Work Header

August and Everything After

Chapter Text

Gail distracts herself by focusing on the basics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, Gail feels like she's failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are you okay?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Stop deflecting, and just-"

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

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

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

But this isn't the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's enough for now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Want to talk about it?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

"Sorry," Gail mutters bashfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gail shrugs sheepishly. "I am a little."

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

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

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

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

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

It's terrifying and exhilarating all at once.

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

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

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

"Nerdy?" Holly quips, cutting her off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The station is eerily quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

It takes her another full twenty-four hours before she gathers the courage she needs. It's just before midday on Sunday when Gail knocks at the door to Holly's apartment, holding her breath and clutching at the bag in her hand tightly as she waits for Holly to appear.

Holly opens the door looking slightly surprised to see her, but greets her with a smile anyway. "Hey stranger, I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon."

"Hi," Gail breathes, losing track of what she'd planned to say as she lets her eyes trail over Holly's face and down to her lips.

Holly smirks when Gail glances back up to her eyes and steps aside, gesturing her inside with her arm. "You coming in or should I just leave the door open and go sit down until you're ready?"

Gail feels her nerves heightening as she steps inside, lingering by the door awkwardly, and holding the gift-bag out for Holly to take. "This is for you."

Holly takes the bag from her with a curious quirk of her eyebrow, and leads Gail into the kitchen, pouring them both some coffee before she looks inside. Gail watches her apprehensively from where she's seated on a stool, and feels her heart beating rapidly in her chest as Holly pulls the box from the bag and looks up at her with a bemused expression etching across her face.

"You know, most people just go with flowers or chocolates," Holly says, tapping a finger on the top of the box. "I don't think I've ever received Operation as a gift before. It's very unique."

Gail glances between the game and Holly and shrugs her shoulders. "Yeah, well those are generic and gross. This is more science-y and nerdy, and it made me think of you when I saw it. But if you don't want it I'll just take it back or whatever."

She makes a grab for the game, suddenly feeling stupid and out of her depth, and Holly swiftly smacks her hands away, making Gail glare at her. "Hey, I never said I didn't want it. It's just a little out there and strange; endearing really, like you. So, thank you."

"I'm not sure if that's a compliment about me and my gift or not," Gail says, narrowing her eyes but breaking into a smile when Holly winks at her. "I don't know why I like you sometimes."

Holly laughs at that and reaches across the breakfast bar to squeeze Gail's hand affectionately. She opens her mouth to respond only to be interrupted by a shrill beeping. The noise makes them both look down at the phone on the counter next to their hands, and Gail reads the name lit up on the screen.

"Who's Kelly?" Gail asks stiffly, watching as Holly looks between the phone and her with a worried crease crinkling her forehead.

Holly sighs heavily and purses her lips together in a frown. "It's the woman I was with at The Penny the other night."

"Oh," Gail murmurs, her stomach dropping in exactly the same way it had that night when she'd seen Holly with her date. She feels the same heaviness creeping into her chest, and her jaw tightens as she looks up at Holly silently for a few long seconds as the realisation fully dawns on her. And then, "I was jealous."

"Yeah, I kind of figured that out as the night went on," Holly tells her softly. "I could feel your eyes burning into me the entire time."

"Oh," Gail repeats again, processing the information slowly.

It shouldn't have been a surprise really, that Holly had been aware of her watching. Gail knows she hadn't been able to pull her eyes away from them all night, and the more she drank, the harder she stared. Apparently becoming less and less subtle. It had felt silly, to be so put out at the thought of Holly spending time with a woman that wasn't her, but she had, and it had only fuelled Gail's mission to glare, feeling a nagging ache in her chest every time the woman had made Holly laugh or grazed her hand flirtatiously.

"Does she want to see you again?" Gail asks daringly, trying to keep her face neutral, waiting to see if Holly's already made her choice about where things are going for them before she exposes herself with something she can't take back.

Holly nods, never taking her eyes from Gail. "Yeah, she does."

"Of course she does," Gail says softly, trying to ignore the pain in her gut as an image of Holly with Kelly creeps into her thoughts and causes her to avert Holly's gaze.

"I told her I'm not interested though," Holly interjects, brushing her thumb lightly across the inside of Gail's wrist, and offering her a tentative smile as Gail releases a shaky breath of relief.

Gail watches as Holly's thumb continues its gentle caress, letting each stoke settle her nerves and build her courage back up. It's now or never, she thinks as she flicks her eyes back to Holly's.

"I kissed you," Gail murmurs bashfully, her cheeks flushing at the memory as Holly smirks slyly back at her.

