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You Deserve to Be Protected

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And if you are someone who still carries hope in your heart, kindness in your eyes and generosity in your fingertips despite terrible people happening to you, thank you. You are one of the few truly pure things left in this world, and you deserve to be protected. — Nikita Gill

 

 

Erin woke up to a firm hand gripping into her side — too tightly actually, in another split second — in an extraordinary painful way. Registering what was happening, she tried to wrestle away from her fiancee. Twisting around to wake her only appeared to aggravate the nightmaring woman more, forcing her blunt nails into the skin of Erin’s hip juncture. Yelping, she freed her other arm from under her own body in a sleepy stupor, attempting to release the grip. A scream from her partner startled her heart and Erin had about exhausted her patience at two in the morning.

 

“Jill!” She shouted, slugging her shoulder and making the blonde gasp, sitting up at such a breathy panic, it was as if something was possessing her. Knowing it was an actual possibility given their line of work, Erin wrestled Holtzmann back to the mattress, though her sweaty skin was slippery. She was wild, thrashing, fighting the hold. Holtzmann was sobbing loud screeches of confusion and unexplained anguish.

 

Erin stared at her blown pupils in the dim light of the ambiance created by strands of LED stars around the room. She drew her brows together in concern. Trying to at least calm her enough so she was breathing instead of choking on her anxious cries, Erin tapped a steady rhythm on her chest and the movement seemed to click the blonde back to life. Still not one hundred percent convinced that only her fiancee was present, she decided a simple questioning method would satisfy the slight chance that she wasn’t. Going for a detail from their life that only the real Holtz would know, Erin demanded in a gentle yet stern voice, “Holtzmann — what’s my thigh tattoo?”

 

“The vitriol symbol,” The engineer replied breathlessly, gaze darting around as she tried to regulate her breathing. Satisfied with the response and the woman’s visible attempts at settling herself, Erin was about to climb off the top of her. Unfortunately, Holtz beat her to the action, shoving her off a little harsher than she needed to and stampeding to the bathroom, closing the door with a loud bang.

 

“Really?” Erin mumbled, flicking on the nightstand light with trembling fingers and glaring down at her hip. A searing red handprint was visible, followed by three sharp ticks that had broken the skin, though blessedly, blood wasn’t pouring down onto the hem of her satin sleep shorts. Glancing at Holtz’s side of the bed, she noted the lightweight blanket had been tossed to the floor, while her pillowcase was soaked in sweat. Frowning, she wondered just how long her psychological torment had been going on. Her firm grasp on Erin might’ve been her body’s way of asking for help when her mind couldn’t. Feeling a little less frustrated, knowing that the event hadn’t just happened randomly and that it had clearly been a near act of trauma-induced warfare on her fiancee, Erin took a few breaths of her own, ensuring she was physiologically reacting appropriately as well.

 

Moving swiftly, Erin adjusted the thin tank top she’d been wearing as pajamas to cover the bruising flesh, then stripped the mattress of the damp sheets. Always having a few extra sets on hand, she finished pulling a fresh pillowcase onto Holtz’s side. Just as she smoothed the wrinkles down, the blonde came out of the master bath in just a clean baggy t-shirt. Her hair was tossed high in a ponytail while she was sniffing and red-faced in the glow of the bedside light.

 

Erin puffed the pillows and patted the space on the mattress she wanted her favorite person, despite the circumstance, to strip her guilt away with the bedding.

 

When she continued to stand awkwardly, Erin tried a more sweet, direct approach. “C’mere, honey,” She whispered and Holtz shook her head, pointing to the hallway. “Do you need a drink?” A nod had Erin standing to follow her, but Holtzmann simply shook her head once more, heading out of the room on her own.

 

Feeling put-out but knowing it wasn’t personal, the auburn-brunette remembered to keep her emotions in check. Tugging a lightweight summer quilt from the floor over her bare legs, she curled in on her opposite side of her newest non-bust related injury and tried to force her body back to sleep, anticipating that Holtz wouldn’t be joining her again that night.

 

Her right index and middle finger fondled the precious metal on her left ring finger as she contemplated the brief interaction with Holtz and how her attitude made her feel. Knowing that the following day was a Friday, and the blonde would prefer to talk about whatever was plaguing her in a group therapy session, rather than with her future wife, did upset her to an extent.

 

“Erin?” A near whisper of a mumble got her attention again a half hour after the ordeal, just as she was about to doze off. Blinking blearily at the doorway, she found Holtz standing looking quite small, clutching the bottom of her shirt and keeping her eyes fixed on the floor. “Can I come to bed?”

 

“Of course you can, sweetheart,” Erin sighed in light sympathy, surprised that she was willing to come over. The sheepish woman slowly shuffled to her side of the bed, rolling onto the clean sheets and leaving significant distance between them at first, but then sitting up to close it.

 

She lifted Erin’s tank top, staring at the ugly marks she’d left on her fiancee, shaking her head, letting a tear loose. “I’m getting you some ice.”

 

“Thanks,” Erin replied through the ever-forming lump in her throat.

 

Holtz was off in another flurry, returning a few moments later with a pack wrapped in a cool wash cloth. Erin avoided making a face when the resident first aid agent placed it against her warm flesh. “I don’t even know what to say. Sorry doesn’t cover it.”

 

Wanting to say, “It’s okay,” while knowing that it really wasn’t — not for Holtzmann’s mental state, nor for it to have affected her partner the way it had, Erin shrugged. “I forgive you,” Seemed the best choice.

 

“I don’t want you to,” Holtz managed through her tight throat. “I hate myse—“

 

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence,” Erin said loudly and affirmably, her brows drawing together. “Don’t you dare.”

 

“But I —“

 

Shaking her head with firm resolve, Erin clutched Holtzmann’s hand and bit her lip. “I love you, through thick and thin — better or worse. I know we haven’t officially said that yet, but it matters. You can’t hate yourself if I love you. Because then what does my love mean?”

 

“It means everything, Erin!” Holtz snapped defensively, “Everything!”

 

“Okay, then.” Erin’s eyes fluttered a few times as she hoped she made her point. “Your love means everything to me, too. But if you hate yourself — how do you have it in you to love me? Hm?”

 

Still holding the ice to the sensitive area, Holtz crawled over Erin so she was sharing her side of the bed. The older woman turned her head slightly, pressing a long kiss to her forehead, then lips.

 

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. You were sleeping, and in the middle of a very intense nightmare. I forgive you. And I love you. If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen. If not — I’ll be truthfully frustrated by that, but respect your decision.”

 

She watched Holtzmann thinking before the bitty blonde buried her head into her lover’s neck. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow after therapy, promise. It’s been reoccurring. Need to talk to Dan. I’m sorry. Promise, tomorrow.”

 

She was speaking in a monotone expression, words barely flowing together, but Erin forced herself to accept the answer. “Okay. Tomorrow then. How about we try to sleep for tonight, hm?”

 

Yawning, Holtz agreed, knowing there was a long day ahead. She tucked her head into Erin’s neck after tossing the soggy icepack onto the pile of dirty sheets. Her clutch on Erin’s shoulder was relaxed and the thigh wedged between hers was innocent. “I’m sorry. I love you.”

 

“I love you, too,” Erin yawned in response as she finally started to drift back to sleep.

 

X

 

Erin winced as her jumpsuit scratched against her hipbone. If it hadn’t been summer, she probably wouldn’t have noticed, but the hot weather and all their gear led to an absence in clothing underneath her uniform. Even in the first few days of the season, towards the end of June, the New York Cityscape was already gross with humidity and temperatures verging on the nineties. With a minimum fifteen pounds of nuclear equipment strapped onto her person, despite Holtz’s best cooling technology, doing their job just wasn’t as much fun when it was so miserably warm.

 

“You know how Uber’s got that surge pricing? I say we do the same thing for temperatures above seventy-five,” Patty mumbled to her as Abby trailed behind them. The readings on her latest upgraded PKE meter were showing very little in terms of disturbance while wandering around an abandoned property in the very northern most boundary of Queens.

 

“This bust is feeling like it’s gonna be a bust,” Erin commented, tugging at her collar. “I say we charge double for not doing anything. I could have had that article finished by now and not had anything to do for the weekend.”

 

Abby restarted the machine, wondering if there was a technical glitch in the upgrade or if they’d really driven an hour and a half in traffic on the ninety degree, seventy-percent humidity day for nothing. “Let’s do one more sweep.”

 

Trampling around the fenced in yard filled with scrap metal and other tetanus-inducing debris, Abby cried out, “It’s here!” Upon rebooting the meter. “Class five, at last one — radar says it’s close. Trap or obliterate, ladies?”

 

“Obliterate — Holtzy’s got a good ten in traps she ain’t doin’ anything with,” Patty insisted.

 

“Alright, Er — you recording for her?”

 

“No,” The scientist replied simply, not stiffly, thought that was how she was feeling.

 

There was a quick flicker of brown and blue eyes her way, but neither of her friends commented as Erin lifted her latest side arm from it’s holster near her bruised hip. A miniature, caliber gun had the power of a nuclear-infused tank. Erin had been the only one brave enough to try it out when her fiancee had Frankenstein’ed the hell out of the group in a totally wicked case of mad science behavior at the end of winter. Though it really should only have been used in apocalypse style events, such as the Battle of Times Square or the TunnelGate, as Patty had historically categorized their largest-scale busts, Erin had taken to using it whenever obliteration was the preferred mode of removing ghosts from a scene.

 

Holtzmann had later outfitted the small, half-scale gun with a bipod and a scope, quadrupling Erin’s accuracy in field tests. She was essentially unstoppable with the tiny shooter, making the actual ghost fighting almost…dull at times when there was a single entity.

 

“Girl, you gotta use that thing? C’mon, we been trampin’ around here forever, let us have some fun, too.” Patty pouted.

 

Erin pressed her lips to the side and loaded the weapon back into her holster, taking the wand from her proton pack to wrangle instead of destroy. Not showing any signs of passive aggression, as she really could have used a good blast, she nodded to Patty, who thanked her and took what looked like a laser pointer out of her pocket. The tiny device was capable of shining a stream that used similar technology as Holtzmann’s emergent gravity machine, without creating dark matter with a hollow chamber.

 

“If we ever find this damn ghost. We need Holtz to make some pellets or some sort of bait for times like these.”

 

Erin shook her head. “Nooo! Don’t tell her that. All her theories have always led to mass spawning when I’ve run the numbers.”

 

Just as Patty was about to make a joke about Holtz spawning, a chill, despite the heat and humidity, ran up their backs, letting them know they had a guest. A pop in Erin’s ears confirmed that they were dealing with a high class, powerful ghost. She cringed when it materialized in front of them — the form of a woman, looking most a dark-haired, lolling creature-woman from a C rated horror movie. Wondering how something that looked so non-threatening could test them, she wished she hadn’t when it rolled it’s head backwards, letting out a screech that was a pitch Erin wasn’t sure dogs could even hear. “Holy shit.”

 

“Oh my god, I think I’m gonna be off balance for a week,” Abby complained, trying to keep herself steady as the sound pierced her cochlea.

 

“Boo, that just ain’t necessar—ahhh!” Patty yelled as the female form darted towards her, letting out all sorts of horrible, squawking noises.

 

The most focused after the audial attack, Erin gave a blast with her proton wand, sending the ghost flying back a few feet and giving Patty time to turn around and aim her small weapon up.

 

“Oh, you gon’ be a dead ghosty by the time I’m through with you!”

 

Abby hauled herself together and stood directly across from Erin, firing her stream up and helping Erin to capture the class five spirit.

 

“For something so small, she’s awful stubborn.”

 

“You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you Erin,” Her best friend teased.

 

“Sush,” She stuck her tongue out and Patty fired her weaponized gravity beam twice, with the ghost flickering out of their time stream once before reappearing and being completely obliterated.

 

“Man, this is almost getting too easy,” Abby complained as she dodged a rain of ectoplasm and checked the PKE meter, confirming there were no additional spooks in the air. “Holtzmann’s shit is amazing, but it’s too effective. Takes away the thrill of the hunt.”

 

“Pft, you know, lately — I’m alright with a low-key bust,” Erin admitted. The former thrill junkie in her was almost in remission.

 

“Don’t tell me you don’t wanna do this anymore,” Patty wondered as she tucked her favorite weapon away and slid her pack from her shoulders, rolling them back. Carrying the straps, she listened as Erin attempted to articulate what her reasoning was.

