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


As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night

Ch. 13 – As Sure As Night

I look around the café while trying to smooth down the fly-a-ways that escaped from my ponytail. It's not horribly busy, but a steady stream of people coming and leaving, not an unusual sight considering it's a block and a half up from the station. I'm waiting on the order I placed for sandwiches and drinks a few minutes ago. Nikki's back at the station following up on a lead in the break-in/homicide. Nothing's been really helpful. Charlie came back with a little bit about the death. There was some significant bruising around the victim's neck.

That helps.

If we can find the person that did it, we can match the patterns up. Right now, the husband is stonewalling us. The walkthroughs on both scenes confirmed that they were related. Two murders, two attempted burglaries and they've both gone wrong, which points to Nikki being on the right track, the burglaries weren't the intent of the break-ins.

I sigh and screw my mouth to the side. It just defies logic and granted, criminals by and large aren't smart, but…maybe I just expect a bit more from someone if they're going to go and pop two people. A little more planning at least?

"Nora," the guy behind the counter slides a full drink holder and a bag over my way and grins.

"Thanks Jason," I say gathering the items.

"You need help?" He looks me over as I balance the tray in one hand and hold the bag of food in the other.

"Nah. I'm good as long as no one knocks me over." I give a small grin and head towards the door. This isn't the first time I've balanced four cups of coffee and some food back to the station. I have a hard time believing it will be the last.

Stepping outside the sun's high overhead, shinning down on the city. For a fall day it's beautiful and I'm glad September's gloomy days are behind us. Hopefully this year October won't see that much rain and we can head into winter a little drier than usual. I start down the sidewalk with a tiny spring in my step. I'm well rested and sure, the case isn't going anywhere right now, but we're not at dead ends all around. Nikki and I just need to tweak our perception. See if we can get something to shake loose.

Things usually do if you start shaking hard enough.


I stop mid stride and look around for the source of the voice. I swivel left and see Bobby waving his arms at me from across the street.

Oh boy.

I look heavenward and ask for just a tiny bit of patience with my brother. I love him, God knows I do, but, I don't think I can deal with him right now.

See, this is what I get for being a little upbeat.

I look back at him as he jogs across the street. His hands are outstretched and he takes the tray from my hands before saying another word. I give him a once over, the look on my face I feel may be similar to what mama gives us when she's trying to figure out what we're doing that we shouldn't be. I know this by the way he withers under my look.

"Hi," he says softly. "Looked like you needed a hand."

"I had it," I say. We're standing in the middle of the side walk while people are giving us looks as they move around. I take my now free hand and tug on his uniform sleeve. "Come on." I move us off to the side to let the passerby's through.

"Oh, yeah, good idea." His eyes go back to studying the tops of the drinks lids.

I huff. Is this really why he stopped me. To not talk? To not explain why he hasn't returned any of my phone calls?

"Bobby, was there something you needed?" I figure right now blunt is better. Blunt will get us to the point and I can decide what I want to do.

I know I never gave him much warning about me. I sure as hell didn't expect him to find out about me while I was in the middle of having sex. I really wish that hadn't happened.

There's just nothing I can do about it. He hasn't given me a chance to explain and I'm not entirely sure I need to. Not now. Not when he's been running away from me for the past few weeks. What I'd really like to do is shove my foot up his ass…

Well, maybe that's the problem.

Maybe his head's so far up his rear that he doesn't see what's happening.

I chew my lower lip and he continues to look contrite.

This just sucks. I get it. On so many levels. We're Catholic. I can't count the number of times my father used the term 'faggot' and queer as slang when referring to some guy he had a run in with or some perp he chased down. There were nights when we'd be upstairs and he'd carry on with a few friends from the department. They'd joke and laugh flinging certain words around kids shouldn't hear.

I'd be more than happy to say that my father saw everyone as equal. I can't. I can say he was my father. I loved him regardless of his faults. He loved me despite the one's he saw. I don't know if he was proud of who I had become. Mom doesn't really talk about him much. Not enough, I think.

So here we are. Me kind of understanding Bobby's shock. We're a normal, screwed up family. We're that Tolstoy quote, just like everyone else. We all have our issues, some far worse than others, or different since you can't place individual pain above someone else's. But I would like my brother back. I'd like for him to talk to me. I want to be able to call him up and chat or meet up every now and again on Sunday's to watch a game. I talk to the two other hooligans I call brothers on the important dates, but their lives are just as busy as mine. Plus, I've always been closer to Bobby, in age and personality.

Patrick and Terry are older than me by six years. Patrick's the oldest at thirty-nine, Terry's thirty-eight. In a few short months, I'll be thirty-two and Bobby'll be twenty-seven. Neither of my parent's will admit to me and Bobby being the "oops" kids. We take pleasure in knowing it though.

My brother huffs, he shuffles his feet and goddamn him I'm knocked back nearly twenty years when he was six years old and launched a rock at our tree house. It missed. It broke a kitchen window. He stood in front of me before my dad came out screaming blue bloody murder. I took the fall for it 'cause of that look.

Damn him.

He huffs again and stammers, "I don't get it. Do you hate guys? Have you always been…? What about Tommy? Dan? Why didn't you ever say anything? Do you hate men now?" The verbal diarrhea takes a minute to sink in.

I glare as everything finally registers. A hand goes to my hip and the bag of food drops to the ground. I poke him in the chest causing him to rock back with each jab of my finger. "Look here Robert Eugene; get those stupid, narrow minded, bullshit ideas out of your head." I look around and drop my voice, "Guys are fine. I don't hate men. Yes, Tommy and me. No to Dan and me. I've known for a while. A long while."

His shoulders droop further.

Christ, it's like I kicked our dog, Bubby. The mutt used to get the poutiest look when he was in trouble. I soften up a little and say, "Bobby, I don't know what I need from you right now, and I don't know what you want from me right now."

"Nora, I…want to understand. Ya know? I've had…you're my sister, I just never thought you'd…" His face clouds over in confusion and something else.

I deflate. Snatching the bag off the sidewalk, I take the drinks from his hands and head back towards the station leaving him in his…whatever the hell he's in.

Dan leans against my desk talking quietly. I'm waiting for Nora to get back with lunch while Georgia and Jesse speak with their widow. Meredith Whitman is petite and blonde with a little too much Botox and time in the gym. It's a personal judgment on my behalf. I think aging gracefully is a more dignified approach than the medical miracles currently being pushed. A great hairdresser and a phenomenal moisturizer generally takes care of the gray hair and fine lines.

I blink and look up at Dan. Now what was he talking about?

Oh. Right.

"I'm really sorry about our night out," I say quietly. We don't particularly need people hearing this. Especially cops. They chatter and gossip and whisper more than the women in the D.A.R. Since we were supposed to go out for drinks last night, Nora and I feel a little bad.

"It's all right," he waves me off, "you two needed sleep more. Just don't think you two are getting out of it."

"Wouldn't dream of it Lieutenant." I wink at him and ask, "Now out of curiosity, how many of your other detectives get the attention that you lavish upon little ole me and my gorgeous partner?"

His cheeks actually tint under the soft brown of his skin at my gentle teasing. His eyes drop to the beige linoleum under our feet and answers, "None thus far. None of them were my partner though."

I pat his knee. I do understand. Ron and I talk at least once or twice a month since we reconnected on that undercover job. If you connect with your partner, if you work well with them, that bond is hard to break. Sometimes, I'm not sure, if I were Dan, that I would be capable to just cut that off.


I look at what he's staring at on top of my desk. The signed paperwork for the condo is sitting on a few reports.

"You buyin' a place?" he asks, tapping the forms.

My fingers drum across the top of my desk before I answer, "We are, yes."

His head whips to me.

I smirk. "We put in the bid and the deposit. We just need to finalize a few things. With any luck and a little push, we can have everything squared away before the end of the month."

"Wow," he says, "That's...soon"

I shake my head. "Not really, the purchase of the property yes, but we couldn't pass this place up. Once we get settled, you'll have to come over."

"You two really are serious," he whispers. The look in his eyes is a mix of crestfallen and shocked.

"Did you think we'd risk what we're risking otherwise?" I ask, curious of his answer. He couldn't possibly know Nora as well as he thinks if he thought she'd risk her entire career for a fling.

Shaking his head, he gives me a suitable answer, "No, no I guess not. Just, it seems sudden."

"Not really," I say. I'm about to qualify my opinion on it not being soon enough, but I understand. To him it is sudden. He doesn't know about the months leading up to the inevitable relationship. I often wonder why we wasted the first months of us knowing each other.

Seems a waste to have gone that long without touching Nora, but that's just it. He didn't know and really doesn't understand. Nor does he understand the time after our first night together. You can make a case that we should have waited, that we should have taken things a little slower.

It's really not in my nature and while Nora can be the more pragmatic of the two of us, when she settles on something, I have yet to see anything less than an act of God prevent her from getting what it is that she wants and by an act of God, I am referring to an earth-shattering roll in the hay.

