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One Bad Night

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Today had been a bad night for everyone. For one, it had started at 5PM and gone until past 11. It was a rough bust, regardless.  Rain.  Mud.  Slime. Media.

After a shower and a change of clothes, they’d all parted ways to brood alone.  Patty had gone home to a long bath and a book.  Abby went out to the bar.  Erin stayed back at the firehouse to finish her equation that had been interrupted.  Holtzmann toured the local dumpsters for scraps.  To each, their own and all that.

An hour of decompression and an armful of aluminum later, Holtzmann was in much higher spirits.  Frankly, the rain stopping had really helped.  She walked into the firehouse on lighter feet, humming as she dropped her goodies on her designated “sorting” table (also known as Kevin’s desk) by the front door for later.  That all could wait until after some well-deserved shuteye.

As she rounded the corner to her makeshift bedroom consisting of an entire room of fireman’s bunks, she heard something out of place.  She remembered Erin had stayed back to destress by ruining a few whiteboard markers, and made her way up to their shared lab space on the second floor.

“Erin? You still here?” Holtzmann called up the stairs.

The lights were all off, she noticed. She also noticed a sound, it sounded like… sniffling?  Holtzmann flipped on the lights and there was Erin, sitting on the floor beside her whiteboard and the carcasses of several broken whiteboard markers, completely curled up into a ball.

“Erin?” Holtzmann called tentatively.

Erin looked up at that and then immediately shielded her eyes.

“Jill. Lights,” Erin croaked out in a small voice.

Holtzmann blinked.  Oh!  She flipped the light back off and hurried over to kneel in from of her friend.

“Sorry. Erin? You okay?” Holtzmann asked as she reached a hand out to brush some of Erin’s hair behind her ear.

With a sniffle, Erin looked up through her bangs.  Her voice cracked as she replied, “It’s nothing.”

Holtzmann tutted, “Doesn’t sound like nothing.  Are you hurt?  Did one of your markers fight back?”

Erin chuckled wryly.

Holtzmann took a seat beside Erin and waited.  She wasn’t very good at waiting, but she always made an exception for her friends.  It didn’t take too long for it all to come tumbling out.

“They still don’t believe me, even after all of… this.  They still think-” it comes out more sob than word as Erin dissolves into tears.

Holtzmann bristled, “Who’s they?”

Who would dare? Who’s head had to roll? Who-

“My parents! I just- They just called about Christmas and then-” Erin interrupted into Holtzmann’s internal monologue, trailing off into sniffles.  Holtzmann gathered her friend into her arms immediately.

“Hey… Hey… C’mere, Holtzy’s got you,” she soothed, running her hand up and down Erin’s back.

“They told me I should try therapy again.  They… scolded me for breaking up with Phil.  They said it was-  Like I was a child!  I’m like forty! Why does- How can they still-” Erin mumbled into Holtzmann’s shoulder.

“They’re always gonna be your parents.  They’re always gonna be one of those voices that just echo in your head when the world’s too quiet,” Holtzmann reasoned.

Erin nodded and buried her face further into Holtzmann’s shoulder.  She was shaking and Holtzmann gripped her tighter.

A long moment passed.  Holtzmann asked quietly when she heard the telltale signs of Erin starting to cry again, “Do you want to take your mind off of it?  Watch a movie with me?”

“Okay,” Erin said in a small voice that broke Holtzmann’s heart.

~

They’re set up on the living room couch (in front of the entertainment system Holtzmann had insisted on) a little while later, Erin leaned against her, a blanket around the both of them.  Holtzmann puts on X-Files because she knows Erin loves it almost as much as she does.  About half an episode in, Holtzmann could tell Erin was drifting off already, her head bobbing slightly.  She let it happen, tamped down the desire to move and fiddle, as Erin dozed through the show.

Holtzmann yawned as she watched Erin more than Mulder and Scully.  She felt the hurt Erin must be feeling, sympathetically.  Tomorrow would be a better day.  She was going to make sure of it.

~

Erin woke to the smell of coffee and the feel of an unfamiliar bed.

Oh no, what had she done now?

