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
Nikki heard three small pops in rapid succession over the pounding base. She reared up again, fully expecting to get her head blown off for her trouble. Instead she watched, stunned, as a figure hit the fire escape railing
and toppled over.
"Nora!" Her partner's name sounded like it was torn from her throat as Nikki surged upward, her body tensing in expectation of bullet impacts that never came. Heedless of the danger, she sprinted forward, not even registering that no one was shooting at her now. She kept her gun trained on the mangled shape a few feet in front of her. Another flicker of lightning revealed flame tattoos running up muscular arms, and Nikki almost sagged in relief. Castillo had missed the trash below him almost completely. Had he managed to land in the thick of it perhaps he wouldn't have broken so damn many bones.
There was a lot of blood and other fluids Nikki didn't want to examine too closely. She swallowed and looked away for a moment, gathering her thoughts and steeling her stomach before she waded into the cardboard boxes and extra trash bags. Nikki grabbed his shoulder and shuddered when she felt the bones shift unnaturally before she rolled him. There were three bullet holes centered in his chest. His cold eyes stared sightlessly up at the cloud covered night sky, and Nikki spared him a wince. She suspected looking up at the heavens was as close as Ed Castillo was going to get to the pearly gates.
The clang of the fire escape ladder made Nikki twitch and she pivoted, sighting down her 9mm until she saw a familiar pair of boots and legs dangling from overhead. A second later, Nora dropped less than gracefully to the ground. Her partner hit then toppled backward, landing on her backside with a scuffling noise on the asphalt.
Nikki was moving before she realized it. She went down on one knee, her left hand, free of her weapon, cupped Nora's chin. She could feel herself shaking, knew Nora could feel it too when her partner's green eyes zeroed in on her with concern. "You're hurt," Nikki shouted as she saw the blood on Nora's lip and oozing from cuts on her temple and jaw. She hesitantly brushed the bleeding corner of Nora's mouth with her thumb and the blonde winced in reaction but didn't pull away.
Nora swallowed at the touch then reached up to her temple. "Tried to surprise him! He got in some lucky hits!"
Nikki nodded once. She could think of nothing to say. There were no words for a moment like the one she found herself in. Gratitude, relief, fear they all fought for dominance in her head and she couldn't decide which one to yield to first. Without planning to do so, she closed the space between them, hugging Nora hard and tight before releasing her just as quickly. "Don't ever do that again!"
Nikki clamored to her feet and offered a hand to Nora who accepted the boost up after an uncertain moment. They stared at each other as the sky opened up and it began to rain.
The music suddenly ceased, and all they could hear was their own erratic breathing and the patter of rain drops on metal and cardboard.
"You okay?" Nora inquired gently, her ears ringing a little.
"Other than you scaring me shitless, I'm fine," Nikki said as she retrieved her cell phone from her pocket.
"I would have thought getting shot at would scare you shitless," Nora replied as she watched her partner fumble with her phone. Nikki wasn't reacting well at all to the situation. Her partner's motions were jerky, and the taller woman was shaking badly. "Nikki "
"I didn't know where you were," Nikki said unsteadily as she finally managed to flip open her phone. "For a second I thought "
"You thought I'd left you?" Nora asked hurt.
"Jesus, Nora." Nikki glared. "No. I thought you were fucking dead."
Her partner swore excessively when highly stressed, Nora noted but chose not to comment on. "I didn't mean to scare you." Nora felt her energy leave her and she slumped against the wet brick of the nearest building. Now that the adrenaline was wearing off the pain was rushing in. She glanced down at her knuckles on her right hand. They were bruised and bleeding and she flexed her fingers experimentally.
Those fingers were suddenly tangled with Nikki's, and Nora felt something electric arc between them at the touch. She sucked in a surprised breath. "He's " She struggled to get her mind back on the matter at hand, shocked that a simple touch could wrench her thoughts away from the man she'd just killed in self defense.
"Dead," Nikki finished for her. "It was a clean shot." Her nose wrinkled as the rain sizzled on the still warm asphalt and raised a cloud of trash smelling steam around them.
