DISCLAIMER: These characters well, Nikki, Nora, Dan, Darius, Georgia, Charlie, Arthur, Bobby and Mrs. Delaney are so not mine (dammit!), but Ann and Jill and other characters not mentioned in the pilot are (Ha!). The ones in the "dammit!" category belong to Nancylee Myatt and other's I don't know. I'm here for a bit of fun, and for this story, angst. No profit is being made here, and if it is, I'm not seeing a dime. Oh and before I forget, music is awesome, in fact it's preferred over television, so…the story title is from Tori Amos (all bow to Tori Goddess of the Ivory Keys) and Part I of this mess is from David Cook (yes, the American Idol winner – it's actually not a bad album, a little over produced, but that's common nowadays) off the self-titled album. The lyrics nor title belong to me…and I'm glad they don't…I can't sing to save my life. The second part is all the Man in Black – long live Johnny Cash.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Because my beta is nifty, he got this back to me in short order. So…onward! Upward!...wait…well you get the idea…this follows along the lines of the A.U. I've concocted and is set a few days after the events in Here's to the Night. That's all I got…the disclaimer was long enough. Take Care.
FEEDBACK: To whedonistic.tendencies[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.


A Thousand Oceans
By Whedonist


Part 1 – Avalanche

And in this rush, we are crushed,
Carry me down, rolln' in your arms,

Rolling over, I try to ignore the knocking at my front door. My apartment isn't that big. I know. But hearing Jill or Ann answer the door and talking to…my head tilts, straining to hear the timbre of the voice.


What the hell is he doing in here?

Did he forget he suspended me for two weeks for assault on a federal agent?

I mean really it's just the icing on the damn cake.

Nikki isn't talking to me. It took nearly two days for my hearing to come back. Moving the last few days have been fun too. Then to make it all nice and better, Dan pulls some stupid shit and suspends Nikki and me for two weeks for hitting two federal agents, who in my opinion, had it coming.

Federal or not, you don't come after fellow officers like that. Unless they're dirty and you're taking them down.

It's the one exception to the rule. It's the only exception to that particular rule.

Sighing, I shift in my bed and listen to Jill and Dan outside my door.

"It's good to finally meet you. Nora's mentioned you once or twice," Dan says.

"Same here. Nora and Nikki both have said some really great things about you. My Ann too." Jill replies.

"You've met Nikki?" my ex-partner turned boss asks.

"She kept me company while Ann and Nora were working together. She's pretty cool."

"Uh, well, she's one of our best detectives…," he trails off for a moment, his voice dropping as he asks, "How is she doing?"

"Her hearing came back fully last night, she can move around without wanting to punch someone. She's pissed at the suspension," Jill rattles off the list.

They're quiet, doing what I don't know, but it takes a second before a few short raps are given to my bedroom door. Jill pokes her head through gives me a smile. I scowl at her and she rolls her eyes.

"Nora, baby, you got a visitor," Jill says, pushing open the door, letting Dan walk through.

I sit up a little straighter and smooth out my wrinkled t-shirt.

"Hey partner," he smiles his Dan-like smile that usually gets me. Even on some of my worst days, he would crack a joke and that fucking smile and I would cave. Not much, but just enough so that he didn't feel like shooting me or requesting a new partner.

I can be a bitch to work with some times.

"What's up?" I ask. I really don't want to stretch this visit out longer than I need to.

Jill points to the two of us and quietly excuses herself, letting the door softly click shut behind her.

"For starters you look like shit." He looks me over, his hands resting on the hips of his charcoal grey linen suit. I hate it when he looks at me like that.

Dan and I were a great team and oddly enough, I still consider him one of my closest friends. I just never let him in enough.

He knows about me. About the Nora Delaney that people see. The Nora that I allow the public to see. I've just never given Dan the chance to get to know me – the one that Ann and Jill and Nikki know.

Guilt burns in the back of my throat and I cough before replying, "Well, Harney, if all you came to do was tell me I look like shit, like my daddy used to say, door's right there. Don't let it hit ya where the good Lord split ya."

His mouth quirks a little, the right side straining to go upwards. He's good at stoic. But I know him. The twinkles in his eyes give him away.

Finally I smile, showing him it's okay to and he cracks. My partner turned boss caves like a cheap chair and sits on the end of the bed.

"We need to talk, Nora." He sighs and fiddles with his jacket before taking it off and draping it on the foot board of my bed. He licks and sucks in his lower lip, gnawing on it lightly. I watch him as he tries to figure out what he wants to say.

Dan's always been good at choosing his words carefully. Especially with me. I've been told I have a tendency to be prickly.

"There's a few things that…I was pissed at you Nora. I'm still a little sore, but I've gotten over it – mostly." His face drops and he rubs the back of his neck.

What the hell is he talking about?

When his head swings up, we lock eyes and he says, as evenly as possible, "I know. I know about you and I know about you and Nikki." He moves to put a hand on my blanket-covered shin and I react. Drawing my legs into my chest, I rest my chin on my knees and look at him. My eyes burn while my chest tightens.

"Nora, please I'm trying to do the right thing here." His voice is low, wounded almost and I can't…what I want to say and what I should say is a jumbled mess in my head. "Let me get this out and then you can say whatever you need to. A few points and I won't take up much of your time. First, well, we got that out of the way. Second, I'm pissed you never told me. I understand," he stops and runs a hand over his head. "No, that's not right either, I don't really understand, but it's not really for me to understand. It's what it is." His eyes soften and he shakes his head, "It's who you are."

He shifts then, drawing a knee up on the bed while the other leg remains planted on the floor. "I'm pissed 'cause you and I were partners. You could have come to me with stuff like that. I'm also pissed because you and her are carrying around under my nose, in my division, breaking one of the cardinal rules of partnerships."

My mouth drops open to say something in defense, like if I had accepted his invitation to drinks and sex we would have been the same position years ago. But the retort dies as I realize he's really just trying to be my friend.

Something I was never horribly good at with him.

He looks me over and bulldozes onward, "As your partner, Nora, I'm still hurt, but I'll get over my ego. Besides, the fact that you're gay is a lot more appealing to think about than you not being hot for this." His usual cockiness comes out in a lascivious grin.

