DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Trial By Fire
By Inspector Boxer


Part 15

The door closed softly in the quiet of the late hour. Nikki leaned back against it, taking a few breaths to gather her weary reserves before trudging through the rest of her condo to the bedroom. The clacking of claws on wood reached her and she smiled unconsciously as Nestor came trotting toward her from the kitchen.

"Hey, boy." With a sigh she slid down to her knees. The dog picked up his pace and quickly joined her, licking her chin with delight. "You and Darius have fun hanging out?"

Nikki smiled and scratched him under his collar. A quick glance at the time on her DVR revealed it to be almost one in the morning. She'd stayed way too late at the club with Nora. But the food had been good. The music even better. And the company…

Nikki sighed again. Barely able to keep her eyes open, she'd stubbornly stayed until closing just to be near Nora for as long as possible. It wasn't smart. In fact, it was damn near dangerous, she admitted. Her attraction to Nora was starting to get a little out of hand. They'd been together for only about a week and already she found herself looking for excuses to touch Nora. To stand close to her. To just… talk to her. It was the last that was the most disturbing. When it came to the men and women she usually got hot and bothered over, talking was the last thing she cared about.

Not so with Nora.

She liked Nora's voice. Found she could listen to it for hours. It was slightly raspy with a hint of smoke and honey. Sexy as all hell.

Nestor nudged her and she snapped back to the present. "Want a treat?" she asked him as she followed his almost prancing form into the kitchen. She reached into a cookie jar and passed him the biscuit she recovered inside. He munched happily as he sauntered off toward the living room.

The refrigerator sent a puff of cold air over her as she opened it to retrieve a bottle of water. She gave the door a bump with her hip to close it before wearily moving toward the bedroom. Shucking her jacket and dumping her purse with it on the bed she headed for the master bathroom.

Thoughts of Delana Archer soon intruded as she went through her nightly rituals. Truthfully they had rarely been far as the evening progressed. The images she'd seen today… She knew what horrors one human could inflict on another, but seeing it so graphically depicted… knowing that it was real and not some gory movie… it disturbed her on levels she knew she'd never suspected she had.

A few minutes later she stepped into the spray of the shower, needing the comfort of at least feeling clean even if her conscience couldn't be so easily rinsed of the dirty and disgusting images that plagued her.

Did Delana really hire Castillo to kill her? To mutilate her that way? To violate her body like that?

She was used to it, some practical part of Nikki's psyche replied.

It was a pitiful thought and Nikki felt the unexpected sting of tears in reaction. "Damn it, Del. Why didn't you let someone help you? Why the hell didn't I see what he was doing to you?" she whispered into the steam. In the pit of her soul she knew Nora's theory was right, but it did nothing to make the very wrongness of it all feel any better.

A bark drew Nikki out of her musings. A cold shiver slithered down her spine and Nikki shut off her shower instantly. She stood there, listening as the water trickled down the drain between her feet.

A low growl came from the other side of the bathroom door.

Liquid fear poured over her. It paralyzed her for a string of heartbeats before the cop in her came awake and shoved the feeling aside.

Nikki stepped out of the shower and slipped on a pair of sweats she had nearby without drying off first. Her gun was on the counter and she slid it from its holster just as Nestor growled and barked again.

She palmed her cell phone as she aimed her weapon at the closed door. Barefoot, Nikki edged closer to the doorknob. She knew she might be overreacting, but she wasn't taking any chances. With a vicious jerk of the knob she flung the door open, startling her dog as she lunged into the bedroom.

It was empty.

She glanced at Nestor who scrambled closer and leaned against her leg.

He was shivering.

Nikki swallowed hard and clicked the safety off her nine-millimeter.

It was that moment her phone rang.

Nikki jumped then swore when she saw Darius' number. She kept her gun at the ready but flipped the phone open one-handed. "Darius this isn't…"

"Get out!" Her friend cut her off. "Get out of the house!"

Nikki didn't think twice. She hung up the phone, grabbed her purse and her dog and ran.

