Rating: PG-13 to NC-17 – some parts are more risqué, some have serious language and deal with mature themes and adult concepts like violence, offensive language and naughtiness.

Disclaimer: I'm sure I've covered this in the previous 7 stories I've written in this fandom, but to cover my bases, I'll repeat myself – Not mine. I'm playing with someone else's toys, Nancylee Myatt and others actually. All for fun and if money is being made off what I'm writing, someone should let me know.

Author's Note: The penultimate story in my A.U. Fact is, I'm trying to figure just how far I'm taking the last story in this series. This follows The Why Don't You and I Series, The Game Series and Roll Away Your Stone and Heavy Lies the Crown, picking up a few months after Nikki & Nora come out at work. Please feel read and enjoy. Thank you!

Ch. 1 – Broken Bootstraps

"So, why are we taking this case?" I grump as I shut Frankie's door. "It's our day off, Nik. The only day we've had this whole month. It's not like I don't love my job, but a day off might be nice."

Her reply is an eye roll and waning patience, "Dan didn't really give me much, Nor. I'm just following orders like you. Now, can we please get this over with?"

Nikki pinches the bridge of her nose with one hand and motions me to lead with the other. Taking her demand, I head towards the bank's front doors and feel her tug at the back hem of my t-shirt. We flash our badges at the uniform taking point at the entrance before stepping inside.

It's a bank. I've been in a few. This one isn't that special. In fact, I think the same layout was given to its other branch off Desaix. Teller windows are off to the left, several offices off to the right and directly in front of the waiting area is a secure entrance to the tellers' stations and the vaults. Standard layout, I would think, for most banks.

The emergency response units already cleared most of the witnesses and the two bodies that the perps left behind. The only indications that blood was spilt here are the marks on the floor representing position and the pooled blood waiting to be cleaned.

We'll have to rely on the Uni's doing their job and taking thorough statements. That should be interesting when we get their write ups.

I feel a tug on my sleeve and turn to Nikki who is pointing towards the small sitting area in front of the offices. A rotund, red faced man in a suit that looks about as crisp as a dollar bill fresh from the washing machine sits in one of the chairs talking to another woman in a pressed pants suit.

Techs buzz about while we head over to the two.

"Hello," Nikki takes the introduction, "I'm Det. Beaumont and this is my partner, Det. Delaney." She holds her hand out and the woman takes it first.

"Barbara Weeks, Vice President of Public Relations," the woman with shoulder length blonde hair and murky brown eyes steps up. "This is our branch manager, Dean Chambers." Nikki shakes his hand next and I stand off to the left of my partner more than content to let her handle this.

"It's a pleasure to meet you both, even under the circumstances. Det. Delaney and I will be taking over the investigation," Nikki produces two of her cards and hands one each to the two standing in front of us. "If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us."

Mrs. Weeks nods and asks, "What would you two like to do to start?"

"We'll need to secure surveillance footage and then if Mr. Chambers can walk us through what happened, we can go from there," I finally speak up. "I'll be more than happy to grab the footage and you can take Det. Beaumont on a walk through."

"Of course, detective," Weeks agrees and motions me to follow her. "I'll show where you can find everything. Dean, I'll be back shortly."

Nikki's chin dips as I turn and follow Mrs. Weeks. She leads me through the doors that grant us access to the teller areas and the back of the business while explaining to me the security measures they have in place, "Our firm's security is handled by ADT. The majority of our branches security systems are housed offsite at ADT's local facility."

I scan the areas that we pass through. The teller section is in complete disarray, there are three doors that are closed off to my right and two that are open to my left. We stop short of the vault entrance and I notice a very familiar shiny, brown balled head.

Benton turns away from the dusting he was doing on a shelving unit of the vault and I catch his eyes. "Delaney, well, look at you."

Mrs. Weeks stops short and I hold a finger up asking for a moment as I walk over to the forensic analyst. "Faunce, it's good to see you out of the lab. Where's the interns?" I wonder because usually the ones not being paid are responsible for the grunt work.

He grins. "Don't have any available right now. You're stuck with me. Where's that partner of yours?"

