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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.

Chapter Text

She was the kind of girl who was a chaos of contradictions from one second to the next, her mind was never free. Sometimes bright like the sun, sometimes calm like the moon, sometimes stormy like the ocean, sometimes all three. — Nikita Gill

 

 

 

 

 

 


Suiting up once again and hitting the streets to the psychiatric facility, Holtz sat in the passenger seat next to Abby, munching a little nosier than necessary on a bag of potato chips between slurps of a frozen drink she insisted they stop for halfway through the drive. The sun was still lingering in the sky as the time grew closer to eight, a welcome sign of summer. Wondering she was really going to be able to enjoy the warm months with her fiancee, or if they’d be too consumed with planning a wedding while fighting over Dark Matter, Holtz turned her head over her shoulder, staring at the auburn-haired love of her life. She was consumed in reading an article on her tablet, trying to uncover all the potential secrets that the site of Kara’s haunting might hold.

 

Abby caught her staring and gave her a little nudge to the elbow. The interaction didn’t go unnoticed by Patty in the back, who had an entire silent conversation using only eye-contact with Abby in the rear-view mirror. There were times, the tallest of them swore, the drama of their daily lives and intensity of their work could be sustainable as an HBO mini-series. She was sure there were enough women on the internet who would tune in every Sunday for ten weeks to watch other chicks kick ass and two of them fall in love.

 

Pulling up to the hospital and unloading once again, the squad was greeted by Delane, who was both pleased and annoyed to report that there were no new acts of supernatural occurrences within their residence yet that evening.

 

After sweeping the fourth floor to confirm, Abby and Patty both claimed that they’d do the hall crawl in the rest of the building, leaving the couple in a conference room they’d set up with monitors to watch the areas that had lit up with the most ecto-activity earlier in the day.

 

Holtz drummed her fingers on the white tabletop for stimulation while Erin watched the screens without much emotion. As she leaned back, her ponytail tickled the back of her neck, making her shoulders twitch. Catching the slightest shift in movement, Holtz tucked the hair out of her jumpsuit, earning a tiny, sweet gaze from the girl of her dreams. Sighing, she sprawled her chest onto the table, keeping her head tipped up with her chin, eyes gazing from monitor to monitor behind her thickest pair of yellow glasses.

 

It was a few minutes of not awkward silence when she felt Erin’s hand on the low of her back. Smirking, she wondered, “Are we going to experience the full psychological grip of love in here tonight, baby?”

 

Erin scoffed a little. “Holtz. In three years, have I ever let you have your way with me on a bust?”

 

Snickering, the blonde slid her arms up to elevate her head. “You’ll cave some day. Maybe after the honeymoon.”

 

“Who says I’m taking you anywhere?” She joked.

 

“A week with me, in the sand, making out in the water, skinny dipping at your leisure? I think I’ll persuade you by the end of summer.” With a wink, she directed her focus back to the screens.

 

It was nearly fifty minutes before Holtz’s fears earlier in the day of not finding a ghost to bust became null. Just as Patty and Abby rejoined the couple from patrolling the halls, a scream could be heard on the speaker of the monitor showing Kara’s room. She was sitting up in bed, and though there was no ghost visible on the screen, the energy reader set up to record PKE was off the charts in the lower left corner.

 

“Carefully, quietly,” Abby reminded the team as they swooped down the hall and around the corner. Having chosen to trap instead of obliterate what was possibly the spirit of a young girl, if nothing else, to spare Kara the visual memory of watching someone her own age essentially die a second time, they drew their wands before Erin used the card Delane had given them to access Kara’s room. The rest of the hall was quiet, save for the security officer who stood at the end, clearly nervous from the sweat staining his neckline.

 

Holtz followed Patty into the patient room, where Kara was sitting up in bed, staring up at the ceiling. She looked so relieved when she caught sight of the four Ghostbusters, she could have cried. “Kara, baby,” Patty started as they all moved with robot-like stillness as they still couldn’t make out the form that the teenager was staring at, but felt the eerie presence of something in the space. “Get out, go straight to the security guard at the end of the hall.”

 

The little blonde didn’t move, merely sat paralyzed with fear, her gaze locked back on the non-visible entity in the corner.

 

“Honey, we don’t wanna see you get hurt by mistake,” Abby explained quietly.

 

“Why can’t you see it?” She whispered, tears trailing down her face in a silent wave. “Maybe I am crazy.”

 

“No, no,” Erin assured her, “We can feel it,” She stated, drawing closer and putting a gentle hand on the young woman’s back. “Sometimes they do this to make you feel insecure in your own thoughts. It’s all part of the manifestation of the spirit. Go on, we’re going to take care of this. I promise,” She said with conviction.

 

Hoisting her up by the arm, Erin scooted the young lady out to the hallway, locking eyes with the security officer, who took her at his side, before directing her around the corner, where Erin assumed Delane was.

 

Focused and ready for a fight, but not wanting to disturb the rest of the unit, Abby taunted the ghost. “Come on, girly. We know you’re here! You’ve had your fun, now come out and show us what you can really do!”

 

There was a sound like laughter that made Holtz’s teeth chatter before she clenched her jaw together and tightened her grip on the proton wand, quite frankly ready to be done with the site even though what she usually considered fun hadn’t started yet. In this case though, she merely wanted the safety — physical and emotional, of everyone involved. Turning on the HoltzPro video recording device on her pack, she ensured that the fight against a minor, even a dead one, would be appropriate and respectful to the departed girl.

 

Patty was booting up an application on the watch while Erin fished out a second generation spray that was supposed to bring the invisible known entity to life. Chucking the little metal encapsulated bomb into the air, it exploded, causing the four women to cough as a green misty figure started to solidify into a brilliant blue one. The ghost couldn’t have been more than five feet in height, with scraggly hair that trailed down to her waist. Recognizing the image as one she’d studied all afternoon, Erin greeted her. “Hey, Hannah.”

 

Hannah tilted her ghostly head, stunned that they seemed to have information about her. “We’re here to help you, okay?”

 

Another chilling laugh filled the air, followed by a roar of an ecto-sound that Patty’s application translated, courtesy of Holtz’s brilliant engineering, as always. “They couldn’t help me when I was alive, what makes you think you can help me now?

 

“We can help you cross over,” Erin explained. “So you don’t have to be trapped here.”

 

The creepy cackle caught the raw nerve in Holtz’s spine again as she lingered quietly behind the other three, observing the interaction without wanting to participate much, though the haunted, glowing dead gaze from Hannah was making it hard to keep a passive position on the situation.

 

“They told me I was always going to be stuck here,” The roar came out of her mouth while the words came across Patty’s wrist. “And they weren’t lying!”

 

“Who,” Erin probed her further. “Who made you think that taking your life was the only way out of this place?”

 

“Everyone!” A dreadful shriek filled the room and Holtz jammed her eyes shut for a moment to let it wash through her while the other three tightened their hold on the proton wands. “They said I was a basket case! A loon! And there was no true recovery! What was the point!”

 

“Why did you want to spread that to Kara?” Abby wondered, “She’s trying to get better, but taunting her like this isn’t helping!”

 

“Because she isn’t going to make it! None of them ever do! There’s no point. It’s not possible to recover from this!”

 

Sighing, Abby shook her head. “Not for you any more, I’m afraid. But we can help you leave this world so you don’t have to feel this pain. And it doesn’t have to hurt. Nothing ever has to hurt again, Hannah. We can get you to the other side, away from this place and all the memories that go with it.”

 

The next few awful sounds were untranslatable, just noise of years of pent-up frustration that had never been released. “We don’t want to do this the hard way,” Patty explained to Hannah, stepping forward. “You can go into the containment unit willingly and we’ll get you home from there, otherwise we gotta use these, baby,” She gestured to her wand while the girl glowing in blue seemed to be clawing at the very fabric of the universe, trying to create her own way out.

 

“Use them then! I’m not being told what to do! Never again! I will not be a subject of someone’s stupid tests anymore!”

 

Wondering what that really meant, Holtz had her answer as Erin took a few steps forward. “I know about that, Hannah. I saw. Your family signed you up for an experimental treatment. And that was wrong. But we’re not going to do any experiments on you. You’re not malicious. You’re not evil. You just want to move on, right? Let us help you.”

 

Holtz was almost in tears at her fiancee’s gentle nature. It was certainly very different from her usual busting battles, which tended to be all-out war cries. Then again, Hannah hadn’t come seeking destruction. And Holtz knew, Erin understood the dark place she’d been in when she unfortunately became the very ghost they were dealing with.

 

Hannah roared, though and they all took a collective sight before charging forward with their wands, easily capturing the young, non-destructive ghost into a lasso hold. Not wanting to do anything further that could hurt her in the room anymore than she’d been hurt emotionally in the place, Holtz brought her right elbow up and punched the trap activation on her left side, forcing the ghost trap from behind her pack, the lightweight model merely the size of a Coke can, but with triple the power of her earliest prototypes.

 

Yelling out an instruction, “Down and center,” She easily flipped the color of her beam by hitting a tiny green switch at the end of her wand, lighting up the path they needed to take the ghost to. As Hannah was tanked down by the force of their proton streams, the flutter of energy rattled the window, ruffled the sheets, forced drawers to open — making an all around noisy disturbance. But with gritted teeth and a little persistence, the trap closed on her spirit, sending all four Ghostbusters rocking back slightly from the magnitude, but completely unharmed nonetheless.

 

Calling back the trap, Holtzmann tucked it into the back of her pack and turned off the HoltzPro on her shoulder strap. The other three ladies circulated the room with other devices, ensuring that the ghost they’d trapped was the only one that had been haunting the facility.

 

After ten minutes and checking the surrounding rooms, just in case, Abby deemed, “I think we’re all clear, ladies.”

 

Nodding with agreement, Holtzmann followed behind the other three, standing a little far back as she considered how far their operation had come in a few years. It was a different kind of bust they’d just had — a healing bust. It gave her a sense of hope that she hadn’t possessed earlier in the day after her conversation with Abby.

 

Watching Erin interact with Kara, explaining to her all that had transpired and assuring her that her room was safe, Holtz started to feel a swell of emotion she wasn’t sure she could identify.

 

“She felt hopeless, and that’s all it took for her to decide that hopelessness was going to last forever.” Sighing, Erin placed a hand on Kara’s shoulder. “Trust me? Hannah was wrong. Very wrong. Right now, things might not feel so great for you? And I know it’s cliche, but you’ll just have to trust us,” She gestured to her teammates. “Things get better. So much better than you can even imagine right now.”

 

Kara nodded and shifted in her blue sweats, thanking them profusely.

 

Patty offered her two cents. “You know, my cousin got in big trouble in school. She had to go to a lot of counseling and therapy, too — but you know what she’s doing now? Running her own business in Miami. Don’t let this time right now hold you back.”

 

“Hannah didn’t have anyone telling her that it’s worth it,” Abby promised her, “But it is. Finish your time here, follow through with what Dr. Rogers and Dr. Mopie tell you to, and trust me, you’ll be fine. Maybe not right away, maybe not always, but you’ll make it.”

 

Kara glanced at Holtzmann next, waiting for her token advice. Not having any to give that wouldn’t end in her blubbering, Holtz passed the young woman a card from her pocket with their number. “Give us a call when you’re out of here and I’ll show you all my fun toys.”

 

Her eyes sparkled. “Sweet! Can I test out a proton pack?”

 

Erin said no at the same time that Holtz winked and gave a single nod, making Kara laugh — a sparkly sound that had a little hopeful tinkle to it. “Thank you guys. I feel a lot better knowing that I’m not crazy.” She chuckled again, shrugging. “Well, not the type of crazy I thought I was going.”

 

“We’re all mad here,” Holtz assured her as she had earlier, offering a salute as they spoke quickly to the doctors, collected their surveillance gear and made their way back to the fire station for the last time that evening.

 

When stepping into the lab with the small ghost trap, Holtz bit her lip, unsure if she was the one who should give Hannah her final send-off. Erin pressed her shoulder with a reassuring hold of her palm. “Don’t make her wait any longer.”

 

Nodding, Holtz stepped up to the tall, silver cylinder. Placing the trap in an opening that took it up with a noisy metal arm like an automatic milkshake maker, she watched as the inside of the unit roared to life with the usual green mist that they’d yet to fully understand. It swirled and opened a portal to a dimension she had no personal desire to ever get caught up in.

 

Entering a code with the key panel, she felt the gazes of the other three Ghostbusters behind her, letting out a long breath before punching in the numbers to open the trap, revealing Hannah to them for the last time. She gave a little wave through the small window, watching as Hannah was forced backwards into the unknown, where she at least wouldn’t be feeling the sting of human suffering any longer.

 

Waiting as the chamber began it’s countdown sequence before it could be safely turned to standby mode again, Holts climbed onto her lab table, accepting the long, backwards hug that Erin gave her. “You were nearly mute on that bust,” Erin murmured in her ear. “Anything you want to talk about?”

 

Shaking her head but squeezing Erin’s hand reassuringly around her waist, she explained, “I’ll tell you later.”

 

Accepting the kiss to her cheek, she watched Erin shuffle out of the lab behind Abby and Patty — a whole conglomeration of emotions curling up in her chest. Between her satisfaction in a different type of bust well done, the odd feeling of watching Erin interacting so sweetly with the youthful charge, the notes from Abby on her future marriage, and the lingering sense of emptiness coming into her belly that she’d started associating with nighttime, Holtz was feeling too much and nothing at all.

 

Putting her face in her hands, she took a few deep breaths, remembering her strategies for when she was overwhelmed. Not letting panic take over, she only startled slightly when the containment unit beeped. Waltzing over to safely power it down, she typed in her final sequence of numbers and removed the ghost trap, taking it back to her re-charging pack so it would be ready to go the next time they were called out somewhere. Finding Erin in the lobby laughing and dancing to the music blasting from Patty’s phone, Holtz couldn’t help her smile and let herself bust out a move to the beat before taking her future wife home.

 

They were hauled up in bed an hour later, Holtzmann in a pair of Captain America cheeky panties that barely covered her backside and a slightly dingy white tank-top that was rolled up her belly a little. Erin had on a slip of cream and was rubbing her fiancee’s back with a squeeze to her shoulders that made her moan.

 

“What’do’I’do to deserve this,” She sighed out, completely relaxed.

 

“You exist,” Erin assured her, kissing the top of her head, continuing the massage for another few minutes before slinking down next to the woman, pulling her to her side, meeting a steady, brilliant blue gaze with her own.

 

“I love you. I loved you on that bust. You handled it brilliantly.”

 

Erin shrugged, tucking a strand of golden hair behind Holtz’s hair, allowing the blonde to nuzzle her palm with her cheek. “It was Abby and Patty on that one, really. Abby did most of the talking. Patty did the planning for Hannah’s ghost. You did the brilliant work on the ecto-translator.”

 

“Don’t sell yourself short, babe,” Holtz responded to her inadvertent criticism. “You gave Kara hope. You and Abby and Patty. You guys did a really great job tonight. I’m proud of you.”

 

Gently tugging on the bottom of her tank top to uncurl the spandex fabric, Erin kissed her nose. “I think you were great too. Her face lit up when you told her she could come to the fire station. We did good, Holtz. That’s what teamwork is all about; nights like tonight.”

 

Not wanting to bicker about who was the better buster that evening, Holtz yawned, feeling truly tired. “Good night, babe. Big things at work tomorrow? Provided we don’t need to save any more lives at nine in the morning.” She rolled away slightly, not wanting to be trapped in Erin’s heat and shove her halfway off the bed in her sleep. A heavy hand found her hip anyway, and Holtz couldn’t hold back her little smile.

 

X

 

The following morning was spent cataloguing the experience they’d had at the psychiatric facility. Patty, Erin, and Abby were working with the tack board and on laptops, entering data and recording anecdotal notes on the bust. Holtzmann, often uninterested in the non-hands-on aspects of their work, was hauled up in the lab, pulling old prototypes off the shelves in the back of the room. Staring at them, stroking them, closing her eyes and trying to read their energy — willing the universe to give her something to work with in the Tuesday ten o’clock hour.

 

When it was almost eleven and she’d yet to come up with a gameplay for the next five hours of the work day, she tossed a screw driver in frustration, enjoying the clatter as it rattled from the concrete floor to just underneath a long, aluminum shelf, the flathead pointing to the device on the panel above it. Tilting her head, letting a wisp of blonde fall in front of her yellow-tinted eyes, she smirked at what the fates deemed worthy of further exploration for the day.

 

Erin came up to find her elbows-deep in a once-familiar machine an hour and a half later when the rest of the group had decided to break for lunch. She stutter-stepped in the doorway, heart sinking as she clutched the neckline of her snug-fitting, baby blue crewneck t-shirt. “Holtz?”

 

The engineer didn’t hear her at first, completely engrossed in whatever she was attempting to do to the machine. “Holtzmann?”

 

Still not getting a reaction, Erin took a few brave steps forward until she crossed Holtz’s sightline. At the image of her worried fiancee, the woman paled and frowned, trying to find an excuse as to why she was dipping into such a controversial prototype that didn’t seem like she was mocking Erin’s concerns.

 

Naturally, the physicist voiced them. “Why are you working on the emergent gravity machine?”

 

Shrugging, Holtz tried to play it off lightly. “Don’t ask me. I just spun the Screwdriver of Destiny and it wanted me to spend seven minutes in heaven with this guy. Of course, I actually threw it and it’s been like an…” Glancing at her chunky green watch accented by the minty lab coat she had over cropped, striped linen pants and a spacey gray t-shirt, she shrugged. “Been more like a solid ninety minutes, but you get the gist.”

 

Erin crossed her arms and set her gaze seriously. “Pretty ironic that we’ve been bickering over the theory behind this device for three days and you just happen to decide that it needs work today, when you haven't touched it in six months?”

 

Trying to paint herself as innocent still, Holtzmann knew she was failing as she could no longer look Erin in the eye. Focusing her attention back into the hollow cylinder tube that acted like the centrifuge to create dark matter, Holtz shrugged, trying to twist the topic into a positive one. “Remember when we built this bad boy? It only took a night? Scientists have tried since the dawn of the front-brain to come up with the answer to why they have one and we did it one night? God, I just wanna kiss your brain.”

 

“Do not patronize me,” Erin warned, having reset her expression to be wearing a full on glare. “I really want you to stop. You’re giving yourself ideas that we decided we weren’t going to delve more into.”

 

Wanting to parrot her movements but not cause a fuss, Holtz used a pair of precision tweezers to displace a wire from the inside of the small metal unit, still keeping her eyes locked on the parts. It was much easier to defend herself when she wasn’t looking at the source of the confrontation. “You don’t want to publish it. You never said we couldn’t delve more into it. And this is my machine, what if it had been acting up?”

 

“Nice attempt,” Erin said dryly. “Come on, we need to go to lunch.”

 

“I’m good,” Holtz responded, keeping her hands steady, despite the shake that was starting in her gut, knowing just how far she was pushing. When she heard her first name get used as a warning, she winced, glancing up at the now-completely-stone-faced Erin.

 

Apparently sensing the struggle of getting Holtz to lunch but not understanding the severity of it, Patty appeared at the entrance to the lab wearing a cheery smile and clapped. “Come on, love bugs save the biting for toni—“ Cutting herself off at the sheepish guilt radiating off of Holtz while she pretend to be busy and the intense disapproving-mom-stance from Erin, Patty groaned. She stepped into the lab proper and took Erin’s posture, assuming she was being chastised for refusing to eat, not for attempting to explore creation further with what was now apparently Erin’s forbidden science.

 

“Baby doll, you’ve been doin’ so good at leavin’ this stuff for a little bit to get some food in you. I swear, last time you climbed on me you might’a even gained a couple pounds — you needed it, little boo. Now come on, put the tools down and come eat something, alright? We’ll let you pick.”

 

“Not…about the food,” She muttered, flicking the magnifying glass lens down over the eye on the right side of her goggles, getting closer to the inside of the machinery. “Erin can fill you in while you’re out, though she doesn’t like to talk about it, apparently.”

 

“Oh — do not put this on me right now, Holtz!”

 

Shrugging, the engineer kept working when Abby joined the tense trio, also trying to be light and pull Holtz from her work when she read the seriousness of the room. “Whoa, when did this comedy turn into a drama?”

 

Holtz ignored the quip from her first friend and Patty shot her a look of confusion while Erin merely remained a statue of dissent.

 

“Alright, what’s going on.”

 

“Holtz is working on the dark matter machine even though we’ve clearly discussed that it’s not something we should be messing with right now.”

 

“Matter of opinion that I disagree with,” She piped up, placing her tools down and lifting her goggles off of her eyes, daring to look at her furious fiancee without the added layer of protection that could soften the scowl.

 

Abby walked around the lab table, glancing into the centrifuge before shrugging. “Holtz mentioned that yesterday you weren’t so keen on this research.”

 

“Oh, trying to pull them onto your side so that you could come after me —“

 

No,” Abby defended her friend. “She and I merely had a chat while we picked up lunch yesterday, about what happened with her old colleague this weekend. I listened to her express her opinion over it. That doesn’t mean I was picking sides in a war,” She said sternly. “I’m Switzerland.”

 

“I got kicked out of Switzerland,” Holtz couldn’t help but snicker and Erin slammed her hand on the table, cheeks flushed, eyes wide with anger, making Holtz curl an arm into her chest and turn towards Abby, who raised a hand to her shoulder protectively.

 

“That’s just it! You think this is all a joke!” Erin was practically screaming as she turned around to storm off when Patty beat her to the doorway, holding herself firm, arms crossed over her brightly printed tank top, legs in a barricading stance, despite the tight denim skirt she wore. Erin tried to yell something when the much taller woman shook her head, then lifted her hands to show her neutrality also.

 

“Baby, I’m willing to listen to both of you so long as you’re willing to do it in a calm way. I don’t want nobody getting hurt emotionally or physically in a self-induced tantrum, alright? You tend to get a little aggressive when you’re worked up, so I’mma help you through that if you let me so you don’t regret something.”

 

“Don’t worry, she already hit somebody over this,” Holtz said with a pout of a glare after lifting her goggles up to her forehead again. “I think she’s good.”

 

Patty raised a brow and Erin looked mortified that the woman she trusted more than any other living being on the planet would spill the dirty secret she’d harbored since Saturday. “Do you feel better now that you’ve gotten that off your chest? Next time you need help, don’t call me!”

 

Patty gently placed both her palms on Erin’s shoulders, trying to lower them from her stressed hunch near her earlobes. “Shhh, easy,” She assured her while Abby shot Holtz a glare as well for her low blow. At the realization of how heated the conflict was getting, the blonde let out a whimper and tried to take a few steps back — fully prepared to fling herself out the window and down the fire escape to avoid the argument that was unfolding.

 

“Nope, no — do not run — Holtzmann!” Abby sternly stated, locking the engineer into her side with a hug when her posture shifted to flee. “We’re going to deal with this. Come on, family meeting, upstairs, now.”

 

Patty steered Erin while Abby dragged Holtz along until they were all in the lounge on the third floor. Erin and Holtz were seated both on opposite ends of the sofa, the taller one absolutely steaming, her face matching the no symbol of their logo on the poster framed to the wall behind them. Holtz’s was resembling the ghost proper, her expression just as blank as the white hue as she tried to at least mentally escape the negativity if she couldn’t physically run away from the situation.

 

“Okay. Holtz, tell Patty about Saturday morning with Landon.”

 

Barely managing an octave loud enough to be heard, the blonde spoke in short, choppy sentences. “Douche bag — from Gorin’s lab, this one —“ She rolled up her left sleeve, touching the very faint scars from well over a decade previous that had never fully gone away. “Trying to tell me his stupid…lab, almost having a dark matter break though — wouldn’t leave me alone, called Erin…he was full of shit, she hit him, we left.”

 

“Yeah, that’s exactly how it went down,” Erin rolled her eyes, all heat as frustration rippled off of her body. “Holtz called me in to try and give him our Dark Matter data.”

 

“No I didn’t,” She practically whined. “I just wanted you to listen to what he had to say so we could see if it was worth arguing with him. Then you fought him anyway.”

 

“Whatever, Holtz, like I said — next time? Just don’t call me if you don’t want me actually defending you—“

 

“Oh, don’t act like you wouldn’t be there in five and a half seconds to help her with anything,” Abby sneered, tired of the attitude from both of them. “Listen, this isn’t helpful. Landon’s an idiot, we’ve clarified that. But he may be an actual threat to our legitimate research. I also think we need to put a feeler article out about our work. But, it’s not my decision. We were all apart of it, yes. Holtz, you engineered the device. Patty and I helped you get it together so fast; then we all busted together. But it’s Erin’s theory and her choice.”

 

Patty shrugged. “I think that Erin’s point has been valid all along. It could be potentially world-ending information in the wrong hands. I really think this is her call to make. While we all saved Christmas, Erin’s thinking is what got us there. Holtzy, baby, it’s your machine, and you can figure out some way to share it if you really want to, but Abby’s right. Ultimately, this is Erin’s discovery, she gets to share it. I’m sorry that you don’t like it or that it doesn’t seem fair…” Her voice trailed off as she watched Holtz folding into herself in defeat. Thankfully, Erin wasn’t wearing the color smug at hearing both her colleague’s reactions to the situation.

 

“I’m not doing this to intentionally make you feel bad,” She muttered. “It’s just really frustrating that you won’t let it go.”

 

Holtz had no response to that either, merely pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arm around her legs, staring into space. Abby leaned a hand forward and brushed her shoulder, not earning a smile.

 

“Okay. Well, listen — let’s cool off, alright? Erin, how about you and I go grab lunch? Patty — you and Holtz take it easy, we’ll bring you something back?”

 

“You got it,” The tallest of them nodded and Erin stood up, moving to the door without looking at any of them. Abby offered Holtz one last comforting touch before walking out the door.

 

When they heard the sound of the firehouse door click, Holtz finally let out the tears she’d been holding back through the whole ordeal. Patty scooped her right up into a hug. “It’s okay, baby. I got you. Patty’s got you. It’s alright to be upset. Just let it out.”

 

“I’m so tired of crying lately,” She finally managed to say. “I think something’s wrong with me. And maybe Abby was right — maybe Erin and I shouldn’t get married if we can’t even—“

 

“You stop that right now,” Patty warned her. “You will work this out. I’m not saying getting married tomorrow would be a good choice but having an argument doesn’t mean you two should break off everything you’ve worked so damn hard for.”

 

X

Holtzmann wasn’t in any sort of talking mood by the time they were home that evening after six, together, but quite apart — and frankly, Erin was grateful. (It was truly remarkable how the night before, they’d been so cozy and full of sweet-talking compliments for one another.) Usually when the blonde shut down she was annoyed at the lack of communication, but after the events of the day, the last thing Erin wanted was to have another discussion. The Tuesday evening air was nearly foul as it wore on. Holtz had stomped down to the lab upon arriving to the townhouse while Erin closed herself into the loft — as physically apart as possible in the small New York City home. She’d been staring at the TV in a slew of mad feelings until a noise tipped her off hat the prodigal engineer had emerged from her work in the basement. Noting the time and that she’d let four hours pass in a fit of rage, she wasn’t surprised to hear her fiancee’s attention span shifting. She heard the closing of drawers and doors before the clicking of a light that was not a sound in their bedroom. Unable to help herself, she wandered down the stairs and into the hallway, spotting her supposed-to-be-future-wife laid out on the couch with a blanket drawn around her waist.

 

Sighing, Erin sarcastically expressed, “Honestly — this is just passive aggressive.”

 

There was no response for such a long stretch, Erin was sure that the woman was intentionally trying to bar her from any emotional connection that night. However, upon growing closer to ebb her anger, Erin realized the silent tears on her supposedly favorite person’s face had everything to do with her.

 

“Oh, Holtz,” She sighed and made a sound like a deflating balloon before crawling up to squeeze between the engineer and the cushion, wrapping a long arm around her waist and crushing their bodies together. Fuck being right for ten minutes, she just wanted to feel right. After everything they’d been through, especially the last few weeks of misery, Erin had hoped that their weekend of flushing out the issue would be the end of it. As she’d been proven that was not the case, she was starting to feel an absolute loss for a resolution that wouldn’t break both their hearts. “We gotta figure this out, sweetheart.”