"Yeah, Gail, you kissed me," Holly confirms, breaking out into a grin at Gail's confession, not used to seeing Gail so shy and unsure of herself, especially when normally she's so full of snark and bravado.

"I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to do now," Gail admits, looking back down at their hands as she lets her fingers play with Holly's.

Holly captures Gail's fingers between her own and squeezes gently. "There aren't any rules, Gail. You don't have to do anything more then you want to."

"Do you think, maybe, we could just see what happens?" Gail looks up at Holly hopefully. "I don't want things to suddenly change. I want us to keep hanging out and having fun and just-" She stumbles a little, the words catching in her throat as she swallows loudly. "I'm not sure that I'm ready yet to put a label on it – whatever this is exactly, that's happening between us – but I like you, and I care about you. So, do you think for a little while that can be enough; can we just keep being us and see where that leads?"

Gail knows it's a lot to ask, to expect Holly to be okay with so much unknown, but she hasn't figured it all out yet. Hell, she didn't even realise she had anything to figure out until a couple of nights ago.

She remembers that Oliver had absently mentioned life changes, and Gail's aware that hers might, she just doesn't want to run before she can walk. She wants to be careful and cautious, especially when it involves Holly's heart. She doesn't want to risk hurting her in any way, and honesty seems to be the best policy in this situation; Gail's not sure she can handle anymore secrets and lies, thinks she's had enough of them for a lifetime or two.

Holly regards her quietly for a few moments, and Gail wonders what she'll do if Holly turns her down, if Holly's not really interested in her enough to just go with the flow. She wonders if she can go back to just being Holly's friend now that she knows how soft her lips are and how sweet her kisses are. She wonders if she'll be able to forget how content she'd felt falling asleep in Holly's arms, her nightmares chased away by Holly's soothing presence.

"Okay," Holly says after a beat, lopsided smile curling up the corners of her mouth and revealing her perfect teeth. "Me and you, no expectations and no pressure, and whatever happens, happens."

Gail's brow furrows disbelievingly at how calm and agreeable Holly seems. She thought this taking a leap of faith thing would be a lot harder, and a lot more terrifying than it's turning out to be. "Yeah? Seriously?"

"Yes, Gail, seriously," Holly says, rolling her eyes playfully. "Despite what lesbian stereotypes you might have heard, not all of us want to be in a relationship after one date and move in together after two. I like you, we're friends, you might like me as more than a friend, but if not, that's okay too. We'll let things progress naturally."

Gail worries her bottom lip between her teeth, thinking hard. And then, "Are you going to keep going on blind dates?"

"Do you want me to see other people besides you?" Holly fires back with her eyebrow raised.

Gail shakes her head, she doesn't like sharing at all; it's not how the Pecks were taught to play. "No, not really... unless you want to, I mean. Then sure, whatever, I guess."

"I think you're a handful enough, don't you?" Holly smirks playfully, making Gail stick her tongue out in response. "What about you; do you want to see other people, too?"

"No, not really," Gail says honestly. "I was only going because my mom set them up for me, and I wanted to spite Nick and Andy." Gail shrugs then, knowing how pointless it seems now with everything that's happened. A shy smile creeps onto her face a second later as she glances up into Holly's eyes. "I wasn't really looking for another relationship, but you just sort of came out of nowhere and knocked me off my feet with your bright red lunchbox. I think I've been in a bit of a daze ever since."

"It was a forensics kit," Holly objects through a laugh, swatting at Gail's arm. "That almost could've been romantic, you know."

"Don't push your luck, Doctor," Gail teases, her heart swelling as Holly stares back at her fondly.

"For what it's worth," Holly whispers, lifting her hand to brush a loose piece of hair out of Gail's eyes, and letting her fingers cup Gail's cheek. "I wasn't expecting you either, Officer Peck. You've been a very... refreshing and unexpected surprise."

"Yeah, I tend to have that effect on people," Gail responds smugly, making Holly smile. She leans into Holly's touch then, turning her head slightly so she can bravely press a soft kiss to Holly's palm. Holly's eyes flutter closed at the gesture, sighing contently, and Gail feels a spark of happiness shiver down her spine.

She might not have been looking to find Holly, and Holly might not have been looking to find her, but then again, Gail knows that statistically, most head-on collisions happen in the blink of an eye when you least expect them to.

When she loses for the fifth time in a row, the game buzzing loudly and making her hand snap back in irritation, she can't help but shoot a glare in Holly's direction.

"I think you're cheating," Gail proclaims, folding her arms over her chest to resist the urge to flip the game over.

"I am not," Holly says, trying not to smile at the petulant pout gracing Gail's face. "I've just got steady hands. It's the doctor thing."

