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 II – I Walk the Line

Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you.
Because you're mine, I walk the line

Ch. 9 – A Fool for You

The natural highlights in her hair are set ablaze from the early afternoon sunlight filtering through the balcony doors in the living room. I stare down into her golden brown eyes, refusing to break our locked gaze as she settles back into the couch, her hand between us guiding the head of her strap-on into me. My head drops back and my eyes flutter shut as she stretches and fills me.

It's as close to a religious experience as I've ever come to…when it's her and I like this. Gently she rocks her hips and I groan.

"Nora," she whispers against my neck.

I roll my head forward and fully rest on top of her, letting my legs go slack on either of side of the brunette underneath me. I smooth down her wild mane and lock my fingers behind her neck, holding on. "I'm here," I moan and lean forward resting our foreheads together, "just don't, please, don't stop."

At my appeal, she nods against me and crushes our lips together. I don't fight her for dominance. I give her everything I have as her tongue pushes into my mouth. Her hands grip my hips, her fingertips digging into my flesh. I'm pretty sure I'll have bruises, but honestly…I'd be upset if there weren't any when all is said and done.

I let her guide me, use me for her own end. Our bodies collide together as she pumps her hips up and shoves me down onto her. Pulling back, she rasps, "I need to see you." She says this as she rolls her hips. We clash together in such a way that short circuits pretty much every thought I could ever possibly give birth to except the most base…hers.


"Nora," she grits out again.

I manage to open my eyes against the onslaught of sensation, her breasts moving against my body, sliding and hitting my own, her left hand gripping my hip and guiding me while her right hand snakes between us. I feel her deftly find my clit, circling my nerve bundle before ghosting over it, a pattern she repeats to tease and torment me.

I look down at her and I bite my lip excited and breathless by the emotions I see. Her left hand moves from my hip to underneath my thigh, a signal for me to prepare. I nod my head just a fraction of an inch before she moves us. Swiftly, with more strength and grace than I thought her capable, she has me on my back, pumping into me while I wrap my legs around her hips, drawing her in as deep as our bodies will allow.

The smacking becomes a little louder, our grunts and moans a little deeper and she swallows my 'dear Jesus' as her mouth covers mine. Matching her thrusts, we find a rhythm that she can use to her advantage. Her end of the strap-on is nestled between her outer lips, pressing into her clit and I know that with each thrust, she's getting as much if not more enjoyment out of taking me than I am out of being taken.

I pull away needing air and she gasps, "Oh, dear Christ on toast." My hands move for the first time since settling behind her neck as I run blunt nails down the length of her back. The action earns a hiss from my lover and I grin despite the increased pace of her inside me. Gone is the rhythmic push and pull of our union. Once we changed positions, we abandoned any sense of care and are intent on one goal.

I lean up and latch onto a nipple, biting and sucking the piece of flesh. Her free hand wraps itself in my hair, pulling it tight against my scalp and holding me in place. Her reaction to my touch is twofold, the first is the stilling of my hips as my orgasm rocks through me, halting my movements and locking my muscles, the second is the blind pumping of her hips as I feel her stiffen and ride out her own release above me. I manage to draw my legs tighter, making sure there is no space between us as we shudder and writhe together.

With a few final thrusts she stills and collapses on top of me. I kiss my way up her chest and seek her lips while moving us so that even though she's still inside me I can let her snuggle into my chest. Smoothing her hair away I kiss her cheek, her temple, around her eye and down her nose. We don't need words, but I know she needs reassurance. My left hand traces random patterns down the smooth, slick, heated skin of her back.

The strap-on is a new thing for us in the bedroom. I brought it home a few months prior and it took a week of cajoling and gentle assurance that it was definitely something I wanted before Nikki put it on and literally left me so spent I could barely remember my name. We haven't used it since, except for today.

"Hmmm," she moans against my chest and shifts her lower body earning a hiss from me. That stills her movements and I groan in response as I'm entirely too sensitive for her to even think about moving right now.

"Stay," I manage to hiss out.

"But…," she protests worry creasing her brow.

I press a finger to her lips and quietly say, "I…I like being connected to you this way, please, a few more minutes and then you can…"

"'Kay," she whispers and smiles at me in a way that lets me know she gets it. It's something that she does. I mean I know that sometimes we do suck in the communication department, but sometimes, we're so in sync that words seem pretty damn pointless.

As her breathing evens out and steadies to a gentle tempo, I know she's asleep. Her soft snore a tender reminder that she did indeed pass out on top of me. Unable to not smile at the way we have ended up on my couch, I pull the sheet that was carried out earlier over us and snuggle back down into the soft leather of my couch.

We've spent nearly two whole days here. Not leaving the apartment and barely eating as I reacquaint myself in the most biblical way with Nicolette Beaumont. We've talked a lot, we've even cried a bit, both trying to understand each other and what it is we think we're doing. Sometime between the second round of crying and fifth round of sex, I think we finally reached an agreement about us.

Since then, little's been said and I'm going to be hard pressed to walk properly all this coming work week.

It's been a great weekend.

Well this wasn't how I saw this happening. I had thought that when Nora was ready, she would sit down, more than likely with her brother, Bobby, and explain in a very Nora like fashion that she loved me and planned on staying with me for the foreseeable future. The 'Nora like fashion' would have been my girl at her most determined and best with a glint in her that brooked no room for argument. I'm sure she would have used the words 'gay' or 'lesbian'. I'm not too sure it she would use the word 'queer', but gay would have been in there.

Her coming out to her brother would not have been while my right leg was slung over her shoulder and the other planted wide on the floor as she was between my thighs. But things never seem to go to plan. As of late, things that have been planned have been going to pot and we, Nora and I, are left to clean up the mess.

Which is why I'm biting on my non-existent thumb nail wrapped in a sheet, toga style while Nora's clutching an afghan around her naked form while her brother stands there gob smacked. He looks pretty much the same since he walked in on us a few moments ago.

"Uh, why…uhm," he stammers and looks in my general direction. He hasn't been able to meet either of our eyes. Of course if the roles were reversed and it was my sister that I walked in on…I might just have reacted the same.

Oddly enough, I feel for the young man.

"Can you give us a moment?" he asks thickly.

And there is the million dollar question. After some of the headway Nora's made, how much is this going to affect her? Affect us? Will she go back on her invitation to her mother's? Will this all just be a little too much because she is nowhere near ready to come out to anyone in her family, least of all to her baby brother who near worships the ground my girl walks on?

I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't feel the cold, greasy hand of fear clench around my insides waiting on Nora's reaction. Knowing that I do need to give them some space, I nod mutely and begin to head back to her bedroom when I hear, "No."

No what?

I turn around and Nora's standing there, shifting her weight from foot to foot, her eyes wide and darting between Bobby and I. Her fist clenches the throw she has around her body and she gnaws at her lower lip.

I raise an eyebrow and she blurts, "No, what you can say to me you can say in front of Nikki, but uh, clothes are a good idea…I think." With that she stomps towards me, grabs my hand and yanks me down the hall, slamming her bedroom door shut to leave Bobby alone in the living room.

Okay…I'm not really sure…

"Nik, clothes please?" Nora pleads and I shake my head to clear the thoughts. She needs reassurance right now.

I guess standing around in her bedroom looking more than a little dumbfounded isn't helping matters.

I quickly throw on a pair of her sweat pants, shuddering as they slide up my legs. I can't believe I'm being reduced to sweat pants right now and Nora tosses me a t-shirt to put on. The sheet pools at my feet as I let it fall while I slip the t-shirt on. No panties, no bra. I feel a little exposed, but Nora isn't putting on any either.

This day's just got a whole helluva lot more interesting. "Nora," I try.

She holds her hand up to me and shakes her head. "I…" She stops and sighs. "This is just three counties over from fucked up and I have no idea what I'm gonna say, but…" her eyes skirt my feet and finally rise to meet my gaze, "but, I just… please don't leave?"

I nod and that's enough for a slight smile as she links our fingers together and leads us back out into the living room.

I can't help the smirk that spreads over my lips as I see Bobby sitting on the couch. The couch that not more than ten minutes ago, Nora was doing things to me on that God himself would be blushing over.

Nora's cheeks tint and she points at the couch unable to actually form words. Bobby looks between us, his sister's finger and then down at the couch before his eyes grow wide with realization. He hops up off the soft, brown leather like a gator was after his ass and moves to the far side of the room to rest against the left side of the fire place.

"Okay," Nora starts in, "Just what in the hell, Robert Eugene Delaney, were you thinking? Have you ever heard of a door bell? How about knocking? Is that such a fucking foreign concept?"

His cheeks, already red, flush with another round of color so deep that I fear the poor kid's gonna pass out. From the tips of ears to the top of his forehead clear down to the skin disappearing under his t-shirt is about as red as a lobster that's just come out of a steam bath.

"I, well, you…I didn't expect…I mean you to be doing, uhm, going…or uh," he stammers, rubbing the back of his neck furiously as he tries to find the words.

I think I should help him. "Yodeling in the canyon of love, tipping the velvet," I tap my finger to my pursed lips before grinning and drawling, "or my most personal favorite, going way down South in Dixie." I place my right hand on my hip and wink at my lover as she rolls her eyes at my words.

"Not helping, Nik," she clips.

She can't fool me though. I see the look in her eyes and if she wasn't so scared that her brother would rabbit out of here faster than I can say 'shoe sale', I'm sure my green eyed beauty'd be in stitches.

"All I'm doing, Nora, is offering you're brother several colorful ways to describe what he walked in on," I say as innocently as possible.

"I… is this new?" he asks.

Sighing Nora shuffles towards him. Her arms stretched out, her fingers manage to clamp over his forearm and he tenses. "Bobby, we need to talk about this."

He pulls away and slams into the wall. "I, uh…I just…what happened? You aren't…and what does this mean, have you always…what about Tommy and you aren't."

I'm sure there was a question in there somewhere.

For her part, Nora takes it well. She runs a hand through her tousled hair and says as evenly as possible through her clenched teeth, "I'm gay Bobby. Nikki and I have been together a little over a year and don't bring anyone else into this."

He blanches a little at the tone and admissions.

"I, uh…" he trails off and shakes his head. "I can't do this. It's not right Nora and you…I just…I need to figure this out." He makes a move to the door, but Nora's hand closing around his upper arm stops him in his tracks.

"Bobby, you can't say…" she tries to tell him.

Pulling away, he shakes his head and nearly whines, "I know. I won't say nuthin'." His eyes dart to me and he swallows. "No one will hear anything from me. I just can't deal with this right now." He moves quickly to the door and is halfway out when he says over his shoulder, "Ma's expectin' you and your guest. Don't not show up, it'll break her heart."

With that the door bangs shut and Nora deflates.

Damn. Double damn.

The drive to my mother's is shorter than I would have liked. In fact, now that I'm sitting outside of my childhood home, I begin to seriously rethink this. I mean was this my best idea ever?


But damnit!

I went and listened to Ann. Then I listened to Jill. Then my mother.