 

Holtz finally managed to whimper out, “I know what you want but I think you’re wrong and it’s killing me.”

 

For a moment, Erin wanted to let go, run for a bag, shove a week’s worth of clothing in and disappear — go to Abby’s, a hotel, even her parents would have been an easy alternative. It’s what she’d always done in the past. It’s what she knew. It’s what was easy. What would feel safe.

 

Instead, she gripped Holtzmann harder, using her as a lifeline to keep her floating in reality, what was destiny, what was important. She couldn’t run from this. She couldn’t run from her.

 

“I don’t know what to say,” She stated honestly after another uncomfortable long beat of silence. “We’re going to disagree on this. I’m not compromising.”

 

“But think of it, Erin!” Holtz sat up, untangling herself and trying with all of her absolute damn might to gather her thoughts into coherent sentences. Expressing her emotions was one thing. Standing up for what she thought was right, was another. Having to do both towards someone she needed as the actual fabric holding her universe together was practically impossible, and why the thin material seemed to be unraveling at the seams for months, and was now finally, truly tearing. “You were wrong about this same thing once before.” Oh, no — no, no — she’d done it. She’d told Erin she was wrong and the look on her lovers’ face said it all. “That’s; it’s not that you’re wrong. You’re right. You’re brilliant. But you hide it. And you don’t. I — Erin,” She took a long breath and wiped at her face with he edge of her sleeve while the brunette could only stare at her with a long, hard gaze. “I love you. You’re the smartest woman I know. But you come up with these big ideas and then you run away from them and don’t want anyone else to know!” She lifted both hands, palms up defensively. “You did it with Ghosts of Our Past and now you’re doing it with Dark Matter. You need to share your work, Erin.”

 

Erin’s face was almost set dark. Her eyes were shadowed by the way her bangs fell in front of them. Holtzmann felt uncomfortable at the long stretch which the bright, angry blue eyes stared into her with. A sudden grab at her left hand stirred her from the fright settling into her bones. Erin shook her head once, firmly. Their engagement rings touched and the metal on metal contact released kinetic energy somewhere into the universe that shocked the tears off Holtz’s cheeks; she hoped that meant the horrid moment of unbridled emotion was over. But in a simple, cliche phrase, Erin wore Holtzmann down. “I love you too much to argue.”

 

Nodding, Holtz pressed her forehead into the apex of Erin’s shoulder and let out a cry, dampening the thin fabric of her t-shirt almost instantly. It was a long moment before she felt liquid on her head and realized Erin was crying too — that her soul hadn’t hardened to shut her out; that she was just as upset by everything as Holtzmann was. Perhaps she’d just been holding herself together better, to be strong for her fiancee — the younger woman didn’t care.

 

Even though she’d broken down her defense to an extent, Erin’s voice came out strong. “I want to crawl inside your head and explain to you all the reasons why I can’t do this, Holtz. It’s nothing to do with hiding my work. This time, I’m not ashamed. It’s not like with Abby and Ghosts. I’m terrified and I’m not letting these secrets escape us to be used against us somehow. You know what I’ve done. You know what my theory proved. And your validation is the only one I seek now a-days and you pressuring me is making me wonder if yours isn’t good enough. And it is, your opinion of me is the only one that matters. So please stop. Please drop this.”

 

There were things Erin couldn’t say in the monologue. All she wanted was to love and be loved by Jillian Holtzmann. That the creation of the universe wasn’t as important as what she did in it and who she did it with. That sharing information that could alter the time stream and space would threaten all that — it wasn’t worth it.

 

“I don’t want to dismiss your thoughts and feelings,” Erin finished the simple speech, hoping it would be the last they hammered out the topic. “They are valid, they are real to you. But I’m not publishing this. And that’s the last time I’m saying it.” She breathed out through her nose and pleaded, “Come to bed with me, Jill. Please don’t lay out here.”

 

Holtz removed herself from Erin’s body and stood up, stoically dropping the blanket from her lap and clutching Erin’s hand, following her to the hallway after she pulled herself from the sofa. They went to the bedroom, Holtz stripping the shorts she was wearing before crawling onto her side of the bed. Confusion and frustration were rolling off of her in waves but Erin could handle that better than not being around her at all.

 

Knowing it could be painful but not bringing herself to stop the actions, she shucked her clothes across the room, wearing just her underwear and sliding between the comforter and fitted sheet. Pressing her bare front to Holtz’s t-shirt covered back, she curled around the engineer again, kissing the base of her skull, her neck, her cheek — whatever she could reach. She slipped her hand up the thin cotton shirt, rubbing her stomach, her side, below the swell of her breasts. Eventually, Holtz rolled more towards her, and within a few minutes of the gentle, loving touches — despite how negative she felt and presented, Holtz was giving Erin eye-contact in the glow of lights that was always on in the bedroom.

 

“I love you,” Holtz whispered in the stillness and Erin propped herself up with her right elbow, keeping her left hand splayed across her stomach. The assurance of the reminder forced She hovered her face over her fiancee’s, pressing their noses together before laying a slow, deep kiss to her lover’s lips. Her palm ghosted up, over her breast and settling over the space where her heart was. Holtz nodded once after Erin pulled her mouth away, keeping their gaze locked. Holtz moved her hand up her own shirt so it covered Erin’s, promising, despite it all, “That beat is just for you — no matter what.” Erin’s smile made her look a few years older due to relief for a split second, but Holtz didn’t care as she leaned up to kiss her again.

 

X

Abby was humming as she typed mindless data into a computer, her gaze focused on the spreadsheet of numbers in front of her. The firehouse was nearly silent, for all of another hour until the rest of the team and their secretary would arrive. Most days she was the first to come to work, enjoying the quiet hum of Holtzmann’s machinery with a cup of sugar mixed with coffee. Just as she had saved the document to a flash drive, the front door squeaked open, far earlier than it should have. Raising a brow and squinting through her glasses, she noted her lifelong, though occasionally troubled, best friend walking through the doors alone.

 

Having a feeling she knew where the morning was headed, she greeted the thin brunette with a, “Coffee?”

 

“Please,” She replied, voice laced with exhaustion. Taking in Erin’s outfit, noting she was on day three of athletic capris and a baggy top with her hair swept up, she realized that meant the happy couple was spending more time avoiding one another than not. What an up-and-down rollercoaster they’d been on the last few days…weeks…months — really, years worth of a relationship. Not that Abby had much of a framework for romance, but she’d seen her parents make it forty-some odd years, and they always seemed to have it together.

 

“Can we talk?” Erin pleaded when Abby handed her the steaming mug, and her shorter friend merely gave a simple nod.

 

“About anything and always, right?”

 

Settling herself down in chair next to Abby’s desk, she drummed her fingers and pressed her lips together a few times before flicking her gaze over and questioning her friend, “Has Holtz talked to you recently about us — not just the dark matter stuff?”

 

Rolling her eyes and shrugging a little, Abby eased herself back into her high-backed, comfortable leather rolling chair. “As much as Holtzmann really talks, you know. It was more of a mess of words and feelings that she has no idea how to express.”

 

“What am I doing?” Erin groaned, pulling a hand over her face and whining into the palm. “Abby — I think, I might’ve made a mistake. We — I, proposed a wedding date for the end of summer. But I think that was a bad idea now. I don’t know. Abby, what am I doing?”

 

“You’re really asking the wrong person for advice. Holtz expressed similar concerns, in some way. She is excited about marrying you, don’t let me undersell that, but — I don’t know that the reasons that either of you are proposing a wedding day are really…good ones.”

 

Erin blinked, setting her coffee down to wring her hands together. “What did she say?”

 

Scratching her eyebrow, Abby made a little hissing sound, like she knew she shouldn’t betray Holtz’s confidence, but knowing that the blonde wouldn’t get the words out herself, felt some sort of obligation to express them for Holtzmann. “It almost seemed, to me, like she was excited for it because it meant there wasn’t a chance of your relationship ending. Like if you were married, you’d just have worked through everything and that’s that.”

 

Frowning, Erin shrugged, really considering the notion before responding. “I guess — I kind of feel the same way. I want to marry her so she doesn’t feel nothing, so she knows she’s not alone. I guess if a piece of paper can make her feel that way, I’m willing to do it.”

 

Abby winced again, drawing her teeth back in a pained expression. “But if you’re both doing this for selfish reasons, is that really he healthiest way to start a marriage? You’re both afraid of doing or saying something to chase the other away. You really want to be in a marriage where the basis of it is fear of the other leaving?”

 

She could see the agony in Erin’s expression of not being able to communicate the message from her brain to her heart that what she’d proposed was wrong. After a whole minute of strained quiet where the only noise was the sound of Erin thinking, the scientist, known for her wit and wisdom in her acclaimed writing pieces, could only manage a, “Fuck.”

 

Letting out a little snort, Abby touched her shoulder sweetly when she brought her arms folded up under her cheek as she laid her head on the desk. “I know. I know. I don’t know how to help, but I know what the problem is. And now, you and Holtz both know, too. I can’t really give you the solution or even much of a way to find it. But I can tell you that you’ll both be just as miserable in this marriage as you will at the thought of not being together if you do it for the reasons you’re describing.”

 

Erin whined loudly, mostly in an attempt not to cry. Abby slid her chair around closer, rubbing her back. Sitting up for a brief second so she could lean against the shorter woman, Erin pressed her fists to her eyes. “She tried to sleep alone last night. I wouldn’t let her. I don’t know if that was right or wrong, but despite everything yesterday, I couldn’t bare the thought of her being alone. Even for one night.”

 

“That’s because you love her,” Abby assured her. “And knowing Holtz? She wanted you to force her into bed. In fact, she probably didn’t do it intentionally, because I don’t think she has that in her. But she needed you to do that. You made the right call. And with all the Dark Matter stuff? It’s just fresh again for her because of the whole Landon thing. And, yeah, I agree with her to an extent, but it’s not my choice, Erin. I know what happens when I try to take your choice away from you, and I won’t do that again. So just…take it easy, alright? Take it slow. You two have a get away coming up in a few weeks here and you’ll use that time to rekindle this. And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you will be ready to get married by the end of it. Just…don’t do it for the wrong reasons.”

 

Further north and rolling over with a headache pounding at her optical lobe, Holtz whined and reached for Erin. Frowning at feeling an empty mattress, she called for her fiancee without results. Forcing her eyes open, she sat up and immediately laid back down, the burn at the base of her skull so bad she wanted to cry — but knew that would only make the situation worse; and had likely caused it with the amount of tears she’d shed the day before. Not enough water, clogged sinuses — puffy eyes, that would all lead to misery. Whining loudly, she tried calling for Erin again.

 

“Babe, what’s going on?” She loudly groaned, then turned all the way over to Erin’s side of the bed, finding her blue turtle water bottle filled with ice and a bottle of Asprin, the cap off, alongside a note, just as she’d left for Erin the weekend before. Frowning, she took two and chugged half the water down before reading the neatly scrawled message. Went to work early, too much on my mind this morning. I am sure you’ve got a headache from yesterday. I promise to massage your temples when you get in. Made you an omelette — it’s in the fridge if you want it. I love you and when you’re ready, we’ll figure out where we’re going. — E

 

Wanting to crumble it up and toss it away, Holtz instead laid in bed for another ten minutes. Erin must have been really haunted by their conversation the day before to be awake before her — a very rare occurrence in their house, especially on a work day. Glancing at the time and noting it was almost seven, she sighed and winced at the pounding in her head, but forced herself up anyway. Figuring there was no one in the apartment to chastise her wardrobe, she settled on something that she could be comfortable in, even if it likely meant a lecture on the potential dangers of wool in the summer when she got home. Tugging on her darkest yellow pair of lenses over her sensitive eyes, she made way to the kitchen.

 

Skipping the omelette in the fridge and smirking to herself, Holtz opened a cabinet door that she’d installed herself; which of course meant, it had been Holtzmann’ed. It contained a false side that Erin was none-the-wiser to. Removing the panel that hid her stash, she grinned wickedly at the selection of majorly unhealthy treats; including a variety of Hostess snacks, Cookie Crisp, and spicy Takis. Licking her lips, she started with a bowl of the excessively sugary cereal, mixing together a glass of chocolate milk to pour on it using the Nesquick powder in her collection. Feeling quite like Little Debbie herself, she had a Twinkie for dessert to polish it off. Knowing just how naughty she’d been, she cleaned up any evidence of the disgraceful excuse for the most important meal of the day and laced up her boots, taking out the trash that contained the Twinkie wrapper that she didn’t want Erin to find and have another reason to chastise her for later.

 

Taking her time and a slow walk to the Metro station instead of a bus for the morning, Holtz literally stopped to smell the roses that were being sold at a corner. She promised the gentleman selling them she’d get some when she and her fiancee were finished quarreling later that week. He said they could very well smooth things over, and Holtz agreed — but she didn’t want smoothed-over, she wanted resolution. Still waiting for the Advil to kick in, Holtz watched for the train and tried to tune out the loudness of the world that was causing the vein in her forehead to throb.

 

Some forty minutes later, she was sitting on a bench that she knew would eventually be crossed by Patty on her way into work. Sure enough, at exactly eight fifty-three, seven minutes from the walk it would take to be at work at nine, the taller Ghostbuster had her hands out and a really expression ready for the blonde. Standing up and practically sprinting despite her aching head, Holtz attacked Patty in a hug which the older woman assumed meant nothing good had happened the night before.

 

“No, it wasn’t bad. But I woke up alone and I really needed this.”

 

Patty hugged her a little harder before prying her off and taking her to the closet convince store for comfort food, not knowing how much the scientist had already consumed that morning. Buying her a churro and a Monster, she watched Holtz happily consume both, her smile spreading out over her cheeks, then fading when they stood outside the fire house, where she was afraid of causing drama once more.

 

Patty stepped in first, holding onto Holtzmann’s upper arm as the blonde fought her every step until they were inside and the door sealed shut behind them. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest, energy drink half gone in her backpack pocket, a furrowed brow, and a pout on her lips. When Erin finally looked up from her desk to the commotion, she swallowed her comment about her fiancee’s thick brown dress pants, long sleeve, striped shirt rolled to the elbow, with a vest over it all. Her glasses were covering her glare, but Erin had a feeling their engineer was sending laser beams in her direction. Feeling small under the leer, she tracked the spitfire up the stairs, then found her gaze full of a disapproving mama bear expression from Patty she did not like to be the recipient of.

 

“Can I talk to you outside?” Erin swallowed, afraid to say no as she stood up and followed the much taller (and at present, intimidating, despite her generally gentle manner) woman outside.

 

To her surprise, Patty swept her up in a hug the minute they hit the sidewalk. “Baby, I know pretty much the gist of all this hoopla that’s got both of you so worked up. And I’m sorry that there’s really nothing any of us can do until the two of you accept that maybe a wedding isn’t what you need right now.” She felt her throat tighten again as Patty kept her upright, knowing she’d likely fall of pent up emotions if she let go. “But I’m here for both of you, alright? Don’t think I’m takin’ sides. I think you’ve both got valid points, valid feelings, and a still very valid relationship. But it needs a gift of time right now that I’m not sure either of you really want to give it.”

 

Clutching onto the woman’s shoulders, Erin let out a long breath. “Thank you, Patty. I know — I know we need to talk about the wedding next. It’s just…how do we even begin?”

 

Setting Erin back on her feet and holding her by the shoulders, Patty promised, “You’ll find a gentle way to do it. Listen, Holtzy’s upset that you weren’t home this morning; go give her a hug like you just gave me, yeah?”

 

Nodding, they returned to the building, Erin ascending the stairs possibly faster than she ever before had. She stood at the top with a frown at the sight of a closed lab door. Not letting it deter her, she pushed it open to find Holtz sitting on top of a metal table, hands trembling visibly. She caught sight of Erin and frowned, stuffing them between her legs and letting out a sigh as her fiancee walked around to stand in front of her. “You’re not very good at taking a hint these last few days.”

 

Erin shrugged and leaned forward. Pulling Holtzmann to the floor, she led her up the stairs to the sofa they’d argued on the day before. Sitting upright, she motioned for Holtz to stretch out with her head in Erin’s lap. Using her index fingers she rubbed her temples, feeling the extraordinary heart rate within the veins. “Jill, you are so wound up.” She bit her lip after muttering, “I’m so sorry.” Continuing to try and ease her, Erin wondered, “Is there something else I can get you that will make you feel better?”

 

“Don’t run off in the morning again? Especially after a day like yesterday?” Holtz stated quite firmly, quite aggressively, and quite unlike herself. Erin swallowed hard gave a nod, though Holtz couldn’t see it with her closed eyes. Still — it wasn’t as though Holtz had never done the very same behavior…

 

“I didn’t mean for it to seem so callous. I just…I don’t have an excuse. I’m sorry. I promise — I’ll at least wake you up if I ever feel the need to do it again. I should’ve been more sensitive —“

 

Holtz cut her off by rolling onto her side suddenly, curling up around Erin’s middle. “Okay. Bad feelings over. Cuddle now we must.”

 

Erin whined after just a minute. “You’re so warm, baby. Why are you wearing wool pants in the middle of summer?”

 

Frowning, Holtz sat up. “Why do you have to keep picking fights with me? Who cares!”

 

Opening and closing her mouth like a fish in failure to find a counter-argument, Erin blinked and pulled her head back when Holtz escaped the room. Dwelling on the knowledge that Abby’s earlier points and option were more or less facts and best-judgement, Erin laid herself slowly back to the cushions. Taking a shaky breath, she turned into the back of the sofa, willing her brave front to stay up lest another one of her busters-in-arms find her in such a miserable state.

 

X

 

A week of timid glances, short conversations and more time spent with their friends than each other ended with Erin receiving a phone call that had her absolutely giddy with excitement.

 

“I’ll have to figure it out, but I’d be honored to come,” Holtz overheard her talking into her cell phone early on Saturday morning. She was in the living room, the bed empty and cold, indicating she’d been awake for awhile; apparently their fight had them switching sleeping habits.

 

Trying not to listen in any further, Holtz rolled off the mattress and dragged herself to the bathroom, brushing her teeth and hopping in the shower. Recalling that Saturdays were conditioning days, she dropped a dollop of smooth white cream into her palm, lathering it into blonde tresses. Taking her time rubbing some sugary frufru scrub onto her skin after shaving her legs (not wanting to hear it about dressing inappropriately for the weather again), Holtzmann rinsed off and stepped into the steamy bathroom air with a shiver at the loss of the near scorching water that had rained down on her for some twenty-odd minutes. Slapping her beat-red limbs with lotion and taking her time with the task, she flipped her hair upside-down, drying it with a sonic sounding wave of a self-improved blow dryer. Unfortunately, it only took four minutes and despite the total of forty she’d managed to spend hiding among the excuse of self-care and hygiene, she’d yet to come up with a quality excuse to spend the day away from her frustrating fiancee.

 

“Good morning!” Erin chirped, far too perky for…Holtzmann glanced at the time on the microwave — eight o’clock on a Saturday. “Breakfast?”

 

“Just coffee,” Holtz mumbled, sliding across the tile in a pair of cut-off jean overalls that were about four inches shy of her kneecaps and a blue t-shirt underneath. Her hair was up with a quiff of long bangs. Pouring her brew, she could feel Erin’s eyes boring into her back and had a tingle run up her spine along with it.

 

Sensing her discomfort and edginess, Erin knew she aught to have given the blonde space, but being the pusher that she tended to be, tugged her to the breakfast nook instead. Holding her hand, she quietly insisted on knowing, “Are you still upset about earlier this week? Or is it something else?”

 

Holtzmann swallowed thickly, ready to pivot the conversation to keep it from becoming an argument if need be. “Both.”

 

Erin waited for a moment, eventually letting a quiet breath through her nose and asking, “Do you want to tell me about it or just be left alone?” When the younger woman bit her lip, Erin had her answer. “Okay. Well — I don’t want to ignore the way you feel but if you want me to, I can.” Another quiet minute passed and Erin added, “I got a call this morning from York; The Review would like me to come out there in two weeks for an award and a conference.”

 

The blonde processed the information before a splitting grin took over her face. Despite everything else she was feeling, the news of her fiancee’s success had her glowing. Kissing her cheek, she assured her she felt the swell of pride that was bubbling inside her chest. “That’s awesome, babe. You deserve it! Which article is it for?”

 

“Light Theory and Metaphysical Phenomena,” She responded, trying not to seem overly excited, though she was. “It also comes with a thirty thousand dollar grant we can elect to use for further study. I was thinking it would give us the material to work on the hollow light tubes we bounced around last fall and never pulled together since it wouldn’t have done anything for us in the field; but it could be a really big accomplishment for you if we can get it to work?”

 

Holtz lifted her shoulders, her bad mood seeming to ripple off her as she considered the idea. “I can be persuaded to invent something with thirty grand.” She grinned, then faltered as she made a connection. “Two weeks? Oh — Erin, that’s…I’ve got that summit at Cambridge I’m presenting at the first week of July.”

 

Erin’s lips twitched down as well. “I know.”

 

“Well — I mean, you don’t have to come with me…I guess — you shouldn’t miss out on that. But — I don’t want you to go alone to receive an important award, either.” Holtz played with her partner’s fingers and sighed, trying to hide her dissapointment. “I guess I can talk to Gorin and —“

 

“Holtz, no,” The older woman insisted, cupping her cheek sweetly. “She’s been wanting to present at a conference with you for years. You’ve been working on this project for months. And you haven’t spent time with her in forever.”

 

The engineer’s breath caught in her throat — something akin to fear. “You want to go alone?”

 

Shaking her head, Erin insisted, “I don’t want to, of course not. But I want you to be able to keep your obligation. I was thinking — maybe we can get Abby and Patty to join us so neither of us are alone? The mayor owes us after disrupting our Christmas vacation.”

 

Holtz laughed out loud and cried out, “Yes! I call Patty!”

 

“Fine,” Erin stuck her tongue out and ever the goof she was, Holtz pressed her own to it before receiving a hand to her whole face and a chuckle as it was pushed away. “Let’s have them over tonight and ask?”

 

Agreeing, Holtz wrapped Erin’s still breezy nightgown-covered frame up in a hug from the position along the bench. “I love you all the time. Even when I’m frustrated. You know that right?”

 

“I do,” She stated quietly. “And I feel the same way.”

 

After sending a group message to their teammates, Erin lingered around the kitchen, watching Holtz out of the corner of her eye as she maintained busyness — slowly putting away the dishes in the drying wrack, wiping down the countertops, leaning against the Swiffer handle after going over the floor. The blonde had just finished her coffee and had her gaze locked blankly into her mug. Creeping up beside her, Erin wondered, “Is it the Grimm?”

 

Snorting her laughter and shaking her head from it’s contemplated trap on the empty contents of the cup, she hooked a finger around the little tie of Erin’s sleep shorts. Pressing her lips together and up, she was met with a sweet kiss, leaving the lingering taste of hazelnut on her fiancee’s mouth and earning her palm along her cheek. “I love you, Jill,” Erin stated firmly. “No matter what we’re arguing about. You can doubt my academic intentions or sincerity in not wanting attention for the Dark Matter project, but never doubt that I love you.”

 

Feeling her breath stutter in her chest, as that was essentially the meat of what she’d discussed with Abby earlier in the week, Holtz managed a nod. “Thank you.”

 

“Do you want to go outside for a walk or something before it gets too hot?”

 

Sporting her gaze to the digital weather reader on the kitchen windowsill, Holtz noted it was going to be in the nineties later that afternoon. “Yes, please.”

 

Erin nodded and found herself in a breezy blue summer dress and sandals, her necklace and ring from the woman tying up her black boots were the only accessories she needed. Her hair was down, clinging to her shoulders — Holtz grinned at the sight; she’d been pulling it up all week. When she stood back up, the blonde hooked her arms around her waist. “We match. Do you realize how freakin’ pretty you are?”

 

Unable to stop the red from spreading over her cheekbones, Erin pecked Holtz on her own, tucking the house key in the pocket on her overalls, then flicked Holtz’s glasses that were perched in her hair over her face. They stepped into the warm morning a minute later, fingers laced and stride slow. As they made their way to the park a few blocks over from their home, Erin considered for a minute, they weren’t a team of metaphysical ghost fighters trapped in a heated debate about whether or not to publish the dangerous secrets of the very foundation of the universe. While they walked towards a rare solace of nature in the big city, they were just a couple, untraditional, but just as in love as any that had come before them. She brushed their bare shoulders together, Holtz’s little smirk contagious at the contact.

 

“Abby thinks it wouldn’t be our best choice to get married right now.” Erin said quietly after walking into the shaded area of the park path.

 

She didn’t feel Holtz tense at the words and at first wondered if she’d even heard them. After debating whether or not she should repeat herself, Erin felt her body get tugged a little as Holtz dropped her hand in lieu of wrapping her own across her back and settling on the opposite hip so she was holding her close while she was walking.

 

“I think though our friends are wise, they don’t get to make those sorts of decisions for us,” Holtz finally managed to say. “But, taking into account the argument that was made…” In her usual quiet nature, there was a long pause before she found any additional commentary to string back together. Erin leaned into her side a little more. “What do you think? Since you brought it up. We’ve both known this to be her opinion for a few days.”

 

Erin wished for a few moments that it was fall and that there were leaves to crunch beneath her feet to fill the silences that kept falling over them. Still, Holtz’s hold on her never wavered and her touch in return was reassuring. “She might be right.”

 

“Yeah,” Holtz stated simply in response. “I think so.”

 

More anticlimactic quiet followed before Erin felt the need to promise, “It doesn’t mean that it’s not ever happening. Just maybe not by summer’s end.”

 

Understanding completely, Holtz leaned against Erin impossibly closer. “Maybe a cool Halloween wedding in a graveyard.” Her fiancee’s rumble of laughter eased her into continuing to tease, “Everyone has to come in costume. We can do this underworld style, you in a vampiress dress, me in a cape and horns.”

 

“You want me to be your mistress of the dead?” Erin winked and kissed her temple.

 

Holtz chuckled at the action and stopped walking to pull her into a proper hug. “We’re gonna be alright, Gilbert?”

 

With her arms locked around the younger woman’s waist, Erin nodded against her head. “Absolutely.”

 

That evening, Holtz was manning a grill of her own invention, allowing the succulent odor of the juicy, marinated chicken on shish-kabobs she and her fiancee had prepared to sizzle all over Manhattan’s Northwest corner. She was bopping about to the music spilling out from her rock garden speakers, dancing with herself and Billy Idol.

 

“How,” A loud voice started her, making her squeak and nearly drop the tongs she was holding as Patty stepped onto the balcony with a raised brow. “Do you have so much damn energy all the time?”

 

“I don’t,” The blonde assured her, flipping a kabob over and offering a grin that held just a touch of sadness behind yellow-covered glasses.

 

Patty tilted her head. “What’s going on, baby girl.”

 

Shrugging, Holtz let out a long, complicated-sounding sigh. “We’re not rushing a wedding.”

 

Smiling, Patty stepped forward and sat herself into a chair next to the grill, while Holtz closed the lid and plopped into her lap, earning an umph, but Patty hugged her middle tight anyway. “You don’t need to rush it. It won’t be worth it if you’re not doin’ it for the right reasons.”

 

“I know,” Holtz sighed, leaning her head forward against Patty’s, fingering the sparkly gold chain around her neck. “You’re always so fancy.”

 

“Hey — gotta show up somewhere with the whole squad lookin’ good, right?”

 

Nodding with a little smirk, Holtz stood back up and went back to her grilling while Patty chatted about a family wedding she’d recently been to that was, “Literally insane.”

 

Erin and Abby joined them shortly after with a few carefully balanced trays and bowls. “Man this is so good,” Holtz sighed as her mouth watered at the sight of corn on the cob, an apple salad and lovely looking beverages. “Er, baby — you out do yourself every time.”

