Nora and Rachel walked into the morgue to find Charlie elbow deep in a gunshot victim. "Hey Charlie. Did we miss Nikki?" Nora asked.

Charlie looked up as he stepped away from his examination. "Bout time somebody showed up," he replied as he pulled off his gloves. "I thought this case was top priority?"

Nora flinched slightly at his tone, Charlie was usually not one to show his emotions. "Nikki should have been here by now."

"I left a message for her thirty minutes ago but I haven't heard back." Charlie picked up the Montgomery file and handed it to Nora.

"What am I looking at?" she asked.

"Mrs. Montgomery was a fighter. I was able to dig some skin samples out from under her fingernails. It took me a little longer to find him because I had to widen the search."

Rachel stepped forward to peer over Nora's shoulder. "That's great," she said excitedly. "We've never been able to get any samples from the King."

"Wait," Nora started when she noticed who the results named. "Are you sure about this?"

"'Fraid so."

"What?" Rachel asked. "Is he in the system."

"Not ours." Nora pointed to the name.

Rachel grabbed the file. "This can't be."

"I'm sorry but I reran the sample myself. It's him," Charlie assured them.

"Maybe there was some cross contamination," Rachel tried to reason.

Nora scoffed. "Yeah right. Of course our guys must have screwed up," she began heatedly. "Can't have a fucking psychopath in the FBI."

"I just..." Rachel paused as she looked at the file again. "I didn't know," she admitted quietly.

"I knew something was off about him. Hell, even when he claimed you had a problem with your partner's promotion. I knew."

"What?" Rachel looked up as tears began welling in her eyes. "Laura? I was happy for her, I loved her. Jerry was the one..." she cut off her statement as she thought back to Lauralee's promotion. "He wanted that post but she was more qualified. He was forced into retirement."

"Well we better find him. I saw him this morning in the...." Nora flashed to the gym. The strange feeling she had when she and Velquaz had locked eyes, right before he followed Nikki out. "Shit," Nora exclaimed as she rushed from the room. Leaving Rachel no choice but to follow.

----------------

"I'm driving." Nora proclaimed, giving Vargas a look that dared the agent to contradict.

Rachel held up her hands in a sign of surrender, "I wouldn't think otherwise." Rachel didn't mention that Nora actually drove them to the morgue, deciding silence was the better part of valor.

Once buckled in, Nora started the car, "Okay, so your partner has a problem with powerful women," the detective broke the silence.

"He's not my partner," Rachel declared.

"Whatever," Nora dismissed. "You brought your problem to us."

Rachel clenched her jaw, biting back the retort that almost snapped out.

Nora could only think of one place to go, she just prayed that she was right.

-----------------

As the two women crossed the threshold of Beaumont Estate, in complete silence with guns drawn, Nora had an eerie sense of deja vu settle in the pit of her stomach.

"As I see it there are two places he would be. Nikki's place of power, her bedroom, which quite frankly is so ostentatious that she sleeps in the guest quarters." Nora ignored Rachel's baffled look and continued her assessment. "Or Beaumont's, which would be his study." The blonde moved toward the staircase, "I'm going up you take the study, down the hall second door on the right."

Rachel studied the other woman for a second before nodding her agreement and moving on her directed path.

After Nora was certain that Rachel was headed in the right direction she began to ascend the stairs, trying to force out the bitter thoughts that clogged her brain. She didn't know what it was about this particular agent but Nora felt inadequate around her, and that was not a feeling with which she had much experience. Although right now she felt slightly vindicated, Rachel's former partner was a murdering psycho and the agent had missed it. In all honesty though Nora knew that Nikki could actually be stealing the expensive shoes she is constantly bringing home and she would never suspect. Hell, she would probably let it slide, she could never arrest her lover. The last thought had the detective feeling sorry for the agent downstairs, about to confront and hopefully apprehend her former mentor.

Nora tried to put all thoughts except those of her partner out of her head. She stood outside the bedroom door and tried to steel her emotions, not knowing what she would find on the other side. Nikki could be sitting on a bomb, hanging out the window, or god knows what else, all Nora knew was that no matter what she found she would do anything she had to in order for Nikki to walk out of the room. She just hoped that her partner would forgive her for any risk she was about to take.

The detective took a deep breath and let herself into the room.

----------------

Rachel stopped in front of the door, her hand resting on the knob, she took one last look down the hall just as Nora was starting up the stairs. The agent was not completely sure if she was ready to face her demon, especially considering the face her demon wore.

