DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ann – thanks so much for the beta. This one's for tristianmakhai (see what a picture can do?), and keinlurker and nikkiandnora for the Christmas wish list requests that inspired the rest of it. Note: suspect medical expressions and analysis ahead, but it's my story so I get to play doctor.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By AJ3


Nikki slowly straightened and, leaving the bedside, she walked over to the large plate glass window just as the first flakes of snow started to silently drift down. She leaned her shoulder against the cold glass, her eyes automatically following the path of the falling snow as it drifted into the central courtyard, dusting a mounted statue and the surrounding palm trees that were decorated with holiday lights. Beneath her unseeing gaze, people, muffled in winter clothing, were hurriedly making their way along the pathways between the buildings.

Nightfall caused the glass to reflect images from within the room, and she refocused her attention, once more finding herself caught in the tableau that was slowly revealed: a picture that blurred as tears again welled up in her dark eyes, but then she didn't need to be able to see the reflection to know who was lying in the hospital bed behind her.

Was it only 4 short days ago that she'd had that stupid argument with Nora? Now, she'd do anything to take back the hurtful words that had been said, but… Nikki's train of thought came to an abrupt halt as she tried once again to come to terms with the fact that she might never have the chance to apologise to Nora. With every day that passed without Nora regaining consciousness, the likelihood that she would never awaken to hear that heartfelt apology increased.

Nikki wiped her eyes and then rested her forehead against the glass as she thought back to the night of the accident. They had been re-hashing the only major bone of contention between them, about whether Nora should come out to her family. Last year, when Nora had spent Christmas Day with her family, it hadn't been too bad. They hadn't been lovers for very long and, although it had stung, she'd been able to shrug it off and enjoy Christmas with her father. But this year was different; she'd been so upset that Nora wouldn't be spending Christmas Day with her and still chose not to tell her family about them that the disappointment and hurt had eaten away at her. She'd made sure Nora knew just how unhappy she was with the situation, and the pointed and snide comments that she'd been making all week had finally erupted into a blazing argument during dinner.

Nora had said that she needed to get some air before she said something that she'd regret, and she'd grabbed her coat before she strode quickly across the restaurant floor towards the exit.

Nikki had sat and watched as Nora had walked away. She'd felt horrible because she'd known that her behaviour had been hurting her lover, but she'd also felt righteously indignant because she couldn't believe that Nora still refused to tell the majority of her family about their true relationship. Even Bobby had found out by default, not because Nora had told him. God knows she loved Nora, but she wouldn't put up with being second best any longer, especially at this time of year.

It was then that fate decided to take a more active role to remind the errant lovers what they meant to each other.

As Nora had stormed across the floor, fighting back tears, she'd struggled to pull her coat on, her movements tight and jerky with hurt and anger. She couldn't believe that Nikki had tried to goad her into making such a huge decision – it was easy for her to say 'Just tell them, they'll still love you,' but the reality of the situation could be vastly different.

In the meantime, Nikki had noticed that Nora seemed to be oblivious to her proximity to the small set of stairs that joined the upper and lower levels of the restaurant.

"Nora, stairs" she'd yelled, immediately regretting it when she'd seen Nora's head start to turn towards her, but without the desired effect of stopping her progress towards the top of the stairs.

Nora had instinctively turned towards Nikki's voice and had seen her rising from their table, arm outstretched, at the same time her brain had interpreted the shouted warning, but it had been a little too late as her foot had descended into open space. Mentally berating herself for not paying attention, Nora had then reached for the railing to steady herself, but her arm had been trapped in the sleeve of her coat, and instead of helping herself, she'd become even more unbalanced and had tumbled down the short flight of stairs.

A horrified Nikki could only watch as Nora fell. She'd leapt up, knocking over her chair in her hurry, and had run over hoping to find her lover dusting herself off and swearing about her clumsiness or at Nikki's ill-timed warning, but Nora had just lain motionless, sprawled in a jumbled pile of limbs and a nasty gash on her head that was already staining the floor with blood.

Nikki never remembered how she'd made it down the stairs to get to Nora's side, or the way she'd ripped her silk scarf from around her neck to carefully try and staunch the bleeding from the gaping wound, or the way she'd yelled at the wait staff to call for an ambulance, but she would remember until her dying day how she'd begged Nora to be okay and to stay still, wary of any other damage her love might have suffered.