 

“Trust me Holtzy, she didn’t start cooking until you came along,” Abby teased. “She’s always been a mess in the kitchen!”

 

“Have not!”

 

Abby leered and pointed an accusing finger. “You set off the fire alarm three times in the first month of college alone! You went from Ghost Girl to Burnt Toast and ‘Hey, did you know you’re supposed to put water on your ramen before you put it in the microwave?’”

 

Groaning, Erin tilted her head back and whined as their other compadres cackled mercilessly. “It was like three am! We had a big test in physics that day! I was hungry and so tired, I forgot! Ugh no one ever lets me just live something down.”

 

“Hey,” Holtz pointed a skewer at her after pushing the meat and vegetables off of it with a fork, “I resent that. There are a lot of things I could tell these two that I have casually forgotten for your sake over the last two and a half years of living with you.”

 

Erin tried to send her a menacing glare as Abby and Patty pleaded for Holtzmann to spare just one dirty little secret. “You can’t just let something like that slip out and not give us any juicy deets!” Patty cried.

 

Holtz winked at Erin as the woman’s lip curled under and the blonde whispered, “Corn syrup.”

 

“Don’t you do it,” She hissed back, poking her fork in her direction before both of them burst out laughing from across the table and Holtz hooked her ankles around her fiancee’s.

 

“You know what?” Abby raised a hand. “I thought I wanted to know? But I feel like I’m emotionally better off baffled.”

 

“More than likely,” Patty agreed, and the two had their own cheers while they all continued their tirade of laugher.

 

As dinner carried on, Holtzmann devouring hers in typical fashion while Erin brought up the predicament they’d discovered early in the morning.

 

“I’d be happy to join you,” Abby said with a grin. “Heading to the Review headquarters? What an honor.”

 

Patty added towards Holtzmann, “I wouldn’t be able to join you until the actual summit, you know — my Uncle’s big Fourth of July thing, but I’ll be there to support you, baby. Patty’s always got you. Even if I got no idea what you’re talking about.” More giggles ensued and before they knew it, there was a second pitcher of margaritas and a very intense game of Left-Right-Center as darkness started to wash away the city’s longest day of the year. Holtz’s music filled the deck the entire time, and it wasn’t until the night officially settled in that she made a confession that kind of rattled all of them, her fiancee who knew her best included.

 

“You guys know — I’ve been up and down,” She said with a nod. “Before — Abby, before I met you, I-I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make it to thirty.” A quiet, sudden stillness filled the air as they all hooked their gazes on Holtzmann, forcing her own to her lap as she fiddled with a white string on her cut-off shorts. “I didn’t want to make it to thirty. I was — hopeful, that…in my recklessness, I might…you know.” She rubbed her lips together and shrugged before looking up and taking in the concerned, but absolutely loving faces of her friends and fiancee. She took a shaky breath, “I’m so happy I made it past that point. And here. On this balcony. With you. It’s a life I could never have seen for myself; playing games and having dinner with friends. I couldn’t’ve come up with something so wonderful in my wildest dreams. But I’m awake, and — being here with you makes me so full and happy and…” She finally choked on her sentiment and tossed up a hand. “Thanks.”

 

“Holtz — Jillian Holtzmann,” Patty started, misty and tight-throated herself from the display as she pulled Holtz straight over the ledge of her chair with the upper body strength four years of ghost fighting had brought. Settling the genius into her lap, she assured her, “We are so happy to be here with you.”

 

Abby rounded the table and hooked her arms around the back of Holtz’s body, pressing their damp cheeks together. “Nowhere else I’d rather be, Holtz.”

 

Erin stood last, coming to the other side of Patty’s chair to plant a warm, wet kiss to Holtzmann’s lips. “We need you, Holtz. As friends, as a lover, as the worlds’ most brilliant nuclear engineer. We literally couldn’t have come together without you. We’re so happy you’re here, in every sense of the word. Even when you’re not necessarily feeling your best. Even if we’re not all getting along so great? We need you. We love you. More than we know how to even express.”

 

They picked up their game and headed inside after that, committing themselves to the upstairs loft, where they sat on pillows and retold favorite memories of why they were grateful to have Holtzmann in their lives in an unintentional sharing session.

 

Patty had her blonde locks out of their bun and was braiding her fine hair into different strands as she spoke. “I don’t know how I’d have made it another four years workin’ for the MTA. When I first met you, Holtzy? I didn’t have a little spot in my brain for someone like you. You were this tiny, quiet bundle of science and energy that I didn’t even know how to wrap my mind around. But you were so patient with me. You broke it all down, step by step, made it easy to understand. You gave me a purpose, baby, you believed in me, believed that I could be successful in something even if I wasn’t so sure of that myself. If I’d have had more people like you in my life? I’d have been doin’ big things a heck’a’lot sooner. But at the same time? I wouldn’t be here with my best friends. So thank you for comin’ in like a the nuclear missile that you are.”

 

Abby went next. “Holtz, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find someone who would take me seriously again. But I brought up my research topic to you and I’d never seen anyone jump on board with anything the way you did. You were the first person who didn’t give me a judgmental glare for stating my thesis. You found an error in my theory, you helped me fix it, and then you built my machine! In twenty-four hours! No one else could do that! No one would have believed me. And had you not given me the kick in the pants I needed, I’d never have had Erin back in my life, either. So really, you’re the glue responsible for sticking us all together, Holtz.” She leaned forward and pulled Holtz to her from Patty’s firm hold. “We wouldn’t be here without you.”

 

Feeling overwhelmed, and Erin sensing that she didn’t want to be the center of attention anymore, the physicist casually changed the subject form Holtzmann to her inventions to the summit that she and Patty would be attending in less than a minute flat. The blonde let out a sigh of relief when Abby started asking Erin questions about what sort of tourism they could expect to get funded for them while they were away at the Review headquarters. Shooting her fiancee a grateful wink, Holtz tucked her hair back into a bun and curled herself up on a pillow, attentive, but quietly taking in the rest of the evening in her observant way.

 

“Jill?” Erin lingered in the doorway about two hours later, finding Holtz staring out the bedroom window, topless, resting her arms over the plush headboard as she gazed ahead. When she didn’t move, Erin sighed and pulled off her dress, leaving her in a pair of simple, lacy periwinkle underwear. She climbed up so she was kneeling on the pillows next to her fiancee, mimicking her position. Holtz eventually found herself staring from the scenery of the city to the most gorgeous sight next to her.

 

There was still an extremely long stretch of quiet, but it was far from uncomfortable. After all the words that had already been spoken, all the raw honesty, despite wanting to know more, Erin felt Holtz had earned her quiet. Still, she was grateful when she found a way to express, “I don’t have words to tell you how grateful I am that you love me, Erin.”

 

Bumping their bare shoulders together, the brunette wiggled her eyebrows a little. “Maybe don’t use words, then?”

 

“Mhm,” Holtz shrugged, leaning her head over and resting once again undone blonde locks over Erin’s shoulder and giving a long breath through her lips. “Truthfully I’d rather just snuggle.”

 

“Okay,” Erin nodded and kissed between her eyes. “Whatever you want.”

 

“I want to give you the moon but I haven’t figured out a way to do that without severely damaging our ecosystem yet,” She responded dryly, earning Erin’s chuckle.

 

She flicked the blinds shut, drew the billowy (mostly useless, but pretty) purple curtains closed, clapped a complicated pattern that turned off the side table lamps and on the fairy lights that kept the monsters away. Laying down on her side, she pulled Holtzmann close, smoothing her hair all back. “That was quite the confession tonight. Do you want to talk more about it or be done with it?”

 

Shrugging, Holtzmann blinked sleepily and stated almost solemnly, “I’ll answer questions if you have any.”

 

Swallowing hard, Erin wanted to bite them back. She wanted desperately to assure herself that she could live without further details on the intimate knowledge that took her fiancee four years to muster up enough courage to share. Still, her concern and what if’s of a lifetime filled with anxiety prompted her to probe, “You said…you were hoping for your recklessness to…be the cause, but…did you ever…have a plan?”

 

She hated to ask. She felt herself kicking her brain for insisting on firing the question out of her mouth, but Holtzmann bravely piqued her curiosity anyway. “Yeah. There were going to be several opportunities I could have staged as accidents. But, for some reason I-I finally told Rebecca, just before I realized I’d have the courage to actually follow through with one of the really awful ones. She tried to get me to therapy, but I wouldn’t go. There was a bit of an ultimatum then, get mental help or get a job. She wasn’t standing for me just moping around anymore.” Feeling a sudden swell of anger at Dr. Gorin for not pushing Holtz further, Erin curbed it upon realizing just how impossible it was to get the younger woman to really delve into anything close to being in touch with human feelings, and that forcing her into it might’ve just driven her further. Still, her next point might’ve been a better alternative in the end anyway. “I’m so lucky I met Abby.”

 

“So, unbelievable lucky,” Erin breathed out. “Holtz, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”

 

The engineer drew loops over Erin’s collarbone with her fingertip. “Realistically, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

 

“Jill!” Erin harshly started, then bit back a rude comment as Holtz shrugged.

 

“You likely wouldn’t have been fired. I was the one who pushed Abby to publish the book. I posted the video of you on YouTube. It was kind of all my fault. I’m a catalyst for destruction.”

 

Baby girl,” Erin’s tone held disapproval once more, especially at the flatness of which Holtz’s was continuing to derive from. “Honey, you are not. You did derail my life but I wasn’t on the right train anyway.”

 

Snorting a little into a laugh at the metaphorical phrasing, Holtz merely rose on her elbows once more, kissing above Erin’s breast. “But if I weren’t here, you wouldn’t know what you were missing because you would’ve never met me.”

 

“And I’d be floundering on my way through life, miserable. I wouldn’t be speaking to Abby, I would’ve never met Patty and I’d probably be engaged to Phil and faking an orgasm on our once a month straight sex night.”

 

Coughing at the blunt phrasing, Holtz pushed herself up on her forearms again and shook her head. “Well I’m certainly glad that was not your fate, then.”

 

Erin rubbed her thumbs alone Holtz’s cheekbones, then down her jaw to her chin, drawing it in to press a very gentle kiss on the other woman’s lips, trying to convey all her feelings in it. “Though you’re right, and I wouldn’t have known it, I would have known deep down how miserable I was. I would have never felt like I was made of stardust. No one could have ever brought this me out of me but you, Jill.”

 

Holtzmann didn’t have a rebuttal for that, and Erin was grateful. Tipping her face back again, she kissed her long and sweet. “I’m so glad you’re here. Even though we might argue and get frustrated with one another sometimes, I love you so much and you matter so much. I know that sometimes it feels like nothing but you are everything and even when it’s such a weight to carry, you let me help you lift it. You’re here, Jillian Holtzmann and I love you. I need you. I never want to have to have imagined life without you. I’m so glad you stayed.”

 

Not wanting to cry another tear over whatever undiagnosed depression hole she’d fallen back into over the last few months and subsequent admission of previous thoughts of getting out of it, she sighed long and hard, high-pitched instead, responding to Erin’s kiss with a moan as she deepened it.

 

“I’m sorry if I worried you,” She said after pulling away finally, lips puffy and wet. Sitting up, she took the hair tie from her wrist and tucked the annoying, frizzy locks up on the top of her head. She let out a contented breath after as Erin played with her fingers. “I just…it felt like…the right time to say that. I have wanted to tell you guys that for a long, long time. I just never…did. And I’m sorry, that I never told you that in private, but —“

 

“Don’t apologize for being honest,” Erin insisted as she set a fond expression on her face.

 

Holtz nodded, understanding that her fiancee wasn’t upset that she kept the secret for so long. “And don’t think I take your love for granted, or anything. Being in your life is the best thing that could have happened to me. And even though my brain has been kind of misfiring a lot lately, I’m so glad I’m here to be apart of your life, too. I can’t imagine you loving someone else. It makes me too jealous.”

 

Erin pulled her flush again, stroking her bony spine with her fingertips, peppering the crown of her hair with kisses. She hummed softly, feeling Holtz’s weight increase as she grew into a more restful state. Quietly, she promised, “I love you more today than I did yesterday.”

 

With drowsy eyes, Holtz grinned up at her from her space on her chest. “And I’ll love you more tomorrow than I do today.”

 

X

 

Erin stared at her suitcase with a dismal expression, willing it to pack itself. She knew she needed professional attire for her  nearly two-week-long stay in York, but after over three years of Ghostbusting and private lab research, there wasn’t much left in her formerly tweed-and-tiny-bow-tie inspired wardrobe. She was about to consider pilfering several pairs of Holtzmann’s dress pants when the whirlwind blonde appeared with an unreadable gleam in her eye. “Babe, I’m starting to reconsider my celebration from several weeks ago. I’m not proud of you.”

 

Scoffing with mock-offense, Erin rolled her own blue irises and shuffled back into the closet, pulling at button-down tops and cardigans with a false attempt at focusing on packing. The hungry, slightly scared look on her fiancee’s face was making her feel somewhat the same. Though she wanted to go to York and desperately wanted to meet the colleagues she’d only ever had Skype conferences with, the thought of being away from Holtzmann for more than twelve hours was truthfully making her nauseated.

 

Pale arms hooked around her waist, just over the belt loops of her black cropped cotton capris. “Please don’t go. I’ll eat you up I love you so.”

 

“You can eat me out before I go, but I’m leaving in the morning, Holtz.”

 

Holtz choked on her own saliva in the back of her throat before coughing and releasing Erin, staring at her with a slack-jaw for a moment. Pulling herself together, she dropped to her knees in front of the woman and fiddled with the button holding her pants up before she was met with a hand to her face and a swat to her fingertips. “Not now, you goof. Up, up.”

 

“You are a tease and you should be ashamed of yourself,” Holtz responded in a pout before falling forward and locking her arms around the back of Erin’s thighs and burying her face in the billowy fabric of her loose-fitting baby pink tank top. “We’ve never been apart for two weeks.”

 

Erin sighed and slipped her fingers into messy, slightly sweaty blonde locks. Noting the genuine misery and fear on Holtzmann’s expression when she persuaded her to tilt her head up, the physicist let out another slightly dramatic sound before easing herself down onto the carpeted floor of the closet and grunting a little when Holtz climbed into her lap. “Baby don’t go,” The smaller of them sang lightly, “I love you so, pretty baby please don’t go.”

 

“Don’t work yourself up to be anxious about it,” The brunette mumbled. “Because then I’m going to be anxious knowing that you’re anxious.”

 

Holtz laughed. “We’re a mess.”

 

“Pretty much, but a beautiful mess, I guess,” She rhymed and hummed. “You’re spending almost two weeks with Dr. Gorin and then Patty. The funnest person and your mentor. What more could you want?”

 

“You there to enjoy my happiness with me,” Holtz mumbled, tucking her head into the hollow of Erin’s neck. “I just don’t know if I can really enjoy it without you there.”

 

Feeling her abdomen growing stiff from supporting the full, half-dead weight of her fiancee, Erin leaned back then over so they were sprawled side-by-side surrounded by shoes and boots and a few clothes that had fallen off hangers and never been retrieved from the floor. “Hm,” Erin said, glancing up and around at the surroundings. “Not so sure I like being in the closet with you.”

 

Cackling against her chest, Holtz clutched the pink top in her fist before calming down and kissing her jaw. “You’re funny today. I dig it. Let’s go to the bed?”

 

“You’re very distracting,” Erin insisted, pulling on the blonde locks with her fist, kissing under her ear, sucking on the vein there for a long minute, making Holtz moan above her, grinding down onto her waist after tossing a leg over her hip. “I really need to pack,” She whispered after pulling away when Holtz slipped a hand beneath her shirt and over the flesh of her stomach which had raised bumps of pleasure.

 

“I don’t know, kinda seems like you welcome the distraction right now.” She winked, kissing her eyebrows, the bridge of her nose, her chin, each cheek, and finally her lips while popping open the button she’d toyed with several minutes prior, fumbling the zipper down, reaching between the metal teeth with her narrow fingers, not even bothering to slide the pants down or push the black panties Erin wore to the side.

 

Erin closed her eyes, squirming a little — almost wanting more contact from Holtz but not even sure if she could stand it as the fingers over the bunched fabric of her underwear were almost too much.

 

“You really think you won’t miss me just as terribly for two weeks?” Holtz wondered, moving her wrist a little uncomfortably at the awkward angle, but not missing a beat as she dragged her index finger over the increasing dampness of satiny fabric.

 

Her lips parted and puffy, Erin moaned the response as Holtz spread her own legs wider over Erin’s upper thighs, shoving her pants down her thighs with her left hand while her right stayed busy, trying to make her point — and succeeding extremely well.

 

“Think you’re not gonna be touching yourself over your panties wishing it were me?” Holtz crooned into her ear — where the sudden confidence and seriousness was coming from, Erin wasn’t quite sure. Not that her fiancee ever doubted herself in bed — or, closet floor — but there was often a more quiet check-in than the dominant enjoyment she was bestowing Erin as a parting gift.

 

“Think I’m not gonna call you and whisper dirty things into the phone?”

 

Hips jutted up while Holtz’s index and middle fingers continued their journey up and down over the silky barrier. Erin whimpered as the pace increased before a tremble in her gut let Holtz know how close she was from the simplest of touches. Roughly pressing their lips together, Holtz moaned and sped up even more until Erin gasped a sigh against her mouth and Holtz managed to focus enough energy on shoving the elastic of the panties aside and sliding her middle finger into Erin’s clenching center, growing loudly herself at the feeling of Erin coming fast.

 

“Yes,” Her near-panting partner moaned, “I’m gonna miss the hell out of you.”

 

“Haha,” Holtz chuckled, nipping her lip when Erin finally forced her eyes open, the pupils shot in pleasure, a raw concern present on her pout. “Holtzy was right again,” She murmured, kissing the perturbing lip once more and collecting the wetness along Erin’s folds as she used it to rub up and down them, then added a second finger as she pushed inside the woman again, humming low in her throat as her own gaze was growing darker with the lust that dominating her fiancee, on the rare occasion that it happened, could bring.

 

Erin was thankful she was still mostly clothed — as every nerve in her body was blazingly in tune with the smallest of sensations around her, from the prickle of the carpet on the back of her calves and shoulders to the breeze of the air conditioner blowing from overhead. Unable to imagine how she’d manage to stand the icy-fire sensation if she was fully undressed, she tried to merely feel Holtzmann moving in and out of her — reminding her exactly what she’d be missing over the next fourteen days.

 

Halfway through the next morning, Holtzmann was grumpily staring at her phone while Patty rolled her eyes beside her. “You do know that a flight to the UK is a solid seven hours from here.”

 

The blonde let out a sound that was something between a moan and a whine as she leaned back and curled up into Patty’s lap, hugging her middle and fondling the sequins on her top. “I miss her already.”

 

“Oh girl — I am not listening to this the whole damn time. C’mon, you gotta get packin’ for your own event. Time with Dr. Gorin’s gonna have Erin completely outta your mind.”

 

“Not possible,” Holtz whispered, pouting as she flipped the gold flakes of fabric up, then back down. “Will you help me pack?”

 

Rolling her eyes, Patty nodded and patted her shoulder. “I’m surprised your fiancee didn’t already do it for you.”

 

Holtz flushed as she rolled off the sofa and onto her feet. “We, ah, got distracted.”

 

Please spare me the details,” The taller of them said dryly, leading the way into her friend’s closet. She wasn’t going to be joining the mentor-student duo in Massachusetts until the following week, for the conference and post-professional activities. “Anyway, Holtzy. What’re we packing?”

 

“THE HEAT!” Holtz shouted, making finger guns and tackling herself onto Patty’s back, making her stumble forward a little before catching the back of her knees and steadying them both.

 

“Baby. I could be in Europe. Remember that.”

 

Grinning, Holtz kissed her cheek. “But you get me!”

 

Rolling her eyes, Patty sighed. “Just know how much I love you, boo.”

 

X

 

Erin and Abby both startled awake in first class when the flight crew spoke overhead. “Folks, we’re about thirty minutes outside our destination of Bradford International Airport. The fasten seatbelt signs are now on and will remain on for the duration of the flight. The attendants will be coming through one final time for any remaining trash you might have.”

 

They blinked blearily, both excited for what they were going to encounter upon arriving; neither having ever been out of the country. “How many missed messages do you think I’m going to have when we land?” Erin wanted to wager.

 

Abby hissed a long breath out. “I’m saying minimum of three texts and one very dramatic video.”

 

Sure enough, once the wheels hit the ground and Erin’s phone had recovered from airplane mode, there was a barrage of iMessages, mostly a mass sad emoji parade, and a single twenty second video. The sound blared out of her speakers as she witnessed Holtz dancing with herself and singing, “Baby come back! You can blame it all on me!” Then the video cut to, a loud rendition of Alone, followed by The Loneliest Number and Patty snatching the recording device, “Give me that damn phone. Erin? Have a good freakin’ time. She’s fine.”

 

The women both cackled as Erin convinced Abby to take a picture with her and she sent it to her fiancee, with the message, “We landed! As did hopefully your grip on reality that this is only two weeks!”

 

Immediately getting a message back from Patty’s number instead of Holtz’s, she laughed long and loud again at the image of Holtz inside a suitcase, just one blue eye glaring out between zippers. “I can’t believe I really signed up for this,” Was all it read.

 

Erin glanced at Abby. “I miss her already.”

 

“Oh my god,” The shorter woman replied, snatching the phone and tucking it inside her shirt.

 

Erin pouted intensely, casually reminding Abby, “I’ve fully embraced my sexuality and will have no problems reaching in there to grab my phone.”

“We’re not doing this for fourteen days. If you wanna cop a feel, by all means. But you’ll feel so guilty after that it won’t be worth it. Get your head in the game Gilbert, it’s high time for science.”

 

Swatting her friend playfully in the chest, Erin sighed, trying to ease her nerves as they left the plane, waiting patiently for their luggage at the large carousel before greeting a party that had their names on an iPad. Introducing themselves to the driver, they split into twin grins at the sight of a limo waiting for them outside, trying not to squeal like they were back in high school and deciding to go to prom instead of stay home and marathon Back to the Future. Not only were they closed into the large space by the driver, but there was a bottle of champagne with Erin’s name on it, which they eagerly popped and pounded, more than tipsy by the time they pulled into the Review Headquarters, an old building that was practically castle shaped.

 

Stepping out of the limo after the driver opened the door, they were greeted by a team of men in casual attire, who didn’t bat an eye and the comfortable travel wear that the two women had decided to wear for the long flight; both wearing black athletic leggings and matching baseball style shirts with their logo on them. The physicists were simply so ecstatic to finally meet the women behind the emerging field that any passing comments which might have been made under other circumstances were not even a thought. The two scientists were invited into the luxurious, elegant lounge where a massive spread was placed out while the U.K. board members seemed to practically climb over one another to ask questions, barely touching their own food in excitement.

 

After nearly an hour of entertaining the men, both women asked to settle in and were given access to a hospitality suite-like hotel room in the northeast corner of the property. The massive area was bigger than any college suite Erin had ever seen and she was having a difficult time processing everything that had happened since landing. Once upon a time, she and Abby had been mocked, ridiculed, and dismissed for believing in what they did. Now, they were being hailed as queens for their research.

 

X

 

Holtzmann was nearly swallowed by her mentor’s embrace when she stepped into the terminal of the Amtrak station. Ordinarily, she was the one promoting any sort of physical affection between herself and Dr. Gorin, so the touch was a bit of a shock, especially how publicly she was displaying them. Hugging back with equal ferocity, Holtz considered — it had been over a year since she’d last seen the woman. Far, far too long of a stretch of time. They’d communicated plenty, hence the research project hours across the coast that they’d managed to do together over eight months, despite never spending a minute of the time in the same room.

 

“I’ve missed you dearly, Jillian,” Rebecca finally spoke after letting up the intensity of the hold, yet not quite releasing her all time favorite student.

 

“Me too,” Holtz spoke softly. “Missed you, that is. I can’t believe I haven’t seen you since I moved even. I’m sorry, Rebecca.”

 

The older woman placed ever-wrinkling hands on the little engineer’s shoulders. “Apologize for nothing. You’ve more than earned your time with your partner. You’ve beyond established yourself in your work. You deserve all that life has to offer you in respect to your accomplishments; even if that means you don’t get to visit so often. Come, supper’s waiting.”

 

Realizing it was five o’clock and Rebecca’s schedule never faltered in her own home, Holtz split into a wider smile when Rebecca took her rolling bag full of hazardous material from her while Holtz balanced her hideous silver duffle. After a short cab ride to the outer Cambridge campus, Holtz stared up at the familiar faculty home with nostalgia settling in. After the legendary engineer unlocked the front door, Holtz was greeted by the pine and clean linen scent she felt she’d spent some of the best (and worst) days of her life surrounded by. A great furry creature meowed it’s way down the stairs. “Oh, hush, Frida.”

 

Squeaking excitedly at the sight of a new feline friend, Holtz picked up the massive cat, finding it was really about ninety percent fluffy orange fur. It nuzzled right into her cheek, making her laugh. “I love her already.”

 

“She’s a smartass. Nonstop talker. Too smart and daring for her own good. She reminds me of you.”

 

Giggling, Holtz watched the cat leap from her arms gracefully to the floor to wind herself around Gorin’s ankles, meowing intensely. The woman tried to glare, but a tiny sound and the tilt of a head from the great little lion forced her to pick the creature up as well. Laughing again, Holtz took the steps two at a time to put her bag down and shuck her jacket, staring at the pictures on the dresser that had once held her clothes. Most of the photos were older; of Dr. Gorin and colleagues, one of she and her late ex-husband, several of her with students at various functions. But the ones in the middle were of Holtzmann herself. In the largest, she was with Rebecca on the day she’d completed her doctorate, a little drunk but so happy to be sitting next to the goddess of a woman who’d gotten her there. Her hands were wrapped around Gorin’s arm and her head was rested on her shoulder, while her eyes shone up in devotion. Gorin was giving her a tight smirk and eyes that matched.

 

Two others were more recent, one from when she’d first visited the Ghostbusters headquarters, taking a quick moment of silliness in the lab. The other was from the last time she was with the woman, half asleep with her head in her lap on the sofa at she and Erin’s old apartment.

 

Rebecca stepped into the room, the cat on her heels as she informed her that dinner was served. They ate and caught up, Holtz leaving the more intimate details of her increasingly complex relationship out of the equation as they focused on work and their presentation. It wasn’t until nine o’clock tea that the details of all the complexities of her life started pouring out of Holtzmann.

 

Everything from her feelings of absolute nothingness to the wedding and non-wedding and fears of Erin leaving and dark matter and emergent gravity all tumbled from her lips. She wasn’t in tears but her voice cracked and shook as she shared the truth of how she was really doing with her mentor, who listened intently. Eventually, she was wore out from sharing, knowing there wasn’t going to be much advice given, but letting the pent-up frustrations out to the woman who was like her mother felt truly incredible.

 

“I love her so much, ‘Becca. I just can’t bare the thought of losing her.”

 

“I don’t know Erin well,” The woman started, already leaving Holtz with a defeated feeling in her belly. “But I know she loves you. And despite the negativity in your head, and your lack of emotion — not something new for you, by the way, maybe just in this relationship; she still loves you. She wants what’s best for you. She wants was best for your relationship. She’s not bowing out of it, Jillian, that much I do know.”

 

Holtz slept soundly that night, with a kitten curled into her side. She woke up at seven thirty with a video message from Erin from several hours previous.

 

She could tell that the physicist had worked herself up to recording herself, given the pink flush on her face. “Good morning. I miss you. I hope you had a lovely first evening with Rebecca.” She played with the end of her hair for a moment before blowing Holtz a kiss and giggling with a wink, “Have a good day sweetheart.”

 

Feeling full, Holtz clutched her phone to her chest for a moment, letting the warm feeling radiate all the way to her toes before calculating that it was probably close to half past noon on the other side of the Atlantic. Flipping her camera on, she made sure her breasts were contained inside the extra baggy muscle top she had slept in, not wanting Erin in trouble anywhere. “Hey Er. Thanks for the good morning. I miss you, too. Ask Patty, I was pouting until she put me on the train. Um. Anyway, I love you and hope you’re having a productive day in York! Cheers, babe.”