"I knew you'd come. I've been waiting a long time Rachel. Frankly, I had always thought you'd be better and faster than this." The voice filtered through the door as she began to open it, the baritone voice laden with disappointment, the words and tone making Vargas feel as though she was 16 again, standing in the kitchen as her father dressed her down about some failure.

She gave the door a hard shove, not flinching as the knob banged on the wall, bouncing back toward her. She'd stayed in the doorway, assessing the room, a grim frown spreading her lips into a thin line, she'd half-hoped they, well Nora, was wrong. She'd have liked nothing more than to be able to throw the detective's suspicions back in her face; of course the real root of that emotion was the stupidity and burning shame she felt building in her gut. How could she have been so blind for so many years.

Blind or ignorant? Sloppy or... or not wanting to see.

That last thought brought her front and center with the stark reality that perhaps she had turned a blind eye to the hints that had always been there. The subtle signs that it was someone with access to the FBI files and movements. Someone with law enforcement training. Someone... close to her. Had her idolization of her mentor lead her to never consider certain possibilities. As she took a step inside the study, the third, no the fourth White King case tugged at her conscious; Arkansas.

"You know now, don't you? How close you were to greatness." Gerald smiled as he watched Rachel. He knew that look; had always felt a sense of pride when he saw it. The moment of clarity the young agent would get right before making the connection; right before bringing it all together in that brilliant way that had made her one of the best. "You almost had me in Little Rock. You were so close," his smile faded to an angry line, "then it all went to shit. After that, you were never the same. Your career, your personal life, everything. I had to take her, I had to try and save you."

Now she flinched.

----------------

Nikki lifted her head when she heard a noise from the hallway, her brown eyes instantly filling with relief when the opening door revealed the form of her partner.

Nora forced herself to stay in cop mode as she did a quick scan of the room before allowing her eyes to settle on her lover, recognizing the reassuring smile even under the tape that tried to hide it. The blonde released the breath she was holding as she made her way to her partner's side, she dropped to her knees and, with shaking hands, reached up to remove the barrier. She didn't ask if Nikki was hurt or if she knew where the bastard was, she simple held her lover's face and covered the now free mouth with her own. "Are you okay?" she finally asked as she searched for a key to unlock the cuffs that secured Nikki's hands to the post of the bed.

"I'm fine sugar. Just watch the steel and god knows what else he's left behind." She nodded her head towards the corner of the room where Gerald had been busy earlier, beginning to devise a trap that would have caught anyone walking in the door. She closed her eyes a moment, recalling the earlier conversation; how the former FBI agent had been cold and emotionless in describing what he was planning. The way he laid out the intended consequences for anyone caught in his trap. She took in a breath as it hit her hard it would have been Nora caught in the steel jaws. She felt a hand on her cheek, bringing her back.

Nora paused before she turned the key, she wanted to apologize, beg forgiveness for everything that went before. "You're coming home tonight, right?" Were the words that came.

Nikki looked up into loving, caring and slightly unsure green eyes before her lips curved into a full-on grin. "Yes."

Sighing gratefully at the desired answer Nora leaned in for a quick kiss as she undid the cuffs.

"Where's Rachel?"

"Searching downstairs."

Nikki massaged her bruised wrists as she watched her partner take out a pocket knife to cut the tape that bound her ankles together. Even with the danger they still faced she couldn't help the smile that formed as she watched her lover work. The blonde had once again rushed into a dangerous situation to save the life of another, although in this case Nikki could hardly complain. Taking a deep breath she realized that this is who Nora was, and had always been, and that her own reactions to the last few months had as much to do with her own fear as any risks she felt her partner was taking.

Nora cast a quick glance to the supplies waiting in the corner, swallowing hard against the image of what she could have walked in on. She turned back to see brown eyes watching her, "are you sure you're okay?"

Nikki nodded. "I think he was expecting to have more time, he once again underestimated you."

Nora frowned at the statement as she tucked the knife back into her pocket. "What do you mean?" she queried as she began rubbing her partner's legs, trying to help get the blood flowing again.

"After your display in the gym he figured he'd be facing Rachel alone."

Nora dropped her gaze to study the movement of her hands. "Look, about that..."

"It's okay Nora."

Green eyes finally lifted. "No, it's not. I was jealous." Nora stood up and held out her hand. "But just so you know sparring was her idea, I was perfectly happy taking out my anger on the heavy bag."

"At least when it came down to it you two were able to work together." Nikki slipped her hand into the offered one and rose unsteadily to her feet.

"For you I'd work with the devil himself."

Nikki blanched suddenly and sat on the edge of the bed, remembering Velquaz's earlier words about making Nora his new nemesis. "Don't say that."