 

“It’s not that. I just…things are kind of tense, right now. Lately it’s been…just not the same, with Holtz. I, probably shouldn’t be talking about this.” Her gaze was locked to the weeds growing out of the cracks in the cement as they walked the perimeter of the facility and headed back to the authorities a block away. She felt guilty discussing the details of her relationship with one of their co-workers, knowing the other two had to work with her daily and were also her best friends.

 

“Hey, it’s okay to talk about it, alright?” Abby assured her. “We’re not going to think anything less of either of you. Maybe we can help. Or maybe we can just listen, but we’re here for you if you want us to be.”

 

Biting her lip, Erin shrugged with a single shoulder. “Maybe we can get drinks and I can loosen myself up enough to really get emotional about it.”

 

“Sure, but — if you’re worried about talking to us about Holtzy, wouldn’t you be worried about going out without her?” Patty wondered.

 

Erin rolled her fingers against her palm. “She won’t go out tonight.”

 

“Well, I’mma invite her, that way it’s her choice,” Patty insisted. “And if she does come, then we’ll figure out a way to talk about it. If not, then you can let loose. But I don’t wanna just not invite her.”

 

“She won’t come, but fine,” Erin nodded as Patty slipped her cell phone out of the protected pocket near her chest. “And she probably won’t answer.”

 

As her fiancee predicted, Holtz didn’t pick up her phone. Patty left her a cheery message but shot Erin an understanding look as they reached the officers who’d called them into work.

 

The drive back to Manhattan was quiet, though Erin’s thoughts were loud enough to bounce off the inside of the remolded hearse. As Patty drove and Abby commented on what they could do with some of the ghosts they had in traps, Erin pressed her forehead to the window of the passenger seat. It steamed up from the heat of her body against the cool of the glass with the AC blasting.

 

About halfway through, the bluetooth in the car activated as Patty’s phone rang and the image stored for her contact information of Holtz’s face in a ridiculous selfie appeared on the screen.

 

“Hey, baby girl. How’s it going?” Patty questioned. “You’re on speaker in the car, by the way.”

 

“Oh — hey guys,” Her voice was a temporal cadence that Erin knew meant she’d spent the majority of her group therapy time crying, giving away that it hadn’t been as therapeutic as she’d hoped. With no knowledge of what it was she had been crying over, Erin had no way of knowing if the evening would bring any closure or continued misery. Either way — She really didn’t want to be around for it if Holtzmann wasn’t willing to talk.

 

“Alright. Um — thanks for the offer to go out, but I think I’m just going to stay in tonight. Erin, you okay with that?”

 

“Well, I’m not going to force you to come out if you’re not up for it,” She answered as politely as she could. “There’s stuff for pasta or stir fry in the fridge and soup in the freezer, make sure you eat something.”

 

“I will.”

 

“You sure baby? We can roll by and pick you up,” Patty tried to get her to join them.

 

“I’m sure, I’ll see you guys Monday.” Her tone was flat and the three women exchanged worried glances. “Erin, you’re going out?”

 

“Jill, I can come home—“

 

“No, no, Er, I’m fine. I’m just not up for drinking tonight. If you want to go out, please do — don’t let my choice affect you.”

 

Not wanting to argue in front of their friends, and truly wanting to go out with them sans her fiancee, Erin played cool and sweet. “If you need anything, please just call, okay, sweetheart?”

 

“Okay,” Holtz’s voice went from sounding apathetic to small. “Love you guys.”

 

“We love you, too, Holtzy,” Patty stated before ending the call.

 

They made way back to the firehouse, getting changed into whatever they’d had on earlier in the day — for Erin, a pair of snug fitting jean capris and a breezy, black tank top had been her research attire with cute sandals that had little plastic bows across the top under the toe. Straightening her hair out from her bust ponytail, she waited for her colleagues to change before they headed up a few blocks to a bar they were regulars at. Though they didn’t care for the sports that were always on the big screens, the bartenders knew them well and they often had free rounds and first dibs on billiards or karaoke if events were going on.

 

Settling into a booth where they could talk and Erin could open up privately, they each started with a mixed drink that tasted like the beach. After downing it and starting her second and digging into the fried pickles they’d ordered to share, Erin took a heavy sigh and started to describe the last few weeks.

 

“Her nightmares have been back. But I don’t think they’re trauma-related, based on some cryptic statement she made last night.” Chewing her lip before rubbing them together, Erin explained, “She’s been so quiet. It’s not unusual for her not to talk, but just —  no music, no dancing, no random noises…lots of reading, research…drafting, even, which you know she hates. I feel like if I go into a room, she waits a little bit so it doesn’t look like she’s running out, but then a few minutes later, she goes somewhere else.”

 

Abby added, “I feel like she’s been keeping to herself at work.”

 

Patty agreed. “She’s not been nearly as cuddly or affectionate as she usually is lately.”

 

“And that’s how it’s been at home, too.” Erin’s face heated up a bit as she recalled, “Back when she was struggling with the PTSD, we had that…stagnant phase, but even then she was clingy and snuggly. Now it’s just like — good night, kiss. Almost forced. I just…She’s always been so — abrupt with affection, it’s really noticeable when she scales it back, I guess.” Fiddling with her engagement ring, Erin tried to will away the tight feeling in her throat. “I don’t want to push her, but I really miss her normal bouncy self. It’s hard when she’s not there. I don’t realize how much I rely on her, emotionally, until she’s…not there.”

 

They theorized what could be plaguing Holtzmann until their next round came — accompanied by a double shot for each of them. After finishing both, Erin was lively and full of giggles, even without the sparkly former personality of her fiancee there to guide her.

 

When the bartender lit up the karaoke sign, she was first on stage, with Abby and Patty snorting their laughter as she belted out a very drunk Heart cover. Though it wasn’t meant to be spiteful, she did shout into the microphone, “Who will you run to when it all falls down? Who’s gonna pick you up off of the ground?” Her awkward dancing was a hit among the crowd of regulars who cheered her on, though in the back of the video on Patty’s phone, a patron could be heard wondering, “Where’s her girlfriend?”

 

She convinced Patty to sing with her next, promising her taller friend that she’d be Tom Petty so that Patty could be Stevie Nicks in the song she’d dragged her on stage to perform.

 

Taking a break after clomping around pleading to ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,’ Erin was given another round of shots on the house, bringing an additional rosy hue to her cheeks while she sauntered to the billiards table, challenging her friends to a two on one match. They hesitated — knowing the physics guru was the local expert at the game, typically able to perfectly calculate any angle to get her stripes into the pockets.

 

But in her inebriated state, her fellow ghostbusters thought they stood a chance. When Erin had almost lost, she let out a loud, Holtzmann-like sound, tossed her body on top of the pool table, then palmed all her remaining balls into the holes, whooping and rolling off most ungracefully.

 

Abby and Patty were practically choking on their laughter, the tallest of them taking the tab before convincing Erin that they’d had enough, walking into the muggy June night air. Already overheated from the alcohol, both women had her arms pinned to her sides as she’d attempted to remove her shirt on the sidewalk. “C’mon, lady — let’s get you home. Then maybe you can get Holtzy to take it off for ya.”

 

At the mention of her fiancee, Erin frowned and sighed. “I love Jill. She’s my baby girl. My crazy lady. But she’s so sad. And I can’t get into her head!”

 

“Well, tonight’s probably not going to be your time to shine on crawling in,” Abby advised. “In fact — do you wanna just crash with me? I’ll give her a call — that way you don’t wind up saying something you regret?”

 

“Mh-mh!” She shook her head rapidly, hair flying in her face as she screwed an expression of pure determination. “‘M gonna snuggle’er whether she wants it or not. Gonna kiss the dimple right off’a her face.”

 

Patty sighed and nudged Abby’s shoulder. “You heard the lady. Let’s get her home.

 

Erin stumbled onto the landing of the townhouse she shared with her fiancee in a flurry of movement and giggles. Kissing Patty and Abby squarely on their cheeks she promised them, “I love you.”

 

The shorter scientist snorted and shook her head. “I love you, too. Do you want me to help you get yourself into bed?”

 

“Nah,” Erin wobbled a little, grinning brightly as her eyes followed the boots on the first step to the lab, which was darkened, so she wasn’t down there. “M’baby’s home, might already be there — gonna make her put me to bed.”

 

“Okay,” Abby ruffled her hair and Erin mewled before hugging her tightly. Lowly, she mumbled against the woman’s ear, “Watch your tone with her, alright? If she’s on edge, there’s no sense making it worse.”

 

Patty added. “Gentle, baby, be gentle.”

 

“‘Kay. Thanks for the fun night. I’ll talk to you guys, ‘kay?”

 

Bidding them farewell, they stepped out and Erin managed to lock and arm the door before bravely taking the four steps up to the main level of the home. Peeking with dramatic flair around the corner of the archway that led from the hall to the main floor living room, Erin pressed her lips together and released them with a loud pop. Holtzmann glanced up with a failed bit-back smile betraying her with dimples popped in.

 

Erin raised an eyebrow at the sight of Holtz in the corner, sitting on one of the kitchen island stools with a clearly home-made easel standing on a drop cloth from the basement.

 

“Hey,” Holtz finally broke the humorously awkward silence. “Did you have fun with Abby and Patty?”

 

Erin continued to leer around the entryway, mostly to keep herself vertical. Wiggling her eyebrows playfully and not quite processing what she’d been asked, she made a giggly snorting noise. Holtz waited, for some sort of response from her fiancee until she posed a question instead of answering the one directed at her. “Are you painting?”

 

“Well, I’m certainly not doing headstands,” Holtz teased, sticking her tongue out. Erin finally sauntered over, prompting the blonde to jump up and move in front of her artwork, a brush clattering to the protected surface of the ground. “Wow, it smells like you had a good time, anyway.”

 

Her fiancee reeked of the cheap vodka she’d been pounding down at the bar and came to stand in front of the shorter woman with her lips pressed out. Holtz gave them a peck and drew Erin into a long hug which forced both of them to release the tension in their shoulders. “I fucking love you, know that, right?”

 

Holtz nodded, squeezing her middle and nuzzling her forehead against Erin’s shoulder. “I do.”

 

“You missed some bomb ass karaoke,” She said in a silly voice, kissing Holtz’s neck. “Are you painting the sky?”

 

Resting their foreheads together by standing on her tip toes, Holtz shook her head so their skin crinkled together, forcing more drunken giggles from Erin. “It’s literally nothing. Like — I’m painting the feeling of nothing.”

 

The giddy sound faded and Erin pulled back, trying to screw her face into something disconcerted in her state. “‘M not sure that sounds like the sound I like from my sweet lady.”

 

Holtz tilted her head a bit, wanting to enjoy drunk Erin but confused as to her sudden serious nature. “Why?”

 

“Sounds dark,” Erin grumbled as a response. She blinked slowly, then drew her hands to Holtz’s shoulders, rubbing them with aching slowness down her arms and to her hips. A shiver extended up her spine and piercing blue eyes bore into hers, despite a looming conflict. That was character development, for the blonde — to not force her gaze at the ceiling or floor and tug at her clothes under stress. “Show me?”

 

Holtzmann scratched her head and tugged at her earlobe before turning to stomp to her artsy corner, gesturing to a canvas.

 

Erin followed her, still pretty wobbly as she stared at a conglomeration of blue in different ends of the light spectrum. Hues dipped and dived all around the picture, wiggly lines and straight ones fighting for power. Squinting and focusing, Erin sighed and reached a hand for Holtz’s. “Jillian, it’s sad.”

 

“No, it’s nothing,” She insisted, squeezing fingers between her own.

 

“I want to snuggle you now,” Erin demanded when she turned away from the nothing and Holtz wasn’t terribly eager to fight off the request. They landed on the same couch that had been in Erin’s old living room apartment, Erin pulling her favorite engineer over her chest and nipping the top of her ear in playful drunkness before questioning, “Have you been feeling nothing?”

 

There was a long pause until Holtz finally confessed, “Sometimes.”

 

Erin let out a long breath. “Is it — something I can help with?”

 

“You do enough.”

 

“That doesn’t sound really comforting.”

 

Holtz slipped a hand up her fiancee’s shirt, touching the heated skin of her flat stomach, carefully avoiding the area she had unintentionally assaulted the night before. “Not your fault,” Erin assured her as she was emotionally sobering up as she pulled herself together enough to carry on the needed and important conversation. “Can you tell me more about it? The dream?”