“Hey there, sleeping beauty,” came a voice from behind her.

Erin rolled over to find Holtz and a cup of coffee, both haloed in the early morning sunlight.  She squinted and buried her face back into the sheets.

Holtz chuckled, “You fell asleep Like two episodes into X-Files, figured you’d prefer not to have your back ruined by a night of sleeping on top of me and the lumpy couch. In case you’re wondering why you’re in my bed.”

Erin heard Holtz shut the blinds and looked up.  She held up the coffee and Erin took it gratefully.  She took a sip; it was perfect, exactly how she liked it.

“Breakfast is ready when you are,” Holtz chimed as she padded off.

It took early-morning-Erin’s brain an extra second to catch up.

Breakfast?

~

Breakfast indeed.

“If I remember correctly, you are a waffle woman.  As am I, me-self,” Holtz crooned as she served up two piping hot waffles onto Erin’s plate.

“Yeah…” Erin trailed off, stared down at her plate of poached eggs, bacon, fresh fruit and now Belgian waffles.  She looked back up at Holtz, bemused.

“Why are you doing all this?”

“Can’t let a pretty girl be sad, it’s illegal. I’ll go to lesbian jail, not to be confused with regular lady jail,” Holtz chuckled as she slid the maple syrup across to Erin.

“Well, thank you for this and…” Erin looked more intently than necessary at her waffles as she poured the syrup.

“Just glad I could help.  It helped, right?” Holtz asked almost sheepishly over a forkful of waffles.

Erin blushed, “Yeah, yeah it did.”

~

Erin traced a droplet as it fell down the shower wall.  She sniffled one last time and turned the water off.  She tried to shake away her thoughts, but to no avail.

She didn’t know how long she had been hidden away in the firehouse shower after she’d awkwardly fled from breakfast, but it was enough for her fingers to get pruney.  She padded out of the communal shower area and into the adjacent locker room, finding a towel waiting for her on one of the hooks.  It wasn’t her towel, it was fluffier and abnormally warm.  She towelled off and wrapped up nonetheless, then opened her locker for a change of clothes.  She remembered too late that she had been wearing her last change of clothes yesterday after the bust.

“Damnit,” Erin cursed and slammed her locker.  She supposed it wasn’t too big of a deal, she’d changed last night, so her clothes weren’t all that dirty, but still… it was sort of the principle of the thing.  Shower equalled clean clothes.  Even if she’d only jumped in the shower because it was the first reason she could think of to escape the look Holtz kept giving her.  She didn’t know what it was, but it raised her hackles.

“I’m a mess,” She sighed as she sat heavily onto the locker room style bench behind her.  At the sound of a crinkle under her, she jumped back up to her feet.

She turned to find a pile of clothes and a now slightly crumpled note:

‘Not sure you had a change of clothes, so here’s a few from my own collection -Holtz’

There were a bunch of little hearts following Holtz’ telltale scrawl.  Erin’s own heart fluttered.

~

Erin stared at her desk.

Nothing was wrong with it.  Rather… everything was right with it.  Her notes were arranged, pencils sharpened, her laptop sat perfectly in line with the rest of her desk and her usually greyer than white boards sparkled.  And there was a strawberry cupcake sitting on a little plate right in the centre.

“Holtz?” She called to her friend fiddling with something across the room.

Holtz looked up, “Yes’m?”

Erin motioned to her desk.  Holtz smirked.

Erin stared at her desk, “This looks liked it’s from my favourite bakery.  I was only in the shower for a half hour, how did you get all the way there and back?”

“I’ve got a cupcake guy,” Holtz winked.

Of course she did.

“You look great in my clothes by the way.”

Erin turned as red as her cupcake.

~

The rest of the day was perfect.  On instruction from Holtz, Patty had picked them all up sandwiches from the place by her apartment before coming in that day.  Holtz had commandeered Abby’s Amazon Prime account to order her new markers to replace the ones she had ruined the previous day.

She’d insisted they all have a movie night and order in Italian food from that new bistro Erin had wanted to go to.  Full and half curled into Holtz for the second time in 24 hours, Erin wondered if this was a one-time thing.

