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August and Everything After

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Gail distracts herself by focusing on the basics.

Inhales deeply, exhales slowly; repeats again and again until the deafening sound of her heart pounding rapidly in her ears settles and fades away. It's replaced with the low murmurings of voices in hushed conversations, the bustling movements of doctors and nurses as they go about their business, and the distant echo of machines beeping and whirring as they work to keep people alive.

She tries not to think about how the lives of the people she works with, people she's come to care about, are teetering on the edge at this very moment; depending on that split-second change where they're either saved or lost forever. Instead Gail lets her eyes flutter closed. Inhales. Exhales. Focuses on the warmth of Holly's hand wrapped around hers; her hold strong but gentle as Holly's thumb brushes soothingly across her knuckles, keeping her safe and anchored.

Gail releases a shaky breath when Holly suddenly squeezes her hand tightly, pulling her from her daze, and she opens her eyes to see a concerned look etching its way over Holly's face. Gail follows the direction of Holly's gaze in time to see Andy stumble back through the double doors she'd disappeared behind only minutes before, her eyes red-rimmed and puffy, her head shaking helplessly as her mouth fails to form words. It feels like she's watching in slow motion when Andy finally crumbles; her chest heaving heavily as she chokes out the words 'Sam' and 'emergency surgery', and her limbs giving out as she falls helplessly into Traci's waiting embrace.

It makes the knot in Gail's stomach lurch and tighten, and an icy fear creeps through her veins as Frank desperately questions the doctor trying to make sense of everything that's happening, only to be given a sympathetic look and a rebuff of knowing more soon.

Gail pulls her bottom lip into her mouth, an attempt to stifle the panic that's crawling under her skin. She hates hospitals. Hates the way they reduce people to barely kept together time-bombs, waiting desperately for news on their loved ones; good news. But Gail knows that good news doesn't always come to people who deserve it.

She remembers a time that being in this hospital meant being curled up in one of the beds, her face bloodied and broken, and her soul screaming out in agony as Nick tentatively touched her shoulder and told her that Jerry hadn't made it.

She remembers the pain and devastation that had radiated out of Traci as she read Jerry's wedding speech at The Penny, and how she'd forced herself to step forward to finish what Traci couldn't; trying unsuccessfully to make up for the gaping void she'd forever played a part in leaving everybody at 15 Division with.

It had taken months before people at 15 Division had stopped whispering about her abduction and Jerry's death, and even longer before things started to feel even a little bit normal again. They're all a team, a family really, and Gail isn't sure if they can handle another blow of losing somebody so dear to them.

Gail forces her thoughts to Oliver; glad that at least he's safe now. Guilt clenches at her heart as she reprimands herself for not being with him, for letting him allow her to stay back and wait with Danielle until her mother arrived at the hospital. Maybe if she'd been with Oliver then Ford would never have taken him, he would never have gone to the station, and Sam wouldn't have been shot.

Always back up your partner; it's something they teach you the moment you enter the academy, but Gail knows it as less of a rule and more of a way of life. Her parents had drilled it – along with other basic police methods – into her since she was a child. It's part of the reason why she's so loyal. People have never been her best subject, she doesn't always understand them, and she's never really fit in, but she knows without a doubt that she's made to serve and protect, to backup the people she cares about; to keep them safe.

Today, Gail feels like she's failed.

She's responsible for another officer being hurt again... at least if feels that way to her. She adds it to the mental list she keeps of things she'll never be able to forgive herself for, and makes another promise to do whatever she can to be better, to do better, if not for herself then at least for the safety and lives of her friends.

Her spine tingles with utter helplessness, a feeling Gail's become more and more used to this year, as everything she thought she had a firm grasp on ripped free from her and began spinning out of control. It makes Gail shudder, her fingers curling tighter around Holly's. She's not good with things she has no control over, with things that she can't make sense of. It's part of the reason that she keeps everybody at arm's length; if they can't get too close, then Gail can keep control, she can be the one dictating what happens when and how.

Right now, Gail feels like she's floundering; everything around her is falling down and ripping apart, and none of it makes any sense. She's left stumbling through the wreckage, trying to keep her head above the water, but she doesn't know how. She's lost to a current that's too strong, and all she can do is let herself be pulled along and hope that she doesn't end up being dragged under.

"Gail..." Holly's gentle voice pulls Gail from her turmoil, her body having shifted in the uncomfortable plastic seat so that her spare hand can curl over Gail's knee. "You're shaking."

Gail blinks rapidly, trying to shift away the fog confusing her thoughts, and darts her tongue out to moisten her lips. "What?"

The corner of Holly's mouth curls up into a worried half-smile as her hand rubs a little harder over Gail's knee. "You're shaking. Do you want me to get you some coffee or...?"

Holly lets her offer trail off, uncertainty clouding her eyes as to what Gail needs from her. Gail shakes her head, and loosens her grip on Holly's hand. "No. But thanks," Gail replies trying to muster a smile, knowing she must be failing miserably as Holly's brow knits together in concern. It feels like too much. "I think I just need to get some fresh air."

Holly nods meekly, and reluctantly removes her hand from Gail's knee. Gail's legs feel weak as she stands, and it takes all of her willpower not to let herself trip and stumble as she makes her way to the exit, avoiding eye contact with anybody and everybody. She refuses to let them see the vulnerability that's building inside her and threatening to burst free.

The cold hits her like a hammer to the chest as she makes it out of the hospital, and Gail feels the icy wind bite into her skin as she releases a deep, spluttered breath into the night air. It takes a second for her lungs to adjust to the temperature shift, but once they do it feels like life is being breathed back into her, her demons slowly returning to the shadows.

Gail leans against the nearest wall, and lets her eyes close as she tilts her head back and tries to pull herself together. Don't fall apart. Don't fall apart. Don't fall apart; Gail repeats the words over and over to herself, a little personal mantra to help her stay strong so the people around her can depend on her. She won't let any more of them down today; she can't afford to.

