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 3

Nora entered her apartment with a sigh. It seemed especially empty since Alan, her most recent ex, had moved out four weeks ago. The relationship was no huge loss but at the moment she at least missed what he represented.

Someone to come home to.

She tossed her bag on her couch and made her way toward the bathroom, stripping out of her wet clothes along the way. She started filling the bathtub then grabbed her robe and slipped it on before wandering back toward the kitchen.

A glass of wine and a peanut butter sandwich served as dinner. By the time she'd prepared both and made her way back the bath was full of steaming water. She set her meal down, turned off the faucet and sprinkled in some bath oils. The robe slipped from her frame and she submerged herself, groaning at how good the heat felt.

When the sandwich was gone and the wine nearly so, she sat back and let her head rest against the lip of the tub. Her thoughts, empty until now, conjured up an image of her new partner.

"Nikki Beaumont," she said aloud with a fair imitation of a Cajun drawl. She smiled. What a damn first day they'd had as partners. She imagined that their first case together was all over the press by now. Nikki was going to get a trial by fire on this one.

She sensed the woman could handle it.

Damn it all if she didn't like her. There was something very refreshing about Nikki, Nora admitted. Something that shook loose that playful part of herself that she almost never revealed to others and certainly not on the job. They'd known each other less than 24 hours but Nora found herself eager to go to work tomorrow, eager to get to know this new addition to her life a little better.

The only downside to the whole situation was Dan. He was going to be insufferable if she decided Nikki would do as a partner. He'd already bet her an expensive dinner that she'd accept Nikki by the end of the week.

She hated it when he was right.

"Hey, daddy," Nikki spoke into her cell phone as she slipped out of her wet jacket. "I just got in."

She listened to him respond as she shucked off her boots, leaving them dripping in her foyer. "Fine. My new partner seems… very nice." Nice just didn't seem to be the right word for Nora Delaney, Nikki decided with a smirk. Intense was more like it, but in the good sense of the word. She started unzipping her wet jeans, knowing that they were going to be a bitch to get off.

"Yeah, the Archer case is mine," she admitted. "You know I can't tell you anything," she replied sternly when he asked for details. She gave up on her jeans and started fumbling with the buttons on her shirt. Her fingers were freezing and it made the process harder than it should have been. "But maybe you can tell me a thing or two."

Nikki lost the shirt and unclasped her bra before heading into the bathroom and starting a bath. "Daddy, I know you don't like gossip," she placated him when he got defensive, ignoring the fact that he'd just tried to pump her for information. "I'm not asking for any of that. I'm just trying to figure out who killed that poor woman." She winced as she peeled off her socks and flexed her cold toes.

She tossed some bath salts in and took a deep, appreciative breath when the scent of juniper wafted up to greet her.

"Just keep your ears open. That's all I ask." She switched the phone to her other ear as she sat down on the corner of the tub and started wrestling one handed with her jeans. "And what's your opinion of Archer anyway?" Nikki paused at his answer her eyebrows elevating in surprise. "Daddy, such language," she teased. "What about Delana?"

She listened to her father talk at length about the deceased woman noting that he shared Nikki's impression of her. "Let me ask you something," she interrupted after a few minutes. "Did Archer ever call his wife Del? He didn't seem the type to use nicknames to me but that's what he kept calling her." Her father's answer told her what she needed to know.

"Okay. Listen, daddy, I'm going to take a hot bath and relax. It's been a long one and tomorrow is probably going to be worse." Nikki smiled. "Yeah, I love you, too. Thanks for callin'." She hung up, amazed at how much her accent picked up just talking to her father on the phone. She tossed the phone aside and climbed into the tub, sighing as the heat and water enveloped her.

Unbidden she thought of her partner, standing there in the rain, watching her as she drove away. She hoped Nora was approaching her evening in a similar fashion. They'd both earned it.