Then, I did the really stupid thing and listened to my heart instead of my head and now Bobby's all freaked out. But that's okay.

I didn't expect him to take it well when I did eventually sit down and talk to him. Him walking in on Nikki and me well…

I think the word I'm looking for is traumatic.

For all parties involved.

And really now, I'm just a bit ticked off 'cause he totally killed the mood Nikki and I had been working on all weekend. I look over at my lover even as I feel her eyes skirt away from my profile to look at the walkway up to my mom's house. Unthinking, I reach over and lace our fingers together.

This is gonna be okay.

Not the brightest idea, but not the worst ever.

Nikki's brown eyes lock with mine and I smile. She gives me pretty much all the strength I need for this. I'm just glad that she's okay with how we're going to go about doing this. I think…

No, I know that she's being more than understanding. She's being supportive and the best about this whole situation. One day, maybe not soon, but one day things will change.

I just don't know how and this is the problem. I suck in my lower lip and begin worrying on it.

"Nora, it's gonna be okay." Nikki softly says. Her hand squeezes mine and she gives it a little shake. "We'll play this however you want to. I'm just honestly happy to be here."

I nod and close my eyes.

We can do this.

Sighing, I run my free hand through my hair and say, "I know. But that woman…she's gonna try to get personal. Pump you for information and the thing is, is that she means well. Honest to God Nikki, she does, but she can be persistent. Dog with a bone even." I pull back on the hand full of hair in my left hand and pull my scalp back the tension making me feel slightly better for some odd reason.

"Nora," Nikki whispers as her right hand caresses my cheek and jaw line, "I've grappled with the New Orleans elite since I was a child, hell bent on having every adult bow to my whim. They did and on occasion still do." She grins at me then and the blunt nail of her index finger scraps down my neck. "I am fairly confident in my ability to handle your mama."

I trust her. I believe in the smile she's sending me and I latch on to the confidence she's oozing 'cause right now mine went and took a vacation to Cancun.

I let go of her hand and get out of my car. Part of me realizes that it's just nerves, ya know. I've never, even Ann, I've never been this nervous about my family's reaction to someone I've brought home; even if the person I was bringing home was strictly in a friends capacity.

Part of me wants my mom to see Nikki the way I do, well, at least get an idea of the amazing woman she is so that if the day comes that Nikki and I are outed, she can't say that she hates my lover. We make our way up the steps and I open the door before I give a few quick wraps on the frame. I poke my head in first and hear, "Nora, honey, is that you?"

"Yeah, ma," I answer and step fully into the entry way. I usher Nikki through and hang our coats up. October can be downright chilly and today was no exception. It seems like winter's trying to settle in quicker this year.

My mom comes bustling out of the kitchen, apron on and hands covered in, I think, flour. I watch as she smiles coming towards us and I resist the irrational urge to step in front of Nikki to protect her. Nikki however has ideas all of her own as she steps in front of me and stretches out her hand.

My mother wipes her hand clean and greatly takes it. "Nancy Delaney," she introduces herself. "Nikki, right?"

Nikki gives my mom a beaming, hundred dollar smile and says, "Nikki Beaumont, ma'am. It's a pleasure to actually meet you."

My mother frowns a little in my direction and clucks, "Yes, well, Nora's never been the most social of creatures. I'm glad you could make it for supper. Dan, her old partner and well," she laughs lightly, "I guess your boss, used to come around every now and again. He is a charmer."

"Dan certainly is. He and Nora both made me feel very welcome to the department when I was first transferred." Nikki gently removes her hand from my mothers and clasps her hands in front of her.

"Nora, dear, why don't you give Nikki here the fifty-scent tour while I finish up in the kitchen," my mom says, not even bothering on waiting for my response.

I shrug and look at my lover. "So, this is the living room. The dining room's through there," I say and point to the room my mom just went through to get to the kitchen. "Kitchen's behind that swinging door and round the corner it opens up to the actual kitchen." I move to the living and room and point to the back door and the archway that separates the living room and kitchen.

My house isn't big or fancy. In fact, I don't think they've bothered to redo the carpet and wall paper in twenty years. But it was home for so long that part of me can't help but feel like a teenager again as soon as I cross the threshold.

"It's nice, Nora." Nikki says, placing a hand on my upper arm before stepping away and looking at the steps. "You've seen my father's. The only rooms that even come close to this type of lived in feel are the den and my bedroom."

I nod and lead her up the stairs. "This is the boys room," I open the first door on my left to expose a medium sized room with bunk beds on one side and a twin on the other. Two dressers and a small desk between the beds take up the space the room has. On the walls are pennants from our high school a few trophies for football that my brothers have gotten over the years. And for some reason the place has never been able to be fully aired out 'cause my nose scrunches a little as I breathe in the smell of old gym socks and sweat.

I pull my lover along and bypass my room to show her a quick peek at the master bedroom and then the bathroom before stopping at my old bedroom door. My brothers hated that I got my own room, but I was the only girl. My dad and mom made sure to make that a point in why I was getting separate quarters. "This," I say as I push open my old bedroom door, "is where I spent a good part of my childhood and formative years."

I watch as Nikki's eyes take in the small box of a room. It's barely large enough for a bed, desk and dresser, but it's my space. A few track and field trophies from high school sit on my dresser. A Michael Jackson poster from his Billy Jean days, Prince's Purple Rain and my one guilty pleasure from the era of my youth, a Dirty Dancing poster.

Nikki takes it all in and just smiles. I want to ask her what, but instead she backs me up against the bedroom door and grips my hips, pushing into me. Before I have time to protest, her lips are covering mine and I give in for the briefest of moments, basking in the feel of her; until the crippling fear of my mother searching for us comes crashing down on me and I gently push her away.

Surprisingly enough she just wipes her bottom lip and smirks. "I think I would have devoured the younger you, Miss Delaney." Then she taps the tip of my nose with her index finger before reaching around me and opening the door.

I move and watch her retreat down the hall and down the steps while I stand there, blinking and slightly dazed.

"Nora!" my mother's sharp voice breaks me free of the Nikki induced haze and I trot down the steps, "Bobby just called and he had to take an extra shift. One of the guys on his squad came down with some nasty bug. It looks like it's just us girls tonight."

I hit the landing and put my hand on my mom's shoulder, offering her a squeeze of sympathy. I wish my other brothers were around. Patrick's stationed in San Diego with the Marines as a drill instructor. Terry's married and living in Baton Rouge working with the National Guard. Bobby and I are it besides my three older cousins and my mom's sister, Gina and her husband. My three cousins are about as useful as tits on a boar hog, but they're a lot of fun and also police officers. None of them want to move past a position in uniform.

I join Nikki and my mom at the table as the two chat amiably with the other. We pass the food around and Nikki holds her own in so many ways. She laughs at the right time and says all the right things. The two get on real well and it lifts a weight from my chest that I didn't know was there.

"So, Nikki," my mother says – she says it in this tone that I know all too well. It's the same damn tone she used to corner Jill and Ann with. "If you're schedule's as bad as my daughters, does that mean that you to haven't bothered to bring a date home?

Nikki laughs lightly and brings a hand to her chest. "Well," she says, taking a sip of the Coke she's been drinking, "I would love to say that my Friday nights are full, but work doesn't leave much time for me to find a suitable bachelor."

My mother clucks and shakes her head. "You girls really should just leave the crime fighting to the boys."

"Ma," I say gently. A little warning.

"If we left it to the boys," Nikki butts in ignoring me, "nothing would ever get done." She winks at my mom and the damndest thing happens, my mom nods in agreement.

The two of them share a giggle and I know that's my cue to tuck into my food and let them carry on. My mom never stood a chance with my girl.

For some reason my chest swells with pride and I grin like an idiot biting into the chicken my mom made.

The drive back in the car is filled with Nora's classic rock. I turn the volume up just a little as Credence Clearwater Revival go to town on a live recording of Down on the Corner. I hum softly to the melody and Nora taps her fingers to the beat on the steering wheel. I turn in my seat, ignoring the seatbelt and just look at her.

Her head bobs to the music and she's wearing this tiny smile. I'm not even sure she's conscious of it. I love seeing her like this. It takes her only a second of me staring before her eyes flick to me and she asks, "What?"

I shake my head and say, "Nothing, I just like lookin' at you."

"Uh-huh." She sucks in her bottom lip and then asks, "So uh, where…uh, where do you wanna go?"

I can only grin when I answer, "Home."

We pull up to a red light and she turns to me. There's uncertainty in her eyes and I don't like it. "Well, see, uhm, my home or your home?"

My mouth pinches and screws to the side. Sometimes my girl can be a bit dense. It eats up precious time occasionally. "Your place Nora," I say gently.

The light turns green and she gives me a curt nod before moving forward with the few other cars on the road. I lean back in my seat and rest my head against the back window, sighing just a little. Dinner with Nora's mom went well. She's a nice woman who loves her kids and I think, happens to be a little lonely.

Maybe we can change that a little bit even if Nora goes on her own for dinners to her moms. I can go see my daddy or maybe even Darius can come too. We'll make it a habit of sorts and Nora can quit feeling as guilty as she usually does.

There've been a lot of firsts this weekend and I can't say that one of them was even remotely bad. One thing I'm amazed at is that we go practically three weeks barely managing civil conversation or for that matter dialogue that takes up more than five minutes of our days, but the one request…

It made it all different.

Well, that and I got a call from Ann laying into me Friday that would have left a saint feeling two inches tall. I should have been upset that that woman was butting her nose into things that didn't concern her.

For some reason I wasn't. She knows Nora in ways that I don't. Much like Darius knows me in ways that Nora can't know me. I can't be jealous of that.

"Nik, you gonna come in or you wanna sleep in June Lee? God knows we've camped out in her a few times for stakeouts, but…" she trails off waggling her eyebrows at me.


God, she's amazing.

I hop out of the car and follow her upstairs. We get inside and she puts our jackets away. I mosey into the living room and she follows shortly thereafter bringing with her a bottle Knob Creek and two rock glasses. She does know that I love a decent whiskey.

I watch as she kicks off her shoes and pours us a glass each.

"Babe," she whispers swinging a fingerful of whiskey in front of my eyes. I take the glass and sigh contentedly as she straddles my waist and sits on my knees. Her hands begin drawing random swirls and patterns on my neck and the exposed skin of my chest. "Why'd you wanna come back here?"

I look up at her then and let the corner of my mouth tilt up ever so softly then admit, "'Cause sugga, in case you didn't notice, my apartment feels weird without you there. Why do you think I was at my daddy's."

I set my now empty glass down and pull her upper body flush with mine. My face nestles conveniently between the valley of her breasts. I inhale and my head swims.

I think my girl's wearing far too many clothes for me to be even remotely happy. I pull back and lift her shirt off. She stops my attempt at nuzzling the exposed flesh cupped in a lacy purple brassier and says, "If I gotta get naked so do you." Her grin is just this side wicked and it causes a ripple of shivers to course down my spine.