"Are you okay?"

Gail drops her head to find Holly standing nervously in front of her, her breath coming out in little white trails against the cold, and her hands shoved into her pockets as she worries her lip between her teeth. Gail thinks she looks just as helpless as she feels.

"I'm fine," Gail replies instinctively, and watches as Holly nods her head ever so slightly, not seeming convinced at all. Her eyes trail over Gail like she's looking for signs of a crack in her armour, for a way that she can get in and see what's really going on inside Gail's head.

It isn't fair; Gail realises, to keep Holly at a distance, not when she's come to her side every time Gail has asked her to. Not when she had kissed Holly hours earlier in the stillness of the interrogation-room because Holly cared about her enough to worry, and kissing her had felt like the only thing she could do. And the truth of the matter is that Gail doesn't even want to keep Holly at arm's length; it's just her default mode, to push away and not let anybody see how vulnerable she's feeling. Gail knows Holly doesn't buy her tough facade for a minute; her false admission of truth is useless and heavy in the silence between them.

"That's a lie," Gail admits, her eyes finding Holly's briefly before she looks away shaking her head, unsure how to explain. "I'm... um... I don't-"

Holly takes a tentative step towards her when Gail breathes out in irritation, unable to fill in the rest of what she's trying to say. "Gail, it's okay."

"No, it's not," Gail snaps, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose, her teeth gritting together in anger. "I want to be honest, I do," she assures Holly, her eyes wide and trusting. "I'm just not good at this, the sharing, the..." Gail motions her hands about in the air in front of her as if searching for the right words. "...feelings. I'm not good with them."

Holly takes another step towards her, an easy smile gracing her lips. "We tell each other things, Gail, it's what we do. So, just... tell me what you're thinking." Holly hooks her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the hospital. "Forget about everybody else, just for a minute, and tell me what's going on in your head. It doesn't even have to make sense... it can even be something weird and out there like your cat analogy."

Gail finds herself rolling her eyes at Holly's light teasing, a genuine smile forming on her lips for the first time in hours. "That analogy made total sense and you know it."

"Stop deflecting, and just-"

"I was scared, okay?" Gail cuts in, shrugging her shoulders uncomfortably, the words sounding bitter and foreign on her tongue.

Holly regards her quietly for a minute, reaching up to push her glasses further up the bridge of her nose as she says, "It sounds like your day was pure hell, Gail. Some asshole shot at you guys, and abducted one of you. I'd say it's pretty normal that you were scared." Holly pauses, licks at her lips and shrugs her shoulders back at Gail then. "I was scared and I wasn't even out there."

Gail knows that Holly was scared; she knew the moment she saw her at the station, file clutched to her chest and obvious lie spilling out of her mouth about the courier being sick. It's part of the reason Gail had kissed her, she'd wanted nothing more than to ease Holly's worried mind, to protect her from all the chaos the world was throwing at her.

But this isn't the same.

"It wasn't just that I was scared, Holly." Gail shakes her head, trying to think of a way to make Holly understand. "I'm a police officer, I know what it means to be scared on the job, it can keep you alive, keep you cautious and alert. I was-" Gail swallows away the lump forming in her throat, and forces herself to continue, "I wasn't just police-officer-scared, I was really, truly, scared. For the first time on the job, I didn't want to be out there. I just wanted it to all go away, and I shouldn't feel like that." Gail holds Holly's gaze, ignoring the sting in her eyes, and holds her hands out in defeat. "I'm a Peck."

"A Peck," Holly repeats, pursing her lips together sadly as she takes a moment to weigh up what that means.

Gail studies Holly's face, taking in her furrowed brow, her dark eyes, her delicate mouth, and waits for the disappointment to creep in. She wants to look away but she can't, even though Gail knows seeing Holly disappointed in her will hurt more than anything else she's had to deal with today.

But she knows from experience that the disappointment always comes, and the only thing she can do is try to brace herself for the impact as a few, tense, seconds of silence pass between them.

"You're human, Gail," Holly breathes finally, her soft eyes full of affection and understanding. She closes the distance between them and reaches for Gail's hands. Gail closes her eyes at the contact and releases a shuddery breath, grasping at Holly's fingers like a lifeline. "You're not indestructible, and that's okay," Holly draws the word out, emphasising her point by squeezing at Gail's hands. "That's more than okay, especially after a day like today."

There's no judgement, no sarcasm, no secret meaning hidden beneath Holly's words. She doesn't hear her mother's dissatisfaction or her father's pity, or even Steve's empathy that's meant to make her feel better but only ever makes her feel worse. All she hears is the truth in Holly's voice, and it feels like a weight has finally been lifted from her shoulders; her imperfection suddenly feeling less like such a hideous, unbearable, flaw.

"Thank you," Gail whispers gratefully, dropping her forehead to rest against Holly's shoulder, the tension in her body falling away instantly.

Holly shuffles a little closer until the tips of their shoes bump together, and reaches one of her hands up to massage comfortingly at the nape of Gail's neck. "What else can I do? I want to be here for you, but I need you to tell me what you need, Gail."

Holly's breath is warm against her skin as she speaks, her nose pressed gently to Gail's temple as her lips brush lightly against her ear. Gail wraps her arm around Holly's back and pulls her closer still; she feels safe and calm for the first time in as long as she can remember and she wants to hold onto it for as long as she can.

"Just this," Gail murmurs, nuzzling further into Holly's shoulder, letting everything else fade away, if only for a little while. "I just need this."

"Okay," Holly whispers, her lips pressing the lightest of kisses to Gail's cheek. "Okay."

It's enough for now.