And I'm sitting here smirking up at my boss trying to get him to understand all of this when I spot Nora out of the corner of my eye. A quick glance in her direction tells me everything I need to know. To someone that didn't know her, nothing would seem out of place.

But, I do.

Something's wrong.

A quick glance at Dan and he can sense it too.

She smiles at us as we abandon our conversation to track her progress across the bull pen. The smile is an attempt that would be appreciated under most circumstances, but she only went to get lunch. Her shoulders are a little too squared and her back a little too straight, for everything to be okay. What in the hell could have happened in a three block walk?

"I'll leave you ladies to it," Dan excuses himself, sliding from his seat on top of my desk and heads towards his office.

I watch Nora watch his retreating form as she slides my salad and coffee to me.

"Thanks," I offer, earning her attention. Satisfied, she's focused on the right set of brown eyes or in Dan's case, brown backside, I raise an eyebrow in question.

She responds with a single word, "Bobby."

I huff. I would love to be able to ask about the encounter, but this is neither the time nor the place. I purse my lips briefly and then say, "Here, give me." I motion to the food for Georgia and Jesse. "Give me so you can eat and get settled.

She hands the two drinks and sandwiches over gratefully. I pick them up and saunter over, interrupting their conversation with Mrs. Whitman, "Excuse me. Lunch you two."

"Thanks, Nik," Jesse says taking the items from my hands.

Georgia picks up, "Mrs. Whitman, this Detective Beaumont."

I hold out my right hand. Her left meets it and I notice the glint on her finger first. Her wedding set comes with a princess cut diamond on her engagement ring. The diamond is easily two and a half carats.

"Meredith," she says. Her grip is firm as my eyes trail up and look up into her eyes for the first time. They're grey and they blink at me. Chills dance up my spine and I know this isn't the first time that I've seen these same eyes look at me in the same way.

My mind searches and a dusty memory from several months back at a charity function with a friend of mine where we had a little too much to drink flashes through. I was as graceful as possible in four-inch heels and three sheets to the wind, but I stumbled a little as I tried to find the coatroom. I wanted to get my shawl before Nora got there to pick me up and Michelle, an old college friend and date for the evening, wasn't much of a help. She allowed herself to be absconded by Jeffery Morgan, the resident stud of St. Baptiste Children's Hospital.

Couldn't blame Michelle. Not my type, but cute and from the rumors, he knew what he was doing between the sheets. Michelle had just broken up with her third fiancé so blowing off a little steam seemed acceptable. So alone, I went in search of the coatroom. Instead of the coatroom, I found a closet that held two semi-naked, grunting partners doing things that seemed rather unsanitary in a closet.

It was her grey eyes that blinked up at me over the rather large stack of packaged toilet paper. I dislike the fact that, on occasion, my life seems more like a horribly written soap opera. I'm sure things like that don't happen to normal people. When I giggled about it to Nora, she just smirked and said that's what I get for socializing with people that have more money than sense.

I wish I had an argument for her there.

The memory is resurrected as I keep a grip on Mrs. Whitman's hand and look back down at the diamond.

I recover quickly enough and chirp, "Lovely, ring."

Well shit.

"And if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my desk." I drop her hand and head back towards Nora trying not to give anything away. "Nora, I need to speak with you for a brief moment," I drop my voice and add, "now."

She follows me out to the hallway and leans against the wall.

"We have a problem," I dive right in, "Do you remember when you came to pick me up at that charity event for St. Baptiste and I told you about the couple I walked in on." I don't wait for a response and carry on, "Well, you see I had this niggling little thing in the back of my mind when we initially met our widower, but there was a lot wrong with that crime scene so I considered it to be nothing more than cynicism. But," I hold up my finger as her mouth opens up, "here's the thing. I was just formally introduced to Mrs. Whitman and when I saw her, it all came back from the recesses of my addled alcohol induced memories of that night." I lean forward and whisper, "I still think you owe me for that night by the way."

Her mouth drops open as she tints pink.

"It's not my fault you indulged my wandering hands and then promptly fell asleep afterwards. I was left high and damp, as it were." I bite back the bark of laughter at her fully ruddy cheeks now. "But this is not the point of my story; the point is that I've seen Mrs. Whitman before. It was our newly widowed socialite that was bent over that toilet paper stack."

Her mouth drops a little more and I finish up, "It was also not the first time I'd seen our widower, Brian was the man behind her." Realization dawns over her and I say, "I'm also pretty sure I can get Charlie to confirm the squarish bruising along our victim's neck was made by that rock on Georgia and Jesse's widow's finger."

Three mugs rise and clink together and Dan says, "To Nikki and her philanthropic drunken nights!"

I can't seem to make the smirk disappear from my mouth as I chastise, "Awe, come on partner, leave the blue blood be." Dan looks between Nikki and me and grins.

Setting his now half-empty pint of beer down, he says, "I mean it. Hell, who concocts a scheme like that?"

I tap the tabletop and pick up his train of thought, "Who doesn't want to have their mistress knock off their wife while you kill their husband?" I turn my attention to Nikki on my left, who is looking between Dan and me less than amused at the banter.

I squint at her and she finally cracks a grin. I'm four shots and three pints into our outing with Dan. After confronting Meredith Whitman on the ring and the affair, she broke down and told us pretty much everything we could want to know. After polishing off a bit of paperwork and an arrest on Brian Talbot, Dan said he was buying and we were all going out. Georgia and Jesse left the bar we were at around ten.

In an uncharacteristic mood, I decided to see if Dan really was going to be as cool about me and Nikki as he has been to date. I brought him to Happy Phantoms. The drinks up until our entrance here, two shots and one beer with our co-workers, gave me a slight buzz. But then, Cassie came by. She just swung by the table, dropped off two rounds of shots and skittered away before I had a chance to say hello.

She did shoot me a wink. With Casey that can be interpreted in so many ways. She also knows I'm a sucker for good tequila.

So, here I am becoming drunker by the minute with my lovely, doe-eyed, brunette taking it in her stride. I know it's harder for her with him here. Dan can come off strong.

I have no excuse for that only because he is. He's that type of guy and he can be a jerk, but if you give him a shot, he's also all right. If I can make him a friend now, like he wanted to be when we were just partners. I don't want to miss the opportunity.

"Well," my baby drawls, "I do think making sure doing your civic duty pays off."

Dan laughs and I grin at her. She really is something else.

"So Nora, you seem comfortable, what is this place exactly?" Dan asks me.

"A bar," I shrug.

"Hmm, nice place." He looks around and I can tell he appreciates the lay out. Phantoms is set up so that you can have a nice conversation and still enjoy your surroundings. Since Ann introduced me to this place nearly ten years ago, it's been a staple. I'm glad I can finally introduce it to Dan.

"This where you usually go?" He looks between Nikki and me.

"Nora actually brought me here. It's a nice place, little trouble and good owners. Where do you go on your down time?" Nikki fills in for me.

"This little bar over by my house. Can walk to it and back from it." He winks at Nikki. "Nora's been there a few times."

Nikki's head swivels to me and her eyebrow arcs elegantly. I smile. She still looks like she wants an explanation. I lean over, bring my right hand to the side of her neck and pull her in close. "You look a little jealous," I tease gently, letting my lips brush over the shell of her ear. "He was my partner. We had some drinks together," I remind her.

She tilts her head and nuzzles against my lips and nose. Dan needs to leave soon. Or no, we need to leave soon. Tequila does odd things to me.

"If you two don't stop, I may not be able to keep these comments to myself," I hear Dan say.

Unable to resist, my right rand comes up to caress her cheek as I turn my hand over and use the back of my fingers. Her eyes warm instantly when I pull back and look at her. She takes it the rest of the way causing our lips to connect.

I keep it as chaste as possible, only pulling back when I can't stand not taking it further. I hum my approval as her tongue takes one last swipe over my lower lip.

"Cough, cough," my old partner chokes out. He can't even let me revel in the hotness of my girlfriend.

"Jerk," I sneer and toss a napkin at him.

He holds his hands up in surrender and winks at me. Picking up his drink, he tips it towards me and says before taking a sip, "To you, partner, I admire your taste in women."

I flip him off and he chuckles around the lip of his glass.

"Nora, are you saying that you disagree?" Nikki looks at me.

I shake my head vehemently. I know when an answers going to get me in trouble…kind of.

Sometimes, I get in to trouble and don't even know it. But she loves me. So after I deny, I grin. She likes it when I smile.

"Sugga," Nikki says and nudges the beer towards me, "You're cruisin' right now. Why don't you finish your drink?"

I pick up the nudged glass and see that it's almost empty. Well, that's no fun. I feel my mouth turn down. That's no fun at all.

"So, you two are getting a place." I look up from the bottom of my now empty glass to Dan.

Another grin comes over me. "Yeah," the sound of my voice a little slower and sillier than I'd like. "You should see the place. Harney, it's huge and ours." Wait…I look at Nikki. I signed the papers, she said her dad picked up the money from her bank; Nikki met Mary at the station while I was meeting with the A.D.A. to secure the warrants. "It is ours, right?" I need clarification.

