the woman you say you love you should tell me where you're going." My heel spins, digs into the carpet and I whip around.

Her voice drops as she hisses, "One, if you were a civilian, I wouldn't tell you a thing. It's part of the job and you know it. If you were a civilian, Nikki, this conversation wouldn't even be happening. Two, as my partner, having my back is your job. Besides you aren't a part of this investigation and it's safer for everyone involved that you don't know."

That's her response. I'm supposed to accept the 'hey babe, Ann and I are flying away for the weekend to check up on a few leads, see you maybe Sunday, but probably Monday?'


"Nikki, we're taxiing. Stay with Jill. I'll be home soon," she pleads, her tone softer.

I can't seem to care. "Funny thing, I am at your place, detective. The woman I'm with, her wife isn't here and neither is the girl I'm dating. It's funny how this is working out." I stop pacing and put my hand on my hip. "Look," I say taking a breath realizing I'm running out of time, "You do what you need to do, but know this, Nora Marie Delaney, whatever this is, it's far from over." I snap my phone shut and for good measure hurl it at the brick of her fireplace.

I watch as the phone hits right along the edge of the mantle and pieces of it go sailing in different directions. I stand there staring at the point of impact trying to make sense of the hurricane in my head.

She just…I can't even.

"Nikki," I hear my name being called and see Jill perched on the edge of the couch. Worry marring her usually upbeat features. "Come on. Come sit."

Relenting out of lack of options, I move to the couch and flop down next to her. I sink into the comfortable cushions and grunt.

She leaves me alone for a minute and mirrors my horrible slouching posture. "So," she drawls, "now that you're phone is nonfunctional, how do you feel?"

I tilt my head in her direction and shake my head. "How can she just…" I trail off not really knowing how she can just do that. How Nora can say that to me. She knows that I worry about her and more so now because we're not working this investigation together.

I want to cry, but don't want to give Nora the satisfaction. Right now, I want to strangle her. I swear that woman elicits in me the most violent tendencies sometimes.

What if something happens? I don't know where she's going. How she's getting there and she doesn't even have a change of clothes?

"And another thing," the thought comes to me stoking my fire, "How come you got to sit and talk to her mother? How come she took you to meet her mom and the only two times I have seen her is because we were ambushed at the station house?" I really don't mean to pout.

I think Jill knows this. I think she may even sympathize, but all she offers is a shrug as she says, "Nora is quite the quagmire. I'm just glad she isn't mine to figure out."

"It's just…I mean Ann was all chummy with her mom and then you go over and…"

"Nikki, Nora's mom didn't know Ann was gay until my wife outted us that day. Nora's mom flipped," Jill says.

"She what?"

"She just got real quiet and then made some lame excuse." Jill looks at me, sadness furrowing her brow. "I'm sorry Nikki. I'm sorry that Nora isn't making this any easier and that you have to deal with it."

"But I love her," I pout, again.

Jill's mouth quirks in a half smile and she tucks a lock of hair behind my ear. "I know, sweetie. I know."

"And aren't you worried about them two?" I need someone to commiserate with.

Jill shakes her head and asks a question of her own, "Worried for their safety or worried about something else?"

My mouth falls open and I'm not sure how to answer. I am worried about their safety, but…

"Now," she lengthens the word to its breaking point, tip toeing around her next statement, "If you're saying we, as in you and me, should be worried about them being alone for the weekend, I'm not."

I wasn't implying…

Shit. Okay so that may be part of my anger. Damn it!

"Nikki, Nora's got eyes for you. You only. Yes, when everything was new with Ann, I worried a lot. But knowing Nora, getting to know her, I knew my jealousy was unfounded. And boy lemme tell you, Ann and I went rounds a few times about it." She smirks at me and then draws an arm around my shoulder.

I allow her to pull me in and kiss my temple. "They'll be home soon. They'll get here safe and sound. And our partners will not have had one illicit thought about the other."

I deflate under her words.

"Now the fact that I'm the voice of reason in all of this should give you enough to worry about. I am not the voice of reason. My job is to be the spoiled, prima donna that lives up to the party hard cliché of models." She winks at me and I can't help the half smile that makes its way to my lips.

Jill sighs, pats my knee and sits up. I watch as she stands and moves around the room, collecting the bits of my cell phone.

That was actually somewhat dumb on my part, but…

Damn my temper.

"Nik, I know you're upset right now," she starts out tentatively, when I don't bite her head off she continues, "but sweetie, you just went and shattered your primary point of contact to the blonde you're so pissed at right now."

I glare at her and huff. "I know."

Her eyebrow rises and she says nothing more. I hear her rattle around in the kitchen as the sounds of pieces of plastic are dumped into the trashcan.




She's right and I need to fix it.

I sigh and get up. Run a hand through my hair and take second to collect myself. She comes in holding my SIM card between her thumb and forefinger. Her bag, because she hates it when you call it a purse, is slung across her chest.

"Let's go get a new one and then you can vent some more, 'kay?" she smiles at me.

I scowl a little for good measure but she happily links our arms together and leads me out of the door and down to June Lee.


Blinking, I pull the phone away from ear and watch as the display blinks the words, 'call ended' at me. She just hung up on me. I can't believe Nikki just hung up on me. "Did she really just hang up on me?" I ask to no one in particular.

Ann looks over at me from her seat opposite mine. The government issued jet we're in begins moving out to the runway and I power off my phone. Her eyebrow rises and she whistles.

"She hung up on you?" she asks.

I nod dumbly.

Ann shakes her head and smirks.

"Fuck off, Ann," I spit and my arms fold across my chest.

I take in the sights of the leather and mahogany cabin and can't figure out how Ann is pulling this off. I hear a sigh and watch as Ann moves from her chair to the one right next to me.

"What did she want me to say? I can't..." I stop and run a hand through my hair.

Ann and I weren't expecting this, but the file from Williams and then a phone call with the agents in Boston; we knew we needed to take a road trip. We weren't planning on it, but the drop is coming up and we need to be ready.

If we can stop it, then all the better.

"Nora," Ann says softly, "don't think about Nikki right now. You can make up for it later."

I swing my head in her direction. "Make up for what?" I almost growl.

Her eyes grow large and she holds her hands up. "Ya know, nows not the time. Instead, let's talk about some explanations I think I owe you considering where we've found ourselves."

We stop talking a moment as the plane lifts off the tarmac and we're pushed back in our seats. A few minutes later, we feel the plane leveling off and the seat belt sign dings off. Ann is the first to undo hers and she motions for me to follow her actions. I oblige and she turns in the cushioned leather to face me, one leg tucked under her while the other rests on the cabin floor.