Nora closed her eyes, refusing to look at the dead body five feet away. She just needed a second a moment to get her equilibrium back. "I'm sorry," she said with her eyes still shut. "I just " She shook her head. She'd just ignored every lesson, every protocol, she realized. All to do whatever it took to protect Nikki. Her eyes opened and she found Nikki standing less than a foot away, her brown eyes roiling with mixed emotions. The look did something to Nora's guts.
Nora just wanted them both to feel steady. Using their still linked hands, she drew Nikki closer. "Come here," she urged.
Nikki fell into the open arms with a shuddering breath. She clutched the phone in her hand as if her life depended on it as her arms went around Nora's warm neck. She sank into her, needing the other woman's solid strength, needing to feel her heartbeat close to her own, the soft feel of her breath along the back of her neck. She was okay. Nora was okay
"Let's get out of the rain," Nora said after a long moment. She reluctantly leaned back but not so far as to take her out of Nikki's arms. She looked up into her partner's features, seeing more than raindrops dampening her cheeks. She cupped Nikki's jaw with her right hand, her gun still dangling from her left. "We're okay," she promised.
"I've been shot at before," Nikki said lamely. "I've just "
"Never had someone trying to take you out personally? Yeah, it's not fun."
The music in the club began to thump once more with a slower more seductive rhythm. "It's one thing when someone shoots at you. It's another when they shoot at your partner."
"Now you know why I did what I did," Nora confessed with a tiny grin. Her thumb stroked the soft skin of Nikki's cheek. "Call it in. I'll check out Castillo." Regretfully she stepped away from the heat of her partner and headed for the cooling corpse several feet away.
Nikki took a few steps to bring her under an overhang. With a shaky sigh, she pushed the first number on speed dial and started the wheels turning on what would be a very, very long night.
"You should have told me!" Dan slammed his hand down on his desk but both women were too tired to even flinch at the sound or his anger.
Still soaked through from their night at the Castillo crime scene, both Nikki and Nora were now slumped in chairs on the other side of Dan's desk. Cups of steaming coffee were wrapped in the detectives' hands as they tried to warm themselves from the inside out.
"We just found out about the other potential victims yesterday, Dan," Nora said wearily as she watched him pace behind his desk. "We had no real reason to think "
"You still should have made me aware," his volume had decreased even if his anger hadn't. "I may have a suspect in seven murders out to eliminate one of my detectives. I think that's something I should know about. And I damn well should have known that you'd had a run-in with Archer before." The last was said with a pointed stare at Nikki.
"Yes, sir," Nikki said softly.
Nikki's eyes were heavy lidded, and Nora spared a brief thought to wonder if her partner wasn't falling asleep where she sat.
The door opened, and Georgia appeared with two blankets. "Here you go." She handed one to each of the dripping detectives. "Can I get you guys some breakfast? I know you've had a long night." She shot a glowering look at her captain.
Nora's eyebrow rose and she stifled a smile. She didn't hide her wink, however, when Georgia gave her one first on the way out of the room. She wrapped the blanket around herself, wincing a little as her abused stomach and back muscles protested. Castillo had gotten in several good licks before she's finally had to shoot him. She'd wanted the son-of-a-bitch alive to nail Archer, but he hadn't left her much choice.
Dan eyed them both for a moment then sighed. "Get out of here. Both of you. I don't want to see either of you until nine tomorrow morning."
"But " both detectives started.
"That's an order. Go get changed and get some rest. And Nora," he glared at her when she got to her feet. "Maybe you should run by the hospital and make sure nothing is broken like your head."
Properly chastised she nodded once before following Nikki out of Dan's office.
"That could have gone better," Nikki muttered when they reached their desks. Blessedly the squad room was still mostly empty. The occasional phone rang as the rain continued to drum out a steady tempo on the roof.
"It could have been worse," Nora informed her blithely.
Georgia reappeared. "Can I give you guys a lift home?"