 

Another expanse of quiet filled them while Holtz’s fingers drummed against her ribcage. Finally, with a charged breath of bravery, she admitted, “I keep losing you, in my sleep.”

 

Taking her hair from the low ponytail it was in, Erin twisted strands into a fist and out, around her fingers, twirling around her pinkies. “Leaving you?”

 

“Dying on me,” She whispered, trying not to cry. “Every time I sleep. In a bust — in a car, gunshot. You just keep…” Nuzzling her face further into the crook of Erin’s neck, Holtz mumbled, “When I wake up, I’m so scared. But it wasn’t real — and…then, all that fear, and…sorrow — wasn’t worth it. And, then I feel nothing.”

 

Starting to understand, Erin tilted her favorite girl’s face up for a long kiss. “I’m here, Jill. I don’t know how to make your nightmares go away but…” She shifted under her hand, pulling her own to her someday wife’s cheek, meeting her eyes tenderly. Kissing her sweetly once more she asked, “Did you feel that?”

 

Blinking twice and giving a slow nod, Holtz clutched onto her partner. “Can we cuddle outside on the balcony?”

 

“Mm, if you’ll get on my level,” Erin teased, gently pushing her fiancee off and tugging her to the kitchen for a doubleshot of tequila from the freezer.

 

In just a few minutes, they were on the just-big-enough-for-two hammock that Holtz had fashioned to sturdy bolts on the overhang. They each had a wine cooler in hand and Erin questioned, “Wanna get married at the end of the summer?”

 

“Mmm — yeah, end of summer sounds good. August?”

 

Sitting up and nearly flipping them over, Erin’s eyes went wide. “Really?” They’d been teasing one another bout a wedding date for so long, Erin was shocked that Holtz might actually consider her drunken offer.

 

“Really yourself?”

 

Laughing, Erin nodded. “Yeah,” She pressed their foreheads together, the limey scent on Holtz’s lips permeating her thoughts. “Married at the end of summer to my wife!”

 

“Okay,” Holtz chuckled and nuzzled into the lack of space Erin forced on her. “Yeah, let’s get married in August.”

 

Practically buzzing, Erin gave sloppy, open-mouthed kisses all over her nearly-married woman’s face, leaving wet marks that Holtz didn’t mind. “And I don’t want nothin’ half-assed, hear me?” She insisted, hiccuping a little. “No courthouse. Like a nice, real wedding. Not too fancy, but nice. Okay?”

 

“Whatever you want, beautiful,” Holtz said, her voice a little misty at the thought. “As long as our friends are there, I’ll wear what you want me to, carry some flowers — say some words, honey…” She sighed. “My head’s been a little fucked up lately. But — I think, yeah, this is gonna help.”

 

“Getting married is gonna unfuck you?” Erin asked inquisitively.

 

Snickering, Holtz shook her head. “No, but having something to look forward to is gonna help me deal with everything else. Locking you in for an eternal contract, too.”

 

“Hey,” Erin interrupted the silly moment to try and put on a sober brain for a moment. “Jill, you don’t think your dreams mean — like — I’m trying to leave you? Or I don’t want to be with you?”

 

The blonde blinked a few times. “They — just really have me scared, that’s all,” Holtz tried to downplay the feelings she’d had lately.

 

“Baby,” Erin drawled, “I know I’m wasted as heck right now, but — Jillian Holtzmann, good mood, bad mood, whatever — I fucking love you, okay? You are my sunshine, you are my baby, you are the love of my damn life and no matter what scary shit’s happening in your computer brain right now, please turn the love setting back on so you can feel mine comin’ at’cha. I fucking love you. Fucking love you. And I’m not leaving you. I’m not going anywhere.”

 

X

 

Erin woke up the following morning without a weight pressed against her back or a warm body beside her. Frowning, she blinked an eye at the time on the nightstand, noting it was only eight forty. Upon clearing the bleariness from her eyes, she also found a little note, two tylenol and Holtz’s favorite turtle water bottle on a coaster, filled with ice visible in through the turquoise, translucent plastic.

 

Reaching for the water, she graciously accepted the pills to dull the light pounding at the base of her skull, reading the loopy scrawl with a smile.

 

Professor Baby Doll — Went on a few errands. Should be back by noon. There’s a cinnamon doughnut on the counter and a frozen mocha in the fridge. Love you.

 

Wanting to be upset about not having her fiancee to whine about her self-induced hangover misery to, she couldn’t as she padded through the hall to find her favorite bakery treat.

 

Spotting her cellphone plugged in, she found a group chat from Abby and Patty wondering how she was faring. Replying that she’d be in better spirits by mid-day, Erin started ripping off tiny pieces of the cinnamon pastry, eating it slowly as not to get sick. She wondered what she could do with herself for three hours — and what Holtzmann could possibly have been up to. Licking her fingers of cinnamon sugar before washing them and taking the frozen beverage from the fridge, Erin sighed contently at the relieving sensation it brought her head after a few sips.

 

“Alright, girly, no pouting,” She told herself, “Think of all that you could get done.”

 

Stripping off the tank top and shorts she’d slept in, Erin analyzed the handprint on her side again, noting the yellowish tinge the bruise was getting towards the middle. Shrugging, she found a short, light sundress with a bit of a plunging V-lined neck. The pattern was a bit bizarre in nature, but compared to the majority of her fiancee’s clothing, it really was relatively tame.

 

Stepping into the living room, Erin stared hard at Holtz’s canvas — the nothing that was present there, completely breaking her heart again as she took it in. What did it all mean? Not wanting to snoop, the auburn haired woman retrieved her laptop from her downstairs workstation, completely ignoring the side behind it, which was in quite a state of disarray. Opening a document from the cloud she’d saved at work the afternoon before, she settled in with her cold coffee on the living room sofa, transcribing findings from an analysis she’d done of data to support one of her latest theories.

 

Not noticing how much time had passed, she jumped a little when her phone rang the distinctive tone set for Holtz, the Jurassic Park main theme. Moving to the kitchen and noting it was already quarter after twelve, she assumed the call was to explain the lateness of her engineer in coming home.

 

“Hey, Er,” Holtz stated when Erin answered. “Any chance you’ve eaten lunch yet?”

 

“No — I’ve been completely distracted all morning, actually.”

 

“Perf — I bumped into somebody that I used to go to MIT with, he’d love to meet you.” After giving detailed instructions on where they were planning lunch, Holtz promised they’d go out anywhere Erin wanted after.

 

Sighing and tugging a purse over her shoulder, Erin pulled a pair of sunglasses over her eyes and locked up, hailing the first taxi she saw. Dreading the sudden occasion, she tried to enjoy the fifteen minute cab ride of no interaction before meeting someone who was likely as bizarre as Holtzmann when they’d first met. Knowing that was hardly fair, both to Holtz and this mystery man, she stuffed the thought and tapped her knees nervously.

 

Spotting what could only be the MIT grad herself in a pair of long, striped pants that were covering her work boots and a sleeved shirt rolled to the elbow with a black vest over it, Erin wondered how she hadn’t passed out from heat exhaustion. Her hair was styled, though droopy in the humidity, and the glasses covering her eyes looked to have little dots of perspiration under the nosepiece. She was sitting next to an empty seat at a round table on the patio of the bistro they were about to dine at, the former researcher across from her wearing a more appropriate summer outfit of a green Lacoste polo and khaki shorts.

 

“Good afternoon,” Erin greeted, accepting the pack to her cheek with a blush before taking in the man at her side. A slender, six-foot-something pale brunette looked every bit his stereotype. Erin could hardly believe someone with such a normal appearance could have been a friend of her fiancee.

 

“Erin, this is Landon Sharp — he’s an executive researcher at the Tilman’s Science Corp, though was once a lowly graduate of Dr. Gorin.” In an exaggerated whisper she mentioned, “He’s the one who’s project blew up and put me in the hospital when I was a wee baby gay engineer.”

 

“Um, yeah, thanks, Holtz,” He snorted a laugh, taking Erin’s hand for a shake. “I’m pleased to say I’ve come a long way since that incident. After that reaming, I vowed to never make another careless mathematical error again.”

 

“Well, working for Tilman’s as an executive, you must’ve done alright by that. We’re a long way from San Fransisco, what brings you here?”

 

Landon shrugged. “Business. Trying to recruit some recent NYU grads to join us out west. I happened to be at the Chemical distributor this morning and literally bumped into this pistol carrying a liter of liquid Polonium.”

 

Erin shot Holtz a glare that she returned with a sheepish gaze and an innocent whistle. “I thought you agreed you’d have that delivered by the lead truck in the future? Do you not remember last October?”

 

“I was just adding it to my collection for delivery on Tuesday, babe, hakuna matata.”

 

“To her credit, she was wearing a lead suit,” Landon offered, his smirk a little less friendly than Erin scared for.

 

“Oh good, so she can die of heat exhaustion instead of radiation poisoning.”

 

The man’s chuckle was like a grate to Erin’s nerves while Holtz stretched back casually to drop an arm over her chair. Had it been so long since she’d had a healthy interaction with a man that they all wore her down, or was there something off about Landon?

 

“Have you seen Dr. Gorin recently?”

 

No, but I’m headed up there for a summit in July, so I’ll see her then. But — anyway, Erin, I really wanted you to join us because Landon here says that his company is about a month away from publishing something about possibly harnessing and creating dark matter here on earth. Isn’t that completely fascinating?”

 

“Oh!” Erin tried to keep a passive expression. “That is so interesting. How amazing would that be!”

 

Holtz met her gaze and it spoke a thousand words, mainly: I think he’s a crook but I don’t know what he knows and I need your words to throw him off even further.

 

“It’s — super complicated, but it’s likely that we’re going to be able to create and control dark matter in a matter of the next two years. My lab has been working on the math for years and we’re getting really close to a break through. We’ve got a prototype we’re turning on in a few weeks to see if we can create a hollow vortex. Suck it, CERN, right, Holtzmann?”

 

Dropping an okay sign with her thumb and forefinger, the blonde pressed her lips into a down-facing smile and nodded. “The Swiss can kiss my ass. Anyway — let’s here more about your theory.”

 

Landon scratched his stubble-free chin. “Ladies, it’s insanely theoretical. Really deep physics. I’m not sure you can handle it.”

 

Erin felt her eye twitch as her finger tips drummed against the visible skin of her wrist on the table. “I’m sure we’ll be able to keep up.”

 

Holtz slugged a thumb in her fiancee’s direction. “She’s on the editorial board for the Physics Review in York. My IQ might be off the charts, but Erin’s the real brains behind our operation. I just get to make the equipment to go along with her amazing work.”

 

Wishing for a moment alone with the engineer, Erin chewed the inside of her cheek, not wanting to deflect to appear modest. Landon looked skeptical.

 

“Basically — we’re looking at the Higgs boson particle and tweaking the math a little. It’s a series of highly complex equations. I’d have to send you copies to really explain it, but basically, this god particle is not what is responsible for the creation of the universe. It was an explosion of dark matter propelled by the Higgs boson, not the actual particle itself.”

 

Erin squinted her eyes a little at the sheer idiocy of the man in front of her. It seemed like just about anyone could run a grant funded lab. The science he was describing was older than she was — did this lunatic really think that if there was a way to make dark matter out of the god particle, that CERN wouldn’t have found it by now. Still, at least he was way off-base in terms of actually creating and harnessing the power of creation. Letting him continue to sprout false science somehow reassured her that this Landon and his lab weren’t about to implode the known universe.

 

Holtzmann’s face was predictably readable. Subtly was not her best friend. Her eyes were screwed into a hard stare with a perched brow that showed her disbelief while her lips pressed out and together.

 

“I feel like I should be getting more of a reaction out of you two,” Landon started to tease, folding his hands together and leaning forward. “Is it because I’m not a pretty girl explaining all this or what?”

 

“Yes,” Holtz replied at the same time Erin sharply stated, “Excuse me?” Shooting her girlfriend a look, Erin sighed. “Landon, the science you’re using is fifty years old and has been combed through more times than our president’s toupee.” Holtz let out a snicker, then Erin realized — she was probably speaking with one of his supporters. Especially given the lack of respectability behind his science. “CERN can’t even find a way to truly prove it exists, first of all — and I don’t mean the one blip on the radar in 2012. They still haven’t proved that even the spin version of the particle exists.”