She wakes startled, her heart pounding painfully against her ribcage and her lungs aching as they struggle to draw in enough oxygen. The backs of her eyelids are burning with images; of Oliver tied-up and bleeding in the trunk of a car; of Chloe holding a stuffed toy dog to her bloody neck and saying 'you're a terrible person'; and of Ross Perrick looming over Jerry's crumpled and bleeding body and yelling 'see what you made me do?'.

It takes Gail several seconds of blinking rapidly into the darkness, a hand pressed to her chest in an attempt to calm herself before she recognises where she is. Holly's apartment. Holly's room. Holly's bed.

She tilts her head to see Holly's sleeping soundly to her right, her dark hair splayed across the pillow with a few errant strands laying across her cheek, and her hand tucked sweetly under her chin. Gail feels instantly relieved to find her looking so peaceful and undisturbed by her commotion.

There's a sliver of moonlight creeping in through a gap in the blinds, and Gail uses it to find the alarm clock on the nightstand next to her, noticing the early hour; she's barely been asleep for more than forty-five minutes, and her body aches with deep-rooted exhaustion. A part of her feels guilty as she slips quietly from Holly's bed and tip-toes out of the room, softly pulling the door shut behind her, but Gail knows she won't be closing her eyes again anytime soon.

Holly's apartment is still in the darkness, and Gail feels a little like she's snooping as she moves further into the open space of the living-room. She's only seen the inside of Holly's apartment once before and even then it was a case of waiting by the door while Holly shrugged into her jacket so they could go and grab drinks. Gail lets her eyes roam over the space, noting that it's quaint and quirky, understated yet established and lived in. There are books everywhere unsurprisingly, but there's also a bottle of tequila and some shot glasses sitting on top of Holly's coffee table next to an opened packet of pretzels, and even several different shades of nail polish standing atop a stack of DVDs. It makes Gail smile a little to see that Holly's home isn't quite as neat and organised as her lab; it feels more real and honest, and its imperfection immediately sets Gail's nerves at ease.

There's a chill in the air that makes her shudder and wrap her arms around herself, and Gail wishes momentarily that she'd let Holly lend her more than an old t-shirt, and a pair of too long sweatpants that she'd had to roll up at the ends so they didn't drag on the floor as she walked. She moves over to Holly's desk, taking in the photographs pinned to the board above it, in all of them Holly is surrounded by people smiling and looking happy, and Gail even spots some people that share Holly's dark looks, which she instantly assumes must be Holly's family; they look like a close, tight-knit group.

Gail remembers briefly the last time she took candid photos with her own family, but quickly pushes the thought aside. It's a memory she's purposefully suppressed, and has no desire to revisit. She knows now especially, isn't the time to delve into her messed up family-issues. Not when there's already enough to deal with.

It's then that Gail spots Holly's hoodie thrown over the back of her desk chair, and she lets her fingers brush over the familiar soft blue fabric as images of batting cages and laughter fill her mind. Although she'd been utterly humiliated that night, screeching like a little girl as the ball hurled towards her and the bat flew from her grip, Gail remembers the night fondly. She remembers Holly laughing with her, not at her. She remembers burgers and milkshakes, and making Holly laugh so hard that she'd snorted unexpectedly which caused Gail to tease her with little 'oinks' for the rest of the evening. It had been the best non-date date she'd ever had.

Gail's mouth curves into a smile as she lifts the hoodie to her face and lets herself take a moment to breathe in the sweet scent of Holly's perfume mixed with the subtle spice of cinnamon that's so distinctively Holly; it feels like happiness and laughter, calmness and safety, and love and kindness all wrapped into one, and Gail lets her eyes flutter closed as it washes over her.

A part of her wants to roll her eyes at herself for standing in the dark and breathing in Holly's hoodie, but after everything she's been through in the past twenty-four hours Gail decides not to fight so hard against what she really wants. A second later she shrugs into it, pulling the hood up and zipping herself in as she lets the comfort of Holly's scent surround her.

Her hands seek out the warmth of the pockets then, but she pulls quickly back when her fingertips stumble across the cool metal of Holly's iPod that's been stashed inside. It's exactly what she needs. Whenever she wakes from one of her nightmares, the only way she can quiet her mind again is to lose herself in music. It seems about right, she thinks, that Holly's still somehow providing her with what she needs even though she's fast asleep in the other room. Gail slips the earbuds into her ears, hitting play as she pockets the iPod again, and lets the gentle rhythm slowly seep into her bones as she closes her eyes and lets her body get swept away with a familiar melody.

Gail isn't sure how long it's been, but when she next opens her eyes, she finds Holly leaning in the doorway, watching her silently with sleepy eyes and a lopsided grin.

It makes Gail stop immediately, blinking rapidly, her mouth curling down into a sheepish grimace as she feels her ears burn with embarrassment. "Sorry. Did I wake you?"

"Don't be sorry," Holly replies, lifting a hand to push her glasses further up her nose. "I noticed the spot beside me was cold is all."

Gail nods her head wordlessly, not really sure what to say to explain why she's standing in Holly's living-room in the earlier hours of the morning, dancing haphazardly in the moonlight.

"Is that my hoodie? I thought we weren't borrowing each other's things?" Holly smirks, her head nodding in Gail's direction.

It makes Gail look down at herself self-consciously, Holly's blue hoodie still wrapped around her and shielding her safely. For a split second she almost instinctively reaches for the zipper to take it off, but she knows from the smile on Holly's face and the tone of her voice that Holly's just teasing, that she doesn't really mind, and it quickly eases any trace of worry Gail has.

Gail shrugs, and smirks back, deciding to accept the easy banter. "I never said I wasn't going to borrow your things, you're the one who said my stuff wasn't your style. Plus I'm cold and all you gave me was this thin little t-shirt," Gail says, pausing to narrow her eyes playfully at Holly as she lifts her hand to rest thoughtfully against her chin. "You know, I've had time to think, and I've concluded that you were secretly plotting my demise because really, you're jealous of my style and you want to steal my flawless, fleece-less, clothes."