I wink at him. Over the past few months, Nikki and I have tiptoed out of the closet and it hasn't been as horrible as I thought it was going to be. There have been moments, but it's usually overshadowed by shrugs of indifference or the full on support by the good people of our profession.

Benton Faunce is certainly one of the good ones. Although, Nikki insists that he was heartbroken when she broke the news to him. He had asked around about me and wanted to know if I was seeing anyone. Nikki took the bull by the horns there and let him know, much to Charlie's delight that she was my partner in more ways than one.

"Talking to the bank manager. We'll be around in a bit and you can tell us what you've got?" I ask, stuffing my hands in my jeans pockets.

"Sure thing, Nora." He turns and goes back to dusting.

I go back to Mrs. Weeks. "Now, as I was saying, while ADT has most of our security footage housed off site. We have a small feed on a DVR that holds twenty-four hours of footage before it's digitally transferred to ADT's servers." She swipes a card over a panel next to a small door and motions me through. "Everything that you'll need for today can be found here." She hands me a card and explains, "There are logins and passwords for you. Do you have a card that I can pass along to ADT if you should need additional information from them?"

"Of course," I reach in my back pocket and pull the few I stuffed in there on the way over.

She plucks the card from between my fingers, smiling. "If you need anything, they'll be more than helpful. The login information on the back of the card will get you to the system's folders. From there the navigation is fairly simple. Folders will tell you which camera you will be viewing."

"Can we copy the files?" I ask settling into the lone desk's chair and tap the space bar. The system whirs to life and a login box pops up on the screen.

"Yes. The drawer off to your right should have what you need for that," she answers motioning towards a small line of drawers in the metal desk.

I look her way and take in the lines of her face. "I think I'm good. I'm sure Det. Beaumont will have some questions for you if you'd like." I lick my lips and encourage her to leave a little more, "More than likely I'll see the shootings, I don't recommend it for the average viewer."

Her shoulders slump a little and she nods. "Thank you. You won't need any swipe cards to get out, but I'll leave you my badge in case you need to move around back here." She lays a thick, white, plastic card on the left edge of the desk and leaves.

I don't particularly envy her position right now, an unaccounted for amount of cash missing and two dead bodies does not make for good publicity.

"Delaney," Benny ribs me from behind, "order or get out of the way."

"Yeah," Dom chimes in from behind his partner, "hell, woman, my grams is slow, but she's ninety-four. What's your excuse?"

My teeth grind.

Whipping around, my sock to Benny's shoulder is pulled at the last second, but it's still heavy enough to knock him into Dominic. Twin grunts and whimpers are offered in response.

It's almost enough to pull a smile from me.


I turn back to the wide eyed cashier and place the order, "Two cobb salads, no cheese, a hot dog with ketchup and onions, a bottle of water and medium drink."

As I order, I hear, "The hell Beaumont? Who pissed in your partner's Wheaties this morning?"

I hand the woman working the register my debit card and Nikki answers, "Just that time of the month, fellas."

Not even bothering to turn around, I jab my pin into the key pad being held my way and remind my girlfriend, "I wouldn't throw those stones, baby. Glass can cut."

The huff I hear is enough of a response from her.

Really, it wouldn't be this bad.

The cashier hands me my receipt, bottle of water and cup. The card goes to my back pocket and I head to the soda machine.

I mean I wouldn't be nearly as annoyed if Nikki would cut the passive aggressive bullshit and tell me what I did to piss her off. She's been short and uncommunicative all damn day.

The cardboard cup depresses as I jam it against the lever for ice. The cubes tumble down and fill it up. I tune out the three behind me and decide on what to drink. It's the eternal question, Diet Coke or Cherry Coke. I love Cherry Coke, but my jeans aren't as loose as they were last month and with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up…

I blow my fallen bangs out of my eyes and decide that if I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound. The cup goes under the Cherry Coke spout and I watch the syrup and carbonated water swirl and fizz, the only grin I've managed today spreading across my lips at it bubbles up.

Nikki seems fine and dandy with her coworkers. So it's not her overall mood.

It's me.