I can't help but snort.

"Now," he says sobering, "You now I'm pissed, keeping secrets from me. The rest I'm saying as your and Nikki's boss. If it comes down to it and others find out, I'm gonna play the fool. I don't know, I didn't know and this conversation you and I are having now – It. Never. Happened."


Am I missing something?

Am I still having hearing problems?

He smiles at me; actually, it's more like a grin.

"If you're happy, and honestly, you seem to be happy working with Nikki and uhm, working with Nikki, than I've ever seen you. You two are a great team." He points a finger at me and warns, "If you repeat this, it will be denied, but you two are the best team S.C.U. has. Hell, you two might be better than us together. Which is why, under these circumstances, ignorance is bliss. I don't know that you two are knockin' boots." He winks at me and smiles that damn smile.

My cheeks flush. In fact, I think all of me is red.

"You, uh, well…" I stammer.

"Words, they're called words Nora. You're usually good at using them," he jokes.

"Why?" is all I manage.

He shrugs. "I have a list of reasons for this. Not one I'm going to repeat. Keep it way below the radar and I'll see you two when you both come back to work. I don't want to split you two up. I don't think the division can afford to, but I will if it becomes necessary." He stands abruptly, grabbing his jacket and slips it on.

He steps towards me, tentatively, before leaning down and placing a kiss on the top of my head. "We're family, in a way," he whispers, "we protect each other. I've got your back. And your girlfriends too."

He right's himself and moves to the door, opens it and looks back, "Don't make me regret it, partner. See you in a week and a half."

With that, he breezes out the door throwing a goodbye to my friends in the living room.

I sit.

It's pretty much all I'm capable of right now.

Tell me tonight,
All that we have been,
Was it nothing more than noise inside my head?

Listening to my father carry on about the latest City Council drama, I sip the second bourbon I poured. It's a tad bit early, a little after one in the afternoon, but it's an indulgence. And no one will ever be able to say that I'm not indulgent. Especially when faced with picking up the pieces of my life.

"Nikki," my father says, cutting through my private pity party, "you haven't heard a word I've said, pumpkin. Would you care to tell me what's going on?" He leans back in my kitchen chair and rests his hands on the tabletop, fingering his pinky ring with his thumb.

I swallow another drink and shrug. "A daughter can't invite her father over for a good lunch?"

Truthfully, I've been miserable since…last week. I can handle the crap case with the eight year old. I can handle Nora and her bull-headed ways.

I can't handle the thought of losing another lover.

When John let it slip about the bomb… maybe it was an overreaction. But she knows. I've told her about Erica and she went and did it anyhow. Facing it all, I just don't think I can do it again.

"Normally, yes," my father's words are even, "but it's the middle of the work week and I know you. Why aren't you at work? Or did you think I wouldn't ask?"

My lips press together as I gauge how honest I want to be. Sucking it up, I say, "I was suspended for two weeks. There was this mess of a case. You heard about the bomb at the airport. My partner and I were assigned; well Nora was assigned to the case."

"Uh-huh, and you were suspended because?" he asks.

"I, uh…" I swallow and answer, "I punched a federal officer when I got on the scene. She came after Nora." The image of Nora, bruised and sooty, standing there as Meagan Diea came after her plays in my mind. "Daddy," I ask not giving him a chance to process my answer, "how did you know mama was the one?"

Draining the rest of my drink, I watch him physically recoil at the question. I can understand it. Usually when we talk of mama, its stories, reminiscing about a woman I can barely remember. As his shock wears off, his eyes narrow, looking me over like I'm twelve again, being caught doing something I shouldn't have been.

And just like I did when I was twelve, I fidget in my seat, waiting for his response.

"Is there something you need to tell me Nicolette?" he responds.

Slowly, I nod and avoid eye contact. "There, is, was…I'm not sure, but it's complicated."

"Nothing worthwhile is ever simple, Nikki. Especially in matters of the heart. Why is it complicated?"

Sighing, I run my hands through my hair and finally meet his eyes. "The woman, she's, our relationship getting out could cause a lot of damage. Professionally and personally."

"I see," he says. "Does this woman have a name?"

My jaw quivers and I nod. "Her, she's my – it's Nora, daddy."

"Your partner?" He clarifies, "Your work partner. The blonde that looked ready to spit nails the last time I saw you at work?"

I nod again.

His eyebrow rises as his hands still.

"I was gonna tell you, but, there are things…Nora's not out, we work together and it's just a great big mess." I'd like to say that I didn't crumble under his stare. That the compassion I saw in his eyes didn't make me feel like a great big heel, but it did and does.

Finally, I lose the small grasp of composure I had been maintaining and drop my head in my hands. The tears leaking through my fingers. I don't hear him move, but I feel his arms wrap around me as my body shakes. His lips press to the top of my head and he holds me. He doesn't say anything. He's just there.

A pillar in my storm.

I'm not sure how long it takes to get me to calm down, but finally I do and as the last few sniffles and shudders move through me, his handkerchief is there drying the tears on my cheeks. The chair scrapes across the tiled kitchen floor and he saddles up to me, gripping my hands.

"What happened, little one?"

"I'm not sure where to start. We were reassigned to separate cases. Mine ended poorly. Nora's ended with that explosion. She, uh, she knew that it was going to blow up…the hangar and she went in it anyhow." I suck in a breath, trying to calm myself. "I just lost it. I wasn't there to protect her. She wasn't hurt real bad, but I just couldn't handle it. Then…oh, daddy, I just. I needed a break."

His hand reaches behind me and gently rubs up and down the length of my spine. "When's the last time you talked?"

"Sunday," I moan.

"Do you love her?" he asks, resignation tinting his words.

I nod. "So much. She wasn't, she hit me like a freight train and now, now, she's stalling on getting a place together. And now I'm kinda glad she did. I don't think I can handle this. What if I lose her?"

"You're scared, Nikki. That is natural, but if you love her. If she's the one you're giving your heart to, then you have to work through it," he answers honestly.

"She has it and I… just – I do, so much, but, I just don't know if I can be with her." The words ring hollow in my ears. I know what I want.