Nora shook her head as she dropped the blanket onto the back of her chair. "Thanks, Georgia, I can manage."
"Me, too," Nikki said with a smile. "Thanks for coming to our rescue in there."
"He yells because he cares. I caught the Castillo case so I'll be helping you out with this one."
"The case? Am I a murder suspect?" Nora muttered as she sat down on the edge of her desk.
"You know the drill, Nora. What I'm trying to do is find out what he was doing in that alley."
"Trying to kill Nikki," Nora said with a little more heat than intended. She took a breath. "Just let us know what you find."
Georgia patted Nikki reassuringly on the shoulder. "You know I will. You two get some rest."
They watched her retrieve her jacket and umbrella before heading back out into the dawn.
"I think I could sleep right here," Nikki said with a yawn.
Nora was reluctant to let her partner out of her sight. "How far away do you live?"
"About half an hour. Why?"
"Then you're coming home with me. I'm ten minutes away."
Nikki wondered if her tongue had actually tied into a knot. "Wh I "
Nora raised an elegant brow. "That a problem?"
"N-n-no," Nikki finally stammered. She shucked the blanket, no longer needing it as her heartbeat picked up and blood flushed through her. "I just "
Nora held up a hand. "Save it. I won't sleep unless I know you're safe."
"Nora," Nikki said. "That's really not necessary."
"I have a huge claw foot tub with your name on it."
That knowledge tipped the scales dramatically in Nora's favor. "Sold," Nikki replied with a sudden grin.
Cooling water bumped her nose and Nikki spluttered, jerking awake and nearly sloshing bubbles everywhere. She chuckled at herself when she realized she'd fallen asleep in Nora's tub.
They may have only worked together for two full days, but obviously her partner knew how to bribe her. The tub was an antique, one of many judging by the looks of Nora's place. Nikki smiled at the open rooms and French doors around her. Nora's apartment was eclectic but seriously cool.
Candles fluttered nearby. Nora had opened the doors to the balcony to allow the scent of the rain in. The breeze stirring the flames was a bit on the cool side, but it felt nice with the heat of the bath.
At least it had when the bath had still been warm.
Nikki pulled the stopper then shivered as she emerged from the water. She grabbed the plush towel Nora had left out for her and wrapped it around herself. There was also a robe hanging on the back of the door. It was too long to belong to Nora and considering the width of it Nikki had to assume it was a man's. She toweled off and slipped it on, sighing at how good the terrycloth felt against her skin.
She paused for a moment, listening to the popping bubbles and rain. There was no other sound coming from inside the apartment. Nikki wondered if perhaps Nora had already sacked out.
Deciding to give the place a once over while she could, Nikki started in the kitchen. She smelled something baking as she approached, the strong scent of cinnamon coming to her as she stepped inside. She peeked into the oven and noticed what appeared to be homemade biscuits rising. Her stomach growled happily at that.
Nikki closed the oven door before wandering out into the living room. Her gaze skimmed the pictures on the mantle of one of the apartment's many fireplaces. She picked up one shot in particular and tilted it toward the light. A much younger Nora was in the middle of the photograph wearing her uniform. Behind her was an older woman that Nikki was sure had to be her partner's mother, given the resemblance. There was a younger man to Nora's right who was wearing a smile as wide as the Mississippi. She took in the crowd behind the threesome and deduced that she was looking at Nora's graduation from the academy.
A noise to her right drew her attention, and she set the picture back on the mantle before moving toward it. Another set of French doors were slightly parted, and Nikki peeked inside when she heard the noise again.
A hiss of pain.
Without hesitation, Nikki stepped inside then froze. Nora was sitting on the bed with her back to her, the delicate tracing of her tattoo on full display in the candlelight along with the very large and lurid bruise marring the whole surface. Nora was struggling to get her sweater over her head and obviously failing in the face of the amount of pain it caused.
Nora started then let the ends of her sweater drop. "Hey," she said a little breathlessly as she blinked quickly, trying to hold back tears of pain. She made herself turn and hoped she'd kept the wince she wanted to display under wraps. "Feel better?"