"It is or will be soon." She's wearing a smile, not nearly as wide as mine, but she's not drinking a whole lot tonight.

With my assumption confirmed, I look back at Dan and point to Nikki. "Cute and she handles paperwork. What's not to love?"

His eyebrows rise. "Love?"

I nod while motioning Casey for another round. She sees me and nods holding up her finger to give her a minute. I nod and go back to Dan. "Yep. A lot actually."

"Good. So answer this for me, why didn't you ever tell me?"

"I'm not out. My very close friends know, but that's it. Besides I didn't know how you'd react," I try for honesty.

He points to me and says, "You're an idiot." He smirks. "Now, we just need to make sure that this personal relationship between you two isn't going to interfere with your work or we have to revisit our arrangement."

I snort, "It hasn't for the past year and some months. It won't now."

I take pleasure in Dan's mouth dropping open.

My girl is something else. Not only is she just this side of drunk, she's been goading Dan which is just fun to watch. I have never had the chance to see how they interact with out the pressures of the office hanging over either of their heads and all I can say is that it's damn funny. They don't speak much but they carry on these conversations with looks and body language.

I also saw Nora motion for Casey to bring another round. I resist the shake of my head. I'm going to let her do this, cut lose and get drunk. Tonight, I cut her slack because she needs it. She needs the lubrication to let Dan in. Dan wants in and he seems to be enjoying himself tonight.

He's also okay with us, which is honestly a load off. I was dreading the first show of affection. Nora surprised me two ways, initiating it and not floundering her way through the afterward. She may love me lots, but tonight, I think I'm ass over tea kettle all over again.

I see Casey come towards us. It's been a while since we've been in, maybe it's time I take Dan out for a spin on the dance floor to give the two a chance to catch up. I turn to Nora and motion her out of the booth. Unquestioningly, she complies allowing me out of my corner seat. I pull her to me as I stand up next to her and press our hips together. Automatically, she leans in and captures my lips. Her tongue ghosts over my lips. I part them, allowing myself to get a full taste of the alcohol dusted tongue of my lover. She is something else with a few shots of tequila in her. I won't deny that I absolutely adore it.

But I pull back. I want to dance right now. She should catch up with Casey. She whimpers at the loss of contact and I suppress my own groan. I tap her nose. The action earns me a grin before I spin to Dan and say, "Come on, Lieu. Show me what you got."

His face splits into a delighted smile as he takes my offered hand. I give Casey a wave and wink as we pass on the way to the dance floor. I hear Nora call out, "Keep your hands above the waist Harney. I will shoot you otherwise."

"I don't think I've seen Nora like this before," Dan says as I spin around and walk backwards grabbing his waist.

We find the rhythm to Santana's newest version of The Game of Love. The song's upbeat and the girl singing, Michelle something or other takes over for the job of Tina Turner on this newer version. Not bad and the beat's just right to engage Dan in a friendly dance.

Finally, I answer, "She can cut lose when she needs to."

His hands move to loosely grip my hips. He steers us away from the speakers, off to the side where a few other couples are engaged in conversation while moving to the music. I lock my hands behind his neck and we smile at each other. I think Dan would be able to keep up with me on the dance floor…if I ever gave him half a chance.

"Does she do this often?" he asks.

I shake my head and lean in to be heard, "This is one of the few places where she can. She's comfortable here. Her bringing you here is an act of faith, Harney."

He swivels his hips, dipping his chin in understanding. He licks his lips and looks away from me, back towards our table as he opts for an abrupt topic change, "If you hurt her, there will be hell to pay Beaumont."

I bring my right hand between us and tweak his nose. "You're in love with her," I state. I mean at this juncture in our friendship we may as well clear the air. He knows it. I know it. Nora's clueless, but then again, I don't think she notices half the people that pay attention to her. My partner is a focused individual.

My hand goes back around his neck as he shrugs. "True, but I'm big enough to know when I need to sit on the sidelines. She's your pain in the ass now."

"She's never really talked about your relationship, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing…" I start off.


"No, now wait, I'm gonna lay it out here Lieutenant," I use his title hoping he gets this, "I don't think I want to know. It's the past. I appreciate the lengths you're going to for us and that's enough for me to give you my respect. You've earned that; just don't do anything to screw it up."

The right corner of his mouth turns up into what I'm sure has made more than a few women swoon and he says, "Take care of her and we're good." With that his hands drop from my waist and I follow him back to our table where Nora and Casey are carrying on. Casey's brought the good stuff. A two-hundred dollar bottle of tequila sits on our table and Nora is more than slightly flushed.

Sliding in next to Nora, Dan takes a seat next to Casey as I make the introductions, "Dan this is Casey Gerard, bartender and friend, Casey, this is Dan, our boss and Nora's old partner."

Nora leans into me and I wrap my arms around her shoulders, pulling her in tight. I can smell the tequila as she nuzzles my neck. It's going to be a long night.

"Wait," Dan says holding up his hand. "Nora, this is Casey, the Casey?"

Nora's head comes up from its place on my shoulder and she grins at me a little blurry eyed before turning her attention to Dan to nod her head.

At her answer, he runs his hand over the top of his head and laughs. A full on belly laugh that causes him to double over the top of the table. I look at Casey expecting an answer. She shrugs and says, "No clue, but how have you been?"

I point to Nora and offer, "Not too bad. Has she been behaving herself?"

"Not really," the bartender admits. "She's itching to leave. You know how she gets."

I run my hand through Nora's hair, scratching her scalp. "I do."

Dan finally has himself under control and he says, "Sorry, I just thought that…Nora mentioned you from time to time. Blew me off on a few after work drink outings to see you."

Casey nods, her light brown locks swishing around her face. "Okay. That's funny because?"

"'Cause I always thought you were a guy."

Her mouth screws to the side and she looks down at her barely covered ample chest. "Clearly not male."

"No," Dan admits, "You certainly are not." He sends her a smile I have only seen directed at Nora, piquing my curiosity.

"It's okay. It is nice to meet you though. Nora's mentioned you a few times. You've interrupted a few things too," she teases.

Dan's face clouds over and he points between Nora and Casey. "Wait you two actually were…"

"She was my booty call," Nora mumbles, grinning.

"Hey," Casey's voice is a little indignant a brief moment before she bobs her head, "Yeah, fine, Nora was my booty call. I actually like that much better than being hers. Sounds so cheap and tawdry the other way around."

I roll my eyes. I really think it's time to go before Dan begins asking questions to things I don't want to hear.

Dan holds his hand up and waits for Nora to give him a high five. As their hands connect, he says, "Really, Nora, excellent taste in women. I could have been using you all this time for my wingman. Is there anyone else that I should know about?"

Nora's mouth frowns in thought before she answers, "Well, Ann, but that's ancient, ancient history."

"Ann…? Ann…? F.B.I. Ann?" he asks incredulously. Nora nods as Dan's mouth drops to the floor.

"Well shit," he mumbles.

For you I know I'd even try to turn the tide
Because you're mine, I walk the line

Ch. 14 – Turn the Tide

I'm nervous, I can admit that. I mean it's not like I've ever really had a sit down with any parent to discuss my intentions towards their child. And see, putting it in those terms just makes it sound kind of wrong. Yet, that's what I'm doing. I'm getting ready for our lunch date with Nikki's dad. Our first day off in nearly two weeks and I have to do this. I have laundry to do, packing to start and I need to clean.

Instead I'm standing in front of my closet waiting on Nikki to get here. I'm trying to find something to wear. My first inclination is to just go in jeans and a t-shirt. I huff and ruffle my wet bangs. Ann's not available and Jill is on location for a shoot. There's no one to call. I screw my mouth to the side and think about calling Casey. Then I nix the idea.

I'm not too sure, but I think she and Dan got together and that thought kind of weirds me out. Not because Dan's a guy; Casey has always been very equal opportunity with her bed partners, but it's Dan.

My Dan.

My ex-partner Dan.

My boss, Dan.

It's a little weird.

I glance at the alarm clock to my left. Okay, so it's only ten in the morning. We don't have to be there until one-thirty this afternoon. I abandon my idea of getting dressed and go to sit on my bed. My robe bunches around my thighs. I tug it and pull it down trying to get comfortable.

"Nor," Nikki's voice calls from the living room.

"Bedroom," I holler back. Didn't hear her come in, but she has a key, it's good to know she uses it.

She saunters in wearing cream colored slacks a light purple blouse and heels just shy of being too steep for a human to walk in. Smiling at me she comes to stand between my parted legs. "You look like you're getting ready to go to the principal's office. What's up?"

I blink up at her and shrug.

"Sugga?" The fingertips of her right hand ghost over my left cheek to push back some damp strands of hair.

"Couldn't decide on what to wear," I admit.

"Ah," she says and pushes me back on the bed. Straddling my waist, she leans down planting her hands on either side of my head. "You should wear whatever you want. Be comfortable."