Silence pressed in and Nikki frowned, wishing she'd turned on the radio. She began humming a tune low in her throat. Some zydeco number she'd heard walking along in the French Quarter last Friday when her friends from narcotics had taken her out drinking and dancing. She idly wondered if Nora liked to dance.

A sneeze caught her attention and she turned. "Nestor!" she said happily as her dog, a blond haired mutt about knee high, came tottering into the bathroom. "Hey boy!" He came closer and licked her face before settling on the bathmat with a sigh. Nikki smiled glad for his company.

"Wait till you meet my new partner, Nestor. You'll like her. I know I do," she said with a sly grin. "She's got the most gorgeous tattoo on her back. I swear, if I saw Nora in a bar I'd…" She shook her head. "Mmm. Shame."

"Hey, Darius."

"Hey, sugar. Where's your cute partner, on the force, at?" He winked at her.

Nikki rolled her eyes as she leaned back in her chair. "Why do I have the feeling you're never going to let me live that down?"

"The look on your face was priceless." Darius chuckled as he accepted the white bag she tossed him.

The sun was just beginning to rise over the French Quarter, casting long shadows and golden rays of warmth over the early risers enjoying breakfast at Café Du Monde. Nikki sipped her coffee and idly watched the fortune tellers setting up across the street. She heard the bag rustle then Darius gave a sigh of appreciation as he bit into his beignet.

"So," Darius said as he chewed. "What do you think of your new partner?"

Nikki shrugged. "I got off to a better start with her than I did with David." She wrinkled her nose at the memory of her former partner. David Fillion had been a good cop but a lousy partner. The word macho just didn't have enough testosterone behind it to really apply. He'd been protective of her in a condescending and annoying way yet he never hesitated to use her "assets" to get into the good graces of any pimp, informant, or pusher they came across.

"I'm glad you got out of narcotics. I know you wanted to move up to Special Crimes for a while."

"That I have, Darius," she agreed. She took another sip of her coffee as a barge blew its horn somewhere further down the Mississippi. The city was waking up around her and she had to admit it was kind of enjoyable to watch. It wasn't a habit, being up this early, but she'd wanted to do something nice for Nora and getting her breakfast seemed like an easy overture. "Nah. Nora seems nice. We felt each other out a little yesterday. We've got a few obstacles to get over in the trust department, but I'm hopeful."

"She's fine," he commented casually.

Nikki turned her head and regarded her friend with a disapproving look. "You can reel in the line, Darius. You're not going to get a bite with your fishing here."

"Ah, come on, Nikki," he teased affectionately. "You can't tell me you didn't notice."

"I'm a detective. Of course I noticed." She gave him a slight wink. "And speaking of me being a detective…"

Darius held up his hands in defeat. "Yeah, yeah. Fine. You guys got some chemistry going, though. I know about these things."

Nikki hesitated. Darius, did, in fact, know about these things. She decided it was information she didn't need to know. Nora was her partner for crying out loud. Nothing was going to happen there. "So what have you got for me?"

"You want more on Archer or on your partner?"

"You checked out Nora?" There was a faint note of outrage in her voice.

"I'm just looking out for you. New Orleans does have a reputation for some less than scrupulous cops."

Nikki bit her lip. "Tell me."

Darius grinned and leaned in, watching in satisfaction as Nikki did the same. "You probably picked up that she doesn't like the rich much."

"No," Nikki said in mock shock.

"Her dad, her biological dad… he was at the top of the donor list for a liver. Geoffrey Charleston… you know him?"

"The banker," she said her voice quieter. She sensed where this was going.

"Rumor on the street is he somehow bought the liver meant for Nora's pop. Delaney died waiting. He was a beat cop. Twenty six years on the job. When he died it seriously messed up the family. Mom didn't work and didn't have skills to find a good paying job and she had two kids at home to feed. It wasn't pretty."

Nora had a sibling. Nikki filed that away. "What happened?"

"Well, Mrs. Delaney is a force to be reckoned with apparently. She worked four menial jobs to put herself through school. She's a nurse now." Darius sounded as impressed as Nikki felt. "Nora worked, too. She had two jobs in high school. Three to put herself through college although she had some help with a track scholarship."