Mirroring her position, I urge her to continue.

"Alright, where to begin…" she trails off tapping her index finger against the tip of her nose. "Screw it. Forget it."

"Uh, no," I state.

"Yes, instead I think my story will be much more…beneficial to our current situation," she smiles at me. That ridiculously charming smile she knows usually gets me to cave. For extra oomph, she snags my hand, laces our fingers together and swings them between us. "Please?"

I roll my eyes, but relent, "Fine."

"Good. Now this happened about six months after we moved up north and I just started at the Bureau. There was this nasty case John and Luce were working. They were the ones I started with. It was a joint investigation with the N.S.A. and everything was 'need to know' only. The funny thing with John is that he and his team, Lucy and I, are always on full disclosure. The thing is is that it required us to leave the country."

I look at her and cock my head to the side. Just where is she going with this?

"Give it a second. I have a point," she says grinning. "See, because of the high security risks. I couldn't tell anyone where we were going."

"You couldn't tell Jill," I say realization dawning.

"Exactly. You know Jill. If we don't talk at least once a day when I'm away or she's away, there's hell to pay on my end. The trip I had to take lasted a week. Black out. No contact." My friend shakes her head and sighs. "It was necessary. I'm glad she didn't know, doesn't know still. But that was the icing on the cake of our first six months, Nor."

She looks away from me and her eyes lose focus as she continues, "Honestly, that first year, I didn't think we'd make it. She was so mad after that trip. The fights were…I'm sure if you ask John real nice, he'll tell you about the one we had at Quantico. I still think agents talk about it whenever they see me walking around." Her gaze comes back up to me as she says, "We worked through it. It was hard. But Jill and I were able to reconcile that my job would do that to us from time to time. I also had to come to terms with her work taking her away. She went on this shoot for over a week where there was no cell or satellite service."

She snorts, shaking her head. "It bit hard when the shoe was on the other foot. I about had a conniption when her manager called me to tell me she'd been sick and taken to the airport her last day there."

"Why are you…" I try to ask.

"Because you need to understand," she interrupts, "Just because we can't say where we're going. Just because I can't tell Jill everything, we've been together long enough to work through it. Find ways to deal with our emotions and get passed it. You and Nikki haven't, Nora. And when it's you being left out of the loop because of a case she's working, you're asinine response to her question's going to come back and bite you in the ass."

"There won't…"

"You don't know that, Nora. Moreover, stupid shit like you just said will drive a wedge between you two quicker than you can blink." She squeezes my knee and leaves her hand there as she says, "I've seen you together. I know you and I've gotten to know her. If she left you, would you be able to handle it?"

I look away from her steady gaze, knowing the answer to that question.

Her hand slips from my knee and I look up. Her face is pinched, pensive almost. "Just sort it out when we get back. Get her pissed at me if you need to. I'll take one for the team," she jokes, winking at me. "Now on to more pressing issues."

"We have more pressing issues?" I wonder.

"Duh, Delaney. Think about it. You, me, Boston and the agents there then on to Houston and the agents there," she chides.

Oh, right. The reason why I'm thinking I'm this biggest asshole on the planet right now. The need to get direct reports from the agents. The trip that John, Ann and I thought was a good idea a little over an hour ago.


I look around again. This time noticing the small things on the plane and how, while I've never ridden in a federal jet before, this still seems posh by comparison. "Ann, how exactly did we manage a jet?"

She laughs and her smile soothes me a little more than it should. Maybe it's her confidence in me that's so apparent. I can't be sure and I'd rather not think about why and focus more on what it is and what we can do to end this case.

"Uh, department perk," she says slyly.

"And just what else are the perks in your job? And ya know, while we're at it, who the hell is John and what do you guys really do?" I ask.

"Do you want the long answer or the short answer?" she offers.

"Can I get something in-between?" I answer.

"Yeah, that can be arranged." She settles back against the armrest and drapes the foot that was planted on the floor across my lap. "John is ex military. Worked for the Department of Defense and the C.I.A. Since the mid to late 80's he's been working first as a cop out of New York City and a few other departments through this program until finally settling in as the director of S.I. at the Bureau. For longer than he's been a cop, he's been a consultant…" She pauses, her mouth pinching before continuing, "Consultants not the right word. Advisor would be better for his work with the differing presidential cabinets."

Uh…well. Not really what I was expecting.

"Because of his position and influence, he gets a small division inside the F.B.I. to run his own investigations in the areas of his choosing. We aren't relegated to murders or kidnappings. We do different things as the needs arise, although because of the team's specialties, me and profiling and Lucy's fantastic with computers, we do find ourselves with more homicides than anything else."

"Uh-huh," I manage. "Does Jill know any of this?"

Ann nods. "Jill knows more than she should. And I've told you a lot already."

I shake my head and lean back, letting it bounce off the plastic of the cabin. I don't think I want to know anymore. "So, we're good. I don't wanna know anymore." I tilt my head forward and look at her, asking as I change the subject, "Let's focus on the interviews we need to do."

The club was loud for a Friday night. The live band playing rock covers and the crowd that had gathered in front of the stage was dancing and singing along happily. I, on the other hand, I was slouched against a back corner booth nursing my…I looked at the table top and counted the glasses…sixth glass of scotch.

Jill hummed the tune of the song being played, although I don't know what it is. "Jill," I say, proud that I'm slurring only slightly, "Who's this?"

She swings her pretty, brown haired head to me and answers without pause, "It's a cover of Godsmack's Awake."

My nose scrunches up as I try to figure out what a Godsmack is.

Instead, I go back to the picture I had tucked in my purse. A candid shot of Nora and I dancing with each other on the floor not located thirty feet from me. Sighing, I swipe at the tear that managed to escape.


"You need to stop," the voice a hot puff of air against my ear. I turn to look at Jill who's scooted closer and is resting against my right side. "We were supposed to come, get shit faced and enjoy a night of gayety, pun intended, while forgetting about our frustrating lesser halves."

"How do you do it?" I ask bluntly. I'm not sure if it's the raw emotional state I've found myself in or the alcohol that's taken away my usual tact.

Her brow furrows and she asks, "Do what? It? Like sex?"

I snort and swat her shoulder. "No, you…you something that is consistently thinking of sex."

"Hey, I think of sex the average amount for a woman my age. But you didn't clarify. Do what?"

I roll my eyes and clarify for her, "Deal with not knowing whether Ann is safe. What if something happens?"

Her features soften and she leans her head against my shoulder, sipping at the fruity cocktail that's been in her hand for the past thirty minutes. "Honestly," she sits up and looks at me, "you sure you wanna hear this?"