I just don't know if I'm strong enough to deal with the implications. Things seemed so much easier two weeks ago. My future seemed like it was laid out at my feet, I just needed Nora to grab my hand and begin the walk with me.

But that's just it. She didn't. She shut me out; she chose Ann over me, even if it's a platonic situation. She chose her over me. Consistently over the past two weeks.

My father sighs. He sighs and wraps his arm around my shoulders giving me a squeeze and a kiss on the side of my head. "There are no easy answers here, little one. I'm sorry."

I slump against him. And swipe at my eyes again.

Can we just rewind the last few weeks and start over?

My head snaps up at the sharp knocking on my door. My father looks at me and stands, moving to answer the door. I watch him disappear around the corner and hear, "Ah, hello," my father says.

"Is Nikki here," the male voice asks.



They both come around the corner of the wall that separates the kitchen from the entry way and living room. He starts to smile at me, but falters looking me over. "Uh, sorry, I tried to call…uhm," he hooks a thumb over his shoulder and stutters, "I can – yeah, I'll come back."

"No," my daddy says, "this is business or so it appears." He excuses himself, "I'll go for a little walk."

I nod and wave at Dan to take a seat. "What?" I ask, not really in the mood to see him.

He fidgets. Not something I've seen him do. Looking me over, he sits opposite me at the end of my round kitchen table. "I tried to call," he offers by way of apology.

"I turned the phones off. I'm not in the mood to chat." I fold my arms across my chest and wait for him to get on with it.

"Makes sense. I just, are you okay?" he asks.

"I'm suspended. What the hell do you think?" I spit.

He winces, but meets my gaze. "You cold cocked a federal agent. You're lucky that's all you're getting."

I wave a hand at him and press, "Was there something you needed Lieutenant or did you come around to rub it in?"

"No, I really was just…" he rubs his hand over his head. It's a habit he has when he's nervous or frustrated. If I were him and he were me, I think I'd be a bit of both. "I just came from Nora's. She looks only slightly better than you."

He huffs and sits forward, lacing his hands on the tabletop. "I needed to speak with you both, but when you weren't with her it threw me. I was hopin' to kill two birds with one stone." He looks me over, this time with a more critical eye. "I'm gonna go. This was – this is a mistake." He moves to stand and I let him.

Rounding the corner he calls over his shoulder, "You need to talk to your girl."


My what?

It takes a few seconds, but my feet have me up and bounding for the door to stop him. What the hell is he talking about?

These scars we wear remind us,
The more we change the more we're all the same,

The sun shines down on us as I watch Lucy and Travis load up the rest of the bags on the jet Lucy will be flying back to Washington. Jill's arm is snug around my waist as she squeezes me into her side. For a few brief moments, I allow myself to relax and return the hug with one of my own.

In a way it feels like they just got here. Then again, it feels like everything's changed. I sigh as we release each other and Ann scoops me up. I wrap my arms around her waist and she buries her face in my neck. Her voice is muffled but I hear, "I'm gonna miss you."

"Me too." I say and squeeze harder.

"You two hug any longer and I may just start feeling left out," John jokes from my right. I let my friend go and look him over. Black t-shirt, blue jeans and black shoes. He wears a single side arm and it's strapped to the right waist of his back. His boyish grin and bright eyes would make most appear cocky.

For some reason, it just sort of endears me to him. I stick my hand out and he shakes it firmly. "That all I warrant Delaney?" I roll my eyes and offer him hug.

"Oh, no," I hear Lucy behind us. "John, if your wife saw…"

He steps back and winks, "Becca'd either want to watch or ask me to leave." His eyes dance with laughter and he wiggles his eyesbrows at me.

"Didn't need to know that," I say blandly. The rest of the group laugh.

I point a finger at me, but the words 'taken and gay' die on my lips. I'm not sure if I am taken. Not anymore.

The director must see something flash across my face as he drapes an arm over my shoulder. "Don't worry about it Nora. These things have a way of sorting themselves out."

I nod mutely as he steers me towards Ann and Jill. "I'll see you around Detective Delaney. Take good care of your partner and hopefully the next time around it will be under far more pleasant circumstances." I watch him and the other two agents on his team retreat up the steps of the jet and inside, leaving Ann, Jill and me on the tarmac.

Ann's the first to offer another hug as she kisses me on the cheek. "Call her," is all she offers vocally before trotting up the steps, following her team.

Jill stays and looks me over. Her mouth screws to the side, her arms across her chest as she studies me. Finally settling on some words she offers this, "It's you to decide."

Her lips brush against my forehead and she takes off after her wife. I stand there for a moment before walking towards June Lee parked off to the left of the private hangar. I've seen enough of airports for a while.

I get to my baby and turn her over, letting her idle as I mull over Jill's words. She's usually not that cryptic, but knowing her, she was trying to tell me something.

I just wish I knew what.

Sighing, I fish out the items from my pocket that're digging into my thigh. Two badges, honorary, from Director Malone, the I.D.s claim Nikki and I both as federal agents. I snort at John's gift. He said that if anyone gives us any "shit" just flash the badge and it will "shut 'em up."

I swear that man isn't playing with a full deck.

I stuff the gag gifts in my glove compartment next to an extra set of cuffs, spare clips and registration. Silently, I watch the jet lift off and wish my friends safe travel.

Pulling my cell phone from my pocket, I check the display first and view the fact that I have no missed calls. I pinch it then, between my thumb and index finger raising it up a few inches above my thigh to let it slip through. It rotates, my fingers providing the axis for its turn before softly hitting my thigh again.

I haven't seen her for three days and we really need to talk. I just don't understand what happened. She seemed to get that I was so very sorry Sunday. What changed in the few seconds between me wrapping her knuckles and John walking into the room?

I've tried several times to call Nikki, each call was met with a voicemail after a few rings, now…it goes straight to voicemail. The phone twirls as my mind gathers the pieces of my life together.

She won't talk to me over the phone. Darius won't pick up the phone. I only have one more option in terms of trying to track down my partner.

Her father.

I chew on my lower lip and continue to fiddle with my phone. Is that really something that I want to do?

Fuck it.

I toss the phone on the passenger seat and put June Lee in gear…

What did mama used to say when dad was acting like an ass…If the mountain won't go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain.