"Yeah," Nikki said softly as she padded over. A cat leapt down from the bed, and Nikki jumped, not having seen it. It gave her legs a friendly brush as it sauntered by and headed for the kitchen. "Better than you're feeling."
Nora bit her lip. "You saw."
"I saw." Nikki gingerly sat next to her partner. "Ow."
Nora laughed a little at that. "That's an understatement." She looked sideways at Nikki. "Pretty spectacular bruise, huh?"
"Quite." Nikki reached out and put her hand on Nora's shoulder, squeezing it gently. It was odd how at ease she was with this woman, and worrisome that she couldn't seem to keep her hands off her. "Want some help?"
Nora licked her lips as she weighed the offer. Pride took a back seat to comfort. "Yeah. I think I would."
Nikki relaxed as warmth spread through her at the show of trust. She shifted and slipped from the bed. "Can you get your arms up?"
Nora did as asked managing to barely grimace.
Nikki took a breath then carefully took the sides of Nora's soaked sweater. "Fast or slow?"
"Fast." Then Nora gasped as the sweater was suddenly gone and the cool air struck her still damp skin. She slumped sideways onto the bed as she waited for the waves of pain to subside. A blanket wrapped around her.
Nikki wanted to spoon against her, to hold her steady as she dealt with the pain, but she settled for a hand on Nora's shoulder.
"Shit," Nora said when the flashes of red had faded from her vision. "I'm going to knee Archer in the balls the next time I see him."
"Easy," Nikki murmured soothingly. "Come on. Let's get you into that kick-ass tub of yours."
Nora grinned, but she didn't move, content for the moment where she was. "In a second. I have to marshal my strength first." She felt the touch turn insistent on her shoulder and she went with it, rolling onto her back then her side as her back muscles protested.
"I know a few doctors who actually make house calls. Want me to call one?"
"No," Nora murmured. She studied Nikki's face in the candlelight, liking what she saw but not grasping the enormity of that fact. "Nothing is broken. Just banged up."
"What else hurts?"
"The list of what doesn't is shorter."
Nikki shook her head. It was hard to watch Nora in pain, but it was worse knowing that the injuries were caused because Nora was protecting her. "Come on. You'll feel better after a bath and some breakfast."
"Breakfast! Shit!" Nora started to rise only to wince and collapse on the bed when her abused muscles twisted.
"Christ, Nora. Take it easy." The blanket fell away and Nikki got a good look at her partner's flat but very bruised abs. She winced in sympathy. "What the hell did he do to you?" she asked as she forced her gaze on the injuries and not the soaked, lacy blue bra above them.
"The guy's got big fists," Nora muttered as she rolled this time, biting her lip to keep from crying out in pain. Nikki helped her up on her feet without a word. "The back is where he slammed me into the fire escape rail. And the doorframe," Nora panted through the slowly ebbing agony.
Nora took a shaky breath. "Ouch is right." She stood there for a moment, corralling what was left of her ebbing energy. She watched as Nikki came closer, hearing the padding of her bare feet on the wood floor. When her partner stepped around her Nora felt her whole awareness shift. No longer blessed with the sight of the taller detective it was as if all her other senses had increased in intensity to still take her presence in.
Then a delicate touch along a curve of her tattoo made the more seasoned detective yelp in surprise.
"Did I hurt you?" Nikki asked with concern, but she didn't remove her fingers which rested against the too warm skin of Nora's back. Nora's skin was like silk over steel, her firm muscles rippling beneath the surface.
"No," Nora said oddly breathless. "Startled me, maybe." She missed Nikki's smile as she dropped her head to study the injury once more.
Almost of their own will, Nikki found her fingers tracing the design. "This is nice."
Nora blinked, wondering why it suddenly seemed so hard to breathe. "What?"
"Your tattoo. Although the most recent additions of black and blue aren't that lovely."
Nora took an unsteady breath feeling decidedly lightheaded. "Um thanks," she drawled uncertainly. Her eyes fluttered closed for a beat when Nikki's hand skimmed up her back, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake. "You hungry?"