I sit up and let her undo the buttons on my blouse and shove the garment off, to nip at my exposed shoulder. Her lips trail up my neck to nibble on the shell of my ear. Knowing that I need her naked and flat on her back, I grip her bottom and stand. Her legs lock around my waist, but her mouth doesn't stop as I stumble towards her bedroom.

We crash into the open door, through it and land in a heap on her unmade bed. Disregarding my need to be smooth, I pop the button on her jeans and tug them and her underwear down her hips and off her legs. They go somewhere in the direction of the floor while she sits up and removes my own slacks and panties. I'm not entirely sure when I lost my heels, but right now I could care less.

Her hands grip my hips to pull me back down; leaving us only in our bra's which are quickly discarded as we scoot up towards the pillows. She leans up fusing our mouths together and her left leg slips between my thighs.

We break for air and I mumble against her panting mouth, "Fuck this."

This earns me a giggle as I slide down her body. I settle between her legs, placing her right leg over my shoulder and slipping my hands under her bottom to lift her up to me. My eyes dart up to meet her lidded gaze and I grin before lowering my mouth. I suckle, lick and nip my way through her. Her moans offer direction to my tongue, teeth and lips. Drinking her in, she tenses around the fingers I have moving inside of her in far too short a time frame, but I hold on to her, letting her ride out her release. Finally she stills, collapsing onto the bed, her leg falls to the side, off my shoulder.

Gently, I remove my fingers, licking them clean then kiss my way up her body. I position us so that her head is pillowed on my chest and I draw the blankets around us. Sleepily, she snuggles into me and I kiss the top of her head.

Her voice is raspy but hushed as she mumbles into my chest, "We should start looking for a new place."

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time

Ch. 10 – A Close Watch

My leg bounces on its own. I wish it would stop, but doctors and shrinks alike all give me the same type of creeps. The creeps that give me an urge to bolt for the nearest exit at top speed and never look back. I haven't yet for two reasons: the fact that Nikki is sitting across from me and the looks she keeps sending my way and the other is because if I don't do this, I'm stuck at my desk and playing at being Dan's file bitch for the foreseeable future.

That's not happening.

So here I sit, on a chilly but bright Tuesday morning in early November, my leg bouncing up and down a mile a minute with Nikki rolling her eyes at me every few minutes. The department shrinks office is actually in our building, which is nice, but it's on the fourth floor and the space has only one window through which to view the deceptively cool morning.

The receptionist sits behind her desk, in the neutral toned office, clicking away at her keyboard. Her phone buzzes and she picks it up, "Yes…okay." She swivels in our direction and smiles at me. Young, okay looking, couldn't hold a candle to Nikki, but she's got kind eyes and says, "Detective Delaney, Dr. Williams will see you now."

I nod and swallow the lump in my throat. Standing, I wipe my palms on my jeans and head towards the door to his office. Before walking through the now open doorway, my hand on the knob, Nikki says behind me, "Knock 'em dead tiger."

Then she snickers.

She will be getting paid back for that.

I'm not sure when, but I will exact revenge.

I square my shoulders, ignore her and close the door behind me.

This isn't the first time I've been in here. Probably won't be the last; it still doesn't mean I have to get used to it or like it. The doc sits in one of the soft cushioned, nearly lay-z-boy chairs that surround a small coffee table. He stands and smiles as I take him in, six-foot-two with a halo of wispy brown hair around his otherwise shiny head, salt and pepper beard, myopic brown eyes and a cheesy grin.

Sometimes I hate my job.

"Detective Delaney, it's good to see you," he says offering an outstretched hand.

I smile at him and nod taking his hand in mine, it's cool and dry, a stark contrast to my warm slightly clammy one. "Sir," I say and take an open seat.

We settle in and he takes a file from the coffee table, gives it a cursory glance inside and then looks up at me. "I was just reviewing the information from your last job. Interesting case."

I shrug. It was a case. People didn't die. The bad guys were caught. It was an okay day despite the havoc it wrought on my personal life.

"Would you like to talk about it?" he asks, crossing his legs.


What is this shit? I mean we're cops. We know the score signing up that we get to see the worst and handle the fall out.

"There's not a whole lot to say," I offer him.

"Okay, well then let's get a few things out of the way. I know that you really don't want to be here. If the brass hadn't said it was required for you to see me to get back out there then you and I would probably never cross paths," he says this like he's reading a menu at a restaurant. "So let's make this easy on both of us. I need to know if you are fit to return to work. I'm going to ask you a few questions and then we can go from there. Is that fair?"

I sigh. "Yeah."

"At the scene, Agent Meagan Diea of the A.T.F. approached you, your partner, Special Agent Ann Flemming and Detective Nikki Beaumont; please tell me about the altercation."

"Agent Flemming and I had just come out of hangar seven-two-dash–six after securing our suspects and clearing the hangar. The explosion caused a temporary hearing loss, a few cuts and scrapes, but we were required to have medic check us out. Agent Flemming's boss, Director Malone was insistent. Detective Beaumont showed up at the scene with our Lieutenant, Dan Harney." I say all this in the exact same voice I use when giving testimony on one of my cases. Clear, concise and to the point, my tone and inflection strictly professional. "While Flemming, Beaumont and I were talking, I saw Diea approach. I couldn't hear her very well, but the way that Beaumont reacted I knew that Diea was upset. I stood to talk to the agent when my partner, Nikki Beaumont, stepped in front of me and hit Agent Diea."

"And why did Detective Beaumont assault Agent Diea?" he asks.

"Agent Diea was coming after me. Her fist was cocked and it looked like she was going to hit me. My partner protected me," I answer and shift in my seat.

"And then," he says flipping up a few pages in the file that he has on his lap, "You proceeded to hit the other agent with Diea. Why?"

"He was going to hit my partner," I say. My teeth go back to clenching together before I amend, "Look, you don't come after other officers. My partner had my back and I had hers."

The doctor nods and lets the pages fall that he was holding up. "Fair enough. The report here also indicates that you and Agent Flemming had prior knowledge of the explosives set to detonate. Is that true?"

I nod. "There were a string of similar operations ending the same way. We knew going in that charges may or may not go off."

"Why not stop and evacuate prior or why not make the arrests beforehand?"

"Did you read the full file?" I ask.

"Yes. What I'm interested in is the fact that two seasoned officers went in knowing that the place they were going into was a ticking time bomb. Why?" He raises his eyebrow at me and smiles. It's supposed to be disarming and I'm sure it works for a lot of people.

It doesn't work for me.

"The situation dictated that the bust happen. We weren't just trying to collar the Sung's. There were bigger players that we needed to ferret out. Ann and I going in knowing the situation was hot was the best and safest option."

"So you two decided to be the sacrificial lambs?"

"No, it wasn't like that. You know just as well as any other cop that it's part of the job. That's what we were doing. Why I'm even here is completely beyond me. I socked an agent who was getting ready to hit my partner. I stopped that from happening shortly after I helped make one of the best collars a joint venture with two federal agencies and the N.O.P.D. have ever had. I'm sitting here getting the third degree from someone who doesn't have a clue what it's like to put their ass on the line," I spit, jaw clenching and completely fed up with this bullshit.

He's sitting there making it sound like I'm a cop on a suicide mission. Yes, Ann and I knew that it was dangerous. We assumed the place was already wired with explosives before we went in, but to us there wasn't an option.

We took a gamble and came out ahead. John collared the director inside the F.B.I. who was dirty, we stopped a family of gun smugglers and the good guys went home in one piece while the streets were marginally safer.

In what reality is that not a win?

He grins at me then and tosses the file on the coffee table. "Fair enough, Detective." He rises from his chair and motions for me to stand with him. "I think we're good. If you could send in Detective Beaumont before you leave."

I nearly run out of the office. It's not like I need to be told twice. Far more important things that need to be done.

I look up as the door to the inner office swings open and Nora comes striding out. She nods at me and says, "He's ready for you. I'm going to grab some coffee and wait."

She offers no other acknowledgement before striding out the door.

I suppress my smile. My girl hates, absolutely hates, doctors and by her tone and posture, the conversation they had didn't end that well. Or maybe it ended well enough. She didn't shoot or deck the doc.

I walk through the open doorway and our shrink is sitting in his chair. He stands and greets me in probably the same fashion that he does every other cop that comes through here. I wonder how many of them give the man a hard time.

He looks no worse for the wear and I smile easily.

"Detective Beaumont, nice to meet you. Why don't you take a seat and we'll get started," he indicates a chair across from him and is it odd that I know this is where Nora sat while she was in here.

"What?" he asks, resuming his seat and picking a file from the small stack on the coffee table.

"I'm just thinking my partner gave you a run for your money," I say, smiling.

He laughs easily and nods. "Detective Delaney is…my father used to say firecracker for the little girls in our neighborhood that were feisty."

"Nora is that, doc," I agree with him.

"Well at least we can agree on that, but let's not talk about your partner's temperament. I'm sure you have a better working knowledge of it than I. I was reading things over and it looks like you two have been working with each for nearly two years."

"There abouts," I confirm, crossing my legs and resting my clasped hands on my top knee.

"You work well together?" he asks easily mirroring my posture.

"We do. She's a good cop and a good partner."

"These last sets of cases you worked, was that the first time you two worked independently of each other since transferring in to Special Crimes?" Doctor Williams relaxes back in his seat and looks over at me blinking expectantly.

"It was," I answer. I'm not really going to make this that easy on him.

"And your last closed case involved a little boy, Lance. He confessed to the murder of his parents." He's done his homework. That was to be expected. But he ruins it when he follows up a statement of the facts with, "How'd that work out with you?"

I smirk. "You mean to ask, how did that make me feel?" I roll my eyes for good measure.

He clucks his tongue and shakes his head slightly. "I see. Okay, Detective, I'm going to give you the same little speech I gave your partner. I'm not the enemy. If it weren't required as a condition of you going back on active duty, you wouldn't be here. Having said that, it's my job to ensure that you are mentally fit to return to duty given the circumstance surrounding your suspension. Let's make this easy on both of us."

"Fine," I say crossing my arms over my chest. "If you were to have an eight year old look at you and say that he stabbed his mother and father to death, how exactly do you think that would make you feel? It was awful. It is also an unfortunate aspect of the job." I unfold my arms and sit up a little straighter.

"Cops get to see the worst. We're depicted as the enemy in the media; the public doesn't like us because we hold a certain modicum of power over them. You add that in to the fact that you get to see the worst people have to offer their fellow man and an eight year old killer and all in doc, it makes you feel like shit," I give it to him straight. "But that's okay. I did my job, I do my job well."

He nods at that and says, "You do. You're record is exemplary. What I'm curious about is why you chose police work."

I raise an eyebrow. "Because I felt I could do some good," I give him the pat answer.

"Do you think you decking a federal agent is good?"

My eyes narrow and I snip, "When said agent is coming after my wounded partner, bent on causing her more hurt, you bet your ass. I was protecting the cop that watches my back. She's lucky all she came out with was a bruised jaw and wounded ego. You don't go after fellow officers, federal or local."