 

Having been waiting for the counter-argument, Erin was completely unsurprised when Landon stated, “So a particle is theoretical, but ghosts exist. How about them damn apples.”

 

“Yes, how about that,” Erin smiled and crossed her arms, mostly to keep her fists tucked inside so she didn’t reach across the table to punch the smug expression off his face. “We’d be happy to escort you on a tour through our facility so we can show you one. We’ve got, what, a dozen in traps right now, Holtz?”

 

The blonde nodded and opened her mouth to speak when Landon scoffed loudly. “You call your girlfriend by her lab name? Her last name?”

 

About ready to kick his teeth in, Erin hissed, “I call my fiancee by her preferred name because I respect her enough to take her preferences into consideration when addressing her. Not that it’s any of your damn business.”

 

Landon rolled his eyes and leered at his former lab mate. “Wow. Holtzmann — I’ve always known you were sort of out there, but I didn’t know your crazy could be matched!”

 

Again, prepared to defend them, Holtz opened her mouth but a scathing Erin beat her to it. “Yeah, we’re both crazy. Mad scientists. Ghost hunters. Whatever you want to call us? At least our science is real, documented, and possible. We’ve got theories that might just literally blow your mind and enough research with supporting evidence to drown out your lab out in ten minutes. I’m sorry you think that using someone else’s decades’ old science that’s never proven effective is going to be your next big break —“

 

“Come off it, Dr. Gilbert,” He stated with a pitch that Erin felt indicated she’d struck a nerve somewhere. “The only reason your fake science has been considered is because you’ve got a pretty face and men like looking at it —“

 

“Oh you have no—“

 

“—They’re willing to give you the space you crave so that they can look at your legs and ass when you’re rambling on about ghosts. Ghosts! But outside research based on the world’s most powerful particle accelerator in the most respected organization — that’s bad science? I don’t think so.”

 

Erin was standing now, shaking in rage. Holtz put a hand at her lower back, wanting her to calm down — partially because she didn’t want the attention that a louder or physical confrontation would cause, mostly because she was scared for her fiancee’s emotional state that bringing her to the location had caused.

 

“I — we,” Erin restated, her teeth gritted, “Have worked our assess off and dedicated our lives to this cause. We know it’s real and we know it’s all possible because we take our research out of a lab and into the field.”

 

“So you, Dr. Erin Gilbert with the long legs, you’re the future of science. You’re the one with the secret to creation locked away inside that pretty head of yours.” He laughed and shook his own. “You’re hilarious.”

 

“She does have the secret to creation,” Holtz added quietly, also standing. Erin shot her a dangerous look, but Holtz shrugged. “And if you think she’s sharing it with you —“

 

“I don’t want to hear either of your crazy theories,” Landon laughed again. “Save it for the Review, Gilbert. That way you think you have something to present when they spend an hour staring at your ass instead of your equations — the fuck!” After a resounding slap that could have very well dislocated his jaw, Landon was clutching at the side of his face. “You crazy bitch! You’re gonna pay for that! I’m gonna ruin you! Holtzmann, you’re girlfriend’s insane! Jesus Christ!”

 

“Oh, I’m surprised you’re not testing his science for the creation of the universe!” Erin spat out before turning around, taking absolutely no more of the bullshit from the pitiful excuse of a man. Holtzmann grabbed her backpack out from under the table, not bothering with any faked goodbye before catching up with her fiancee, but following at a pace that was just a stride behind the fuming woman.

 

Erin was mostly quiet on the ride home, making Holtz twiddle her thumbs in nervousness. It hadn’t ended well — she’d made a scene, well, both of them had — but Landon had started it, honestly. Still, Erin was heated from the interaction and flustered that her fiancee hadn’t done more to stand up for their organization and their work. Shooting Holtzmann an eye, she watched the blonde shrink into herself more at the leer. “Oh, do not. I’m allowed to be frustrated after you pulled me into that.”

 

Holtzmann turned so she was looking out the window, her knuckles brushing against her throat, in what Erin knew to be a move to will tears down like forcing a pill down a dog. The guilt was starting to radiate off her body more than the excessive heat of wearing too many layers in the New York City June. Still, Erin wanted her to feel a little bit of that guilt as she considered being Mansplained to by one of Holtz’s former classmates while the woman said nothing.

 

“I’m frustrated, but I’m not mad at you,” She felt the need to clarify when Holtz rested her forehead against the dirty cab window glass and shrank away from Erin’s touch. Sighing, she yanked her over anyway, pulling the shorter woman against her barely-covered shoulder. Kissing the temple of her lover, she let another sound through her lips before stating, “It’s good that you called me there. It’s important for us to know what’s going on in the community that we might not hear about until it’s too late. I’m sorry. I just hate being spoken to like that — and you didn’t exactly defend me, us — or our work.”

 

Still, Holtz was silent and Erin knew it had more to do with whatever had been haunting her lately than the interaction. Something about it had shaken the engineer more than just the vague threat to their validity.

 

Erin went to rub her shoulder but felt how warm she was behind the neck, noting, “Honey, you need to dress for the weather. I know layers are your thing — but let’s go for some light layers.”

 

“Stop, ugh,” Holtz pulled away, not willing to argue in the taxi.

 

“Stop what?” Erin asked with as level of a head as she could.

 

Nothing,” Holtz whined. She needed her trip up to Dr. Gorin’s campus apartment to be sooner than it was.

 

Biting the inside of her cheek to keep from lashing out, Erin was thankful that their driver arrived in front of their place. Thanking him and paying on her smartphone, Erin followed Holtz up the steps and to then the few that led to first level of their home. Holtz was trying to run away from additional conflict, but Erin was heated from two nights prior, the day before, the nothing — the coverup of her true feelings, then the wicked interaction they’d just had with Landon. Refusing to back down from the conglomeration of negativity that was trying to knock her peg just as far, Erin all but shouted, “Don’t run away from me!”

 

Holtzmann froze in the hallway, her shoulders heaving in tension that Erin recognized as the start of a sob, not in anger. Still, after the teary remarks of weeks gone past, the older woman was just about exhausted in patience towards letting Holtz take her time in letting out whatever burden was weighing on her.

 

“Okay, okay,” Erin screwed her eyes shut and stamped her foot to release some energy. “I’m not going to pin you in a corner and yell. I promise. I’m sorry. I’m so damn angry right now and it’s not all about you but we’ve got to talk, Jill. And I don’t want to chase you.”

 

When she refused to turn around or make a move otherwise, Erin gave her a little push with a hand at her lower back, getting her to walk into their bedroom. Spinning her about face, Erin had her seated at the edge of the bed while silent tears streamed down her rosy cheeks, fogging her glasses as they fell on her overheated skin. To correct that, Erin slipped into the closet, opening a trunk full of Holtz’s rarely-worn summer clothes she’d tried to convince her to switch out in the drawers a few weeks prior.

 

“You’re overheated,” She stated with the harshness still lingering, feeling the need to care for the woman to continue releasing the rage inside her. Finding an outfit, she gently tugged off Holtz’s layers of clothing.

 

With each layer, she seemed to also strip away some of her own lingering rage, finding her blood pressure dipping with every piece of clothing that dropped to the floor. Holtz was nearly naked, save for a sports bra. Erin went to remove it, but Holtz shook her head and took Erin’s palms, placing them on either side of her bare waist. The blonde let out a long sigh between her lips at the touch. Erin stroked her thumbs along the pale skin, watching as another tear slid out from between Holtz’s jammed shut eyes. “I don’t want you to have to chase me.”

 

Dropping her forehead so theirs were touching and lips were just inches apart, Erin spread her legs over Holtz’s lap, her dress bunched up around her thighs. Rocking gently against her groin, she whispered, “Don’t make me, then. Come to me when I call for you. I’ve been calling for you for weeks, Jill, and you’ve been running further the other way. You know I can’t keep up when you run.” Though she knew she was essentially the pot calling the kettle black as the queen of running away, Erin felt it important to express what had been happening to them.

 

“I know,” Holtz responded, her breath hitching as Erin’s silky, damp underwear rubbed along the front of her cotton briefs. Her hair tickled her cheeks as it fell all around in a reddish-brown tangle. “I’m so sorry,” Her pitch was high and desperate.

 

“I don’t want to be controlling. You know I never want to come across like I’m mothering you.” Erin muttered, still teasing the comfort of a kiss, but wanting Holtz to decide whether or not she wanted to accept that security she could provide.

 

“I know,” She said again, then found one hand on Erin’s jawline, the other settling along the hem of her dress. “Please kiss me?”

 

Erin didn’t need to be asked twice as she molded their mouthes together in a passionate, yet sweet kiss that was the promise she wanted to convey. Waiting for Holtz to pull away first, she assured her, “You haven’t been taking care of yourself, Jill.” Kissing her puffy bottom lip she pleaded, “Can you let me help you?”

 

Holtz nodded once, then wiggled a little and laid back, bringing Erin with her. They kissed for a long minute before Holtz had a request that she hoped wasn’t too inappropriate given the situation.

 

“Can you keep grinding on me?”

 

But Erin’s troublemaking little smirk confirmed that it wasn’t. She pushed her dress up a little higher and bit her lip before sitting up and moving her hips along Holtz’s pelvic bone, making her let out a satisfied moan as her eyes fluttered closed again. “Please, keep doing that?”

 

Erin kept a steady pace, accepting the little noises from Holtz as tokens of appreciation for the movement. “I hope this isn’t meant to distract me from what we need to discuss.”

 

“No, you started it though and it feels really good,” The blonde babbled in one long string of words.

 

Snickering a little, the physicist stated, “I had to get you in my grasp somehow. Besides, I’ve missed this in the last few weeks.”

 

“We haven’t made sweet love in awhile. My fault. I should fix that. ‘M a fuckin’ engineer afterall.”

 

“Mm-mm, you just agreed to letting me help you take care of yourself,” Erin taunted. She continued to gyrate her hips along her partner’s, listening as her desire grew louder. Climbing off her, she crawled up to the head of the bed, instructing her fiancee to finish undressing as she made herself comfortable.

 

Still wearing a little too much with the guilty expression lingering on her face, Erin shook her head and pleaded, “Relax — well, you won’t have much of a choice in a minute.”

 

She admired her manuscript tattoo on her shoulders as Holtz lowered herself so her back was against Erin. Turning her head for a kiss before spreading her legs open, the smell of arousal hit the physicist in a wave that had her biting a little on her lower lip. Her hand teased a puffy nipple before sliding down a taunt, pale belly and over course curls. “Tell me what you want?”

 

Holtz nodded against Erin’s chest. “Touch me?”

 

All four fingers lay flat against her center, the longer three rolling over her damp, spread folds, making Holtz sigh before Erin could really even do anything. Tucking her head under Erin’s chin as the light touch continued, she reminded her in assurance, “I love you, babe. I love you so much.”

 

“And I love you so much,” Erin explained, keeping the pattern of her fingers slow and circular, brushing over Holtzmann’s sensitive nub but not rubbing too hard — not enough, not yet. “I’ve missed making love with you.”

 

“Ah,” Holtz sighed and bit her lip, turning her face up to kiss Erin more as she continued to stroke. “I’m so lucky,” She moaned out, wanting to return some of the stimulation to Erin, who must have been soaked, but unable to with how she was being held. Thrusting up a little into her hand, she let out a pleased bubble of sound as the pace increased with two fingers paying extra attention to her clit. “Baby — oh.”

 

Erin was focused and, as Holtzmann predicted, so wet herself, she focused her energy on pressing a kiss to Holtz’s shoulder as her other hand came up to squeeze a breast. “Do you want me inside you?” She wondered huskily. Neither of them were experts in communication in any other faucet of life — as evidenced by Erin’s earlier display. However, in the throughs of their respect and adoration of one another’s bodies, they were somehow linguistic experts.

 

“I— think so,” Holtz managed, sighing again and turning further in, her hips pressing higher and her moans getting louder as Erin’s circular motion focused near her entrance, making sure she was prepped enough, though doubting she wouldn’t be.

 

“Okay,” Erin warned and carefully pushed her right index finger inside and up, going slow but deep. Holtz gasped as she struggled to keep her pelvis down. She was tight from weeks apart, moaning at the pressure that the single digit brought. “Alright?”

 

“Yesss,” The younger woman managed to affirm, “Alright alright alright. Oh my god, Erin — alright.”