I snort. Right like I need to be like my mother. I shake my head and slip into the flow of traffic on the highway. I just hope Nikki's let her father know where she's at.

A small traffic accident on the highway slows my progress and by the time I make it to Nikki's dad's it's quarter to five. I hate knockin' on people's door around supper. Seems rude.

I kill June Lee's engine and snag my phone. I straighten my back and square my shoulders walking up the brick sidewalk. Her dad's place always made me nervous. Too much for just a couple of people. My three brothers, mom, dad, and I could all live in the den.

I hit the doorbell and hear it ring in the house. My hands get stuffed in my pocket and I rock back on my heels waiting for someone to come answer the door. For some reason I feel eight again waiting on my best friend, Sara, to answer the door. I always got so nervous standing outside waiting on her.

The door swings open to reveal one of their staff. He's clean cut in a simple linen suit and I'm struck again by how different Nikki and I are. The way we grew up so vastly different from another. What if it's just the realization that we're too different to actually work?

Did she finally see what I've known all along? She's the Frances to my Johnny.

I run a hand through my hair and ask, "Is Mr. Beaumont in. I'm looking for Nikki. I work with her and she isn't picking up her phone. I was hoping he could help."

His lip and eyebrow rise in tandem, it's slight but there and I can't tell if it's shock or disgust. Maybe a bit of both…?

"Ms. Beaumont is here. Please wait here and I'll see if she's accepting company." He shuts the door behind me and strides up the steps while I wait in the foyer.

Her being here is convenient. I think. I'm still a little shocked that tracking her down was this easy.

It seems like forever as I stand really looking around, examining the different pieces of art decorating the walls or the few family pictures. Nikki always told me that she didn't have much family. An aunt and uncle that live up North with two cousins that don't stay in touch much.

Her family is her dad and Darius. I had thought that her circle had widened enough to include me too.

I guess we're about to find out. The butler comes down and clips, "She's in her room, go up the steps, turn right, it's the second door on the right."

I swallow and nod.

Guess we're gonna see how infested the waters I'm diving into are.

Swept up in this emotion,
We fumble through and make the same mistakes

The door to my room is open. Done so purposefully. But as Nora stands in the doorway, I'm not sure it was such a good idea. I take her in. Noticing small changes. She looks tired. Wrung out.

I'm sure I don't look any better from my seat at the foot of my childhood bed. Truthfully, I'm exhausted. I'm hurt and confused and more than anything…I just want to wrap myself up in Nora Delaney and spend the rest of my life in her arms.

I bite back the urge. That's not what either of us needs right now.

"Hi," she says meekly, propped against the door frame.

"Hi back," I say motioning her to come inside. "I…"


We start at the same time. She blushes and I smile.

"I tried calling your cell," she rushes out, "You didn't answer. I called the apartment. You didn't answer. Darius wouldn't tell me anything. I resorted to enlisting your father for help." She shuffles further inside and finishes, "but you're here."

"I am." I've been thinking nonstop of what I want to say to her and now that I have her in front of me I don't have a clue what to say.

I do acknowledge that this is the first time she's been in my room here. I see her look around. This room is stuck in a time warp that much I'm aware of. It's stuck in the form of a girl from John Marshall High's graduating class of 1989. A school pennant, pom-poms, a few trophies and Polaroid's decorate my room. That and the magnificently large poster of Debbie Gibson circa her release of Electric Youth.

The poster does not go unnoticed by Nora and she smirks at me looking it over then looking pointedly at me. Admittedly, I didn't know it at the time, but upon reflection, as I came out, I realized a few things about the younger me.

The first and foremost being that while all the signs were pointing to my gayness, such as my deep love of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Boy George and Debbie Gibson, her in particular for some reason. The second being my near consistent "hero worship" of actresses. I mooned over Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. Later on in life I found out it wasn't because I admired their talent. Erica took particular glee in pointing out the signs of my budding sexuality.

I want to bury my face in my pillows and wake up in Nora's arms.

I huff and she looks at me, a question on the tip of her tongue. I shrug. It's nearly all I'm capable right now.

"Debbie Gibson?" she asks instead.

I can't help the smile. I would scowl and pout if her look of incredulity wasn't so damn adorable.

"I didn't think you'd stoop so low as Eighties Pop, Nikki." Nora leans against the vanity table.

"It was catchy and she was cute. Can't blame a girl," I tease right back. Lyrics come unbidden in my mind and I sing a bit of one of her songs, "When I was sorry, it was too late to turn around and tell you so. There was no reason. There was no reason. Just the foolish beat of my heart."

The last words die on my lips as the melody slips away, realizing too late the song choice was a tad too telling of my current, of our current situation.

She breaks eye contact and goes back to staring at the thick cream colored carpeting.

"Nikki, what's going on?" she whispers. I nearly miss the question, it's asked so softly.

"Nora, I…" I squeeze my eyes shut, pushing the tears back. I struggle with what I have to tell her. "We need time. We need time apart to really see if this is what we want."

Her eyes open and snap to me. "I know what I want Nikki. I'm standing in her room. I know exactly where I want to be. What I can't figure out is why you aren't with me."

I run a hand through my hair and begin studying my bed spread. The blasted thing ain't changed in nearly two decades. I know the pattern just as well as the back of my hand. "I need a break. These past two weeks Nora. I need to see if…"

"See what? Wasn't it you that wants to get a place together? Wasn't it you that was settin' on tellin' your daddy about us over dinner, trying to make your intentions for us perfectly clear? Tell me Nikki what in the hell happened that was so drastic that you've set a flame to the dream you and I were building together?" Nora snaps. Maybe she has every right to.

I just don't know anymore.

"That's just it," I say as evenly as possible. I unfortunately can't manage a voice above a whisper as I say, "they're just dreams Nora. That's all they were. What I want for us, I'm not sure we can ever have. Between the complications work brings into this…added to the fact that you…"

"Me? That I what?"

My patience starts to wane and I stand up, folding my arms across my chest. "Every decision that you've made has been you choosing something other than me." I finally say. "I'm not looking for you to march in NOLA's Pride parade Nora. I just want a little recognition for the place I hold in your life. You can't do that though. Every chance you've had you've chosen something or someone that isn't me. Isn't us."