For more than food Nikki realized ruefully. She wondered if Nora could feel the charge between them as keenly as she could. "I could eat," she answered lightly as Nora moved away. She watched, disappointed, as Nora slipped her own sky blue robe on and cinched the belt at her waist. With a sigh, she followed her gingerly moving partner into the kitchen.
"Nice place," Nikki said as thunder rumbled outside.
"Thanks. I got in before they started renovating."
Nikki had guessed as much. A place this huge was far more than a detective could afford, unless said detective had moved in before the address had risen in property value. Nora must have lived in the building when it was a real dump. Now, however, it was in a trendy section of the Warehouse District.
The cat mewed softly as she strolled into the kitchen. "Hey Reba," Nora murmured as she opened the fridge. She pulled out a half gallon of one percent milk then retrieved a saucer.
"Reba? You don't strike me as a country fan." Nikki smiled as she watched Nora pour the milk. The cat, a pale yellow long-haired tabby jumped first onto a chair then up onto the breakfast bar.
Nora set the saucer down and gave the now purring beast a scratch behind the ears. "I'm not. She's named for Reba Russell, a blues singer up in Memphis."
"Ah." Nikki leaned back against the bar as Nora slowly bent at the waist and opened the oven. Her partner grabbed an oven mitt then fished out the biscuits before setting them on the range to cool. "You like to cook?"
Nora answered with a one shoulder shrug. "Somewhat. Mom kind of insisted I be able to." She gave Nikki a curious glance. "What about you?"
"I can make toast."
"You mean you don't have servants preparing your meals?" Nora teased lightly.
Nikki narrowed her eyes. She sensed Nora was genuinely teasing her and not taking pot shots at her background. "Only on Wednesdays and weekends," she replied off-handedly.
"Could you grab the butter and whatever preserves you want out of the fridge?" Nora knew her partner was joking and she gave her a tiny grin in response. She began tossing the cooling biscuits into a bowl as Nikki did as asked.
"Wow. Look at all the stuff in here. I've got some beer and some moldy cheese in mine." Nikki grabbed the tub of Country Crock then studied her choices in the door as Nora gingerly walked over to the table and sat. "Oh. Apple butter. I am so there." She shot a glance over her shoulder. "That okay with you?"
"Perfect," Nora answered wearily. The night was catching up to her, she realized. Food would help stave off the worst of the fatigue but not for long. She watched as Nikki brought the jar and tub over.
"Want do you want to drink?" Nikki asked.
"Damn. I should have put the coffee on." Nora started to rise but stopped when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Sit. We don't need coffee. Do you have juice?" Nikki squeezed the shoulder under her hand.
Nora merely nodded and Nikki went back to the fridge finding a pitcher of orange juice which she brought back to the table. She made an educated guess about the glasses and found them on the first try. By the time she set them down Nora was beginning to butter a biscuit.
There was something ridiculously domestic about the whole thing, Nikki decided. She'd always chafed at the thought of ever getting so comfortable with someone that mornings turned into routine. Now that she was in such a moment she could almost comprehend the appeal. Her gaze cut to Nora, and she had to wonder if perhaps it was the company more than the motions they were going through.
Nikki poured both of them a glass of juice then plucked off a piece of biscuit and popped it into her mouth. She could taste the faint trace of cinnamon and smiled in appreciation. "My compliments to the chef."
"Hmm?" Nora blinked and looked at her partner, realizing that she'd drifted off into her own random thoughts. "Thanks." She put a dollop of apple butter on her next bite before chewing appreciatively.
"So who does the robe belong to?" Nikki asked as she followed Nora's example.
It took a second before Nora realized Nikki was referring to the robe her partner was wearing. "My ex, Alan."
"Ex, huh? So there is no current stud visiting the Delaney stables?" Nikki teased.
Nora smiled. "Not for the last two months."
Nora snorted at that. Whether it was the food or company, Nora wasn't sure, but she felt the night's troubles beginning to loosen their hold on her thoughts. "What about you? Seeing anyone right now?"