 

Sending it before she got cold toes and backed out over the silliness of the gesture, Holtz yawned and stretched, finding the bra she’d tossed off onto the floor during the night. She opened the bedroom door to find a university professor ready to start her day. “Breakfast is served. Put on pants, please.”

 

She smiled at the older woman’s insistence in having a sense of decency, nodding as she found a pair of stained, ripped-at-the-knee stretch pants that had been well past the point of thrifted in her bag. Rebecca gave a tut of disapproval at the sight as Holtzmann sat down to dive into the eggs and vegetable mixture the woman was trying to get her to eat. After breakfast and getting into a more socially acceptable outfit, Holtz and Gorin were at the lab before nine, hard at work putting the final touches on their project. They’d been making a particle detector using miniaturized scintillator technology, a first of it’s kind. Developing the device when they hadn’t actually been together had been a challenge, but the mentor and her prized student knew that if ever there was a pair of engineers who’d be up for completing the task in the few short days before presenting it, they were up for it.

 

Four evenings later, it was finally as perfectly precise as the two women demanded of it. After shrugging out of a too-plain white for her liking lab jacket, Holtz whistled her way to the sink, scrubbing her hands and arms surgical style before she was supposed to meet with a team of professionals from the summit they were presenting the following day. As she dried them, her phone blasted a tune which meant only one person in the world could be contacting her. Feeling a little punch of love in her gut, Holtz hastily moved like a calf standing for the first time across the lab tile to grab her phone before it went to voicemail.

 

“Hey, baby doll,” She greeted, hearing the sounds of loudness and a rowdy good time in the background as she waited for Erin’s voice.

 

“Hi, honey!” Oh — Erin was drunk, Holtz could tell just by the pitch of her voice. Cackling a little at the notion, she was about to speak when the woman on the other side of the world beat her to it. “I’m at a pub! An Irish Pub! In real Ireland!”

 

“Real Ireland?” She faux-gasped, then found an Irish accent. “Have ya seen any of them rascally leprechauns, mi love?”

 

Erin’s voice was all giggles. “I have not! But Abby’s about to crush a very large Irish man in a game of poker or something, I don’t know what they call it here. I just had to tell you how much I love you. And miss you. And want to touch you.”

 

“Same, same, baby girl, same, same,” Holtz sighed. “But we just finished our project up—“

 

“Oh, yeay!” Erin crooned. “I’m so proud of my future wife. You work so hard. You deserve the world, and I can’t wait to hear all about your presentation.”

 

“Well, I can’t wait to hear about you getting your award tomorrow! I wish I could be there. But — we’ve got the panel tomorrow afternoon, and Patty gets here in the morning.”

 

“Aww, sweetheart, good for you. God, I love you,” There was a loud hiccup and Holtz tossed her hand over her mouth to keep from bursting out in laughter. “Honey, do you want to come here to get married? We should totally get married in Ireland. Like under a fairie tree or — hic — something pretty?”

 

“Wherever you want,” Holtz said after biting her thumb.

 

“I want to fuck you up against a fairie tree. See what magic happens —“

 

“Okay, Gilbert — that’s enough!”

 

Holtzmann couldn’t control her laugh any longer, letting it out long and loud and sweet as she heard Abby trying to wrestle the phone away from her fiancee in the background. When Erin came back on the line a minute later she lowly whispered, “Do you want to do that? Make magic with me?”

 

“Baby, we make magic every time we’re together. Though fairie trees could be a great metaphysical study, huh?”

 

“Ohhh, yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Erin cooed and sighed, making a needy whining sound that was making the hair on the back of Holtz’s neck stand. “Baby, you get it! This is why I love you. You’re so brilliant. So smart. I wanna make magic and science with you. How did I get so lucky? How did we find one another in a sea of almost eight billion people? Jill. I just love you. I just. Love. You.”

 

“I love you too, beautiful.” Erin giggled across the world and Holtz’s heart was even more full at the tinkle of a sound. “Send me pictures, okay? I’ve gotta go get ready for a meeting. Have a good night. I love you.”

 

After convincing Erin to go back to Abby when she whined about not wanting to hang up, Holtz sighed and shook out her hands, glancing up at Dr. Gorin with a sheepish expression before rising to join her for a meeting with colleagues which would likely be the exact opposite sort of fun that Erin was having.

 

“There’s someone from the MIT Press coming to dinner,” Rebecca warned her as they stepped into a busy business casual meeting in a formal hall on campus shortly after leaving the lab. Holtz felt a little underdressed in a pair of old grey dress pants and a black button down top full of floral embroidery — but what else was new. “They’re going to want to interview you, I’m sure.”

 

After successfully locating cheese and sweets, Holtz tried hiding in different corners of the room to avoid having to speak with people she didn’t want to. Cursing herself for not having brought regular glasses, just her aviator-style goggles to the lab that day, she wished she could tone it all down. Unfortunately, after forty minutes of dodging anyone who looked interested enough to speak with her, a quiet, though not timid, “Dr. Holtzmann?” forced her to turn around. Spotting an individual a few inches shorter than herself with a lean frame, Holtz nodded. “Jay, MIT Press. Would you mind a brief interview as part of our ‘Alumni Success in Science’ monthly column?” They had short hair that flopped to the right, their ensemble much more prepared for the event in a form-fitting black, casual suit that complimented their tan skin. Holtz wish she looked half as put together as the journalist.

 

“Ah, sure,” Holtz scratched behind her ear, flickering her gaze all around the room after being led to a small round table with high-backed chairs. Trying to sit like a conventional human, she wiggled her shoulders and tapped her fingers on the surface of the white tablecloth. Jay set up a recording device while scribbling out additional notes on a small pad.

 

“For starters — can you describe how studying at MIT prepared you for your work with the Ghostbusters?”

 

“Um…Every…way?” Holtz raised a brow, staring Jay down with her teeth drawn between her lips as they waited expectantly for her to give a more solid answer. “I mean — I worked with Dr. Gorin for almost ten years before I started with Ab—Dr. Yates of the Ghostbusters on metaphysical research. She taught me everything I know. She’s the best engineer I’ve ever met. The advancements made in nuclear tech related to particle physics mostly credits back to her work. So, um — I guess, working alongside of Dr. Gorin was kinda like the launch codes for my particle accelerator of a career.”

 

The journalist gave a laugh. “Okay, so you’re here presenting on your combined project with Dr. Gorin. Can you give me a brief summary of what you’re working on?”

 

“Kinda tough to do that without the schematics,” Holtz tugged on her earlobe and then winced a little. Still, speaking about her equipment was a lot easier to do with a stranger than answering personal questions “Long story extra short — we’re basically looking at scintillators for particle detectors in a miniaturized version for field application in metaphysics. I’ve already produced several early, functioning, field-tested models of a PKE meter, which uses scintillators to detect ions from psychokinetic energy. We’re hoping with advancements in technology and emerging research from my lab in New York, we can use existing, large-scale technology to create meters to use in the field to detect new particles discovered in the metaphysical field.” The journalist looked confused and grateful that they had a recording device with them. Holtz shrugged. “Anything else?”

 

The student writer flickered their gaze over their rectangle-shaped glasses and nodded, scribbling something down on a pad of paper. “Actually, yes — if you don’t mind answering questions about the Ghostbusters?” Not knowing exactly what trap she was walking into, Holtz responded to Jay with a nod. “What sorts of research do you do in the lab there, aside from creating new weapons and containment devices for the ghosts?” Jay grinned. “On a non-professional note, I’ve watched all your YouTube videos and seen the lab. You guys do the coolest stuff.”

 

Flushing a little, Holtz thanked them and responded, “We’re currently working on a few projects. The ongoing one is a database of all the different ghosts we’ve fought, collected, or obliterated to the best of our standards. We use recording devices during all our busts to document the ghosts, even if we’re not planning on trapping and researching them further. Patty and Erin — um, Dr. Gilbert, they work together to do most of the documenting; they like that kind of stuff. I like to get my hands on the tech. Abby — er, Dr. Yates, she helps me out the most in the lab, but we all work together the best we can on everything. Er— Dr. Gilbert, she’s really the theorist behind most of my inventions. She’s a genius with theory and applying equations to the theory that I can then turn into tech. We’re the best team.”

 

“Anything exciting that you’re researching now that you’re applying engineering to?”

 

Sliding down a bit in the chair, more than ready to wrap up the conversation with Jay, Holtz nodded. “I’ve got some pretty impressive stuff cookin’ up in the experimental lab back at headquarters right now. There’s the hollow light tube project we’ll be starting soon. I’ve mainly been focused on this stuff with Dr. Gorin. And…well there is one more, thing, but…I probably shouldn’t…I cannot take credit for it.” Holtz chewed on her cheek then grinned, “I’m merely the hands behind the beautiful brain of Dr. Gilbert. While I can make an emergent gravity calibrator, I would never be able to come up with the theory behind it.” Knowing she was starting to tread on thin ice with the topic of emergent gravity, she hoped that Jay didn’t have the knowledge to ask any further questions about it. “I’ve been playing with that for a few months. Other than that, I mainly focus on weaponizing particles on the smallest scale possible for the safest, most efficient busts.”

 

Unfortunately, Jay did have more knowledge than Holtz assumed they would. “Emergent gravity calibrator? Are you working on a Dark Matter project with the Ghostbusters?”

 

Feeling herself grow red, Holtz hoped that by brushing it off, she wouldn’t get into too much trouble talking about it. “True Dark Matter is a completely novel field.”

 

Jay shot her a look. “Yeah, but everyone’s interested in it. So far the folks out at the San Francisco labs are the only ones who’ve stated they’re close to a break through. But skeptics, especially here in MIT labs, say it’s not possible with our current technology to produce. If CERN can’t do it, what makes you think you can?”

 

Rolling her eyes, Holtz tossed an arm over the back of the chair, squeezing the high top. “Don’t be fooled by other attempts or facilities. We know what’s real. Ghosts are as real as Dark Matter, whoever decides to believe that, that’s their right. Do you believe in ghosts, Jay?”

 

The student grinned brightly. “I get notifications when there’s a live HoltzPro stream.”

 

Winking, Holtz responded, “Then you can snack on that all day long. Alright. We cool?”

 

“Yeah,” The journalist reached over to shake her hand, but Holtz high-fived it instead.

 

She returned to Dr. Gorin’s side, the professor introducing her to the women she was speaking with. Noting her expression of mild horror, her mentor asked if she was quite alright.

 

“Next time I open my mouth to put my foot in it, cut it off first, would’ja?”

 

X

Erin shifted nervously in her outfit — a prissy looking gray skirt and suit. She could have worn dress pants or something that would have made Hillary Rodham Clinton proud, but it just didn’t feel right. She wanted to wear her tweed — it was familiar and safe as she ventured into a world of unknown potential.

 

“Aww, look at you,” Abby cooed as she stepped out of the bathroom to admire her friend, she herself sporting a pair of skinny dress pants with a blazer over a silky top, making her look like she was about prosecute the president of the United States. “Pose for your future wife, would you?” She commented taking a few ridiculous photos for Holtz, who surprisingly didn’t message back right away, even though it was two in the afternoon on the other side of the pond. Erin wiggled her fingers and let out breaths through pressed lips, tugging on her sleeves and worrying her lip. “Erin?” Abby softly called her name. “You’re fine. You’ll be great. C’mon, it’s almost seven o’clock and we’ve got a limo to catch to the hall.”

 

After winking and slipping into the over-the-top vehicle once more, Erin was happy to let Abby pour her a single glass of bubbly booze, not wanting to indulge too much before the ceremony. When it was over? She was prepared to get all kinds of crazy with her colleagues who proved at the Irish pub several nights prior, they also knew how to loosen up under the right circumstances. She let Abby hold her clammy hand without hesitation as they were swooped into the auditorium after a photo opportunity, Erin realizing very quickly upon looking at the program, that she was not only receiving an award, but was essentially considered the guest of honor for the evening. Trying not to let her anxious, yet eager feelings out too much, she simply smiled in her seat as the ceremony started.

 

Abby squeezed her best friend when Erin’s name after a long string of male speakers were blathering and she was only half paying attention. Realizing she’d missed her cue to step onto the stage and that the thunderous applause drowning out the heartbeat in her ears was for her, Erin dumbly stood up, smoothing her skirt before waltzing as cautiously as she could to the steps and accepting the hand from the presenter. She was standing next to the podium, a light shining on her. Feeling overwhelmed and for a moment willing the universe to put a pair of her fiancee’s glasses over her eyes, she smiled through closed lips, listening to the grandmaster of the ceremony.

 

“It’s not often that we get to present the founding father award. And it’s never happened that we truly couldn’t call it, the founding father award. The addition of Dr. Gilbert to the short list of recipients of this have required a more inclusive title that the Review proudly alters, as simply the Founder’s award. Now, we recognize that Dr. Gilbert did not create the field of metaphysical examination on her own, however, her written works and notable, creditable documentation are what has proven it as a valid science in the world.”

 

The phrase valid science, being directed at her work with ghosts brought an involuntary shiver up her spine. She was grateful that Abby was in the front row, as she locked eyes with her, despite the harsh stage beams blinding her from the rest of the audience. Her best friend was absolutely shining with pride and joy towards her accomplishment. And though Erin knew at heart, the award was truly something for both of them, she started to feel the warmth and deserving nature from Abby and when the assembly clapped once more and it was her turn to speak, she was ready.

 

Smoothing the speech that had been typed in bold font and double spaced for her easy reading under pressure, Erin smiled and began, her tone even, professional, and everything she’d wanted to be for the first forty-two years of her life and failed because she hadn’t been honest with herself. Now, as she received the award for being true to her spirit, she was cool, collected and absolutely deserving of it. “Thank you, Dr. Harper. It is an honor to be the first female recipient of this award, and to have the title changed in that respect. Earning respect in this field for unique theories is challenging enough. Earning respect as a woman, is harder. And earning respect as a female physicist who screams about ghosts being real on the internet, is almost impossible.” The crowd laughed at her own joke, everyone in the science community relatively familiar with her antics that had gotten her fired. Smiling again, she sighed. “But doing the impossible is what emergent science is all about. Every day, I am honored to work with the three smartest women I know, who inspire me and give me theories to calculate or encourage my own, then build them — make these fanciful ideas to capture paranormal entities real. And we look good doing it, too.” Another ripple of laughter escaped the crowd as she had an image of them in jumpsuits and slime flashed behind her on a screen.

 

“Creating an entire field of physics isn’t really a dream most children have growing up, but I knew that I had something to prove to the world. And with my friends and colleagues with me every step of the way, it’s been one that has been possible to fulfill. I get to explore the unknown, take risks, venture into areas of science that were not only once considered a joke, but an impossible one at that. Still, what I’ve been able to do, with my team, has helped to inspire the community of metaphysical science to start in it’s infancy. We’ve come so far in just four short years. We’re off to pre-kindergarten this fall and our moms very proud of us.” Another picture flashed, of the crew in matching shirts with their logo, all holding up four fingers for the camera as the group got another chuckle in. “Thank you, for recognizing my work as legitimate and allowing me to help found this community. Thank you for your support, feedback, and encouragement. Thank you for recognizing metaphysics as a valid science.”

 

As she wrapped up and accepted a trophy and a plaque, Erin was met with a resounding standing ovation’s worth of applause that made her mouth actually drop open for a second before she thanked them with a nod and head back to Abby, trembling as she sat down in her seat and received the biggest hug of her life short of saving her from the afterlife.

 

When the formal award ceremony ended, it was off to the afterparty where Erin was surrounded by colleagues and journalists — all with congratulations, many with questions.

 

As she was on her third glass of wine and feeling quite relaxed next to Abby who was laughing like crazy with a professor from York, Erin was caught completely off-guard by a question from a journalist from Cambridge University.

 

Blinking, sure she’d heard the writer wrong, she asked for it to be repeated. “This morning in the US, your colleague Dr. Holtzmann stated in an interview, and I quote, ‘I’m merely the hands behind the beautiful brain of Dr. Gilbert. While I can make an emergent gravity calibrator, I would never be able to come up with the theory behind it.’ Does this mean you’ve come up with a theory to create dark matter using emergent gravity?”

 

Erin felt her mouth go dry and hands go cold. Her heart felt like it skipped a few beats. “That’s…I—Dr. Holtzmann shouldn’t…um…” Losing the well-articulated side of herself that had appeared earlier in the day, Erin started seeing red. “What, um, what publication was that under?”

 

“The MIT Press, doing an alumni highlight, given that she was presenting there this afternoon. It was just a quick mention, but I would love to hear more about this brilliant theory of yours that it sounds like it was actualized in the lab. Considering San Francisco’s Tilman’s Group is the only organization which has stated they are close to a breakthrough, we would love an opinion piece from you.”

 

Abby held up a hand as she caught onto Erin’s increasingly panicked state. “You know what? It’s beyond emergent, okay? It’s not even really crowning. Let’s just take a step back and relax before anyone gets upset over this, right Erin?” Turning sharply to the journalist she insisted, “She’s not answering that and we’re going to very politely ask you to refrain from publishing any further mention of it; else you might just find yourself haunted.”

 

Erin opened and closed her mouth a few times before letting Abby drag her away from the journalist and into a bathroom, where she started into a full on panic episode. Trying to keep her calm she insisted that she was going to call Holtzmann and get to the bottom of whatever was going on across the ocean. When the blonde didn’t answer, she tried Patty’s phone, but found no response from her either. “Damnit…what did she say…the MIT Press?” Looking it up while keeping a hand on the back of Erin’s head, stroking her hair distractedly, Abby flicked through the article that had been published.

 

“Oh…Holtzmann…”

 

That got Erin really going. She snatched the phone from her friend’s hands, reading it for herself, her face growing redder by the second in a mixture of anger and embarrassment. “How could she do this?”

 

“It sounds like she was probably trapped in a question and spilling whatever came out —“ Abby tried to defend her.

 

“No,” Erin put a hand over her heart. “That’s…that’s not gonna cut it. We still have another five days here, Abby. Do you realize how bad this is going to get?”

 

“Erin, that’s a little dramat—“

 

“No!” She yelled, sliding off the countertop and slamming the device onto it. “I have never asked for much, Abby! She’s been impossible the last few months and all I’ve asked is that she keeps this a secret! I haven’t forced anything out of her! I figured she’d be really great at clamming this up since she won’t talk about anything else important! And as soon as I walk away for a week, she spills it to an institute of science! That’s just great to know.” An angry tear rolled down her cheek. “As soon as the Review gets wind of this, they’re coming to ask me why I haven’t started work on this. Do you realize that I’m going to literally have to give away the secret to creation, here? This is going to end the world, Abby. In the wrong hands, this is going to destroy us all. Damnit, Jillian! Come on!”

 

Erin was on her phone again, swearing when Holtzmann still didn’t answer.

 

Abby put a hand on her knee. “Listen; we’ll get this taken care of. You just relax.”

 

After Abby finally managed to get Erin back onto the plane of calm, she dragged her back out to the festivities. Though, Erin did not feel much like celebrating. What was the point in founding a field of science if her findings were going to end life as she knew it?

 

Unsure what she was really most upset about — the possibility of publishing her theory or the fact that Holtz had let her down in such a massive way, Erin sent a strong message to her fiancee, warning her she was demanding answers.

 

I’m going to be home in an hour, and by that time your presentation will have long ended. I am expecting a phone call from you.

 

After hitting send, she wasn’t surprised to find that she didn’t get a response within the time she hoped for. The ride back to the suite in the Review headquarters was tense, Erin holding Abby’s arm with a little more force than the other woman really tolerated. “Erin, I don’t want this ruining your day. You just won one of the most prestigious awards in science. Don’t you think you can relax enough to celebrate that accomplishment? Deal with all this in the morning? Who knows? It might get brushed off as no big deal.”

 

An ocean away, Holtzmann was realizing that what she’d said was the absolute opposite of no big deal. As the Q&A of she and Dr. Gorin’s panel began, the first question was directed at her. “I’m interested in your miniaturized scintillator particle detectors, but Dr. Holtzmann, this morning’s MIT Press stated that you’ve also been working on an emergent gravity calibrator that supports Dark Matter research. Can you tell us more about that?”

 

Blinking away flustered feelings, she was grateful when Dr. Gorin leaned into the microphone and answered for her. “No, at the moment we’re unable to attest to that. Well be answering questions about our panel’s topic only.”

 

When the gathered assembly groaned but focused and an hour later they were whisked away, Holtz was near tears as Dr. Groin gripped her shoulder and steered her into an abandoned office. She was breathing hard, pulling at her hair, her clothes, her skin until the professor caught her hands and stilled them. “Now is not the time for panic, Jillian. Focus. We’ll get this under control. It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve said something and gotten yourself in trouble, and it certainly won’t be the last.” Sighing, the doctor pulled out a phone of her own. “You’re lucky that getting you out of trouble just happens to be one of my major specialties.”

 

X

Abby’s phone vibrated and she ignored it in her pocket, not wanting to alert Erin that someone had attempted to get a hold of her. The taller woman had almost drank herself to sleep — on her fourth shot of tequila since arriving in their suite. She was stumbling to change out of her fancy presenter’s outfit and into something to sleep in before Abby intervened, motioning for her to sit on the mattress as she helped her into a pair of pajamas with little stars on the pants and a NASA t-shirt which had the arms cut out and likely belonged to the woman of frustration. After tucking Erin in and ensuring she was asleep, Abby left a light on for the woman and stepped into the hall, reading the message from Patty.

 

Gorin got the MIT press to take down the article about Holtz. She’s a wreck.

 

Abby responded; Any chance I’m going to be able to talk with her if I call?

 

There was a shrugging emoji and a, Maybe if Erin’s not around.

 

Buzzing through to Patty’s phone, she was greeted with an unusually calm hello from the woman before she heard the shuffling of trying to convince Holtz to speak with her first friend.

 

There was a pause before a meek, “Hey Abby.”

 

“Hey, kiddo,” The scientist sighed, relieved to hear her speaking. “How was your presentation?”

 

“Oh, that?” A long stretch of silence passed before Holtz managed, “That went well. Um. Don’t think…that’s what you’re calling about though.”

 

“Yeah, no. Shoot. I’m sorry, Holtz. Can you just tell me what happened?”

 

Another break in communication slipped by before Holtz said, “I’m just a fuck up.”

 

She heard Patty loudly defend Holtzmann from herself as she did the same thing via speaker. “No, you’re not it sounds like you got trapped in a question.”

 

“I did the one thing that Erin asked me not to do! The only thing she’s ever flat-out said no to. And I did it, because I’m an asshole.”

 

“Honey, you messed up. That doesn’t make you a terrible person. Erin’s upset —“ There was a whimper and Abby winced. “But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. She’d really just like an explanation of what happened. You know how easily wound up she is. She’s asleep right now, but I promise you; talk to her tomorrow and she’s going to feel a heck of a lot better.”

 

Another weak sound hit her ears and Abby requested putting Patty back on the line after promising Holtz she loved her. “Take care of her, please?”

 

“You know I will.”

 

Holtzmann was pale in her pajamas of a baggy humane society shirt and basketball shorts. Her hair was undone and snarly around her shoulders as she sat up on top of her bed, a wet tissue crumpled in her hands. Patty knelt down on her mattress, reaching a hand out to try and provide her some comfort. Frida the plump cat seemed useless as well.

 

It wasn't until Dr. Gorin stepped into the room around ten o’clock when the MIT professor’s banquet had ended that she seemed anything close to feeling something.

 

With a cup of steaming tea, the oldest woman in the room didn’t make matters better at first. “You’ve made quite the splash, Jillian.” Patty shot her a look, making Rebecca shrug and smirk. “The good news is, you’re you, which means all I had to do was raise my eyebrow for all but one member of the board to believe you’d been making jokes in that interview.”

 

Glancing up, an overwhelming sense of relief was visible on Holtzmann’s face as the respected engineer continued to elaborate. “Anyone who happened to catch wind of it will likely be contacting MIT directly in attempt to re-verify the article before contacting you. The practice will be to have the journalism department proclaim, publicly, they didn’t know it was a joke and published it without any evidence to back themselves up. The error is in their hands, not yours.”

 

Though she was certainly feeling better at that, Holtz knew that wouldn’t be enough to resolve the conflict with Erin. On top of it she was feeling guilty for hurting the reputation of Jay, who’d thought they were publishing a perfectly reasonable article. Overall — Holtzmann wanted to hide underground for a solid season to hibernate from all the negativity that managed to keep finding her.

 

“Thank you ‘Becca,” Was all Holtz could manage as she accepted the hot mug and scalded her tongue as she downed the nighttime sleep aid.

 

There was a warm hand on her cheek as her professional life saver again and again lived up to her name. “You’re welcome, Jillian. I haven’t had to stick my nose out for you in awhile. I’d nearly forgotten what it was like to live in such fear of having it tore clear off. Rest well, we’ve got a presentation in the morning.”

 

Though following the advice was nearly impossible, Holtzmann slept maybe a total of two and a half hours that night, convincing Patty to lay next to her instead of in her own bed hadn’t been terribly difficult. In the morning, she’d even let her take the right side of her hair into tiny, flat braids before swooping the rest into her regular style.

 

She tugged on a pair of dark, straight legged trousers with plain white button-down top tucked in, a red tie and silky looking black vest completed the look, which had Patty wondering, “Damn! You gonna rock that for the wedding?”

 

“Yeah, not so sure I’ll be having one of those at this rate,” She mumbled, glancing down at the phone she had trapped in her hands with a slew of missed calls and messages from her fiancee.

 

“Holtzy, you stop right now,” Patty said in a firm tone, snatching the phone from her hands. “I’m gonna call Erin and let her know what’s going on, let her know the two of you will talk about it tonight.”

 

“Patty, no!” Holtz pleaded, “I can’t. I can’t do this over the phone.”

 

“So you’re gonna make her wait for four days?”

 

“No!” Holtz cried, “Yes? I don’t know. Patty, please, just — I can’t do this right now. I’ve got to present to the board of directors for the National Council today…I can’t even think about me and Erin right now.”

 

Rebecca stepped into the living room between the bickering women. “Apparently, she needs to wallow for a bit longer. We’ve got a ten o’clock.”

 

They followed the professor out of the house, Holtz looking particularly pale and shaky in the morning Massachusetts sunlight. A stuffy, continental breakfast with lots of handshakes; dry hands, too dry — oily skin, too sweaty — so much sensation all at once — drained her of energy instead of getting her the perk it was intended. As she tried to pull herself together enough to present what she knew to be pure, original, founded science, Holtz found her fingers shaking when she tried to turn the page of her notes.

 

“When did I become this person, ‘Becca?” She wondered in a low mumble as they waited for their cue from the keynote speaker to share their research.

 

Dr. Gorin raised a perfect brow, then pressed a warm hand on her former charge’s back as she uncrossed her legs to sit up straighter. “When you fall in love, you give part of yourself to the other person. I’m starting to think maybe you gave Erin too much, and there’s not enough of you left. Truthfully, I miss the little prankster who didn’t take life so seriously, as much as I always thought I wanted you to.”

 

Holtzmann felt heart break at that notion; the only way she could heal her ever-developing depression and anxiety was by asking Erin for herself back? What would that entail? Leaving her? She couldn’t. But did Erin even want the jagged pieces of herself she’d given her? Those which made her love out to be half a sham? Was this going to be what finally did them in?

 

As she started to really consider this, her mentor had a hand on her elbow, gently pulling her up, leading her to the convention stage, where Holtz noted hundreds in attendance at the auditorium. “Oh, wow,” She shook her head a little, clearing jittery thoughts away. Wishing she’d had her glasses on, she let Dr. Gorin start at the microphone, just as they’d rehearsed.

 

Hearing the older woman’s words in her ears, barely processing them in her brain, Holtz mostly just listened for the indicator that it was her turn to speak.