"My hands are steady too." Gail retorts irritably. "I have to handle a gun, and that is not something they let you play with if you've got a twitchy trigger finger, Holly." Gail picks up the tweezers again and sucks her bottom lip into her mouth in concentration as she attempts to remove another piece from the game. She makes it five whole seconds before she hits the side and makes it beep again. "This is clearly broken," Gail growls, throwing her hands up in defeat.

She watches with narrowed eyes then as Holly leans over and extracts the piece she was trying to get without any trouble. Holly drops the piece in front of Gail and smirks. "Seems like it's working perfectly to me."

It only serves to make Gail glare harder.

"Has anybody ever mentioned that you're a sore loser?" Holly asks, patting her hand sympathetically and stifling a laugh. "I think it's time for us to do something else before you get any crankier. Come on."

Gail lets Holly curl her fingers around her elbow, tugging her to follow as she leads them into the kitchen. She hops up onto the counter and watches quietly as Holly gathers together whatever it is she needs.

After their conversation earlier, Gail had been glad to find that they'd fallen back into an easy rhythm together. They'd spent the afternoon hidden away in Holly's apartment, playing games and bantering back and forth just like they had before sharing kisses and feelings became such a big deal. It was light and easy and fun, and Gail's relieved at how comfortable and relaxed their day's going so far. It feels right; it feels like them still.

"Here," Holly says, passing Gail a mixing-bowl and a whisk as she sets about measuring out the ingredients they need.

"We're making brownies, really?" Gail questions, raising an eyebrow at the recipe. "What are we thirteen again or something? We could just go to the store and buy some."

"There's no age limit on brownies. Plus homemade always tastes better," Holly objects, reaching out to tap Gail on the knee with the spatula she's holding. "Now, get your cute butt off my counter, it's unsanitary and you're supposed to be helping."

Gail's eyes roll even as she complies and slips down from the counter, and then suddenly Holly's putting an apron over her head and spinning her around to tie it up at the back. "Is this really necessary?" Gail glowers, turning her head to look at Holly over her shoulder.

"I've seen you eating before; you make a mess. So, yes, the apron is necessary."

"Are you calling me a pig?" Gail scoffs in amusement, turning to face Holly directly and grinning cheekily. "If I remember correctly you're the one that snorts."

Holly's mouth drops open in offense as she points at Gail. "That was one time! You made me laugh hard while I was drinking milkshake and it just... came out."

"Whatever, Babe," Gail jokes, a laugh bubbling free. She freezes up a moment later as her eyes lock with Holly's, the room suddenly heavy with tension. They stare back at each other for a long few seconds, and Gail can feel the heat rising up her neck and flushing her cheeks as Holly remains silent, studying her curiously. "I meant the pig, not cutesy pet name," Gail finally mumbles, feeling herself becoming more and more flustered, and making Holly's eyebrow quirk up questioningly. "Not that I think you're a pig. I mean, you're a total babe. A normal babe, like-"

"Gail, stop," Holly laughs, rubbing her hand in soothing circles on Gail's back before handing her back the bowl. "Just mix this stuff together for me."

Gail takes the bowl and lets her eyes fall away from Holly's, biting at her lip sheepishly as she starts mixing the ingredients together and tries to stop thinking about how much of an awkward idiot she is. Holly for her part, doesn't say another word, just busies herself in what she's doing, but Gail's acutely aware of the remainder of a smirk lingering on Holly's lips.

It isn't until the brownies are baking away in the oven that Gail discovers just how dangerous that lingering smirk truly is. One second Holly is focused intensely on her whisking, looking all domestic goddess and serene, and the next second Gail watches as Holly lifts the spatula to her mouth, her tongue darting out to taste the chocolate frosting and moaning low in her throat as she appreciates her creation.

Gail feels a familiar heat blossoming low in her stomach as she tries to swallow away the sudden dryness in her mouth, her tongue peeking out to swipe at her lips. Blood rushes loudly in her ears as her eyes stay glued to Holly's every movement, her breath catching in her chest as Holly flicks her tongue out for another taste.

The sound catches Holly's attention, and she turns slowly on her heel to face Gail, smirk well in place as she raises her eyebrow flirtatiously. "You want a taste?"

Holly's voice is low and seductive in a way Gail's never heard before, and it makes her mouth open and close mutely, her reply lodged in the back of her throat as Holly saunters closer, easily invading her personal space and holding the chocolate covered spatula up to her face.

