Without a Fight

You never really know what to expect when you pull up to a crime scene, I mean the obvious is death, flashing lights and gawking neighbors, but as I kill the engine on June Lee, there isn't a lot of fanfare surrounding the house Dan called Nikki and me to this morning.

I hear my partner groan from the passenger seat and whine, "I still think we should have stopped for coffee."

I send her a smirk and look around. Whoever died had money. Which means Dan's gonna be on our ass to settle this quickly. Crap.

"We're by daddy's house. Maybe I can get someone to bring over some coffee and breakfast. I'd about kill for something on my stomach." Looking over at Nikki I shake my head. We ended up at her place last night and while sleep wasn't high on the priority list, when we were woken up at five this morning, neither of us took much heed in getting anything but decently dressed and presentable before leaving.

"How about we see what shape the bodies are in before we go and decide on a four course banquet." I take the keys from the ignition and step out into cool, early morning air.

Nikki joins me on the sidewalk and we make our way up to the front door where a uniform is standing watch. I flash him the badge on my hip and he hooks a thumb over his shoulder. The place is on the smaller side of the houses that surround it. The owners have about an acre on the lot and the house is a two story brick. The foyer opens up to a staircase and a choice of a sitting room on your left and a living room on your right.

The techs are moving up and down the steps so I follow their trail. The smell of death stinks the place up and as we climb the staircase, it gets worse. Just how long have they been sitting in here?

"Nora," Nikki calls from behind me.

I turn my head and she offers me a pair of latex gloves. I nod in thanks and slip them on.

"Dan say anything else besides giving us the address?" my lover asks as she steps up and walks with me shoulder to shoulder.

"Nope," I answer. The door that holds the bodies is towards the back end of the right hallway. I look at Nikki one last time and offer a thin lipped, shrug. "Let's see what's going on."

"Lead the way, sugga," she purrs at me and I step through the doorway my cheeks flaming as I do.

Smart ass.

"Nora!" Charlie booms at me from across the room. "Nikki, too. Well isn't this just my lucky day."

I smile at my friend and our M.E. "G'mornin' to you too." I look between the bed sitting against the far wall and a chair that sits in the middle of the floor off to my right. Each hold a body, the one, a female, on the bed in better shape than the one, a male, tied to the chair. That one is bloated below the waist and the upper half is just starting to green and blue.

I'm now officially thankful that we skipped breakfast altogether.

"Nor, remember my idea for breakfast?" Nikki coughs behind me.

"Right there with ya partner," I say, walking over to the bed and the female victim that's there. Nikki and I have developed a system when we work a crime scene and right now, she's doing her part and looking at the man bound to the chair. The woman wears a wedding ring and sports a single gunshot wound to the head. I don't bother asking Charlie her cause of death, but I do ask, "Names?"

"You are gazing upon…" Charlie starts.

"Darrell and Christal Reynolds," Nikki pipes up from behind me.

"You know the vics?" I ask leaning over and inspecting the bullet wound in the middle of Christal's forehead. Close range, burn marks around the wound. No silencer was used and she wasn't bound I note as I glance down at her wrists. It looks like she was taken quickly.

Which means she wasn't the intended. Darrell on the other hand, I glance back and shudder, seems to be a key player.

"Fund raising," Nikki says, her voice getting closer. I shudder as her breath wisps across my neck and I see her out of the corner of my eye leaning over my left shoulder. "He's a banker, she's a philanthropist."

Nodding, I turn and walk over to stand in front of Darrell. "Time of Death?"

"I'd put her dead a little sooner, but poor Darrell," Charlie answers, clucking, "Well, our pal here wasn't so lucky. A few days. I'll know more when I get them on the slab. The air conditioning in the place is messin' with my temp readings."

"Who found the bodies?" Nikki asks, moving around the room.

I study Darrell's body, waiting for someone to answer. His hands are bound behind his back by brown electrical cord. The same type of cord anchors his feet to the two front legs of the chair. I press three fingers against his exposed chest and feel around one of the oblong bruises. Someone took their time going at him with a bat or a pipe. The indentations and bruising pattern mixed with the lividity should help Charlie give us a weapon. I look at his forehead and note that not only do husband and wife sport matching, simple gold wedding bands; they share the same type of bullet wound as well. Cause of death should be clear enough.

"The maid," Charlie answers as he leans into my space and picks off a stray hair from the thigh of the victims pajamas to slip into an evidence bag. "I think the responding officer is with her downstairs."