I nod and she sets her drink down. "It was really hard. It still is. I used to not think about it. The fact that she's been in some very scary situations. It was safer for me not to because I didn't know how I would handle it."

"Didn't?" I finish off the rest of my scotch and look around for the server. Spotting her, I hold up my glass and give it a little wave. She nods and I watch her disappear into the sea of people.

"About, it's been seven years now, it was her first injury." She slurps up the rest of her drink before going on, "John, Ann's boss, sweet guy, called me. Said that Ann had been hurt and there was going to be a car there in five minutes to bring me to the helipad at the local hospital to catch a chopper to D.C."

I lean back, resting my head on the bench wall behind me and listen to her.

"I was so freaked. By the time I got to the hospital, I had been through every worst case scenario, but it wasn't as bad as all that." She smiles at me and then looks down at her hand. Her wedding ring glints a little in the light. It's not lavish, a simple single solitary diamond and the platinum band to match. She and her wife have the exact same ring set. "She'd just sprained her ankle. Chased someone down twenty flights of steps and leapt to catch them the last leg of it."

That sounds like Ann.

"Anyway, it was a concussion and a sprained ankle. I threw a conniption. Full on water works and drama." She blushes at the admission, but continues, "After that, I was pretty obsessive, calling all the time while she was working. Made her crazy. Drove me crazy too. Then we had enough. I…" she looks away again, remembering. "We split up for all of a week until we started therapy together. I was having nightmares and she was a wreck. We got through it though."

"But," I slur a little less and straighten up, "how do you do it now?"

She shrugs. "We talk. We talk a lot and when she can't tell me things, I have to learn to accept it. I trust her. I trust the people she works with. That has to be good enough."

That's it? My brain muddles through trying to see light at the end of the tunnel and coming out of it being able to say what Jill says. I can't.

Her hand covers mine and she squeezes, "Baby, you can't control it. You worry about what you can, not what you can't."

I manage a small snicker. "That's your sage advice? Worry about what I can control and not about the other?"

"Yeah," she smiles at me. "It's the only thing that's gonna keep you sane."

I don't think I can.

I worry about her when we're working together. With her out there with someone else, I can't not think about it. It's the only thing that's been a consistent presence in my mind over the past few hours.

I pull the new phone I got from my pocket and look at the display. No missed calls.

"Hey," Cassie says sliding in the booth to sandwich me between her and Jill. "Gorgeous, long time no see!" Casey beams at Jill and I look at Jill who blushes.

"Hi Casey," Jill says, leaning over me to plant a wet kiss on her friends lips. Pulling back, Casey's all grin and Jill giggles.

"And Nikki." The bartender turns to me and rattles a rock glass full of amber liquid in front of me. "I'd ask where Ann and Nora are, but," she looks pointedly at the table top, "I don't think I need to." She leans in and pecks me on the cheek. "This is your last one detective."

I frown as I accept the glass. "That's not fair," I whine.

Casey just smirks. "Tough cookies, toots."

I roll my eyes and Jill giggles again by my right side.

"So, would anyone like to tell me where Laverne and Shirley are at?" Casey asks.

I look at Jill and motion for her to go ahead and fill Casey in. "Ann and Nora are off gallivanting around the country while Nikki and I are stuck here."

"Uh-huh, and Nikki is there a reason why you look like you lost your puppy and your girlfriend all in one fell swoop?" The bartender gently shoulders into me.

"Fight," is what I offer as Casey tisks.

"You done for the night Cas?" Jill leans around me and smiles at her friend.

"Yep. Figured I'd come and see what was happening. Your waitress thinks that Nikki's trying to drink us out of Scotch." Casey pushes me closer to Jill and slings an arm across the back of my shoulders. "But considering the state of our friend here, I think that's not a horrible idea."

"Nora really is being an ass," Jill offers in way of support.

"Nora," Casey drawls, "is more stubborn than anyone has the right to be. It's why we love her."

I swing my head at the easy admission and Casey notices.

She smirks. It's an evil smirk that would be evil and cute if I wasn't jealous.

"Easy there tiger. I love her, never was stupid enough to fall in love with her." She winks at me and I groan.

She's got me there.

"But, if you," she points to Jill, "are going to allow your wife's ex-girlfriend's girlfriend to sit here and wallow, I suggest you have some fun while doing it." Casey stands and drags me up with her.

I look her over in her low-slung tight fitting jeans and a tank top. She comes to my nose and her chestnut colored hair is streaked with blue.

"We need to dance," she states and nods her head for emphasis.

I feel Jill come up behind me and pinning me between the two women. They drag me to the dance floor and I know this is just a bad idea.

As the cabin light warning us to fasten our seatbelts dings off, the one steward that's been on this flight comes up and says, "Agent Flemming, I have Director Malone on line one. he would like to conference with you and Detective Delaney."

Ann and I unbuckle our belts and follow the woman around our seats to a small work area. Ann and I sit next to each other and begin sorting through the files that we grabbed from Kyle Landry, the agent we met in Boston.

We both look up as John's voice comes through the cabin speaker. "Ann, Nora good evening." The guy sounds way too awake for two in the morning.

Ann laughs a little and says, "Yes, old man?"

"Wanted to touch base before you guys called it quits for the night," he answers ignoring the old man comment.

Ann shakes her head and he says, "I don't need to see you Ann. Quit shaking your head and making that face. You worry about you. I'll worry about me."

I sit back and listen to the banter enjoying Ann's frustration.

"Look, if it were a once in a while thing, John, I would leave it alone, but really, when's the last time you saw a bed?" She shuffles a few more papers and pulls up the notes we were putting together before we got to the airport. "But if you want to not sleep for days on end, drive yourself crazy and we'll make this call quick. I'd like my two hours before we get to Houston."

I hear him laugh as the click of a computer keyboard sounds. "Good. Now that we've established that I don't give in to petty needs like sleep, tell me what you guys found out."

Ann looks at me and nods. I take the hint and start speaking, "Landry confirmed the set up in Boston was similar to what Williams had set up in Pittsburgh."

"The rogue agent theory?" he asks.

"Yeah. Landry wasn't as…persistent as Williams which is why we think Landry's still in Boston, but someone is getting their asses covered up by someone above the standard field agents pay grade."

"We have no idea what the agent looks like, but it's the consistent thread between Williams' and Landry's stories. I think Houston will have something similar and John, I'd bet you a month of Starbucks that if we went to the other agents, the primaries at least, they would say similar things." Ann points to the Williams file and I pick it up and grab the sheet with questions we scribbled on it.