Gail finds herself unable to look away from Holly's eyes; all dark and smouldering and utterly mesmerising. Her heart is beating so fast that Gail thinks it might explode from her chest as Holly leans in towards her even further until Gail's acutely aware that they're sharing air. Her eyes flutter closed instinctively as a wave of dizziness rushes over her, and it feels like she's frozen in time as she waits for Holly's lips to meet hers.

Only it isn't the warm, smooth, suppleness of Holly's lips that brush against hers, instead Gail jerks her eyes open as Holly taps the spatula to her mouth; chocolate frosting splattering against her face and making her gasp in surprise.

Holly chokes on a laugh, surprised at herself, even as Gail's eyes widen in disbelief. "I can't believe you just did that."

"I'm sorry," Holly grins, shaking her head and throwing the spatula back into the bowl. "I didn't think it would go everywhere like that."

Gail holds her hands out as a smile curls at the corners of her mouth. "And I thought we were supposed to be playing nice, Hol."

Holly bites at her lip, stifling another laugh as she steps back towards Gail, taking in the chocolate covering Gail's chin, the corner of her mouth, and even a smudge on her nose. "Here, let me," she says, lifting her hand to cradle Gail's cheek as she attempts to brush the chocolate from Gail's face.

It's an innocent move, but Gail finds herself drawn to the way Holly's thumb slides up from her chin to brush across her bottom lip, and it makes a tingle shoot down her spine, her body shivering at the delicate touch as Holly's eyes lock with hers.

Holly looks back at her, her own breathing turning heavy as her thumb continues to trace the outline of Gail's soft, pouty, bottom lip. It feels like too much, each stroke of Holly's caress fuelling the tension around them, their bodies inching slowly closer to each other until Gail snaps under the pressure.

"Holly..." Gail rasps, her eyes pleading as they move from Holly's eyes to Holly's mouth and back again, and that's all it takes for Holly to tilt her head down as Gail tilts hers up, and then their lips are finally bushing together.

The kiss is slow and soft, and Gail feels herself melt into it as Holly's thumb strokes across her cheekbone, her other hand grasping at Gail's waist and drawing her impossibly closer. It feels new but familiar all at once, and Gail lets herself get lost in the suppleness of Holly's lips and the steadiness of Holly's touch holding them together.

It makes Gail feel safe and daring, enough that she lets her hands trail up Holly's sides, tracing over the curves of her body as she reaches to curl her fingers in the fine hairs at the nape of Holly's neck, pulling her in tighter as she strains against Holly's lips, desperately seeking to deepen the kiss.

She's not sure how long they stand there in kitchen kissing, but the sound of the oven chiming eventually forces them back to reality, and they break away from each other flustered and breathing heavily. Holly's eyes are sparkling with happiness and it's so infectious that Gail finds herself smiling back hard. It makes Holly break out into a grin even as she blushes, taking a slight step back from Gail, and giving them both the space they need to breathe.

"You planned that," Gail hums, her fingers twitching against Holly's waist.

Holly smirks back at her and shrugs her shoulders in mock indifference, reaching up to straighten her glasses. "I don't know what you're talking about, Officer."

It makes Gail laugh, and she leans back against the counter as Holly saunters away to get the brownies from the oven. "Sure you don't," she teases, watching as Holly merely winks at her in response, causing her eyes to soften fondly. "I'm onto you, Dr Stewart. You're not as innocent as you look."

Holly chuckles, reaching for the frosting and holding the spatula out to Gail without saying another word. Gail takes it gladly, throwing Holly a teasing look, and the last thing she thinks about as she spreads the fondant onto the top of the brownies is how Holly didn't deny her accusation at all.

They fall into an easy routine during the first couple of weeks that follow.

There's meeting for a sneaky coffee break somewhere during their hectic work days, and drinking at The Penny to unwind in the evening, both filled with their usual sarcastic, witty banter and laughter. There's meeting for lunch and playing twenty-questions as a silly way to get to know each other better, and lazing around Holly's apartment during their days off, hiding away from the cold. Those are the days that always start with the guise of just spending time together watching movies and eating way too much junk food – a guise that is always quickly forgotten as they snuggle closer to each other until whatever is playing on the television is ignored in favour of making out languidly; time completely disregarded as they get lost in bubble of exploring kisses and wandering hands.

It all feels like some kind of alternative universe where Gail can't stop smiling and she feels so happy that she's afraid she might burst. She tries not to let herself get too lost in it though, especially at work where thoughts of Holly are far too distracting. Instead she spends her hours at 15 Division working hard, putting in extra hours until Oliver returns – smile on his face, and awful joke bumbling out of his mouth as he takes a bite of a doughnut – and trading trips to the hospital with Chris to keep an eye on Dov.