My eyebrows rise at this. Is she really telling me to go in jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers?

"Baby, he needs to get to know you. You should wear whatever you are going to be comfortable in."

Apparently she is.

Instead of getting up like I thought she would, she lifts herself up and motions me to turn around on to my back.

"Nik?" I ask, but do as she asks.

"Shh, scooch up," she answers.

Again I do as asked and she tugs at my robe, sliding it down my body to rest low around my hips. I hear her suck in a breath and she shift s her weight. I look back to see her fumbling for the lotion on top of the nightstand on her side of the bed. She squeezes a bit into the palm of her left hand and sets the bottle down with her right.

Catching my eye, she rubs her hands together and explains, "You need this. Now shush and lemme get to work." She moves my hair out of the way and begins.

The lotion is cool against my back, but her hands quickly warm it up as they begin to knead my shoulders. Her firm ministrations hurt slightly at first but she quickly has me moaning as she works the lotion into my skin. My eyes flutter shut when she trails a lone fingernail down the center of my back.

Nikki's hands continue kneading and slowly, I loosen up. I'm on the cusp of dozing off when I feel the first brush of her lips against my left shoulder blade. My eyes snap open as her teeth drag across my back to my right shoulder where she places a closed mouth kiss on the apex of my shoulder blade. Her hips press down into me. I raise my backside just enough and she rolls her hips once again as her mouth carves a path up the center of my back to the nape of my neck. Her lips come around to nibble on my ear and stoking the slow burn between my legs.

She's not playing fair.

I try to turn the tables around and flip myself on to my back. I look up into soft, hooded brown eyes and smirk at the small pout. "You're spoiling my fun," she whines.

"Too bad," I state and tug at her top. "You're overdressed." I wiggle my eyebrows causing her to giggle.

I lace my fingers behind my head and watch as she slides off me. The first thing to go is the button down blouse. It slips from her shoulders and she tosses it onto the floor. Next are her heels which she kicks towards the bathroom door; her slacks slip down her hips to pool at her feet. She steps from them and stands before me in a matching flesh colored bra and panties. Her breasts are pushed up and looking entirely too enticing.

I take my left hand and indicate her bra and underwear, "Those need to go too."

Her right eyebrow lifts. I smile and put my hand back under my head. I figure if you're going to get naked you might as well get really naked. I lay there watching her until she rolls her eyes and shimmies out of her underwear too.

My gaze rakes down her torso, over the swell of her hips to her long, lean legs. I love her legs. As I track back up her mostly nude form, the bra falls to the floor and she asks, "Better?"

"Much," I smirk.

She steps up to the bed, her knees hitting the mattress before she tugs at the belt of my robe and pulls it free. The terry cloth falls open and it's her turn to smirk.

Instead of crawling up to me, she tugs at my ankles, causing me to slide to the edge so my legs dangle off. Intrigued, I watch as she drops to her knees and lifts my left leg, kissing a path from my calf to the inside of my thigh.

As surprises go, I haven't had a better one in a while. She moans as her nose ghosts over my mound and moves to the inside of my right thigh. Her touch releases small shivers to the outlaying area of her touch. I close my eyes and mentally track the path of her lips, teeth and tongue. She moves down my right leg in much the same fashion as she moved up my left. As she ascends, I spread my legs a little further apart to give her better access to the problem she's created between my thighs. I can feel the moisture as it pools in me.

"Nik," I whisper, my voice lower than I thought it could go, "Please."

"Shh, sugga, I've got this," she whispers back.

And at the first swipe of her tongue, I readily agree. Yes, she does.

"I know Ann, okay, okay…" Nora says. The phone is pressed to her ear and I'm driving us to Café Ravi in the Garden district to meet my daddy. Parking's atrocious as I circle the block once more and find a spot. Nora chatters away as I parallel park.

I give Nora a bit of time. Ann's been out of town working and Nora's been goin' crazy not being able to talk to her closest friends. With Ann's birthday passing, my girl's finally gotten the chance to catch up with her three weeks after the fact.

"I'm glad everything's okay…Yeah, when is she due back?" The conversation carries on as I prop my head on my hand as my elbow rests on the windshield to listen. "Soon. Promise. All right." She hands the phone off to me and I take it a little shocked.

"Hello?" I say pressing the phone to my ear.

"Nikki, hey," Ann says. We've talked on the phone before, but this is new. This hesitation from her. Of course we haven't really talked since I walked out of the hospital room either. My reaction then may have something to do with the hesitation now.

It seems like that was forever ago, but in reality it's only been maybe five, six weeks tops. Time passes quickly. I smile and say, "I understand I owe you a happy belated birthday. I hope it was fun."

She laughs and I can hear some of the tension ease from her voice as she answers, "Not really, I spent it working. Jill's out of town until Thursday."

"Well then will you be celebrating when she gets back?" It seems a waste to let a birthday go in such a fashion. Just because I've spent a birthday or two at the station doesn't mean everyone needs to.

"Maybe. We're actually supposed to get ready for Thanksgiving. She likes to have her mom and dad over. Lee too if he can get away from his family. You two make plans?" she asks. A simple question really. Also, no mention of her family. I really have been horrible about this. I don't know that much about either of the two women that Nora feels close to.

"Not yet, but I assume the conversation will happen sooner rather than later," I answer. "What about your family?"

She snorts a harsh sort of laugh into the phone. Uh-oh. "Nor hasn't told you much about me has she?"

"Not really." I look at Nora who is sporting a furrowed brow. "She's not said much."

"It's okay. I don't have any that I like to spend time with. It's Jill, Nora and Lee. They're family."

That makes sense. "I see. Well then, I hope it's nice."

"I'm sure it will be, thanks Nikki," Ann gives me. "Hey, uh, I also wanted to ask, or, talk to you about what happened on that case. I'm sorry it caused so many problems. Nikki, I didn't mean for that to happen."

My respect for Ann Flemming is raised a notch or two and I wave her apology off by saying, "Ann, it's really okay. I think everything worked out for the best."

"So I've heard. You sure you wanna live with her?" the agent teases.

"More than anything," I answer. "You know, it really wasn't you, there was a lot boiling under the surface. We needed to work it out. I may have over reacted a bit too.

Ann laughs and says, "Look, I know how you feel. Jill went through it with Nora and me too. And just 'cause I knew Nora first and we have a history, doesn't mean I'm not your friend either. You wanna vent about the stubborn blonde, I'm here. It's good to call me or Jill even. She really likes you. Hell, I'd be worried if I didn't know better."

I smile at that. Jill is a kindred spirit of sorts. "I will hold you to that, agent."

"Good enough," she says. "Hey, I know it's a bit early, but Jill and I both took some time for the holidays. Why don't you two come up for a week or so if it fits in your schedule?"

That really isn't a bad idea. Maybe if I can convince Darius and Daddy to have Christmas a little early or later, we can do it. I don't know about Nora though. She and Bobby are still on the outs and nothing's improved with her mom. I run a hand through my hair and go for non-committal, "Let me run it by Nora when we have a moment and I'll let you know."

"Good enough. And to make it easier it doesn't even have to be over Christmas. Come after or before or whenever, we just want to see you guys."

"All right, enough, I'll run it by this one and she'll let you know sooner rather than later," I say, smacking Nora's hand away from my side. She's been sitting for more than five minutes and she's nervous enough.

"Okay, then I'm going to go. John just came back with lunch. Bye Nikki."

"Bye Ann, take care of yourself," I say before the line goes dead. Turning to my lover, I hand the phone back to her and smile. She gives me this half grin. "She's invited us for Christmas," I say handing the phone back to Nora.

Unbuckling my seatbelt, I slide across the bench seat to snuggle up against Nora's left side. Her arm wraps around my shoulder and she asks, "Did you want to go?"

I shrug. "It'd be nice to spend Christmas with you this year. Last year was kind of a bust." We had plans to sneak away Christmas Eve and take off for two days. Both of us had the time off, we had made the applicable excuses with the family and I had two nights at the W in the French Quarter booked in one of their best suites.

Then we got hit with a double homicide, a robbery gone wrong about an hour before our shift was supposed to end. Two hours after that shift was supposed to end and we were still at work, another double in another robbery gone wrong. We chased the two people that were guilty across all of New Orleans for the better part of three days.

Christmas was shot to hell and if we could get away this year, I would be very very grateful. "I think it'd be nice. Our plans last year were shot. I could do a spell getting away with you."

I look up at her and she smiles down at me. "Okay. We'll talk to Dan when we get back to work and set everything up. Maybe start looking at airfare after Thanksgiving?"

I nod and wrap my arms around her midsection. Her heart's beating double time. Glancing at the time displayed on the dashboard, I groan. I kind of like being cocooned here in June Lee, but it's almost time to meet Daddy and there really is no sense in delaying the inevitable.

"Come on sugga, let's go," I say sitting up and running a hand through my hair.