"What was that?" Nora stepped forward, hooking her finger under her partner's chin she tilted the pale face upward, noticing the bruise along her temple. "That looks nasty..."

"Hey." Nikki reached up and trapped Nora's hand against her face. "I'm fine, really."

"Are you sure?" Nora asked, still unconvinced.

Nikki nodded as she stood. "He's planning on killing Rachel, we have to get downstairs."

"Maybe you should wait up here." The glare she received pushed Nora to come up with valid excuses. "If you're still feeling a little unsteady. Plus you don't have a weapon."

Moving to the side of the bed Nikki bent down and reached her hand under, feeling around for a second before she pulled out a pink bat.

Nora's lips quirked but she wisely kept silent.

---------------

Call it insane curiosity; that trait in humans that makes them open the door in a haunted house, the reason a person will stay rooted to a spot even as they see the train wreck in progress. What ever the motivation or reason, Rachel now found herself sitting across from her former teacher and partner. The person she had been obsessed with for nearly a decade. The person who had killed her lover thus teaching her a final lesson; how to be cold and removed, to not get involved.

She watched him lay the gun down beside the chess board. "So, it's come to this Agent Velquaz..." she used the title to try and distance herself from the man, or monster, sitting across from her as well as perhaps hoping there was till a sense of dignity and honor in the former agent.

"Well, I asked you nicely to sit. As with the others, it seems you do not listen unless forced. I simply gave them and you what you ask for and what you need. You are past your prime Rachel. I think it is time I turned my attentions elsewhere."

"Jer..." Rachel's eyes narrowed as she warily watched her... mentor? Opponent? What had he become? What ever their relationship might be now, there were a few things that remained constant; this included her ability to read his moods. This was why she was feeling uncomfortable; she could sense something was shifting in his schema. His view was already skewed from the normal; how much further was he going to drift?

"I originally detested needing to come here. I could tell from the start something was..." He paused and waved his hand in a vague circle, "wrong. But then this damn town is brimming with convolution and waste, decay and debauchery. The fact that it took me two tries..." He stood, picking up the gun as Rachel had immediately reached forward. "Ah, ah, ah, it is your move, you should remain seated and focused on the game."

He paced to the end of the desk. "Well, I have to admit, I did not factor into play your latest love obsession. I must say you made a good choice."

Completely thrown by the statement, Rachel stood, "What?"

Gerald faced his former apprentice and chuckled. "You always pick the damaged goods. They look good on the outside, they fit right into society, but inside, inside they are rotten, corrupt. And you know how rot spreads, infesting the pure." His face darkened, his anger and disgust evident. "You leave a bad apple in the sack and soon all of the fruit is full of worms. That's why I had to remove them. I am doing the same thing you are Rachel, getting rid of what's bad and corrupt."

---------------

"Where do you think they are?" Nikki asked, hobbling a little as she was trying to get her circulation going to restore feeling completely to her legs and arms.

"We thought maybe your father's study, um, this way, right?" Nora continued to stay protectively ahead of Nikki, her gun primed and ready as she stayed tense and alert.

"You remember."

"Considering the last time I was in there was to be dissected, dressed down and put on probation for having interests in Councilman Beaumont's most precious thing on Earth."

Nikki ignored the sarcastic tone that salted the words. "He said I was his most precious?"

"Basically."

"Well, I doubt he was that forward..."

Nora looked around then risked a glance backwards at Nikki, her expression dark. "He told me I wasn't exactly the Prince Charming he had planned for his princess and that I had a lot to live up to."

Nikki held back a response as they had reached the study and could hear voices. Nora glanced at Nikki, nodding once as she tried the door.

"Locked." Nora mouthed as the talking ceased. Her ear pressed to the door she heard an odd click, the sound triggering an automatic reflex so that she was already pushing Nikki away from the door and then tossing herself to the side even as she heard Vargas call out, "Get away!" the words all but drowned out by the sound of gunfire as two holes splintered the study door.

Nikki looked at Nora across the way, both women sitting on the floor, stationed on either side of the doorway. "I guess we are not getting in that way," Nora whispered.

Nikki's eyes narrowed, then she waved Nora to follow, the brunette crawling down the hallway a few meters waiting until Nora joined her to explain. "I know another way in."

Nora nodded and followed after Nikki. The two made their way out the back and around the patio to a set of french doors that led to the study. Nikki stopped and tried to peer into the room, most of the door was covered by a shear curtain but there was a thin sliver she could see through. Nora paused long enough to call the station and inform Dan of the situation, she asked him to make sure the approaching units kept the sirens silent and to set up a perimeter around the front of the house.