~

It kept happening.

Holtz, like a devoted tomcat, continued to leave her little presents (usually snacks).  She insisted they all spend less time working and more time hanging out.

What seemed to make Erin’s heart flutter the most were the little touches.  It just affirmed she was there.  Any time Holtz passed her she’d give shoulder a squeeze, anytime she’d show her something, Holtz’ hand would be in the small of her back and – GOD – anytime they sat together, Holtz’ arm would be slung over her shoulder.

She could get used to this.

~

There was a jumble of metal on her desk today.

“Holtz?” Erin turned in her direction soldering at her desk across the room.

Without missing a beat, Holtz explained: “Puzzle. Noticed you fiddle and wreck your pens.  Try to separate the pieces while you think.”

Erin picked up the jumble.  It was actually a bunch of smooth rods and balls and joints.  She started to fiddle with it and managed to wiggle free a ball with a hole in it.

“Attagirl!” Holtz beamed, she’d been watching Erin’s attempt intently.

Erin blushed.  She paced and eyed her boards, fiddling with the toy for the rest of the day.

She solved it by sunset.

There were 5 more on her desk the next day.

~

“Holtz, you have to stop doing this,” Erin said with a smile as she looked up and over her favourite cupcake from her favourite bakery that had been placed on her desk.

“Can’t.  Then I’d miss out on that thousand watt smile,” Holtz beamed.  It’s all teeth and dimples and breathtaking.  If Erin’s smile was one thousand watts, Holtz’ smile was the sun, all light and dimples.

Erin’s stomach filled with butterflies.

~

She couldn’t sleep.

Sometimes it just happened.  She couldn’t sleep, so she wouldn’t sleep.  She kept thinking about one thing.  That one thing her parents said weeks ago.  She hadn’t stopped thinking about it, she’d just been tired enough after busts to fall into bed.  Except they’d hit a bust dry spell and so she just wouldn’t sleep.

Holtz figured it out after 3 days.

Suddenly, she’d just been there, standing in front of Erin’s desk, “How many days have you been awake?”

She normally could deny it and brush it off, but it’s Holtz, so Erin just sobbed.  Holtz held her, took Erin up to her bed and let her curl into her.

“I’m taking advantage of you,” Erin declared miserably from the crook of Holtz’ neck.

“Hush. No, you’re not.  I like helping.  I know what it’s like to feel like… this,” Holtz grasped for the words.

Erin laughed at that, “I doubt that.”

She’s too tired to notice how Holtz tensed.

~

Holtz wasn’t in her lab.  Erin had a “thank you” cheesesteak and a sickeningly sweet almost-coffee for her, but where was she?  She’d seemed off this morning when Erin had scurried away to shower.

Holtz wasn’t in her lab, on the roof, helping Abby or Patty, playing hide-and-seek with Kevin, or anywhere she would normally be.  She found Holtz curled into a small corner of the garage instead.

“Holtz?”

No answer.

“Holtz? Jill?  You alright?  I got you a coffee and a cheesesteak,” she held up the food.

Holtz looked up at the food, then at Erin and then curled back into herself, “No thanks, m’not hungry.”

Erin sat down next to her, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s a secret,” Holtz said like it was supposed to be a joke, but came out too serious.

Erin stared at her for a long moment.  It was a strange sight, the bright light of Jillian Holtzmann curled into a ball. Erin noticed then that her whole body trembled.  She had to do something.

“Trade you a secret for a secret?” She tried.

Holtz perked up and sniffed, “Only if it’s juicy.”

“You know what upset me the most about my parents calling last month?”

“What?” Holtz uncurled a little.

Erin swallowed hard, “They told me it was a mistake to breakup with Phil, so I said I was dating someone else.  They asked what his name was and I said Jillian.”

Holtz stared in awe.

Erin flushed and continued, “You were the first thing that came to mind.  They started shouting about sin and ‘how dare I?’ and that’s when I hung up.”

“Erin-”

She holds up a hand, “That’s not the secret.  The secret is… that’s what kept bothering me.  Thanks to you, I was feeling better about the other stuff, but I keep fixating on that part. I just… I lied and used your name to spite them.  That wasn’t right.”

