A/N: Here we are, the last of this very long and very fun to write A.U. The scenes in this alternate like the chapters did: Nora, Ann, Nikki.
Thanks to those of you that made the journey with me from the beginning. It's been a blast.
Epilogue – How We Bow
The only lights in the bathroom are the candles I lit forty-five minutes ago and Nikki is in the same spot that I left her a half hour ago, reclining in the sunken tub of our getaway bathroom, her left leg propped up and out of the bathwater. The purple cast on the lower half of her leg resting along the edge of the tub atop a folded bath towel.
Her hair is in a messy bun and she hums along to the playlist she put together to help us relax. Without any work until the start of January, you would think that it would be relaxing, but between Nikki's physical therapy, the fallout from our last case and getting everything in order for the New Year, I'm still not sure what the word 'relax' means.
Resignations, paperwork, a few hard good byes and promises that I'm not sure will be kept took up a lot of time. Then dealing with telling my family our plans…that was a pain in the ass, but in the end I think – well, I hope they all understand it's what we need to do.
It's the right thing.
"Hmm, sugga are you gonna stand there and look at me all night or…?" she lets the implication linger. Not bothering to open her eyes or lift her head from the bath pillow she's resting on.
My eyes scan the length of the tub, the suds covering her enough to be considered decent. It's a pity really that I can't see more of her. Of course that would lead to me getting side tracked and I don't want to do that. I need to at least maintain a bit of focus.
"I like the view," I offer instead and sit down on the top step next to the tub. I reach in and tuck a curl of hair away then let my finger travel down the swell of her cheekbone to her jaw. The bruising, cuts and scrapes have long since faded and left me with mostly smooth skin. I won't comment on the lines or two that are there. She's just as beautiful now at thirty-nine as she was when I met her at thirty.
"Well, our time here is up in two days," she reminds me. "Although, I have to say, us coming to the Beaumont estate to get away from civilization was an inspired idea." Her eyes flutter open and she finally looks my way. "Good job, Ms. Delaney." Her lips pucker and I oblige, leaning over to give her the desired peck.
I pull away and see her studying me. "What?" I ask a little unsure of myself. She knows me…she reads me well and right now, I must be giving something away.
Her eyebrow quirks and she retorts, "You tell me."
I press my lips together. There's a lot I want to say to her tonight, but…how I'm going to do this is…"You know, the night before Davison took you and Jill, Ann asked me if I was cheating on you with Dan?"
Her eyes grow large at my admission and then her features darken as she glares.
I hold a hand up and explain, "John walked in on me and Dan having a pretty serious discussion and she asked."
"And what was this discussion about?" she asks, her tone giving away the weight of it. Dan and I haven't talked in nearly two months. I never bothered to tell her about the promotion – it was pretty moot after the dust settled from the Davison case.
"Before, Dan put my name in for a promotion," I finally admit to her. "I needed to give him a 'yes' or a 'no' if I was going to accept it…"
"You what?" she barks at me.
"I was being offered a Lieutenants position inside robbery-homicide, but I never really did give him an answer…or well," I take her hand to try to smooth things over. "I did, but it wasn't the one I was going to give him."
She sucks her teeth and continues to glare at me. "What answer where you going to give him?"
I pull in a deep lungful of air and breathe out, "Well, see that kind of depended on a few things."
"Well, uhm," I lick my lips, "see…we've…I mean our lives aren't independent of the other, we're a team and I wasn't going to make that decision without input from you."
The smile dies as quickly as it appears and she goes back to scowling at me.
I adjust my position next to the tub, opting to rest on my knees and settle onto my calves. "We've been partners for nearly nine years, Nikki, together, romantically, for nearly as long…"
"Actually, it took me five months, sixteen days, fourteen hours and approximately twenty-three minutes to coax you into my bed, lover," she informs with a wiggle of her eyebrows.
"You can't possibly know that," I reply with an incredulous laugh.