He grins a little. "You know your partner said almost the exact same thing."

"Well," I huff, "We see eye to eye on a lot of things."

"That's not surprising. Reading over your service files, both you and Detective Delaney have both lost a parent. You both climbed quickly through the ranks of the department. You two seem to be a good match. One question, and do me the service of answering honestly, since this was the first time you two have been required to work independently of the other, the protection of your partner seemed a little excessive. Why?"

I purse my lips, trying to gauge just how much I should give. I decide on a variation of the truth. "The case Detective Delaney was working was dangerous to begin with. Add in the way the bust went down and her condition at the scene, I was worried. My reaction to Agent Diea was a little excessive, but I feel that it wasn't completely unwarranted. Agent Flemming and Detective Delaney did their best to keep everyone safe and make the bust at the same time."

"Did Diea attack first?"

"Yes and no. She was yelling, coming at the three of us. She had her fist cocked back and made a move towards my partner. I reacted accordingly. You should ask the agent why she chose to try to assault a member of the police force," I say.

"We did ask, well their version of me did. That discussion was enlightening."

"I bet," I snicker and he grins.

"So, now the question becomes this, where do we go from here? I can only infer from your jacket and personal history, that there's something there. Much the same way that I can only infer from your partners."

"And just what exactly does that mean?" I ask, not sure if I really want to know the answer to the question.

"It means that I have to make an educated guess. It also gives me the ability to stick my nose in where it may or may not belong. I'm responsible for you in a way. So I'll say this and then you can join Detective Delaney back at your desks. Fear is powerful. It can be a great motivator or it can stop someone dead in their tracks. You both need to keep that in mind."

He leans forward in his chair, elbows resting on his knees as he says, "I would have given your partner the same advice, but she wasn't as receptive. I suggest you take a look at what those fears are and make a decision."

I purse my lips and snip, "I can leave?"

He nods and I stand moving towards the door.

"Detective," he calls out, as I'm halfway out the door, "Believe me when I say I understand. If you need to talk, my door's open."

I roll my eyes and step out into the waiting room. Nora stands, greeting me, tucks a paper under her arm and follows me out.

I follow my brown-eyed beauty out the doors of the department and towards June Lee. She's being insistent that we go out for lunch. After the shrink visit we swung by our desks, picked up our messages and then Nikki promptly declared that she needed to get away.

I'm not too sure what happened inside that office, but when she came out her hackles were raised in a stunning fashion. I knew better than to say anything so I tucked the classifieds under my arm and followed her out.

"So, where are we going?" I ask as I turn my baby over and look over at Nikki.

"Head over to Broussard and 9th. I'm gonna introduce you to the best deli our city has ever seen."

The area that she's sending us to isn't that great. Over in the fourth ward and not the best, but if the food's good, I've got a couple of vests stashed behind the bench seat of my car.

The ride is silent as she plays with the stereo. Nikki can't really seem to settle on a station and I'm about ready to turn the damn thing off when she settles on a soft jazz station that's at least playing something decent. I recognize the melody as a Dizzy Gillespie tune that's arrangement has been altered. I can't figure out who's playing the cover though.

That will work.

We come to a light and I look over at her. Nikki's head rests on the back window, her eyes are closed and there's a slight frown on her face. I purse my lips and accelerate as the light turns green.

Without opening her eyes or turning to me, she says, "At the next light hang a right and find a parking spot. We're going to Gumpy's."

I follow her direction and shortly thereafter we are sitting in small corner booth. Nikki's placed both our orders and is looking rather proud of herself as she sips on her Diet Coke. Deciding that now's as good a time as any, I pull the paper from my back pocket and slide it over to her.

While she was getting shrunk, I went and grabbed some coffee and a paper. Luckily, there were some places that are up for rent that look promising. The ones closest to work and that didn't read like they needed to be doused in bleach and/or required a crime scene cleanup crew or a contractor, I circled.

I gnaw on my lip and let her look the paper over.

As it slides into her line of sight, she looks up at me. Her eyebrow is arched and her brow is furrowed.

"What's this?" she asks with a cluck of her tongue.

I try for a sheepish smile given the fact that she's been…crabby, yep, we're gonna go with crabby, since we left Williams' office. And I get it. I wasn't too pleased either…the prick.

"Well, uh, apartment listings. I was thinkin' we should start looking. I mean my place and your place really aren't that big, but if we…when we move in together, I know we'll need more space." I try to lighten the mood a little and tease, "You're wardrobe and shoe collection alone could probably take a spare bedroom or two."

Her nose crinkles as she sticks her tongue out at me and says, "Just 'cause my spare bedroom closet is packed to the hilt…"

"And your hall closet too, Nik," I gently remind her.

She huffs and blows the bangs from her eyes. "And what brought this on?"

I gape at her a second before I shut my mouth. Does she not remember? It really hasn't been that long.

"You. Me. Finding a place together? Did you forget I said we should start looking?" I remind her a little hurt and a little annoyed that I'm hurt.

"Oh," she says, blinking. "I thought that was you in post," her voice drops as a few patrons pass by, "orgasmic bliss, talking nonsense."

I squint at her, my left eye nearly closing. Deciding that she's not joking, I school my features and resist the twitch in my hand to find hers. Instead, I lean forward, my left index finger stabbing at the paper. "Look, despite our joint idiocy over the past few weeks, I meant every word I said Nikki. I know what I want."

"And that would be what, Nora?" she asks, so casually that I'm half tempted to kick her under the table.

My jaw clenches and it takes every ounce of control I have to not kick her or gather her in my arms right now. They're duel emotions, the need to reassure and the need to knock some sense into her, that war for dominance. "Nikki, I'm not real clear on what you're playing at, but let me make these intentions of mine perfectly clear," I annunciate slowly, so that she hears every word I have to offer, "I'm very certain that it's you. It's us. So suck it up Beaumont and get on the damn train."

She gives nothing away as she leans back in the booth, her arms fold across her chest.

"I don't wanna argument from you. We're going apartment hunting," I state, jabbing the paper for good measure and amend, "So look these over while I find a restroom."

It's then that she leans forward her arms dropping to her side and comes so close I can almost reach out with my tongue and lick the tip of her nose. I go slightly cross-eyed trying to keep her in focus, but I don't pull back and manage to see the small smirk forming on her lips.

"You do know," she purrs, "You getting worked up like this is incredibly sexy."

I pull back and scowl at her.

She leans back again and offers a very cheeky grin. "Why don't you go powder that cute, button nose of yours while I find us a place to live." With that she picks up the paper and begins scanning the print.

I shake my head and slide from the booth we're occupying. Not entirely sure how to gauge that entire interaction I find the restroom and lock the door behind me. I let the cold water run a minute before leaning over and splashing my face.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand and ten times, Nikki Beaumont will be the death of me.

My problem is that I really couldn't think of a better way to go.

I tap my index finger against my nose and peer into my closet. I'm having the damndest time figuring out what I should take over to Nora's. It was agreed when she dropped me off at home that I would gather some things to stay over at her place for the week while she went and tracked down that brother of hers.

I know he hasn't answered her phone calls and she's more than a little worried. Which means that I'm more than a little worried. His reaction wasn't the best, but on the upside it wasn't the worst.

"Kouz, that closet ain't gonna give you the meaning of life," Darius teases me. He stopped by shortly after I got home and now the smart ass is sitting on my bed.

"I just don't know what to take over," I pout. I spin on my heel and sulk back to the bed, flop down on my back and giggle as he lies down with me while poking me in the ribs.

"Clothes are good. Maybe a toothbrush, hairbrush, that fancy ass perfume you're so fond of," he says grinning at me. He opens up his arms and I accept the invitation.

Snuggling into his side, I lay my hand across his chest and loosely gather his t-shirt in my fist. "So, what have you been up to today?"

I feel him shrug underneath me as his hand runs through my hair. "Was at the studio helping a few people out. Gram needed me to take her to the store. Nothing too serious."

I roll my eyes. Darius may fool most. He can't fool me. This man has his finger in more pies than anyone I know. He has a zydeco band, he works part time at a music studio helping young NOLA artists produce demos and has on occasion written a few songs or two. He's got contacts with some of the largest charitable organizations in the city and with my help we get to steer the tax write off money for the blue bloods of the city to foundations and organizations that can actually use it. He's a saint and a half to his grandmother and not to mention he's my go to man for just about anything I need.

He really is way too good to me.

We just ain't gonna say anything about that though.

"Hmm, how was the studio?" I ask.

"It was pretty cool. There's this group of kids trying to get a demo together to submit for this national contest. Yabo's trying to help them get it together. I stepped in and I think, if they can lay the vocals right, it'll be a solid piece of music."

"And what about Trish?" I ask gently. Trish is his off again, on again girlfriend. I marvel at the fact that Darius had the gall to tell me to quit "fucking around" when he does that better than most.

Of course, my string of one night stands isn't really comparable to his serial monogamy. He just refuses to find a woman and commit.

I've never really been able to figure out why my boy won't settle down. There's usually some excuse he gives, "they're too needy", "they don't give me enough attention", "they don't like…" and then he'd insert one thing or another that was in his words, "not gonna fly with me." So I let him carry on.

The only thing is, is that this girl, Trish, has stuck around for the longest, we're hitting the five month mark and he's yet to provide me with an excuse about their breaking up which leads me to suspect that they are in fact, still together.

I hear him sigh above me and say, "She okay. We went out last night, took her to Phantoms and that bartender, Cassie, you introduced me to, hooked us up."

I angle my neck and look at him, a sly grin etching my features. "Cassie "hooked you up"? "

He nods, grinning down at me. "Said something about any friend of Nora's…speaking of, she and Cassie used to bounce?"

I scowl at him and slap his chest as he wiggles his eyebrows.

"You know that and you ain't ripped the girl's arms off?"

I pout at him and whine, "I'm not that bad."

I laugh and I feel his body shake. "Nikki, I'm not sure who you tryin' to fool with that bullshit, but seriously. Remember a few weeks back or okay a month and a half ago; I took you guys to that little club on the edge of the Quarter. The jock that tried to dance with Nora." He looks down at me, making a point with his smirk. "I thought you was gonna go to blows with the brotha."

"He copped a feel on my girlfriend!" I say indignantly.

"His hand brushed Nora's behind. That ain't copping a feel, that's an 'Oops, didn't see you standing there'"

I roll my eyes and say, "You're avoiding the question though, how are things with you and Trish?"

"Good. She's different. I like it," he answers.

"Well then, we're going to have to get together for dinner, how about next Monday. Nora and I are off and you shouldn't have anything going on?"

"I think that'd be cool. She's curious about you. She's seen the pictures at my place."

I was about to respond to that, but we're interrupted by a knock at the front door. I sit up and look at the clock on my dresser. Crap.

I'm not even packed.

"Do you..." I start to ask.

"I'll get the door. You finish packing," he interrupts, hopping off the bed, planting a kiss on top of my head and goes for the door.

He's such a charmer.