I stop the liquid just below the rim of the cup and head towards the table Nikki's sitting at. Dom's sitting across from her. Nikki pats the hard plastic bench next to her and gives me a smile. My eyebrow quirks, but I take it and hand over her bottle of water before I slide into place next to her.

"So, do you two know why Harney tagged you on your day off?" Dominic asks when Benny slides two trays on to the table. One holds my order and the other theirs. Two double burgers and an order of fries so large they stuffed the order into a large drink cup.

"Nope," I answer and separate out the food, giving Nikki hers and taking my hot dog and salad.

"What about you two?" Nikki asks and hands me off a few napkins and the tomatoes from her salad. "And when did you start eating meat?"

Benny's eyebrows wiggle. "Veggie patties."

"You didn't?" Dom's burger stops half way to his lips.

His partner pops a French fry into his mouth and smirks. "You put so much damn mustard and Tabasco on your food, does it matter what kind of meat you're eating?"

"Oh for fuck's sake, Armstrong, if you're gonna pop off on some bullshit rant about eating sen…scene…" Dom falters at the word.

I help him out, "Sentient."

He jabs a finger at me, "Not helping, Delaney, but yeah, sentient animals, I'm gonna put in for a change of partner."

Benny just smiles around his bite of sandwich. "I've been doing it for the past few months, Dominic."

"I don't give a shit. Look here, you tree hugging, piece of queer bait. I'd eat your ass if it was legal," Dominic spits, but takes a bite of his burger anyhow.

Benny just snorts, but it's Nikki who pipes up, "While usually such language would have me giving you an earful, I can't help but think that was more of a Freudian slip than an attack on your partner's lifestyle."

"Wha…?" Dom manages around a mouthful of food before he reddens.

I snicker. Benny pinches his cheek and coos, "Anytime you wanna eat my ass, Dom, baby, you just let me know. I love getting my old salad tossed."

"You three make me fuckin' sick," Barrett snips. "The double we got in the financial district isn't going anywhere. I've got steaks in the freezer that are warmer than any of the leads we have to work."

"Yeah, we've got a bunch of Mizaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru all over the damn place," Benny gives a grump of his own.

"Ah, who?" Nikki asks before I have a chance to.

"Ya know, the three wise monkeys?" Benny supplies and furthers his explanation at three confused looks, "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Their names are Mizaru, Kikazaru, Iwazaru. Based on the old Japanese proverb and furthered along by the great philosopher Confucius."

"See this is the shit I'm talking about, Armstrong." Dom shakes his head. "It's bad enough that when me and Rosie come to visit we gotta take off our shoes, but we also gotta deal with those weird smells from your altar."

"Ah, my young samaneras, I will teach you the path yet." Benny takes all of it in stride.

I mean for all the shit Dom tosses his way for being Buddhist, Benny takes it all with a smile.

I think it gets to Dom more that way.

I pass over the tissues and try again, "Ms. Torrain, what was the first thing you noticed about the assailants?"

She sniffles, her eyes red rimmed, her face blotchy and I haven't been able to get her to form a single cohesive sentence since Nikki and I sat down with her forty-five minutes ago.

Benny said that we should join him at his meditation center sometime this week. He said it'd help with the whole patience thing that he knows I lack.

While I don't see myself going 'ohm' for extended periods of time, patience with this woman right now would be amazing.

"Well," she sniffles and I feel Nikki brush my arm, preventing the half-formed sigh from escaping, "It just happened so fast."

"What about any markings?" Nikki asks patting the girl's arm, "Anything you can think of would help us out?"

"I want to help," she says, her brown eyes filling up with tears again, "It's just so hard."

I shoot Nikki a look and try myself, "What about after they came around the back side of the teller station? One stayed out on the main floor the other one, looked a little bigger from the security feed. Did you notice anything then?"

She looks up, not really at the ceiling, but searching her memory for anything to help us. I appreciate that. "It was so quick. Their direction was short. They didn't talk much and we couldn't see their faces. They were covered by this black material."

"Okay," Nikki says and looks at me. I nod and slip a card with my contact information into her hand. "My number is on the back. Det. Delaney's is on the front. If you can think of anything else you give us a call."