She hit the concrete steps with Nestor in tow. The stoop was cold and wet under her bare feet as she scrambled down it. Footsteps were pounding toward her and another sound started to intrude under the singing of the blood in her ears.


"Sonofabitch," she hissed when she realized flames were shooting up from behind her condo. She staggered back, almost tripping as she stumbled off the curb. A solid presence hit from behind but she didn't flinch, recognizing on some instinctive level that it was Darius. His hands came down on her shoulders.

"Fire department is on its way," he said breathlessly.

"Watch Nestor," Nikki ordered as she sprinted for her nearest neighbor.

"Nikki!" Darius started after her but found himself gripping the dog by the collar as Nestor tried to follow his master.

Edgy with thickening panic, Nora shoved her way through the gathered crowd. Clad in threadbare jeans, a white tank and her dark leather jacket she looked startlingly out of place with the robed rich mingling on the sidewalk thirty yards or so from Nikki's home. She reached yellow police tape whipping in the breeze and mist from multiple fire hoses. Ducking under it she came up on the other side, her gaze frantic to spy a tall, familiar figure.

A barking dog caught her attention first. She turned and saw the blonde mutt yapping at the back of an ambulance. Her heart leapt into her throat as her legs moved automatically toward the scene. As she grew closer, she realized Darius had hold of the dog. The knowledge made her nearly sick with fear.


His head lifted and his eyes locked with hers a moment later. She jogged to him, stunned at the level of damage to her partner's home. If Nikki had been inside…

Darius crooked his chin at the ambulance as Nora reached him. She turned and felt relief sweep through her so hard it made her tremble. "Jesus."

Nikki glanced up from the back of the ambulance. She was sitting on the bumper, a steaming cup of coffee in her hands and a green woolen blanket around her shoulders. Her face was pale and smudged with soot and her feet were bare and bruised but she otherwise seemed fine.

"Hey," Nikki croaked when she saw her partner. She cleared her throat, wincing at the burn and the taste of smoke.

Nora sat down on the bumper next to her, afraid her legs wouldn't hold her if she'd tried to keep standing. "You okay?" Unthinkingly she reached out and cupped Nikki's face in her left hand, tilting Nikki's features gently toward the light so she could assess the damage. Nikki's skin was cool and wet to the touch, raising Nora's protective instincts. She clutched the ends of the blanket and pulled them tighter around her partner. When she risked another glance into Nikki's eyes she saw bemusement there. "What?"

"Thanks, mom," Nikki teased as she soaked up Nora's nearness. She'd felt heat flush through her, warming her nicely, when Nora touched her.

Nora blushed but she kept fiddling with the blanket. The irrational urge to bundle the other woman up and hug her close was practically making the seasoned officer twitch. "What the hell happened?" Nora demanded in an effort to regain some dignity.

"My condo burned down," Nikki replied matter-of-factly. She motioned Darius to let go of her dog and he did. Nestor bounded over then sat at her feet, looking up at her adoringly as she rubbed his ears.

"By accident?"

Nikki met Nora's intense gaze again. "I'm going to guess not. I was in the shower when it started."

That explained the bare feet, Nora realized absently. "Archer has gone too far this time."

"This time?" Darius finally approached after giving the two women a moment of privacy.

Nora allowed that her comment sounded rather dumb when put that way.

"Nestor let me know there was something wrong. Didn't you, boy?" Nikki asked the dog who wagged his tail happily through a dark puddle of water.

Nora finally took in the dog. There was nothing about him that suggested anything even close to purebred. He was just a mutt. That made her smile. One more way Nikki had rebelled against her rich upbringing, Nora realized. She reached out and let the dog sniff her hand then laughed a little when he licked it and his tail thumped harder. "Good dog," she drawled. "I owe you the biggest bone I can find." She sensed Nikki looking at her and she turned her head. Their gazes met and held and Nora felt something fundamental in her soul shift before Nikki blinked and looked away.