 

“It is now my pleasure to turn the schematics over to someone I’m proud to call my colleague. She started out as a freshman in my lab at MIT and is now respected in particle physics, nuclear engineering, and the emerging field of metaphysical science. Please welcome Dr. Jillian Holtzmann.”

 

Another roar of applause rushed up Holtz’s spine, forcing her to let a breath out between pressed lips before finding a cheeky grin and waving dumbly to the crowd. “Thanks, thank you so much.” Fingering her tie for a moment, Holtz was ready to begin. “Over the last year,” She started, pressing the advance button on the remote which controlled the presentation behind them, showing the steps of design for her latest equipment. “I’ve developed sixteen different prototypes, using primarily found and recycled materials. It’s kind of my style,” She grinned as the phrasing was met with expected laughter. “While my own agenda for these scintillators is to use them in miniaturized form to measure PKE — psycho kinetic energy in the field of metaphysical science, AKA…” She flashed the screen to an image of her in action which she froze from one of Erin’s HoltzPro feeds. In the picture, she was wilding her pistols, fighting off two class five apparitions at once, her face set hard in determination, hair flying back from the whirl of ghost energy around them, glare flaring from her glasses lenses. She looked like a badass. “Ghostbusting. But, there are many practical uses of miniaturized scintillators outside of identifying a class four apparition and obliterating them to their own dimension; that is a presentation for another time…”

 

Patty watched her friend speak with hearts in her eyes. From her front row spot, it was easy to feel Holtzmann’s lifeblood for science. Though her speech was so technicality laden that Patty, and likely the majority of the room couldn’t keep up even with the visual aids, it didn’t stop the sweeping applause and dozens of questions being asked.

 

Just as the session was about to wrap up, Patty’s phone vibrated in her pocket, not wanting to be rude, she ignored it the first ring, but by the third, she discreetly checked her pocket, muttering a low, “Shit,” as Jennifer Lynch’s face lit up the screen.

 

“No time to apologize for disrupting your vacation — the unusually high pitch of the woman startled Patty from her annoyance as she sneaked out to the hall and answered the phone without pleasantries. “We’ve got an emergency; code red — whatever you have it. There’s a National Guard base already loading up and a car on the way to pick up you and Holtzmann —“

 

Blinking and remaining calm as she usually tried until something was literally about to bust her ass, Patty insisted, “Whoa, whoa, Jenny from the Block, slow down baby. What’s going on?”

 

A loud sigh had Jennifer speaking at least in an understandable fashion. “There was a lab, out in California. They tested out a prototype last night and needless to say — it did not go well.”

 

“Oh sweet Jesus,” Patty sighed, drawing her thumb and forefinger between her eyes. “What happened?”

 

“Remember Rowan?”

 

Wincing Patty mumbled, “As if I’d forget.”

 

“Replace the man-child ghost with a man-child scientist trying to create a portal to the creation of the universe.”

 

Connecting some wires — California, prototype, creation — “Is this at Tilman’s?”

 

“Yes,” Jennifer started, “How did you —“

 

“We may be in more trouble than you realize. Holtzy should be done by the time someone comes for us. We’re gonna need a led-lined plane to get all our equipment to San Fran; can you do that for us?”

 

“I’m not in charge of your mission, just relaying the message. I wouldn’t say the president is in charge either, because I don’t think he’s bright enough for that; but this is a matter of national and international security, you will have a commanding officer in touch with you shortly. You should have access to any resources you’ll need. This is considered a federal state of emergency, but we’re trying to keep it quiet —“

 

“Of course,” Patty rolled her eyes.

 

“So please, consider that as you inform Holtzmann of the urgency required right now. We have officials making arrangements to get Abby and Erin to meet you in San Francisco. I’m calling them next. I’ll be in touch.”

 

Sighing and hanging up, Patty rubbed her temples before being startled by a pop-up blonde jumping into her line of vision. “What happened? Are Erin and Abby okay?”

 

“Yeah, um — we gotta go.”

 

“What’s wrong?” Holtz’s pitch was a little desperate and sad sounding; without seeing physical proof that the other two were okay, she wasn’t convinced. Patty gently shushed her as she placed a hand on her upper back.

 

“They’re fine. We have an emergency in San Francisco. Military is flying us out, them too.”

 

“What?” Holtz felt her heart spike. “San Fran—Landon! Don’t tell me —“

 

“They activated a prototype. Honestly, Jen didn’t have a lot of details. We’ll be getting more shortly. They’re sending a plane down for us, we’ve got to load up gear and head out as soon as possible.”

 

Holtzmann clutched Patty’s forearm as the taller woman prepared to turn. “Patty,” She whispered, her eyes wide, brows drawn close together with a worried wrinkle. “This isn’t just an emergency. This could be apocalyptical.”

 

“You know, I was tryin’ to keep the mood light? Shush, you. We’ve survived the apocalypse once before and we’ll do it again. We’ve got your brilliant brain on the case, baby. We’ll be fine.”

 

Not quite believing her, Holtzmann gave a nod anyway, following her friend out of the conference hall, her confidence in herself beyond shaken given the unfortunate series of coincides that just seemed to keep occurring.

Chapter Text

 

 

The ocean holds magic for those who seek it. But she only bestows her best magic on those who deserve it. There is a lesson in that for you. Give your best to those who deserve it, not to everyone who seeks it. — Nikita Gill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ground Control to Major Tom,” Holtzmann’s voice rang over the speaker of the lab from where she was stationed in the garage of their headquarters.

 

Patty rolled her eyes and simply lifted a Holtz-original walkie-talkie device for room to room communication within the firehouse. “Over.”

 

“Hey, I’m gonna need that Emergent Gravity machine and a copy of the file uploaded straight to the tablet homepage for easy access. Can you do that for me?”

 

“Roger, Rocketman.”

 

“Thanks, youdabest.”

 

She booted the computer plugged in on top of Holtzmann’s main working — bright idea! — desk, an old, yet trusty white MacBook which Holtz had self-improved over the years to keep running. Though the atmosphere as tense and they needed to move swiftly to get to San Francisco as soon as possible, Patty was thankful that Holtz had relaxed enough to gather what she needed in a somewhat-calm headspace so they wouldn’t be without essentials when trying to save the world on the opposite coast. She knew once her hands weren’t busy though, she’d be back to panic moping the whole flight across the nation.

 

After procuring the times that Holtz had requested and packing a led-lined trunk full of their usual equipment, Patty had a second one opened and ready to go when a jittery engineer stepped into the room, winded from running up the stairs.

 

“I won’t be able to focus in a decent timeframe without my own tools,” Holtz confessed as she started loading the additional storage container full of them. “What they’ve got out there will probably be too heavy for my delicate hands to work quickly with.”

 

Patty gave a little chuckle as she ran around the lab, finding things that Holtz sprouted out and within an hour of arriving at the firehouse, they were rolling four colossal portable cases of nuclear equipment towards the parked military-grade, stealth SUV parked out front. “All aboard the Hogwarts Express,” She muttered glumly, making her partner laugh a little again. They’d changed out of professional attire, Holtz sporting a pair of Erin’s athletic, tight spandex pants she’d found in the woman’s locker which she hated to wear but were better than the stuffy suit she’d had on. Patty had a pair of black and white adidas joggers on, and they both sported extra logo shirts that had been tossed into a box in the locker room. 

 

The officer driving the sleek, black Hummer and his partner helped the materials up a ramp slowly before turning on sirens and getting them north of the city to an air force base which would be taking them on a direct, private flight to San Francisco. Holtz was quiet on the journey out of Manhattan, staring out the window, thick yellow glasses covering her eyes, her palms on her inner thighs just above her knee as her shoulders were a bit piqued in stress. As the SUV rolled through automatic gates and beyond watchtowers with guarded police, the severity of the situation became much more obvious to Patty. She felt her stomach stirring in uneasiness, wishing that Holtz would say something funny to break the tension as she so often did — or at least, used to. Unfortunately, her words weren’t amusing when she finally did speak after they'd been instructed by the officers to remain in the vehicle while they finished final preparations on the massive jet they’d pulled up to.

 

“Patty? What if the world ends and Erin and I haven’t figured out what to do?”

 

“Baby, don’t think like that,” The taller woman insisted, unbuckling her seatbelt and sliding over to squeeze her friend’s shoulder after wrapping an arm around it. “The world isn’t going to end because we’re going to fix this.”

 

“You can’t fix this,” Holtz mumbled. “You can stop it, but you can’t fix it. What’s been done is just going to keep happening. There’s always going to be someone, somewhere with selfish intentions trying to make dark matter in one way or another. It’s been happening in the middle east since the beginning of humankind.” Soon, it wasn’t just dark thoughts, but full on rambling of whatever had been boiling in her brain recently. “And — yeah, it hasn’t always been dark matter in terms of emergent gravity or the creation of the universe. But darkness that takes over the minds and matters of everyone’s affairs and ruins families and villages and countries and continents and —“

 

“You’re catastrophizing,” Patty calmly stated, trying to diffuse the negative swirl of thoughts that Holtz had clearly been stewing on since the drive to the base started. Wishing she’d spoken sooner to try and alleviate some of her mental suffering, Patty did what she could to stop it in the moments she had. “Yes, there always has been and always will be human suffering. And you can chose to think about that, it’s your right. Or you can chose to see the good in the world. Like a spunky little blonde scientist who had big dreams and met the right people to help launch her into space and time to be a part of life-saving and changing operations. Like the physicist who, despite all the trauma and drama, has pledged to spend the rest of her life with that little scientist. Like the friends who would give their own lives and careers up to help hers flourish. Those good things in the world, boo. Those good things which exist for you.”

 

Holtz’s voice cracked at that. “Why do I deserve it?” She whispered, barely managing to sit upright anymore as she leaned forward, pressing her forehead against the headrest of the passenger seat. “Why do I deserve those good things when so many people have to suffer?”

 

“Holtzy,” Patty reached deep into her soul to find the right words to give her. “I don’t know,” She finally managed, wincing at herself. “We could talk about privilege all day and justice and war but — I can’t give you a good answer about why some people’s suffering is worse than others. Physically, yeah, some people suffer more, alright? I can’t say that the people of Aleppo or other tragically hard hit war-torn cities have suffered the way you have. ‘Cause really we can’t begin to imagine that…that…” She found the word, the word that had been so misspoken about not long before, “Carnage. But we all have times in our lives where we feel like we’re falling apart and things aren’t going right and we hurt and we have bad things happen to us and we can’t compare one suffering to another, baby, we can’t. But because you haven’t suffered in the same situations that others have? That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have good things happen to you, too.”

 

Holtz shook her head. “I don’t deserve anything.”

 

Finding the rub of it, Patty shot, “Does Erin deserve anything?”

 

“Of course she does,” Holtz spat out, shooting Patty a watery glare.

 

“Erin deserves to be loved, and treasured and reassured that those things won’t go away,” Patty delved deeper. “And there’s only one person capable of doing that for her. It’s you. And you deserve to be protected; your heart, your brain, your body. All of you. And I’m sorry if you disagree and think you’re worth anything less than anyone else on this planet. You’re not. Your worth is measured in how much you love and are loved by others. You’ve seen the Wizard of Oz, you know that. And you love Erin so much and we all love you so much, that you don’t need to question what you deserve. Because that should be enough.”

 

Holtz frowned, trying not to let another tear spill over her cheeks after the straight month of dreadful depression she’d been fighting tooth and fucking nail. She merely looked at Patty with her wet gaze and quivering lip. “Now I know I’ve got a heart because it’s breaking,” She managed to quote from the referenced movie.

 

Patty tugged the blonde to her chest, stroking the flat braids on the right side of her head, squishing her quiff down against her warm skin. “Now, now Tinman, don’t cry you’ll rust.”

 

Holtz’s breath was shuddery, but she took a long one in and released it slowly through her mouth.

 

A few minutes later, the opening of the door on Patty’s side caused them both to startle. Boarding the plane with a rainbow-cat-meme backpack, Holtz held onto Patty’s hand the entire time, finding two bucket seats ready for them. After stowing their carry on luggage, she closed her eyes and they listened as the jet took off for the west coast, Holtz keeping her eyes shut until the pilot told them they’d reached their elevation and speed. Glancing out the window, Holtzmann continued replaying the words from the conversation with Patty over and over in her head. About an hour into the flight, Patty heard a hum to a timeless, familiar tune and she knew Holtz was wondering; if birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh why can’t I?

 

X

 

Holtz stared at the scene in the lab through the view of an observation deck, shaking her head with crossed arms. In her jumpsuit with her equipment, she looked small standing by herself, Patty thought.

 

“We’ll fix it. We always do,” She stated as assuredly as she’d said back in New York, despite staring at a massive portal which was alluding a light all to familiar to the first portal they’d ever witnessed in New York. The room below the observation deck was larger than any factory Patty had ever visualized in blueprints of old buildings, and the amount of paranormal activity leaking from every corner of the room was just as bad as the first apocalypse they’d faced. Still — the woman had an optimist streak that she wasn’t willing to break. She didn’t fully understand the science behind what was happening, but she’d be damned if she let it

 

“Patty,” Holtz sighed, “This…thing is almost bigger than the LHC at CERN. Landon’s team put it together with shoddy math and even worse engineering; they were attempting to create and wound up somehow getting destroy. I-I don’t…”

 

“Listen, if anyone can save the day, it’s us, alright? We’re the Ghostbusters! You and Erin, you’ve got the secret to life. These dumbass white boys might have hit implode, but I know you and Erin can handle this. I know you can.”

 

“This feels different,” Holtz sighed, her forehead coming to rest on the glass. “It feels…hopeless.”

 

“Only if you make it that way. Come on, baby, this ain’t you. This is a bunch of bad feelings all hitting you at once. You gotta push the fight with Erin outta your head, find the Holtzy with the balls to do anything. She’s deep inside you. You look shook; scared. That ain’t you. We gotta get you down there, contain this thing, and by then, we’ll have the whole team together to work on really solving the problem. Until then, you gotta at least give me a sign that you can do this effectively. I ain’t goin’ in there, down two ghostbusters, if the only other one outside’a myself isn’t at one hundred percent.”

 

Knowing how hard her friend was trying to cheer her on, Holtz forced a nod — though she couldn’t find a smile if it would have saved the world. “Alright. Let’s get down there. Obliterate everything in your way.”

 

“Roger, Cap’in.”

 

They took an elevator down to the main doors, which was the most secure looking engineering wing Holtz had ever seen. Taking a deep breath, she punched the code they’d been given onto a triple-sealed door. The release in pressure was overstimulating as it made a groaning sound upon sliding and emitting stale air.. Stepping in and holding her weapon of choice close; a semi-automatic style gun which ran off her pack’s proton stream, she nodded and watched as the men in white coats still on the observation deck stuck in the access numbers to allow them entry into the giant machine’s warehouse.

 

Swearing, Patty put up a hand at the near-blinding glow coming from the massive generator. A greenish hue completely fill the air with a fog effect from their position on the ground, spirits, though their level seemed low, floated around everywhere, somehow contained to the room at their current class. Patty doubted leaving the machine blasting much longer would allow for an easy battle though.

 

“Ho-ly shit,” She muttered, shaking her head and drawing her eyes wide. 

 

“Aww, yeah — Pats. I…” Holtz trailed off and screwed her eyes shut, half-gloves fumbling with her gun for a moment before she turned.

 

It took Patty a long moment and another glance around the room. “You clear the back, I’ll clear the front and we’ll meet up in the middle?”

 

Taking a brave breath, Holtz gave a resolving nod. She was going to do this. “Seems to be a good plan to me.”

 

They seemed to have a handle on the ghosts at first. Despite the fact that specter after specter was being released from the portal, they were at least contained to the forcefield of the room. Though Holtzmann knew, the longer the machine ran, the more unstable the portal, the greater risk of breaking through the barrier of their own space which surrounded the device and kept them contained. Holtzmann was assuming massive amounts of lead were involved. 

 

Fighting alone was exhausting. Usually they were in groups of two on even a simple bust, let alone one of this magnitude. She was keeping up, obliterating spirits at seemingly every second at first. But it wasn’t long before she could feel herself slowing, and knew that if she of all of them was feeling in such a way, she could only imagine how her partner in the room was faring.

 

After forty-five minutes of straight busting, Holtz was winded, barely able to keep herself vertical as she tossed her weapon back and it slid, fortunately into the holster. Glancing at Patty, who’d all but run out of juice in terms of energy and power to her side arm, Holtz shouted across the room, “You’re a wizard, use your wand!”

 

It was enough to make the historian laugh and drop her small laser and reach for her proton wand. “Showtime!”

 

“You’s the ghost with the most, babe-ah!” Holtz cried, taking her own wand from the pack and giving a loud grunt as she met up with her friend. As a class four came down on them hard, they did their best to lock and contain it, but exhaustion from well over an hour of trying to destroy enough ghosts to get close to the generator was making it a nearly impossible task.

 

“Come on Holtzy, come on!” Patty shouted, her teeth gritted as she applied pressure with her feet in place to keep steady.

 

There was a mad series of cries and yells as they tried to wrangle it into a trap, as neither of them had anything left that could simply take it out.

 

A sudden canon sounding blast caught both their attention and when the ghost fizzled out of their dimension, both women whipped around to spot Erin lowering her favorite gun with a long sigh and a tired blink.

 

Patty let out a chuckle and hauled ass over to hug her and Abby as the shorter scientist came into view, “Oh, am I glad to see you two!”

 

Holtz could only stare with a look of near anguish as she locked a long, pitiful gaze on Erin.

 

Her fiancee didn’t give any anger back, but also nothing encouraging. “This reunion is grand and all but I think we’ve got about two dozen angry looking specters comin’ at us!” Abby yelled, pointing up.

 

Holtz sighed. “I haven’t been able to get close enough to the machine to see what I can do to turn it off!” She shouted, “Can you guys hold ‘em off so I can try?”

 

Abby smirked and held up a modified ghost puncher. “You know we can.”

 

Thanking them with a nod, Holtz hurried towards the giant machinery with no honest clue where to start since no one had given her any blue prints. Rowan’s equipment had barely been the size of a tardis (and it looked like one), while the beast she was currently staring at could have competed with CERN. “There’s no freakin’ way,” She muttered to herself, spinning around the main component where the light was coming from, realizing it was acting very much like the miniature centrifuge for the emergent gravity machine she’d come up with, but with very spotty science applied to the massive scale generator. Even in her brilliant, computer-like catalogue of a brain, she couldn’t apply poorly done theory to a piece of machinery to try and reverse it without figuring out the massive errors. Looking for any sort of power source, she knew, it was primarily nuclear powered and highly volatile to small changes. Tugging at her earlobe, she let out a little whimper, chewing her lip, adjusting her glasses — hoping for a stroke of genius to hit her.

 

Or maybe just the stroke of the right genius. Erin’s hand on her shoulder made her jump. “Supersymmetry.”

 

The single word set off the gears in Holtzmann’s brain faster than any since the incident relating to the topic the December previous. “Based on what Landon told us, they’ve primarily used the Higgs as their main particle to create this generator. If we alter the half-integer spin of the fermions, we could stall the portal.”

 

“At least long enough to figure out a better solution,” Erin responded, her tone light as they kept things professional. “I don’t have a whiteboard to run the numbers though.”

 

“Burn them into the freakin’ tile on the floor with your proton wand, whatever it takes,” Holtz started. “I’ve got to find a motherboard to even plug in the code to make this happen.”

 

“Start looking for it, I’ll do my best to be quick,” Erin said, hurrying off to find some place to write while ghosts continued to pour out of the generator, despite Abby and Patty’s best attempts at stopping them. Fumbling around her pockets and nearly screaming in success at the sharpie she found near her chest, Erin pulled the cap off with her teeth and tossed herself to the floor, scrawling complexities beyond most scientist’s wildest comprehension on the floor, muttering to herself, barely blinking as she zoned into a near-meditative state.

 

Shrieking when she was tossed back by a ghost appearing out of literally nowhere, she struggled against it for a moment as she caught her bearings. A blast from behind her caused it to disintegrate and she glanced up, despite the reign of ectoplasm to the front of her uniform to find Holtz looking severe behind her. She helped her fiancee off the floor, concern evident. “You okay?”

 

“Yeah. I was so focused, I didn't see him coming. C’mere, I’m almost done.”

 

Holtz processed the work so far, nodding, computing it to code in her supercomputer mind. “Keep going, I’ve got the start!” She cried, dashing off as Erin finished.

 

Her hand cramped as she sharpied all over another twelve or so feet of formerly clean, white tile, bringing her calculations up to a solid area of nearly fifty feet worth of numbers. Though it was far from her neatest work, it worked in a pinch. Standing up and turning on the HoltzPro on her shoulder strap to record the work for future use, she rushed over to Holtzmann, spewing the findings as the brilliant engineer plugged a small, portable keyboard of just numbers into what she assumed was one of the generator mainframes. She typed away at a speed Erin never recalled seeing her fingers move before, and with a bang and a whirr, the machine powered down to a dull roaring sound, still spinning, but as Erin predicted — at hardly half the rate it had been.

 

Holtz sighed into a hysterical sounding laugh and tossed her arms around her fiancee, who hugged her back with just as much ferocity. “We did it.”

 

“Barely,” The blonde stated. “We’ve got a lot to do. But yeah, we’ve stalled it for now.”

 

Patty and Abby rushed over with laughs of joy as well, not understanding how far from over their work in San Francisco was.

 

After Holtzmann adjusted the code a bit more without being in such a panic, the Ghostbusters felt it safe to leave the site to find a more suitable place to theorize and work on a long-term solution to the crisis. Their military chief strategist as well as physicists and engineers from the nearest Ivy League schools were waiting eagerly outside the lab, eager for instructions as to how they could be useful.

 

“We need to speak with the creator of this machine,” Abby explained. “We need schematics, blueprints, whatever is available in order to fix this mess.” Pointing at the government officials in the room she said, “And you better find yourselves a damn good lawyer because you’re going to have lawsuits up your asses when this hits the press.”

 

The chief strategist nodded, stony, but understanding. “We’ll take you to meet the founders of this project. They’re currently in holding at a federal building; they’ve lawyered up and are refusing to talk.”

 

Erin rolled her eyes. “If you’d like to give us just a few moments without surveillance, we’ll get them to talk.”

 

Despite everything going on in their personal lives, Holtz got a little shiver at Erin’s threat and tone. “Get ‘em, tiger,” She muttered into Erin’s side as she reached for her hand, pleased to have it accepted.

 

“If Landon and his pitiful excuse for scientists think they can get away with this, they’ve got another damn thing coming.”

 

“Hell hath no fury like a female scientist who’s been mansplained to in her own field of expertise,” Abby cheered her on.

 

They were loaded into a large black SUV (not their first time in the back of such a vehicle), Erin squished between Patty and her fiancee, who was back to feeling sheepish in her presence.

 

“We’re going to talk later,” Erin assured her. “For now, we need to focus on the world not ending when the code for the half-spin is no longer stable.”

 

Nodding, Holtz swallowed hard, tugging on the arm of her glasses as Abby shot her a concerned look but then said, “Hey, heard you totally rocked those presentations in the last few days.”

 

While Patty promised Erin, “You looked damn fine accepting that award.”

 

Both of them mumbled their thanks, hardly able to appreciate the work they’d both done which had gotten them the recognition when everything in their world was hanging in the balance of what would happen over the next few days.

 

They arrived at the federal building not far away in ten minutes time, escorted in by four men in suits, as if they needed the protection. In front of an elevator was a burly man in a military uniform, a stern expression on his face. He reached a hand out for Erin first. “Dr. Gilbert, congratulations on the Founders award, and thank you for leaving your work in York to join us.” She raised a brow, then caught the title on his name tag. He finally found the barest of smiles. “Chief Warrant Officer Dylan Samuels, US Navy, nuclear engineer. I’ve written a few articles that you’ve reviewed.”

 

“Yes, of course,” She smiled back, then hastily introduced her colleagues.

 

“Dr. Holtzmann, your name is legendary around our circle,” Dark brown eyes bore into blue ones as he shook her hand and explained, “We’d be honored to collaborate with you some times.”

 

She offered him a wink. “Maybe when the portal to hell is closed up, yeah?”

 

Being the professional military man he was, Dylan didn’t roll his eyes, but Abby sure did. “Oh, just accept a compliment, Holtzmann. Anyway — where’s the team of brilliant engineers who outfitted the world’s worst creation device?”

 

“In their defense,” Holtz joked, “They did create something. It just happened to be the creation of the portal to another dimension.”

 

“Oi, ladies, we do not have time for semantics, let’s roll, people.” Patty insisted, knowing how one of their half-playful arguments could stretch out. Officer Samuels used his key card to open the elevator, leading the jumpsuit-clad women in and down to a series of complex tunnels, which Holtz hastily noted for a quick exit should it be needed. He explained that he’d be in charge of any communications they had with the Tilman team inside.

 

“Keep in mind, they are deeply ashamed. They don’t need you rubbing it in, as it were, to make them feel any worse.”

 

“Who us?” Holtz blinked innocently. “Why we would never.”

 

As soon as they’d been prepped by two detectives and engineers from another outside corporation that had made it to the site before the Ghostbusters with no knowledge on how to shut down the machine, the four were seated across from Landon, who was looking beyond dazed in a rumpled white lab jacket and pair of stained pants. His formerly perfectly sculpted hair was wrecked, singe marks obvious on his sleeves.

 

“Hey, smartass, ya’done gone poof again,” Holtz started, bringing her arm with a faint scar on it up for he and the group of seven pale, scrawny men beside him to see. “Only this time it isn’t just my flesh we’ve got to worry about. Talk.”

 

Landon rolled his eyes, his gaze falling on Erin as she turned slightly towards her fiancee. “You really want to marry this one?”

 

“More than anything,” She answered dryly, earning Holtzmann’s surprised expression. “Of course, we’d have to make it to our wedding day for that to happen. As my fiancee politely requested, talk.”

 

“We were wrong,” He mumbled and the words made Abby giggle a little. “Messing with the existing data from CERN on the Higgs did not prove our theory on the particle being the catalyst for the big bang.”

 

“It did open a really neat portal though,” Abby said with a smirk, leaning forward, her hand curling and uncurling itself. “We need the calculations, Landon. And the blueprints to the mainframe. The government is already tearing your lab apart finding them. Make it easy, buddy.”

 

A leer was directed at her when she dropped the friendly term. “I’m nobody’s buddy.”

 

That’s obvious,” Patty laughed. “But, seriously. Maybe Holtzmann can find the error in your schematics. Maybe Abby can find the missing addend. Maybe Erin will apply some brilliant new theory. I don’t know — but I do know it’s gonna be a heck of’a lot easier if you get them the tools they need to be successful.”

 

“It hardly matters for us,” Landon shrugged. “We’re going to jail or we’re going to die when the portal takes over. My career is over either way.”

 

Erin shrugged. “You know, I thought my career in science was over once, but here I am. There’s always something around the corner. The universe works in mysterious ways.”

 

He rubbed his eyelids with the pad of his thumbs. “Oh, you women eat too much Dove chocolate. That’s real inspiring, Gilbert.”

 

“We’ll testify that you’re just a big dumbass who didn’t know what he was doing if you let us all live long enough to see court,” Abby offered.

 

Landon looked at his colleagues before shrugging. “Honestly, I think I just want to see if you ladies really think you’re capable of outsmarting us. Just because the government believes in you doesn’t mean your real scientists. Bay Storage. Unit F. Gate code is 8582, lock combo is 53-71-29.”

 

“Thank you,” Erin sternly stated in a flash, standing up as they all filed out of the room. The agents waiting for them outside looked particularly annoyed, while Officer Samuels had a dumbfounded expression on.

 

“We’ve been trying to locate that all day!” He hissed.

 

“You don’t have a great ass and long legs,” Erin grinned, recalling what Landon had said to her nearly a month previously. “No offense.”

 

“None taken, I’ve already sent a squad out there. Let’s get you to a lab, shall we?”