"John, where are you right now?" Ann queries.

"In New Orleans. I wanted to be here for the raid so I came straight from my debriefing with the Secretary. Why?"

"I want you to do a little leg work. Put together headshots of every agent we have working this case and send me a fake mug shot book."

"What are you thinking Flemming?" he huffs.

"I'm thinking what we're all thinking. If we can get the agent fingered, then maybe we can stop the drop, collar the Sungs and the dirty agent all in one go without the risk of endangering anymore lives," she answers.

I lean forward and smile at my friend. "We're thinking that if we can do that and you can rattle some cages while we're out of town, then it's our best shot at stopping this before it starts," I chime in.

"Alright. You'll have it by the time you land in Houston," the man relents and then grumbles, "I was looking forward to watching a little hotel porn, but damn you Flemming."

My eyes bulge and Ann just laughs. "Yeah, like you do every time you've been up for days. You start watching porn, I'll become a nun."

"And have Jill kill me. I think not." His laughter is a little infectious, I look at Ann, and she shrugs.

"One thing John, have you heard from Luce and the rest?" Ann asks.

"Yeah, they're wrapping things up. I'm sure we'll get the final here within the next coupla days. Now, ladies, enjoy the rest of your flight and hopefully we'll see you tomorrow evening." John doesn't bother waiting for our goodbyes as the speaker crackles and dies.

Well that was interesting.

I stretch and yawn. Ann follows suit and we shuffle back to our seats. Plopping down we look at each other and nod. I hit the button and Ann mirrors my actions. Our seats extend out flat and I push the armrest up to fill in the gap, creating a full size bed out of the seats.

The steward swings by and offers us a few pillows and blankets. Gladly, we accept them as the cabin lights dim. Unconsciously, I find myself snuggling up with Ann. Her arm snakes behind my neck and press me into her shoulder as I lay a hand across her midsection.

I shift trying to find the most comfortable position despite where we find ourselves, but after a few minutes still the movements. Realization washes over me and I stifle the laugh.

She's not Nikki. Ann and I fit together alright we always did, but she's not my partner. Nikki and I…

"What," Ann whispers in the darkened cabin, "are you laughing about?"

"Myself," I reply in an equally hushed tone.

"Mm-hmm," she hums and beings scratching her blunt nails across my scalp. "Hey, Nor?"

"Yeah," I nearly purr. She knows how much I like that. She's buttering me up for something.

"I guess, well, I know that being out, ya know, on the force isn't the best career option," she stammers, "I just don't know, why…how come your family doesn't know?"

I can't control the automatic tensing that happens to the muscles in my back as she finally voices her question. I can't control the pickup in my heart rate.

"I don't want to press or pry, but it's something I've always wondered," she mumbles.

"I…" My lips purse. How much of this do I really want to say? How much of this do I really want deal with?

"Nora, sweetie, if…" she starts.

"It's okay," I mumble into her shoulder. "Honestly, a lot of reasons or one reason that's all built up to make a buncha small ones." I feel the medallion around my neck slide up and bump my chin. I take my free hand and play with it on the chain. "You remember our graduation party from the force. The one that I invited Jill and Lee to?"

Ann snorts and says, "How could I forget. I was miserable that day. Seeing Jill and knowing what I felt for her on top of what I felt for you. Seeing her again…trust me Nora I won't forget that day."

"I figured, but what you don't know about that day is that I followed Jill. I saw you in the woods, talking," I confess.

"You what? Nora why didn't you…" she stammers.

Dropping the necklace, I press my index finger to her lips to quiet her. "Shh, lemme talk Ann. I didn't want to. It didn't seem right. So I walked away and ran into my father as I came out of the woods. He said two things to me that day. The first was to give me the medallion of St. Francis. The second was to inform me that he knew what you and I were and that it needed to stop."

I hear her sharp intake of breath. The revelation probably not what she was expecting, but I press on, "See that was the first time he mentioned it. The second was right before he died." I swallow the lump that's formed in my throat and blink back the tears that have collected. "That conversation pretty much boiled down to his disappointment in my lifestyle. He also made me promise not to tell my mom."

"Nora, baby," her voice aches and her grip tightens around me, "he had no right."

"Maybe he didn't. Maybe he did." I shrug. "But it's what it is. I can't after I promised him. I won't do that to my mom 'cause he was right. I don't think she could handle it."

"I don't…"

"Ann, you saw her when you told her about you and Jill. She ran out of there like the Devil was on her heels," I press. "You don't know what it's like to have my family."

"No," she hisses, "I really don't Nora. My mother died three years ago. I didn't go to the funeral and I haven't been to visit her grave. My father may or may not be out of jail or hell the bastard may be dead."

I cringe and kick myself for my slip up. I know better than to bring up her family.

"Ann, I'm sorry, I didn't," I trip over my words trying to apologize.

"It's…alright. I just, I think that maybe if you came out to her it wouldn't be that bad," Ann relents. "I think maybe she loves you more than that for your being gay to be a factor."

I sigh and tighten my hold around Ann's middle. "Nikki's the only one that's made me think about breaking that promise," I confess.

Ann lets out a bitter laugh, small and telling. "Figures." She begins playing with my hair and the silence settles over us.

I don't know if that was a fair thing for me to say, but it is the truth.

"What would have happened to us?" Ann breaks the silence.

"Dunno, Ann. I wish…"

"Don't, Nora. We're not and we're both very much head over heels with our lovers. That was an unfair question." Ann lets me off the hook. "What I do think is that you're dad, regardless of intentions, was a prick for making you promise that. I may not get it, but I do love you, Nora Marie, and I will support your decision even though I think it's a shitty one."

I, however, can't let myself off the hook despite her last statement. "No it wasn't unfair. 'Cause you and I," I sit up a little and look her in the eyes. "It's what friends are supposed to do, support each other. But you and I, Ann, letting you go wasn't the easiest thing I did." I offer firmly.

The surprise reflects in her eyes and I lean down, placing a soft kiss on her forehead. I resume my position and snuggle in mumbling, "Now, hush and go to sleep, we've got a long day," before drifting off to sleep myself.


Ch. 8 – Inconsolable

Reaching my hand around, I cup the cheek of my bedmate and pull her closer to snuggle deeper into the covers. Hopefully, if I burrow deep enough, I can ignore the Michael Jackson song that's set as my ringtone and go back to sleep. Being cuddled up with my girl sounds like the most appealing option.

"Nikki," a voice rasps in my ear, a voice that is not the same as my beloved's in the early morning hours, "it's been goin' off for forever, pick the damn thing up."