"I called Dan, he's sending backup." Nora said as she came up behind her partner. "Can you see anything?"

"Barely." She could just make out their profiles. "It looks like they are sitting at the table playing chess."

"Playing chess? I don't know if this guy is really nuts or just that arrogant."

"I think a bit of both. It looks like there's a gun sitting next to him, when he moves a piece it's unprotected. I don't understand why she doesn't make a move for it."

"She just found out that the man she's looked up to for her entire career is a murdering psycho who killed her lover....cut her some slack." Nikki looked back with a smile at Nora's words causing the blonde to shrug. "Think she could use a distraction maybe?" Nora asked as she bent down to pick up a potted plant. "Damn that's heavy."

"Yeah," Nikki agreed. "That won't work. But this might," she said as she held up the bat. She looked back through the door. "When I'm sure he's not looking I'm going to move to the other side of the door, hopefully Rachel will notice and she'll be ready."

Nora set her hand on Nikki's shoulder, "just be careful."

Nikki watched and made her move when it appeared as though Jerry was concentrating on his next move. Once safely on the other side she peered back into the room. Rachel was studying the board and then she leaned back in her chair, ran her hands through her hair and made eye contact with Nikki. Nikki nodded and watched as Rachel made her next move. "Rachel saw me."

Nora moved forward and peered through the door. "Okay get ready, I'll tell you when to swing. Once the doors open I'll move in first." When she saw Nikki start to protest she merely held up her gun as her reason. Nikki nodded as she pulled the bat back and waited for Nora's signal. The blonde intensely watched the scene inside the room, waiting for just the right moment to catch Velquaz off guard. She frowned as she saw him resting his hand on the gun, drumming his fingers along the handle to taunt the woman who sat across from him. She raised her hand as he lifted his off the gun and moved toward a chess piece, just as he lifted the piece and began his move...."Now," she yelled and she turned her face to protect it from the shattering glass.

Nikki swung the bat with as much strength as she could and connected just where the doors latched together. The impact caused the doors to fly open, the force of which caused some of the glass to shatter into the room. Inside Rachel had kept a cautious eye on the door, waiting for something to happen. She braced herself when she saw the shadow outside moving and dove for the gun at the distraction.

As Nora rushed into the room she found Rachel and Velquaz on the floor, struggling for control of the weapon. She moved forward and pressed her gun against his temple. "Stop and let go of the gun."

"I'll kill her," Velquaz threatened.

"And I'll kill you," Nora returned. "Either way you're done."

Rachel scrambled to her feet with the weapon when Jerry released his grip. He leered up at Nora, "I'd really hoped you and I would have more time."

"I'm not sorry to disappoint you. Now on your stomach, hands on your head." Nora unclipped the handcuffs from her belt and held them out. "Would you like to do the honors...Rachel."

The agent reached out and took the cuffs. "Thank you, Nora." The two nodded then Nora stepped back to her partner and called Dan to inform him the scene was secure.

As Velquaz rolled over Rachel knelt down and secured his hands while she recited the miranda rights to him. "Not taking any chances," he laughed as Rachel helped him to his feet.

"Why Jerry?"

"Why what?" He sneered. "Why the first victim? Why Lauralee? Or why you?"

"Why any of it," Rachel pleaded. "For god's sake Jerry you were one of the best I ever worked with."

His lips curled into a smile as he ignored her question and glanced toward Nikki. "I guess you were right."

Nikki nodded, "I told you that you'd underestimated them."

"Oh I don't know, take for instance, the Peruvian Immortal; two rooks and a queen. Had you been dead... " he mused.

Nora instinctively stepped in front of her partner. "Then you wouldn't be breathing."

"I knew I'd made the right choice," Velquaz laughed. "Oh well, you'll just be the one that got away."

Nora was slightly unnerved by the way he was studying her. Nikki, and even Rachel were the ones who got away so why was he watching her? Before Nora could question the statement, they heard a commotion from outside the study.

"Nora?"

"Sounds like the calvary has arrived." Nikki moved to unlock the door. "In here Dan," she called as she pulled it open and stepped into the hall.

Rachel began pushing Jerry out of the room. "I don't care why you did it. Just knowing you'll never do it again is enough."

"Is enough? Or will have to be enough? Always settling Rachel, you always settle for second best," he jeered. He stopped as they passed Nikki, glancing at Nora before turning back to the brunette, "Still think you're worth it?" Before anything more could be said, Rachel pushed him toward Dan and the other waiting officers.

"Give us a minute, we'll be right there," Nikki told Dan smiling as he nodded and took Velquaz out, Rachel patting Nikki's shoulder briefly, closing the door behind them.