“S’okay.  I like that you were thinking of me in a moment of vengeance,” Holtz smiled.

“So what’s wrong?” Erin asked with genuine concern.

“It’s all too loud,” Holtz laughs.

“What’s too loud?”

“Everything!  Just… Usually, I like loud, it blocks out all the other stuff, but then sometimes it gets too loud,” Holtz wrapped her arms around her knees and laid her head on top of them.

Erin tucked a stray hair back into place on Holtz’ head and asked softly, “Anything I can do to help?”

“Make all of New York City go away?” Holtz chuckled.

Erin got up, “Stay here?”

“Planned to, hot stuff,” Holtz waved her a weak two-finger salute and curled back into a ball.

Twenty minutes later, Holtz felt a blanket flutter over her and looked up to see Erin changed into a comfy t-shirt and shorts.

“Come with me?  If that’s okay?”

Holtz pulled the blanket around her and followed Erin through the firehouse and to… her own room?

“I can’t make the city go away, but I tried to make it softer,” Erin swept a hand to present that inside her room was possibly every pillow and blanket in the building.  It was a bit haphazard and could use a bit more reinforcement, but there it was: a blanket fort.

“Is this okay?” Erin asked nervously.

Holtz hugged her fiercely before she jumped headlong into the fort.  Erin shut the door and followed.  Once inside, she pulled Holtz’ softest blanket over the both of them when they were settled in.

Holtz leaned her forehead against Erin’s and let out a long breath, “thank you.”

“I owe you for all the cupcakes,” Erin winked and Holtz, astonishingly, blushed.  Well, that was interesting.

“Jillian?”

“Yeah?”

Erin fidgeted with a strand of Holtz’ hair just above her temple and asked, “Do you… Would you wanna go on a date?”

Holtz swallowed hard, and looked away, “You don’t have to ask me on a date to make me feel better.”

Erin panicked, she cupped Holtz’ cheek.

“I’m not!  Well, I do miss those dimples,” Erin said as she traced over her cheek with her thumb.

The dimples in question popped up onto Holtz’ face as if summoned.

“I’m asking you, because I like you and want to go on a date with you,” Erin whispered, as if confessing a secret.

Holtz dipped her head and kissed Erin.  The whole world went silent.

Holtz’ lips were soft and her breath hitched slightly when Erin curled her fingers into the hair at the base of her neck.

“Friday? For the date? We can go to that fancy French place,” Holtz asked when they broke apart, delightfully breathless and glassy-eyed.

“Sounds like a good night already,” Erin managed after her comprehension skills returned.

Holtz snuggled in against Erin and they napped the afternoon away in a soft quiet.

~

Holtzmann stared at her lab.  She had tried to sneak into the lab the before Erin with a cupcake, but clearly her darling physicist had gotten here first, if the can of Pringles and M&Ms were any indication.  Holtzmann placed the cupcake on Erin’s desk before digging in to her own treats.

“How do you seem to have an endless stream of cupcakes?  I’m not complaining, but as a physicist, I have concerns over a perpetual cupcake source,” Erin said as she walked in.

“S’top sh-ecret Ewin,” Holtzmann managed to slobber through a mouthful of Pringles. She turned and stopped dead; there was Erin, hair still wet from a shower and wearing another set of Holtzman’s clothes.  A few chip crumbs dropped from her mouth.  She managed to swallow the rest.

“You look good in my clothes.”

Erin looked down shyly, “Yeah?”

“Yeah…”

Holtzmann gave Erin a Pringle-y kiss, because she had to.  Erin didn’t mind at all.

~

Something was different.

It was Friday morning and Holtzmann hadn’t slept well, she’d been so nervous about her date with Erin.  Holtzmann looked over her lab.  She knew something was different, but she was still too sleepy to parse the answer.

“I labelled everything. If- if that’s okay… I noticed you sort of had piles and drawers that made sense when you thought about it.  Although, I can’t figure out why you’d want all your green handled tools in a separate drawer,” Erin appeared out of seemingly thin air and handed her a coffee like the blessed angel she was.