The hand that was placed on the rear end of my bedmate gets snatched back and I hear the woman snort.

I do a quick assessment of what happened last night. I remember the drinks, I remember the dancing, but I don't remember leaving the bar. I don't know who I left with and that causes my stomach to churn.

A long arm reaches over me and I see the ring.



I'm in bed with Jill.

I watch as she unfolds the device and presses it to my ear. I rasp, "Beaumont."

"Nikki," Dan says, sounding relieved. "Thank God. I've been calling for the last ten minutes. You had me starting to worry."

"Sorry," I croak and sit up, dislodging Jill from my side as my back rests against the headboard. "Late night." I look at the clock and see that I have another three hours before I'm due in. Him calling means… "Who died?"

He laughs a little and says, "Thankfully, no one. I'm calling you in for a new case that came in. I need you to meet Toussaint over at Oschner."

Jill shifts and rolls to the other side of the bed facing the opposite direction. Good to know that she can fall back asleep so easily. Lucky her.

"Why?" I ask.

"I'm assigning you to a reported rape. Came in about two hours ago. I've been on the phone since four-thirty this morning, fielding calls," he answers and truthfully, he sounds downright exhausted.

I swing my legs off the mattress and sit on the edge of the bed. Quietly, I stand and make my way to the bathroom, requesting more information, "We usually don't handle assault cases, Dan. Who's the vic? And which one, the hospital off Jefferson or Napoleon?"

He huffs. "Victim is Bethany Griffith. College student at Tulane. Napoleon, the one closest to the university."

Griffith…I turn the shower on and begin stripping out of the underwear and tank top I found myself in. Another piece of disconcerting information as I continue to wonder what happened last night.

"Nik, did I lose you?" Dan chimes in.

"What? No. I was just trying to figure out if I should know that name or not." I tap my finger to my lips running through the list of society people I know. "Usually when you assign direct cases to me it's because of who they know in the city."

Dan laughs lightly and says, "You may not be aware of who Griffith is. She's not from around here. The kid's from Washington State." He must pick up on my lack of knowledge and supplies the rest, "Her mother's Johanna Griffith, fifth round senator. The woman has also been notified."

"Ah," I clue in. "So who does she have breathing down your neck?"

"The Governor, the mayor and the superintendent. Just everyone that can make my life a living hell. Not to mention she is coming down here today at some point."

"Well, you know what they say Dan," I chide.

"And that would be what Nikki?" he asks.

"It rolls down hill and you and I, my friend, are at the bottom of that hill." I press my hip against the sink and try to figure out how this is going to play out.

"Ain't that the truth." Poor Dan. I really wouldn't want his job.

"Alright, call Toussaint and tell him to meet me there in twenty. I need to go," I say not waiting on a response as I close my phone, set it on the sink and hop into the steaming shower.

I take only a brief minute to luxuriate in the hot spray of the shower, allowing it to loosen up some of the knots on my back. The rest of my cleansing ritual takes a back seat and the utilitarian in me takes hold.

I'm out of the shower and dressed in under ten minutes. There's barely enough light for me to make my way around the room and not bother Jill.

I look back at my bedmate and wonder just what happened last night. It doesn't feel like anything happened, but…

I shake it off, feeling for my gun and badge on top of the tall dresser by Nora's door. I need to get going. I clip my holstered gun and badge to my belt, look myself over in the mirror and decide to leave my damp hair in the ponytail it's in. I don't think my hair will look much better today anyhow.

Shoes, where in the Sam Hill did I put my shoes?

My hands go to my hips as I swivel around and survey the room. A few small piles of clothes, ones from last night presumably, pock mark the floor, but other than that the place is as usual, spotless.


Sighing, I spin around and ease open the door bypassing the closed guest bedroom door and into the living room. Nora and Ann's temporary workstation beeps softly and the whir of the fans from the computers are the only sounds in the entire apartment.

I look towards the front door and spot my shoes from last night. I jam my foot in one boot and raise my leg to zip it up, repeating the process with the other. As I look at the end table for my keys that are thankfully sitting next to the box of tissues, I see the two small duffle bags underneath it.

Going on a hunch and aware that I'm running out of time, I stride towards the guest bedroom's closed door. I can't remember if it was closed last night or not. Gently, I turn the doorknob and push the door open.

The light from the hallway spills through, slicing the room in two. It illuminates the bed's two occupants. My breath hitches as I take in their positions. Ann is flat on her back, one arm, bent at the elbow, tucked under her head. Her other arm is wrapped around my lover. Nora is half lying on top of her very married ex-girlfriend. I can't see under the covers but my guess, by the way they're laying, is that Nora and Ann's legs are entwined. My partner's free arm is gripping Ann's hip.

I shouldn't feel the burn of jealousy. I don't think I have anything to be worried about but seeing them like this…I blink back the tears that sting my eyes. I can't deal with this right now.

"It's not what it looks like," Jill whispers behind me.

Just as softly as I opened it, I shut the door and spin right into Jill's arms. Her hands grip my hips and she says, "They came home last night. You were passed out. They were both exhausted and I didn't think waking you up so that you and Nor could argue was smart."

I swallow the lump in my throat and nod. One hand comes up catching the tear at the corner of my eye. "I'll have her call you when she wakes up Nikki. I promise." The model offers me a warm, endearing smile and I cave.

She steers me out the door and gives a little wave before shutting it behind me. Sighing, I do as instructed and steer my dark thoughts towards Toussaint and how I'm going to get him to keep his trap shut on this case.

The stupid jerk has as much sensitivity as a fly. I turn right and into the flow of traffic and wonder if I'd get in trouble if I put a muzzle on him.

Ann clicks away on one of the keyboards of one of the computers that have taken up residence in my living room. Jill is opening the door for John and I'm clutching my cup coffee, wondering if it would be sacrilege to make an altar to the holy coffee bean or not.

"Jill," John says entering the living room, "it's good to see you kiddo." I look up from my cup and smile at him.

He's really not a bad guy. From our interaction, he actually seems pretty cool and I can see why Ann likes working with him. If Dan were less of a stickler, they'd be an awful lot alike...well except for the whole hitting on me thing.

I set my cup down, stand and offer the man my hand in greeting. "Morning, John."

He smiles brightly at me. "Nora it's good to see you again looking as beautiful as I remember."

"Do you flirt with everything that has two legs?" Ann snips from her seat.

I glance at her managing to keep the blush from my cheeks. The tips of John's ears tint pink.

His face sours briefly and then he winks at me. "I don't flirt with everything that has two legs, just the ones that I need to get on the good side of."