As the others left, she stepped close to Nora. "You okay?"

"Shouldn't I be asking you that," Nora answered.

Nikki smiled, "I'm fine, darlin'."

"What was he going on about? Why did he target you?"

"I was just a means to an end," Nikki said as she tucked a strand of stray hair behind Nora's ear. "You made quite an impression."

"Me?"

Nikki smiled at Nora's shock. "Yes you."

Nora bit her lip as an uneasy feeling settled in her stomach; had Velquaz succeeded what would she have done. She took a relieved breath and tried to deflect her uncertainty. "Guess you weren't the only one thinking of trading up," she smirked.

Nikki chuckled as she draped her arm over Nora' shoulder. "Believe me I'll never trade you in."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Nora replied as the two left the study.


The next morning the detectives walked into the station to find Agent Vargas planted behind Nora's desk. She looked up and smiled when she saw the women approach. "Just thought I'd sit here one last time. You know, for old times sake."

Nora's lip quirked into a half smile as she moved to sit at Nikki's desk. "Hey you know me...go with the flow. Life's too short for anything else," she said as she linked her fingers behind her head and leaned back in the chair.

Nikki smiled and her heart fluttered at having the old Nora back. Whether she was back naturally or her partner was trying to force herself back to normal Nikki didn't care, all she knew was that they would be able to work out their problems together and they would be the stronger for it.

"You two look good this morning," Rachel observed.

"Feel good," Nikki returned. Most of the previous day had been spent at the crime scene with the two detectives focused firmly on the job but once they finally made it home they were able to turn that part off and focus on their relationship. They had both been completely honest with nothing being left unsaid; there were a couple of raised voices, a few tearful apologies and a lot of making up. Even with only a few hours of actual sleep Nikki felt better than she had in months. "So you're leaving?" she asked the agent.

"Yeah. I was here most of the night finishing up my reports so the Federal prosecutor can fight for jurisdiction."

"Do the local guys want to keep Velquaz here?" Nora asked.

"I'm sure they do, but you know us feds," Rachel teased, causing Nora to snort in response.

"So you aren't staying around?" Nikki asked.

"No. Yorkshire is going to stay and then when the paperwork is done he'll escort Velquaz with the help of some of the local agents." Rachel stood and gathered her coat and bag. "I've done my job, somebody else can do the clean-up."

Nikki moved forward and pulled the agent into a hug. "Yes, you did."

Nora stood and moved toward the pair. "In the end it didn't suck working with you," she teased as she held out her hand.

"As much as it pains me, I couldn't have done it without you," Rachel laughed as she tugged Nora into a hug. "Thank you," she added seriously.

Nora returned the embrace. "Anytime," she said as she stepped back.

Nikki smiled at the scene. "Don't be a stranger," she told the agent when the two parted.

"Actually, we may be seeing each other soon." At the questioning stares she continued. "While I was making calls last night I checked on another case. It seems McGerrvish has pled guilty."

"I thought he wasn't talking," Nikki said.

"I guess he's finally decided being a martyr is the best way to get his message out."

"He's no martyr," Nora mumbled.

"No," Rachel agreed. "He's not. His sentencing is in three weeks, if you want to be there."

Nora crossed her arms tightly across her chest as Nikki stepped up and place a comforting hand on her shoulder. "We'll be there," Nikki decided.

"Good." Rachel held out her hand and after a few handshakes she was gone.

The detectives leaned against the desk as they watched her leave. "So where do you want to go?" Nora asked.

"I'm going somewhere?"

"I was kinda hoping we both would," Nora answered as she twisted her head to look at her partner. "I think we've earned a little time away from this place and you definitely deserve it." Nora looked down as she scuffed her heel along the floor, her fingers clenched the edge of the desk. "Assuming you wouldn't mind me tagging along."

Nikki adopted Nora's pose and allowed her hand to slide along the desk until their little fingers could link. "I would absolutely love to go away with you," she smiled brightly. Then she pushed away and moved to her chair. "Let's see how quickly we can crank through this paperwork." She flipped open a file as her phone rang, "Beaumont." She winced as she pulled the phone from her ear. "Daddy," she began surprised. "You're home early. About the house..."

Nora sat behind her desk and smiled as she listened to Nikki apologizing for how the crime scene techs had left the house, throwing in a few details to try defuse his anger by garnering a little sympathy. She rested her chin on her fist and watched as Nikki tried to pour her charm through the phone. ~~Back to normal~~, she prayed to herself.


A/N: Thanks to those who read--hope you enjoyed.