I follow Nora out of the passenger side and straighten my clothes. Offering her hand a tight squeeze before I let go and we trot across the street to the café. This should be interesting.

As Nikki let's go of my hand, the bats, not the butterflies, in my stomach start-up double time. My palms start to get a little clammy and as she holds the door to Café Ravi open for me, I wipe them on my jeans. She's done a heck of a job taking my mind off of today's lunch, but… I can't get out of this, unless I can get a hold of Dan to call us in.

I discard that thought just as soon as it comes to me. I can't do that. I need to do this for Nikki. If I keep repeating that to myself, that this is for Nikki, then I'll be okay. She's close to her father. He needs to at least meet me.

"Welcome to Café Ravi ," a chipper hostess greets us.

I smile while Nikki talks, "Hi, I'm Nikki Beaumont. Has my father shown up?"

"Ah, yes, Ms. Beaumont. Right this way, we've got your table all set up and your father's been expecting you," her nametag reads, Cindy. We follow her off to the left and a little towards the back.

I've seen pictures of her father, never actually met the man, but the photos do him justice. His hair is silver and black. His smile is bright and wide as he spots his daughter approaching. Briefly, I try to recall if my dad ever got that look in his eyes when he saw me. Sadly, I can't seem to recall. Maybe when I was younger, but I don't remember too many good times after I hit puberty. Dad and I lost our connection then or maybe he thought he lost his ability to relate to me.

I shake it off and hold out my hand to the now standing Arthur Beaumont. He gently takes my hand in his and gives it a gentle shake.

Nikki makes the introductions, "Daddy, this is Nora Delaney. Nora this is my dad, Arthur." Such manners in my girl, they still catch me off guard.

"Hi, Mr. Beaumont," I say, taking the offered chair to his left.

He helps Nikki with her seat and says, "Arthur please? And it's nice to finally meet you, detective."

He takes his seat and we all give our drink orders to the hostess before continuing the conversation.

"So, Nikki, dear, tell me what has been going on?" her father asks, directing the conversation back to his daughter.

Nikki offers him a casual shrug. "Work mostly. A few cases here, a few cases there." She smiles over at me and I raise an eyebrow before looking down at the menu in my hands.

"Yes, well, that is to be expected. It is a busy city." Arthur looks briefly over the menu in his hands before picking back up, "I spoke to Johnny this morning. He got on about you. Wanted to know if you were planning on making an appearance at his holiday party."

The waitress drops our drinks off to us then, halting the flow of conversation as we place our food orders. When she leaves, Nikki says, "Well, actually, Nora and I were asked to go out of town for Christmas, so I don't think I'll be able to."

I swallow. We just barely spoke about this not more than ten minutes ago. I mean yes, of course, if we can get away, then I'd like to go visit the girls for the holiday, but we both need to check to make sure we have the time and Dan will be merciful and give in to our request.

"Oh, really?" He seems a little shocked. "Where would you be headed?"

"Richmond, Virginia," I answer, "One of my oldest friends works for the F.B.I. and she lives in the area."

"Very well," he says, taking a sip of his sweet tea. "I'll let your uncle know."

"It's not definite. We still need to clear it with our lieutenant, but as soon as we know for sure, I'll call Uncle Johnny and let him know. Actually, you met one of the women we're going to visit. Do you remember Jill, my date for that charity function a few months ago?"

He looks to the ceiling before returning his attention to his daughter. "I do. She was nice. So you'll be going to see her and…her…"

"Wife," Nikki offers.

"Yes, thank you, her wife?"

"We'd like to. Ann just asked right before lunch actually. So as soon as I know more, I'll let you know as well."

"Thank you," he says. Turning to me he asks, "So, detective, tell me a bit about yourself. You've been with the department for a while?"

I bob my head before answering, "Yeah, since Ninety-three. My dad was cop, my uncle, a couple cousins and my younger brother as well."

"A family tradition of sorts. Has your father retired?"

"No, uh, he passed away in Ninety-eight. My uncle a few years before that. Bobby, my younger brother's with the mounted patrol and my cousins are all beat cops," I supply. "I'm sorry to hear that. It's been a good while since Nikki's mom passed." He stops and gets a little wistful, "The time seems to fly, doesn't it?"

"It does," I agree and take the offered cup of coffee Nikki fixed for me.

"You have other siblings?" he asks, taking note of the exchange between Nikki and me.

"Yeah, Patrick is in San Diego with the Marines and Terry's in Baton Rouge with the National Guard. We, uh, seem to have bent towards uniforms in the Delaney family." I fidget for a moment before offering more, "Right now, it's just me, Bobby and my mom."

"That's not so bad," he says smiling. "It's good to have at least one parent around if you can manage it."

"Says you," Nikki finally comments looking over her coffee cup at the two of us.

"Now, Nikki, dear, you act as if I'm a bother," he teases.

"Yes, well, now, daddy, if the shoe fits…" she trails off and his cheeks dust a rosy color.

The conversation trails for minute before our waitress returns with our food. I look at my salad and see that I have Nikki's. She doesn't even look up as we exchange plates.

"Oh, before I forget," Arthur starts, "Everything is all set and you need to contact Mary. She asked me to tell you that she has everything in order and the keys are just waiting to be picked up."

Nikki's face lights up as I feel the smile spread across my own. My lover nearly squeals, "Fantastic. I'll call her when we finish up. Did she need anything else from us?"

He shakes his head as he dumps Tabasco sauce on the po'boy that he ordered. "Just give her a call to arrange a time to pick up the keys and sign the final bits of paperwork."

Nikki's hand reaches out and stops the bottle of Tabasco sauce from adding anymore onto the councilman's sandwich. He clucks his tongue, but allows his daughter to take away his condiment. The actions telling me that this is an old routine of theirs.

All in, as we sit enjoying a comfortable silence and the food, this isn't as bad as I'd feared. He's not foaming at the mouth mad or waving a bible around declaring sin and damnation. Not that I had expected it, but sometimes it's hard to tell. Nikki's never really gone into how her dad handled her coming out.

Right now, I'm happy with the pleasant surface conversation. I can handle that.

I watch Nora scribble he name along the bottom of the last form that we need to sign to make this our home. A warmth spreads through my chest causing it to tighten. We did it. I'm sure that there is a foolish grin plastered onto my face, but who cares, it's only Nora and Mary here with me.

Nora's sporting a similar look and Mary, she's been through this before.

The older woman, takes the pen and paperwork from my partner and runs her hand along the edges, putting them into a neat stack. "Well, ladies," she says, "I think that's about it." Turning to her bag she pulls out three sets of keys. "Now, here's one for you," she hands me a set, "Nora, for you," she gives another to my girlfriend, "and the last set, for extra."

We both pocket the keys and Mary slips the finalized paperwork into a folder in her bag. "Also, per the instructions Nikki's father handed over, I've taken care of the utilities. As I understand it, the cable man was instructed to put the one box in the living room and the guest bedroom."

I look to Nora for confirmation and she steps in, "Correct."

"Wonderful, I've left all the paperwork and such over here," she points to small stack of papers and booklets by the space where the refrigerator will go. "Electricity, water, sewage, garbage, phone and gas are all on."

"Thanks again Mary," Nora says, stepping over to me, slipping her hand in mine.

"Above and beyond the call of duty, we appreciate it," I say, giving Nora's hand a gentle squeeze.

"It really was no trouble at all. You two ladies certainly got busy pretty quick and working with Mr. Beaumont was such a joy. He helped get some of the paperwork pushed through a bit quicker and I had no idea a politician could be that funny." She winks at us and I smile back.

"Daddy took a liking to you too," I tell her the truth. He wouldn't stop talking about her and said that if all real estate agents were like her the world would be a better place. I also know Nora was pleased that Mary didn't try to hit on me.

She beams at that. "I think it's time for me to be headed out. You two should stay and enjoy your new home. Take a look around and take it all in." She gathers her bag and Nora and I both give her a hug before she disappears through the door leading to the courtyard.

Nora spins me around as the door clicks shut pulling us together to wrap me in a hug. Her lips press against my neck and I shiver. I know exactly what she has in mind, but first, I want to take another look around our home. I tell as much, "Sugga, as much as I want to do what you're thinking, can we look around our home first?"

She pulls back and looks at me with clear green eyes and nods. I take her hand we walk the whole of the downstairs. Taking in the guest room, the living room, dining room and kitchen. Nora gives a few ideas about how she would like to decorate the spaces. It's a little surprising. While Nora's apartment isn't un-decorated, there's no underlying theme except that it's Nora. The furniture isn't matched, the bed room set, if you want to call it that, she's had since college.

I'm more than happy to let her do some of the decorating.

We make our way upstairs to the sitting room, a quick peek in the bathroom and then into the bedroom where we both stop. Nora's hands drop from my waist and she steps around to come up on my right side to look at the set up in the bedroom.

Sitting in the middle of the floor is full size air mattress, complete with fitted sheet and blanket and two pillows. A folded card sits on the end of the bed. Next to the bed, a bottle of Champagne, two glasses and a small paper plate with an open box of chocolates. I look to Nora and she just shrugs.