"They had to fight for everything they had," Nikki murmured. She knew Charleston, a bastard of a man who had ruined his first liver by drowning it daily in liquor. God, she'd have a much bigger chip on her shoulder if she were Nora, she realized. Her respect for the woman swelled.

"She's one hell of a cop, Nik," Darius said. "You couldn't ask for a better partner covering your back."

"Somehow I knew that."

"And neither can she," Darius added with a twinkle in his eyes.

Nikki leaned across the table and kissed him on the cheek. "Flattery will get you everywhere."

He grinned and took another bite of his free breakfast. "Now about Archer…"

Nikki finished her coffee. "What do you have on him now?"

"Not him. Her."

Her eyebrows rose. "This sounds good."

Nora frowned when she found Nikki's desk empty the next morning. A quick check of her watch told her it was ten after nine. She dropped her duffle onto her chair and let her gaze sweep the squad room.

"Great," she muttered.

Her phone rang and she picked it up absently. "Delaney."

"Hi, Nora. It's Charlie. I got what you wanted on Archer if you want to swing by."

"That was fast," she commented before nudging her bag onto the floor and sitting down.

"I got the mayor's office and the press breathing down my neck on this one."

"So you worked through the night to get them breathing down mine instead."

"No one will ever accuse you of being stupid, sugar." He chuckled. "Why don't you and that pretty new partner of yours come on down?"

"I'd love to but that pretty new partner of mine isn't here, yet." She parroted back at him.

"Yes she is."

Nora jumped at the voice behind and above her. Nikki smiled when the detective turned then dropped the bag bearing a Café Du Monde logo on Nora's desk. A tall cup of coffee followed. "Breakfast."

Nora felt her stomach growl when the smell of coffee and beignets hit her. "We'll be down in twenty, Charlie." She hung up before he could respond. She watched as Nikki sat, taking in her outfit. She was in jeans again with a soft red sweater hugging her curves. The black leather duster was still a part of the ensemble. Nora guessed the sweater was probably cashmere. Nora felt positively scruffy in her own faded denim and light blue shirt. "Hi," she said, blushing when she realized what Nikki overheard.

"Hi, yourself." Nikki leaned back and propped her black leather boots on her desk. "Sorry I'm late. Who was that on the phone?"

Nora couldn't contain herself any longer. She grabbed the bag, noting the cream and sugars tossed in for her coffee. "Charlie. He's got cause of death and a few findings to go over with us." She stuffed a beignet in her mouth. "Thanks," she said when she swallowed before licking powdered sugar off her lips. "I didn't get breakfast." She offered her the bag.

Her partner smiled. "Those are for you. I had breakfast with Darius."

So there was a work related reason for Nikki's tardiness. Nora mentally slapped herself for assuming the worst. "Oh?"

"You ready for this? Miss mousey, shy Delana Archer was having an affair."

The cup of coffee halted between the desk and Nora's lips. "No freaking way."

"Want the real clincher? She was doing the horizontal mambo with another woman."

Nora took a healthy sip of her coffee. She needed the caffeine to get her brain kick started around that tasty little tidbit of information. "So Richard, perhaps we should call him Dick for short, wasn't giving the wife what she needed."

Nikki grinned. "Apparently not. I imagine if he found out that would be quite a blow to an ego that size."

"Eyah." Nora shook her head. "Your Darius is liquid gold."

"He's your Darius now, too," Nikki informed her casually. She was curious about Nora's reaction to the news. At least her partner didn't seem disgusted, merely curious about the information as it pertained to a possible motive. "Come on. Let's go see Charlie." She got to her feet and stifled a smile as Nora grabbed the bag of beignets and her coffee and trotted after her.

"So I'm pretty, huh?"

Nora shot her partner a startled look as she dumped two sugars into her coffee. They were now waiting in the lobby at the coroner's office, studiously ignoring the smell of antiseptic and other scents they didn't want to examine too closely. "Excuse me?"