I get up and go to my closet. Selecting a few blouses and some pants, I put them in the garment bag hanging off my bathroom door. Shoes. I need to figure out what shoes.

"Hey," Nora says.

I spin around and smile at her.

"Why aren't you ready?" she asks, hands on her hips.

"I get a 'hey' and nothing more?" I tease stepping into her personal space. Not waiting on an answer, I pull her to me; our bodies flush, and plant a firm kiss on her pouty lips.

She pulls back and smirks. "Get your shoes and let's go."

I roll my eyes but do as requested. We need to get going. Early day and all that.

You've got a way to keep me on your side
You give me cause for love that I can't hide

Ch. 11 – Give Me Cause

I look over at Nikki. I'd vocalize my thoughts, but they're clearly reflected in her body language. She steps in and saves us, "Laura, I just don't think this is the right place either. I mean it's nice, but it's a little small."

The woman clucks. I grit my teeth. We started today off all nice and easy like, slow morning, hot sex and a phone call from Dan saying we need to meet him for lunch in, I look down at my wrist, two hours. Since Nikki and I didn't have to be in until later, we decided to use a friend of her aunt's to help us in the apartment hunt. She's dragged us to two up and coming neighborhood loft style, overpriced, yuppie apartments and the little patience I do have is trickling away.

The place we're at now, apartment number three, is…stuffy. That's the only thing that comes to mind. The walls are white or off white. The interior of the building doesn't match the brick and feel of the outside. I'd be afraid to sit down on anything in a place like this. Nikki feels the same, I know. The slight frown she wears is indication enough.

"Well," the realtor stammers a little, "When Peggy called she said it was for her niece." She looks pointedly at me, and qualifies, "And her niece's friend."

I roll my eyes.

Nikki smiles. It's a sexy look when not directed at me. If that happens, I run. "Aunt Peggy can be a dear and she's right, but my tastes are not hers. And neither are Nora's."

Laura bobs her head at this. Finally stopping to take a look at us. She looks me over like you would an outfit a in display case that you hated. Her blood red, manicured nail taps gently on her chin as she spins towards Nikki. "Hmmm," she hums.

Nikki's eyebrow rises as one hand comes to rest casually on her hip.

"Well, then, I guess we'll need to start fresh," she finally says. She looks at her watch then. "We're scheduled for another hour together. Why don't we find a spot to sit and if ya'll will answer some questions, I think I can find what you're looking for."

Nikki's eyes flick to me and I quickly raise and lower my right shoulder.

"Sounds wonderful, Laura. Thank you," Nikki purrs.

Laura actually blushes at this and I suppress the eye roll. I lead us outside and to a café that I noticed just up the street. The two sit as I offer to get the drinks. The line's short and I come back to the two of them chatting like old friends. Laura leans toward my partner from across the table as she giggles at something Nikki said.

Setting the drinks down, my teeth grind together and Nikki shoots me a quick wink. Sucking my teeth, I manage a nice fake smile and sit down next to her. It's going to be a long Q and A.

"So," the woman across from us starts, "What do you two do?"

"We're with the police department," I offer.

"Partners in the Special Crimes Unit," Nikki gives more detail.

I scowl and hurry up to qualify, "Work, uh, work partners." Nikki's thigh brushes against my leg right before I feel a sharp pinch to said thigh. I jump a little and Laura looks at me.

"So, we'll need two bedrooms." She looks us over again and asks Nikki, "Lots of closet space, I assume?"

"Or three rooms for her clothes," I mutter as I take a sip of my drink.

Another pinch and another jump as Nikki glares.

"Two bedrooms would be good. Something open, warm," my partner fills in.

Laura again bobs her head. "Well, then, what about price range? Are you looking to rent, lease, buy?"

My eyes grow large and I nearly drop my coffee.

"Preferably, rent, but we'd be open to a lease." Nikki bumps my shoulder with her own and jokes, "I'd say buy too, but my work partner has commitment issues."

The coffee goes sloshing in my cup again. Some of it spilling out to burn my hand. I hiss and Nikki only hands me a napkin. Laura looks slightly amused.

I definitely don't like the woman. And what's this about buying? What, a house?

No, I don't think so. I mean I know I've been pushing Nikki now and I know that I'd like to make this permanent, but…

That's too much, too soon.

"I see," the realtor says. "Well, I can start looking around. See if anything comes up." She hands Nikki her card. "My cell is on the back. If you think of anything give me a call, anytime." With a slight hand brush as Nikki takes the card, Laura the Skanky Realtor excuses herself and leaves.

My partner and I sit there. She sips her drink and I fume. Okay so, on the occasion I've been known to be jealous. But I mean really? Did she really have to pretty much throw herself at Nikki?

Would it have hurt Nikki to casually mention that she's involved?

I go to take a sip and my stomach churns. Giving up, I set my cup down and push it away from me.

Finally, she sighs and snips, "You want to explain to me what that was all about?"

Do I wanna what!

My head snaps in her direction and she's looking at me, her brow knitted together, arms crossed over her chest.

Instead of dignifying anything right now with an answer, I stand and stride out of the café. Nikki's following me. Her heels have a distinct staccato beat on the concrete.

We reach June Lee, both of us yanking our doors open and throwing ourselves inside. Once the engine's turns over, I turn to her, my knee coming to rest on the space between us. "I've nothing to explain. Do you want to tell me what Little Miss Skanks-A-Lot was trying to pull with the obnoxious giggle and 'call me, anytime' bullshit?"

Nikki rolls her eyes. "'Work partners'? Really, Nora?"


I deflate.


Trying to calm down, I run a hand through my hair and count to ten. Okay, she has a point. I just… "I panicked," I mumble.

"I'm sorry, detective; your work partner didn't hear that. Come again?" she snips from across June's cab.

Deserved that too. "I panicked," I state clearly. "I'm sorry. It was a knee-jerk reaction."

"Hmmm, I'd say." She leans against the passenger side door.

"But," I try to say as unaccusingly as possible, "did you have to flirt with her?"

She looks at me from the corner of her eyes.

Maybe that was the wrong thing to say…

I scratch the back of my neck and slump against my door. "I didn't mean…I…"

"I know," Nikki says softly. "I know how you are and it just caught me off guard. I thought that…we're two women getting a place together…" She sighs and turns towards me, our positions mirrored. "I thought that you'd loosen up a little. Especially about this," she admits, "She has no ties to the department and I don't see your mother running in the same circles. Peggy knows I'm gay, Nora. She knows who you are."

I'm a tool. A great big, sucky tool.

Nora puts June Lee into park and kills the engine. It's nearly time to meet Dan and for some reason he chose to meet us at Goody's, a mom and pop style restaurant near Nora's apartment.

My girl turns to me and again says, "I'm sorry."

Deciding that some mercy is called for, I reach for her hand and pull us together. We meet somewhere in the middle and she hesitantly wraps her arms around me. Returning the embrace, I bury my face in her neck and rest there a minute. I think we've argued enough today. I see why she freaked out. I also will admit that I really didn't stop Laura from making any advances.

"We're okay," I mumble into her hair.

She pushes me back by my shoulders. Tucking my hair behind my ears she kisses my nose and the corner of my mouth. "I'm going to eventually figure out why you're with me."

I smile at her and tap the tip of her nose with my finger. "I'm a sucker for closeted blondes that love me." I give her a soft smile and she grins back at me.

"You ready to go see Dan?" she asks.

I nod and follow her out of the driver's side door. We step into the diner and Dan's sitting at a booth already, a steaming cup of coffee sitting in front of him. My eyes narrow. I wasn't really pleased that he wanted to meet before we started work today. Nora and I aren't due in 'till four this evening and the location, well…it's close to Nora's place, but farther away than he usually goes from the station.

Of course, Dan seems to be breaking a lot of rules for his ex-partner. I'd like to think that Nora wouldn't lie to me about their shared past, but with this…

I can't be sure.

If I were into men, which isn't to say that I haven't tried it once or twice over the years and if Nora weren't in the picture, I may have even taken Dan up on the offer for drinks one of the many times he'd asked. He's hot. I can admit that, with the body, attitude and smile, you would have to be dead from the waist down to not be attracted. Couple all of that with warm brown eyes and the skin tone and smoothness to match, well…

Also, my girl and her ex-partner have a certain chemistry; I can't help but not think that she would give in to that. The two of them fall into an easy rhythm that goes beyond a work partnership.

I should know, I'm in one now.

I sigh as his face lights up as we approach. I run a hand through my hair, steeling myself for what he has to say. Sliding into the booth first, I say, "Afternoon, boss."

"Good afternoon, detective." He sips his coffee as Nora sits next to me then says, "Delaney."

"Harney," she grins back at him.

"Well, I must say, you two look very nice today. Did you get all prettied up for little ole me?" He wiggles his eyebrows at us, well more at Nora than me and we both roll our eyes.

"Cut the shit partner," Nora snips, "what's up?"

He sucks on his teeth, letting his tongue protrude from behind his bottom lip. He looks Nora over again and says, "You ain't gonna let me have any fun with this are you?"

She shakes her head and he turns to me, "Should I bother asking?"

I smile at that. "Touchy feely realtor," is what I give him and he nods.

"I take it the hunt for new digs isn't going that well?" With my smirk and Nora's glare he gets his answer. "Gotcha. Alright well, if this makes it any better, you two are cleared for field work. That should make it a little easier."

I relax marginally, but the grin that lights up Nora's face is priceless. I think she was starting to crack sitting at her desk so much.

"But," he says, "He may have mentioned that follow up visits wouldn't be a bad idea…"

"He can bite me and you can…" Nora interrupts him.

"Tah, tah, tah…lemme finish," he holds his finger up to Nora's lips and continues, "He said a follow up with you two wouldn't be a bad idea, but that it wasn't necessary." Removing his finger, he winks at us and finishes, "He says there are things that you two could take some time to work through, but it won't interfere with your work. He also says I should be glad to have detectives like you working for me."

I scoff, "Damn right you should."

Nora actually laughs and Dan just shrugs, saying, "I told him that I'd keep it in mind if there were any more outbursts such as the ones that landed you two in there to begin with."

"Meagan Diea can kiss my…" Nora starts.

"Now, now, sugga," I stop her from saying anything else.

"Listen to your partner, Delaney," Dan warns.

We all stop talking as the waitress finally comes up and says, "Looks like you're friends arrived. Sorry about that, I just saw you ladies sittin' here."

I can't blame her. The place is packed. So like good, understanding people, the three of us wave off her apologies and place our order. She skitters off only to return a minute later with our waters and coffee and a refill for Dan.

"So," Dan says, after our waitress leaves us, "Since you two are back out on the streets, you can continue the filing as time permits." He laughs at his own joke and I grab Nora's thigh to still her reaction.

I don't need to be suspended again.

"Bite me, Harney," she says instead. I'll take it.

"I figured as much," he sighs and looks over at me and then back to Nora.

I raise my eyebrow at the looks he's giving as I try and figure out what other angle he's trying to play. I mean don't get me wrong, I'm happy to get back out there just as much as Nora, but he could have told us this when we saw each other at work.