I turn back to Nikki and nod. She dips her chin and I say, "I'll leave you to take care of the bodies. We'll be downstairs if you need us."

"Righto, ladies," Charlie agrees. "You two stop in tomorrow and I'll have at least one of'em done."

"Thanks Charlie!" Nikki calls over her shoulder as I follow her out the door and back downstairs.

Standing in front of the sheer curtains, I watch as the uniform leads Joelle Cook, the maid, out the front of the house and to her car parked across the street. The procession ends as the last of two body bags is wheeled out and the dead are secured in the M.E.'s van. An hour of questioning a witness who could barely put two coherent thoughts together to form a complete sentence was a great waste of time.

The best thing we got out of her was a timeline. I'll make a note and call daddy to see if they were at, or supposed to be at any functions this weekend. From what I can piece together they've been dead since Friday night or Saturday morning.

"Nik," Nora calls my name. I spin around and smile at her propped against the doorway to the den we're in. I give her a solid once over, letting her know that I am indeed admiring her form. She rushed around this morning quicker than I did, the t-shirt, a rumpled faded band shirt sporting the Guns 'n' Roses logo, low riding blue jeans and her gun and badge. I travel south, over the swell of her hips, down lean legs and then I notice her shoes.

A smile, involuntary and completely unprofessional in light of what happened in this house, spreads over my face and I say, "Yes, Nora?"

Her eyebrow rises and her arms fold across her chest. I know that look. It's a damn sexy look. I also know that in the seven months we've been partnered, when that look is directed at me, it usually means I'm in trouble.

"Where do you wanna start?" she asks, cocking her hip out.

A series of completely inappropriate images flash in my mind and I have the good sense to at least not meet her eyes. I saunter up to her, place a hand softly on her shoulder and let it trail down her arm. Her skin heats under my touch and I lean in to whisper, "Next time, ma petite, make sure you have matching shoes when you run out the door." I pause for just a little effect and finish, "I'll meet you in his office. Seems like a good place to start."

I sashay out the door and behind me hear her curse, "Fuck."

I make my way down the hall laughing softly. She really is one of the sweetest creatures and while her stubborn streak is longer than the Mississippi, it doesn't detract from how much I adore her. Pushing the office door open, I take in the filing cabinets that line half of the left wall, a large oak desk sits center and the wall to my right, a fireplace and built-in bookshelves.

I come around to the desk and take a seat behind it to wait while Nora catches up. My lover doesn't disappoint by entering a few seconds later, face still a little pink. Absently, I say, "Shut the door please?"

The techs have already finger printed the room and have left behind minimal powder to contend with which is nice. My hand ghosts over the mouse to the keyboard and all that appears is a black screen and blinking white dash.

Nora settles in a chair across from me and I look at her again. Her delicate brow lifts in my direction and I say quietly, "This really is a nice office. Big and roomy." I leer at her and she rolls her eyes.

"We have a double homicide. Can I get your mind out of the gutter and on to the case?" she pouts.

I wiggle my eyebrows at her, purring, "Oh, my mind's on the case sugga. I just happen to excel at multi-tasking."

She chews her lower lip as I reboot the computer. "What did you think of the maid?" she asks, avoiding my innuendo.

"Unlucky woman. Other than that, she may have had access to the house, but she isn't even near the person or persons responsible." I drum the tips of my nails across the desk and look at the screen. Same results. "What we should do is have someone from T.A.R.U. come and take the computer. See what they can find on it." As much as I enjoy the people that work in the labs, let's face it, they do an amazing job; the people in the Technical Assistance Response Unit are on occasion a little over zealous in their need to assist.

"Why?" she asks, standing and coming around to my side of the desk to look at the screen. "Shit."

"Shit, what, Nor?"

"It's been wiped," she huffs. "We'll get someone in here. Thoughts?"

I lean back and look up at her, gazing at the underside of her chin, I resist the urge to nibble before she turns her gaze to me. Batting my lashes, I say, "I have lots of those. None of them that is particular to the case at hand. Although these thoughts do have the potential to lead to an arrest, but probably not the kind we need."

"Keep it up detective and thoughts are all you're gonna go home with tonight," she warns and pushes back away from me.

Spoil sport. Affecting an exaggerated sigh, I say, "Well in that case, I think the maid is clean. The wife wasn't the target. The husband obviously was and given the fact that the killer or killers made it a point to wipe the PC, Mr. Reynolds probably had a hand in something a fine upstanding Christian man shouldn't have."