I shake my head at her attempt at interrupting me. "No, you asked darlin', well I'm answering. I need to figure out if that's something that I can live with. I need to figure out if what I want for us isn't just some half cooked up fantasy because I love you so damn much I'm willing to sacrifice my self worth for us to be together." The tears start all on their own, somewhere between the beginning and middle of my tirade, but I press on, "I need to figure out if I can stand the thought of losing you before we go any further. I can't bury another lover."

Her jaw clenches and quivers as the usually kind green eyes I've come to adore stare back at me, guarded and angry.

"I just need some time to figure all of that out Nora. Please," I whimper.

She shakes her head. "Ain't it a little too late to be wondering about shit like this when we're all ready in too deep? Why didn't you say this before I fell in love with you…?"

Nora doesn't wait on a reply to her questions, but instead takes off out the door.

I hear her bound down the steps, slam the front door closed and the way she guns June Lee, peeling away from my childhood home, away from me. Again.

I fall back onto my bed and pull a pillow over my mouth to cover the sobs.

I feel alive beside you,
And all at once I am whole again,

I look out of June Lee's windshield and concur with God that today is a shitty day. The slate steel slab that's been slammed over New Orleans coupled with the muggy threat of a thunderstorm, are all tell tale signs of God's displeasure at today. Or it could be that the Universe for once wants to throw me a bone and commiserate with me.

The remaining days of my suspension were the longest of my life. Darius acted as a go between for Nikki and I, picking up and dropping a few things off that we needed to get by. The first conversation we've had since I went to her daddy's house was this morning to clarify how we were going to handle work.

As far I'm concerned it's business as usual. Dan doesn't need to know anything and as for the rest of the squad, they'll whisper enough about our return after two weeks off. I've got enough on my plate without worrying about them.

I'm still not sure how she's going to be. I haven't slept much; eating's been a laughable thing. The one nice thing is that my pain in the ass brother's made it a point to stop by almost every day to fill me in on what's going on in the department.

We went to eat last night to celebrate my return and Bobby's promotion to the mounted patrol unit. He was just happy not having to hoof it around the city anymore.

Although the most troubling thing is that I haven't heard a word from my mother. Nor has Bobby mentioned her or asked me to come to dinner with her. I don't know if should call or not. I grunt and run a hand through my hair.

I check the read out on my radio, checking the time. Nikki should be down in a minute. I can't tell if the knot in my stomach is anticipation or anxiety tinted agony at having to spend our first full day working together.

I know I miss her.

I miss waking up next to her. I miss the sound of her voice as she teases me endlessly. Hell, I miss her little half snore that wakes me up in the middle of the night and her need to leave dirty clothes on the bathroom floor.

I swallow past the lump in my throat as she approaches me. More casual than normal. She's in jeans, scoop neck sweater and brown leather jacket.

"Well aren't we happy this morning," she teases me.

"Eh?" I ask dumbly.

"You're smiling. I've miss…" she cuts herself off.

I shrug and answer honestly, "I just like seeing you."

Her cheeks tint at my admission and she clicks her seatbelt closed. "You ready for today?"

I nod. "I've been very bored." I signal and pull out into traffic easily threading through the other cars towards the station.

"Yeah, me too," she says. I look out of the corner of my eye and see her head propped against the window staring out at the sky.

"Maybe it'll be slow. We can stay at the station instead of going out into the rain," I say wanting to smack myself upside the head. If this conversation were any lamer I'll be forced to bite my tongue off.

She turns her head to me and offers me a look. I already know she's thinking what I'm thinking.

I close my mouth and focus on the road. Better than trying to make conversation. The rest of our drive is uneventful. Silent and tense. Slipping into my usual parking space I kill the engine and make my way out of the car towards the station house, not bothering to see if she's following.

Signing in, I greet the front desk uni and head up the steps to my department. The first stop we need to make is to see Dan. This should be interesting. We haven't really talked much since the Wednesday before last. After he told me he knew. I'm still not sure what to do with that.

From our talk, it looks like it's going to be business as usual. Maybe we're operating under the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and really, that's fine with me. The fact that he acknowledged it and isn't doing anything about it is enough to send me into fits.

He's usually so by the book. I rub at the back of my neck, stalling in front of his door when I feel Nikki come up behind me. "The handle won't bite sugga," she purrs in my ear, "as far as Dan's concerned nothin's changed and I for one want to get my gun and badge back."

I sigh and push the door open. Our boss is sitting behind his desk on the phone. He holds his finger up asking for a minute. We look at each other and take our seats across from him. I shake my head at his office. It wasn't the cleanest when he first moved in and now….

One day we won't be able to find him. He'll be buried under all the paperwork he has stacked around his office. My point is made when he rolls back and knocks into a filing cabinet, sending three manila folders to the floor. Paper goes spilling out, he cusses under his breath and I go play fetch.

Bending over and scooping the files in my arm, I feel Nikki's gaze on me. It's a familiar tingle that I've ached to feel again. Two weeks…two weeks of this bullshit break and I still can't figure out what the hell she needs from me so that she'll say I love you again. That'll get her to see that us being together is the only course of action either of us needs to take.

I right myself and set the files back to where they fell from. I catch her lingering stare before returning to my seat just as Dan hangs up the phone. He glares at Nikki a moment and barks, "Why didn't you tell me Toussaint was a walking harassment suit waiting to happen?"

Nikki shrugs. "'Cause it would seem that he weasels out of most of it." She the smiles at him. He doesn't know that particular tilt of her lips or the arch of her eyebrows.

"And you conveniently forgot to mention to your temporary partner who Johanna Griffith was." It's a statement. Nikki shrugs.

"Had he been a bit more concerned about the facets of the case, he should have been aware," she responds to the statement and all Dan does is shake his head and grunts.

"Well, he's being reassigned to foot patrol out in the quarter for the foreseeable future. Senator Griffith, however, made it clear you were a "jewel"," he air quotes the word 'jewel', "and that nothing negative should happen to you." He smirks and finishes, "You may owe her a box of chocolates. The woman intervened for you and your partner when the federal agents you two assaulted wanted to take it a little further than just a slap on the wrist suspension."