 

Erin moved knuckle deep with each slow thrust, giving her fiancee a little time to adjust. “More?”

 

She heard Holtz suck in a breath but felt her nod and turned her face into a kiss and as she pulled back, Erin added her middle finger, curling up into Holtz’s walls and making her gasp loudly and whine, her legs quivering at the sensation. Erin hummed into her, unintentionally grinding her soaked silk against her lover’s ass, adding another whole layer of heat to Holtz’s already overstimulated body. Their position was one rarely used, but so effective in undoing the engineer in the way she wanted her.

 

“Erinnn,” She moaned, “Baby — sl-slower, honey — ah,” She pleaded as Erin’s fingers dipped almost all the way out and back in at too fast of a rate for her to keep up with. Complying with no hesitation, Erin kissed her neck, her cheek, her mouth — open, wet as she fucked her to the speed she wanted. Holtz moaned and cried out occasionally when Erin went almost too deep. She matched her speed with her own rocking of her lower half, but it was starting to become too much. Knowing that being open was absolutely essential to their sex life, Holtz admitted, “Too much,” Into a searing kiss.

 

Erin gave one final push up before taking her dripping fingers from Holtz’s walls and rubbing her swollen clit again, circulating at first, then rubbing back and forth when Holtz’s noises indicated she was almost undone.

 

“Erin,” She called out in a choked sound as her quiver started in her knees and traveled up, her hand coming from where it had been starting to tug on Erin’s locks to cover the hand that was over her sex, stopping the movement but keeping it there. Sighing she slipped her tongue into her lover’s mouth while she came, the orgasm short, but powerful.

 

“You okay?” Erin checked in after a long moment of sloppy kisses and gentle caresses to Holtz’s left breast. The blonde nodded with a pleased note in the back of her throat. “More?” She shook her head, awkwardly bending her arm to cover the hand that was over her breast. “More of that?”

 

She pulled herself out from under Holtz, her now crumpled dress falling over the woman’s sticky thighs as it dragged over them while the brunette lowered herself to kiss the plump mound before taking a nipple into her mouth and letting it swirl with a flick of her tongue before practically biting at it when she grazed her teeth up. Her left hand fondled at Holtz’s right breast while the blonde tangled her hand in lightly damp locks, giving a tug, prompting the ache in Erin’s center. Usually after Holtz came, she was so hypersensitive she couldn’t stand any more touch, but this was a welcome surprise.

 

After paying equal attention to the other breast, Erin felt herself being pushed up a little at the shoulder with one of Holtz’s hands, the other coming to release the zipper at the back of her dress. Happy to let it slide down her shoulders, she sat up so that she was on Holtz’s hips again, the only item left on her body a soaked pair of panties.

 

“God those are hot — in every sense,” Holtz commented, cupping the satin, sitting up beneath the woman, her blonde curls falling out everywhere, limp in sweat. Her lips came up to capture one of Erin’s nipples, making her close her eyes while Holtz sucked hard, both arms locked over her back, just above the panty line.

 

“Baby, can you eat me?” She questioned after Holtz popped off and nipped at the bony flesh between her breasts.

 

“Yeah,” She said dreamily, motor boating her jokingly first, making Erin laugh and sigh at the same time as she kissed the top of her partner’s head before the woman’s fingers curled around her underwear and pulled it down a little. Erin obliged with pulling a knee up so the fabric could be stretched down and around her ankle, then shimmied off the other side. When Holtz didn’t shove her onto her back and dive in, but tapped at her hips with the pads of her fingertips, Erin knew what to do. The engineer lowered herself so her head was at the pillows and Erin crawled up, holding onto the headboard of the bed before lowering herself carefully, hoping her ab and arm muscles were in working order to stay supported.

 

Holtz helped her out, wrapping her arms around the back of Erin’s thighs, keeping her in a solid position so she wouldn’t wind up terribly stiff herself and ensuring she was ready with a whisper. Her thumb brushed the tattoo on the back of her upper thigh, while her pinky danced over the opposite leg’s tattoo on the front. Erin nodded and lowered herself slightly so Holtz wouldn’t have to do so much work, moaning loudly when her tongue licked a long line from her pubic bone to her opening and back. Erin was worked up enough that she knew it wouldn’t last long, which was good as her biceps were already trembling and weak.

 

“Jill, baby,” She stated lovingly as Holtz pulled her a little lower so her legs were almost around her neck and her focus was the flat form of her tongue, curling then traveling up and back, tasting with pleasure.

 

The other woman didn’t speak, merely worked at her center, licking in even strokes, keeping a rhythm as Erin tried hard not to rock too much and overwhelm her, when she was becoming so overwhelmed herself. Bravely sliding down just another touch, she cried out loudly when Holtz’s tongue was able to slip into her entrance the moment after being folded then pulled out and back in, the muscle working harder than any of Erin’s. Brushing her bottom lip between her teeth almost hard enough to draw blood, Erin was growing loud and trembled in a pre-orgasm shudder when Holtz’s lips surrounded her clit.

 

“Ohmygod,” She gasped loudly when the pattern of licking returned, daring to look down to see Holtz’s eyes closed as she’d memorized Erin’s anatomy years ago, long since knowing what she liked, yet still managing to make her wither as she was.

 

Hair clung to the back of her neck and though she had no concept of time, Erin had no earthly clue how Holtz’s mouth wasn’t exhausted after working her up in such a way. She continued to flick her tongue over her clit, down her folds and up and in, sucking, sucking — occasionally nipping at her most sensitive skin.

 

She was starting to slow though and Erin could hardly blame her she was in such a foggy state of pleasure. Lowering herself just a tad more so she was all but on Holtz’s face, Erin kept herself steady with one hand, bringing the other to her clit as Holtz read her movement, focusing on her entrance, swirling around, pushing in while Erin rubbed along her absolutely swollen nub. It was hardly a minute later she pulsed around Holtz’s tongue and she loudly thanked her with a cry. Holtz held her still, not giving up until the wave rolled through her, knocking Erin’s hand away and returning to worship her whole pleasure center with her mouth.

 

Finally able to take no more, Erin climbed off and slid her sticky body down so they were parallel, both needing to catch their breath. Holtz whipping her face with the back of her arm before reaching behind her for the blue water bottle which was still half full from the morning. Taking a long sip, she handed it to Erin, who did the same before tucking it back and bringing her overheated fiancee to cover her body with her own, groaning and sighing together in the post-sex haze.

 

It was a stretch of time that neither of them cared about before Holtz was the first to move, sitting up to drag Erin’ sweaty hair completely away from her face, shining down a look of pure love as she shifted to place her head in the younger woman’s bare lap. “You’re so beautiful.” She traced the tattoo on her ribcage with feeling. “I love when I get to really love your body like that, Erin.”

 

Blinking a slow, shy gaze back she touched Holtz’s thigh, kissing her kneecap — the closest bit of skin. “I know that I was drunk last night, and that we had a bit of a fall out just now and we’ve been having fall outs — but I really can’t wait to marry you, Jill.”

 

Holtzmann’s cheeks had an added layer of pink at the words. Looking up and out the window, she couldn’t wipe the dopy glazed over expression off her smirk or out of her eyes. “I can’t believe you wanna marry me. You — Erin Gilbert. You wanna marry me, huh?”

 

Erin giggled and propped her head up on Holtz’s lap, curling one arm around her to squeeze her butt cheek and bite her hip. “Well who the hell else am I gonna marry, huh?” She enjoyed the tender stroke to her hairline that Holtz drew with her fingertips. “Some pretty blonde I work with who’s got an amazing mouth. That’s the one for me.”

 

“Damnit, Erin, keep Kevin out of this, would’ja?” Holtz teased, earning a pinch to her ass after the comment instead of a squeeze, making her hiss a snicker.

 

“I love you,” She drew out and kissed Holtz’s belly. “And I want to make you something nice for dinner. What are you in the mood for?”

 

“Baby — I’m full, I just ate out,” Holtz joked again and this time Erin sat up and tackled her to the mattress, kissing her hard, all teeth and a smacking of lips. “Okay, okay,” She laughed. “How about those really yummy, spicy black bean burgers you made all the time last summer?”

 

“I can do that,” She smiled back into a nicer kiss. “How about we shower then I’ll get it started?”

 

Almost an hour later, Holtz joined Erin in a pair of very short, bleach stained, high-waisted jean shorts with a fringy, tie-dye crop top hanging over her belly button. Her hair was up, but given the humidity, just slicked into a top knot instead of it’s usual poofy wave and bun. She looked adorable, sans even her light makeup — like a vintage sixties summer of love model.

 

Erin was looking fresh in a clean dress that had a little belt with peach polka dots, her hair tied up as well. Dinner was over halfway ready and Erin shooed her fiancee to the balcony to set up a table for them to eat at and twenty minutes later she joined her, two plates in hand. The blonde had a nineties pop music station playing from the speakers that looked like rocks on the edge of the balcony and the large umbrella open on the table to shield the blinding evening sun. Sitting close, elbow-to-elbow, they started to eat, Holtz happily moaning her approval of the spicy burger, not complaining at the sight of a leafy kale salad on her plate, either.

 

“I made a list of all the things we need to talk about,” She said quietly after focusing on filling her belly for a few minutes first. Raising a brow, Erin motioned for her to elaborate. Holtz cleared her throat and slipped a piece of paper out from the snug pockets of her shorts. “Okay, um…Just clarifying — now that we’re both sober and not in a post-sex daze; you truly, actually want to get married at the end of August?”

 

Erin gave a single, firm nod. “Absolutely.”

 

Holtz’s face split into a dreamy, mushy expression for a moment. “Then we’ll start planning tomorrow?”

 

“Sounds good to me,” The older woman grinned back and Holtz took a deep breath before dealing with the next item on her uncharacteristically organized list. “No matter what’s on your paper that we need to talk about, Jill? I’m still gonna wanna marry you. Just know that. Couples argue, wives bicker. It’s normal. It’s fine. It’s how you deal with it that defines you.”

 

“Okay,” She assured herself. Making a near honking sound, she was ready to explain her feelings on the next part of her agenda. “Last night — I told you I haven’t been feeling anything and I think that probably hurt and honestly, I’m glad you were drunk because it would’ve stung even worse if you weren’t. I didn’t explain that well.” She said it like she’d been rehearsing the phrase in her head, and though she was grateful Holtz was expressing her feelings, Erin wished she didn’t have such a nervous reservation to do so after three years of intimacy.

 

Erin speared the last few bites of her salad, munching on the dark green leaves as she listened to the smaller woman try to explain what the nothing truly meant, her knees drawn up to her chest, arms wrapped around the backside of her bare thighs as she rocked a little in her seat. “When I dream something so awful as you…” She swallowed visibly, “Dying — the sad and the bad are so overwhelming, it feels like I’m choking and that I’ll never have any air again. And then it’s extreme anxiety that some of those terrible things could happen even though they won’t — and I don’t want to describe them because they’re so awful,” Her lower lip was quivering and Erin could hardly handle the sight of Holtz crying any more. Rubbing a hand over a pale knee, she simply listened. “I know you aren’t going anywhere. I know you’re safe. But watching you die over and over in my head is just — sick and sometimes it’s hard for that not to translate into what I see before me, wondering how you’re there when I just watched you die and — so I push all that false narrative away, but then all that’s left is the awful, empty feeling inside. It feels like nothing, Erin, and I hate that just as much!”

 

Her wavering voice of held-back tears was one of the worst sounds Erin had ever heard. Truly having nothing that could possibly be comforting, she left the rest of her dinner forgotten, leaned over and wrapped herself around Holtz. Kissing her sweetly, gently, on the top of her blonde hair, Erin nuzzled her dark roots with her nose. “What can I do to help you? What can I say or do when those terrible nightmares happen? Now that I know it’s not related to your PTSD, I can try a different approach…what do you think is going to ease you coming out of them?”

 

There was a wave of silence as Holtz honestly considered the questions, engulfed in Erin’s touch. “This,” She responded. Erin let out a questioning hum, wanting her to explain. “I might just need you to hold me, and tell me that you’re here — ground me, like you do when it’s a normal nightmare, but not with the words.”

 

Still a little confused, the physicist turned Holtz’s chair and then her own so they were forced to look at one another, rather than side-eyeing each other from their horizontal gaze into space. Settling herself back into her own seat, she pushed the blonde’s knees down and held them there, breaking down her posture defense a bit to infiltrate her nervous emotional state. “Will it help if I touch you more intimately when it happens?”