Holly breathes out a laugh. "We came here straight from the hospital, I'd hardly call your police uniform something I'd spend time plotting to steal. Also, I don't own any fleece, you ass."

Gail raises her eyebrows in mock disbelief and holds up a finger, shaking it at Holly. "That's what you claim, but I already spotted the backpack in the corner of your room earlier, so I'm just saying..."

Holly laughs again, and Gail smiles at the lightness that fills her chest at the sound of it. It's so easy with Holly, to just be goofy and unguarded, to let herself relax. Normally the idea of being so at ease around somebody would make Gail's skin prickle with an anxiousness that eventually forces her to lash out in defence, but from the moment they met Holly's had a way of quiet understanding, of unwavering patience and sarcastic witty remarks that rival her biting snark. Holly knows when she's trying to be mean and when she's not, and she doesn't take things the wrong way and make Gail feel awful for not knowing how to communicate better. She just lets Gail be, and that's far more than Gail's used to.

"Want to tell me why I really woke up alone?" Holly asks softly, moving to sit on the couch. "Why you're dancing in the dark at 3am when you should be crashed out asleep?"

Gail follows and drops down on the opposite side of the couch, pulling her knees up to her chest, and refuses to meet Holly's gaze. "I'm just too wired after everything that happened, I guess."

She can feel Holly looking at her, and knows that Holly's doing that thing she does, where she lets her eyes trace over every inch of Gail's face, taking in every slight and subtle twitch and quiver of her mouth, every blink and flicker of her eyes. Gail knows Holly's reading all the signs that she tries so hard to bury and hide.

"Bad dream?" Holly asks simply after several seconds of silence.

Gail bites at her bottom lip, knowing she's been discovered, and lifts her eyes reluctantly to meet Holly's. "Yeah."

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not really," Gail replies, her voice barely a whisper.

Even after all this time Gail's not really sure how to talk about what happened to her. She doesn't know how to explain that sometimes she sleeps with a light on because the thought of waking up in total darkness makes her feel like she's trapped and suffocating.

"Okay," Holly says, knowing not to push. She reaches across the space between them to nudge at Gail's foot instead. "Want to tell me why you were dancing at least?"

"It helps me get my mind off things, to lose myself in something else for awhile." Gail shrugs unsurely. "It's weird, I know."

"Not that weird," Holly reassures with a smile. And then, "Whenever I'm working on a difficult case I tend to end up having trouble sleeping. I don't dance, but I do get up and start cleaning excessively. My neighbours have even complained about me vacuuming at 2am before."

"How very nerdy of you," Gail says with a playful smile. "The midnight cleaner, out to dust her troubles away."

"At least I end up with a tidy apartment, I think I'm a pretty efficient insomniac," Holly says seriously.

"Holly," Gail breathes with an amused smile. "You should really stop talking; you're only proving my point further." Gail smirks then, making Holly roll her eyes at her and poke at Gail's foot again. "Speaking of all things nerdy," Gail adds. "Can we take a moment to talk about your music taste?"

Holly raises her eyebrows warily and shakes her head as she tries to hold back a smile. "What's wrong with my music taste?"

"Well, for starters it ranges from like, weird ocean noises, to 2pac, to Dixie Chicks, to Beyonce, a bunch of old 90s stuff that I barely even recognise and then this..." Gail trails off; pulling the iPod from her pocket and holding it up so Holly can see the screen. She follows it up with a smirk when she sees Holly's eyes widen. "This is just offensive. I actually have second-hand embarrassment for you."

Holly shrugs, trying to play it cool even though a blush is creeping across her cheeks. "What's wrong with One Direction?"

"Nothing," Gail deadpans, waiting a beat before adding, "Unless of course you're a thirty something, professional woman. Where's your self respect, Holly? Your dignity?" Gail mock demands, her eyes twinkling playfully. Holly laughs and buries her face in her hands, letting out a muffled groan. "Care to explain yourself, Dr Stewart?"

"What can I say really, except..." Holly moves her hands away from her face and curls her fist up in front of her mouth. "You light up my world like nobody elseeeee," Holly sings dramatically, making Gail burst out laughing. "The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmedddd..."

"Stop," Gail laughs, clutching at her stomach, and kicking at Holly's leg with her feet. "My god you're such a nerd. Like, the absolute biggest one I've ever met, and that's saying something since I know, Dov."

"I'm awesome and you know it," Holly mumbles through a yawn, and absently rubs at her eyes tiredly, bumping her glasses off-balance.

Gail's eyes soften as she watches Holly quietly for a few seconds. She knows Holly must be beyond tired, and yet here she is, staying awake and being dorky just to make Gail laugh. Taking care of her without asking for anything in return. It makes Gail's heart swell with appreciative warmth.

"You should head back to bed," Gail murmurs, feeling guilty. "It's late... well, early really, and we both have to be up again in a couple of hours."

Holly nods in agreement and stands, stretching a little. "You coming back too?"

Gail closes her eyes and swallows hard when she still sees the lingering images of her nightmare flashing in her mind. "I think I'm going to stay out here for a little bit longer," Gail says as she pushes herself off the couch, putting an earbud back inside her ear as she meets Holly's eyes. "That's if you don't mind?"

"Not at all." Holly's eyes are soft and concerned then as she takes a step towards Gail to run her hand up and down her arm comfortingly. Gail watches as her eyebrows knit together, a look of conflict washing over Holly's face briefly as she internally debates something. And then, "How about I stay for a bit too. I can keep you company, show you some more of my dance moves."

"You really should try and get some sleep," Gail protests weakly, even though she knows having Holly near has helped settle her some.