I really don't know what they're talking about but I shoot a glance to my partner that lets her know I want to be filled in later. She dips her chin as an answer and I face Dan again.

His hand's in his desk drawer to his right as he looks us over. Deciding on something, he pulls out two badges and two guns encased in their holsters. "Welcome back. And for the love of Pete, don't let it happen again detectives. Pulling your asses out of the fire is a lot more work than I need."

I sigh and he winks at me.

"Now, since all of your cases have been reassigned, we need to keep you two busy until I get dispensation from I.A.B. to clear you for field duty," he informs us.

"What?" Nikki and I huff at the same time.

"In light of the last two cases Nikki worked and the last case that you worked, Nora, they're asking that we hold off on putting you both on active cases." He raises his hand at the protests on the tips of our lips. "Consider it a blessing. This could have ended a little worse for you two than a suspension and a trip to the company shrink."

"So we have to be cleared by the department psychologist before we take any cases?" Nikki asks, her tone belying her stiff posture.

Dan nods and hands over a few pieces of paper. "I need you two to sign the top and then take the bottom to the Doc to fill out and send back to me." He smiles sweetly at the two of us before amending, "Do my heart and stress level some good, don't talk about your relationships outside of work. Stick to the cases."

It's the first he's mentioned to us. Nikki and I haven't really had a chance to talk about it either.

We take the papers from him as he finishes, "Until then, I'm enlisting you to begin taking this crap out of my office and begin transferring it down to the file room or where ever," he waves his hand about, "it needs to go."

I scowl at him and stand. Nikki begins to follow me out the door before he calls out, "Don't forget to take a box each, ladies!" I snatch the two top boxes of files and stomp out of his office.


We fall into each other,
Your atmosphere is all I'm breathin' in

I look up again, catching her eyes going back to the stack of folders in front of her. Nary has a word been exchanged between us. We've sat here most of the day going from one file to the next. We've also both made the requisite appointments to see the shrink so we can be released for field work.

I honestly can't say I'm upset about being stuck at my desk. The break from looking at dead bodies is actually welcome. I knew making the transition from narcotics to S.C.U. was going to be a little hard to handle. I had expected it.

Nora kinda made the transition as easy as it could have been and I rolled with it all to keep pace with my partner. Even on our toughest cases, she's not let her emotions show the affect they've had on her.

Which is surprising given her temperament. But Nora holds it in really well.

I haven't missed the dead bodies in two weeks, and I won't complain about another week or so away from them either. Even though suspension was god awful.

Thank God for Darius. He's been spending his free evenings with me. Sometimes he berates me for letting my fear get the better of me. At least that's how he started, but once I told him about the past few weeks. About Nora and what she's been working on, he lightened up and has been a bit more supportive. Except when he gives me the look.

I sigh and close the current file. Stretching in my chair, I hear my back pop back into place. Nora looks up at me and gives me a look, chewing on her lower lip. Her eyes are a storm of thoughts. I can't be sure if they are in regards to me or if they are about the files she's shuffled through.

Or…it could be because Dan knows and I'm not entirely sure how she feels about that. Of course there's not much for Dan to know right now. What I did ask him, when I chased him down outside of my apartment, was how he found out.

He offered me this little smile and said, "At first it was a suspicion. She let you drive her car. In the years that we worked together, she never let me behind the wheel."

"That was it?" I had asked.

He grinned and then answered, "No, her attitude's changed. She smiles more. She looks at you like she ain't ever looked at me. All of that plus your reaction to her at the airport. It clicked."

I kicked myself then. It isn't that I ever thought that he was dumb. I actually think he's a pretty smart guy. I just thought that Nora and I did and do a stellar job of hiding it.


We overlooked one minor detail.

Despite Nora's adamant declaration that nothing between the sheets happened between the two; he was her partner before me. That bond, especially if you're a good team, is hard beat. Nothing makes people closer than being shot at together. Hell, it brings a level of intimacy greater than sex to the relationship under certain circumstances.

And truthfully, I'm okay with Dan knowing. It makes things a bit easier. He did say that he wasn't gonna stop teasing Nora and by teasing he meant hitting on her 'cause it "chafes her like nothing other."

He's right about that. My…she gets huffy usually when he does.

"Delaney," Nora answers her desk phone. I try not to eavesdrop but I hear snippets, "No, ma, I didn't…I don't know if I'll have time…You what?...No, look," she stammers and I catch her eye.

She holds the phone away from ear and looks me over. Cocking my head to the side I try to discern what's going on with the look she's giving me. She gets the same look when studying evidence or a crime scene.

I resist the urge to snap at her that I'm not a dead body or a smear of blood.

Her mouth parts a little more and her eyes widen in that way that lets me know she's figured something out.

I scowl at her and go back to my stack.

"Yeah, ma, I'm still here…Actually, if you want set an extra spot, I might just be bringing a guest…No, not yet…I'll let you know…yeah, you too…Bye." She cradles the receiver and stands.

Looking me over she says, "I'm gonna head out. Darius still coming to pick you up?"

I nod, watching as she grabs her jacket and practically runs out the door. I cluck my tongue and look at the clock on the computer. Five p.m. We've been here our eight hours. Funny how the day seems to crawl on by when you're buried under a mountain of paperwork you could care less about.

Sighing, I push back from my desk and gather my purse and coat. Darius should be waiting for me around the corner. Maybe he'll take me out and get me properly drunk.

I trot down the steps, sign out and head to our designated meeting place. He's driving his Escalade and every time he drives it I have to laugh a little. In private, the man laments the stereotypes associated with his ethnicity. Yet…he plays the part to any casual observer. Talk to him for ten minutes and his farce is revealed. The car is another facet of his "cover". Tricked out with rims, a system, tinted windows and all the bells and whistles, Darius seems to enjoy it.

I suppose that's the most important part.

I slip into the passenger seat just as the rain breaks for the second time today. I lean over and give him a peck on the cheek. He grins at me and asks, "How's the first day back?"

I don't answer as he pulls out into traffic and heads towards my apartment. I see him glance out of the corner of his eye and dutifully, I ignore his looks.

"When you gonna get another car?" he asks over the jazz coming out of the speakers.