"Hah-ah," she sticks her pointer finger up. "Dan introduced us at nine a.m. on the fifth. We left Phantoms and got to my apartment a little after eleven-twenty at night on the twenty-first of August. Do the math, Nora dear," she replies smugly.
I do the count in my head from March to August and the time…she's right.
My bark of laughter echoes off the tiled walls. Her chuckle follows allowing me a moment to sober up. "Oh-kay, well then, what I'm trying to say is that we've been together a while, the whole of our thirties and I was confident a year in that it was you that was going to be sharing my bed with for as long as you'd have me."
"A year? It took you that long?" she goads me.
I don't take the bait. "Yes. I won't say anything about it being sooner, you'll just make fun, but hush. We've been through a lot, Nikki."
"Understatement of the decade!" she ribs me and sticks her tongue out in a way I usually find cute.
It still is, but it's not going to deter me. I roll my eyes instead. "Yes, well, I think we've both admitted to having the market cornered on being stubborn and occasionally hot tempered."
"That's true," she grins and runs the pad of her thumb over my palm. "And we're going to be going through a lot more in the coming months."
I nod. "So, that promotion was going to help us, help me, I guess in giving you what I couldn't before…"
"Which would be?" she cuts me off.
"You mean a bigger pay check," she tuts.
I blush. "Yes," I admit.
"You're an ass if you think that's what I want from us – from you," she pokes at me, her tone's light, which stops the initial flare of annoyance.
I sigh instead. "Ann pointed that out to me when she asked me about Dan."
"Remind me to thank her in the morning." Nikki grins. "But I'm not going near their bedroom until then. I nearly rolled in on them twice already. Having to use that damn wheel chair's a pain in my ass."
"It happens," I snicker. "So right, promotion, quit distracting me. So Ann busted me out and there wasn't a whole lot of time to think after that, but there has been some time recently and I've thought and it made me remember an ass chewing from my mom."
"And what was this 'ass chewing' about?"
"Well, it boiled down to me being raised right and honoring the values I was brought up with. I mean I've always been a little slow when it comes to how I feel and getting over myself. So…since it's your…" I lick my lips and fish the box out of my pajama pockets with my dry hand, "since the love of my life isn't getting any younger as evidenced by the birthday celebration we had tonight, I wanted to give you your present." I rise up and present her the box I've been keeping for nearly six months.
Recognition ripples across her beautiful face as she looks the box over. I know I'll remember the look she's giving me forever.
"Uh, I've talked to your daddy already, I got an earful for this by the way, but I wanted to do it right, because you know me and this will be the only time I'll admit to you that I'm a traditional romantic. I love you, Nikki. I love who you are and what you do and what you've driven me to become, a better person. Open, more honest."
My heart stutters and I try to remember how to breathe. "The word 'wife' implies a promise, as my mother reminded me, it's a promise between the two of us to keep each other first above all else in our lives. While I've tried to do that with you, I want it to be official. I want everyone to know and not to question. I want to be able to introduce you as my wife and be introduced as yours."
The hand that was holding mine reaches out to cup my cheek and brush away a tear that leaked out. The water on her hand absorbs it and I continue, "So, will you, uh…will you marry me?"
Her chin quivers as she nods.
Her answer releases a held breath and weight from my shoulders. Water be damned, I pluck the ring from the box. She presents me her left hand and I slip the new piece of jewelry on to her finger.
She pulls her hand away and admires the ring. "You've out did yourself, Nora." She doesn't look away from the ring, but I watch the diamond refract the light and bounce off of her. "Hmm, and here I'd given up ever having one of these," she teases me and her eyebrows dance under her bangs. "It's beautiful, Nora."
"You deserve it, baby," I tell her as earnestly as I can.
I lean over to kiss her when an arm snakes around my waist. She pulls me into the tub, clothes and all, laughing and kissing me wherever her lips can reach.
The door to our bedroom squeaks open causing me to look up from the pile of paperwork I need to finish up with before tomorrow. Nora starts with our team and I've been writing consults that have been piling up for the past two weeks.