Luckily, Sam's well on the way to recovering fully, having been discharged a few days ago – staying with Andy, from what Traci's told her – and Chloe's husband had finally agreed to the surgery. It had gone well apparently, but Dov still won't leave the hospital while he waits for her to wake up.

It's a relief to say the least, and Gail feels like it can be a chance for them all to put the Ford case behind them; to finally close that awful chapter and move onto the next.

"Earth to Gail," Holly's voice cuts through her thoughts, and draws Gail back to the present. She tilts her head questioningly, lopsided smile on her face as she regards Gail carefully. "Where were you just then?"

"Sorry," Gail starts, turning to face Holly and grimacing as a gust of wind blows past them bitingly. "I was just thinking how glad I am that things are starting to get back to normal, you know?"

"Not everything," Holly smirks, bumping their shoulders together playfully and letting their entwined hands swing between them as she tugs Gail to start walking again.

Gail studies the way their hands look tangled together; warm, comforting, and snug, but ever contrasting in their different coloured gloves; Gail's a soft black leather – a pair of her uniform gloves that she'd stolen – and Holly's, a fleecy red wool. They fit together nicely even though they don't really match; even though they're opposites, Gail notes, just like them.

She flicks her eyes back to Holly's and smiles happily. "Not everything," Gail repeats softly, and feels Holly squeeze their fingers together in response.

It's been a good night, a fun night, filled with getting dressed up and going to dinner in a small French restaurant, with Gail showing off with the French she knows, and Holly butchering it as she tried to repeat the words unsuccessfully. They'd drunk too much good wine, and a happy buzz had settled warmly in Gail's stomach as they playfully fed each other bites of their desserts.

Neither of them had uttered the word 'date', but Gail knows that's what it was. It was just another one of the many they'd shared during the past couple of weeks, all unspoken but enjoyed. So far, they'd kept to their promise of no pressure and had simply been letting things go with the flow, and Gail has embraced every second of it. She's stopped over-analysing what this might be between them, and decided to just let whatever happens, happen.

It's how she finds herself walking Holly back to her apartment – snow falling down around them in a flurry – without feeling the apprehension of how their evening will end. She knows that Holly will ask her to come up for coffee, and that she'll decline because she knows she has to get up for an early shift in the morning, and that Holly will pull her into her arms and thank her for a lovely night regardless. They'll be no frown of disappointment, or sad eyes longing for more, only affection and appreciation will be mirrored back at her for her efforts.

It's something Gail's still getting used to, the ease in which Holly brings to everything. It's a refreshing change of pace in her life, and Gail hopes it always stays this way between them.

They come to a stop just outside Holly's apartment block, lingering in the cold as Holly turns to her so that she can link the fingers of their other hands together, pulling Gail in towards her until there's barely any space between their faces and they're forced to breathe the same air.

"Thank you for a lovely evening," Holly murmurs, her eyes straying from Gail's to settle on her lips.

It makes Gail swallow hard, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips as she tries to keep focused on what Holly's saying. "You're welcome," she breathes back as Holly's forehead drops to rest against hers. Her fingers twitch between Holly's then as their noses brush together, and she feels Holly breath tickle against her lips as she exhales shakily.

They stay that way, nestled together, eyes closed and breathing steadily for a few long seconds, the world around them seeming to fade away as Holly's nose nuzzles against hers again, encouraging Gail's lips to meet hers in a delicate kiss.

Holly hums happily against her lips, and Gail sways against Holly's body, feeling increasingly intoxicated as she tastes the sweetness of Holly's mouth on her tongue. She keeps her eyes closed as Holly's lips travel across her cheek and along her jaw before their lips meet again in another endless kiss.

"You're good at that," Holly smirks when they finally break apart.

Gail quirks an eyebrow smugly. "Obviously."

Her arrogance makes Holly laugh and mutter 'narcissist' under her breath, and Gail fights the urge to pull her hands free from Holly's grasp so that she can tangle them in Holly's hair and prove to her just how good at this whole kissing business she really is.

"I should go up," Holly says reluctantly, interrupting Gail's plan for more kissing. "It's getting late and I have that court case early tomorrow morning that I need to finish preparing for."

Gail tries not to frown as she takes a step back from Holly understandingly. "Right, of course. Maybe we could do lunch tomorrow once you get back?"

"Sounds like a plan," Holly says, letting go of Gail's hands and unwrapping the scarf from around her neck.

Gail eyes her movement suspiciously. "What are you doing?"

"You're pouting and you look cold," Holly explains as she loops the scarf around Gail's neck, tucking the ends inside Gail's coat and making sure Gail looks a little warmer.