"Then Darius called me. Told me to get out," Nikki said quietly. She could feel her heart hammering as she tried to look anywhere but at Nora. The silent but electric moment that had just passed between them had left her breathless and more than a little confused.

Nora looked at Darius. "Looks like I owe you a treat as well."

Darius smirked before glancing back at the charred remains of Nikki's home. The flames had done serious damage to three of the neighbors as well. Had Nikki not gotten them out when she did, Archer might have added another murder or two to his list. "I'll settle for that bastard's ass behind bars. And a picture of you gals from your photo shoot, of course."

"Fine," Nora growled playfully. She glanced at Nikki again and caught her partner watching her. Something about just making eye contact with the other woman was doing funny things to her breathing.

"Oops. Gotta split, ladies. I'll call you," Darius said before unexpectedly disappearing into the crowd.

"What was that about?" Nora got out just before Dan rounded the corner and looked down at them. "Hi," she blurted.

"Hey," their boss said. His gaze sharpened on Nikki. "Why aren't you on your way to the hospital?"

"I'm good," Nikki answered. "I'm a little banged up, and I'll probably have a sore throat for a day or two but that's the worst of it."

Dan looked at his officer's bare feet and frowned. His gaze went to the dog whose eyes were closed in bliss as the two women petted him. "Can I give you a ride somewhere? Family? A friend's house?"

"She's staying with me," Nora answered easily. She felt as much as saw Nikki turn her head and look at her.

"Oh," Dan murmured. "That… makes sense." Honestly it didn't. Nora was never crazy about sharing her space. Especially with relative strangers. "I can have some black and whites for added protection."


"Not necessary."

Nikki and Nora gave each other scolding glances.

"You'll get the units. And you'll like 'em. That's an order," Dan told Nikki who rolled her eyes but didn't argue.

Nora smirked. She slipped off the back of the ambulance and got to her feet. "Did you watch any more of the DVDs?"

Dan nodded slowly. "That's why I was awake," he confessed. "Couldn't get that shit out of my mind." He didn't bother to tell her the latest images had been of Nora with a gun to her head.

Nora wordlessly touched his arm and offered her former partner an understanding smile. "Right there with you."

He smiled back at Nora and Nikki had to look away. They did make a handsome couple, she begrudgingly admitted. The thought didn't stop her from wanting to knee Dan in the nuts at that moment, however.

"You ready?" Nora asked. "Do you still need to give your statement?"

"I did already. I even called my daddy. I told him not to come, but I'll need to call him again when we get to your place." Nikki started to get to her feet.

"Ah-ah." Dan put his hand on Nikki's shoulder to keep her from standing. "Nora, get the dog." Without waiting for permission, Dan slipped his arms around Nikki and hefted her up.

Nora almost laughed at the looked of confused outrage on Nikki's face. She gripped Nestor's collar and started walking away from the scene.

"Captain, this is nice and all, but I really don't need you to do your best Prince Charming impression." Nikki winced as he started carrying her toward the gaggle of neighbors who were sure to be gossiping like crazy about this turn of events for weeks.

"Shut up, Detective," Dan said easily. "I'm just enhancing your reputation."

"More like vise versa," Nikki drawled.

"Come on, Beaumont. Your chariot awaits."

"Looks like an El Camino to me."

Nikki watched with some amusement as Nora shut the door behind her then started scurrying around the apartment, trying to pick up the place a little. There was a trail of discarded clothing leading to the bedroom. She recognized the shirt Nora had worn earlier that night, and she couldn't help but smirk as her partner snatched it up and flung it into the laundry room.

"You hungry?" Nora asked when she saw nothing else too embarrassing lying about. She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jacket, unsure what to do with them or herself at the moment. There was something different about having Nikki here now. A hyper awareness of the other woman's presence that played on her nerves and made them strum.

"Some water…" Was all Nikki got out before Nora obligingly bolted for the kitchen. She smiled. She was making Nora nervous. She rather liked that fact.