I move towards the bed first, bend down, pick up the note and read aloud, "Ladies, I wanted to be the first to give you a house warming present. Please enjoy the Champagne and chocolates spending the first night in your new home. May you enjoy the four greatest blessings: Honest work to occupy you. A hearty appetite to sustain you. A good woman to love you. And a wink from the God above. Mary."

"That woman may just be the sweetest thing since you were born," Nora teases me.

I roll my eyes. "Was that supposed to be less cheesy?"

She shakes her head while plucking the note from my hand and tossing it over her shoulder. Her arm reaches out and a finger hooks in a belt loop of my pants. Drawing us together, her lips brush across mine, before pecking out a path along my jaw and down my neck. I tilt my head back to give her better access and she takes the inch I gave and goes a mile.

Gently, she lays us down on the bed, sheds her jacket and begins to work at my clothing. I lay there and let her do as she pleases. I want her to run the show and obviously she has some ideas that she seems more than willing to share.

My shoes go first, my pants and socks quickly follow. She stops then, taking her time to admire my lower body. Her hands run up and down the length of my exposed legs. Blunt nails gently scrape up the length of the inside of my thighs. I part my legs and give her better access, but she stops and her hand move past the band of my panties to travel north.

She straddles my waist and motions for me to sit up, I comply and she slips my jacket off and pulls my top over my head. Finally down to just my undergarments, I reach up and pull at her t-shirt. She smirks and pulls it off, tossing it behind her. My hands dance up her flanks, come towards each other to cup teal satin covered breasts. The pads of my thumb ghosts out over protruding nipples earning a moan for their attention.

Nora's hips push a little harder down on my thighs and it's my turn to smirk.

"Sugga, those pants need to go," I husk.

Playfully, she leans back, her back resting atop my legs as hers straighten out. I reach out, snap open her pants and pull them off her. Those go over my shoulder, and since I'm here, I hook a finger under sensible blue cotton bikini briefs and tug them down too. She rights herself, naked now from the waist down.

I pull at the straps of her bra and tug them down, letting the cups fold over for her breasts to spill out. Leaning forward kiss the top of each and work my way up. One arm snakes around her waist to steady her undulating hips and while the other runs up the length of her back to gently grip the hair at the nape of her neck. My Nora groans as my teeth find her pulse point. Her grunts and groans do the most delicious things to me.

Pulling away she whispers, "I do believe I owe you for earlier today. Sit back and relax." With that she pushes my onto my back, leans forward and finds my lips.

My eyes flutter closed and I know I could spend just this side of eternity like this.

And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line.

Ch. 15 –Easy To Be True

You could take the whole of my knowledge concerning Darius Jamison and put it in a thimble. Maybe that's why Nikki insisted that we come to dinner tonight. I know she's been itching to get us together because of his role in her life. He's important to her. Well, there's that and she wants to meet the woman that Darius has been spending his off time with. And there's another thing, I have no idea what Darius does exactly and as Nikki and I walk up to a small single family home these facts come rushing up to greet me.

He is for all intents and purposes my lover's family and I haven't taken any time in the year plus of our relationship to really get to know him. I frown at the thought. It doesn't sit well and I'm going to have to make up for it at some point.

I think tonight's as good a place as any to start.

Nikki's been all grins since we got up this morning on the not so comfortable air mattress at our new place. I have been too.

"Come on slow poke; we're late as is," Nikki chirps from a few steps in front of me. Her hand rests on the front door knob and as I catch up she pushes the door open. "Dar," she calls out and ushers me in.

"Kitchen, kouz'." Darius hollers back.

She takes my windbreaker and hangs it on a hook against the wall immediately to my left. The living room's right off the entrance and I see a hallway leading down to a few closed doors. The living room is modest, a brown leather couch, a love seat and a recliner surround an oak coffee table. The focal point in the room is the entertainment center. The T.V. is there, but it's not the piece of equipment that seems to be the most important. The real monster of the floor to ceiling entertainment center is the sound system.

Admittedly, I don't know much about home theatre systems. I have a radio in June Lee, a five-disk Sony changer in the living room and a small stereo in the bedroom. All of these can be purchased at the local Wal-Mart. The equipment on the entertainment center looks to have cost about as much as I originally paid for my car and then some. I recognize the names of Yamaha and Bose.

The dining room is off to our left and leads directly into the kitchen where Darius is at the stove stirring a big pot of something that smells like Gumbo. He grins as he sees Nikki. Behind him is a small kitchen table that has another person, presumably, Tricia sitting there with a slight grin.

"'Bout time you got here. You two were any later and the cornbread may have burnt," Darius teases lightly. Nikki rolls her eyes, but pecks him on the cheek being offered. She also takes the initiative and introduces us, "Hi," she says sticking out her hand in greeting to the woman at the table, "I'm Nikki and this," she grabs the sleeve of my long sleeved t-shirt and pulls me next to her, "is Nora."

The woman smiles, takes the offered hand and says, "Hi, Tricia. Darius has told me a lot about you." She extends her hand to me and finally, my manners kick in. I take the offered hand and smile.

"Thanks, Nik." Darius comes up behind us and throws his arms across mine and Nikki's shoulders. "Baby, I apologize in advance for anything this one," he emphasize who by squeezing Nikki's shoulders, "says." Turning to me, he grins, "You bring restraints if she gets outta line?"

I snicker and Nikki sighs.

"I should have an extra set in my room," my lover answers for me.

It's then that two sets of eyes turn towards her in question. "Your room?" I ask.

"Yeah, Nik, why don't you give your partner the fifty cent tour while I finish up in here," Darius suggests, "and while you're at it, Tricia too. I didn't wanna invade."

"He hasn't shown you around this place yet?" Nikki directs the question to Tricia.

The braids in her shoulder length hair shake as Tricia answers, "I've seen the living room, his room and the music room."

"Ah, well then, if you two will follow me I'll show you around." With that Nikki leads us out of the kitchen and back through the dining room as she calls over her shoulder, "Don't burn my Maw maw's cornbread!"

Darius mumbles something unintelligible behind us. Shaking my head, I follow my lover and Tricia. The other woman is something a little different from what I was expecting from Darius. Of course, his choice in women wasn't something that I'd ever given much thought to either. She's as tall as me in heels, solid and with a bigger chest, but she seems to smile easily enough. Her face is full with a strong jawline. The dark brown of her eyes matches her creamy skin tone, as does the color of her hair.

"Tricia," Nikki starts, "You've seen this room, but Nora, sugga, this is the music room." She pushes open the first door on our left. Tricia allows me room to enter and Nikki flips on the light. The walls of the place are sound proofed and it's nearly the size of my old bedroom. Set up like a small recording studio, the door I just stepped through opens up into the outer room, a glass panel, sound desk and door separate the recording booth. Inside that I see another door to the left, but inside the room itself, along the left wall are two electric guitars, an acoustic, a bass guitar, drum kit and various mikes, stands, amps and other things that I don't recognize. The sound desk in front of me holds a huge board and another small one to the left of it along with two turntables.

"Wow," is what I manage.

"It's Darius' downtime room," Nikki says with a bit of pride. "Erica and I had it set up for him our first Christmas together."

I turn to her and smile. "I didn't think he was…well, I mean," I stumble.

She just grins and laces my left hand with her right.

Tugging me out of the room, she leads us to the only door on the right hand side of the hallway. Pushing that door open, she lets Tricia through first and then tugs me behind her. "This is my room."

I look around and can definitely see traces of my Nikki in here.

"I didn't know you lived here," Tricia says, a little surprised that she's just now finding this out.

I can understand. I didn't know she did either.

"I don't, not anymore," Nikki explains, "I skipped out of town for a little while a few years ago. I didn't have any place except my daddy's when I came back, so Darius took it upon himself to get me set up here until I got my own place again. We just decided to leave it so that I could come and invade when I felt like it."

"Oh," Tricia tries for nice, but it comes off forced, "That must be nice. Having a friend like him."

Nikki shrugs. "He's family."

Tricia doesn't look too pleased with the information. I could care less. It's Darius. The man's helped Nikki and myself, since I've known him, more than most of my family has ever helped me.

"Where's Darius' room?" I ask.

Grinning, Nikki leads us back towards the kitchen and dining room, where a door sat unnoticed. "He sleeps in the basement. We had that redone as a master bedroom. Darius, it okay if I show Nora your room?"

"Sure," he hollers back from the kitchen. "Sorry if there are any sundries lying about ladies!"

"Sundries my ass, Darius. Tell me you still don't take your laundry over to maw maw's?" Nikki says as she pulls the door open and hits the light switch just inside.

I look down a set of thick-carpeted steps as he answers, "She gets mad at me if I do my own laundry!"

I hear Nikki grunt and Tricia grumble. Oh, the things you learn on your off days.