 

“I-I don’t know,” Holtz confessed, frowning. “Like I said, when all that panic goes away, there’s just the feeling of nothing and I don’t want to ruin our sex life by needing it to jump-start my ticker.”

 

Erin tried not to laugh at her phrasing. “I assure you, it won’t. I think it’ll help you really feel something. Think about how you felt after we just went to town a little bit ago.” Her own cheeks flushed in memory. “You certainly won’t feel nothing afterwords. It doesn’t have to be all-out sex. Just a touch to ground you, let you know that I’m here, I’m real, and not going anywhere.”

 

Worrying her lip, Holtz shrugged and then gave a single nod. “It’ll be worth a try.”

 

“I don’t like the thought of you being so empty that nothing is a better alternative than letting me help you with the big sad, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Holtz agreed, then leaned forward to rub her cheek against Erin’s like a cat, making her laugh and scratch between her shoulder blades as Holtz tried to climb into her lap.

 

“Hang on, hang on, you said you’ve got a list. I think there’s a few more things we’ve got to talk about. Namely being the band formerly known as the Conductors of the Metaphysical.”

 

Whining, Holtz pulled her face away and crossed her arms in a pout as she lowered herself back into her seat, wishing her glasses were on as she knew that the next part of their conversation was likely going to be the most negative.

 

With a huff, she expressed, “I’m sorry I dragged you into that today. Landon has always been a d-bag. He almost killed Rebecca ‘cause he’s an idiot.”

 

Erin clarified, “But you took the fall so that she would be safe, because you’re a treasure of a human who isn’t fully appreciated for her power. Continue.”

 

Blinking her response to that sweet statement, Holtz tilted her head and did as she was instructed. “I was at the chemical place — filling the quarterly order and, checking out the new liquid Polonium as he said, when he literally bumped into me. We both could’ve died! I didn’t even recognize him and I wish he hadn’t recognized me, but…he asked if he could take me out for coffee, and I was like — um, I’m hella gay and super engaged, but you can buy me a coffee if you really want to. So he did and started asking me about what we do, then started going on and on about his stupid company that’s being grant funded by the feds, so you know that given the current administration, that means they’re probably getting paid to publish whatever bullshit they’re to told to — but then he started talking to me about dark matter and how they think they’re so close to a break through and…” She tugged her earlobe, signaling her discomfort. “Whether or not they’re right, it made me nervous and I didn’t know what to say or do. So I called you ‘cause you’re better at dealing with assholes than I am…I figured in the very least, you’d knock him out if he got handsy.”

 

Erin nodded, really taking in the story as it happened, not as she’d assumed it had played out, trying not to smirk at the thought that Holtz had called her to come step in to a cage fight with a meninist. “I didn’t want you to get all caught up in it, but he just wouldn’t stop talking and every time I tried to excuse myself, he drew me back in — one time he actually grabbed my wrist to keep me from getting up and I got so uncomfortable, so that’s why I called. I’m sorry. Now you’re probably stuck in some scandal and it’s my fault and —“

 

“Sh, sh,” The taller of them brought her hands to capture Holtzmann’s trembling ones as they tugged at her neckline. “Hey — now that I have the whole story,” Erin started, “I’m not nearly as upset. I’m glad you called me so you didn’t have to go through that alone. That guy is a dick and I should’ve kicked him there, too.”

 

Holtz found a lopsided smile at that. “I would’ve really enjoyed that.”

 

“I wish you’d have spoken up a bit more, but now that I know what happened before I got there, I understand why you didn’t. If there’s media or professional consequences for this, we’ll — I’ll deal with them when they come. Maybe I’ll write an editorial about mansplainers in science for The Review before anything comes back to haunt me.”

 

The toothy grin faded from her partner as Holtz broached the final item on her list. “All that — said, though…Erin, it’s been six months. Since we discovered…what we did. And you still won’t even consider publishing it. If someone else is close to being onto it —“

 

“They’re not.”

 

“—I think we need to find a way to publish our research. At least in short form. I don’t want someone else to get credit for something that you did all the work on! Especially if it’s not even true. What if the next fifty years of physics becomes based on their false work? Erin, you have an opportunity to change the course of science. I wish you’d take it.”

 

Erin’s jaw was set tight and as soon as Holtz recognized it, she knew that there was no compromise. Slumping in her seat, she crossed her arms, kicking her leg a little before bringing one up to wrap an arm around while she stared miserably at her fiancee. “You know why I can’t do that. And these crack pots are not going to change the nature of science. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.”

 

Holtz looked like she was going to cry again and Erin honestly couldn’t take it. “You’re just such a gift. You’re so smart. It kills me that you feel like you can’t take credit for this. And if someone else gets it…”

 

Shrugging, Erin considered her own character development for a minute. “Then they’re going to have to work pretty damn hard to prove it. C’mon, sweetheart, let’s spend our summer night not thinking about science.”

 

Some eight hours later, Erin woke up to find the bed empty and the hum of the bathroom fan in the background. Noting the sliver of light that was peering out from under the door, she slipped sleepily across the carpet, tapping gently on the frame. “Holtz?” When there was no response, she peeled the door open slowly, finding her fiancee sitting on the counter, one leg dangling down, the other drawn to her chest as she chewed mindlessly on a thumbnail and stared into space.

 

When she finally recognized the other presence in the room, she unfolded from herself. Erin spread her legs and stepped between them while she wrapped her arms around Erin’s neck and the taller woman slid her down by the back of her thighs, carrying her light frame back to bed. Holtz didn’t release her upon reaching the mattress, winding up causing Erin to trip back on as well with a little giggle. Holtz let out a small sigh and insisted on keeping Erin on top of her. She became a little more conscious of her surroundings as she sang softly, “Skidamarinky-dink-a-dink, Skidamarinky-doo…” Erin was in a full on tired laugh as she continued, “I love you… Skidamarinky a-dink-a-dink, Skidamarinky-doo, I love you…I love you in the morning and in the afternoon. I love you in the evening and underneath the moon…”

 

Erin sang the chorus with her, both of them in tired laughter by the time it was through. “Baby, have you slept yet?” She wondered at the two AM hour.

 

“No,” Holtz whined. “I sneaked downstairs to work for a little bit and then laid back down and still couldn’t sleep.”

 

“Roll over then,” Erin insisted and Holtz whined but complied.

 

Erin adjusted the thin summer weight blanket so it was just over the waistband of her briefs. Holtz folded her arms like a pretzel and rested her cheek on the tops of her hands while Erin slipped her hand up her t-shirt to touch her bare back. Holtz gave a little shiver at the action while Erin’s smooth palm started to rub a slow, rhythmic circle. Feeling tension release at the human touch, she hummed the tune to the song that the mentally troubled woman had been singing.

 

It only took a couple of minutes for Holtzmann’s eyes to start feeling heavy. Blinking slowly, she initially fought the tired feeling. The former professor was sitting up as she tried to put her fiancee to sleep and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth in disapproval. “It’s hard to fall sleep with your eyes open.”

 

“Not impossible, crustaceans and —“

 

“Shhh,” Erin tried not to laugh as the blonde attempted to sprout a scientific argument.

 

“Sing for me?” Holtz wondered with a weight in her voice.

 

Erin tried not to snort. “You want me to do an encore of my Cats performance?”

 

“Yeah,” Holtz said dreamily. “I liked that one.”

 

Though she’d been joking, Erin sighed and quietly sang under her breath, just loud enough for Holtz to hear, “Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I can dream of the old days. I was beautiful then, I remember the time I knew what happiness was. Let the memory live again…”

 

The sloppy smile on Holtz’s face indicated she was enjoying it a little too much. “Shhh,” Erin tried to convince her, feeling a bit like she was trying to put a three-year-old to bed, “Just go to sleep!”

 

“You’ve got such a pretty voice,” She stated groggily. “I love your voice. And your face. And your hands. And your fingers. And your ass —“

 

“Jillian.”

 

A little snicker from the engineer made her hands top moving. Holtz practically whimpered at the loss of movement along her spine and shoulders. Erin let out a loud breath through her nose. “Are you ready to behave?”

 

A meow confirmed that the too-perky-for-two-am blonde was willing to cooperate and focus on actually attempting to fall asleep.

 

Erin resumed rubbing circles, earning a moan when she applied a slightly deeper pressure and slower pattern. Humming the song that Holtz had requested, she watched as in a matter of three approximate minutes, the love of her life began to drift off. Her eyelids stayed shut, and another sixty seconds after that, her lips parted, indicating that she was indeed sleeping. When her rate of breathing slowed under Erin’s hand, she knew she was able to try falling asleep for herself.

 

Smirking in self-satisfaction, Erin very cautiously eased her hand out from under the other woman’s shirt. Carefully, stealthily, she laid herself next to her, laying so close she nearly shared her pillow. Watching Holtzmann’s relaxed features, Erin gently ran her fingers through loose curls that hung over her head and on the pillow, tumbling near the headboard. Wondering if either of them would be getting a full night’s rest and wake up with the slow laziness of Sunday morning, she forced herself to rest her own eyes, tucking her hands under her fiancee’s.

 

X

 

A warm hand ran through Erin’s hair as she heard Bennie and the Jetts going off on Holtzmann’s phone as a morning alarm. She leaned into the touch, letting a little sigh drop off her lips and kept her eyes closed as she fought the day. The music stopped as did the fingers in her hair, making her whine a little. “Holtzy-babe just love on me.”

 

A snicker teased her ear as the weight on the mattress shifted and she sensed the woman growing closer, then groaned at the mouth latching onto the vein in her neck. “We’ve gotta full day, beautiful. Abby texted — said she got a call from Jennifer — we’re needed on the front lines.”

 

“It’s not even seven,” Erin protested, knowing what time the first alarm went off and that her brain hadn’t registered any others to indicate it could be later. “How could we possibly already have a case?”

 

“Probably something political or pretty serious,” Holtz was sitting up now, straddling her waist, fiddling with the tie on the front of her nightgown — something that had been a nice, lacy peach surprise the night before. “We should really get going, cutie.”

 

Finally cracking her lids open, Erin stared at a fully clothed Holtzmann with her hair done up and eyeliner on. Frowning she wondered, “How long have you been awake?”

 

“Since four,” She tutted, rolling her eyes behind the thick, black plastic-rimmed square glasses she wore that were a newer edition to her collection. “I did sleep though.”

 

“I know,” Erin laced their fingers together, reminding her, “You fell asleep on my chest playing with that tie you’ve got.”

 

“What can I say?” Holtz winked, “I like when you’ve got little ties on.” Kissing the space below the bow, she climbed off. Erin noted she had on a pair of greyscale camouflage cargo shorts, with a white button-up top tucked in, rolled to the elbow with a black vest on top. Hoping she wouldn’t be too hot the ensemble, Erin forced herself out of bed, not really caring what she pulled on given she’d be in a jumpsuit shortly anyway. Finding a pair of athletic spandex capris and one of their logo shirts, she tucked all of her hair back into a ponytail.

 

Her fiancee handed her a mug of coffee when she stepped into the kitchen. She laughed when the woman placed a bagel and a bowl of chopped strawberries and bananas in front of her, feeling quite like she was being mothered. Holtz peppered a kiss to her cheek and joined her with a bowl of her own fruit and a Rockstar energy drink that had a curly straw coming out of the top.

 

Erin giggled her approval and kissed her cheek in return as she tucked into eating. “You’re very cheery this morning.”

 

“I feel better after our conversations this weekend,” Holtz admitted with a bite of banana. “And the sex. And the wedding planning yesterday.” She flushed a little. “I’m really excited.”

 

Wanting to aww into oblivion and bury them in a blanket fort with cookies and wine and watch a movie, Erin rested her head against her fiancee’s shoulder. “I love you so much. Can’t wait to marry you. I’m excited to tell the girls. They’re going to be relieved that we’ve finally got a date.”

 

“I think we should have them over for dinner and do some stupid cheesy shit to ask them to be our busters of honor.”

 

“I’m game. What are you thinking?”

 

They made a plan and headed to work, Erin holding her fiancee’s hand on the thirty minute bus ride it took to get from their place to the firehouse as they shared a pair of earbuds on the way.

 

Entering with a typical greeting, they found Abby already suited up while Patty was sitting at the computer, reading through information on the case.