"Nope." Nikki licked a dab of apple butter off her thumb before taking another bite of her breakfast. She glanced at Nora over the rim of her juice as she took a sip. Her partner looked pained and exhausted, but Nora still wore a tiny smile that was just as endearing as hell. "So when did you get the tattoo?"
The blonde took a weary breath as nibbled her third biscuit. "After I graduated from the academy." Nora realized they were multitasking. Making small talk to fill the quiet, yet, satisfying a little of their curiosity in the bargain. It was an agreeable arrangement for the moment. "Mom about had a cow."
"I'll bet. Your mom is a nurse, right?"
Nora wondered how Nikki knew that then realized info like that would be easy for someone with Darius' contacts. "Yeah."
"So was mine."
Nora glanced up in surprise. "Really?"
"That's how she met daddy. His appendix almost ruptured. She was on that night at the ER. It was love at first sight apparently."
"At least he got something out of the ordeal," Nora joked faintly. She rubbed at her aching eyes with her thumb and forefinger. "Any brothers or sisters?"
"Somehow I knew that." Nora ducked as Nikki playfully tossed a napkin at her.
"What about you?" Nikki asked. "I saw your graduation picture out there."
"A brother," Nora answered before she polished off the biscuit. She chased it down with a sip from her glass. "Bobby. He's with the mounted patrol."
"A horse cop," Nikki replied with delight. "I always wanted to do that. You literally get to ride up and save the day."
"When you're not handing out parking tickets." Nora chuckled. "He's studying to get his detective shield. He'll get it if it's the last thing he ever does."
"Maybe I'll get to meet him some day," Nikki said as she watched her partner struggling to stay awake.
Nora yawned. "I'll introduce you tomorrow." She rubbed her eyes again. "Damn. I don't think I'm going to make it to the bath."
Nikki put the lids back on the apple butter and margarine then put them both and the orange juice back in the fridge. She cast a quick glance at the stove to make sure it was off before coming around behind Nora's chair. "Come on, slugger. Time for bed."
Nora made a face, but she complied, edging back from the table and getting slowly to her feet. She winced as she straightened, and Nikki was instantly there, her warm hands touching her back and belly. She gave her partner a grateful look then moved past her, heading for the bedroom.
Reba mewed and followed from where she'd been watching them on the breakfast bar. Nikki trailed behind her partner to make sure she made it into bed all right. Nora disappeared into her closet then reappeared moments later wearing a long black Saint's jersey that reached her knees.
"Sexy," Nikki complimented her attire with a smirk.
Nora ignored her and climbed into the bed, sighing at how good the sheets and blankets felt.
Nikki knelt next to the bed. "Listen, I'm, just going to call a cab "
"No you're not." Nora reached out and snared Nikki around a bicep tugging her effectively onto the bed. She missed Nikki's startled gasp of surprise as she handed her another jersey the other detective hadn't realized she was holding. "My bed is huge. Change and go to sleep."
Nikki's brown eyes dipped to the jersey then back up to Nora's relaxed features. She watched from one breath to the next as Nora surrendered to sleep.
Stay or go? Nikki bit her lip as she weighed her options. The smart thing was to get the hell out of there. Whether Nora was keen to the electricity between them or not it was definitely there. Nikki knew she had impressive willpower but after what had happened hours before she also knew she wouldn't be in much shape to refuse if Nora offered.
Nikki watched her partner sleep. She felt safe knowing Nora was only a breath away. With a sigh, she stood and slipped off the robe, not the least bit concerned that Nora might stir. The jersey was cool and comfortable against her skin when she let it drape on her body. It wasn't Victoria's Secret, but it sure as hell felt good.
Carefully she crawled under the sheets. Reba joined her a few moments later and she idly scratched the cat behind the ears. She wanted to take the opportunity to study her partner unobserved, but when the cat added her purr to the sounds of the pouring rain, Nikki's tired mind and body relented, dragging her down into dreamless sleep.
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