She purses her lips together in a tight smile. It feels like too much, the desire to ask Holly to stay, to ask for even more than Holly's already given, and Gail's never been the type of person who knows how to ask for what she needs. She doesn't know how to be clingy without seeming weak. She was always taught to pick herself up, dust off her knees and keep going. Independence was the key to survival growing up in the Peck-household.

"I won't sleep properly knowing you're out here anyway," Holly interjects, drawing Gail out of her thoughts. She closes the remaining space between them and plucks the other earbud from between Gail's fingertips and pops it in her ear, linking them together. "So just let me stay, Gail," Holly continues softly. "I want to stay."

Holly doesn't wait for her answer though; instead she twines her fingers with Gail's and tugs her forward, drawing Gail in towards her so that their bodies are pressed up against each other. Gail shudders at their sudden proximity, her breath hitching as Holly's other hand slides down to her hip to hold her steady.

"Holly..." Gail whimpers shakily, unable to meet Holly's eyes. It suddenly feels incredibly intimate, and Gail's reminded of gentle kisses stolen in the dim light of the interrogation-room; of feelings she hasn't processed yet, and questions she doesn't know the answers to.

"Shhh," Holly hushes, tilting her head forward so that their temples are resting together. "Tomorrow you can worry. But for now, just stop thinking, and just let me..."

Holly lets her sentence trail off as she starts to sway them gently, and Gail finds herself unable to do anything but follow along compliantly. The warmth radiating from Holly's body is soothing, and it makes Gail subconsciously press even closer, the gentle movement gradually lulling her racing thoughts.

The music plays enchantingly in the tiny space between them, and Gail feels her eyes fluttering closed as Holly's warm breath tickles against the shell of her ear as she softly hums the lyrics of the song to her, "Sail away with me honey, I put my heart in your hands. Sail away with me honey now, now, now..."

Gail lets her arm loop around Holly's shoulders, pulling her in tighter; her nose burying into the crook of Holly's neck and breathing in the sweet scent of her skin. Holly's lips are ghosting against her cheek as her fingertips slide from Gail's hip to rest at the small of her back, eliminating the last inch of space between them. There's something hypnotic and calming about the gentleness of Holly's voice filling her ears and Holly's touch holding her close, and it's only further emphasised as she feels Holly draw their entwined hands up to her chest so that Gail can feel the steady thrum of her heartbeat against her skin.

"Sail away with me. What will be will be..." Holly's voice continues, dropping to a low whisper as Gail's body melts further into her.

Gail knows it's a risk, to let herself trust someone so openly, and so easily, especially when her heart is already still so bruised, but something about Holly just feels right; she makes Gail feel safe and cared about in a way she never has before.

There's reassurance and certainty in each and every one of Holly's actions, and it makes Gail believe that Holly will keep her safe and grounded for as long as she needs; that Holly won't let her go until she's ready.

"I want to hold you now, now, now..."

Gail lets the words wash over her as she nuzzles closer, feeling content enough to let Holly lead them both for now.

She wakes up slowly, her eyes adjusting to the sunlight creeping in brightly through the window, and blinks groggily as she gathers her bearings. She notes that she's on the couch, with a blanket tucked over her as the smell of freshly brewed coffee invades her senses.

Gail lets her eyes close again and snuggles back into the warmth of the cushion her face is pressed against comfortably. She's aware of movement in the distance, water running; Holly showering, probably.



Gail jerks up, her head spinning at her abrupt movement and making her wince. Her body aches in exhaustion and she can feel a headache building behind her eyes as she digs the heel of her palms into them, but none of it seems to matter when all she can focus on is the fact that she fell asleep curled up in Holly's arms only a couple of hours ago.

There's absolutely no way she knows how to feel about that just yet.

"Morning Officer, good to see you're finally up," Holly greets, startling Gail enough that she drops her hands away from her face and looks up at Holly with wide, panicked eyes.

Gail averts her gaze at once, trying not to blush at the sight of Holly wearing nothing except a tiny robe, and manages to stutter out, "Morning."

"Sorry, I know how hideous I am first thing. Didn't mean to scare you," Holly says, her tone teasing, and Gail chances a sheepish glance in her direction, still feeling unsure at how she's supposed to act after everything that's happened.

"Sorry," Gail mutters bashfully.

"Relax, Gail," Holly instructs with an easy smile before turning on her heel and heading towards her bedroom, calling over her shoulder, "Go to the kitchen and get some coffee while I go transform into something less frightening. I'll be back out in a few."

Gail watches Holly retreat, and waits until the door closes behind her before she drops her chin to her chest and pinches the bridge of her nose tightly. "Stupid," she chides herself. "Really fucking stupid."

It's moments like these when Gail loathes how awkward she is, and wishes desperately that she had better social skills. She tries to shake it off as she forces herself to her feet and pads into Holly's kitchen, finding the coffee and a couple of cups already on the side waiting.

She pours herself a cup and hops up onto the nearest stool, reaching for her phone and checking for any updates on Sam, Chloe and Oliver. There's a voicemail from Frank saying that Sam's stable but still in the ICU, and that Oliver is being discharged. Gail breathes a heavy sigh of relief that they're both still alive; it's more than they had last night at least. There's no news on Chloe though, and Gail doesn't know if that's a good sign or bad.

She gets distracted a second later as Holly re-emerges from her room, dressed in black jeans and a green button-down shirt, and Gail manages a small smile this time as their eyes meet.

"Better?" Holly asks with a smirk, gesturing at herself.

Gail nods, taking a sip of her coffee to prevent herself from answering with something stupid again. Instead she settles for nudging a second cup of coffee in Holly's direction.

"Thanks," Holly says, accepting it gratefully and taking a long drink before nodding at the phone. "Any news?"

"Oliver's being discharged, Sam's still in the ICU and Chloe's condition doesn't seem to have changed," Gail says, her lips pursing together tightly in an apprehensive frown. "I really hope they pull through," she admits in a whisper, looking up into Holly's eyes.