Ann finally cracks a smile and says, "Take a seat, boss. We've got some ground to cover for today."

"Uh, guys," Jill says from the doorway, "I'm going to let you three work. Nora, call your partner. John, I will talk to you soon. We need to talk about you interrupting my vacation with my wife. Ann," she looks pointedly at her wife, "I love you and all of you be safe." With the last bit of mothering, she's out the front door and off to parts unknown. My guess is a coffee shop for some quiet time with that script that she's been reading.

Apparently her manager thinks that putting her into movies would be good for her. I don't think Jill's sold on the idea. I know Ann isn't.

"How was Boston and Houston?" he asks taking a seat next to me on the couch.

I stand and ask, "You want anything to drink?"

He shakes his head. "I've had my requisite three cups for the morning and I'm not due for the next three until noon."

"Ann?" I direct my attention her way.

She doesn't look up, but shakes her head in answer. I sit back down and Ann says, "Boston was a bust." She looks up and levels a glare at John.

He sinks back into the couch. "Houston?" he asks hopefully.

It's then that her face breaks into a grin. "The only thing different in Houston was that we got a positive I.D. on one of our own."

"What do you mean one of our own?" John leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees.

"The rouge isn't A.T.F.," I fill in. "He's F.B.I."

"No shit?" John's eyebrows are in his hairline and Ann scowls. To say that she was displeased with the information would be putting it mildly. She cussed a storm from the Bureau to the airport and most of the flight.

"Yeah, Reagan Poviyemo fingered Jack Beckwith as the agent that worked with him and his team. Beckwith disappeared the day after the raid and when Poviyemo followed up on it, he was told to drop it," I fill in.

"What have you been able to pull on Beckwith?" he asks standing and pacing the length of my small living room.

"So far, not a lot. His files are blocked through standard measures. I haven't tried using our override codes," Ann answers.

"Why not?" he stops and puts his hands on his hips, pushing his jacket back to reveal a small red stain, a stain that looks like blood on his right flank.

"We know it gets tagged and sometimes it gets pinged to the wrong party. I'd rather fly as much under the radar as possible right now." Ann's fingers click away and the one large monitor that rests on top of my mantle lights up, displaying Beckwith's personnel file.

"If you use the regular connection and servers, yes it does and will because of the security measures. If you go through the N.S.A., like you should, nothing gets leaked." John's lips purse and he eyes the photo of Beckwith. "Go through the N.S.A. and find out which division he works for really. I'll go through the top. You ladies can come from underneath."

I look at my watch and my stomach tightens. The drop's today and we still don't have enough to do anything with. Our first solid lead and Ann and I have come up a day late and a dollar short.


John must be thinking the same thing as he says, "The fucked up part in this is that we're still going to have to go through with the drop. I'm going to need you two at the scene."

Ann and I exchange glances. We already expected this.

"So," Ann drawls, "Nora and I are going to make some smoke signals, draw Beckwith out and take him down with the Sungs?"

John shakes his head. "I want you two to try and mitigate the collateral damage." He finally drops his hands from his waste and takes to pacing again. "Let's get over the idea that people won't die, assume they will and find a way to make this be the last time."

"Uh," I start, "why can't we stop it before the bust?"

Ann's face sours, but she says, "We should."

John looks at her and that alone causes an audible clack of her teeth as she shuts her mouth. He then turns his gaze to me. Folding his arms across his chest, the look he gives is reminiscent of what you'd give to a dog that was being stupid.

Am I missing something?

I do a quick inventory of what we know thus far. The obvious smacks me upside the head. Among the other commonalities, there has been one other constant that we've just ignored. John obviously hasn't.

Damn it.

He must see the dawning of recognition in my eyes. Before turning to Ann, he winks at me and I continue to chew on my bottom lip.

"We can't. We need this drop to go like all the others," John's voice is soft and resigned. "Do you know why?"

Ann looks to me and I tip my chin, letting her know I get it. She doesn't.

"So what am I not seeing?" she asks her boss.

"We've identified the agent responsible for all of this. Who's giving the agent the orders? We know how the Bureau works, Ann. You can't go to lunch without a directive in most of the departments. Who's pushing Beckwith's buttons?" John turns to me and smirks. "Nora was right to ask who asked me to ask you to step into this investigation. We really should have started there."

"So we're bait then?" Ann asks, not looking too pleased.

I'm not either.

The director runs his left hand through his hair and nods. "It's a win for everyone. We draw Beckwith into the fight, capture the Sungs and follow the missing guns. With a little bit of luck, elbow grease and solid manipulation, Beckwith will lead us to his boss."

Her lips purse as she scowls at her boss. "I hate being bait. Do we remember the last time I was bait?"

I raise an eyebrow in question and she gives me a look that says we'll discuss this later.

"Yes," John nearly whines, flopping back into the couch and looking at me. "She ended up on a boat headed for the western coast of Africa. It took us three days to track the boat in international waters and then do a full on raid with the help of the U.S. Navy."

How come this is the first time I'm hearing about it? Ann would have told me about this…

At least, I think she would. After meeting John and hearing some of the conversation, I can't be sure of that anymore.

"Does Jill know?" I feel the need to ask.

Ann nods. "She wasn't really happy about it."

"Yeah," John agrees. He points to a faint line above the right side of his upper lip. Barely noticeable until he sticks his tongue behind it and pushes it out. "That's courtesy of Missus Flemming herself. She didn't like the downward turn our trap took when Ann went missing."

I wince. The jagged line looks like it hurt when it was fresh. "She smacked you?"

Ann snorts. John rubs his upper lip. "No, she decked me. Then, in front a group of F.B.I. agents and a small group of Navy Seals, told me that if I didn't get her wife back, she'd gut me herself." The man's head swivels to Ann and he amends, "By the way, just so we're clear on everything, if you're ever in a fight with Jill, I'm on her side."

I smile and Ann laughs. "You scared of my wife?" Ann asks around the laughter.

John nods. "I've been to too many countries to name, with time spent in at least a dozen of said countries being tortured by some of the best the world has to offer. None of them were as scary as Jill when she found out you'd been taken."

Ann shrugs. "She's crazy like that."

I shuffle behind Toussaint as we emerge from Dan's office. My head is pounding and I don't think I've ever ground my teeth as much as I have the past half hour as we were getting our asses handed to us.

A thorough chewing out all because the salaud in front of me.

It wasn't bad enough that Toussaint showed up at the hospital with a hickey the size of a baseball on his neck nor was it even as bad as his lack of compassion or hell even empathy when questioning the victim and her sorority sisters who've not left her side.