Needing to at least start the conversation again, I ask, "Was that all?"

He shrugs while Nora offers me a look. I dip my chin hoping to relay my thoughts via telepathy.

I know that won't work, but she has to at least see a little bit of what I do and that's what I'm hoping for.

"I thought it was so Dan could buy us lunch," Nora says.

Yeah, I always thought the telepathy thing was a load of horse manure anyhow.

"I just need to make sure we aren't going to have any more of those problems, are we ladies?" Dan looks us over again.

"Those problems?" Nora asks.

"I think he's talking about the two of us assaulting federal officers," I supply and Nora's lips purse.

"She's smart," Dan jokes.

I flip him off.

The waitress, Anna, comes by with our food. Cheeseburgers all around. No wonder we pay through the nose for health insurance. The three of us dig in and silently enjoy the meal. Goody's has excellent burgers. I'm not sure why, it may be the catsup to mustard to mayo ratio that they use or the red onions…no, wait, it's the Tabasco in the meat, that's why they're so damn good.

I look up as Dan takes a bite of a fry. He keeps skirting his eyes between Nora and me. We haven't talked about him knowing about Nora and I. Not between the three of us and maybe that's what this is about. Going off of the hunch I ask, "Dan, something wrong?"

Nora looks over to me, burger half raised to her lips and her eyes bulging. Laughing, I pat her on the head and explain, "Not that I don't appreciate the free meal Harney, but you've been looking at us funny since we sat down. Now it could be argued that I like to finesse a situation and tease the information out of people, but…" I send a small smile to Nora, "I'm a little on edge and if I can't be straight, pardon that pun, with my Leiu, than I've got problems."

Nora's burger lowers as Dan finally relaxes and settles into the booth, twisting the fork in his hand. It's then that the first genuine smile graces his lips. "Yeah actually there was." He winks at me and then looks at Nora, sobering slightly. "I do have an ulterior motive for getting you two out here. Nora, we were partners, but you always kept me at a distance. I'm your boss now, but that doesn't detract from my desire to be a friend."

I feel Nora tense, but do nothing to soothe her.

"Nikki yours too since I think it's a package deal now," he looks over at me and offers a lazy smirk. "I was thinking that we could go to dinner tomorrow. Drinks, play catch up and you two can tell me all about how in the hell this," he waves that fork between the two of us, "happened. The cop in me's dying to know."

Nora's eyes dart to me and I raise an eyebrow. "Uh, sure…" she answers.

Nikki pushes into my side and points to a listing towards the bottom of the page. I scan the ad and shrug, speaking softly by her ear, "If you wanna go look, we'll go." I take a quick look at the clock. We've about two and a half hours before we need to be at work.

"Hmm, 'kay. You want to shower before we go or can we just get dressed so I can smell you on me the rest of the night?" she whispers, leaning up to place a few kisses along my jaw line.

Shivers and shocks of desire play a small game of tag along my spine before I can find my voice, "I say we just get dressed. It's probably gonna be a slow night. We may even get to clear the crap on our desks tonight."

She nods against me and slips away, leaving a cold front on my left side. Groaning I swing off the bed in the opposite direction, looking around the room for my discarded clothes. Let's see, if I were Nikki and in a hurry to shed clothes…I would be…

I round the bed and pull open the half closed door. Aha! Lying in a small heap are my shoes, socks, underwear and pants. How she manages to divest me of four garments at once is still a mystery. I barely remember hitting the bedroom after she jumped me in the living room.

Gathering the items, I pad back to the bed and begin the process of getting dressed again. I can't wait to get to work. No more desk, no more cold cases or closed cases while wondering who in the hell developed the department's filing system 'cause it is a cluster fuck of nonsense.

Nikki comes out of the bathroom, clad only in her bra and underwear. The sight sort of stops my movements and she smirks. "You can't look at me like that sugga, if you want to get to work on time."

I roll my eyes. "You shouldn't be running around in your unmentionables if you don't want me to look at you like that," I retort.

Her big, brown eyes light up and she just smirks.

I ignore the smirk and finish getting ready. We manage to make it out the door with her reapplying both our lip gloss only twice. Luckily the listing she wants to go see is only a block and a half up from my place so by the time we get there we have some time to look around.

Small signs direct us down an ivy covered walkway that opens up into a well landscaped and quiet courtyard. A woman, with curly, short gray hair and glasses smiles up at us from behind a small folding table. "Good afternoon," she greets us.

"Hello," Nikki introduces us, "I'm Nikki. This is Nora. Are you showing the apartment?"

"I am. I was actually getting ready to close up." She looks between the two of us and shrugs, "But, if you'd like to look around, I'm more than happy to stick around." She stands and comes around the table.

She's short, maybe five foot on a good day with heels. I shake her offered hand as she says, "Mary. Would you like me to show you around?"

"That would be wonderful," Nikki answers for us.

By unspoken agreement, Nikki takes the lead as Mary leads us around. The place is huge, two stories, a staircase leading to the upper level is immediately to my left as we step through the French doors. The bottom floor is a kitchen, living room, second bathroom, small den and a spare bedroom.

I love it.

I look at Nikki as she looks around and see how much she's falling in love with the place. It's been renovated, but they've left things unfinished. The look just adds to the overall feeling of the place. The kitchen's large and opens up into the living room. The spare bedroom isn't anything to stick your nose up at; it's the same size as my bedroom now. Mary leads us up the stairs and I hear Nikki suck in a breath.

The stairs open up into an open space, with another set of French doors leading into a large open bathroom with a fireplace. An old claw foot tub is the center piece and Nikki nearly squeals. Moving through the bathroom, through another set of doors, is the master bedroom. Expansive, it's large enough to hold a king size bed and a few dressers. To my right is a decent sized walk in closet and to the left a balcony that opens up on to the courtyard.

I was sold on the place from a look at the downstairs, but the upstairs…I can see Nikki and I here and being very, very comfortable.

"Well, ladies, this is it," Mary says, spinning around to us.

"It's really very nice," Nikki says, sticking her head in the closet again. She leans back out and asks, "How much are they asking for rent?"

"Oh, dear," Mary fidgets for a moment and answers, "It's to purchase. The owners of the complex are going co-op and each unit; six in total are being sold. Five have been bought and this is the last unit."

"Oh," Nikki's mouth makes a cute little shape, "why was this last?"

"The contractors just finished up." She looks between the two of us and goes for it, "The asking price is one-hundred-thirteen and I think for you two, perfect for a couple starting out."

I start to sputter and say, "I…we're…"

Nikki's hand lands on my shoulder, giving me a small squeeze. I close my mouth with an audible clap and Mary just barely manages to stop her laugh. She does manage to grin and lays her hand on my forearm. "My granddaughter and her 'friend' just purchased their first home." She smiles warmly at me then pats my cheek. "Whatever gets you through honey, but I'll leave you and your friend to talk."

I gape at her as she disappears through another set of I didn't see then I turn to Nikki. She's laughing silently and holding her stomach. "Oh, sugga," she says, looking me over, "that was priceless."

I scowl at her and then realize what I was about to do again…"I, uh, well, she…"

Nikki pats my other cheek and leans into me. "It doesn't matter." Her eyes light up as she teases me, "Although, this" she waves a finger at me, "will give my plenty of opportunity to tease you endlessly."

I pout and fold my arms across my chest.

"Now, what about this place?" she asks, gathering me in her arms.

Slowly I relent and wrap my hands around her neck. "Nik, I would, but…"

"But what? We could you know," she says gently.

"Nik, we can't buy this place," I try to reason; "It's not in my budget."

Her mouth twists to the side and my eyes narrow.

Oh boy.

Ya know, I love my girl, especially when she's feeling guilty and wrapped up in my arms like she is now, but this, her stubborn streak about money, does wear thin on occasion. It's been a small theme with us, her inability to allow me to pay for things that she can't.

I usually let it go because I know my bank account makes her uncomfortable, but she's not winning this time. Using a little pressure, I press us together and say, "You know that's not really an issue, Nora. This place is perfect. The two of us together could make it work."

"Nikki," she half whines, "I know you don't struggle and I really don't know the size of that trust fund you have, but when we buy a place, it's something I want to do together."

I shake my head. "You don't know because you never asked…"

"Why would I…" she tries to say, but I stop her.

"No, now just hear me out. You say these pretty words about us building a life. This place is perfect for us Nora."

She pulls away from me and spits, "I'm not someone to be kept, Nikki. I won't live off of you."


So that's what this is. I roll my eyes. I take a deep breath and change tack, just a little, "I understand Nora and I don't want you to do that. I want this to be our thing. Together." I reach out and turn her towards me again, hooking my fingers in her belt loops. "But you keep saying you want me. You want in, then it's all or nothin' sugga. Which means what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine." I smile at her, offering a small half grin that I know she likes. "So, if you're in this with me, which is what you keep saying, you can show me yours and I will show you mine, but you can't get all defensive about it when mine's bigger than yours."

I get an eye roll and press, "Get over it Delaney. If we're in, we're all in. Which means me and my trust fund are now yours."

My girl huffs and I just bat my lashes at her. I draw her closer and peck her chin. "The only thing using my money means is that we don't have to worry about the mortgage payments. If we do this, then afterwards, we'll sit down, together and set up a budget, together and stick to it…"

"Together," she finishes.

I nod. "Exactly," I say, but feel the need to amend, "Unless they have shoe sale and I need a new pair. In which case, budget be damned I'm shopping."

Laughing Nora shakes her head, rolling the ideas around in her head. She chews on the corner of her lower lip, letting me know that she's thinking about. I decide to put the final nail in the coffin of resistance and plead, "Baby, it's perfect. Please?"

For my pleasure, she huffs, blowing the bangs off her forehead. The huff is music to my ears. It's the sound of my baby giving in. And like usual, she doesn't disappoint, "Fine, we do this, but this is it. Budget. Nikki, you, me and very short strings on that purse of yours."

I squeal. I can't help it. I let her go and jump up and down and then wrap her up in a huge hug. She returns the embrace and I can't believe it worked. She's really gonna do this with me.

I grab her hand and tug her out of the bedroom and down the stairs. "Mary," I call out and see the woman sitting her phone down to smile at us.

"Well," she says, "What do you ladies think?"

I take one last look at Nora, who has a death grip on my hand, before saying, "We'd like to make an offer."

The older woman's face lights up and she gushes, "Oh, I'm so glad. There were a few others that came sniffing around today, but they just didn't feel right." She comes around the table and offers my Nora a genuine smile, one that I'd imagine a grandmother to possess as she beams at her grandkids. "You two feel right about this place. It's off the beaten path and private, but not too much so. If my Bea and her Kristen hadn't found that house, I would have just made them buy this one."

I laugh and decide instantly that Mary is my new favorite person. "Well, I think we should get the ball rolling."

"Eager, I see," she jokes. "What about you, dear?"

"Uh, I…" Nora stumbles.