I can't wait for Nora to start.
Lucy and Travis are usually loaned out if we aren't working the cases ourselves which leaves John and myself to handle the lion's share of the paperwork. Nora will give us another full-time body and when Nikki comes on board, she'll be part-time.
Life will be lots easier.
As it is, our bed has a few file folders scattered around and my lap top is open and next to me. Jill makes sure the doors shut before she bounces over to me. The smile on her face has been present for the past few days and I have to know, "You're not planning on stopping anytime soon are you?" I wiggle my pointer finger at her.
She crawls up from the end of the bed, tossing the folders on the floor as she ascends. She shakes her head. "What's not to be happy about?"
I roll my eyes to the ceiling and think. "I go back to work tomorrow or uhm, you start a new job tomorrow?"
She straddles my shins, reaches out and closes the computer before setting it on the floor. Turning back to me, she settles on my lap. Biting her lower lip, my wife shakes her head. "There's way too much good there and in the room down the hall and…" a fingertip is dragged down the bridge of my nose, over my lips, chin and down my neck to hook in the top of my tank top, "right here." She leans over and looks down my shirt. "I'm happy."
"Pervert," I tease her as she lets my tank top go. It snaps back in place and she pushes the hem of it up so she can run her hands along my stomach, her non-existent nails scratching along my flanks and down to settle on my hips.
"I am. More specifically, I'm pervy for you which," she punctuates with a pinch to my side; "you should love and exploit."
"Is that so?" I ask and lean up to nip at her chin.
Her hips press into me freeing a groan from my lips. I should be exhausted. I am, for the most part. Getting Nikki and Nora settled all the way into the house this week and gearing up to have them at work has been taxing.
Totally worth it, but there's just been a lot to do.
"Well," she hums and begins to plant feather light kisses across my cheeks and around my face. "We have our family, all of them, around us now. We get to see them regularly…"
"Because they live with us…" I remind her.
"Yes and as much as you would think that may bug me, I love the idea. Having Nikki to help with the non-profit and foundation and then having Nora with you at work…I love John, but Nora will take care of you better at work."
I pull back and snicker. "You're just saying that because she won't let me go off all half cocked and work myself to an early grave."
Her lips purse and she squints at me. "Not to put too fine a point on it, wifey, but your damn straight she won't. Nikki'll kill her if she pulls that shit."
"Nikki will be working with us too, y'know?" I remind her and then nibble her left earlobe.
Her hands come up and cup my breast, toying with my nipples under my shirt as she answers, "Only part time. She's with me the other part." Her moan mingles with mine as I rock up into her.
"Just admit it, Annie, I've now got eyes and ears everywhere." She runs her lips across my jaw and hisses, "I fucking own your ass. You can't get away from me."
I don't answer right away and instead, pull her t-shirt over her head. Licking my lips, I lean down and lick a trail from the valley between her breasts and up her neck. "Did you just now figure that out?" I murmur against heating flesh.
"I'm a little slow sometimes," she jokes. "And you are wearing far too many articles of clothing, baby."
I laugh and shake my head. "Fix it," I challenge her.
Really it's not much of a challenge. Her hands are at my hips and tugging at my shorts before I finish annunciating the 't'. She maneuvers them off me and tackles the hem of my tank top, ripping it off over my head.
She goes to settle back on me and I stop her. "Ah-ah, I'm not the only one that'll be nekkid here."
Her pants drop to the floor and she settles her long legs back over me, sliding her dampened center up my thighs.
"Can I get it in writing?" she asks, draping her arms over my shoulders and linking her hands behind my head.
I watch her lean back and undulate against me. "Get what?" I wonder a little distracted by her rolling hips.
"That I own you?" she pants and rocks forward.
"Uh…" I lick my dry lips and just nod. "I'm good with that."
She giggles. Her laughter is light, musical. It soothes me in a way I didn't know needed soothing.
Her hips still and she sobers to catch my eye. "Hey," I whine, "I was enjoying the show."