X

 

They didn’t spend long in the lab. All four women were so exhausted they could hardly get through the basic texts they’d been given on what was known about the Tilman project while they waited for the actual documents to arrive. It was decided that the half-spin stabilization would by them a solid four to six day period, and that they could afford to rest and focus properly in the very earliest hours of morning.

 

When they were deposited to a hotel just around the block from the headquarters that they were working in, Abby and Patty had been given their own rooms, and under the assumption that the fiancee’s would want to be together, Jennifer had the government agencies provide a single for Erin and Holtzmann.

 

They’d stepped in exhausted, stripped out of their jumpsuits, and into whatever comfy clothes could be found in the bags they’d had delivered to their room. Though Holtz hoped they’d be too tired to argue, she could sense Erin had things to say about what had occurred when they were apart.

 

Erin could only stare at her fiancee with her lip curled. “I don’t know what to say to you, Holtzmann,” She started, her voice breaking at the end of Holtz’s name.

 

The blonde looked about five years younger, five pounds thinner, and five emotions shy of the state in which Erin had left her in hardly two weeks prior. What had the engineer come of without her stabilizing presence?

 

“I want to be mad. Furious. Livid.”

 

Holtz flinched as she stared out the window, chewing on the edge of her sleeve which was actually rolled down to her wrist on one side (possibly for that exact purpose). The move was visual enough that at least Erin had a semblance that she was listening. “Can you show me some respect for two and a half minutes and engage in this conversation with me so that I don’t feel like I’m yelling at a child?”

 

“You just said you don’t know what to say,” Holtz mumbled, bringing her eyes forward after Erin flicked the dusty hotel blinds closed.

 

The older woman was tight-lipped and straight-backed. Her arms were crossed under her chest and her gaze was so piercing that Holtz looked away after barely three seconds of contact.

 

“You published my research.”

 

All I did was drop a line in an article,” Holtz tried to defend herself, knowing it was going to be a failure of an argument. Her voice was as tired sounding as she felt, aware that no matter how she spun it, she’d lose. “They deleted it not even twelve hours later.”

 

“Oh, do not even,” Erin’s teeth were visible as Holtzmann prepared for a tirade of anger to cascade upon them. She tried to sit up straight and hold herself still to just take it — but she knew she wasn’t going to be that strong. “Holtz! How many times did we go over this? How many sleepless nights have you had thinking about this; and my reaction to it. But as I’m away? You do it? You just take my work and share it with the world.”

 

“I didn’t though,” The engineer once again made an attempt to stick up for what she’d done. “I literally fucked up just enough to drive interest, and I’m sorry — but I didn’t share any of our research. Erin, read it again—“

 

“I don’t want to —“

 

“Please?” She whispered. “Please, just read it.”

 

Erin glared but after a long stare and a sigh, she fumbled for her phone which had battery life left in the teens. Scrolling through her email, she opened the link to the screenshoted MIT Press page, which almost made her soften at the sight of Holtz’s beaming grin, working in her old lab with her mentor.

 

“Read it,” Holtz pleaded.

 

Taking a breath, she monotonously quoted the article, “Dr. Holtzmann’s work on encrypting data transmitting devices in nuclear equipment is just the start of vast accomplishments since leaving our institution. You can visit the Ghostbusters website here and get full specs on some of the latest and greatest equipment in the emerging field of paranormal science. Unfortunately, without an IQ of 163, you probably won’t understand the majority of it. Still, Dr. Holtzmann’s ever increasing ability to work with mysterious sciences is almost frightening. Dr. Rebecca Gorin of the nuclear engineering lab on campus, states, “Her ability to compound mankind in a single flick of a button has made her an essential asset to our field.” Dr. Holtzmann herself adds, “I’ve got some pretty impressive stuff cookin’ up in the experimental lab back at headquarters right now. Granted, I cannot take credit for all, if not most of it. I’m merely the hands behind the beautiful brain of Dr. Erin Gilbert. While I can make an emergent gravity calibrator, I would never be able to come up with the theory behind it. True Dark Matter is a completely novel field. Don’t be fooled by other attempts or facilities. We know what’s real. Ghosts are as real as dark matter — you can snack on that all day long.’”

 

The blonde had a pitiful expression on as Erin glanced up from her phone screen. “I just…I don’t know why I said that, but I did. I didn’t share your research. I didn’t publish your theory. I just stated what you’ve done. I-I’m sorry, Erin. And…the way they quoted me it sounded like I just rambled all that off — But I didn’t. I realized what I said and tried to make a joke to make it go away but the journalist knew more than I figured they did and tried to get me to talk more about it and I wouldn’t but, Erin — I’m sorry.”

 

Erin didn’t want to hear an apology. Quite frankly, she didn’t know what she wanted to hear. But the limp statement didn’t quell her anger. “Sorry isn’t going to change the fact that within hours of this hitting the field, I had more calls from government officials than I ever have in my life. My overhead at the Review asked if I was planning on publishing under a competing journal. I have over one hundred unopened requests for an article. Jill,” She sighed and rubbed her temples. “Honestly, if I wasn’t concerned about the world ending in the next day or two I’d probably be running from this; from you.”

 

Holtzmann’s expression shifted from guilt to mild horror when she realized just how far she’d pushed in her simple misstatement. Willing the bile that was threatening to rise in the back of her throat down, she opened and closed her mouth, then bit her thumbnail, shook her head, and laid down on the lumpy mattress, facing away from her fiancee.

 

She completely shut down.

 

Erin was silent for a long time, letting her stew in the guilt she’d caused herself. Holtz felt the eventual shift of light in the room before she opened her eyes to notice it. Her body was telling her that the woman she loved with her entire being had moved herself to stare out over the San Fransisco Bay in the fading July sun before she opened her eyes to see the slits of it. Wishing she’d built a device to read her lover’s thoughts while away in Massachusetts, she calculated the passing of time by the increasing darkness in the room. Screwing her eyes shut again, she rolled onto her side, catching the fabric of the hotel comforter between her fingers, grounding herself with the tactile sensation of rubbing it loosely. Her spine went rigid when the bed dipped and an arm was around her waist, forcing her to turn over in watery-eyed surprise.

 

The gaze from the now-acclaimed physicist was intense, just as sad as her own. “If the world is ending in the next day or two, I want to spend them with you, no matter what residual anger I’ve got over this.”

 

Holtz’s lower lip shook and her entire body followed. Erin tried to kiss the sadness off of it but she only managed to let out a cry. “Jill,” Erin sighed her name, trying to keep tears off her own face. “I’m mad. But I’m going to forgive you because it’s not worth losing what we have over this. We need to figure out how to respect each other’s work and opinions over it better, but let’s…can we not…sweetheart.”

 

“My brain is so fucked up,” Holtz cried, almost inaudible between the tightness of her throat and the tears she was shedding and the built up sobs she was attempting to choke down. “This is all my fault and I’m so sorry. ‘Becca said I’m not the same person I used to be.”

 

Erin pulled her up more so she was half cradled against her chest. She was slightly on target, the person in her hold was half-broken, but not the empty shell she thought she was. “After we save the world,” Erin started, earning a tut of a disbelieving sound. “And you know we will, we’ve done it before, we’ll do it again,” She kissed the top of Holtz’s head and continued, “We’re going to go home and call Sarah so you can get yourself back into regular therapy. I think you need more than group therapy right now. And…maybe something for both of us together. Does that sound fair?”

 

Nodding against her shoulder, Holtz clutched onto her fiancee. “Please don’t run away.”

 

“I won’t,” Erin assured her. “I wanted to. I really did want to just run off and hide. But look at where I am. That’s what matters, okay? We’ve got a few hours before we’ve got to get back to work. I’m…ugh, I’m sorry I came back here to yell at you. I should’ve saved this for a more appropriate time —“

 

“’T’s better to clear the ghost in the room,” Holtz mumbled into her shoulder.

 

Kissing the top of her head in agreement, Erin rubbed her shoulders. “Let’s try to sleep.”

 

It didn’t take long for Erin to fall asleep — the eleven hour flight, the timezones, and mental exhaustion had her crashing within minutes of properly laying down on the bed.

 

Holtzmann, on the other hand — was a sleepless mess. Lingering choked sobs and sniffles kept working their way through her body. Erin’s confession that were they not under time-pressing circumstances, she’d have run off to consider their plight was absolutely the most haunting issue on her mind. Almost grateful for the near apocalypse they were going to attempt starving off, she laid awake for the full few hours of reprieve they’d been given by the intelligence community, gears turning in an endless cycle of self-deprecation.

 

At four-thirty in the morning, all four Ghostbusters were assembled in various states of ready-to-save-mankind trivialities. Patty was cracking jokes with the FBI agent assigned to their team, nursing a frozen coffee, while Abby cackled along with her, a hot one in her hands. Erin was sipping a tea while Holtz had already downed one Redbull and was in the process of cracking the tab on a Monster, a crinkly plastic sack of additional energy drinks hanging from her elbow.

 

With the most to lose out of all of them given the circumstances under which the nuclear device had been activated, Holtzmann made a show of herself by clearing her throat loudly, keeping the thickest pair of goggles she’d brought over her eyes to hide the redness from the night before. “I’d like to start right away,” She stated with flat affect.

 

Recognizing that her fiancee needed warm tools and a circuit board as a distraction from everything that had unleashed, Erin agreed. “I need a whiteboard to get the calculations out.”

 

X

 

They’d been going for nearly twenty hours straight by eleven that evening. Holtz’s fingertips were raw and red from tiredness sinking in repeatedly and accidentally burning the flesh, but full-size gloves made her tinkering too clumsy to be effective. When Patty came to collect her, she gave a yell and tossed a wrench to the floor in frustration, crossing her arms, shoving up her goggles, and putting her head down on them.

 

The tallest of their group gently placed a hand on her back, making Holtz squirm at the pressure of touch. Taking it off as she recognized her friend in an absolute state, she wondered, “Can I convince you to come with me, or do you want me to find Erin?”

 

“I need to stay here,” She blubbered out.

 

“Baby girl,” Patty sighed, hesitant to try touching her again but insistent on getting her to an expressive state, she pulled her up and into a side hug which was full of so much boob it made Holtz cry even harder at the soft contact. “You’re exhausted, you’re emotional, and I don’t think inventing anything in this state is gonna save anybody. C’mon, you need to sleep for a little bit. I don’t think you did last night.”

 

Holtz was silent as she stayed attached like a near parasite to Patty’s side. After patiently waiting as long as she could for her small friend to come up with an answer to what her needs were, Patty explained what was going to happen next. “We’re going down the street to the hotel. When we get there, you can go into your own room or you can come to mine. I will hold you all night if you want me to or I will just make sure you sleep uninterrupted for a few hours. But we’re leaving here now.” She reached over and unplugged the hot tools on Holtz’s desk. “Everything here stable?” There was the smallest of nods against her breast and Patty chuckled, scooping Holtz back onto the chair before turning around and squatting in front of it. “Hop on, Holtzy.”

 

Usually the offer of a piggyback ride would have Holtz squealing in excitement like the animal it was named for. When arms simply locked loosely around her neck, Patty sighed and stood, carrying the light frame of her friend. She found Abby asleep with her head down on a table in the room that she and Erin had spent much of their day theorizing in and chewing on pencils or marker caps. Erin was curled up in a leather desk chair with bleary eyes still pouring over Landon’s team calculations.

 

“C’mon,” Patty gently said to alert the room, both women sitting up in states of panic as they came back to reality. “Ya’ll aint gonna outsmart the portal in this state. We’re coming back at six in the morning and not a minute sooner.”

 

No one argued with Patty as they made zero attempt to clean up the room. Abby slipped her shoes on, not lacing the hightops, while Erin found a zip-up sweatshirt to tug on in preparation of the cool California night air. Spotting her fiancee on Patty’s back, she tried offering a sleepy smile, but the blonde’s eyes wouldn’t reach hers.

 

The pack reached the hotel around the corner in silence, Holtz riding on her friend the entire time. Patty didn’t complain — she seemed to know that the brilliant engineer wasn’t going to take herself way from her work by any of her own means. When they stood outside the row of rooms, Patty gently squeezed the back of Holtz’s legs. “Where do you wanna sleep, kiddo?”

 

Erin shot her a smile that held no other intentions behind it other than, “Wherever you want.”

 

“With Abby,” She mumbled, sliding down from Patty’s back and stepping next to the only person on their team who beat her out for the shortest title. “Please?”

 

“If it means you’ll actually sleep,” Her first friend teased.

 

Erin slinked herself under Patty’s arm, having missed the always-upbeat woman over their time apart. “Can I claim you?”

 

“Of course you can. C’mon, everybody. It’s freakin’ bedtime.”

 

Erin changed and wiggled her way onto Patty’s mattress, sighing as she curled into her friend’s side. “I missed you. And I’m sorry you pretty much had to miss out on your trip.”

 

“Eh, saving the world seems a little more important than a coastal drive down some historical sites.” She pressed her lips together for a moment. “I’m glad Holtzy at least got two of her presentations done though. She needed to know she could do it. And she was great, Erin.”

 

Feeling a little swell of pride, she played with Patty’s fingers for a minute. “I’m not as mad at her as I feel like I should be.”

 

“You don’t have to be mad at her at all if you don’t want to,” Patty promised. “She did sort of do what you asked her not to but — now we’re here and we need the world to know it in a way anyway, right?”

 

Shrugging, Erin sighed. “I don’t know what to do with her though,” She admitted. “I don’t want to force her into anything. I know that’s the fastest way to shut her down, but — I really think she needs to get back into regular therapy. Maybe even medication,” She sighed again. “I can’t control her though. I can’t say, ‘I’ll be with you if you…whatever.’”

 

“No,” Patty assured her, “That would just push her away even further into her little mental trap she’s in. You’re right — the last few months have been really challenging, for both of you. She’s been off. And things do really go up and down between you and I know you’re making an effort, Erin. You want to help her, you come up with really sweet things to say or do, and it helps — but unfortunately, she’s gotta help herself. We kinda talked about that on the way here. She knows it’s true, she does. But she’s gotta admit it to herself.”

 

“Patty?” Erin mumbled softly after a minute of quiet. “I want to marry her still. And soon. Forget all this drama and just do it.”

 

Chuckling, the other woman pushed her falling bangs back and cupped the back of her head lovingly. “I think you aught to tell her that.”

 

Erin sighed. “But you guys thought it wasn’t such a good plan, with all the tension—“

 

“Erin,” Patty sternly started, “You can’t let what other people think of your relationship dictate it. We’re your friends, we see what goes on on the outside. We know a little bit about the inside. But you know Holtz. You know your life together. You have to do what’s right for you when it’s right to do it. That’s all that matters. If you wanna run off down state and over one to Vegas when this is over and have Elvis marry you, by all means. Do what’s best for you.”

 

With the wise wisdom in mind, Erin slept soundly through the night after the conversation drifted. The same could not have been said about Holtzmann, who crashed for all of ninety minutes before waking in a panic and sneaking out of Abby’s room to creep into the federal building where her work was waiting.

 

When Abby delivered the news of her absence upon waking, Erin kicked herself for not having assured her fiancee the night before that she intended on committing herself to her. After gathering what she needed, including a quick stop in the hotel lobby to print off some documents, she rushed to the temporary lab. Finding Holtz in her clothes from the day before, her hair a greasy mess of blonde and dark roots, fingers raw and eyes bloodshot made her more convinced than she had been the night before of what she needed to do. Empty energy drink cans were spilling out of the trash, along with metal scraps and wires that Holtz didn’t have the time or energy to recycle.

 

The engineer looked up at her, the fear in her eyes evident as she didn’t know what to expect from the woman she’d wronged and sneaked out on. Erin had her hair pulled up with short-sleeved grey and yellow striped dress on, white Keds tied around her feet. She looked far too cute for six in the morning after the thirty-six-odd hours they’d had. She opened a bag, placing a chocolate frosted donut with rainbow sprinkles on a napkin. A fruit smoothie (blissfully not green) came next, followed by paperwork. “Good morning. I’d like you to sign these,” She said quietly with a smile.

 

Holtz’s tired eyes couldn’t bare to flicker onto whatever bad news her fiancee had delivered. “If my heart hurts any more than it does right now,” She started in a sad confession, “I’m not going to be able to finish this and stop the portal. I know you said you forgive me but it doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t know what will, but everything feels wrong and fucked up and I can’t really deal with any more bad news right now.”

 

“Holtz,” Erin’s voice was gentle and sweet, and the blonde didn’t understand as she flickered her gaze up to the ceiling letting out a loud breath between her lips. “Jill. Honey. Please, take a look at what I brought and think about taking ten minutes to eat your breakfast and fill out the paperwork.”

 

Erin wrapped a thin hand with long fingers around her fiancee’s face, drawing it to her chest as she appeared on the other side of the workstation. She kissed her temple, then above her ear. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

 

She glanced down to find that from her new position in Erin’s hold, Holtz’s pupils were locked on the target she’d wanted them to be. “I must be having a really lucid dream right now,” She sighed, pushing off the older woman and squinting, holding her head in her hands, curling her hands into fists and tapping her temples with them. “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”

 

Erin gently removed the hands with her own, kissed the back of her head and assured her, “You’re awake, Jill. And I want you to sign that, if — you do, of course.”

 

Holtzmann lifted up the crispy white papers with trembling fingers to meet blue irises which could barely stay focused.

 

Application for Marriage License — State of New York

 

Erin,” She said quietly.

 

The taller of them shrugged and held her hands again after placing the papers back on the messy desk, swooping her index finger over the refined ring on the one. “I want to marry you. End of August, like we planned. For no other reason than that I love you and want to commit to spending the rest of my life with you — good times and bad. That’s it. I don’t want to lock you in. I don’t want you to feel like you need to marry me to keep me from running away when things are hard. I want to marry you because I love you and there is nothing that makes me happier than the thought of spending the rest of my life loving you. Holtzmann, will you sign this? Will you marry me?”

 

Only managing a nod, Holtz let a shaky sigh fall from her lips before clicking a pen on her desk, sitting up to focus, scrawling her name as neatly as possible along the lines that Erin had highlighted for her.

 

When she finished, Erin did the same, letting out a happy, anxious laugh while Holtz’s sound was a near sob. She leaned forward into Erin’s chest again, crying happy tears. “We’re both going to get some professional help, publish an article together on the theory we used to save the world, and get married, all by summer’s end,” Erin promised her, kissing the top of her head again.

 

Holtz brought her head up to capture Erin’s lips in a long, salty kiss. “I love you, Erin. I don’t know what else to say than that. I can’t wait to spend my life reminding you.”

 

X

 

Holtzmann had been persuaded to rest (and actually sleep) while the other three women worked on theory. She couldn’t do much more until there was a breakthrough on the ability to work outside of the half-spin in terms of completely stopping the portal in a permanent way. Her intense inventions thus far had only been in an attempt to support the half-integer spin theory indefinitely rather than shut the actual portal down itself. What Landon’s team had done was creation — but not of what they thought it would be. Therefore, Erin’s beautiful brain would have to provide her fiancee with something to counteract that ill-born creation with destruction that only targeted the portal and didn’t wind up sucking in the rest of the known universe.

 

No pressure.

 

Erin poured through text after text, scribbled numbers on white boards, sticky notes, filled half a notebook in a day’s time and still had nothing real to show for it. Nothing usable for Holtz to build.

 

Around four o’clock the afternoon that she’d printed the marriage application, Erin was just as spent as the engineer had been. She’d returned to their temporary headquarters at noon with sandwiches for everyone, and had been attempting to complete the machine to control the half-integer spin. After Holtzmann came into the theory room from her little workshop down the hall to announce that she was fairly sure it was complete, Erin dropped her head to the table and groaned.

 

Holtz set out a dramatic pout as she climbed onto the table, knocking Patty’s pen off with her foot and making the tallest of them send a moody glare in her direction. She stretched herself out in front of Erin. “I thought we’d a little more enthusiastic that I’d just built what was considered a quantum physics impossibility until today, but alright.”

 

“It’s not you, Holtz,” Erin insisted, propping her head up with a fist as Abby pulled herself up to sit on the edge of the table, her short legs swinging. “I’m proud of you, I am. It’s a good solution. But it’s not the real solution and I feel like I’m failing the entire world because I can’t pull one out of my brain.”

 

Holtz rubbed the back of her head, tussling her locks with a hum. “We’ve done a lot of the impossible over the years, but sometimes the impossible is just that. Maybe this is the solution. I’ll have to build enough to survive the next three hundred years before the portal causes a nuclear winter but we should be home by two summers from now if my calculations for how long the device will hold are correct.”

 

Erin groaned again. “My head feels like it weighs a hundred pounds,” She sighed.

 

Abby chuckled, “You know — it wouldn’t surprise me if your brain weighed more than your body —“

 

She was cut off when Erin gasped and sat up too quickly, making her dizzy but she ignored the rush of blood as she started mumbling to herself. Running to a whiteboard, she erased all the failures of equations from earlier in the day and started fresh, her hand managing to keep up with her brain. The other three women were hanging on the edge of their seats, desperate to determine what she’d just come up with, knowing better than to attempt to disrupt her.

 

Holtz saw it first, clapping eagerly, nodding and knocking books off of the table and leaping off of it herself to grab a roll of carbon paper from the stack of supplies they’d been given. She dramatically unrolled it, climbing back to perch on the table, scrawling a series of doodles which weren’t quite proportionate but would at least give her a running start while Erin finished ensuring that the idea would be able to be brought to life. Abby continued to stare at the board before giving a nod and a smile, explaining to Patty, “She’s going to have Holtz attempt to create interacting massive particles. It’s a really new theory for dark matter — that the particles in dark matter are superheavy. As of now, no one has been able to give any sort of guesstimate using any standard physics model on weight of them. But it looks like…Erin’s got something that will give the massive particles a defined weight capable of sucking in Landon’s portal. Dark matter verses antimatter, which is what we truly believe the portal to be made of — as was our theory in the second book. It’s absolutely genius. This is beyond her creation theory. She’s creating an energy scale right now that has never existed before. And based on Holtzy’s furious writing over there, she knows how to make it possible.”

 

More scribbling, a few frustrated yells and then cheers later, Erin dropped her white board marker and turned around so fast she appeared metaphysical herself. Her eyes were wide, bloodshot, and pupils blown in dilation, but she was more sure of herself than Abby had ever seen her. Swallowing thickly, she stood up and approached her friend with a watery gaze. “You’re brilliant, Erin. Absolutely brilliant.”

 

“Thank you,” She collapsed into her hug with a sigh. “But! No time! Holtzmann, what do you need?”

 

“A team of welders, about three million dollars worth of polonium, the world’s thickest lead-lined suits, and a Ding-Dong.”

 

“What’s that?” Abby stared at her in shock and Holtz managed to spread a cheshire smirk across her face.

 

“A Hostess treat.”

 

“Oh, you!” Abby curled her hand into a fist as she shouted, “You’re a ding-dong! Crap! Holtzy, come on!”

 

“I’m about to build a device capable of annihilating antimatter, so I’d watch who you’re calling a ding-dong.”

 

The bickering ended quickly as the government officials they’d been working with were briefed on the discovery and assembling the required components began. In the meantime, the Ghostbusters returned to the site where they’d be hopefully saving the world in a few days time so Holtz could hook up her other temporary fix before the original one ran out of time.

 

Discovering the portal had been essentially leaking out ghosts despite the near-stop, there was plenty to bust on the way to Holtzmann plugging in her machine, setting the code, then ensuring stability for a few minutes before declaring the area clear once more.

 

That night, Holtzmann cuddled against Erin’s skin side as they watched the news — the story of the portal having leaked and chaos ensuing in an NBC studio as they tried to figure out what was going on.

 

“Should we call them?” Holtz wondered.

 

“Nah,” Erin smirked at security camera footage of them entering the chamber wearing their gear earlier played out. “We’ll write a tell-all later. Make some money off of an international crisis.”

 

Holtz snickered and curled up against her fiancee, yellow lenses discarded in favor of a full-face snuggle under her chin. “We’re a fine team, Gilbert.”

 

“Truer words never spoken,” Erin responded tiredly, kissing the top of her head, fingernails gliding through the locks in the back, scratching her scalp, getting Holtzmann practically purring.

 

In what was their first true moments of intimacy in weeks, Erin saw a look in Holtzmann’s gaze which was positively electrifying. The static charge between them was undeniable and Erin wasn’t sure how she’d ever doubted her fiancee’s intentions for a single moment.

 

X

 

The implementation of Erin’s theory had been significantly more difficult than she’d hoped it would be. By day three of attempting to build the device, even working with an Ivy League team of some of the country’s best engineers, little progress had been made and she was starting to doubt whether her newest theory on gravity and Dark Matter held up.

 

“Erin, it’s gonna work,” Holtz assured her with a little smile after Erin trimmed the singed tips of her bangs which had caught a bit of a poof in the lab. Her fiancee merely sighed in disbelief. “Babe, it’s just gonna take time. We literally have no idea what we’re doing. We’re working with something so unknown it wasn’t known it could be anything but unknown until you suddenly knew it a few days ago.”

 

Erin rolled her eyes and managed a tiny smile. “I just hope it’s enough.”

 

“Erin,” Holtz promised, squeezing her hand and kissing her cheek, “You’re always enough.”

 

It turned out her fretting may have been more warranted than Holtz anticipated by the time a week had passed since the start of the project and they still had no results. More than Erin, Holtz was starting to feel the frustration. Her mood slipped from barely hopeful to discouraged in her engineering abilities over the course of day ten and eleven. Erin and Abby had done the math a hundred different ways since the initial discovery; and each time the resulting variables were the same. All Holtz had to do was put them into a machine.

 

She was a twitchy mess on a too-hot Friday afternoon in July. She had pulled off her lead-lined suit the moment the chamber door that lead away from the machines was opened, not caring that it hadn’t sealed the radiation in completely before stripping. She was down to a pair of shorts and a tank top, and after entering the code to leave the hallway between the chamber and control room to it, collapsed on cool tile, using her toes to pull off her socks so her arms could remain stretched above her head. A presence was next to her an unknown amount of time later and Holtz gravitated towards it like she hoped her machine would do to the portal.

 

“Maybe I’m the one who’s not enough,” She wondered out loud and was poked in the cheek by a bony finger. “Erin,” She whined. “Nothing’s working.”

 

“Yet,” Erin insisted, kissing the place she’d poked with a smile. “You’re gonna get this, Holtz, Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you’re gonna get this.”

 

“Erin?” She spoke her name again quietly and her fiancee hmm’ed against the tile. “Will you really want to write a book about this if it works?”

 

There was a wave of uncertainty for just a second before Erin kissed her nose. “Only if you’ll write it with me.”

 

Finding a grin, Holtz reached over and laced their fingers together. “Can we put Doctors Erin and Jillian Gilbert-Holtzmann at the bottom?”

 

Erin touched a blonde curl. “Sounds perfect.”

 

With a new fire fueling her, Holtz slept through that night, ate a breakfast with three food groups and went into the portal chamber on Saturday morning with renewed energy for her team.

 

“Today, my good dudes? We save the world. Let’s go, people!”

 

Erin watched from the observation deck, biting her nails as updates kept flying over the speaker from below. Abby had long joined the engineering team, while Patty kept a detailed log of every attempt made to solve the mystery, transcribing all the critical conversations and writing summaries beneath each of them, even if the content was completely novel to her.

 

A sudden laugh filled the speaker and Erin watched as a glow from the center of a hollow tube that was nearly the height of Landon’s machine lit up the room. Her fiancee was managing to dance in her lead-lined space suit, laughing maniacally as she realized what was going to happen.

 

“Clear the room!” Holtz cried excitedly, taking her remote control for the antimatter device and charging to the changing area. She was at Erin’s side in minutes, a sweaty — excited mess. Her hair was so greasy Erin was fairly sure they could cook a meal in it, but it was hardly a priority as a group of nearly fifty people were assembled to watch what was about to take place. Abby was recording the event on a HoltzPro device, the Ghostbusters, though grateful for the outside support, without which their intention would not have worked — but they were the proud owners of this discovery and Abby was going to be damned if anyone would take that from them.