"I'm not pouting," Gail objects weakly, knowing that she is. Holly just stares at her until Gail relents with an eye roll, and then Holly fists the material of her coat and tugs her closer so that she can press a kiss to the tip of Gail's nose. "Dork," Gail murmurs, fighting back a smile.

Holly grins back at her, looking pleased with herself. "Your little nose is all red and cute, I couldn't resist."

When Gail scowls at the comment, Holly simply kisses her again, and Gail's more than happy to just let herself get lost in softness of Holly's lips once more.

"God, please tell me we're not like them," Gail huffs as they pull apart, her eyes suddenly drawn to a teenaged couple walking past them, arms wrapped around each other's waists as they laugh and trade kisses with every other step they take. "It's sickening."

"I don't know, I think it's kind of adorable," Holly retorts as she pulls at Gail's coat again, drawing her in.

"You would," Gail returns, shaking her head in mock disgust, but letting Holly kiss her nose again anyway before she pulls back completely. "Right, that's enough of this gooey-smitten stuff for one night. All this sweetness is making my teeth ache."

"Right. We can't have such horrid displays of public indecency, can we now, Officer?" Holly teases, letting Gail put the distance she needs between them.

Gail offers Holly a small timid smile in response, knowing that Holly senses that it's all suddenly getting a little too overwhelming for her. It's been a good night and neither of them wants to spoil it by pointing out the obvious. She's eternally thankful that Holly just quietly acknowledges when she needs to back off and let Gail process.

"I'll text you when I get home, okay?"

Holly nods understandingly. "Goodnight, Gail."

"Night," Gail says, watching as Holly flashes a final smile her way before turning and heading up the stairs, and into her building.

She pulls Holly's scarf up higher around her face as she makes her way over to her parked car, letting herself bury her nose against the material and breathing in deeply, allowing Holly's scent to surround her as she reminds herself that baby steps are okay, as long as she just keeps moving forward.

On his first day back on shift, Gail gets partnered up with Dov.

He spends most of their morning patrol quiet and withdrawn, and Gail isn't sure what to say to him now that Chloe's awake and recovering, and dealing with all the complications that come from having a husband and a boyfriend.

They handle a few minor calls, but don't need to make any arrests, and Gail feels the minutes dragging on painfully slow as Dov stares out of the window mindlessly as she drives. She gives up trying to make him crack a smile when the few jokes she tries meet nothing but silence and her awful singing along with songs on the radio doesn't earn her a single piece of random music trivia.

She's never had a problem with silence before, in fact she's always appreciated the tranquillity the quiet brings, but today it's making Gail anxious. She wonders if it's partly because she hasn't seen Holly for a few days. Holly's workload had seemingly doubled out of nowhere after their last outing and was filling her days with endless reports and trips to the courthouse, which left little time for them to trade texts and quick phone calls, let alone see each other.

If she's being honest, it's making Gail tense and setting her nerves on edge. There's a voice in the back of her mind taunting her, telling her that Holly has grown tired of her already. Gail knows it's irrational but the sense of abandonment creeping into her chest is like a parasite, slowly spreading its way through her body and making her more and more unsure of herself.

Dov slamming the passenger-side door shut brings Gail out from her doubts, and she leans her head back against the headrest for a second as she watches him stalk into the station.

She tracks him down in the break-room, slumped into one of the couches and munching angrily on a sandwich as Noelle scuttles out of the room and shoots Gail a confused look. Gail seats herself on the coffee table opposite him and glares at him until he looks up at her in irritation.


Gail sighs deeply. "Come on, Dov. We can either talk about it or I can take you out for drinks tonight and try and help you forget for a little while, but don't treat everybody like it's their fault that Chloe's married."

Dov swings his legs off the couch and sits up, pointing his sandwich at her angrily. "You're one to talk. If you're in a bad mood, which you are like ninety-nine percent of the time by the way, we all suffer for it. So don't suddenly act all supreme, like you're a ray of fucking sunshine, Gail." It's the cursing more than the actual outburst that makes Gail recoil slightly, and Dov notices the flash of hurt in her eyes instantly and reaches out to grab her wrist to stop her leaving. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I know you're just trying to help."

Gail swallows the lump in her throat and smiles tightly. She tries not to take it to heart but Dov's outburst just serves as another reminder that none of them really get her. "It's okay."

"No, it's not. I'm really sorry," Dov retorts, letting go of her wrist and flopping back onto the couch. "I'm just so frustrated about the Chloe thing." He looks at her quietly for a second as he sighs deeply. "I should have known a workplace relationship would never work out. I mean look at the list of failures just between the two of us; there's me and Sue, you and Chris, you and Nick. Hell, even you and me to some degree."