 

The shortest ghostbuster greeted them. “Hey, happy couple. We’ve got a sensitive issue, here, so pop a squat.” Erin rolled a desk chair over and slid herself down, then let out an umph as Holtz found her squat in the woman’s lap. Not minding terribly, she wound her arms around the blonde’s waist. “Jenn got a call from a group home for girls out in Queens.” Erin felt Holtz stiffen and rested her chin on her back in comfort. “It’s a federally funded place that houses fifty-eight patients. Apparently, one of them, who’s generally aggressive has been extremely submissive and talking about seeing ghosts for a week or so. They finally installed a camera in her room and even though they can’t see anything on it, she is just screaming like mad at night and throwing things around her room. Apparently that’s not her usual MO. They don’t know if it’s a psychological break but she is so absolutely convinced there is a ghost in her room, and asked for us specifically.”

 

Erin nodded. “If nothing else, we can give her the dignity of sweeping her room with our instruments so that she can see for herself there’s nothing there if there really isn’t. And if there is…we’ll get it out.”

 

“Plus, knowing how they sometimes treat patients at places like those? It’ll be nice to give her a genuine, outside human interaction,” Holtz added demurely, popping to her feet. “I’m gonna change and make sure the car’s ready.”

 

After she disappeared, Abby and Patty were practically in Erin’s lap then, wondering how the weekend had gone after everything she’d disclosed on Friday.

 

“Things are better,” She insisted, not wanting to get into the story with Landon or reveal the wedding plans just yet. “We’ve got plenty to keep working on, but better. She’s been really sweet and a little more herself since we talked.”

 

“And by that, she means fucked,” Patty snorted and Abby rolled her eyes but offered Erin a smile, knowing that did tend to help smooth things over between them.

 

Ignoring the teasing remark, Erin stood up and turned to follow Patty, ready to retain as much information about their upcoming mission as they could.

 

Moving to the locker room, as they called their changing area, Erin stepped out of her lazy work clothes and pulled on a jumpsuit, knowing it would hardly be twenty minutes before she was sweating under the thick khaki material. Squaring her boots and gloves on, she headed towards the garage, taking the six noisy metal stairs down to find her fiancee slamming the back shut with their gear, giving a playful growl at the sight of the woman in ghost fighting armor. The other two joined them and the Ecto took off with the wail of the siren drowned out by the old Fifty Cent music Holtz had loaded up.

 

The trek across the burroughs had taken the women a solid fifty minutes, having them at the site of the potential paranormal activity by nine. They entered with gear, buzzing into the five-story facility and meeting the director in the lobby.

 

A woman with mousy brown hair cropped to her nape greeted them by adjusting the glasses perched on her nose. “Dr. Delane Rogers; thank you for joining us so early this morning. Our patient has become even more disturbed than she was in the night and I think you showing her that there’s nothing in her room might just get her back on track. She was making major progress with us here and it’s unfortunate to see that it’s all off track with this recent setback.”

 

“Well, let’s see if there’s really something up there before we jump to any conclusions,” Abby stated firmly, not wanting Erin to wind up taking the lead on the conversation about ghosts and mental health, lest her firecracker-best-friend find herself locked in her own seclusion room that morning.

 

Delane blinked slow, pale brown eyes before shrugging in her navy suit jacket and leading the women through a security checkpoint, quite unsure what to do about all the weapons they were carrying. “I think I’ll have to put the fourth floor on lockdown, can’t risk one of the girls getting a hold of these,” She gestured to the proton packs.

 

Holtz tried to hide a smirk and hastily came up with a lie that would prevent the need to isolate the detained girls of the ward any further. “Don’t worry, the weapons only able to be activated by who it belongs to — stroke of engineering genius.” Erin shot her a look and Holtz shot it back with a grin. “We’re not here to cause anyone inconvenience, especially the patients.” She insisted.

 

“I know that,” Delane said with a snap and sighed, punching in her elevator code and tapping her right toe as she waited. “We do appreciate your work, ladies, and your rapid response, but we seriously doubt there is any real paranormal activity happening here, so really it’s your inconvenience for the day.” She sighed, stepping back to let the women with bulky packs in first. Holtz took a place next to Patty, whispering something in her ear that made the tallest woman snicker. Erin frowned, still listening to the director drawl on. “I’m worried that this is going to simply incite all the other girls and anytime they get in trouble they’re going to claim it was a ghost.”

 

“Ghosts are real, Dr. Rogers,” Erin said firmly, earning a warning expression from Abby over the tops of her glasses.

 

“I don’t doubt that. I just doubt the ability of my patients to tell whether or not what they’re experiencing is real.”

 

“Wow,” Erin said with a tuft of air blowing through her lips and the other three Busters drew stiff spines. “How about you let us be the ones to help them answer that question, okay?” She remarked in a pitch that had Holtzmann tucking her metaphorical tail between her legs — it was one that meant absolute business and consequences if the business wasn’t kept.

 

“Dr. Gilbert, is it?” The shorter woman leered as the elevator pinged and they stepped out to the fourth floor. “It’s why I called you. Please, these girls are my life. I’ve been divorced twice due to the eighty or more hours a week I chose to spend working with them instead of having any sort of personal life. Don’t try to presume that I don’t want to believe them. It’s just after twenty-three years of experience and being physically assaulted week after week, I’d like to think I have handle on what I’m capable of working with my charges.”

 

Biting the inside of her cheek, Erin felt the small fingertips of her fiancee on the exposed skin by her rolled shirt sleeve. Holtz gave a quick shake of her head and Erin nodded to her, giving a silent promise she wasn’t going to let her personal feelings towards whatever was about to happen take over her better judgement. Offering a thanks with her eyes, she hung back a bit so that Delane wouldn’t feel her presence personally at the back of her neck as they walked down an empty, surprisingly quiet hallway. “The girls are in meditation right now,” The director explained, then nodded to the corridor to the left. “Except for who you’re going to see. Unfortunately, due to the frequency of her self-injuries last night just before you got here, we’ve had to move her to a seclusion room with a counselor. I don’t know how she’s going to react to seeing you, so please be patient with us.”

 

Swiping her card then tapping twice on the next door in the hall, Delane peered through the window. After making a signed gesture with her fingers, she nodded. “Dr. Mopie says it should be alright.” She took a breath then opened the door, stepping back so the four women could enter.

 

Pressed with her back to a wall that was covered in what had the texture of gymnastics fall-mats, was a tall, scrawny teen, her cheeks sunken in, skin an ashy color, with limp, thin blonde hair askew around her face. All four women immediately felt a connection to the outcasted young girl, ghost or no ghost.

 

“Um, hello,” Abby greeted, squatting in front of her, nodding to the pack of powerful women behind her. “I’m Abby, this is—“

 

The girl almost seemed to light up as she glanced between them, a sense of relief evident in her disposition as her defensive posture slumped just slightly. “Patty, Erin, and Holtzmann,” She found a near smile. “The Ghostbusters.” She glanced up at the director, still standing in the doorway, clutching a clipboard from Dr. Mopie. “You really called them?”

 

“I told you I would, dear. Dr. Mopie and I will be just outside the door with it propped so you can explain to them what’s been going on. We’ll give you some privacy and respect if you can display it.”

 

Nodding with resolution, the teenager took Abby’s outstretched hand as the two psychiatric professionals cleared the space, but lingered just away from it. “Kara.”

 

“Hey, nice to meet you Kara,” Abby grinned. “Mind if we sit?”

 

Shaking her head, Kara gestured to the padded floor and the women eased themselves down, all sitting in various relation to one another and Kara in the ten foot space. Holtzmann investigated the structure, noting a window at the very top and ventilation that appeared to be working against the pale blue mats. “Can you tell us what’s been going on?”

 

“You believe me, right? Even though everyone thinks I’m crazy?” She asked with a nervous pitch, picking at the peeling skin on her thumb.

 

Holtz scooted closer and gently covered her hands with one of her own. “Trust us, we do this for a living and people still call us that on a weekly basis. Crazy’s just a name. We’re all mad here.”

 

Kara looked like she was about to cry and nodded, sucking in a loud breath. “I hurt somebody at school. Bad. And they say I’ve got all kinds of problems, and maybe I do — but I’ve never seen things before. Like — tripping, or something or schizophrenia, no; I’ve never…”

 

“Hallucinated?” Abby offered and Kara nodded.

 

“Yeah, never before. I got here a month ago and it started the night I came in. I thought it was the new meds at first. Dr. Rogers said it takes a few days to get used to them. But even after four weeks, it’s still happening! And only at night.”

 

Abby probed, “Can you tell us more about what it is that’s happening to you at night?”

 

Kara crossed her arms and drew her knees to her chest. “It gets cold — so cold in my room. At first I thought its as the AC kicking in, since it does get hot as all balls in here.” Holtz cracked a smile at her phrasing. “But then I started to feel like the hair on the back of my neck was standing up, and my ears would start to get this fuzzy, underwater feeling in them.” She sighed and noted Abby nodding to Erin and Patty. “That’s all it was at first — this really intense feeling of being watched. Like super paranoid. But then last week, I started seeing like…these blue wispy waves. Like someone had a blue glue stick at an EDM show or something, I don’t know.”

 

“Were they hovering over you or all over the room?” Patty questioned.

 

“They started on the other side of the room, and when they got closer, I got colder and once they were over me, my ears weren’t just fuzzy any more, but actually popping. I started screaming and the night staff came in and the wisps just disappeared and then I sounded like a real loon.”

 

“Well,” Erin started, trying to reassure her. “Let’s explain what’s happening there — often, a drop in temperature is the first sign that there’s a paranormal entity. The feeling in your ears, it’s affecting your balance because there is an APX shift in the universe around you. And the wisps are usually the first signs of ionization that there is a much more powerful entity at work,” She explained.

 

Kara looked relieved to know that there was not only someone who believed her, but someone who could explain the situations unfolding in her very confusing life. “Tell us what happened over the last few nights?”

 

“I saw it,” Kara whispered. “The ghost. It was a girl, maybe my age. She kept hovering over my body and making these terrible noises like she was trying to talk to me, and,” Kara hit her forehead into her knees, letting out a loud sound of a sob. “It felt like she was trying to suck the breath out of my body.”

 

Holtzmann nodded, placing a comforting back between her shoulder blades. “Was it trying to move things around in your room?”

 

“The chair got flipped over, my blankets would get thrown off the bed, the curtains ripped off the window — and the staff keeps saying I’m just being destructive, but I’m not! I’m really not! And my mom stopped visiting she said until I stop blaming a ghost like a child for my behavior she won’t come and see me!” Kara let out a sob and a scream, leaning back about to punch the wall, extending her legs out and kicking the matted floor hard.

 

Holtz caught her gently before she could throw her head back and Dr. Mopie tried to intervene. The blonde shook her head. “She’s okay. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”

 

Patty couldn’t help but let out a little snort of a laugh and the joke seemed to even help Kara take a deep breath of relaxation. The counselor reminded her, “You’ve got strategies to use when you’re angry —“

 

“I know!” Kara yelled, then repeated more quietly, glaring at the ground, “I know. Go away now, please.”

 

Holtzmann gave her an awkward pat on the back that made Kara all but giggle. “You guys are like, super friendly. And not weirded out by any of this.”

 

Patty gestured to the other three. “Some of us in the group, now I won’t name no names, but let’s just say, have had a healthy dose of psych care of their own. We get it, baby.”

 

Kara nodded, finding another smile. Erin had been quiet since she explained the phenomenon that Kara had experienced. “I saw my first ghost when I was eight,” She quietly assured the youngest woman in the room. “My parents thought I was certifiably insane. There was no one who could give me the scientific benefit of the doubt. I’m glad we’re able to do that for you. Can you take us to your room to run some tests with our equipment?”

 

Nodding, the blonde stood up, then stared hard at the door. “Well, I guess it depends if my time out is over.”

 

“You know what your consequences are for having to spend time in here,” Dr. Rogers said. “But let’s see what the Ghostbusters find first, shall we?”

 

Rolling her eyes, knowing she was going to have to write an emotional reflection piece on her time in the seclusion room, Kara bobbed her head again, accepting the half-hug that Patty gave her in assurance as they made way towards her room.

 

The patient residential wing was a little more cheerful looking than the seclusion ward they’d just been in. The walls were still an institutional white, but there was plenty of patient artwork to add a splash of color and personality to the place. When they arrived at room 432, Kara took a brave breath and opened the door, revealing a disaster of a small space. The drawers on the dresser had been yanked open and nearly thrown out of the wooden furniture, clothes littered the floor, blankets were tangled, curtains shredded, and a stack of books, art supplies, and other of the patient’s personal possessions were strewn about the floor.