"Don't pout," she warns and taps the tip of my nose. "I love you."
I nod. "I know. We've covered that." I smirk back at her and she swats my shoulder.
"Ass," she pouts now.
"Tease." I grin at her.
Rolling her eyes and her hips, she leans down and captures my lips.
Groaning, I flip us over and rock down onto her center. "My ass loves you too. Now," I pant as I brace my arms next to her head and settle the lower half of my body between her thighs. I hold her gaze and manage to sober up as I say, "Now, do your toy a favor and fuck me."
Her eyes light up and she says with just as much seriousness, "Why Mrs. Flemming, I thought you'd never ask."
Unable to keep it up, I collapse on top of her. We roll around tangling our legs together as her laugh fills the room.
Paperwork can be done tomorrow.
Jill drums her fingers along the countertop as she looks over the cookbook. Not bothering to look up from the text, she grumps, "I think that if we're keeping the living arrangements as is, we're going to need to learn how to cook."
"Oh, sugga," I purr and bump her hip, "It may just be a lost cause where we're concerned."
She looks up at me from over the top of her glasses and grins. "Well, I mean, you know I tried to burn the house down, Ann can, but the three of you get home at ungodly hours sometimes…"
The handle of the cane I'm using for the next six weeks digs into my palm as I shuffle back and rest against the sink. "So, that means, at least what I'm hearing, is that it's not a 'we' that need to learn to cook, it's a 'you'."
Her eyes narrow and she sucks her teeth at me. "And you, until you're done with that cane. Don't think you're getting out of this, Nikki. I need supervision."
The laugh shakes my entire upper body and I tease her, "No truer words were ever spoken."
She rolls her eyes and saddles up next to me.
"And if the builders will hurry their ass up, we may be out of your hair by July," I tell her. We've all discussed the living arrangements and Nora and I were going to get an apartment, but then Jill, with her crazy ideas, just said to stay in our bedroom that we have here until the house is built next door.
It was the best option. We wanted space, a yard and Jill wanted neighbors. All the licensing has been done and the construction crew hired. They just need to wait for it to get a decent temperature for construction to begin. January in Virginia is cold and frozen and I'm not sure if I like it.
"Hmm, well, you two could live here permanently," Jill informs as she lays her head on my shoulder. "It's good having you two around."
"We've been here a month. Sugga, we're still in the honeymoon phase." I wink at her. "We'll see how you feel when the family comes to visit. Daddy's already talking coming up here and it's barely been a month. Oh, and Nancy…I swear once we announced the engagement, she's like a dog with a bone." It's been amazing for the most part, but Nancy wants to set dates and she wants to invite more family than I think Nora knew she had. Daddy's almost as bad.
I'm not even sure when this is all supposed to happen. Nora says that she'd like it in the spring, but that's not far off and I'm half tempted to fly everyone to Massachusetts for a weekend and do this at the justice of the peace. It would be easier. Although, I have expressed an interest in having our wedding day be on our anniversary day. Nora says that's cheating and laziness because I don't want to remember another anniversary.
She's right and while that's true, it would be easier. I'm also far more comfortable with a small affair.
"Whatcha thinkin' about?" Jill interrupts a half formed idea.
I purse my lips. "The wedding."
"Hmm…yeah, good luck with that," Jill says patting my leg. "You're happy though, about the proposal and the…? Nora was a damn nightmare when we were picking that thing out."
"Love the ring and I can imagine." I look down at my left hand. I'm still not used to seeing it there.
"She'll love hers too," Jill says with a sly smile.
"Well, I hope so. If I'm stuck wearing one, she damn well should have to, too." I smile and pat my left pocket. The box containing said ring creates a small bulge. Knowing she wouldn't be comfortable with the one and a half carat monster she got me, I went for a simple classic design that hopefully, she'll love.