Nikki merely shook her head and didn't repeat the question. She glanced around and took in her surroundings.

"I guess you didn't get by the morgue much in narcotics," Nora commented as she stirred her coffee then sucked on the straw.

"Not much," Nikki confessed. "I'm going to have to get used to it now, though, huh?"

"'Fraid so." Nora looked right when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Charlie was at the end of the tiled hall waving them back. "You aren't going to puke when you see the body are you?"

"I didn't puke at the crime scene," Nikki said a little defensively. "It's not like I haven't seen dead bodies before." She left out the fact that she was the one who found her mother.

Nora held up a hand. "I was just going to give you a few pointers to deal with the nausea. That's all."

Nikki noticed that Nora was polishing off her breakfast as she spoke. Apparently nausea wasn't something she was concerned with. "I'm sure I'll be fine."

They got to their feet and made their way down the hall. Nora tossed her bag in the trash as they entered Charlie's lab. Delana Archer was splayed out in gruesome autopsied glory. Nora heard Nikki make a tiny sound in the back of her throat but she didn't look at her. "Find something interesting?"

Charlie handed her a file which the detective immediately flipped open after setting down her coffee. Nikki looked over her shoulder at the report, using that as an excuse to look at anything but the body.

"Lots of fibers and a few hairs on the deceased. I sent them on their merry way to the lab. Hopefully they'll have something for you gals shortly." Charlie eased around the autopsy table and lifted up one of Delana Archer's hands. "No defensive wounds. She didn't even struggle."

"Drugged?" Nikki guessed.

"Seems like a safe bet. We should have the tox screen results by the end of the day. Whatever he doped her with it left her a zombie. She didn't fight back when he beat her, raped her, or stabbed her to death."

Nikki winced. "That certainly says something about his personality." Her eyes darted to the remains of Delana Archer's face then her gaze skittered away again. She swallowed. She was not going to get sick, damn it. She tried to be casual about wiping her clammy palms on the side of her jeans. Shallow breaths seemed to be doing little to ward off the scent of death that hung heavy in the room along with the cloying odor of blood and sawed bone. She swallowed again, aware that Nora was eyeing her. "Anything else?"

"Her personal effects. Her wedding and engagement ring are in there."

Nora's eyes narrowed. "You say that like that's unusual."

Charlie grinned and lifted Archer's left hand for the detectives to inspect. "Check out the tan lines."

Nikki held her breath and leaned in, doing her level best not to stare at the now cavernous opening in the middle of Delana Archer's chest a few feet below her chin. Jesus. Couldn't Charlie have covered her up before they got there? She squinted then touched the hand and tilted it to have a better look. On Archer's ring finger there were two faded bands of white. But on the middle finger there was a glaring one. She looked up at Charlie. "Good catch."

He seemed to preen. When Nikki stepped back he grabbed the end of the sheet and lifted it up over the body. Nikki almost kissed him when she felt the tension in her muscles ease.

"Time of death?" Nora asked.

"Sunday night. Somewhere between midnight and three am. Bastard tried to mess me up with the heat but I'm pretty damn sure I'm close. And apparently he slipped on her wedding band and engagement ring when morbidity was beginning based of the scrapes around her knuckle." He waggled his fingers. "There wasn't a lot of flexibility at that point."

"Thanks, Charlie." Nora waved the folder at him then motioned with a jerk of her head for Nikki to follow her.

They left, walking down the hall in silence. Once they reached the empty lobby Nikki felt a hand on her shoulder pushing her gently, but firmly, down on to the sofa. "What…?"

"Just sit a minute," Nora told her. She went to the vending machines and dropped a few coins in. She chose a Diet Coke then took her purchase back to Nikki. "Put it on the back of your neck for a minute. Then sip it – slowly."

"I don't…" Nikki started to protest then fell silent when Nora unexpectedly sank to her knees in front of her.