 

Holtz grinned. “Hey, this looks like my room when I was your age!” She tried to ease.

 

Kara seemed encouraged by that. “I’ll tell my mom — if I keep my room messy, I’ll grow up to be a brilliant nuclear engineer.”

 

“Most creative types are messy,” Holtz insisted as Abby drew the first PKE meter and the rest of the Ghostbusters activated their watches to observe the readings via the app. The tongs spun at a steady speed — not indicating a presence in the room currently, but certainly showing some lingering metaphysical energy at the site.

 

Erin withdrew a small, PDA-sized piece of equipment from her pocket, chewing the inside of her lip as she took the silver device over to Kara’s askew bed. Activating the screen, she eased herself to the mattress, Kara coming nervously to her side to observe. One of Holtzmann’s latest creations, a mini-tablet which could document the exact nuclear power required to take out a ghost based on the reading the energy, or what level it would need to be powered down to in order to trap for research purposes. The devices could also communicate to one another’s. She flipped through charts while Patty questioned the director for any possible information about girls who may have passed away in residence.

 

Holtzmann stared at her screen as if she were focused, but paid special attention to the way Dr. Rogers was speaking, waiting for inconsistencies in her pitch and tone with the words she was trying to so calmly express.

 

“There have been several, over the years. In my tenure, we’ve had two unfortunate suicides and one medication-related incident which had our lead psychiatrist barred from practice about six years ago. You will need either the family’s permission or a court order to review our files on them, but official findings are available through the NYPD. The years for reference are 1998, 2003, 2013.”

 

“Can you tell us if either of the suicides happened in this room?” Patty questioned and Delane merely gave a single nod. “It’s possible that the ghost feels a kindred spirit in Kara and is trying to communicate through her.”

 

Delane looked skeptical but Kara seemed excited to have an answer to the madness she was experiencing that wasn’t related to her mental illness.

 

After running through the room with all of the testing equipment they had and turning up empty, Abby made an executive decision. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the ghost wants to appear to us in the daytime. That’s not surprising.” She said to Dr. Rogers, who’s lip drew into a thin line at the notion of it. “Paranormal activity is usually strongest at night when the entities can feed off of pre-existing fears that are associated with night. We’re going to set up some equipment and come back this evening, if that’s alright?”

 

“Of course,” The woman offered a very fake smile in assurance that she’d be happy to help in such a way. “Whatever you need. We just want Kara back on track to be discharged to outpatient treatment, as is her personal goal.”

 

The women spent the next two hours preparing the staff for what would happen that night during a bust. Since so many dangerous factors could occur given the nature of site, they had to be extra cautious in their bust. It wasn’t an abandoned factory or a library; there were very sick girls who deserved to be treated with respect and kept safe from anything trying to haunt them more than their minds already did.

 

Before they could leave, Kara locked each of the Ghostbusters in a hug, lingering on each one in gracious thanks. “Thank you for believing me.”

 

“Of course,” Erin insisted, patting her shoulder upon pulling away. “Hopefully this will all be over so you can get a good night’s rest.”

 

The ride back to the firehouse was tense, Holtz having dropped the keys in Patty’s palm before exiting the ward. She sat in the back with Erin, trying to relax under the woman’s draped arm around her shoulders. “I’ve got a bad feeling about all this, you guys,” She finally stated after a stretch of silence hung uncomfortably in the air.

 

Erin gave her a little squeeze “Why? We’re doing the right thing. you saw the meter. There was definitely a presence in that room earlier today.”

 

Holtz frowned, trying to formulate thoughts to explain her sense of dread. “Not about that, just — that something’s going to go wrong and we’re somehow gonna make things worse for Kara. Or any of the girls there. What if we can’t substantiate a ghost? What if it’s just a site full of potential metaphysical energy? Then she’s going to be called a liar and think she’s crazy.”

 

The rest of the group didn’t have much of a response to that. Abby glanced back with a gentle smile and assured her, “Let’s just hope that we find something, then. Do you want to work on your portable hollow laser with me when we get back?”

 

Finding a grin of her own, Holtz stuffed the bad feelings back into a bottle and gave a single nod of assurance. Erin leaned her forehead against her temple and she closed her eyes to savor the contact, unsure that there was a possibility of getting any more of it for the rest of the day, given the nature of what they had to accomplish.

 

An hour later, Holtz had her long lab coat on over her outfit she’d worn into the office as she hovered over a circuit board, a pair of bug-eyed goggles protecting her eyes from the tiny sparks that the soldering iron she used was creating. A quiet, somewhat-calm playlist was filling the space around her just enough to allow her to focus. Abby buzzed back and forth between the engineer and the small tablet she was using to write code for the device that Holtz was fashioning together. They didn’t need to talk much, having spent the last decade doing similar projects. It wasn’t until the extreme quiet of the usually giddier blonde had been soaking up much of their morning that the older scientist dared to ask if everything was okay.

 

“Peachy-keen, jelly-bean,” Holtz replied with a monotone expression after flipping her goggles up and turning the small green and gold device over in her half-gloved hands, satisfied with the results.

 

“You really think I’m going to let you get away with that answer?” Abby questioned, peering over her glasses.

 

Pressing her lips together, Holtz shrugged and bounced around a little, trying to figure out what she needed to do next to get her laser in trial mode.

 

“Erin said on Friday things were a little…tense. Want to talk about it?”

 

Rolling her eyes and popping her tongue to the roof of her mouth to let out a nasally mewl of no, she explained, “If she already told you, I probably don’t need to reexplain.”

 

Abby raised a brow. “I do happen to love you both very much and know that Erin’s side of a story can sometimes be a little…convoluted with strong feelings rather than the entirety of reality.”

 

Holtz snorted. “That’s a really backwards way of saying dramatic.”

 

Raising her hands defensively, Abby teased, “You said it, not me!”

 

Sighing and trying not to smile at her antics, the blonde tossed herself to a stool, spinning it twice to the left, then swinging right with her legs before propping the little lift of her boot heel on the edge and locking herself in place. Putting her black-leather covered palms on her legs she wondered, “You got twenty minutes?”

 

“How about we run and grab lunch, then you can tell me the whole truth,” Abby assured her, “I’m not picking sides. I just want to know what happened. I already know some of Erin’s opinion of what’s going on as of last Friday. But I think there’s way more to it than that and if there’s anything I can do to help, I’m happy to, alright? You guys are my friends. And I care about your relationship, partially for selfish reasons, but I don’t want anything lingering over you that might…make things worse.”

 

Nodding, the blonde shrugged off her lab coat and jumped off the stool. “Lemmie go explain we’ll be back to the missus,” She winked, sliding down the fireman’s pole and landing on her feet as Abby preferred to take the stairs.

 

Patty and Erin were in the middle of pouring through the NYPD case files that had been faxed over at a large table near the back of the first floor. Phrases had been written out and tacked up to a working-case bulletin board much like an old crime show. “Anything suspicious, ladies?”

 

Erin scoffed a little as she stared at her fiancee, who was looking far too attractive with her hands on her hips, half-dressed up, half looking like she was going to a skate board competition. “If there’s anything not suspicious about a thirteen year old taking their own life, I’d like to know.”

 

Wincing, Holtz stepped closer and watched the waves of emotion ripple across Erin’s face as she read through the second suicide. She sighed and passed the paperwork to Patty, chewing her lip. “Abby and I are gonna grab lunch. You want anything?”

 

After collecting their orders, Holtz happily fell into stride with Abby as they stepped into the muggy summer air. She placed her hands behind her head, waiting until they were about a block away from the fire station before starting to go into staggered details about her interaction with Landon that weekend. Though her version of events was told in fractured pieces as she tended to relate a story, Abby started to understand why she was frustrated with her fiancee’s behavior.

 

“Trust me, if there’s anyone in the world who understands what you’re feeling right now? It’d be me. It took me fifteen years before I said screw it and published our book anyway. You know how guilty I felt about that! And at the time, I didn’t even like her! Well, I did care about her well-being, but —“

 

Holtz put a little touch between her shoulder blades. “I know. You wanted me to think you didn’t care, but I could tell it hurt you to do it without her.”

 

“And that’s just the thing, it’s…” Abby nearly growled as her face got set hard. “Actually, the more I think about it, this is exactly like that. My work couldn’t stand on it’s own without hers. And neither can yours. Plus, if someone else really thinks they’re close to a Dark Matter discovery, we need to get ours out there first! Even if this Chad—“

 

“Landon—“

 

“Whatever douchy name you wanna call him,” Abby frowned, “Even if he’s completely wrong, any work that follows it is going to be very difficult to persuaded on. It’ll be very heavily debated. If we put ours out first, knowing it’s accurate, we can open doors for so many other researchers, and they’d always have to give the credit back to you and Erin.”

 

Shrugging, Holtz was quiet again while Abby continued to ramble about the justice of it all. Really — sharing Erin’s work with the world was about way more than the credit due that it would generate. It was about securing a future place in science for lines of work that weren’t always easy to digest or believe. It would honor the struggle and criticism they faced for years.

 

“Maybe we need to have a team meeting about it. We’ve got a dozen ghosts in traps in the lab and we’re not doing anything with them. Maybe we start out talking about what to do, research wise next, and twist it into working with Dark Matter.”

 

Frowning, Holtz shrugged. “I don’t want her to think we’re attacking her. She’ll just get pissed off. That’s the last thing I want.”

 

Arriving at their destination of the submarine sandwiches that Holtz was desiring, they ordered and ambled back slowly, Abby theorizing how they could persuade their friend and fiancee that her work was critical to the advancement of science.

 

Shifting the topic just slightly, Holtz quietly added, knowing she should have waited for Erin and dinner like the other woman had proposed, “We set a date for the wedding.”

 

Pausing mid-breath to absorb what the blonde had said, Abby let out an excited cheer and nearly dropped the bag of sandwiches she was holding. “Congratulations! When is it?”

 

“August thirty-first. It kind of feels really important,” Holtz said with her flushed cheeks, scratching behind her ear.

 

“Duh! Of course it’s important, you goof! It’s your wedding day!”

 

Shaking her head, she elaborated. “No — more than that. It feels…secure. With…everything, lately — it’s all felt…rocky. Knowing we’re getting married and when is making me feel better.”

 

Abby’s excitement for her friend faded as fast as it came. “Well, Holtz,” She sighed, “If things are rocky, getting married really isn’t a solution. It might just create a new problem. And wedding planning is stressful.”

 

“But if we’re married we have to work through all this, don’t we?” Holtz wondered chewing in the inside of her cheek.

 

“I…” Abby closed her eyes for a moment, pausing as they arrived at a crosswalk. “That makes it seem like you’re locking her in with a contract. That’s not what getting married is supposed to be about. Not that I’ve ever been married, but — I feel like if you want to get married to assure she’s not going to leave is probably the worst reason you could give to get married.”

 

Holtzmann was quiet the rest of the walk, Abby trying to offer advice, then eventually shifting the topic and just trying to get her to smile. When they were standing outside of the headquarters, the shorter woman nudged her friend with a sweet, reassuring smile. “Listen, you love Erin. Erin loves you. And yeah, you guys bicker and sometimes it’s a real fight, but that doesn’t take away from what you have. Couples fall out of love; it’s normal, it happens. But that’s not what is happening with you two. This is an argument that has lots of potential solutions. And I’m happy to try and help you find them. Or you can keep working on it on your own. It’s your choice. But Holtz, you can’t lock her into getting married if it’s because you’re worried she’s going to leave. Because if that’s how you feel, and she knows it? It will happen.”

 

Abby could see the conflicted emotion in her eyes and on her lower lip as she tried not to cry. Taking the bag of sandwiches from her, she suggested. “Go in through the garage, pull yourself together. You love her and you’re going to marry her because you love her, okay?”

 

Nodding, the blonde hurried her way around the building. Lifting the metal flap that contained the retina scanner, she opened the sliding door and stepped into her safe space.

 

Collapsing in the front seat of the Ecto, she put her arms on the wheel and took a deep breath, then another. Wincing, she bit back the tears that continued to threaten their escape. Bouncing her leg up and down and staring out the window, she considered the exchange with Abby and wondered how much of it held merit.