I look down at my left hand to admire the ring again. God love that women and her exquisite taste. "And yes, I'm happy, ecstatic, over the moon. All the girly emotions associated with being engaged." And it's true, I am. I never expected her to do this…although; I should have at some point. She's made a habit out of catching me off guard.
"We still need to decide dinner. What are we doing for your fiancé's birthday dinner?" Jill brings the conversation back around to our original quandary.
"Hmm," I tap my "We should just go out. We can get all prettied up and go to D.C?"
"Oh, there's this new restaurant that opened up in November that I've wanted to try." We both glance at the time displayed on the oven. Jill crooks her finger at me and we head towards the living room.
The T.V.'s on and Nora and Ann are sitting on the couch shoulder to shoulder reading over a file they brought home. It strikes me how much I miss being at work. I won't be released for another six weeks, if I'm lucky, and John won't even let me fill in with desk work.
"Hey, wifey one and wifey two," Jill interrupts them. "We're going out." She claps her hands and motions them both up.
Nora's head turns my way and I hold out my hand. "Come on; come help your crippled fiancé get ready."
She smirks but takes my outstretched out hand.
"Where we going?" she husks as she presses against me.
A shiver runs down my spine in response to her tone. "Out. Someone's being spoiled."
Ann and Jill scurry from the room and I tug Nora along to follow them down the hall. Nora's behind me as she rests her hand on my hip, guiding my limping form.
The cane helps, but I'll be very, very, very glad when my leg's healed. It's the last piece of the clean up from September. Everything else…work, home, Nora…we're so good and things look better than they ever have. Jen and Jill are starting up a branch of the Tilton Foundation here. Jill's new project and hopefully, her last career shift. I'll be able to help them there and work part time at the Bureau with Nora and the rest of the team…
I get the best of both worlds.
I have one final thing to do.
Nora's hand travels further south as we hit our bedroom door.
I think I can take care of that now though…
"Hey," Ann's head pokes out of her own door at the other end of the hall, "Keep it PG-13 ladies. I don't want to have to turn the hose on you two." She wiggles her eyebrows at us and ducks her head back inside before me or Nora can comment.
"She's worse than a teenager," Nora grumps.
"Hello pot," I tease and manage a semi-graceful spin in her direction as she shuts the door.
I land with a soft thump at the end of the bed and crook a finger at Nora. She stopped just inside as the door shut.
Her head tilts to the side as I beckon her further. I watch her tongue poke out and run along her bottom lip. I narrow my eyes. "I'll have plans for that tongue later, Nora Marie," I purr, "but for now, come here."
Her approach is slow, deliberate, with a little more sway in those hips than she normally uses. My flush is involuntary. I take her hands and direct her in front of me. Tapping the back of her knee, I direct her down and on to them. "Nikki?" she questions and I press a finger to her lips.
"Now…" My voice is a little deeper, softer as I explain, "Traditionally, I'm supposed to be on my knees, but," I wave a hand at my braced shin, "that's not really going to happen and since it is your birthday now," I tap the tip of her nose with my index finger as I reach into my pocket to fish out the box, "I wanted to give you your birthday present."
She zeros in on the box emerging from my pocket and I say, "I'm not as good as you with romance, Nora, I know that, but I thought it only fair that you get your own engagement ring." I open the top and reveal the ring I purchased the weekend after my birthday and engagement. "You know how I get sometimes. Just like people will know when they see my ring, I want them to know that you, sugga, are all sortsa spoken for and I don't mind unloading a clip or two to prove it."
Her smile is bright and infectious.
So, I lean in and rest my forehead against hers, "With all that in mind…marry me?" I feel the nod of her head and puff of breath she exhales against my lips.
I take the ring out and cradle her left hand in mine. I break away to kiss my way up to the back of her left ring finger before slipping the new piece of jewelry on. I look up and she's all watery eyed, but her hand reaches out and wipes at my cheek then cups my chin. "Love you, Beaumont." She pecks my lips.
"Hmm, love you too, Delaney. Although, now's a good a time as any…" I mumble against her lips. "Who is taking whose last name?"