Nikki's next clear memory was of sitting in the emergency waiting room for further news on her lover's condition. Of course, at first the hospital had refused to disclose any details to her, until her police badge and a forceful conversation with the doctor about being partners 'on the force' had provided her a grudging explanation.

A possible skull fracture with extensive lacerations - if she'd been feeling up to it, she would have laughed – well so much for a doctor's degree, she'd thought, she could have told them that.

However, as soon as she'd received the preliminary diagnosis, she'd called Bobby's cell phone and left a message for him to call her immediately. Then she'd contacted Dan to let him know and to ask him to get a contact telephone number for the Delaney's. It hadn't felt right to her to go through Nora's cell for the number, but she also hadn't wanted the Delaney's to receive the traumatic news about Nora's condition from the faceless hospital authorities.

Nikki had made some tough telephone calls during her time on the force, but having to speak to Mrs. Delaney to tell her that Nora had been injured and had been taken to the hospital was one that she'd never wanted to have to repeat.

Mr. and Mrs. Delaney, plus Bobby and the rest of Nora's siblings, had all arrived pretty much en masse, and after an initial rush of questions, firstly about how the accident had occurred -which Nikki had answered in a semi-truthful manner - and then about Nora's current condition - which Nikki had answered truthfully with what little information she had - they'd all settled down to wait.

Conversation within the group had been naturally strained, with everyone lost in their own thoughts. However, once Dan had arrived - suitably distracting his parents - Bobby had taken Nikki to the hospital cafeteria, ostensibly to get coffee for everyone, but in reality to allow her to have the meltdown that he could see needed to happen. Nikki had finally been able to give him a more detailed explanation of the circumstances that led to the accident and, as he'd comforted her, he'd silently roundly cursed his sister for being a stubborn jackass.

Eventually, the doctor had come back to tell the relieved group that although Nora had needed surgery, it had gone well and that he'd expected a complete recovery.

That had been 4 days ago, and despite a stream of neurological examinations and repeated CT scans that could find nothing wrong, her love had still not awaked from her coma.

Kathleen Delaney had been watching Nikki Beaumont ever since she'd arrived at the hospital.

Nora had talked about her partner and had even brought her to a family BBQ, or two, over the summer. But this had been the first time she'd had the opportunity to watch her daughter's partner without the distraction of Nora or Bobby pestering her for more ketchup or rolls. And she'd learnt a lot about her. Nikki was kind, clever, funny, considerate, loyal and caring, but the one thing she hadn't expected to learn was how much Nikki loved Nora. Now that she'd become aware of it, it was obvious – the way Nikki had unconsciously stroked Nora's hand and had smoothed back her hair, or the way in which Nikki's gaze would constantly be drawn back to her daughter or just how Nikki's voice would soften whenever she'd spoken to Nora.

After the first day, when Nora hadn't woken as they'd expected, the doctors had advised that conversation might help, so they'd taken turns to read, relate anecdotes, or just chat, in an attempt to help her regain consciousness. Nikki had never said anything specific when Kathleen had been in the room, but occasionally, some of the anecdotes that she'd related seemed to be somewhat stilted, and she had the feeling that Nikki had been relating a memory that she and Nora had shared, but that she'd carefully edited the names of those concerned.

Then there had been the anguish Nikki obviously felt, more than one would expect from a police officer whose partner had been wounded, no matter how close they'd been to the incident, but much more in keeping with someone grief-stricken over their injured lover.

She'd suspected something had been up with Nora for a while now. This past year, her daughter had been even more evasive than ever, falling silent or getting angry when questioned about the lack of a man in her life, but now Kathleen believed she knew why.

What she really didn't understand, however, was why Nora hadn't said anything to her. All that really mattered was that her little girl was happy. And so, she kept asking herself why hadn't Nora known that? Deciding that it was time to speak to Nikki to find out if her suspicions were correct and to see if she knew the answer to her question, she went in search of her daughter's partner. Girding herself for the conversation ahead, she opened the door to Nora's private room to find Nikki standing at the window and looking out into the dark night.

Nikki bowed her head slightly as she heard the door open and blinked back the tears that constantly seemed to threaten these days. She finally turned to look at Mrs. Delaney, who stared her dead in the eye and asked in a stern voice, "Do you love my daughter?"

Nikki stood transfixed. 'Where the hell had that come from?' she asked herself, as her mind scrambled to try to come up with a reasonable lie that wouldn't get Nora, or herself, into trouble.

"Urm…" she took a breath, her mind still frantically running through possible replies.