She nods in agreement to my assessment of the situation and pulls two pairs of gloves from her coat pockets. She hands me mine and then slips hers on. "We should start with the filing cabinets and then bag everything. Take it back to the station."

I snap the cuff on my right glove and smile, rising from the chair. "Before we actually head in, I think we should swing by my place, pick up that shoe you're missing."

Her lips purse and she makes a face at me. "No more keeping gym clothes at your house."

I smirk and take the file drawer closest to me. It may be way too early for us to live together, but she can still keep whatever the hell she wants at my place as long as I at least get to see her a few mornings during the week. I shake off thoughts of a future that might be possible and start rifling through what appears to be bills, receipts and a slew of other financial information.

The words on the page I'm reading begin to float and swim. Staving off the headache, I shut my eyes for a brief moment and let them rest. We've been at this since a little after noon today and I've gone through so much paper that my paper cuts have frickin' paper cuts. I crack my eyes and look over at my partner who seems as happy as a clam, chin resting on her palm, the other hand fingering a sheet of paper that she eyes and then places to the side in one pile or another.

She catches me looking and her deep brown eyes dance in the light from our desk lamps. Her face brightens and I blush. It's the most irrational, stupid reaction I think I've ever had. My eyes go back to the paper in my hand and I may look at the words, but my mind is a million miles away.

This thing with Nikki…

I never did the moony teenager thing. I just didn't understand it, girls going all gaga over some boy that only wanted in your pants as if it were some prize. Tommy was the first boyfriend I had that I was physical with and he was also the last.

I don't really have anything to compare what I feel with Nikki to. Casey was…she was a means to an end and we both really liked it that way. Ann…

I sigh.

Giving her up was hard. Harder than I let on. Of course it was all worth it. She's happy and I have come to love Jill in my own special way. They make quite the pair.

And damn Ann to hell and back but she was right.

I'm so ass over tea kettle that if Nikki had any clue she'd probably go running for the nearest bus outta New Orleans.

There's this part inside – if ever asked I will deny its existence, but I knew when I saw her. My nonverbal intro was clue enough, but it feels like we've been courting since I saw her, our first night together nearly two months ago was an inevitability that I'm going to have to thank her for. She had the guts when I lacked them.

My eyes drift over the paper, numbers. That's what we have here. Bank statements and a lot of them. I look over at the five boxes we brought back from the scene and I wanna just dump them into a fire. I could take Nikki home; we can curl up in bed and then start fresh in the morning.

And Dan, Christ…

The woman across from me is career suicide. I know it. I know what we're doing now will end us both in the N.O.P.D.; I just can't seem to care. We're discrete and cautious, but you never know. It's easier because she understands. She doesn't want our partnership or the relationship to crumble. It's all still pretty shaky, but everything we do is some unspoken arrangement that she lets me lead.

Jill told me to sit back and enjoy the honeymoon phase of the relationship, but there are these two sides of me. One wants to keep her at arm's length and make her stay there. I love my job and it's who I am. The other part, the part I find that wins these arguments in my head, is the one that, like tonight, wants to take her home, make her scream my name 'till she's hoarse and raw, then crawl inside her to find some peace.

Unresisting, my head falls forward and thumps on the cold metal of my desk. Damn whoever killed the Reynolds. We're going to be stuck here all friggin' night and my mind can't stay locked into the case.

Damn Nikki.

I grunt and shove away from my desk, knowing I need to step away from her for a minute and get my mind off the brunette and on to the bludgeoning. I head to the bathroom, turn the faucet on and splash my face. Thankful that I didn't have time to do anything but put my hair up in a ponytail this morning.

I look at my reflection and notice the subtle differences in my features. I actually look happier. The small creases that I began to notice my first year at S.C.U. have all but gone, in their place are smooth planes. I close my eyes and rest my forehead against the cool of the mirror. Images of two very different things light up my mind's eye. Nikki and last night of us together wrapped up in her bed and then of the two victims this morning.

Lightly I bang my head off the mirror and then right myself. "Personal life aside, Delany," I tell my reflection. "Let's go catch us some bad guys." I see myself nod. Conviction clear and resolute, I turn on my heel and decide to put my nose to the grindstone, besides, the little voice in the back of mind reasons, the sooner we wrap this up, the sooner you can take Nikki home for a few hours.