"They will," Holly comforts, reaching out to cover Gail's hand with her own. "You law enforcement types aren't the sort of people who go down without a fight, you're too stubborn."

Gail smiles at that. "Yeah, I guess we are."

There's a silence that creeps in-between them then, and Gail feels her shoulders sagging under the building tension as their eyes keep meeting briefly before they both look away. The weight of everything that's been forgotten temporarily and left unspoken between them from the previous day suddenly feels unbearably stifling.

Holly clears her throat and pulls her hand back from where it's covering Gail's own; it feels unsurprisingly like rejection. It still stings though, and it makes Gail squirm from her stool, her eyes darting around the apartment in panic.

"I should get going," Gail mumbles feeling anxiety prickling up her spine, her eyes finding her uniform folded neatly on the chair by Holly's front door. "I've got an early shift."

"Gail, wait," Holly murmurs, jumping to her feet and following behind her quickly. "We should talk-"

"There's nothing to talk about," Gail retorts a little harsher than she intended to, and catches Holly's step faltering in surprise. She shrugs out of Holly's hoodie and reaches for her uniform shirt, keeping her eyes averted as she continues, "I appreciate everything you did for me last night, but I was just overwhelmed. I'm fine now, okay?" She can feel Holly's eyes burning into her, and it forces Gail to look up at her. "Seriously, I'm good. We're good. It's all good, Holly."

Holly stares at her blankly for a second, before shifting forward and reaching for her wrists. "You've buttoned your shirt up wrong," she says softly, pulling Gail's hands away, and reaching to undo them again.

The simple action undoes her completely, and Gail feels her defences deflate.

She covers her face with her hands, breathing out in frustration. "I'm sorry," Gail mumbles helplessly, dropping her hands when Holly tells her she's all done, and glances down to see her shirt now buttoned evenly.

"It's alright," Holly tells her as she reaches around Gail's neck and straightens her collar. Gail watches her intently, taking in the calmness behind Holly's dark eyes as Holly smoothes her hands over her shoulders and down her arms, before meeting her eyes again. "I'll take you to the station, just give me a minute to grab my bag, okay?"

Gail feels her jaw tightening in regret as she nods her head meekly, and watches as Holly turns and walks away from her without saying another word.

The drive to the station passes in complete silence. Gail presses her forehead to the window and closes her eyes, letting the coolness of the glass soothe her. Holly glances at her occasionally but says nothing, her mouth opening to words she can't seem to fully muster, before closing tightly again.

Gail knows she should say something – anything at this point – but her mind is blank and her throat feels like it's getting tighter every time she tries to swallow. She doesn't know how to do this, to be allowed to fall apart in someone else's presence, to show them her weakest parts, and then face them again as if nothing has changed. As if they don't see her now like she's some fragile, broken mess that's just barely keeping it all together.

Something has shifted in the delicate balance of their relationship, and Gail isn't sure she knows what that means, let alone what she's supposed to do about it. It feels like she's stumbled onto a road she's never travelled and the map's flown out of her hands, leaving her only with her intuition to point her in the right direction. The problem, Gail knows, is that her basic instinct in situations like this, ones that involve feelings that make her chest constrict so tightly that she feels like she can't breathe, is to run. It doesn't matter where to as long as she can escape; denial and avoidance are friends she knows far too well.

"We're here," Holly announces, cutting the engine, and flicking her eyes over to Gail.

She expects to see anger or annoyance written across Holly's face, but instead Gail finds Holly's eyes as soft and gentle as always. Her mouth curling up in a small lopsided smile as she waits patiently for Gail to make the next move.

"I'm sorry I'm such a jerk," Gail blurts without thinking. It takes them both a little by surprise, and Gail feels her cheeks flush at her unexpected outburst.

"You're not a jerk," Holly says, grinning at her fondly as she shifts more in her seat so she can look directly at her.

Gail shrugs sheepishly. "I am a little."

"Maybe just a little," Holly agrees with a smirk. "But listen, Gail, I know things between us are..." She pauses, waving her hand about between them searchingly. "New, complicated, uncertain, whatever you want to call it. And if you need time and space to process and figure things out, then just tell me that's what you need. Don't just shut me down and shut me out. I'll give you all the time you need but I'm not a mind-reader, okay?"

Holly reaches over the space between them daringly, her fingertips skimming across Gail's wrist as they search out her hand, and squeeze gently. She ducks her head, grinning brightly as she forces her way into Gail's line of vision. It pushes a smile onto Gail's face instantly, and fills her with a sense of relief.

"I'm so bad at this," Gail laughs mirthlessly, tilting her head back against the headrest as she turns to stare into Holly's eyes. "I have no idea what I'm doing."

"None of us do, Gail," Holly tells her with a shrug. "We just have to try and find a way to make it through each day doing the best we can."

Gail lets her eyes drop down to their hands, watches as Holly's thumb rubs soothingly across the back of her knuckles, and feels a wave of calmness wash over her. It should have been harder than this, Gail thinks, but then Holly has never made anything about spending time with her difficult. She's always been patient and easy-going. She's never looked at Gail like she's expecting her to do something other than what she's already doing; like she's not just waiting and watching for Gail to slip and mess everything up.

It's terrifying and exhilarating all at once.

"Thank you for last night," Gail breathes, letting her eyes flick back up to Holly's. "And for these last couple of months. You've been great and I know I'm not the easiest person to deal with. And I'm sorry I was such an ass this morning, I didn't mean to be, I just..."

Holly smiles at her knowingly, not needing Gail to say more. "Nobody truly worth knowing is easy to deal with, Gail. Plus, I'm a scientist, I like a good challenge."

Gail laughs as Holly wiggles her eyebrows at her, easing away the last of the tension from between them. "Thanks for being-"

"Nerdy?" Holly quips, cutting her off.