Holtzmann looked over the lab.  Sure enough, all around were little handwritten labels.  She laughed, “I’m amazed you figured out my system.”

“It made sense, eventually.  Not how I’d do it, but it works for you,” Erin said as she kissed the top of Holtzmann’s head.

~

Erin wasn’t nervous.  She normally would have been fretting about what to wear and what to say on this date. Erin wasn’t nervous, because she somehow knew, even if everything bad happened tonight, she’d still be there with Holtz.  She’d picked a simple black dress with just enough shoulder to still be tasteful and low heels, because she suspected this evening was going to go off script at some point (she was looking forward to it, honestly).  She looked over herself in the mirror.  The only thing she needed now was a Holtzmann on her arm.

However, when Erin entered the lab to fetch her date, Holtz was sitting on the floor in full formal suit and tie, swiping away tears.  Dress be damned, she was on her knees in front of Holtz in an instant.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Should I call an ambulance?” She gave her the once over, but couldn’t find anything amiss.

Holtz shook her head, “My wrench just… it- god, this is stupid- it’s doesn’t feel right, okay?  I was nervous, so I was occupying my time finishing up something and then everything still felt unreal and it’s stupid and I’m stupid and AUGH!”

“Can I see?” Erin gently takes the wrench from her.  Erin knew it wasn’t the wrench, so she placed it gently to the side.

“Can I touch you?” She asked softly.  Holtz nodded.

Erin ran a hand through her hair in an attempt to soothe her.  Holtz leaned into the touch and sighed softly when Erin’s nails grazed her scalp.

“I didn’t think you’d get so nervous,” Erin mused.

An idea suddenly occurred to her.

“Do you want to just have our date here?”  She asked.

Holtz blanched, “But you really wanted to try that French place and you deserve a perfect first date.  I don’t want to ruin tonight because I’m… me.”

Erin buried a second hand into Holtz’ hair and sighed, “So long as I actually have a first date with you, it’ll be perfect.  I did want to go to the French place, but honestly, I’m sure we can find way to get it delivered and eating fancy French food while we finish the rest of X-Files sounds so much better than dealing with a maître de in heels.”

Holtz leaned her head against Erin’s shoulder and laughed, “Holy shit, you’re the perfect woman.”

“Is that a yes?”

“That’s a hell yes.”

~

It turned out Kevin could be easily bribed to fetch fancy French food, so long as they also paid for a portion for him.  Once Kevin had sufficiently shooed away, they left on the formal wear, ditched their shoes and curled up at the coffee table with a fancy French dish neither of them could pronounce.  It quickly devolved into making out more than watching X-Files.

“Making out to X-Files with a cute girl is teenage Holtzmann’s ultimate fantasy, by the way,” Holtz said between kisses.

“Twenty-something Erin lived out this fantasy of yours.”

“GOD, I need that full story,” Holtz made to pull Erin back down, but suddenly, Holtz pulled back, “Oh! I almost forgot.”

She gave Erin a last quick peck on the lips and jumped up and out of the room.  Holtz returned with two strawberry cupcakes.

She watched Holtz place the cupcakes down on the coffee table. Erin had to ask, “Okay, I need to know.  Who are you bribing to drive across the city to get these cupcakes?”

Holtz laughed nervously, “Remember the mass-spectrometer I insisted on?  For ectoplasm research?”

“Yeah?” Erin doesn’t follow where this is going.

“I got it mostly so I could get the recipe for the cupcakes,” Holtz says a bit abashed.

“That was months ago,” remarked Erin in disbelief.

“Yeah…” And then Holtz blushed, “I was waiting for an excuse to make you some and then there was that bad night and-”

Erin leaned her head against Holtz’ shoulder before she could work herself up about it.

“Holtz. Thank you.  For this and for everything.”

“I just wanted to make you feel better,” Holtz said as she looked Erin in the eyes.

“You don’t have to do anything, I’m always better when you’re around.”

Holtz lost her words, so she buried her face in the crook of her neck and nodded over and over, hoping Erin would know she felt the same about her.