"Nikki," Nora said softly. "This isn't me judging you. It's me looking after my partner." She handed the other woman the can and was relieved when Nikki accepted it and did what she was told.

"You were testing me," Nikki guessed. "Charlie left the sheet off on purpose."

"He does that whenever there's a new face in the squad. Don't take it personally. Archer is a tough case to look at. Believe me I would know. You impressed him. Me, too."

The praise warmed Nikki unexpectedly. It looked like she was making some inroads with Nora after all. "Why didn't you warn me?"

"Warning you wouldn't have mattered. There are no words that will ever adequately describe a scene like that, especially when you know the victim."

Reluctantly Nikki admitted her partner was right. About the body and the soda which was making her now pounding headache ease back to a more manageable pain level. She quirked her lips to let Nora know she wasn't mad, struck by how green her partner's eyes were.

Nora patted her once on the knee, her touch lingering. "Let me know when you're ready to roll. I've got a call to make."

Nikki started to protest again but decided to merely nod instead as she popped open the drink and took a tiny sip. She watched as Nora stood and moved away feeling a little proud of herself.

"Really," Dan drawled.

Nora leaned back against the sun warmed brick on the outside of the coroner's office. She shifted her cell phone to her other ear. "She held it together like a pro," Nora informed him. "I owe you dinner."

Her former partner chuckled. "She didn't even turn green?"

Nora hesitated. "Nope. Didn't bat an eyelash."

"Yes," Dan chortled. "I'll want something expensive."

"Then I'm bringing Nikki along. She can pay for it." Nora smiled as she slipped her sunglasses on against the morning glare.

"Sounds like you're warming up to the idea of you two being partners. I'm sensing yet another free dinner in my future."

"Maybe," she allowed but she was still smiling. She was relieved at the way Nikki had handled herself back there. No girly shrieking. No hurling in the nearest trash can. Nikki had been affected, but she'd sucked it up and done her job. That spoke a lot to the woman's character.

A door opened to Nora's left and the detective watched as Nikki stepped outside. The sun hit her dark hair, bringing out surprising auburn highlights that were like streaks of fire through the other woman's locks. Nora had to admit her new partner was a looker. Especially when she turned those chocolate brown eyes on you.

Which Nikki suddenly did. The taller detective tipped the open soda in her hand in Nora's direction but stayed a discreet distance away, allowing her to finish her call in private.

In that moment something clicked. This was going to work, Nora realized. The two of them were going to work. "Thanks, Dan."

"For what?" he asked, no doubt mentally backtracking over the conversation to figure out what she was talking about.

"I'll tell you later." She hung up and pocketed the phone in her leather jacket.

Nikki came closer and held up a new folder. "One of the lab boys caught me. Tox screen is back already."

"Really? Score one for us. Anything interesting?"

"She was loaded on GHB."

"The date rape drug," Nora said through clenched teeth. "The bastard wanted someone who wouldn't fight back. Got off on it."

Nikki made an agreeing noise. "You know I've been thinking. Delana Archer was skittish. She jumped when touched. What if we're dealing with an abuse victim?"

Nora leaned against the wall with her shoulder. "Any of your high society sources give you that?"

"No," she allowed. "Unless I'm the high society source."

"Well you're certainly mine," Nora said with a chuckle.

Nikki grinned rather liking that notion. "I never saw any bruises on her," she said sobering some as she spoke. "But that doesn't mean they weren't there."

"Her killer didn't want any trouble from her. He wanted a dishrag. Something to use and dispose of." Nora nibbled on the edge of her thumbnail. "If the husband was abusing her…"

"Yeah," Nikki said softly. She slipped her Ray-Bans on. "Delana didn't have many friends. We can talk to the few she did but I doubt they'll give us much. Maybe we should focus on the girlfriend, if we can find her."

Nora considered the list of interviews they had set up for the day. The first was thirty minutes from now with the victim's sister. "Let's chat with the sister. Then we'll take it from there. Cool?"

Pleasure at being asked tickled the other detective. "Cool."

Part 4

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