Gayle Torrain nods as we say our goodbyes and make our way out to Frankie. I'd bother with my sunglasses if the sun was out at all. The clouds aren't cooperating today though. They haven't been much all week.

The sky is gray. The clouds floating in it are a hue off; otherwise they're a perfect match. I slam Frankie's door, slip the keys in the ignition, but hold off on turning it over. Nikki's door closes and I watch her rest her head on the back of the seat, stretching her neck.

The wince does not go unnoticed. I reach out, threading my fingers through her hair at the nape of her neck and apply a little bit of pressure there to help ease the tension.

"It's not going to help, Nora, but thanks for trying," she says her eyes still closed, her neck still arched back.

"I know, but…" I trail off and worry my lower lip.

"There's an element to this case that makes me think of the robberies Georgia and I were working in August," she cuts off the words on the tip of my tongue.

I'm kind of thankful. I'm sure my pressing her for telling me what's wrong would only annoy her more.

I've learned.

When she gets like this, less is always more and silence is golden.

"There are definite changes, two assailants instead of three and the dead hostages, but…" she trails off and sucks her teeth. "The precision is the same, the outfits."

"There wasn't anything on the tapes that caused the second robber to open fire," I fill in.

"But they did," she fills in.

"We'll take a closer look at the tapes, maybe we missed something on the few views we had." I withdraw my hand. It's best to get a move on. Torrain lived out of the way and if we don't hustle, I'm going to be sitting in some ugly traffic with a cranky partner.

"What happened with the robberies?" I ask a few minutes later, making our way across town.

A look out of the corner of my eye sees Nikki slide over the leather bench seat. I raise my right arm and she snuggles against me resting her head in the crook of my arm. "Luke ran some info for us. Looking at robberies with similar M.O.'s, but what he pulled was too much and we didn't have time to chase anything down. With you out, and the cases we were working, Dan told us to back burner the whole investigation."

She yawns then continues, "We agreed because they were precise. No one was hurt. The amount of money taken was a bit. I think the total put it somewhere around seven-point-four million, but the banks were just as encouraging to let it go."

"Hmm," is all I say to encourage her to continue.

"I know our department's not horribly understaffed…"

I snicker. "Yeah, 'cause our lack of a day off since the end of October says that we've just the right amount of people for our department."

That bit of sarcasm earns me a swat to my thigh, but she doesn't disagree. "Well, when I had lunch with Ron last week, he was telling me that his budgets are being cut. The Brass is asking him to do less with more. I think it's just goin' around."

"So we're stuck busting our ass while the office dwellers get to line their pockets," I grouse, changing lanes to take the off ramp towards the station.

"Now, now, my plebian princess, we members of the bourgeoisie do more than just line our pockets and make merry from the sweat of those beneath us." She reaches up and tweaks my nose. "When we get home remind me and I'll show you the budgets I've been helping my daddy with. It's comin' in at the state level."

"Fine, fine. So," I pause not sure if I really want to do this. It can only make the rest of the day unbearable instead of highly annoying so… "You wanna tell me what's wrong?"

She stiffens under me, her head pops up and her answer is delayed. It takes a half a minute before I hear her speak, "Guess I was just looking forward to a day off."

"Is that why you've been less than talkative since we left this morning?" I ask before I have to think about what I've done.

Nikki pulls away from me and moves back to her side of the car. "'Cause you traipsing around the house, slamming the bathroom door was called for after I got off the phone with Dan?" Her eyes narrow and I know she's expecting an answer.

I'm a little shocked.

That's what this is about?

"Ohh-kay," I sigh and try to salvage this, whatever it is, "Nik, I'm sorry about that, but really, it was unintentional. I didn't think that I pulled that hard." I try giving her a smile and stop at her look.


I suck in my lips and bite down.

"Maybe I…" I start.

"Look, we're both tired. I'm working on a three day old headache. Just save it, please," Nikki interrupts me.

My mouth clamps shut as my tongue gets planted in my cheek. The steering wheel squeaks under my grip. "Whatever."