Shaking my head, I go back to my desk and ignore the look my partner's giving me. I need to focus. There's something buried in these damn papers and I'm gonna fucking find it. Unless Darrell Reynolds was a child molesting dirt bag, he really didn't deserve the torture he went through, hell he probably didn't deserve to die either. His wife didn't.

I dig my heels in and attack another stack of folders to my right, resigned to being here well through the morning.

The night air is cold and wet causing me to wrap my jacket tighter around my body. I jog across the street heading to the twenty-four hour café a block and a half away from the station house. If I were to give up this life of catching criminals, I think that's what I might do. Open up a little café across from a police station and make a mint. Daddy would even be thrilled.

Of course, as much as he loves and respects what I've done with my life, he would be happier if his little girl's life wasn't in constant danger. Glancing down at the phone in my hand, I look at the time and the two missed calls. One from Darius, the other from the man himself. Daddy's probably asleep, which leaves me with Darius who is either not at home just yet or just getting home from a show.

And why, I can't help but wonder, do I have Nora keeping me here until such an ungodly hour. I don't mind the extra work but she was acting funny earlier and I need to find out what's going on. The streets are quiet this time of night, which they should be. I won't be complaining about patrons of the various bars not making a ruckus. The lights of the café up ahead are bright and I can't wait to get inside where there's warmth and something to eat other than three day old doughnuts that have been hanging around the squad room.

It's a cliché for a reason and tickles me almost as much as the coffee that can eat through the lining of a cast iron stomach that they insist on keeping around. It's nearly comical in that homicidal way. Shrugging it off I hit the door to the café and breeze through. My lover needs coffee and we need to have a small talk when I get back.

The clerk at the counter is surprisingly pleasant as I order my two large cups of the strongest coffee they have and a fresh batch of beignets that I know I'll get shit for. She can can it. We'll hit the gym an extra hour this week and she can thank me for it afterwards.

As I wait, I flip open my phone and hit the number two key for speed dial and wait for Darius to pick up. It doesn't take him long as his voice fills my ear, "Kouzin'!"

Smiling despite myself, I say, "You, sugga, are way too happy at three in the morning."

"Well," he chuckles, "it's what it is. How's the day or er…uh, wait a minute…" He pauses and I hear some ruffling before he asks in that annoyed tone of his, "Whatchoo doin' at work so late?"

I shake my head and sigh. "The voicemail I left you earlier today. It's a double homicide and I need to know about the male vic. I was hoping you have something."

"Yeah, I got it. I got news too Nikki, but double ten-eighty-sevens, usually don't keep you there for more than twelve hours at a click." I hate when he gets this tone.

"Well, Darius, it's part of the job. You know that. Nora and I are working to try and sift through a ton of paper and any information that you may have would be greatly appreciated." I lean against the counter that holds the creamer and sugar to wait on his response. He's right in a way. Sleep would be fantastic, but Nora's on one and truth be told, I completely understand.

"A'ight. I get it," he huffs, "but, it don't mean I gotta like it none. I don't wanna speak to this over the phone. Why don't you come by tomorrow afternoon and until then maybe convince your new partner to go home and get some sleep to let you rest."

"I'll see what I can do about that. Three-ish okay? Say we meet over at Lexington park?"

"That'll do."

"Thanks, Dar. You're a fine upstanding gentleman," I tease him.

"Yeah, well this fine upstanding gentleman is gonna give a piece of his mind to you and your new boo if you don't knock off and get some rest." He disconnects as I cluck my tongue.

I just don't get this. He was the one that's been pushing me for years to find someone else. To actually pursue a new relationship outside of the one-night stands I have grown accustomed.

And then, when I finally do, he cops an attitude like a perp in the hot seat during interrogation. I just don't understand. I pinch the bridge of my nose and slip my phone back into my coat pocket.

"Detective," the clerk calls out to me. I look over and see her holding the bag of beignets and two cups of coffee in a drink holder up for me to take.

I smile and gratefully accept them, "Thank you."

"Not a trouble at all," she replies in this sugary, southern tone that had she caught my attention two years ago, I would have set the coffee down, locked the front door and had my way with her behind the pastry display. But this is a new era in the life of Nikki Beaumont and I cannot. Even though the soft brown eyes and light blond hair do look adorable on the girl.

"You stay outta trouble and I'll see you later," is all I give her as I back out of the café. Spinning on my two inch heels, I march back to the station and devise a plan to get Nora to go home. If not with me, than at least to her own place where she can get a decent night's sleep.