"No," Gail shakes her head with a coy smile, her eyes softening with affection. "I was going to say 'you'. Thanks for being you, Holly."

"You're welcome," Holly murmurs, surprise written across her face. "And I meant it, Gail, take all the time you need. I'm not going anywhere. We're friends first and foremost, and nothing is ever going to change that, okay?"

Gail stares at Holly intently, looking for signs that this beautiful woman in front of her isn't just something she's made-up in her head. It all feels so easy, so surreal. It can't really be happening to her; Gail Peck doesn't ever get into situations with people who are this problem free. She gets naïve, sweet guys likes Chris who still don't trust her, or Dov and his misplaced feelings, or Nick and his expectations of the past and abandonment when things don't go how he wants.

Holly pulls their hands from Gail's lap up to her mouth and dusts a chaste kiss to Gail's knuckles, pulling Gail from her thoughts. "You're going to be late if you just keep sitting here and staring, Officer," she murmurs softly.

Gail nods dumbly, and squeezes Holly's hand one final time as she unbuckles her belt and reaches for the door. She stops at the last second to look briefly back at Holly and takes a minute to carefully commit every inch of Holly's face in this moment to her memory. "I'll call you soon, okay?"

"Whenever you're ready, I'll be here," Holly replies, flashing Gail a final reassuring smile. "You can buy me dinner or something."

"I'd like that," Gail says, the words falling from her mouth honestly and making Holly smile even brighter.

It's not much, but it feels like progress.

The station is eerily quiet.

Even when it gets busy it still feels like there's something off. Gail thinks that maybe it's because Ford's presence lingers hauntingly in the police tape that marks off some of the station; a stark and obvious reminder of what has happened. Technically, she knows he's dead. They all do. But with Sam and Chloe still in the hospital, and Oliver, Andy and Dov missing from the station, it feels like he's clinging on and refusing to let go.

It jars her focus and only serves to make her headache worse.

By the time her shift is finally over, her body aches, and her eyes feel tired, and yet Gail knows that closing them will only cause her more agony than it's worth. Her mind won't quiet even for a second, and she knows that it's the guilt that's keeping her tormented.

It's probably rude to turn up unannounced, Gail thinks, maybe even insensitive given that Oliver was only discharged this morning, but it feels like the only logical thing she can think to do. She needs to do this before it eats away at her any more than it already has.

Celery looks surprised to see her when she opens the door to Oliver's apartment, but she covers it up quickly with a friendly smile and invites Gail inside.

Oliver's stretched out on the couch watching TV, looking a little tired and sore, and it makes Gail stumble in her approach.

"Well this is a surprise," he greets happily when he spots her, waving her further into the room and gesturing at the empty chair.

Gail holds up the bag of burgers and fries she'd picked up on her way over as explanation. "Thought you'd be missing the good stuff after suffering through that crap the hospital serves."

"This is why you're my favourite rookie, Peck," Oliver says, accepting the food hungrily as Gail sits down.

Gail quirks an eyebrow in disbelief. "I thought Dov was your favourite?"

"Today's Friday, Peck. You're my favourite on Friday. Epstein's my favourite on Tuesday's," Oliver deadpans dryly, making Gail roll her eyes as he takes a bite of his burger and hums happily.

They eat in comfortable silence for a few moments, Oliver too absorbed with the food to say anything else. It isn't until he spots her playing with her fries more than actually eating them that he finally speaks again.

"It's not that I'm not glad to see you, Peck, even more so because you brought treats, but what are you really doing here? It's a Friday night, don't you have plans to drink or sleep or something?"

Gail feels the guilt creeping back into her chest, it sits heavily, constricting her throat and making her eyes sting. "I should have been with you," she whispers, daring to meet his eyes for a moment, only to turn her face away as she feels tears threatening to fall. "If I'd been there then maybe he wouldn't have taken you, and maybe everything would have turned out differently. I should have been there, and I'm so sorry that I wasn't."

"Hey," Oliver soothes, sitting up and reaching a hand out to cover her knee. "Don't think like that, darling. Ford was out to get us no matter the cost. If it hadn't of been me it would have been somebody else on his list. And I'm fine, see? It's just a couple of little scratches." Oliver tilts his head so Gail can see the neat line of stitches across his cheek. "This wasn't your fault."

"I didn't back you up, Ollie," Gail breathes, shaking her head and reaching up to wipe angrily at her eyes. "I should have been there to back you up, like you were for me. Like you always are for all of us."

"Listen to me carefully, okay. I know you've got my back. I trust you. You're a good officer and a good person, Gail," Oliver says, patting at her leg with each sentence to emphasise himself. "Look at you now, you wouldn't be here if you didn't have my back, and I know that. I don't blame you, and you shouldn't either. So, stop beating yourself up over this, that's an order, Peck, understand?"

Gail manages a smile when Oliver grabs a tissue from the box and playfully dabs at her face, making her roll her eyes as she snatches at the tissue. "Understood, sir."

"Good," Oliver grins in triumph, and settles back on the couch."Now pass me those fries if you're not going to eat them. Oliver Shaw is not a man who wastes good food, especially when it's free, so..."

Gail smiles and makes a point to roll her eyes even as she throws one over at him. Oliver catches it in his mouth effortlessly and holds his arms up, cheering loudly in celebration, and drawing Celery into the room to see what's happening.

"I'm going to pretend that you're resting and not messing around," she says, mock glaring at them both.

"Sorry," Gail retorts sheepishly as Oliver just pops another bite of burger into his mouth.

"Why don't I go make you two some green tea," Celery says, moving into the room and taking away their cups of soda, and stopping to press a kiss to Oliver's forehead. "You both need a good night's sleep, and this sugary stuff isn't going to help."

Gail watches as Celery tidies up their mess, accepting the kind squeeze to the shoulder she receives as Celery passes by her on the way to the kitchen, before regarding Oliver's content smile carefully.