"Dov..." Gail breathes in exasperation. "Things will work out with Chloe. She's probably just in shock. I mean, she was shot and in a coma, and now she's awake, and you and her husband are duelling for her affections like some medieval cliché. Just give her some time."

"Maybe," Dov groans, and throws the rest of his sandwich in the trash. "I think I'm starting to see why they say that police officers can't maintain relationships though. It's because our job's too messy and dangerous, and comes with way too much baggage. Not to mention we're all stubborn and impulsive. We live for the moment because the job makes us aware that every second counts." He shrugs, defeated, and then, "Maybe we're more suited to short-term relationships than long-term ones, that way nobody has the chance to get too invested and hurt."

Gail opens her mouth to reply but finds that the words are lost to her. What's she supposed to think or say when even Dov Epstein, the believer of romance and true love, suddenly feels like maybe it doesn't really exist; like it isn't actually obtainable.

"Whatever," Dov mutters, pushing to his feet. "I'm going to sulk in the locker room for a little while. I'll meet you back at the cruiser in fifteen."

She watches him leave, her eyebrows knitting together tightly as a headache builds behind her eyes. Gail leans her elbows onto her knees and buries her face in her hands, exhaling restlessly. The anxiousness she was feeling earlier is settled well and truly in her chest now, and she tries to ignore the way it makes her heart clench with worry and doubt.

Gail sips absently at a cup of lukewarm coffee, and stares at her phone for the rest of her break. There's no missed calls or new texts from Holly, and Gail tries not to think about what it means that she hasn't heard from Holly since late last night. Her thumb hovers over Holly's name for a painstakingly long time before Gail's jaw tightens in uncertainty and she pockets the phone again, berating herself for being so weak.

She's a Peck, Gail reminds herself as she heads to the locker-room to grab her gear, she doesn't need anybody.

It seems like the perfect mantra to repeat to herself until she bumps directly into Holly as she rounds the corner.

Holly gathers her balance and straightens her files as she greets Gail with a casual, "Hey you."

"What are you doing here?" Gail bristles, the bite in her tone making Holly step back immediately as she watches Gail glance around the station cautiously.

"Wow, okay," Holly says warily, her smile disappearing. "You can relax, Gail, I'm here in a professional capacity. I'm working on a case that just broke with Detective Callaghan."

It's only then that Gail takes in Holly's appearance; her eyes are tired and underlined with dark circles, and her hair and clothes look a little dishevelled like she hasn't had a chance to catch a break in hours.

"Don't worry, I got the message last time about turning up while you're working," Holly continues as she shakes her head. "You have my word that it won't happen again."

Holly starts walking past her then, but her movement springs Gail back into action and she catches Holly by the elbow, spinning her back around to face her as the weight of Holly's words rush over her like a bucket of icy water.

They haven't talked about that time Holly had turned up at the station to see her after their first kiss, but Gail remembers how panicked she'd felt as Holly had reached for her hands, and how dejected Holly had looked as she brushed her off with a simple shake of her head.

It all suddenly makes sense then, why Holly has been keeping her distance while they're at work, while she insists their coffee breaks are at this little coffee shop a couple of blocks away from the station and not at the one just opposite. Holly thinks Gail's keeping her a secret, purposely hiding away whatever's going on between them while she's on the job, despite the fact that a few weeks ago she sat for hours holding Holly's hand in a hospital waiting room swarming with her colleagues.

"Holly, wait," Gail murmurs, her eyes pleading as they meet Holly's gaze. There's an insecurity lingering on Holly's face that Gail's never seen before and it makes her heart plummet. The words lodge in her throat as she reaches up to trail the back of her knuckles across the smooth arch of Holly's cheek, her fingers stretching out to tuck a stray piece of hair back behind Holly's ear.

"People are looking," Holly whispers, her eyes darting between Gail's as she searches for an explanation for what's happening.

Gail shakes her head, and lets the corners of her mouth quirk up into a small smile. "I don't care."

Holly smiles at that, and takes Gail's hand, tugging her into the nearest room. It feels a little like déjà-vu.

"I don't get you sometimes," Holly confesses the minute the door clicks shut behind them. "Are you angry to see me or happy?"

Gail steps towards her and holds her hands out towards Holly openly, a sign of surrender. "I'm sorry. Dov freaked me out with something he said about Chloe and relationships not working out. And I hadn't heard from you all day and it was making me... anxious, I guess."

"So what... that made you want to bite my head off the minute you spotted me?" Holly questions, still looking confused.