Still barefoot, Nikki followed Nora into the kitchen as Nestor finally left her side and began to sniff this new, unexplored territory. "Hey," Nikki said softly as she watched Nora filling a glass with ice. "Please don't go to any trouble for me."

"No trouble," Nora answered as she grabbed a pitcher from the fridge and filled the glass. Her hands were shaking and she hoped Nikki didn't notice. The truth was she'd run into a burning building for her partner. Getting a glass of water was chump change.

Nora handed Nikki the glass and stepped back, putting some distance between them. She'd been lying in bed, wide-awake, when she'd received the call about the fire. Sleep had refused to come as her mind tumbled and sorted through her thoughts and emotions about her new partner. She couldn't get Nikki out of her mind. The way she'd looked at the club. The teasing smile she was becoming so fond of. The sharp mind and even sharper wit. And her damn eyes. Those eyes that drew her in and convinced her with just a look to say and do things she normally wouldn't.

Nikki sipped the cold water, grateful for its chill on her burning throat. "Thanks," she said in a raspy voice. She quirked a half grin. "Maybe I should redo my voice message right now. I couldn't sound this sexy again if I tried."

It was a joke but the reaction it caused deep in Nora's belly was anything but funny. She swallowed roughly. "Kind of Kathleen Turner," she managed to reply.

"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way," Nikki purred the line from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Nora had to laugh. She shook her head. "You want a bath?"

"Seeing as how I never finished my shower that would be great." Nikki thought about teasingly asking Nora to join her but her partner was as skittish as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Maybe Nora was finally catching on to the electric energy that always seemed to pulse between them. It had been especially intense at the club.

In fact it seemed especially intense now.

From the other room Nestor barked.

"Uh… I think my dog just found your cat."

"Right." Nora gave her an apologetic look then brushed past her and headed for the back of the apartment.

Nikki smiled again then wearily rolled her neck and shoulders. It had been one hell of a day. The full impact of how it had ended had curiously yet to hit her, but she was sure it was coming. That knowledge left her grateful that Nora would be close by when it did.

For now, she realized as she took another long draw on her water, she was blissfully numb to everything accept Nora.

With a minute shake of her head, Nikki turned and wandered out of the kitchen. She discovered her partner in the bedroom and had to bite back a laugh. Nora was on all fours and next to her, in almost exactly the same position, was Nestor. Both of them were peering under the bed. Nikki would have given anything at that moment for a camera.

Nora heard the footsteps and glanced up. "Reba's a little pissed."

Nikki bit her lip. "Sorry. I should just go to my daddy's."

Nora rose up on her knees. "I… I mean… I can take you if that's where you want to be. It's just…" she trailed off, unsure how to put into words how much she needed to be around Nikki right now, how much she needed to be able to watch over her.

Nikki sat on the edge of the bed. "I just don't want to be in your way."

Nora edged forward on her knees until she was kneeling in front of her partner. "You're not."

Nikki glanced into the depths of her water. "Maybe I should take myself off this case." The sudden touch of Nora's hands on her thighs nearly made Nikki come out of her skin. She gasped softly in surprise, feeling the heat of the other woman's palms radiating through her damp sweatpants and spreading a warm glow over her skin.

"Like hell." Nora's green eyes were as serious as Nikki had ever seen them. "Listen to me. I know this case is fucked up. I know it has to be messing with your confidence. But you haven't done a damn thing wrong. There has not been a single misstep on your part. Believe me, I've been looking."

The taller detective said nothing. She could only stare, caught in Nora's intense regard.

"The truth is without you on this case Archer would have simply walked. He has an alibi. You know him. You rattle him. Because of you we won't just solve Delana's murder, we'll solve six more."

Nikki studied the angles of Nora's face. Her partner believed every word. She could see the truth in the set of her jaw, the fierce glint in her eyes. "I've become a part of the case, Nora. Archer won't stop until I'm on his list of victims. I don't want anyone I care about to get caught in the crossfire."

"Pulling yourself off this case won't change that," Nora answered with brutal honesty.