Leaning back in my seat at the small kitchen table, I can't hide the grin. Nora and Darius are getting on well and Tricia isn't a wall-flower. My baby and I just got our new place and everything seems right. Darius catches my eye from across the table and I wink. His grin grows a little wider and we share a moment. Brief and unnoticed by the table's two other occupants.

Him and I have come a long way.

A lot of it we've done together.

"So, Darius," Tricia says, taking his hand, "I didn't know Nikki had her own room here?"

"She does. Always will." He squeezes her hand and tells her gently, "It's a family thing."

"Oh," I say trying to take away the insecurity the girl is feeling. I do understand it to an extent. There's a rule that some live by that claims men and women can't be friends, that it will inevitably lead to some type of romantic entanglement. From the reactions Tricia's given, I can assume that Darius hasn't really told Tricia how we met. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, Darius and Nora's friends will have to fight over who gets primary control over our new guest room."

Tricia's brow cocks and Nora just smiles, taking a sip of her Coke.

"You mean those two skinny white chicks? Uh, Alice? No, that ain't right," Darius tries to remember snapping his fingers a few times before a light comes on and he supplies the right names, "Ann and Jill, the model chick."

"That'd be them," Nora answers.

"They can have it as long as I can at least have a couch," Darius magnanimously gives up his spot.

"Of course," Nora answers for us.

"Just how did ya'll meet?" Tricia finally asks.

Darius looks to me and I begin, "We met when I started college."

"Psshaw, that was forever ago. Nik you gonna tell this story right?" Darius butts in.

Intrigued on how he's going to spin this, I wave a hand at him and let him take over.

He leans forward, keeping his hand interlaced with Tricia's. I take up Nora's hand and scoot us closer together. She surprisingly rests her head on my shoulder allowing me to snake my arm around her shoulders. "See, it's like this right. My cousin, Erica, wanted to go to Tulane. Had always been a dream of hers. So she worked her butt off and got accepted. I was the one that helped her move into her dorms." He grins and the pointer finger on his free hand jabs down at the table to punctuate his statement, "The thing with my cousin is that she had an addiction to shoes, so I had to talk her down and move only the three suitcases she had full of 'em.

So we get to the dorms and who is she supposed to shack up with her first year?" He points to me and shakes his head. "This one here, who's got the same damn ailment. We met on the first day I took Erica and just became friends." He wiggles his eyebrows at us all before launching into the next part, "But ya see, I'd come by whenever and we'd all go out. The thing of it is, is that my Erica, God rest her soul, had started to fall head over heels for that one there." He points to me again.

He plucks the collar on his t-shirt and says, "But me being me, I saw that Erica wasn't the only one that was fallin' hard. A little nudge from me and Erica decided to bite the bullet. When the two of them decided to get together, well, let's just say, I'd never seen my baby cousin so happy. Nikki's been family ever since."

"Oh," Tricia says, her mouth falling open a little bit. She directs her gaze to me and then down to Nora, who's snuggled into my side listening to the story, offering her own version of support. She's good with my relationship with Erica. She does know that I still get a little misty eyed when we talk about my girl. "I didn't know you were…" Tricia tries to say but trails off, obviously a little uncomfortable.

"I think the term you're looking for, Tricia," I supply, "is lesbian." I scrunch my nose up in the cutest way I know how, trying to convey my okay-ness with her stumbling. "Erica was my girlfriend."

"I didn't mean, well," she stammers.

Nora pokes her head up at this and says, "See now, I like the term gay. It's shorter."

I roll my eyes. Of course she does.

"There's a difference, though," Darius pipes up.

"Now, now, wait a minute," I say stopping them both, "Does it really matter?" I arch an eyebrow and wait on a response.

Nora's mouth turns down in the cutest way and she shrugs. Darius' mouth screws to the side as he thinks on it.

"I always thought the term 'gay' referred to men and 'lesbian' referred to women," Darius finally answers.

Nora just waves her hand in the air dismissively. "I'm sure to some it does. I say who gives a crap. Gay is gay. What did that one girl say in that movie that you made me watch…no wait, Jill…Jill brought that movie."

I cock my head to the side and try to remember which movie she's talking about. Oh, wait, I got it. She must see that I remember as I turn to Tricia and lay a hand over hers. "We like girls…a lot." I give her a wink and I'm sure that if I could see it, her cheeks would be beat red.

"Hey, hey, now," Darius laughs, "This one's mine. You can't have her too." He jokingly lays a possessive arm across Tricia's shoulders and pulls her to him.

Tricia cocks an eyebrow over his way and says, "Yours? You better correct yourself, Darius."

"Awe, but Trish, you can't let 'em take you. Hell, Nik's left too many broken hearts lying around the city after our Erica passed," he pouts.

Nora looks to me with a raised eyebrow. I kiss the corner of her down turned mouth and whisper, "Don't you worry, sugga, I'm all yours now."

She grunts and mumbles, "You better be or you got some serious explaining to do when we get home."

"Wow," Tricia says all smiles then sobers slightly as she asks, "Uh, if you don't mind, how did she…"

"Erica die?" Darius tries to clarify.

Tricia nods and I answer, "She was murdered in December of Ninety-four."

"I'm sorry," she says, genuinely upset over the information.

"She would have liked you," I appraise. "She was a good woman. Darius and I sort of struggled through it together." I decide that giving her an honest explanation is warranted despite the somber mood it may send us in, "I can understand your shock tonight. Darius and I are close. Like he said, we're family. Him," I point to the man in question, "and my daddy was really all I had after she passed. Until Nora came along." I plant a kiss on Nora's cheek and she blushes at the admission.

"And thank you Jesus!" He exclaims. "Really, Nora, I think I owe you for taking this one off my hands. She's too much for any one man to handle. Erica tried…I'm guessin' she gives you a run for it?"

Nora shrugs, but jokes back, "Well, as long as you're around to help and I got my cuffs."

I roll my eyes. It's no fair if they're gonna start to gang up on me.

I straighten up and feel my back pop. Crap. I'm going to be sore tomorrow. Knowing this I try to work out the kinks in my neck and stretch a bit as Nikki and Darius bicker in the kitchen about taking the fridge. We're all at Nikki's place packing up the rest of her stuff. Thus far, we've moved her living room and bedroom.

We both agreed that her bedroom set should be moved to the new place with my mattress. Her bed is fine for the most part, but my mattress is newer. I will be able to get rid of the bedroom set I've had since forever.

That's going to be nice. The furniture that occupied my bedroom at the apartment had seen better days.

My living room set is going upstairs in the sitting room and Nikki's living room set will go downstairs along with her entertainment center and TV. A lot of my stuff will be donated and we have the furniture store delivering the rest of the new stuff that we purchased before going to Darius' for dinner last night.

"Now, just wait a minute, Nicollette Joyelle, I didn't sign on to be no pack mule today," Darius groans from the kitchen.

"But Dar," my girl pouts, "I don't want to get rid of it. I know you can move it."

I sigh and shuffle into the kitchen, redoing my ponytail as I walk into the argument.

"Yeah, but Nik, have a little sympathy. Ain't there anyone you two can call to help?" he asks, hands on hip.

I shuffle my feet and say, "I could probably call Bobby…"

"No," Nikki says, looking at me with her arms folded across her chest.

Darius follows suit and asks, "You two still ain't talkin' right?"

I nod.

"Then no and I'm sorry, girl," Darius says, coming over to me. I watch as he tugs at the waist of his jeans that have begun to ride below acceptable levels. "Hey, did I ever tell you about when Rica came out to her favoritest kouz'?"

I shake my head as he sits us down at the kitchen table. "Well it was, I think, Nineteen-ninety. I was all kinds of freaked out. I mean, back in the day, that wasn't somethin' that was being talked about or if it was, it wasn't talked about too kindly ya know?"

I raise an eyebrow at him wondering where this is going.

"We're a good Christian family," he thumps his chest and mocks, "'Least that's what maw maw wants. I'm sure Nik's given you a bit of background about my family. So anyway, I wasn't too kind to my little cousin. Didn't really know how to deal with it." His mouth pinches and he looks over at Nikki before continuing, "It took me a minute and by minute I'm talking a few months, to come around and be right with it. I get that it's your life. Ya know, your bedroom and logically, you can't help who you love. It's just what it is. I'm sure there's a good many folk that would choose to love someone else if they could help it."

He scratches at the curly stubble along his jawline. "What I'm sayin' is give your brother some time and a bit of space. He's got to get right with himself. Not you."

"How you figure?" I ask.

"'Cause he can't change you. You ain't done nothin' wrong and if fallin' in love with a beautiful woman is wrong than we got bigger problems, ya know? It's himself that he needs to get right with. He needs to get what it really means to love even after what you thought you knew about the person you love is different than what is. He's messed up in the head right now. I've also seen him with you, he'll come around."

Darius grins at me then and lays a hand on my shoulder. "When he does come around, he'll have you're back no matter what. It's what family does." He nods firmly, broking no room for me to argue with his assessment.