No, that wasn't as bad as sitting outside Bethany Griffith's room with Toussaint when Johanna Griffith showed and Toussaint in all his glory propositioned the senator outside of her victimized daughters hospital room.

That was the worst of it. That and watching a mortified Missus Griffith smack Toussaint across the face. Actually, come to think about it, that's been the best part of my day so far. I wonder if Johanna, after the damage control I did, would be willing do to do a repeat performance for me?

Probably not, considering Dan's pulled us from the case. Since Toussaint and I are partnered together and he was yanked, that means I was too. The upside of that is that Benny and Dominic picked the case up and they're a good team.

I drop into my desk chair and look at my phone, turn it on and wait for the display to let me know if I've missed any phone calls. It takes a minute or two but when I flip it open, the display shows three missed calls, all from Nora. There's also a lone voicemail.

I dial my voicemail and wait for it to pick up. When it does and once the automated voice let's me know that I do indeed have one new message, I relax just a little at Nora's voice, "Nik, it's me. I, uh, Christ, I'm no good at this and I thought I was going to talk to you, but…but you're not picking up so, here it goes. I'm sorry. I love you and I'm sorry. Please call me back when you have a minute. We need to talk."

I know we do sugga. I sigh and end the call after making sure to save the message. I look around at the empty squad room. Only one or two Uni's are around and they're typing away at reports no doubt. Toussaint is involved in his computer screen as well. I pick up my office phone and dial Nora's number.

Eight rings and her voicemail picks up. Shit. I leave a brief message and convey my annoyance of the game of phone tag that we've begun and hang up.

"Nikki!" Dan shouts as he comes barreling out of his office. "Let's go."

I barely have time to react before he's next to me, pulling me out of my chair and shoving me towards the doors. Something tells me to not ask any questions, as we race down the steps. It doesn't really register that we've made it outside and I've steered us towards June Lee until I'm following Dan's directions to get us to the Lakeside Airport the quickest way possible.

The station house on a good day is about twenty minutes from the place. Today, I make it in under ten as Dan fills me in on what happened. The only words I truly caught were Nora and explosion.

We don't slow down at the checkpoint as I've got the emergency lights on June Lee going and Dan's holding out his badge for the officers to view through the windshield. Black smoke billows in the distance. I can see the flames engulfing one of the hangers as firefighters struggle to contain the flames.

I come to a screeching halt, hopping out of the car as I slam it into park. June protests at the treatment. Dan's matching my stride as we come up on the scene in its entirety.

There are five men cuffed and covered in soot sitting in front of a cruiser. Three officers are standing watch over them while three of the arrestees are arguing with each other in I think Chinese.

"Where's Detective Delaney?" Dan asks one of the Uni's.

The kid, no older than twenty-two, scratches the back of his neck and then points to a small cluster of ambulances about a hundred yards to our left. My stomach drops.

Dan and I take off at a sprint. It seems like it takes forever, that the destination was getting farther away, but it's not. I know that. I just can't…this isn't happening.

We round the back of the first bus and come to a halt. Nora and Ann are sitting on the back of the third ambulance. Wrapped in emergency blankets, they aren't talking just surveying the burning hangar before them.

"Nora!" Dan calls.

I can't say anything, I can't trust my voice right now.

They give no indication that they heard us, but Nora does notice us as we stride up to them.

It doesn't look like she's been injured. There's dirt and ash smudges on her face and neck. Some soot in her hair. Other than that she appears okay. Ann is in a similar condition.

Nora's face breaks into a lazy smile as we stop in front of the two women. My hands clench at my sides. I want nothing more than to pull her to me, wrap my arms around her and check her over to truly ensure that she isn't injured.

"What are you two doing here?" she yells.

"Nora, we can hear just fine," Dan hisses.

Ann shoulders Nora and tugs on her earlobe. Nora's face shows understanding at what Ann was trying to communicate and she yells again, "Can't hear real well. The explosion sorta messed with our hearing. That and the raging headache we have."

Ann nods in agreement.

I watch the looks that pass between them. A series of questions and answers all in a look shared between two people that depended on each other to stay alive. My lieutenant's hands go to his hips as they eye each other. Somehow satisfied, his shoulders slump as he rushes over to my lover, smothering her in a hug. I notice Nora stiffen in the embrace, coughing uncomfortably as her ex-partner releases her.

"I'm going to go find the one's in charge," he says hooking his thumb over his shoulder as he announces his intent a little louder than he normally would.

We watch him scurry off and I finally step into Nora's personal space. Ann looks between the two of us and slowly she gets up. She moves stiffly away as she motions for us to talk.

Nora watches her retreat and then turns her gaze to me. I search her eyes, trying to discern the swirl of emotions that I see.

I come up with nothing. Her usually clear, green eyes are unreadable. What I would like to see, some sort of apology and reassurance is absent. Nothing's there to stop the thudding of my heart. Haltingly, I close the gap between us and gently wrap my arms around her.

I bury my nose in her hair, ignoring the smells that cling there. I don't care if she smells like a bonfire and burnt flesh. Underneath the cloying bouquet, I recognize her unique scent and take comfort in that.

"Detective," a male voice sounds behind us and we break apart.

I turn and face the man, an E.M.T., as he says, "We need to take Detective Delaney and Agent Flemming over to the hospital to get them checked out."

Nora shakes her head and points to me, saying, "I'm going home."

The E.M.T. shakes his head and says, "I'm under strict orders from Director Malone and Lieutenant Harney to take both of you in for an examination."

Ann appears behind him and shrugs. She points to the bus and moves forward. "No sense fighting Delaney."

I see Dan striding our way as he's being barked at by two different agents. I recognize Diea from around the precinct, but the other I'm not very familiar with.

As they get closer, Diea turns her attention to Ann and Nora standing next to me. Diea points to them and bellows, "You!" She stalks up to my lover and friend. Dan trying unsuccessfully to put himself between Diea and the other two women.

"Just what in the fuck were you two trying to prove!" Meagan spits.

"Now, Agent Diea," Dan tries, but he's shoved out of the way as Diea moves him aside and gets in Nora's face.

"You stupid fucking…" that's as far as the A.T.F. agent gets.

My fist shoots out, connecting with her jaw. It's sudden, unexpected and fierce. I watch, mildly shocked as the woman spins around and crumples to the pavement.

The other agent with Dan is the first to react as he lunges for me. Nora, intercepts him and knees him in the groin, letting him drop to the blacktop in a fetal position.

Dan and Ann stand there shocked, staring at the two of us as the ramifications of what just transpired are written across Dan's face.