"Please don't lie to me," Kathleen said, sighing, "I get the feeling that's been happening a lot lately, and I've had enough of it."

Nikki looked into the older woman's eyes, eyes that suddenly reminded her so much of her lover's, and she had to turn away to try to steady herself.

She took a deep breath, then turned back and said "Mrs. Delaney, please, sit down." Nikki indicated the seat that was placed next to Nora's bed. "It's difficult…."

"Let me help you a bit," said Kathleen – settling into the chair – "I've suspected since Nora was a teenager that she was a lesbian, but I didn't want to push her into talking to me, so I kept up her fantasy that one day she would bring a man home to meet us. I'd always hoped that she would feel comfortable enough to come to me when she was ready." She stopped, glancing down at her hands, which were twisted together in her lap, before she looked over at her daughter's still face.

Nikki moved to crouch in front of the chair and gently took hold of the older woman's hands. "Mrs. Delaney..." a glance from Nora's mother chastised her. "Kathleen, I don't know one quarter of what goes on in your daughter's beautiful head, but one thing I am 100% sure of, Nora never meant to hurt you with her silence."

Mrs. Delaney nodded slightly, pursing her lips in thought. "That sounds like my Nora; she always did like to try and control everything even when she was a tiny thing, and unfortunately, having 3 brothers didn't help matters any. So… tell me more about what my daughter's been up to this year, and this time, please don't edit the stories."

Nikki sighed. "Nora is going to kill me," she said. "Surely you want to hear this from her?"

"No," said Mrs. Delaney firmly. "I knew something was going on and look at us now," she indicated the hospital room. "I've lost enough time; I don't want to lose any more."

The two of them had been so engrossed in their discussion that they hadn't noticed Nora's eyes start to flutter as she struggled back to consciousness.

Nora had been calmly floating in a hazy nothingness when she'd felt a delicate kiss and a voice she loved whispering in her ear, "I love you Nora – nothing else matters to me. Baby, please, please just come back to me. I miss you terribly."

'Nikki?' Nora had tried to fight her way through the amorphous fog that now seemed to trap her limbs in a cloying embrace, but it was so tiring. 'Nikki, where are you? I love you.' Wearily, she'd continued to push herself forward through the roiling mist. She'd kept telling herself, 'Nikki was upset, I need to be there for her, I've got to keep going… keep going…' and slowly her addled brain had fought its way back towards consciousness.

Now this was one weird dream, Nora thought, first clouds and now hearing Nikki and her mother… Her brain went into overdrive, 'wait… what the hell is my mother doing in our bedroom? And why do I have the hangover from hell?' This sudden mental activity caused her headache to worsen and by the time the pounding sensation in her head had died down again to a painful throb, Nora'd realised that she wasn't in her own bed and, in fact, she had no idea where she was. She tried to think back to the night before, but the last thing she could clearly remember was going out with Nikki to get a meal. But she could still hear the voices, so she decided to try and see what was happening.

Gingerly opening her eyes, Nora almost immediately closed them again when they were assaulted by bright light. Squinting, she tried again, her eyes tearing up as they slowly adjusted until she could finally see a dimly lit room. She took in her surroundings: a hospital room, and her mother and her lover who were talking quietly by the side of her bed.

Nora tried to speak to attract their attention, but her mouth felt like she'd spent the last week eating sand. She attempted to wet her lips, but short of eating an entire lemon tree, she reckoned that there was no chance of her talking anytime soon. So instead of trying to speak, she focussed on the conversation between Nikki and her Momma and realised that it was rapidly moving into areas she didn't want to think about – especially with the jackhammer that was still pounding away in her head.

'Desperate times call for desperate measures.' She considered her options and then groaned pitifully. She was amused to see both women turn towards her so quickly, it was a wonder they didn't suffer whiplash. 'Ha,' Nora thought gleefully, 'that certainly stopped their conversation.'

Nikki scurried around the foot of the bed, grabbing Nora's hand in hers and reaching to press the nurse's alert button with the other, whilst her Momma just looked at her in joyful disbelief, tears welling in her eyes and rolling down her cheeks.

'Hmm,' Nora pondered, studying the reactions of the two women. 'That's not good. Perhaps I should try to find out what's going on here.' So she tried to speak again, this time though Nikki realised the problem and gave her a small spoonful of ice chips to suck on with the warning to take it easy.

Just as Nora was rewarded with the refreshing ice, the summoned nurse arrived to check her vital readings, and after a short while, she reported, "Everything looks fine," easing the concerns of two of the three listening people. Then, as she withdrew from the room, she said, "I'll page the doctor; I'm sure he'll want to do a more comprehensive set of tests."