Laughing, Mary just shakes her head. "You are just too much."

"She's a bit shocked, I think," trying to explain my lovers stuck tongue. "We weren't really expecting this…"

"Well," Mary waggles her finger between the two of us, "the best things usually come when you're not looking. At least that's always been my observation." She shuffles some paperwork in a pile and motions for us to follow her inside.

She leads us into the kitchen and plops the stack of papers on the kitchen island. "Why, my Frankie, he came outta nowhere when we were young." She gets this far off look in her eyes and then shakes it off. "He was something else. Had my daddy in knots on our first date." She looks through the stack and hands over some forms. "I think we can get started, if you two would like to begin filling out the forms here, while I collect some information."

I hand Nora the paperwork and she begins looking it over. I move behind her to peer over her shoulder. The forms are standard information that we'll need to provide. It does cause me to suppress the snicker. I guess the whole 'show and tell' I proposed is going to come sooner than I expected.

Not that I'm worried, but Nora wouldn't be the first woman that's been nervous about where I come from. What I don't get is the need to feel defensive about it. I get that I grew up privileged and that the majority of folk didn't.

Darius says that it's just not something I'll get. Maybe he's right. It took Erica forever to open up to me about it. I know I'm going to need to tread lighter with Nora. Her pride gets in the way of logic something fierce and maybe somewhere along the way she'll get to the point where I can begin to pamper her.

The need to want to take care of her and let her take care of me is near instinctual, she just needs to let the reigns go a little bit and trust me.

"You start filling these out," I say, handing her my wallet, "and Mary, you can ask away."

The older woman's face lights up and she pats the space next to her. Nora just looks between the two of us and shakes her head. "I don't think I like the idea of you two teaming up over there." She punctuates her statement by waving her pen in our general direction.

"She speaks!" Mary exclaims. I watch as Mary beams and wags a finger at Nora. "You're something else, dear."

My snort of laughter earns me a glare and a look for us to get back to work. We still have to go to work today.

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you're mine, I walk the line

Ch. 12 – Tie That Binds

"Well, detective, you were saying something about us being able to finish off the stack of files on our desks?" Nikki looks over at me, arms folded across her chest, the latex gloves on her hands contrasting with the royal blue blouse she's wearing.

I sigh, running a glove covered hand over my chin and look around. Things were going well; the evening was shaping up to be all right. Nikki and I had gotten back to going through files together and had developed a rhythm. Then dispatch called thirty minutes ago with an address.

So here we are at nearly two in the morning, looking at the body of a dead house wife. The on-call M.E. for the evening, Buddy Talbot, has already moved the body and the scene techs are breaking everything down. The victim is Kathy Thorpe, a run of the mill house wife who, from what it looks like, had the misfortune of being home during an attempted robbery.

The house has been tossed. Kind of.

It was haphazard to say the least and looking over at Nikki, she feels the same.

"Yeah, well, what's that saying about plans and mice?" I ask, looking at the marks on the victim's neck. The bruises are starting to show well and livor mortis has just started to set in; that tells me that she hasn't been dead long. Under three hours. Hopefully, Buddy or Charlie, if he does the post, can tell us a bit more. I'd like to know if they can at least give me the size of the perp.

"It's actually, 'The best laid schemes of mice and men do oft' times go awry.'" Talbot cuts in smiling up from the body.

Nikki clucks her tongue and shrugs. Smiling always seems inappropriate over a dead body so I turn around and motion Nikki to follow me into the dining room where the husband, Brian, sits.

Approaching the man, slumped over the kitchen table, I sit down as Nikki flanks him on the right.

"Mr. Thorpe, I'm Detective Delaney and this is Detective Beaumont," I start off quietly, "We'd like to ask you a few questions."

Mutely, he nods and sits up a bit straighter. I look him over, khaki's with loafers, a blue sweater vest over a white button down shirt. He looks rumpled but in all honesty, no worse for the wear.

"What time did you come home?" Nikki asks gently.

He swallows and tries to speak, but ends up coughing on his words. I nudge the glass of water by his hand and he takes a sip. Clearing his throat, he tries again, "Uh, hmm, twelve, twelve thirty. I, uh, I was at my buddy's house for poker night. Some buddies of mine get together twice a month or so."

"And was anything off when you came in?" I ask.

His eyes grow large and he snaps, "My wife's dead, what the hell kind of question is that!"

"Mr. Thorpe," I say evenly, "not like that, was there anything that you initially noticed? Was anything out of place, did you notice anything as soon as you stepped into the house?"

His mouth snaps shut and I look to Nikki. She quirks her eyebrow as he answers, "No, I mean the T.V. was on which was weird. Kathy never leaves the T.V. on. She's usually in bed by eleven. So I thought she was awake. Then, I…," He trails off and looks towards the living room where several techs pass by.

"So you came and…" Nikki urges him to walk us through what he did when he came home.

His head swivels in her direction when he says, "I came in, noticed the T.V. and went to the living room to see why Kathy was awake. I saw her; she was just lying there, staring up at the ceiling." He reaches for the glass of water and takes a sip. Nikki and I give him time and before long he starts up again, "So I started asking her why she was up, but then I noticed…she…she wasn't moving, or breathing and that's when I saw her neck."

I nod and Nikki asks, "So then you called nine-one-one?"

He nods and I remove my notepad and pen from my hip pocket and slide it to him. "Mr. Thorpe, if you can give us the name and phone number of the friend you were with tonight, it would be appreciated also, leave us your cell number so we can touch base with you tomorrow."

He says nothing as he takes the pen and pad and scribbles the requested information down.

Nikki nods and I pocket the pad and paper while she says, "They'll be done here shortly. Would you like us to call someone and have them come get you?"

He shakes his head. "I, uh, I think I'll go stay at a motel."

"Would you like one of the officers to drive you?" Nikki asks.

Again, he shakes his head. "No, I…I'd like to drive myself."

"Okay, then tomorrow, we'll call you get some more information and I'm also going to need you to come back here and see if anything is missing, jewelry, electronics, loose cash and valuables that may have been taken," Nikki explains as we stand.

The techs are nearly done. Since the place has been tossed there's not a whole lot we can do. We need to find out if anything important is missing, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

"Here's my card and Detective Beaumont's. If you think of anything, please call," I offer him and set two business cards down on the kitchen table.

"We're sorry for you loss, Mr. Thorpe," Nikki says and I lead us out the front door and down the steps.

We come to rest next to June Lee and lean against her bed. Nikki's arms fold across her chest as my thumbs hook into my belt loops. We stand there watching the scene techs move around, until finally, Talbot and two E.M.T.s file out with a stretcher and a body bag.

"Thoughts?" Nikki asks, gently shoulder checking me.

I shrug. "It looks like a robbery gone wrong, but I dunno…"

"Seems off doesn't it?" she mirrors my thoughts in the question.

I nod and she sighs pushing off against June. "Well, we can't do much until the morning. We can come back around in a few hours and start questioning the neighbors."

"Yeah," I say moving around to the driver's side. "I also wanna check out Thorpe's alibi. Then we can see if there is anything missing. The perp didn't look like they were searching for much."

We slide into the car and I crank the engine while Nikki turns the heater on. "Noticed that too?"

"When we did the walk through, it just wasn't like any of the other robbery's I've worked," I offer as I pull away from the curb and head back to the station.

Nikki's hand finds mine in the center of the seat, lacing our fingers together and she groans, "It's gonna be a long day."

The squad room's pretty sedate this morning. The early morning team has been here for a while and the mid-shift team, just started. Nora and I pulled preliminary data on the victim and her husband while we waited for the A.D.A. to drop off the financials that we had to secure a warrant for.

The big shock to both our systems came when Mr. Thorpe had his lawyer call us with some information along with a list of things in the house. Mr. Thorpe stated that he didn't want to go back to the house so he sent us a list. Nora and I went back and did a search, nothing really came up missing. We have a box of items that piqued our curiosity and will go through them a little bit at a time.

So far, the Thorpe's were in good financial shape, the marriage, on paper at least seems healthy.

"You want to start on that list?" Nora asks standing from her desk.

I follow suit. May as well. We need to start somewhere and looking for stolen goods seems like the best place to begin ruling out that this was actually a robbery gone wrong.

I follow my partner towards one of the interview rooms where a uniform was kind enough put the things that were brought back from the scene. Nora waits for me at the door, holding it open until I step inside. She shuts it and flips the lock.

I quirk an eyebrow at her in question and she shrugs. "Didn't really want an interruption."

"Uh, huh," I say, not really believing her words as she steps into my personal space and her left hand reaches out, grips my hip and pulls me to her. She angles up to reach my lips and plants a soft, but smoldering kiss on my closed lips.

I eagerly lean into her and the embrace. While this isn't common for Nora, there have been one or three times where her hormones have gotten the better of her. It appears that this is one of those times as she backs me up against the steel table that sits in the center of the room.

Gently, she pushes me back so that I'm resting on the top of it so that she can move between my open legs. Deciding to go for it, I open my mouth and deepen the kiss. Her tongue eagerly greets mine and the haze that usually descends when I kiss Nora does not disappoint this time.

I lose my sense of surroundings and allow her to consume me. It's only for lack of breath that we break apart, letting our foreheads rest together as we catch our breath. I'm the first to speak as I moan, "And what brought that on?"

She chuckles a little before answering, "Uh, really just needed it. You've been looking way too sexy sitting across from me."

Sighing, I pull back and run a hand through my hair. "As much as I want this to continue, we have a homicide wanting to be solved sugga."

She nods and pulls away. For a brief moment I curse my big mouth, but only for a moment before I refocus on the case.

She moves to grab the first box as I grab the itemized list from the lawyer. Quickly we go through it, guessing at a few of the items listed. It takes us about a half hour to go through the list and both of us look at each other…

There's nothing missing. Not from the house and not from the boxes that were brought back from the scene. Nora doesn't look pleased by this, but I'm not shocked. We both agreed that the scene felt off.

Her hands go to her waist, her hip juts out to the left and her gun pushes forward on belt. The tight jeans she's wearing and tight hunter green t-shirt look really good on her and the look she's got on her face well…it's distracting. It's her concentration face and it's sexy.

I need to pull my mind out of the gutter. I need to focus.

Deciding that looking at anything but my partner is a good idea right now, I scan the list of items for what seems like the millionth time. All of it's too neat in a way that makes me a little nervous. Last night Thorpe was obviously shaken, in shock at finding his wife's strangled corpse, but today when we briefly spoke on the phone, it was all business. He was professional and curt.

Not something that a grieving husband should be. At least not one that I've ever seen. "We really need to look at the husband," I say.

"What?" Nora comes up behind me and looks over my shoulder. "Why?"

I look back her and say, "Because you didn't talk with him today. Something's not right with him."

"Nikki, he just lost his wife. He walked in to find her murdered corpse and it's barely been ten hours. Who would be 'right'?" She turns me to face her and I give her my best hear me out look.

"We both know it's Homicide One-Oh-One to look at the person closest to the victim. That's the mister," I try to reason.