 

She squeaked excitedly and bounced a little, trying to keep the camera steady as a countdown started on a screen in front of Patty. “Alright,” Holtz let out a loud breath between her lips, her hands trembling a little but steady enough to control her device. “Once I stop the half-integer spin, we’re going to have about ten seconds before the portal releases a plug of ghosts worse than the time that Abby ate the —“

 

“Oh, please don’t tell that story right now,” Erin whined, rubbing her temples.

 

“Okay, you get it,” Holtz stated, nodding mostly to herself. “We’ve got to hit this timing perfectly. Ten seconds to suck in the portal before the ghosts start to have their party.”

 

The next sequence of numbers appeared on Patty’s screen and Holtz watched her machine go from the blinding blue of radiation to the purest black she’d ever seen. A stream of it emitted directly from the hollow center of the gravity device, and as Patty yelled, “Now, Holtz!” She slammed the button on her control, releasing the half-integer spin.

 

As Erin anticipated, the stream of  dark matter started to absorb the green glow of antimatter making up the portal. They watched in awe as ghost after ghost was sucked in and the stream was nearly swallowed whole. With her thumb on the button, Holtz waited until it was nearly gone before slamming her newest invention offline and causing any light in the room at all to disappear.

 

“Um,” Patty started as a generator lit up the observation deck. “Was that supposed to happen?”

 

Erin let out a little shriek, followed by Holtz, then Abby. Taking that as a yes, Patty whooped as well, followed by the group of scientists behind them. They were a mess of hugs and congratulations.

 

It all happened so fast. Nearly two weeks of the most agonizing, hard work of her life had been over in moments as the newest Dark Matter machine did exactly what she theorized it could. The most complicated physics ever compounded on earth, all proved true in barely ten seconds. Beyond grateful that she had it on film, she cheered again.

 

“It worked,” Erin breathed into Holtzmann’s ear as they clung to one another tighter than possibly ever before. “Holtzmann, we did it.”

 

“Marry me?” The engineer gasped out.

 

“As soon as we get back to New York,” Erin promised.

 

They laughed together, happy to let the group with them be the first back into the chamber with lights. Though her machine was fried to a crisp, Landon’s multi-million dollar failure was as well, and that’s what really mattered.

 

“Look at that. You beat that mansplaining douche bag once and for all,” Erin said with pride as they returned to the site the following day to collect anything that actually belonged to them.

 

“And he’s going to be in jail for being an asshat. What a victory for womankind!” Holtz beamed. Soon, they were put through a series of paperwork hell followed by government clearances and warnings about speaking to the right and wrong people about what had occurred — what they’d be allowed to publish and so on, but they mostly just snoozed through it. Over the next twenty-four hours the plane ride home was filled with absolute silence. All four Ghostbusters were asleep, unaware of the media circus unfolding outside their headquarters, all eagerly awaiting interviews.

 

When they arrived outside the firehouse to put away their equipment in a black SUV, there was some groaning as they realized there was no way in without at least addressing what had occurred, Erin insisted, “I got this,” with a wink.

 

Holtz was overjoyed. After months of refusing to share her genius with the world, she realized the woman, who was so close to being her wife, was willing to tell the tiniest bit of the biggest discovery of humankind. She watched as Erin tried to figure out who to share with, when she caught sight of a familiar face in the crowd assembled.

 

“Jay!” She called loudly, waving enthusiastically at the reporter from MIT she’d let down so brilliantly. “Erin wants to talk to you!”

 

Jay pointed at themselves with a raised brow. Holtz nodded and kept waving until they were standing in front of the Ghostbusters, looking nervous but excited.

 

“All I’m willing to say at this time, is yes, we have discovered not only the keys to creation, but to end it as well. The world is safe, from the metaphysical barrier. And it’s thanks to my team and the scientists in the Ivy League along with resources from the federal government that it happened. We’ll be sharing much more in the coming months when we’ve been able to fully analyze our data. That’s all.”

 

Jay nodded brightly, politely thanking the physicist for her time as she swept through the rest of the reporters and the Ghostbusters were home at last.

 

X

 

Holtzmann tapped her fingertips together nervously as she waited in a chilly, familiar room. Metal objects stashed in the pockets of her khaki cargo shorts clanged together as her feet clicked nervously on the carpeted floor in her odd blue and red loafers. She leaned forward on her knees, letting out a long breath, the cool metal of the necklace she wore suddenly making her shiver at the back of her neck.

 

“Holtzmann?”

 

She looked up through thick plastic rimmed, yellow-lensed glasses with a nervous smile. Sarah, her psychiatrist from two years previous standing with a reassuring expression; her graying hair cropped to her ears, a long, whimsical skirt still covering her legs. Standing to follow her back, Holtz breathed in the familiar smell of essential oils in her office, always taken aback at the softness and gentle hue of such a sterile place.

 

“I’ve seen on the news that you’ve been up to quite the heroics since we’ve last seen one another,” Sarah started. “Tell me about what you’ve been up to? Last we spoke, things were looking up.”

 

Scratching her neck and swallowing thickly, Holtz shrugged. “I love Erin. We’re getting married — six weeks.”

 

“Congratulations,” Sarah grinned. “Are you excited for the wedding?”

 

“I am,” She nodded to the psychiatrist. “But my head hasn’t been so hot in the last few months. Some really…awful, scary thoughts — feeling nothing; we had some fights…wasn’t sure it was going to last for a bit there…She was in the UK, while…I presented, and I misspoke and…it got ugly, but then — the world tried to end and…it’s been a lot.”

 

Sarah tilted her head gently in understanding. “Tell me more about the scary thoughts you’ve experienced.”

 

“Erin dying,” Holtz breathed through pale lips, feeling her entire core tighten in the memories of the reoccurring nightmares. “Too much.”

 

“I imagine so,” Sarah assured her. “That would be quite terrifying. Do they happen when you are asleep or awake?”

 

“Started out as nightmares,” Holtz clarified, trying to keep her speech in a normal human pattern, though she knew Sarah wouldn’t judge her if she couldn’t. “Turned into waking nightmares. I stopped them by feeling nothing.”

 

“How do you do that?”

 

The troubled blonde shrugged, keeping her gaze locked on a thread in the colorful woven rug on the floor. “Like turning off a computer. Just close all the applications and hit ‘shut down.’”

 

“Did you find it difficult to communicate with Erin and your friends when you did that?”

 

“Oh yeah,” Holtz raised her brows, giving a long, slow nod. “I finally told Erin about it…and it — it did get better when I did that. She was real nice about it, patient.” Finding a little smile and a tut of a sound against herself, she said, “She’s always so patient with me. I don’t know why she puts up with me.”

 

Sarah rolled her chair a little closer to her patient. “Erin loves you. She’s patient with you because what you share is worth protecting; and one of the ways that people protect each other’s hearts is by being incredibly patient. You do it to, Holtz. Erin is not a perfect person. She requires your patience just as often as you require hers. Lately, it may feel like she has had to give more of it, but I assure you, there’s been times when I’m confident you’ve had to give more as well.”

 

It made sense. But Holtzmann still felt the knowledge that she soaked up so much of Erin’s mental energy to be draining. It had to be.

 

“How have you been coping with these feelings?” Sarah asked next.

 

The engineer let out a grunt of a sound and chewed the inside of her cheek. “Not well. Being quiet, avoiding her. It got better, but — then I really messed up.”

 

Holtzmann explained the original issue of Erin not wanting to share her theory and Holtz having ultimately done just that. “But after what just happened in San Fransisco, she apologized for not being willing to share our work sooner and wants me to write a book with her.”

 

Sarah was practically glowing at that. “Sometimes things work out in ways we least expect them to.”

 

The session continued for another forty-odd minutes and Holtzmann left with a reminder card for an appointment the following week and a little sheet of neatly scrawled notes to help her discuss a few key issues with Erin.

 

They’d slept most of Monday away, having been into their headquarters that morning to review what their plan would be over the next few weeks. When she stepped into the Brownstone building and set the alarm, toeing off her shoes and following her nose up to the kitchen, Holtz found her first real conscious moment alone with her fiancee since arriving back to New York. Erin was busy at the counter, whipping out breakfast for dinner. Holtz leaned against the island and grinned, waiting for her presence to be noticed. She flipped her glasses up to the top of her head, tucking a fist under her chin, her other forearm resting on the granite surface as she stared fondly.

 

Erin turned for chocolate chips and caught a sight of wispy blonde out of the corner of her eye, not quite startling as a sneaky intrusion by her fiancee wasn’t terribly irregular. “Hey!” She greeted, splattering the chocolate chips onto the pancake batter that was in a near-perfect circle on the griddle. “How’d it go?”

 

“Alright,” Holtz said simply, shrugging off the button-up blue and green striped shirt she had open over a t-shirt. She dropped it onto the stool and crossed the floorboards to hug Erin from behind, kissing her shoulder. “How was your afternoon?”

 

“Good,” Erin responded in a light tone. “I’ll tell you more about it during dinner. Should be finished in about five minutes. Would you mind switching the laundry? Everything that’s in the wash can go in the dryer.”

 

“You got it, babe,” Holtz pressed one more kiss to her cheek before heading down the stairs to complete the task she’d been assigned to.

 

When she jumped the last two feet of the landing and rounded to the closet containing the washer and dryer, she stutter-stopped in front of the white devices. She felt her heart warm up and grow two sizes at the sight of a variety of goodies that Erin had laid out for her. Letting out a bit of a mewl in excitement, she noted several of her favorite snacks, restraining herself from diving into a sugar and salt fest until after dinner. A new book of poems with a blank journal was next. A gray shirt was folded up and when Holtz opened it, she let out a snort and a laugh. She and Erin had spent a whole evening making fun of the over-the-top heterosexual wedding prep they’d found online on an evening in June and it seemed Erin had found a way to capitalize on it for them, too.

 

She tossed the top she had on over her head and tugged on the new one, which was a perfect fit in a loose, muscle shirt style. In the middle was a rainbow, screen printed loopy text which read Wifey 1. When Erin came down the stairs, the shirt she’d had on unbuttoned, it revealed a form-fitting t-shirt of the same color and print which read, Wifey 2. “Is it just stupid enough?” She wondered and Holtz laughed, the corners of her eyes crinkling, her dimple accentuated.

 

“Perfectly stupid. I love it.”

 

Kissing her soundly, Erin confessed, “Thought you might.”

 

“So are we wedding planning tonight?”

 

“We’ve got a crash course tomorrow,” Erin said with a shrug. “When I went to meet Jennifer this afternoon, I figured I would drop off our marriage license paperwork too. She asked a few questions and next thing I knew, she was providing us a venue and catering and calling in favors. She said it was the least she could do for us.”

 

Holtz tilted her head, beaming a bit. “Oh, wow. That’s…wow, so nice of her.”

 

“I know,” Erin smiled. “So we’ve got a to-do list of stuff to figure out before noon tomorrow when we meet her and some wedding planner. I figured it might be a late night and Holtzy would need fuel.”

 

“Thank you, baby,” Holtz cooed and leaned forward to hug her tight, nuzzling her curly hair into Erin’s neck.

 

Patting her back, Erin stated, “I gotta flip the last pancakes.” Holtz tried to follow her up but Erin raised a brow, “I was serious about the laundry, though.”

 

Letting out a noise like a deflated balloon, Holtz pouted but gave a firm nod. “You got it, wifey.”

 

During dinner, Holtz argued that she wanted cheesecake, not cake — but not cheesecake, “Like a whole bunch of cubes of different types of cheese in the shape of a cake.”

 

Erin could only forever roll her eyes as they spent the evening compromising on what they did and did not want according to a list she’d been given to fill out.

 

When the dishes were cleared away and the kitchen long cleaned up, the two were stretched out on the balcony in the humid, but not terribly miserable mid-July air. As they reached the end of their decision making form, Holtz had Erin draped over her body, the woman having one final proposal for her.

 

“Jennifer also mentioned — the city offers a few…classes, I guess. It’s like individual pre-wedding counseling. It’s supposed to help you smooth out the bumps in communication and such. Would, um, you be interested in attending with me?”

 

Thinking back to the decision they’d made to get married in San Diego, along with Erin’s promise that they’d seek professional help when needed to get through it all, Holtz gave a nod. “I think it would be a great way to make sure we’re both really ready for this commitment.”

 

Leaning up to kiss her soundly, Erin knew — despite the last two months of semi-tumultuous moments, they were going to make it.

 

X

 

A month and a half later, Holtz was stretched out on the bed, a pale stretch of skin against the lavender sheet. Erin stepped into the bedroom wearing a smile with a t-shirt, leaning against the door and staring at the woman who would be her wife in eighteen hours. Her gaze was full of the intensity of the insane planning they’d been through in the last six weeks to throw together a classy, medium-sized wedding which surprised them both. With help from the mayor’s office as a show of appreciation for saving the world yet again, they were having a bit of a dream wedding; though neither of them could have dreamed up the beautiful reality they were living.

 

They’d been apart most of the day, as Patty had dragged Erin around to various appointments to ensure she was ‘ready.’ Upon arriving home, the taller of them had been subjected to a near-obnoxious amount of congratulatory and anticipatory calls from family and well-wishers, all of which Holtz had pushed off to her. “Good evening, gorgeous,” She grinned back. “You’re not regretting spending the night before our big day apart, are you?”

 

“No,” Erin let out a whimsical sound, insisting softly, “I think we’ve spent enough time in the last few months apart.” She crawled up the bed and settled herself beside her nude lover, nuzzling her face above her left breast, kissing her shoulder blade. “I can’t wait to see you tomorrow, though.”

 

Fingering the long, freshly highlighted and layered locks, Holtz sighed and rolled a little on her left hip so they were more parallel. “You wouldn’t insist on busting my mom tomorrow if she showed up for the big day as a non-malevolent ghost, would you?”

 

Erin was quiet for a stretch as she understood what a deep place of sadness Holtzmann’s teasing-tone comment was coming from. Pulling her face close with her freshly manicured nails just long enough to clip her cheekbone, Erin promised, “I never want to do anything to intentionally hurt you so long as I live.”

 

Feeling her emotional dam of expertly disguised humor break, Erin kissed Holtz’s lower lip when it curved down and beneath her eyes grew red. She cried into her fiancee’s shirt for a long minute as Erin could only rub her back soothingly. Trying not to cry herself, the older woman reminded her, “Everyone who loves you is going to be there to support us. Dr. Gorin is sitting in the front row. Patty will be by your side, Abby next to me, and Kevin, bless him, will be closely monitored by my parents and his boyfriend. Norm will be there, all your other nursing home cronies, your therapy friends — people from our metaphysical community, all there. I’m so sorry that your mom will miss your big day in person, but if there’s a way, I’m sure she’ll be there in spirit.”

 

As she closed her thoughts out, Holtz sat up, and despite her watery voice and tears still trailing down her pink cheeks, she joked, “Marry me?”

 

Erin giggled and pulled her back down to push their faces together again. “Tomorrow.”

 

X

 

Barbara Gilbert was in tears as she stood in front of her daughter, who was trying with all her might not to roll her eyes and huff at the dramatics of it all. “Mom, honestly — it’s a very casual wedding —“

 

“But you look so beautiful,” She all but sobbed as she brought a long hand to wrap around Erin’s upper arm. “Oh, honey — Rich! Look at your daughter!”

 

The tall man chuckled as his eyes sparkled with pride. “I am, dear, I am. She looks lovely.” He stepped further into the room at the hotel in Chelsea where the rooftop event was taking place. Trying not to let any negative energy into her soul for the day, Erin simply nodded, not wanting to shove their compliments back down their throats. “You are Sunshine today.”

 

Shrugging with a smile, she accepted her father’s side embrace and peck to the top of her head before excusing her parents out the door and visibly shaking her hands, trying to calm her nerves. Their presence certainly couldn’t do that — however — 

 

“Settle down before you think yourself out of this,” Abby insisted as she stepped onto the room, looking completely herself and yet dolled up all the same. She was sporting an elegant long, white lacy tank top that went to her mid-thigh, with a pair of dressy, tight-legged pants that had a satiny white finish to them, and a pair of brand new white high tops to complete the look. Her hair was down in waves and makeup on, making Erin feel like the most important person in the world to have Abby so dressed up.

 

“You look amazing,” Erin commented, taking her friend’s offered hands into her own with a deep breath.

 

“Me? Erin,” Abby stood on her toes to spin the bride around to take in every angle. “Look at you.”

 

Her tan skin tone complimented the white dress she’d wound up selecting. It was simple, yet elegant. The strapless ensemble started as a dipped v between her breasts, clung tightly to her waist, then flared down around her hips, ending just above her knee. There was little sparkle to it, but that didn’t seem to stop her from shining. Wearing the necklace and ring from her almost-wife and a pair of flip-flops until it was time for the big moment, she was almost ready. Her hair was swept to the right in a low, loose, delicate side-bun, a silver clip above it.

 

“Holtzy cleaned up nice, too, I promise.”

 

Finally letting out the eye-roll she’d been holding in for too long, Erin ended it with a soft breath through her lips. “I’m really nervous, Abby.”

 

Grinning boldly, the shorter friend assured her that it was going to be worth the anticipation. “You know? There was a time when I wondered if maybe I’d missed the opportunity to be your maid of honor? That maybe you’d gone and found yourself a partner already in some professional obligation?” Feeling guilty, Erin tucked her gaze down as she bit her lip. Abby shook her head though, assuring her, “I’m so glad I didn’t miss this. Holtzmann — Jillian, is the only person who could ever make you as happy as you are. She fills the holes in your life that you didn’t even know you had. She’s given you more purpose than you ever thought possible. And I’m so happy that I’ve gotten to be here for it. Hey —!” She snapped at the end, lifting a threatening finger. “Don’t you dare cry, Gilbert. Patty will kick your ass if you screw up your makeup.”

 

Snorting a laugh at the dramatic shift in tone that only Abby could produce, Erin nodded and fanned her face, sitting down on the bench that overlooked the city from the swanky hotel that Jennifer had arranged for them. “You know, it was really nice of them to get us this fancy place, but I’m really just gonna want to go home tonight.”

 

“Oh, you introverted weirdo, do you know what you’re gonna walk into tonight? Probably a whole damn honeymoon suite! If you don’t take it, I will — all to myself.” Abby sat backwards in a chair and gave her a wolfish look. “Don’t tell me you don’t want Holtzy to take you on a thousand thread-count sheet.”

 

Flushing to the roots of her hair, Erin shrugged back. “Wherever she wants to take me is fine. So long as she gets me out of this tight dress.”

 

Full-on laughing, Abby stood back up to walk behind her friend, hugging her while they both looked over the city. “I’m so happy you’re here,” The physicist commented to her life-long partner in crime. “Thank you for sharing today with me.”

 

“No one else I’d want to share it with.”

 

After snapping a few pictures together, Erin and Abby eyed the time and headed up the stairs for the big show. Feeling a tremble in her belly at the thought of everyone staring at her and sharing such an intimate moment with her primarily quiet lover in front of them all had her nearly gasping for air. “Relax,” Abby warned her, “You’ll be fine.”

 

Nodding and sighing, she shook her head and let out a long breath of air before biting her lip and readying herself for the moment they’d waited nearly nine months for.

 

As Abby fussed with her best friend’s hair for a moment, Erin let out a loud gasp at the sight before her. Turning to see the excitement, Abby let out something between an aww and a mewl at Patty, wearing a very trendy summery white skirt and top combination with a pair of glittering gold high heels, with a foot-shorter Holtzmann, sporting her hair in the neatest pulled-back style either of them had ever seen. In a perfectly tailored white suit jacket, with a corset-style, sleeveless white jumpsuit underneath, she was beyond dashing and gorgeous at the same time. However, the expression on her face was just as mystified at the sight of Erin — holding back tears of elation and pride and endless amounts of unbridled love. Abby and Patty shared a look, then silently stepped back and away, entering the rooftop access point while the two could just stare at each other. Finally, Holtz spoke first, a solid four inches shorter than her almost-wife in the pair of heels she was wearing. “Thank you for agreeing to this entrance,” She managed, stuttering, “I…can’t even process the thought of other people seeing you like this before me.”

 

Bringing a hand down to her fiancee’s hip, Erin drank in her appearance again. “You’re so attractive and beautiful and dapper and I want to just take you home and —“

 

Holtz stepped closer and put both hands on her bare shoulders, closing her eyes as she soaked in Erin’s heat. Leaning in towards nervous lips, she muttered against them, “When I take you later, it won’t matter where we are. Just that my wife is spending the night loving me.”

 

Shaking visibly, Erin closed her eyes and leaned down to press their foreheads together. “Do we have to do this in front of everyone?”

 

Hooking her arms around her neck, Holtz pressed a warn kiss to her lips. “We did invite them. They are expecting a show. C’mon, Gilbert, I know you put on a damn good one when you’re fired up.” She teased, “Aren’t you fired up for this, baby girl?”

 

“Of course I am,” Erin insisted, keeping her own wrists locked around Holtz’s waist. “I just — want this; you and me.”

 

“I promise you,” Holtz responded. “Only a few hours, and it will be just you and me. I told you a courthouse wedding could work just as well, but I think all those people out there would be pretty bummed. C’mon. I’ll hold your hand the whole time. Promise.” She winked and kissed her again when the door opened and a disapproving Dr. Gorin stood in the arch. Giggling, Holtz kissed her fiancee one last time before freeing her shoulders and instead taking her fingers and sliding them between her own as she promised.

 

Though she’d originally (half-jokingly) suggested a rap horn entrance, Holtz was happy to be stepping onto the roof to the sounds of a violin and piano, softly playing out the tune to a pop song they’d selected together; one they enjoyed dancing to in the kitchen after washing dishes. The audience stood, Abby and Patty waving like dorks near the justice of the peace; a woman with a cropped haircut and beaming, reassuring smile. Walking down the isle between seven rows full of people they knew; Norm up front and ecstatically cheering as they walked by, they made it to the front of the rooftop set up, where an open-style, pale birch gazebo was waiting for them to take a single step up. Erin could feel a photographer capturing each moment and the eyes of their guests locked onto their presence, but more-so, she felt the raw adoration that Holtzmann had for her radiating off her bride in waves.

 

“I love you,” She said quietly as the music faded out and the justice prepared to speak.

 

Holtz winked her response and squeezed her hand, refusing to let go, as she promised. Afternoon sun was greeting them warmly, and as the welcoming invocation started, Erin felt a ripple of pride suddenly swelling up her spine as she considered that maybe she was excited to commit herself to the glorious weirdo next to her.

 

“Welcome, Erin, Jillian — family, friends, colleagues, to this perfect day of union.” The woman at the helm of the day greeted the assembly.

 

Patty stepped forward, a small, neat piece of thick cream-hued paper in her hands. Taking the microphone from the stand in front of the justice she gazed sweetly at her core group of friends, reading to them, “So ya’ll asked me to read a poem today. And — well, the one that you picked out, no’fennce, but, it just didn’t do what I needed it to. It was safe, for everyone who was gathered here, and I don’t wanna stir the pots, but…” Erin and Holtz both giggled then bore matching grins when their friend held up a little black book with golden writing and sparkles. “I went to this terribly gay book that ya’ll love so much. And I just think that this says it all.” She cleared her throat, reading from the page, but looking up to meet her friends in the eye as she read the opening verse to their ceremony, ending it with, “She is so passionate, that sometimes, it scares you. But you knew this when you fell in love with her. She is the sea. She loves in floods, with the intensity of ten tempests.”

 

A round of applause from the assembly assured Patty that she’d made the right choice, followed by the quiet, “Thank you,” from Erin and the one-armed hug and hand-kiss from Holtzmann.

 

The justice took her perch at the podium while Patty moved beside Abby, who was misty-eyed for her lifelong best friend and best partner she’d ever worked with on their big day. “They deserve this,” She managed to whisper.

 

“I’m a firm believer,” The justice started, “That love isn’t a choice. Love is fate. Love is will. Love is woven into the very depths of the universe. Two people, made from the same material, separated, and born to find one another again. Some call this god’s will. Others, coincidence. I call it merely what it is, love. To love one so much that it clouds your vision of everything else. To make everything else seem so very dull without it. Love is love is love and it is the most powerful element there is.” She spoke very directly to Erin and Holtzmann, who stood before her with clasped hands. “Many think they find love once. They’ll run with it, take it to a place where they think they’re expected to. But; love is also another element, and that is happiness; peace. It isn’t always perfect, but it is whole. And conflicts and tribulations will pass in and out of love and around it and beside it, invade it and attempt to corrupt it. But those who truly are in love with their love cannot be corrupted by these passing feats.”

 

Abby took the black book from Patty and stepped up to the microphone, also altering her part. “The most beautiful souls aren’t woven from silk, seamless and untouched by human fingers. They are weathered from age, worn by time, and patched time and again by loving hands. Show me the most damaged parts of your soul, and I will show you how it still shines like gold.”

 

Abby stepped around the microphone, putting one hand on each of her friend’s shoulders. “I’m so, disgustingly proud of both of you. And I love you.” She clapped them sweetly, then stepped back as the justice carried on.

 

“Erin, Jillian. You invited the assembly to be with you today to share this moment; to be witnesses to the union of your souls. Is it your intent to enter into this union today?”

 

“It is,” They spoke together; Erin snuggling just a bit closer to her fiancee with her shoulder.

 

“Are you prepared for the happy days ahead, for the milestones you will reach together?”

 

“We are,” They responded.

“Do you believe you are ready to commit to being with just one other person for the rest of your lives?”

 

“We do.”

 

“Now, as you both have already experienced in your relationship, times will be tough. There will be mental, financial, physical, and emotional challenges along the way, which will require your fullest honesty to one another. Erin, are you ready to take on these challenges?


Though the pomp and circumstance was a little insidious, given what they’d most recently gone through, Erin managed to repeat what the woman wanted her to say. “I am.”

 

“Will you love Jillian when times are tough, when outcomes seem bleak, and when sorrow is greater than joy?”

 

“Of course I —“ She flushed upon realizing she was about to go off on a tangent in the middle of their wedding vows. Holtz only giggled though, her smile dazzling, dimple prominent as she stood on her toes and kissed near Erin’s mouth. “She knows I have and I will,” Erin finally stated, turning her gaze to the justice for a moment before locking it back on her so-close-to-being wife’s.

 

The justice asked Holtzmann the same questions, altered a little from standard wedding vows to match their context. Each promise had Holtz’s eyes shining a little brighter and her grin expanding, dimples pronounced in elation. She almost jumped a little when the justice turned back to herself. “Erin, your promise?”

 

She’d journaled her vows months prior, when times were slightly tumultuous between them. She knew that if she genuinely felt the words she was about to say when times were tough, speaking them at her wedding would be easy. Though there was an audience and a life-long commitment to be made, there was something powerful in feeling what she had at one of their lowest points, and that relevancy carried over to their happiest day. Trembling slightly, she nodded and bore her soul open, starting with a call-out.

 

“Thank you, Jill, for posting a humiliating video of me online nearly four years ago, where I was covered in slime and shouting about ghosts being real.” Holtz snickered and tried to look sheepish, but couldn’t manage under the circumstance that she was being reminded of one of the best worst-things she’d ever done. “Thank you for getting me fired. Thank you for letting me try out the untested nuclear laser.” Patty and Abby had a chuckle at that, too — though the rest of the audience was fairly lost throughout much of their vow exchange. “Thank you for letting me know that we were dating, before I even knew we were dating. Sometimes I don’t pick up on how much you love me; thank you for constantly reminding me of it, even when it’s been hard to love myself. Thank you for your confidence in my abilities and my theories. The past few years with you have been the best of my time here on earth. And I cannot wait to spend the rest of my years with you loving me through them.”