"He's right," Nikki finally speaks up from her perch on the counter. "Daddy took a bit of time to come around too. But if Bobby takes much longer, he's gonna hafta deal with me."

I smile at my girl then. She's wearing short shorts, sneakers and a tank top. I sigh and nod. "That's all well and good, you two, but it still doesn't help us today," I remind them.

"True," he says, "Hey I was wantin' to know how this is all gonna pan out anyhow?"

"Pan out how?" I ask.

"You two. Nora, you and Nik, living together, working together. How you two are gonna manage to keep this under wraps?"

"Ah," Nikki hops off the counter and informs him of how we've decided to get this to work, "Dan's taken care of the paperwork at work. Not a lot, but enough so that no one will gossip. Nora's family never shows up to her apartment. Well, Bobby, but he knows so that's not a big deal. I think we'll be just fine."

"And if the department finds out?" Darius asks leaning back in his chair.

"We'll deal with it," I answer for us. We talked about it. "Nikki and I don't want to be split up, but we've talked about it if it comes out."

He nods and looks between the two of us. I haven't gotten a chance to learn to read him and his non-verbal signals just yet, but I think he's approving of the situation his "cousin" has found herself in. "All right." He lets the two front legs of the chair touch down before he stands. "You two figure out what else needs to go to the apartment and what needs to go to storage while I make a quick phone call."

Nikki and I watch as he strides out of the room then I look at her. She's propped against the kitchen counter with a smirk on her face. "What?" I want to know.

She shakes her head. "We have to be back at the new place soon. I'm not sure how we're going to get all of this done. We have the new stove being delivered and the new bedroom set for the guest room."

I stand and move in front of her, wrapping my arms around her midsection to pull her to me. "Don't remind me. At least my place is taken care of."

"Hmm," she hums and rests against me. "Why didn't you tell me moving all this shit around was gonna be so much work."

From my head resting on her shoulder, I mumble, "We can stop. You can stay here. I can stay at my place."

I get a smack on the ass for that. Giggling she groans, "Bite your tongue. If I don't get to live with you, then you just don't get to live period."

"Oh," I say and push back to brush my lips across her chin, "is that a threat detective."

"No," she sighs, "Just a statement of fact."

"Good." I say and take a nip at her protruding bottom lip. "Not living with you seems like a bad idea anyhow."

"Break it up!" Darius barks as he re-enters the kitchen. "You two can go back to the new place and wait on the deliveries. I'll finish up here." He plops back down on the chair he was seated at earlier. Seeing the dual looks of confusion, he gives us more, "I got a coupla buddies that owe me comin' by in twenty minutes to help finish this up."

Nikki and I both look at him in shock. I also think that I fall in love with him a little.

My hands rest causally on my hips as I look at the last little bit that needs to be unpacked. Nora and I saved the living room for last as it's proven to be the easiest. Yesterday, with Darius and his friends help, we were able to get everything pretty much moved in and situated. There are still the lingering boxes in the living room that need to be tended to. I took it upon myself to do that little bit of unpacking while Nora cooks dinner in our new kitchen.

Our. New. Kitchen.

In our new home. Together. Where we live. Together.

Now, I know I'm over an acceptable age to be giddy. To hop up and down like I did as a high school girl and squeal in joy and merriment, but surely, buying a home with the woman you intend to spend the rest of your life with is reason enough, at any age, to want to act like a fifteen year old and hop up and down.

The grin comes over me again and I drop to my knees in front of the entertainment center to rid us of one of the last few boxes. I'm living with Nora. Her and I are shacked up.

I'm just not sure what to do with Dan. I can thank him for giving us a five-day weekend to get moved in and settled before we return to work on Wednesday or I can strangle him for the house warming gift he dropped off tonight as he informed us of the extra two days he squeezed out of the schedule.

I look over at the corner where the new puppy bed is. He dropped off a damn dog. Now usually, I'm against pets. I'm sure it breaks some lesbian code of conduct, but I'm just not a pet person. Never was. But damn him, as soon as Nora laid eyes on the mutt, and he really is a mutt, she caved. Her big green eyes went all glassy and I couldn't put my foot down.

So now I have a home with my partner and a dog. I swear if she tries to put me in some flannel I'm gonna kick her. I snicker at the thought. Although Nora may look kinda hot in a flannel shirt, maybe with nothing underneath and the buttons done up so that it barely covers her smooth skin and round breasts.

I sigh.

Okay, I need to unpack. I rip the tape off the first box and quickly empty the DVD's on to the appropriate shelf. No need to dilly-dally. The second box of DVD's goes just as quickly and then the third and fourth hold books that go along the side. I glance back at the middle of the room and see only the last lone box.

"Baby, you almost done?" Nora calls from the kitchen.

"Yeah, you got my dinner ready woman!" I holler back and smirk.

"Excuse me?" she says softly behind me.

I crane my neck around and look up at her through my bangs. "Sugga, you got dinner almost ready?" I ask in a syrupy sweet tone.

She grumps at me as I turn around and pull the tape off the last box. A few photos are left and I debate putting two of them up. The one of me and my parents is easy. The one of Darius and me is as well, but I bite my lower lip, deciding on what to do with the pictures of Erica and me.

"She's a part of you. She deserves a spot here in our home just like the rest of our family," Nora says softly behind me. She takes the two photos from my hands and puts one next to the one of Darius and me. The other, the candid shot of Rica and I smiling at each other, she walks over to the mantle where photos of the rest of the motley crew we consider family reside. She sets Erica and I right next to Jill and Ann.

Spinning around to me, she says, "I think she goes well right there. Don't you?"

Tears blur my vision, but I feel her hoist me up. Her lips press against mine as I mumble, "We're moved in."

She pulls back and groans, "Thank God."

She backs us to the couch and says, "Dinner'll be ready in a bit. We have a half hour or so." With that she wiggles her eyebrows and I smirk.

We've only broken the living room in twice. I'm sure once more won't hurt it none. I straddle her waist and lift my tank top over my head. I strip her next, leaving both of us in sports bras. Granted, not the sexiest bit of lingerie that we have available, but I cut us some slack. We've been moving the past two days.

That and Nora can look sexy in a paper bag.

I smirk down at her as I run my hands over full breasts, teasing them through the soft cotton material. "Do you know how happy I am?" I ask as I lean down and nuzzle her neck.

"Can't…be…neeaarrlllyy, oh hell," she stammers as I lick up her neck, to her ear and begin to lave and nibble her lobe.

Giggling, I husk, "Think about it, sugga. Our couch, our living room in our home. Why I could just eat you alive right now."

"I, uh, well, if you must," she jokes and begins tugging at my shorts.

I lean back and slip off her lap. To assist her impatient hands, I let my shorts fall to the floor followed by my panties. Stripping off my bra, I toss it behind my shoulder and then motion for her to lift up as I help her out of her sweat pants and underwear. She takes care of her bra and I drink in the sight of a naked Nora Delaney.

Now, I've never considered myself a particularly pervy individual. But, I lick my lips and think about grabbing the camera. The site of her naked on our couch is short-circuiting certain parts of my brain and I'm sure I'm going to be left slightly damaged after this encounter.

She grabs my hands to pull me back down. I resume my position, straddle her thighs and lean over her. Our lips connect as I start a slow grind in her lap, letting my body move against hers in an unhurried rhythm. I feel her hands snake under me, clutching my bottom. Her tongue slides against mine. The heat builds between us and I moan, pulling away to catch my breath.

I can feel her wetness slide against my own as my hips press down and hers press up. Needing to taste her, I slip from my perch to the floor when a cold wet nose hits the small of my back. I gasp, my head whips around and Nora snickers. The little mutt that Dan gave us sits there looking up at us. Bright, shiny, black eyes blink up at us. My finger points at him and I say, "You put that nose anywhere else, Mister and I'm going to shoot it off."

"Nikki," Nora groans, "be nice." She gets my attention as she pulls my chin with her finger. Her eyes are alight with merriment as she says, "I also think you just named our dog. What do you think, Mister?"

The little mutt gives a yip of approval, wagging his scruffy little tale. I roll my eyes, but am unable to resist reaching out with my left hand to scratch behind his ears. I watch as he scampers off, wagging its tail happy at the attention, to his bed in the corner.

Nora gives a cough and I turn my attention back to the naked woman on our couch. Right. I was about ready to…

The timer in the kitchen goes off and we both let out a groan. "Dinners ready," Nora chirps.

She goes to stand, but I stop her by gripping her ankles. "Nuh-huh," I say, looking up at her indicating with my eyes just what exactly I want in my mouth right now.

"After," she informs me, shaking off my hands. I watch dejected as she reaches for her pants and t-shirt. The glorious body is swiftly covered up and disappears into the kitchen.

A pout forms as I kneel, still very much naked and turned on in the middle of our living room.

This seems grossly unfair. Unable to do much, but cover up, I redress and join my lover in the kitchen after casting one last withering glance at a jovial puppy.

Mister's got one strike against him.

I wonder how long it'll take for the next two.

The End

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