"When I figure out if I'm gonna need one," I reply shortly.

"How was Nora?"

"What are we playing twenty questions, Dar?" I snip. I shouldn't be cranky with him. It's not his fault my day sucked.

We stop at a light and he turns to me, hooking a finger under my chin, turning my head towards him. "We will if you don't start talkin'. Kouz you gotta get it right."

"Why?" I ask pulling away and point towards the car moving ahead of us. "She said half a dozen sentences to me today and then took off as soon as the clock hit five."

He grunts at me and mumbles, "Shit's gonna make for a long fucking week."

Silently, I agree.

'Cause we are lead to the edge,
…Crashing down, crashing down,

In your avalanche, in your avalanche

I huff waiting on Nikki to get in the car. I'm taking her home tonight. The first night all week. It's also our Friday and I've yet to ask her what I really want to.

I drum my fingers on the steering wheel. I should just ask and get it over with. I mean would she say no?

I can't be sure of that. If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I could have told you with conviction that she would have jumped at the chance. But.

It's not a few weeks ago.

Resisting the urge to thump my head on the steering wheel and injure my car, I do what I do best. Put the pieces together. And oddly enough, I have my mother to thank for this. The irony isn't lost on me.

It took me a while to put some of the pieces together. Nikki's not just talking about me and Ann, although I think that my relationship with Ann bugs my girl more than she ever told me. In a way, Nikki is right. I did choose the case over her, but what she doesn't see is that if the shoe were on the other foot, if it was her that was asked to work the case, she would have done the exact same thing.

My mouth screws to the side, slowly working through my plan of attack, first step is to ask her to dinner. Then well, the rest kinda depends on her reaction to it all. She's scared. That I understand. But we can't pretend that our jobs aren't dangerous, but she's using her past as an excuse.

I chew on my lower lip, disliking the idea of using her dead girlfriend against her, but Nikki's using her against me and I'm pissed about it, just not pissed off enough to not cut her slack. She deserves it.

We both have baggage and we both need to work through it.


Nikki's back is turned to me as she rests on the passenger side fender of June. Her left arm is tucked neatly under her right arm that is holding her phone to her ear. I can't hear her or see her face, but for some reason I get the feeling that she's annoyed with the person on the other end of the line.

Then again she's been annoyed all week. I can count on one hand the times I've seen her smile at anyone this week. Dan keeps shooting us looks as we come in and out of his office to pick up more files to organize.

And while I have time to brood, fuck him and his files. I hate desk work and this is like being stuck in the middle of my own mini hell.

Shit's getting old. Thank God, I've got an appointment with the shrink Tuesday morning when we return for the beginning of the week.

Nikki pushes off the car and turns looking at me, asking me for a minute more. I nod and she nods and turning away from me, goes back to her conversation.

I get that I fucked up. I understand that what I said to Nikki that Friday night when everything went to shit was insensitive and that if our roles were reversed I would have reacted much the same way Nikki did.

Hell, I probably would have been madder.

Every word Ann and Jill have said to me regarding my relationship with Nikki is coming to bite me in the ass. My words to her, to my lover, have been hollow. I see it, now. I just hope I'm not too late. I just need her to talk to me.

If she'd get her ass in the car. If she'll give me the time of day. I figure that I've only fifteen minutes to really get her to buy into what I have to say. If I smoked, I'd want a cigarette right now. As it stands, I'd take a fifth of tequila and all the courage I can muster.

Both the drink and the courage are in short supply as Nikki slips inside my car. As she fastens the seatbelt across her lap, I ask, "You ready?"

She bobs her head.

Yep. That's about as much as she's said to me all day. Sighing, I put June Lee in gear and head towards her apartment. The words I wanted to say leave me. I keep looking at her out of the corner of my eye. I've never seen her quite so…surly. That's the best description of how she's been all week. Grumpy too.

The trip to her apartment is shorter than I would have liked. So short that I wasn't able to find my spine that was misplaced when she stepped into June Lee. The bats start up in my stomach and my palms are slick against the steering wheel. I need to grow a pair before she bolts. It's just…I'm not good at this. I'm fine when things are good, but I hate fighting. I never did handle confrontation with the people I was seeing well.

Well, it's not like there was a lot of people, Tommy, Ann and if you count Cassie. I think that was one of the reasons I stuck around with Tommy as long as I did. I had no urge to fight with him. Then Ann. She changed everything. And she also took glee in pointing out the signs of my sexual orientation. I'll forgive her for it when I'm old and grey…maybe.

It's also a part of what Nikki doesn't understand or maybe she does, but she's chosen to ignore it. I was always the tomboy. I was always the one that people made assumptions about. I had no interest in dating in high school. Tommy chased me and I just figured it was what you were supposed to do. So I did it…until something that actually felt right came along.

Nikki looks at me as she unbuckles her seatbelt. The voices in my head are yelling at me and the opportunity to say what I need is quickly slipping through my fingers. Gripping the steering wheel so hard my knuckles are white, I clamp my eyes shut and blurt, "Come with me on Sunday to family dinner?"

I wait for a response.

June Lee rumbles under the hood.

My blood rushes through me, sounding in my ears, nearly drowning out the sound of the engine.

But Nikki doesn't say anything.

Slowly, I crack an eye open, my right one and sneak a peek.

She sits there staring at me.

Taking this as a sign I hurry on, "I know you want space. I know you need to figure it out, but I get it. I fucked up. I know that we have issues that we need to work on. I'd like to start. I want to make it right and I want to do it all with you by my side. I don't know how, Nikki. I'm scared and I need you."

I suck in a breath and forge ahead, "I don't know if it's too late or not, but I told my mama that I was gonna try and convince Dan's replacement to come with me to dinner this Sunday. I know it's not…it's not what you want. But it's a step. As for me and the closet, I have my reasons for staying in there. I'll explain them to you if that's what you want. I just…please…just…" I swallow and turn to her, "Just don't leave it like this. Please?"

She stares back at me. Still not saying a word. Come on Nikki, anything, just say yes. Say we can take it slow. Just put me out of the misery I've been in…

The seconds tick by then she throws herself from my car and nearly runs to her apartment. My eyes follow her retreating form and I sag in to the seat. Falling forward, my forehead thumps against the steering wheel and the tears splash on its column.