"You'll just leave me without someone to watch my back and Archer with a chance to get away with everything he's done." Nora eased closer tightening her grip on Nikki's thighs. "You want to protect yourself and your friends and family, you will help me take him down. It's the only way."

Nikki licked her suddenly dry lips before dipping her head and kissing Nora lightly on the cheek. She pulled back just enough so she could see her partner's eyes. "Thanks," she whispered.

Nora felt her brain short in reaction to the firing of ever nerve in her body. It was physical overload. She blinked and took an unsteady breath. The urge to close the distance between them, to see if Nikki's lips felt half as soft as they had on her cheek… She physically jerked herself up to her feet, hoping like hell she didn't look like she was running. "You're welcome." She winced when she heard the croak in her voice.

Nikki dipped her head in an effort to hide her knowing grin. Yeah, Nora was on to the chemistry between them. And it was freaking the shorter woman out. A part of her felt guilty for savoring the knowledge but the rest of her was too pleased to care. "I'm going to go get that bath."

"Right." Nora nodded stupidly. Nikki brushed past her a moment later, their shoulders touching. Heat washed through the blonde at the touch. She allowed herself a shiver when Nikki was gone. Raking her hands through her hair, she took another deep breath. Her eyes darted toward the hallway when she heard the water start.

Nestor bumped her knee with his nose and Nora looked down at the animal with bewilderment. She'd almost forgotten he was there. "Hey, boy."

He woofed softly and nudged her again. Nora sank once more to her knees and scratched the blonde mutt behind the ears. "I'm glad you and your mama made it out of there okay." She heard Reba release a low growl from under the bed. "We're pissing off my cat."

Nestor sneezed then continued to pant in pooch bliss as Nora rubbed his right ear.

Nora listened to the sounds of Nikki moving around in the bathroom. She heard the faucet shut off followed by the distinct sound of a figure submerging into the water.

Heat flushed through her again as her thoughts went right to what she would see in the steaming bath should she walk in there right now.

"Oh my God," she whispered. The truth hit her like a police baton to the head. She was attracted to Nikki. Seriously attracted. This was more than faint curiosity.

"Shit," Nora muttered, wondering what in the hell she was supposed to do now.

Nestor merely sneezed again.

Half an hour later, Nikki found her partner in the kitchen. There was an open bottle of scotch on the table, an empty glass with ice waiting for her. She shot Nora a bemused glance as she accepted the silent offer and sunk into the chair next to the blonde. Nora was halfway through her own glass. As Nikki picked up the bottle, her partner polished off what was left, the ice clinking as she did so.

"More?" Nikki asked.

"Set me up, bartender," Nora drawled as she slid the glass to Nikki.

The taller woman grinned as she filled the tumbler then sent it sliding back. She poured her own then took a sip, enjoying the warm rush that flowed through her as it hit her stomach. "That's good stuff."

"I might skimp on clothes but my liquor is top notch." Nora didn't mention that she was already on her third glass. The alcohol had eased her nerves regarding Nikki's proximity in the wake of Nora's epiphany about her partner. She knew she needed to cut herself off, though, on the chance that the liquor might get her to act on something she knew she couldn't and shouldn't.

Nikki smiled as she took another sip. "Quite a day, huh?"

"More so for you than me."

A one-shoulder shrug was Nora's response. "It was just a place. It wasn't home."

"It wasn't?"

"I never even put pictures out," Nikki admitted. "I mean, I liked the place. It was nice, and I'm pissed as hell Archer burned it to the ground, but I'm angrier about the fact he almost took some of my neighbors out in the process."

Nora made an approving sound but said nothing.

"I don't know. The only place I've ever felt at home is the Beaumont estate. If Archer had tried to torch that…" Nikki sighed and put her chin on her fist. "I'd be over there shooting his ass right now."

It was Nora's turn to smile. She studied Nikki's profile, aware of a burning in her belly that had nothing to do with the alcohol. What was happening between them was dangerous. That was a line Nora had carved in the sand a long time ago. She'd spent five years refusing to cross it with Dan. Now she was thinking about leaping across after only a week with her new partner.