 

It was Holtzmann’s turn to return the vows, though her voice was unsteady, her resolve was not. “You told me early on in our relationship, that I make you feel like you’re made of one hundred percent stardust. But you’re so much more than that. You’re every essence of me, you’re the fabric of the universe that keeps us together. There’s been thousands of ways we could have been broken in two. But you learned how to love someone who was broken, and in turn, helped me learn to love you so deeply, along with a few chosen others.” She shot their friends a grin and turned her eyes back to Erin’s, which were free-flowing tears. Blinking sweetly, Holtz brought her thumbs up to wipe the tracks away, never one to care for protocol, under any circumstances. Kissing the spot where her thumb was, Holtz made eye contact once more, sighing. “You deserve to be protected. Your heart, deserves to be protected.“ Wincing she shrugged as her thick emotion made it difficult to get through the speech she’d long memorized. “I love you. And I’m going to love you as long as I live, and then I’m going to love you long after, as a ghost so we can continue our research.”

 

Erin gave a fun laugh, as did most of those gathered.

 

The justice took a ring from Patty, a simple band that matched the ring Holtz already had on her finger and would be moulded to it as soon as she had the chance. Placing the precious metal in Erin’s palm, she instructed Erin to repeat, “With this ring, I marry you, and vow to be with you, and only you, for as long as we both shall live.” Holtz felt her shoulders shake as the band, warmed by Patty’s pocket, was slid over her skin, lining up with it’s twin. Again, deviating slightly from the script, she leaned forward, this time to hug her bride, who held her back with just as much devotion until the justice cleared her throat and Holtz pulled off, trying to hold in a bubble of emotion deep in her throat. She took a ring from Abby, repeating what Erin had said and gliding the ring over the knob of her knuckle. “…for as long as we both shall live.”

 

The justice held her hands up. “By the power vested in me, by the state of New York, I proudly pronounce you wed as wives. You may kiss your bride.”

 

Holtz all but jumped and hooked herself around Erin, her fingers sliding into her lose hair, Erin’s found her cheeks when she processed the moment that had just flown by her.

 

Married. She was married to Doctor Jillian Holtzmann.

 

Laughing into the kiss she pulled away so she could initiate one, wrapping an arm around Holtz’s lower back to pull her impossibly closer and giggle onto her lips. “Hello, wife,” She stated in a smiley-faced murmur.

 

“Hello, wife,” Holtz responded in quiet fashion, all teeth into her next kiss as the sound of applause finally pulled them back long enough to realize they had an audience.

 

Both flushing furiously, they turned to face the group for as long as they could stand without being wrapped up in each other — not long as Holtz rested her head against Erin’s shoulder and the taller woman turned her inwards, pressing a kiss to her temple. The justice greeted their family and friends, “I present to you, Drs. Erin Gilbert-Holtzmann and Jillian Holtzmann-Gilbert.”

 

“If I weren’t so particularly fond of my last name, I’d take yours, just so you know,” The littler woman mumbled against Erin’s earlobe upon hiding from the whooping cheers.

 

Chuckling Erin assured her, “I like your name no matter how you decide to spell it; because I love the person it belongs to.”

 

A little breeze blew through just them, rustling Erin’s dress and both their loose strands of hair. Erin grinned, kissing Holtz’s temple, whispering so quiet so that only she could hear, “I think your mom approves.”

 

The woman’s lips curved down into a happy near-cry as she buried her face in Erin’s neck and the taller woman turned them away from the still-clapping assembly to kiss her hair and give her a brief few seconds of privacy. “She’s so proud of you. Loves you every bit as much as I do, Jill.”

 

The younger bride took a few loud sniffs before glancing up at her wife with a watery gaze. “Marry me?” Holtz teased.

 

Erin made a playful biting gesture in her direction. “I just did, you big dork. C’mon, let’s go shake hands and thank them all for coming out while somebody puts out the spread. There’ll be cheese when we’re done.”

 

That got Holtz standing up properly, still not quite ready to let go of her wife until their friends collided with them in the tightest group hug in memory.

 

Laughing into tears, they all stared at one another in silence for a moment, then laughed some more. “Oh, I’m so freakin’ happy for you two!” Abby blubbered out. “Damnit you are so making me feel all five of my feelings today!”

 

“You grew two more?” Holtz teased.

 

“Just for the occasion!” Abby grabbed her neck into a wrestler’s hold of a hug. “I love you guys!”

 

Erin stood under Patty’s arm in their usual side hug while Holtz and Abby fought for a few playful moments until the crowd started to gather around the brides. Holtzmann appeared a little ghost-in-the-proton-stream for the first two handshakes, until she remembered — she’d invited the guests and aside from the people who funded their grant (and hell, even them), she genuinely wanted them all there. When Norm slid his walker up the little walkway to the gazebo, he laughed his full-belly chuckle when Holtz latched onto him. “That’s my girl,” He grinned, looking old as ever in a light grey pair of pants with a checkered shirt tucked into them, a little tie in the middle.

 

“Thank you for coming,” Holtz breathed into his neck, absorbing the scent of his cologne like she’d never experience it again.

 

“Of course, honey, of course. You look absolutely stunning up there. So happy. You’ve come so far in the short time I’ve known you, my dear. And I think you’re only going to go further. I’m so proud of your accomplishments.” He pulled away a little to meet Erin’s gaze, though with his hunched over state and her heels, she had a solid six inches of height on him. She bent over a little so he could kiss her cheek. “And you, what a lovely vision. I’m so happy you’re with Holtz. She deserves someone as amazing as you. You’re a perfect pair and I love you both.”

 

Erin stayed wrapped up in his hug, recalling what it would have been like to be in her own grandfather’s. As she spotted her own parents next in line, she was reminded for a moment that Holtz’s mother was only there in spirit and refused to be anything but grateful for their presence at her most important day, even if there was lingering tension about it.

 

Barbara wrapped her daughter up in a snug hug and Erin felt tension towards the woman disappear from her body with the genuine security of it. “Congratulations, sweetheart. I’m so happy you’re happy.”

 

Willing her eyes open to glance at her father over Barbara’s shoulder, she found her smile once more and offered a quiet thanks before squeezing back and pulling away to accept her father’s embrace. Richard was gentle but sincere, kissing the top of his daughter’s head, then Holtz’s as he swept her up. Erin could sense the mixed feelings that Holtz was carrying in her chest by taking Richard’s quiet natured whisper in her ear and giving just a nod back.

 

After a brief interaction with them and a promise to talk more later, Erin let out a long sigh through her perfectly pink lips and Holtz dragged lazy arms around her waist. “Hey, wife?”

 

“Yes, wife?”

 

“Is it time for drinks and fun?”

 

Craning her neck to note the line waiting to greet them, Erin stole a quick kiss before promising her, “Soon, sweetie. C’mon, look who’s here!”

 

Squeaking at the sight of a researcher she knew from a robotics publication, Holtz grew a little more enthusiastic over the meet-and-greet. After speaking to Jennifer and the mayor, their staff, more of her friends from therapy and the nursing home, then some of Erin’s colleagues from the Review, and giving Kevin a passionate embrace, Holtz thought they were finished.

 

“Surely, you didn’t think you were going to start drinking without giving me a hug?”

 

Holtz turned, her lips parted and brow raised a little before her face crumpled at the sight of her mentor behind the newlyweds. Her cheeks split into the second-widest grin Erin had seen that day. Unable to stop her own smile at the sight of her, she watched as Rebecca Gorin folded the woman who’d become her surrogate daughter over time into a snug hold. “I’m so proud of you,” She heard under muttered breath. Watching Holtz’s arms hook tighter around Rebecca’s neck, Erin turned to give them a moment, surprised when she found the solid form of her best friend back at her side.

 

“Abby,” She sighed contently, squeezing her hand. “I’m married.”

 

“You are.” She gave a knowing grin at what all that really entailed for Erin, her eyes sparkling. She nodded towards the bar that had been set up along the side of the prestigiously decorated rooftop. “Let’s celebrate?”

 

Winking, Erin gave a nod. “Let me get the other bride.”

 

Holtz was happy to join the Ghostbusters for their first shot of the evening. “Cheers, to my beautiful wife,” She started.

 

“And to mine.” They raised their glasses before their small crew was snatched by the photographer, asked to do a few simple poses in front of the gazebo. The brides did a few alone, then hid themselves behind the greenery of the rooftop garden that was connected to the party site. Holtz sat down on a bench and brought Erin next to her, pressing their foreheads together in a quiet moment.

 

“We’re married, Erin. I’m really, really happy. Like, didn’t know it was possible to be this happy.”

 

Kissing near her mouth, Erin sighed contently, resting her head in the crook of Holtz’s shoulder. They stayed tangled for all of five minutes before the shorter bride kissed above her ear and patted her silky, white side. “We should probably go back to our wedding.”

 

“Oh fine,” Erin rolled her eyes playfully and stood, the two linking hands and walking through the rooftop garden to where their guests were assembled under a large, beautiful overhang structure. A sweeping round of applause hit them and caused them both to blush as Patty and Abby greeted them, the four assembled at a table in the very front of the room. Erin took a microphone she was offered from Patty feeling silly and awkward, but ready to genuinely thank everyone for coming. “It means so much to Jill and I that we’ve got people to support us. In our research, in our work, and in our relationship. We really appreciate you coming today to tell us that it’s okay to be ourselves, to be happy; that we deserve one another. Neither of us has ever always been supported in our beliefs, so knowing that you all believe we are deserving of one another means the world. Thank you.”

 

Another round of clapping hit her ears and Erin felt herself pulled in for a long kiss from her wife which was met with a variety of awwws and cheers. She blushed a little more but was content to pass the mic to Patty, who raised her glass. “So, of course Abby and I gotta make a toast for our best friends,” She winked down at them, all teeth in a wild grin as Holtz and Erin settled into their seats with eyes wide in what they would be saying.

 

Abby took the mic, a devilish smirk on her face. “So, Holtz and I were working in a lab, long before Erin burst in one afternoon. She found a copy of the first book that Erin and I published and it had a very attractive picture of Erin in college in the 90s with her feathered bangs and all. She asked me who the hottie was and I shut her down. The day that Erin stormed in, I knew I was doomed to watching Holtz fall into puppy love with her. What I didn't anticipate was Erin falling right back.” She grinned warmly and Patty took the mic back.

 

“I could tell right away that Erin was trying to figure out what to do with Holtzy’s affection. Watching you to dance around each other, sometimes literally, was entertaining and torture. Like, come on you two, just make a move already. Well, I’m glad you did. It seemed to just fall into place.”

 

Abby took another turn. “We’ve all been through the ringer, to say the least. But your relationship has had plenty of challenges because of our work. Thankfully, it has only seemed to bring you closer together.” She was a little misty, “I also want to give a quick thanks to Jennifer Lynch,” She waved a hand out to the mayor’s assistant who found a smile at a table near the front left side, “Thank you for helping to give these lovely ladies this gorgeous wedding to remember.” Looking back at Erin and Holtzmann, she quietly assured them, “I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see you both so happy. You deserve this. You deserve each other.”

 

Thankful that their friends hadn’t decided to embarrass the daylights out of them, Holtz and Erin raised their glasses when Patty gestured. “Cheers to Erin and Holtzy!” Everyone clinked their beverages together.

 

Dinner arrived shortly after and both women enjoyed but mostly picked at it, excitedness and nervous energy still too much abuzz. Abby was complimenting the soup endlessly, and Holtz wished she had it in her to consume hers more. Erin put a hand on her knee that was bouncing a little under the table, assuring her they were going to make it.

 

The DJ that had been playing a soft, quiet songs throughout dinner called the brides up to the dance floor shortly after dinner wrapped up. They stood with twin stained red cheeks and clammy palms, heading to the center of where the party would really start to unfold. The music started with a faint beat, the song they’d chosen together a very sweet lullaby of love for one another. Erin was a solid four inches taller than Holtz in her heels and Holtzmann loved every inch of the height difference. Looking up at her wife’s face, they swayed sweetly, her arms stretched around Erin’s slender waist, while hers were at her neck, bodies touching — brushing one another. The beat went on and Holtz stretched her head up for another sweet kiss to Erin’s lips, not caring who was watching. She could feel cameras snapping, the warm evening heat even with the setting sun across her synthetic-blend suit and it was all a bit much, but with Erin, her wife holding her steady, she was prepared to handle the overload.

 

The song ended and the crowd applauded and the DJ called anyone out who wanted to dance with a bit of a faster paced song. The couple hadn’t requested any additional dances with attention drawn to them; though Erin had promised her dad a dance later in the evening to a special song of his choosing. They stayed on the dance floor as Abby and Patty joined them; all acting silly with the rest of the guests in attendance taking pictures as they danced along.

 

Eventually, Erin pushed her way back to her table, in need of a little break and about to find her family when a lanky hand curled around her upper arm. Surprised, she caught sight of Rebecca Gorin flashing her a reassuring smile. “May I speak with you for just a moment?”

 

“Of course,” Erin said a little breathless — from the dancing and assurance that whatever Dr. Gorin had to say would be important.

 

“I am, well and truly surprised, but pleased that we made it to today,” She started, taking Holtz’s seat from earlier while speaking openly but only loud enough for Erin to hear. “I was hoping we might’ve had a chance to talk before tonight, but it’s quite alright. You’ve been busy to say the least — and, congratulations on your Founders award, Erin. Truly.”

 

“Thank you,” She spoke just as softly, taking a sip of wine from her glass as she maintained eye contact with the spectacled woman.

 

“After everything she’s been through, the last few years included, life hasn’t been easy for Jillian. Truthfully, there had been a couple of times when I questioned how long she would be in my life because she was so ruthlessly reckless and destructive. But; I know with you? She’s going to be there until mine is well over.”

 

“Dr. Gorin —“ Erin cringed, feeling a lump in her throat.

 

Shaking her neatly curled hair, the scientist smiled in a promise. “You’ll take care of her, and she’ll take care of you in return. You and Jillian have a beautiful symbiotic relationship. I’m so proud of both of you. You know, in the beginning — before you were dating her, I wasn’t so sure how things would turn out for you. I wasn’t sure you’d let yourself be your truest self that you’d have to in order to honestly love Jillian. But Erin, I’m so pleased that you did. You learned to love yourself, and in turn, were able to love the woman who today? Became your wife.”

 

Unable to stop the happy tears that had threatened her multiple times that day, Erin laughed into a hug towards the older engineer. “Thank you,” She sniffed, sighing at the contact, wiping under her eyes in hope that the waterproof eyeliner Patty had put on her was true to it’s claim.

 

Rebecca rubbed her back before pulling away, and in the instant that she tried to wipe the last tear, Erin felt a warm body draping herself over her shoulders, hooking her arms around her chest and kissing her cheek. Holtzmann shot her mentor a pretend glare. “‘Becca, are you making my wife cry?”

 

“In a good way,” Erin promised her, leaning back for a kiss.

 

Holtz kissed her final tear away after accepting her lips briefly. “Your dad’s looking for you,” She said with a fond tone. “I think he’d like his daddy-daughter dance.” Erin rolled her eyes a little but nodded, squeezing Rebecca’s shoulder after patting Holtz’s arms off of her. Holtz shrugged out of her jacket after her wife disappeared, leaving her shoulders bare and tattoo visible. As she bent down to get a drink, her pseudo-mother noticed it for the first time.

 

“Jillian, did you get a tattoo?”

 

Feeling like a kid with their hand in the cookie jar, she nodded meekly then shrugged, grinning. She turned to show it off properly. “Do you like it?”

 

Rebecca read the script with her nose pushed up on the bridge of her nose. She shook her head with a tut from her tongue on the roof of her mouth. “It’s for your wife, isn’t it?”

 

“Yeah,” Holtz said with a dreamy fondness. “That way even when I can’t find the words to say things right, she knows how I feel about her.”

 

Pulling her former student into a long embrace, Rebecca hummed approval at the song Erin had evidently picked to dance with her father to. A sixties ballad filled the room and Holtz wondered, “Will you dance with me?”

 

“Because it is your wedding, and for that reason only, yes, I will grant you one dance.”

 

Whooping and jumping up, Holtz grabbed her mentor’s hand, tugging her to the dance floor with a little more enthusiasm than necessary. She hugged her tight before taking her hand and putting one around her waist while Rebecca’s found her shoulder. The swayed together and Holtz was beyond grateful when she caught sight of the photographer capturing the once-in-a-lifetime tender moment.

 

She nuzzled her head against Rebecca’s chest, locking eyes with her wife, who was in a similar position with her father. Grinning she pulled back to look up at Rebecca. “Thank you for being there for me, always. Even when I was a self-destructive pain in the ass.”

 

Rebecca merely shrugged, squeezing her shoulder and assuring her, “It’s what mothers do, I suppose.”

 

Feeling warm and full, Holtz hugged her tightly again, still swaying. Her mother figure reminded her, “I’ll be here for you still, Jillian, even though you’ve got another who’s pledged the very same to you now. Just maybe try not to be so self-destructive for your wife’s sake. I know you can’t change the pain in the ass part.”

 

Snickering, Holtz held onto her long after the song had faded out.

 

X

 

By midnight Holzmann folded herself completely over Erin’s frame in the seat they’d first collapsed in far earlier in the evening. Her jacket and shoes long forgotten, she had her legs draped over either side of her wife’s hips, her head resting on her sternum like an oversized (and overtired) toddler. The stunning visage beneath her was still managing to carry on a conversation with one of her colleagues from the Review, even as the DJ wore down the remaining guests at the twelve o’clock hour with slow song after slow song.

 

Holtz was practically asleep by the time the woman speaking to Erin excused herself to head out. Erin laughed a little, starling her as she kissed her mouth hard, bringing Holtz back to life a little. “Should we go celebrate our wedding night?”

 

“What have we been doing for the last six hours?” Holtz wondered as she prepared to sit up, but found herself locked into Erin’s snug hold.

 

“Would you like to go cuddle on a big, ultra-plush mattress downstairs or go home?”

 

Holtz draped an arm over her eyes. “Don’t think I’ll make it home, baby girl.”

 

“Okay,” Erin kissed above her ear, patting her side to stand. Holtzmann was overwhelmed by the amount of interaction and attention they’d had throughout the day. Erin was as well, though she handled it significantly better. She knew her fian—wife was ready to take out her too-tightly wound hair and remove her makeup. Feeling much the same, she took Holtz’s hand once they were both standing, leading them towards the open bar, which was still in full swing, Patty and Abby well past the point of drunk.

 

They both turned on their swivel stools in a coo of high-pitched laughter and well wishes for their friends, Holtz climbing into Abby’s lap and almost knocking them both to the floor. A giggly mess of Patty sturdied them as Holtzmann pecked her cheek, then scooted to her taller friend’s thighs to embrace her fully as well. Erin settled for a traditional hug from each friend. “Brunch at one tomorrow afternoon?” She questioned them.

 

Abby nodded, “Maybe just send me a message when the two of you are ready. Have fun you guys. But we’re just a few rooms down the hall — so, maybe not too much fun?”

 

Winking, Holtz whispered something in her ear that forced the shortest Ghostbuster to shove her off while she cackled. She continued to giggle when Erin caught her hand one last time and gave a tired little wave to their friends. A hospitality staff member met them just outside of the event; assuring their personal belongings scattered throughout the outdoor hall would be gathered and waiting in the lobby for them and that the bags they’d packed in case they stayed the night were already in the room. After being given a room key to the suite which had been reserved for them, the couple shared a knowing smile before Holtz kept in mind not to make Erin dash down the hall in the high heels she’d been wearing for far too many hours.

 

Upon sliding the key card into the door and having the light turn green, Holtzmann winked and pushed it open, revealing an elegant yet simple room. It wasn’t overdone in a heart shaped bed covered in rose petals; but held a massive plush looking king size mattress of cream colored linens with gold accents. To the right was a large step-in jacuzzi tub and a shower that would certainly be big enough for two. On the table near a balcony door was a shiny tub filled with ice, champagne, wine, and fancy looking vodka with little golden flakes in it. Different glasses were stored in the hutch above it and a delicately scripted note congratulated them on their union.

 

Erin could only smile as she sat on the edge of the bed with a longing look at her fian—wife, who was still taking in her surroundings. She watched Holtzmann’s tired eyes scan the room, whether she was examining the structural integrity of the architecture or absorbing the finer details; she wasn’t sure. But she was sure she wanted the woman to come closer. Popping her tongue against the roof of her mouth and leaving it open just slightly with a longing gaze, she successfully captured the engineer’s attention, bringing a lazy smirk to her lips as she dropped to her knees and fumbled with the little silver buckles on Erin’s heels. The brunette sighed in relief as she wiggled her toes when one foot was free of the terrible constraint and Holtz kissed the ankle above it before releasing the other foot from it’s uncomfortable prison. “There, Cinderella. We’re passed midnight and the ball is over.”

 

“Does that mean you’re going to turn back into a lab rat?” Erin questioned with a giggle and Holtz laughed back, yanking two bobby pins out of her hair at once and shaking out a few more before releasing the too-tight bun in the back of her head and ruffling the top so it was back to a wild state. With the way the hairspray had locked it for the event, she was looking quite mad scientist with it standing in every direction.

 

“You know it, babe. Get me outta this synthetic fiber?”

 

Erin reached forward when her wife spun around, tugging her zipper of her satiny jumpsuit down slowly and kissing the bare skin of her shoulders and spine before helping her peel it away. Holtzmann was wearing a pair of extremely cheeky white panties that Erin knew immediately upon seeing them had been aggravating her all day. She tugged them to her ankles and was naked in an instant, sighing in relief.

 

“In a parallel universe, I think we got married wearing cotton,” She stated upon collapsing her naked, free body on top of the comforter.

 

Erin touched her hip and Holtz rolled onto it, climbing behind Erin to free her of the silky dress she had on. She lifted her hips to roll it down to the white carpet, not too worried about wrinkling the material she doubted the need to wear it again. She was left in a lacy scrap of fabric that was hardly an excuse for underwear, but made Holtz growl at the sight. She attached her lips to Erin’s lean neck, sucking at her pulse for a long second from behind, pressing her breasts to the woman’s back. After releasing her vein, she simply stated, “I love you. Thanks for marrying me.”

 

Giggling again, Erin reached her hand back to tug her face to her own, pressing their lips together in a long, sweet kiss. “You’re welcome. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

 

“You know what else seems like the right thing to do?” The blonde whispered, teeth nipping playfully at Erin’s earlobe, making her squirm. “Making sure that big Jacuzzi tub works.”

 

“Agreed. You run the water, I’ll get us something to drink?”

 

“Yeah — but I’m boozed out. Is there anything Holtz-worthy in the mini-fridge?”

 

A few minutes later, Holtz was a human snicker as she laughed into her fancy flute full of chocolate milk that Erin had brought her. The physicist looked pretty smug with herself as she had opted for one final glass of wine for the evening. The jets of the tub hummed against her back and whatever lavender-scented bubbles Holtz had poured in were surrounding her in the most relaxing way. Erin clinked their glasses together. Holtz slid over a bit, resting her messy hair against Erin’s chest a bit as her wife played with a strand of it, curling it around her finger, peppering kisses along her crown. “You’re perfect,” The blonde whispered and Erin shook her head a little.

 

“Hardly,” She sighed, a content sound bubbling out of her. “But I’m perfect for you, and you’re perfect for me.”

 

They relaxed in the tub until the water was too cool to stand any more. Beverages finished and fluffy towels draped over a hook, they collapsed onto their wedding bed together with longing eyes and wandering fingers. “We should probably consummate the marriage,” Holtzmann suggested.

 

With a long kiss to the lips and the gentlest of strokes to Holtzmann’s left cheek with just the lightest pad of her fingers, Erin agreed. The most precious of kisses left the younger woman gasping a little against Erin’s mouth, allowing her entrance which was followed with a contented moan.

 

Her tongue swept along her wife’s, but it wasn’t a competition, it was just sweet as the chocolate milk that her wife had downed. Pulling away at the thought to sit up and look at flushed cheeks — all the little things that made her love Holtzmann, Erin assured her, “I love you, Jill,”

 

“I feel so lucky,” Holtz responded in a low voice, her eyelids half shut.

 

“Luck doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Erin stated, “It’s not luck that brought us together. It’s fate.”

 

“How poetic,” Was all she could say in return. “Please, can we…?”

 

Pressing her forehead to Holtz’s, Erin leaned in for another long kiss, wedging her thigh between her newlywed’s. Holtzmann arched her back, their breasts brushing together with a mutual sigh in the kiss that led to another giggle.

 

“So this is love, hmmmm,” Holtz sang and Erin laughed harder into her neck, pushing her left leg open so she could slide her bare body between them completely. “So this is what makes life divine.”

 

“Okay, now who’s Cinderella?” The darker haired woman placed each forearm on the side of Holtz’s shoulders, propping herself up with little effort after years of busting muscle buildup. She rocked her hips forward against Holtz’s center, dipping back down to kiss her lips. Holtz moaned the hmmm in the song as she tried to keep singing but failed, her hands rising to Erin’s falling-out hair as she continued to grind against her.

 

Holtz’s eyes closed and she let the moment take her; both of them finally losing the sillies and focusing on the love they were about to make.

 

Erin kissed her long and thorough before moving her lips to her jaw, down her neck and sternum, kissing a tender breast and shifting her weight to one arm while thumbing the sensitive nipple of the other. Holtz helped to keep the pace of their colliding hips and moaned repeatedly. She felt a gradual shift of energy from what was once the budding building of a loving relationship — years in the making; to this new point on a timeline. It was a mere flicker in space, but it was something remarkably different. The certainty of forever with Erin based on the vows they’d shared was such a beautiful notion, she actually let out a little strangled noise of emotion when Erin’s hand slid down her hip. Her wife paused, glancing up from her position against Holtz’s breast. Holtz caught the understanding that passed over her face and she nodded, reading that Holtzmann was overwhelmed, but in the best possible way.

 

She slipped her hands from Erin’s hair to her cheeks, motioning to draw her back in for another kiss. As she did, Erin shifted so their hips were no longer rocking, though Holtz’s still bucked up in want. She dipped two smooth fingers over Holtz’s folds and hovered over her again. Testing a pattern, she noted the shiver up her wife’s back, circulating her fingertips over her. Holtz opened her eyes for another brief moment to thank her in a way she couldn’t with words. Erin simply nodded once more and kissed between them.

 

It was a few minutes that Erin drew out the touch before increasing it and sliding her other fingertips along the underside of Holtzmann’s breast, over taunt abdomen muscles. She brought them back to gently cup her face when she felt the familiar tremble of her thighs giving warning to her pleasure riding every sense in an over-sensitizing wave.

 

Holtz brought both hands to clutch Erin’s shoulders, a sound like a sob coming out of her as Erin covered it with an open-mouthed kiss.

 

“You married me,” Holtz whispered when she came down from her high, nestled into Erin’s side. “You, married me.”

 

“I did,” Erin felt silly promising her, “And I’d do it again and again and again.”

 

There was more cuddles and kissing before Holtz regained her ability to move properly and returned the favor to her wife, her mouth doing the work while Erin held her hair with a gentle fist, encouraging her with sighs and moans and whispers of her name, “Jill,” a long, drawn out assurance that this was all she’d ever want in life. Holtz sucked and licked and nipped, all in a familiar motion of knowing exactly what her wife wanted. The taste of her — knowing that for the rest of their lives, she’d be the only one to experience the perfect union of bodies they created; it spurred her on, keeping her gliding her tongue and Erin gasping. When she came and Holtz kept going, her lips continuing to close around Erin’s clit eventually becoming too much; her wife gave a little tug to her upper arms, wanting her dragged over her body.

 

There was a long stretch of quiet and Erin thought with Holtz’s heavy breathing and limp limbs that she’d fallen asleep. After nearly dozing off for herself, Erin felt a rumble in her chest from her wife’s when she heard the hum of So This is Love again. Snickering, she pushed back all the hair from Holtzmann’s pale face, kissing her puffy, love-tired lips. “It is love.”

 

“You’re the best thing that could ever happen to me,” Holtz assured her, clutching the skin covered by poetry ink on her ribs. “You are my stardust, Erin. Everything that makes up my universe.”

 

Erin brushed her hand over Holtz’s back script as well. “And you are the poetry of physics that makes up my world.”

 

Sharing one final kiss, they drifted off for the first time as wives.