"Do you two want to have a job!" our boss rages. He drops down to his knees, turning Diea over to assess the damage.

The other agent lies on his side, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.

We look at Dan and he shakes his head. "Get to the hospital. We'll discuss this later." Nora nods mutely and I help her into the bus. Ann follows suit as I stand below them.

"I'll follow you," I say. They nod and I close the back of the ambulance doors as another set of E.M.T.s come to take care of Diea and the other agent.

Dan stands there watching the bus retreat and turns to me. "Go," is all he says, the muscles in his jaw quivering.

My legs swing off the edge of the hospital bed as I try to listen to the doctor itemizing my injuries. Concussion, a few lacerations, limited auditory capacity those are the bumps and bruises, nothing major. I do have a sneaking suspicion that I will be insanely sore tomorrow when I wake up.

"Also, I'll be giving each of you a short supply of muscle relaxers. They will help with the pain more than any Vicodin or Percocet that I could prescribe. Take it easy the next few days and come in if anything seems to get worse." The doctor turns to the nurse and scribbles on the chart. "I'll have your release papers for you to sign shortly." With that the man is out the door. His nurse following behind him.

I look around the room. Ann's seated next to me and Jill and Nikki are sitting against the far wall. They wait as the door clicks shut before moving forward. Nikki and Jill's positions mirror each other as Nikki settles between my thighs and Jill settles between Ann's. The married couple collapses in on each other and Nikki's arms stretch out to rest on my shoulders.

I finally allow myself to relax as our foreheads rest together.

"How are you?" Nikki asks, breaking the silence.

I shrug. "I'm…actually for being blown up, I feel okay," I snort.

She pulls back, her face darkening. "That's not funny Nora. You could have died."

I rest my hands on her hips and pull her tighter against me. It's risky given our location, but the need to feel her outweighs my need for caution. "I'm fine. A little shaken up, but I'm fine Nikki."

Her lips turn south and I reach up to try and smooth away some of the wrinkles that are creasing her brow. She shakes me off and huffs, "It's not something to joke about. I can't get there right now. I'm still trying to get over the fact that you nearly died."

Nikki steps away from me and I catch her right hand with my left. She hisses in pain and I take a softer grip. Her knuckles are puffy, red on the peaks and a solid bluish purple between the joints. The skin on my debutante's middle knuckle is split and bleeding.

I still can't believe she went and cold cocked an A.T.F. agent. I'm not sure what Diea was ranting about, truthfully I don't give a shit. Now seeing Nikki knock her out was interesting. Still can't believe Omar Priddy came after Nikki though. Did he honestly believe I'd let anyone lay a hand on my partner.

Prick. Serves him right.

"We should get that cleaned up, Nik," I say pulling her closer and laying a soft kiss on the busted knuckle. I glance over at Jill and Ann. I smirk as I realize they really are in their own little world and Lee's voice from years ago whispers in my ear, "I was always the third wheel, Nora. When they were together, the world could have been ending and the only thing they'd see would be each other."

A tightness grips me and I have to wonder if Nikki and I are that way.

"Come on," I say exchanging positions with her. She sits down, allowing me to care for her. My body protests the movement, but I ignore the pain and take liberties with the supplies in the room.

I snag some cotton balls, a few band aids and a bottle of antiseptic before settling on a stool and moving between Nikki's parted thighs. I take her injured hand and lay it on her thigh, splaying the fingers out, remove the lid on the bottle, dip a cotton ball in it and move it over the battered knuckles.

My girls doesn't offer a hiss of pain, but I know it stings, they used this on me today. Gently I clean the torn skin and blow on it to dry the solution before covering the knuckles up with a few band-aids. I kiss each knuckle and look up to meet her gaze.

I wonder if she knows how sorry I am for the words I said to her Friday night. Does she understand the apology?

It's then that the door swings open, breaking our spell. John comes bustling in and then stops, looking at the four of us. A smile, bright and wide takes over his face. "Don't stop on my account ladies. If you still need a minute to collect yourself, I'll wait."

Ann scowls. Jill giggles. I roll my eyes and Nikki asks, "Who are you?"

"John Malone," he extends his hand in greeting and gently shakes Nikki's being mindful of the bandages.

"Nikki," Ann starts, "this is my boss."

Recognition dawns on my lover's face as her manners take over, "Oh, it's good to meet you."

"You as well," he says, sitting down on another stool. "Ann and Jill have said some good things about you."

Nikki's eyes skirt between the two women whose proximity has only altered in the amount of space that is not between their bodies. John picks up on Nikki's confusion and I smile at her, grabbing her hand. Her eyes grow large and I chuckle. That hurts.

"Please continue, I just wanted to fill Nora and Ann in on the latest developments," John says, resting his hands in his lap. "I'd probably be just as touchy if it were my partner."

I cough and say, "You were here about developments?"

"Right," he bobs his head and presses on, "First the easy stuff. Beckwith is in custody. I have two federal agents en route to pick up his boss, David Amos, senior agent of the D.C.'s organized crime division. Amos has another two agents in the field doing what Beckwith was doing. They are being picked up as well."

"Evidence?" I croak, not releasing Nikki's hand.

"Enough that our A.U.S.A., is singing yours and Ann's praises." His eyes darken as he looks Ann over and then me. I notice him track the bruising and cuts on my head and neck. "I…thanks both of you for doing what you did."

"Part of the job, John. You know that," Ann offers.

"Maybe, but both of you went in there knowing the outcome. Not many people walk into a building knowing that it's gonna explode," he says softly. "You two did good work today."

"I'm sorry, what did you just say?" Nikki spits. She drops my hand and moves to the far side of the room.

John looks between us confused.

"You knew?" Nikki asks, directing her question at me. "You knew the hangar was going to explode?"




"They, uh," John stumbles over his words, "Detective it was unfortunately a necessi…"

"Nora, answer the question?" she interrupts.

I meet her gaze and nod. "It was the only way Nikki. These people needed to be stopped."

Her face falls, tears leak from the corner of her eyes and she wraps her arms around her midsection. "Why would you…why didn't…"

"Nik," I say standing, trying to move towards her. "It wasn't as dangerous as it…"

She stops my words by a shake of her head. "You knew and did it anyhow. Nora that's enough and I…" Her eyes and arms droop towards the floor. "I just can't do this Nora…" She looks up and all I see in her eyes is heartbreak. "I can't do this. I just…I need a break."

With that she bolts from the room, leaving us in a stunned silence.

What just happened?

A stool is slid under me as my knees give out. John meets my eyes and silently asks if I'm okay.

I shake my head, unsure of how to answer.

Did Nikki just break up with me?

The End

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