"I'm not sure. What we do know is that nothing's missing and that leaves us with a couple of questions." She begins a walk around the small seven-foot by seven-foot room.

"You break into a home to rob the place, kill the home owner, toss it, but take nothing of value. Those watches are five grand a piece easy Nora. The intent of the break in, which is debatable given no signs of forced entry, is to take items of value. There's nothing missing," I press.

Her lips purse before she finishes my thought, "Which leads us to reason that the actual intent was to kill the person home or kill the mister, but he wasn't home. "

"So the wife is killed instead?" I go back to resting against the table. "We need to talk to Thorpe again, check his alibi and start knocking on doors."

Nora nods and I can tell she doesn't like the turn the case has taken. Finally, she comes to rest in front of me. I push back some of her hair and smile. "Where you wanna start?"

"Let's check Thorpe's alibi and then go from there." Her tongue darts out, moistening her lips.

"Lead the way sugga," I purr, giving her a light shove for good measure. She leads the way out of the room and I don't mind the view at all.

I rub my eyes as I follow Nikki back into the station. They burn and I feel more than a little bit sluggish. Coffee will be needed shortly, along with some type of food. I don't care what at this point, but the last thing I had to eat was with Dan and Nikki yesterday afternoon and well…

Yesterday was crazy enough before work. First the skanky realtor, then the fight, then Dan with his wanting to get to know me, which I'll come back to, then sex and then Nikki and I putting a bid on a place.

Where to even begin to sort through that mess is beyond me. I mean part of me is glad that Dan's being cool. I was more than worried, but he's making an effort when I've given him every reason not to. He's definitely earning a new level of respect from me, that much is clear.

And the condo or apartment or whatever, what was I thinking, agreeing to Nikki's insanity? She spins around to me, walking backwards and says, "I'm going to go for coffee, meet you at our desks." She smiles at me then. A bright smile that should be forced given the time that we've been awake, but it's not. It's genuine and heartfelt.

Right, that's why I caved.

I nod and start up the steps. She goes in the opposite direction and back outside. I shake my head and trot the rest of the way up the stairs, thinking over the case. Thorpe's alibi checks and that doesn't leave us much. If the dead wife was the intended target, then it wasn't her husband that strangled her. If she wasn't, Thorpe is still in danger. Neither option is entirely appealing right now. This was supposed to be a run of the mill, home invasion gone wrong case.

Oh, how naïve was I?

I hit my desk and slump into my seat. Dan's had his door closed since this morning that could mean trouble in paradise or he may just not want to be bothered. We've already updated him on the case on our way back. I need to call Thorpe and have him come down here to talk. Picking up my phone, I place the call. It rings and rings and rings. Finally the voicemail picks up and I say, "Mr. Thorpe, this is Detective Delaney. I need you to call me. We'd like to go over a few things with you and would appreciate you coming down to the station. We'll be expecting you tomorrow around nine a.m." I disconnect after that. I've learned that sometimes it's better to set the expectation. We'll see if he shows.

Nikki comes breezing in then with two cardboard cups from the café down street in hand. She sets one on my desk and I moan at the aroma. "I owe you," I say, grinning up at her.

"I know," she purrs winking at me.

I take a much needed sip and stop the second moan. I really really love her right now. The vibrating at my hip stops that train of thought though. I pull the phone from my hip and answer, "Delaney."

"Hello," the woman's voice asks on the other end, "May I please speak with Nora or Nikki?"

Rolling my eyes, I say, "This is Nora." Do people not listen when you answer the phone?

"Oh, hello dear, this is Mary. I need to talk to you or Nikki about some paperwork. There's been a small snafu concerning the apartment that I wanted to discuss."

"Oh, uh, of course. Hold on for me." I rest the phone against my shoulder and whisper over at my partner, "Mary's on the phone. Says there's a problem. You want to…"

Nikki nods and reaches for my cell that I was stretching out for her to take. Bringing it to her ear, she smiles as she says, "This is Nikki."

I motion her off the floor and she disappears as she rounds the corner.

It's then that I pick up on two other detective's, Georgia and her partner, Jesse, conversation. "That doesn't make any sense. Who kills the robbee, but doesn't take anything?" Georgia snips from her desk.

My eyebrow rises of its own and I stand, wandering over to rest a hip against her desk.

"Nora, good to see you," Jesse says and I give a wave.

"What have you guys landed?" I ask.

"A B and E gone wrong," Jesse answers.

Georgia shakes her head and says, "That's a load of bull."

"Partner, just because nothing was taken doesn't mean that wasn't what was supposed to happen," Jesse chides and Georgia rolls her eyes.

"Lay it out for us then," Georgia retorts.

"Georgia and me get called to a scene this afternoon, simple B & E gone wrong. The guy was shot, point blank," Jesse jams his index finger right between his eyes to punctuate the placement of the bullet, "The place was kind of tossed and the wife came home from the gym to find the husband dead." He folds his arms across his chest and leans back in his chair. "See my thoughts are this, it's mid-morning on a work day, the perp start tossing the place, but the husband interrupts and the perp panics, shoots the hubby and dashes out."

I bite my lip and nod. His thoughts about his case very similar to mine. It's a logical conclusion and one that I've been trying to argue with Nikki all day.

"I still say that if I'm going to take the time to break into a place and kill someone I want to make sure I can fence something for my troubles," Georgia says matter of factly.

Nikki steps back into the bull pen and catches my eye. I nod and hold up a finger. "Partner's back, need to go, but here's some food for thought. Nikki and I caught a case very similar, but the vic was strangled and it was the reverse, wife was killed, husband found the body. Keep us in the loop and when we get back we can compare notes."

Georgia nods at this and Jesse says, "Sure, but I doubt it'll do any good."

"Humor me," I say over my shoulder.

Shutting the car door, I slump back into my seat. Well this is turning out to be a big waste of time. Not only did the neighbors that we talked to see absolutely nothing, they all seem to hold the Thorpe's in high regard.

Nice couple, one neighbor said, very friendly.

Another said that they were just the sweetest people you'd ever wanna meet.

And the last one said that they were so loving.

I roll my eyes. No one is that nice. I'm sorry, but it's just the truth.

But maybe Nora's right. Maybe this is going to turn into a sting of botched B and E's. With the other case Georgia and Jesse caught, it may be a theme. Weirder things have happened. I purse my lips and Nora smirks as she shuts the door on the driver's side.

"Well everyone was really nice," she says, "but damn unhelpful."

I screw my mouth to the side and decide to follow up on Nora's thoughts. I hit two on my speed dial and bring the phone to my ear, Darius picks up on the third ring, "Hey kouz'."

"Hey you, how's the day going?" I ask.

"Alright. A little slow. What have you got burnin'?" he asks as I strain to hear where he is at.

"Have a case, a couple of B & E's that have gone wrong. You feel like keeping an ear out?" I ask, looking at Nora.

She smirks and I stick my tongue out at her.

"Will do. I'll hit you back if I hear anything. I need to go, but tell Nor, I said what's up. Love ya," he says before disconnecting.

I shake my head and slip my phone back in my pocket. The dull ache that started twelve hours ago has become a pounding headache and I can't decide if I want food or sleep more.

"Darius says hello," I tell my partner.

Nora nods as I feel my pocket start to vibrate and ring. I sigh and grab it. "Beaumont," I answer.

"Nikki, dear," my father's voice is entirely too cheerful.

"Hi daddy," I greet and let my head fall back against the seat. Closing my eyes, I ask, "How are you?"

"Alright, just returning the message my assistant left me," he says. "Something about you needing a favor."

I feel Nora put June in to drive and pull away from the curb.

"Yeah," I say, not bothering to open my eyes as she ferries me off to where we're headed next. "Uh, Nora and I found this place that's just perfect for us, but it's a co-op and for purchase not for rent."

"So you two are buying a place together?" he asks, sounding not as pleased as I would like him to.

"Yes, I spoke with the realtor earlier this afternoon and another couple put a bid on it, but that's actually been cleared up. What I need is some help on the short sale. The building managers want to finish this up in short order and we're more than willing to oblige. I just need to get a check cut, but don't really have the time."

"Uh-huh, I see," he says, using a tone that I've come to loathe. It's the one where he tells me without telling me he's less than impressed with my decision making ability.

"There's still a lot that needs doing, but making sure they had the down payment before there are any more offers would help. Also," and I know I'm pressing my luck, but ask anyhow, "when things firm up, do you know how we can pass the paperwork through the system quicker?"

"Nicolette," he starts and I clench my jaw, "While I think it's a wonderful thing that you are wanting to invest in real estate, I don't think this is such a great idea."

"Daddy," I start.

"No, now listen here young lady, it wasn't more than three weeks ago, you were staying home, balling your eyes out over the woman that you are now going to purchase a home with. Moreover, what do you know of the building? Neighborhood? Condition and specifications on the unit you two are purchasing? Setting aside my hesitancy to help you further a relationship that doesn't seem stable, let alone, when I've yet to actually sit down and have a proper conversation with your partner, seems more than rash. It seems downright foolish."

"You done?" I ask. When I get no reply, I continue arguing, "I appreciate the concern, but this isn't open for your supposed rational diatribe. Nora and I want this which means that it's happening. I'm asking you for assistance because we've been working a case for the past twenty-four hours and I want to get the wheels turning. For this," I say, and sigh, "I'm asking you to go to the bank, since you are the only one that has access to my funds, besides myself and a deceased partner, to obtain the cashier's check."

"So what you're telling me is to either get on board or…" he trails off in that way that lets me know he's being too much of a gentleman to finish off the thought.

"In a nicer more respectful fashion, yes," I answer.

He gives me a long suffering sigh. "Okay, but there are conditions for my involvement."

"And they would be?" I ask a little more terse than intended.

"If you want to rush into this, that's fine. It's your money, Nikki and it is very clear that you have made up your mind which tells me God himself would have a rough time of it convincing you otherwise. But, after I do your bidding I want you and that partner of yours to come around so that I may be properly introduced," he bargains.

I look at Nora, she's worrying her lower lip and looking at me out of the corner of her eye as she drives. I actually think that it's a wonderful idea. I just have to make sure that when I tell Nora she will as well.

"Fine," I relent.

"Splendid. I'll call you later so we can set up the date and time, now please give me the amount and whatever else I'm supposed to do," he sounds marginally better and I feel a little bit relieved.

I rattle off instructions and he takes notes. Finally, I'm able to get off the phone and instead of just locking it, I turn the blasted thing off and look up as the car comes to a stop.

We're outside Nora's apartment and I raise an eyebrow.

She smiles at me before killing the engine and hopping out of the car. I watch slightly amused as she runs around to my side and opens the door for me. Extending her hand, I take it as she helps me out.

"Dan said to knock off and get some sleep," she explains at my look.

Nodding, we lock up and support each other on our walk to her apartment. We stumble inside and head straight for the bed. I lay down and close my eyes, the feeling of Nora removing my shoes and kissing me the last memories I have of the day.

Part 3

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