"She's nice," Gail offers up as she catches Oliver's gaze again. "You two look worn into each other already."

Oliver's eyes glaze over with affection as he looks off towards the kitchen. "What can I say? I'm a lucky guy."

Gail thinks about how happy Oliver looks now compared to how miserable he'd seemed the previous year. He'd tried to hide it, never spoke about it with her, but she'd seen the sadness in his normally bright eyes when things between him and Zoe were falling apart. Gail hadn't understood how Oliver could be so brave, to pull himself together after his marriage ended and just take the risk of moving on with open arms. He hadn't tried to protect himself against getting hurt again, he'd simply let himself be happy. He'd let Celery into his life and embraced the change she brought with an open heart.

Gail wishes she knew how to be like that, wishes she could just forget all the hurt and bad memories and just start over. Oliver makes it look easy, but Gail knows that it's not. Maybe, Gail thinks, Oliver is just made of stronger stuff that she is.

"You're thinking way too hard for somebody so young," Oliver interjects, breaking her from her thoughts. "Something troubling on your mind, Peck?"

She's never really been one for heart-to-hearts. Growing up her parents weren't really the tactile, family-sharing type, and Gail's never really had friends, not real friends at least, who she's felt she could confide every thought and feeling with – well, until Holly, Gail realises – and she doesn't really know how these conversations are supposed to start. But Oliver is looking at her expectantly, and she finds herself wanting to let it all out.

"How can you be so sure you're doing the right thing," Gail starts warily, pausing briefly when Oliver's eyes twitch in surprise that she's actually going to talk and not just curb his question with a snarky remark. "That things are going to work out for you guys? I mean you've only known each other a couple of months. Aren't you worried it's suddenly all going to go horribly wrong and fall apart?"

Oliver shakes his head, and shrugs. "That's the thing about life, darling, there is no right thing or wrong thing, there's only doing what makes you happy. Finding that person who shares your good times and sticks around during your bad." He nods his head in the direction of the kitchen. "Having someone laughing at your worst jokes and being happy just to see you no matter how battered and beaten you look. It's the little things that make all those 'what ifs' not seem worth worrying over."

"It sounds too good to be true," Gail says, idly wringing her hands together. "Like, some cheesy romantic-comedy where the couple beats all the odds and lives happily ever after. It's like some exaggerated version of love we've been made to believe exists, when real life isn't actually kind like that. People hurt each other; they lie, they cheat, they make mistakes over and over again."

"I forgot how cynical you are," Oliver chuckles. "It's about taking a chance, Peck. Otherwise what's the point? You might get hurt, but you also might not. You've got to put trust out there to get something back in return. I mean, we go out there all day, every day, with people like Ford taking shots at us, if we can't find comfort and love with somebody during our brief moments of peace, then what's the point in the risks we take, huh? If we've only got ourselves to care about, what are we really fighting so hard to serve and protect? I want a reason not to die out there. I want something – somebody – to live for."

Gail remembers then, a frazzled and irrational Holly pulling her into the interview room, worried and frantic, and babbling on way too much about danger and Gail's safety. She remembers how Holly came back to the station a second time just to see that she was still okay with her own eyes – despite them having kissed only a couple of hours earlier – like Holly couldn't stop worrying until she'd reassured herself again and again that Gail was still alive and breathing.

She knows that Holly truly cares about her, but Gail thinks that actually letting her might just be the scariest thing in the world.

"I kissed Holly," Gail admits quietly, looking up nervously at Oliver.

Oliver's eyes widen a little in shock. "Your friend from the forensics lab?"

"Yeah," Gail says, her tongue darting out to wet her lips. "It was after Ford shot at us. She came to see me, she was worried, and I kissed her."

Oliver stares blankly back at her for a few seconds, and then claps his hands together and points at her as he smiles. "That explains why you were acting weirder than you normally do. You thought I was talking about you, when we were talking about how relationships start?"

Gail nods, feeling heat creeping up her neck. It feels weird talking about this with Oliver, but at the same time she doesn't want to stop. She wants to know how to move forward. She doesn't want to be stuck, and Oliver seems to be willing to give her a helping hand. She can't turn her back on this now despite how uncomfortable she feels.

"Peck, I've known you for four years now," Oliver continues. "I've seen you with Diaz and Collins, and you've never seemed this anxious. You obviously care about her, a lot, and that's a good thing." He studies her for a second, and his voice turns soft as he asks, "Does she make you happy?"

"I think so..." Gail shrugs nonchalantly, and then catches herself getting defensive, and nods her head decisively. "Yeah, she does. Happier than I've been in a long time actually."

"So then, there's your answer; take a chance, Gail. What's the worst that could happen?"

"I could be wrong about how I'm feeling and lose a really good friend," Gail retorts, looking at Oliver desperately. "And I really don't want to lose her."

"If she cares about you as much as it seems she does, and you care about her as much as I can obviously see that you do, then that won't happen because you won't let it," Oliver reassures.

"I don't know..." Gail trails off as Celery re-enters the room carrying a tray of tea and stops to pass her one. The heat seeps into her palms as she cradles the cup in her hands, and she tries not to think about how her stomach has tightened up in an anxious, worried knot.

Oliver takes a sip of his own tea, throwing his arm around Celery and pulling her into his side as she joins him on the couch. He waits for Gail to look over at them before offering her a smile and a final piece of advice.

"Remember, they call it a leap of faith for a reason, Peck."

Gail looks down at the steam rising from her tea. She can't decide if it's courageous or foolish to make such a jump without the security of a parachute, without planning it first and knowing if somebody's going to be there to catch her as she comes to land. But then again, she wonders absently, maybe that's the point. Maybe you're not supposed to fall gracefully. Maybe love is supposed be like free-falling; fast and scary and out of control.

If it is, Gail thinks, she might be in trouble already.