A woman for crying out loud.

What in the hell was the matter with her? Nora snorted at herself then realized Nikki was looking at her expectantly. "I think I need a vacation," she explained.

A grin quirked Nikki's lips. "You and me both, sugar." Nikki polished off the rest of her scotch then set the glass down. "I'm whipped. I'm going to turn in."

"Sure." Nora capped the bottle then took their glasses to the sink. Emboldened by the drink she offered her hand to Nikki. "Need a boost?"

Nikki stared at those long tapered fingers for a moment before slowly sliding her palm into Nora's. With a quick tug she was up on her feet, nearly stumbling into her partner. They stared at each other for several unsteady breaths. "Nora," Nikki heard herself say. "There is no reason to freak out." It wasn't remotely true, for either of them, Nikki admitted, but she wanted to put Nora at ease. They were both in no condition to deal with whatever was happening between them tonight.

Nora swallowed hard. "About what?" she rasped.

"Nothing is going to happen," Nikki said gently and with a touch of honest regret to her voice. "We both know it can't."

Christ, Nora thought. Oh Christ. She wasn't sure what to say, what to do. Confess? Deny? Run like hell? "You want something to happen?" was what slipped out.

Nikki almost laughed when her partner realized she'd asked the question out loud. "If we weren't partners… yeah," she practically whispered. Incapable of stopping herself, Nikki reached out and tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind Nora's ear and let her fingertips run down the length of her partner's chiseled cheek. "But we are. And I know we both know that."

Nora had to remind herself to breathe when Nikki touched her. She wasn't used to this kind of honesty and frankly didn't know how to react to it. "I'm straight," she said hesitantly.

Nikki just smiled.

"At least I thought I was," Nora confessed in a confused tone.

A warmth stronger than any scotch could produce flooded through the taller woman. She shook her head. "As long as we're partners you might as well be. I won't cross the line." Even though she really, really wanted to. "We just… we click in a way that's very rare. There is something very appealing about that."

"Simpatico," Nora murmured.

"Yeah. I like it. I don't want to mess that up."

What if it only got better, some traitorous part of Nora's mind whispered. She tunneled her hands through her hair. "I can't believe you called me on it," she finally muttered. "You keep me on my toes, Beaumont."

"I didn't want to share a bed with that elephant in the room."

Nora laughed. She did feel her nerves settling slightly and was pretty sure the alcohol had next to nothing to do with it. "Fair enough. You trust me sleeping next to you?" she teased faintly.

"You trust me sleeping next to you?" Nikki volleyed.

They smiled at each other.

"I'll risk it," Nora replied.

Nikki stared at her for a long moment, wanting to kiss her so much it hurt. She shook her head. "Shame," she managed to joke. "I could teach you a thing or two." She watched in delight as Nora audibly gulped and blushed.

"I don't doubt it." Nora's voice was huskier than normal.

With a regretful sigh, Nikki brushed past her partner and headed for Nora's bed.

Nora turned and watched her go, biting her lip as she watched the sway of Nikki's hips. Nora didn't know if she should go after her or finish off the rest of her scotch and sleep on the couch. She took a shaky breath when she heard Nikki moving around in the bedroom, no doubt changing into the jersey Nora had left out for her. She ran a hand over her mouth and turned away, returning to the table and slumping into her chair, her legs trembling so hard they could barely hold her upright.

Nora put her elbows on the table then dropped her head into her hands. She couldn't do this. As much as she wanted to, as curious as she was, she simply could not cross that line. It was attraction. It would wane. She just had to give it time. Her body shuddered, displeased at being denied what it wanted.

Nikki was a damn good partner. Maybe the best she'd ever had. Throwing that away for sex… It wasn't worth it. And God… what would her family think?

Nora groaned and let her head slip through her hands to bang on the table. With a sigh she got up from the table and went to retrieve her glass of scotch. She was going to need it to sleep next to temptation tonight.

Part 16

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