After consuming several more icy spoonfuls, Nora was at last able to rasp out, "Nikki, what happened, why am I in hospital and comprehensive tests for what?"

Nikki started to try to explain, but the relief she felt at realising that Nora recognised her and that everything was going to be okay suddenly became too much for her, and she broke down in floods of tears.

Fortunately Kathleen had recovered enough to take over the story, and explained what she knew about the accident and how the severe blow to the head had left Nora in a coma.

'How easily my life could have been shattered,' Nora reflected and looked over at her lover, 'and what if it had been Nikki laying here instead of me?' Nora shuddered, instinctively rejecting the idea. As she did so, she suddenly started to remember their argument and the major reason for it came back to her in startling clarity, along with the solution.

'Well,' she mused, 'at least I'm in the right place if Momma decides to hurt me.'

She reached over and took Nikki's hand, then turned to her mother. "Momma, I know I said that one day I'd introduce you to the person I wanted to marry. So, I'd like you to meet the love of my life, Nikki."

"Nikki, this is my incredibly understanding mother," Nora decided a little plea for patience wouldn't go amiss. "And as soon as they arrive, I'd love to introduce you to the rest of my family."

Nikki, who had only just managed to compose herself, started to cry again, and Mrs. Delaney reached over and gave Nora's closest hand a squeeze. Then she stood and circled the bed to hug Nikki, saying, "Don't you go upsetting this lovely girl, she's been looking after your lazy behind for days."

Nora started to raise her eyebrow at the admonishment, but quickly stopped again as a stabbing pain in her temple reminded her why they were all there in the first place.

"I'll leave you two alone for a bit," said Mrs. Delaney, releasing Nikki, "whilst I call your father and brothers to let them know you're awake at last – everyone's been beside themselves with worry. They've been here whenever they could, but unfortunately, it seems that the force can't run without the Delaney family."

"But, I just want to say," she leaned forward and gently brushed Nora's hair out of her eyes. "Don't you ever keep such important information from me again Nora Kellsey Delaney, or I will tan your backside so hard you won't be able to sit down for a month of Sundays." Turning and giving Nikki's arm another comforting pat; she left the two lovers alone.

Nora gulped at the seriousness of the threat and quickly ran through a list of misdemeanours she was fairly sure her mother didn't know about. Then she laughed at herself, relaxing slightly as she realised that nothing could be bigger than this and gently pulled the stunned Nikki towards her using their still joined hands.

Nikki was still trying to come to terms with Nora's unexpected announcement, but as she edged closer to her, she realised that none of it really mattered as long as she and Nora were together. She took a moment to tenderly caress Nora's face, before running her fingers gently through her lover's hair.

"I'm so sorry," said Nora contritely, glancing down, then meeting Nikki's suddenly concerned eyes as she captured the hand that had been stroking her hair. She placed a gentle kiss in its palm. "I definitely remember enough of what happened to know that I was acting like an ass."

Nikki breathed a sigh of relief as she realised what Nora was apologising for, then nodded slightly. "Maybe," she agreed, laughing a little at Nora's offended expression and tapping her on the nose with an elegant finger. "But you felt you had good reason, and I'm sorry too, I shouldn't have been so pushy. I guess I forgot how difficult it can be when you have a big family."

"You weren't being push…." Nora started to object, but stopped at Nikki's wry grimace. "Well, whatever we are, I really wanted... want to spend Christmas with you." Nora grinned slightly. "However, you do realise that my Momma's now going to lay a huge guilt trip on me, making sure that we spend every Christmas Day at their house."

Nikki thought about that for a second and then grinned back. "Baby, it's Christmas Eve," she glanced at her watch, "in fact, it's nearly Christmas Day – I think everyone's going to be coming here for Christmas this year."

Nora stuck out a pouting lip. "But," Nikki continued, "You and I can always have an extra special Christmas Day when you come home."

That got her a delighted little smile, which she carefully tucked away in her heart.

Leaning forward to softly kiss Nora's lips, she poured all her love into the delicate touch.

As they finally parted, Nora whispered, "I love you Nikki. Merry Christmas, Baby."

Nikki looked deeply into Nora's beautiful green eyes, wondering once again how she would ever have coped if Nora hadn't made it safely back to her. She smiled and replied sincerely, "This is going to be the best Christmas ever."

The End

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