Carry me down,
Rollin' in your arms,
'Cause I can't remember ever falling this hard

Heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe, heel…brick wall. Spin. Gnaw on my thumb nail which is a nasty habit. Glance up at the apartment door. And back to Heel, toe, heel, toe, heel.

"Nicolette Joyelle, I swear on Erica's grave if you don't quit the pacing shit and man up, I'm gonna pop you." Darius barks. He's leaning against his car, outside Nora's apartment with me.

We've been here for a little while and I can't muster up the courage to go and knock on her door. He's parked behind June Lee and has been patient with me for the better part of an hour. I walk over to him and slump against the Cadillac, resting my head on his shoulder.

I called him three hours ago, about a half hour after I ran away from Nora.


I am an idiot.

That's been the mantra of the evening and I don't think it's gonna change anytime soon. Sighing, Darius wraps an arm around my shoulders and lets me snuggle in. "I ain't gonna wait out here with you forever, kouz'. You either gonna hafta go on up there and pour your heart out or I'm gonna leave you here to sleep in the bed of Nora's car."

I grunt at him and burrow deeper, his lanky form providing minimal comfort. He kisses the top of my head a few minutes later, shoves me away and says, "you needta go make this right, kouz'."

I nod and say, "I'll, uh, give me a few and I'll let you know how it goes."

He waves me off, "I brought a book. Take your time, but if you plan on spendin' the night, let me know. I don't need to sleep in my ride." He winks at me then, his teeth white against the darkness outside and the brown of his skin and lips. My heart swells just a little thinking of him and the things we've been through together.

I swallow the knot of emotion and smile instead, offering a wink of my own. I spin around and find courage that was hidden somewhere underneath my shame and pig-headishness. As I climb the steps to the second story apartment, I put together my apology. Do I lead in with bravado and false confidence, accepting Nora's invitation to dinner or do I drop to my knees and ask forgiveness.

I run a hand through my hair, cursing Nora for my insecurity. She is the only one that's ever made me this unsure of myself. Sometimes it's been enough to save my life and others…

I think it makes me a bit sick 'cause she turns me about so much I can't tell whether I'm comin' or goin' or if I should just hang on to her coat--tails and let her carry us through.

Her door materializes in front of me. My knuckles hover before it. My father's words whisper in my ear as my hand drops to knock on her door, "Tell her you love her and let the rest sort itself out."

How he still believes that love will be able to solve all is beyond me. He certainly didn't get his happily ever after and mine…who I thought it was – I swallow, Erica can't have a place in this relationship.

I shake it off as the door swings open and Nora looks at me, her face not giving anything away. She motions me inside and I slip past her as she shuts the door. Music plays in the living room. I can't help the smile as I recognize the harmonies drifting softly from the speakers. My girl has the softest spot for The Temptations. Tonight, they sing "I Could Never Love Another".

Affectionately, I smile at her. She blushes slightly as I watch her take a seat on the couch, motioning for me to sit next to her. I look between the couch and recliner and her. I have a small internal debate and shake my head. "I need to talk and sitting next to you won't help."

"Okay," she says expectantly.

Drawing in a breath, I stick to the plan of attack that I've concocted on the way up the steps, "Yes, I'll go to dinner with you to your mama's." I run a hand through my hair and stop my pacing, resting my hands on my hips to look down at her. "I was pissed at you. For a lot of reasons Nora Marie."

"Nikki, I…" she tries to interrupt but I talk over her.

"No, lemme talk," I say holding a hand up. "There's a lot that I don't get. Maybe a part of me never will and we have issues. Ones that need to be worked out and gone over. I have issues that I need to deal with, but my being upset about the bomb and the airport…" I trail off and drop my hands from my hips. I move to stand in front of her and drop to my knees. "I'm so scared of losing you. After everything, I overreacted," gathering her hands in mine, bringing them tight against my chest. I kiss her knuckles and just let it all out. "I've let Erica in between us. My grief of losing her snuck in and took over while we weren't working together. Then with Jill and Ann here and my jealously, however unfounded, of your relationship with them is, I lost it. I ran and I'm sorry for that."

I look at her, fighting to keep my tears at bay. She looks down at me, her eyes and face still not giving her away. Her mouth opens for a second and then snaps shut. "Okay," she finally says.

I raise my eyebrow at her and she gives me the smallest upward turn of her lips.

I blink. "That's it?"

A wry smile blooms on her gorgeous lips and she shrugs. "I've been…Nikki these past few weeks without you have been hell," she confesses. "But, I…you were or are right in a way. I've been putting things…people in front of you and it's not acceptable. I can't tell my mom about us, but she should at least get to know you. Get to see that you are important to me and then we can go from there. My decisions up until the past few weeks have been on occasion unacceptable and I'm sorry I've made you feel like you were second to all in my life."

She untangles her left hand from my grip and cups my cheek, running the pad of her thumb over the tear that starts to sneak down my cheek. "You're first. I can choose that. I do choose you. I may not have shown it, but since the moment I saw you…well, I couldn't have chosen different if I had wanted and I never ever wanted anything – anyone else." She swallows and smiles again. "So let's do this. I'm an ass, you're an ass. We've both acted in ways that have been embarrassing and hurtful. I'm so tired of not having you by me. Three weeks is too long."

I nod under her touch and can't help the grin. The tightening in my chest increases as she pulls me up and sits me in her lap. I look down at her and amend her confession, "We still need to figure out how we're going to work some of this out."

She nods against my forehead. "Nikki, shut up." Her right hand wraps around the base of my neck tangling in my hair. She draws me to her lips and I accept the invitation, greedy and needful.

Lips meet and I can't remember how to breathe let alone my own name, but I swear there was something I needed to do as Nora shifts and I straddle her waist. Her tongue slides past my gasping lips as her hips buck against me.

Pulling back for breath, my head clears briefly and I remember. Smiling I reach past her and grab the cordless phone sitting on the end table. I quickly punch in Darius' number as Nora slips her shirt off. My mouth goes dry looking down at perfection as Darius picks up, "Yo."

"Go home," I mumble and drop the phone into the cushions.

Part 2

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