"I'm really happy to see you," Gail admits softly, unsure how to explain. "I was happy to see you last time too... when you came to the station while Ford had Oliver." She waits for Holly to catch on and then continues. "I was just wrapped up in getting him back, and I was focusing on that. I hadn't processed what had happened with us, and I panicked. I clammed up. And I'm sorry. But that doesn't mean I didn't want you there... that I don't want you here now, even though I'm at work, because I do."

Holly blinks back at her for a few seconds as she takes in what Gail's saying, trying to weigh it all up. "I'm sorry too," Holly says eventually, stepping towards Gail and taking her hands. "It was selfish of me to come last time. I knew things were crazy for you guys, but I was just worried about you, and I wanted to see you. And I've been so swamped with work today, it's been impossible to check my phone, but I was thinking about you, I promise."

Gail feels relief blossom in her stomach and shakes her head with a smile. "Can we just- Do you think we can just start again today?"

"Sure," Holly murmurs, letting Gail's hands slide from hers as they grasp at her waist and tug Holly closer, their hips bumping together seductively. "Hey."

"Hi," Gail responds, revelling in the warmth of Holly's body flush against hers as Holly's fingers slide over her shoulders and curl around the back of her neck. Holly smirks as she scratches her nails slightly, making Gail shudder, and that's all it takes for Gail to press forward and capture Holly's lips in a desperate kiss.

Holly's mouth is warm, and soft, and Gail feels every drop of anxiousness leave her body as her tongue brushes against Holly's. Holly moans into her mouth when Gail nips at her bottom lip, and it makes Gail smile into their next kiss even as she's stumbling backwards with Holly's weight trapping her against the wall.

Her hands are tugging at the back of Holly's shirt, hungrily seeking the touch of smooth, soft skin, and Holly's hands are sliding up her back, her nails biting into Gail's shoulder blades through her uniform as she pulls Gail tighter against herself and rocks her hips into Gail's in time with their kisses.

Gail's head is spinning; the only thought running through her mind is a chant of touch Holly, taste Holly, make Holly moan. She's so caught up in Holly's hands pawing at her body, and Holly's mouth shifting to press hot, open-mouthed kisses along her jaw that she doesn't hear the door open.

"Whoa, sorry..." Traci stutters, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging slightly open. Her voice makes Holly pull back so fast that Gail's almost certain Holly will have whiplash. She knows by just from Holly's quick retreat that Holly had also been too engrossed in feeling her up to notice Traci's abrupt entrance until it was too late.

Holly stumbles away from her further until there's a good bit of space between them, and Gail stares back at Traci with equally wide eyes, breathing hard as she tries to calm her pounding heart. Holly looks between them with a worried look on her face, her eyebrows furrowing as she lifts a hand to straighten her glasses as an awkward silence fills the room.

For some reason it makes Gail laugh, and Traci and Holly both shoot her looks like she's gone insane. Instead of saying anything substantial, she merely pushes off the wall and shrugs, motioning her hands between them.

"Detective Traci Nash, Doctor Holly Stewart," Gail introduces, smirking. "You remember each other from Frank and Noelle's wedding, right?"

Traci is the first to recover and she tilts her head disbelievingly at Gail, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, Gail, we already know each other. Although, clearly not as well as you two do."

Gail flicks her gaze over to Holly in time to see a blush creeping up her neck and settling on her cheeks. It makes Gail smirk harder.

"Anyway, I'm sorry to interrupt, but Luke asked me to find you Dr Stewart. He's waiting on your report," Traci explains, ignoring Gail and turning to Holly.

"Right," Holly starts, the reason she was at the station in the first place rushing back to her as she picks her files up off the desk. "Ready when you are, Detective Nash."

Gail watches fondly as they interact. She has a deep respect for Traci that goes back to when they were still training at the academy, but ever since Jerry's death, there's been a strong bond between them that Gail knows is an unconditional friendship. She doesn't know why, but it feels like it matters to her if Traci likes Holly. She thinks it might be amplified by the fact that Traci's seeing Steve now, and her secret hope that Traci might one day actually be part of her family. Plus, Traci kind of gets her on some odd level, and that means Gail genuinely wants Traci's understanding and acceptance.

"I think you can call me Traci now, Dr Stewart, don't you?" Traci asks, her eyebrow raising playfully.

Holly nods her head quickly, opening and closing her mouth and looking flustered. "Right. Yeah. Of course." She points at herself. "Holly."

Gail laughs again and pushes away from the wall, ignoring the amused look on Traci's face as she leans up to press a quick kiss to Holly's lips. "Relax, nerd. Traci's one of the good ones, she won't tease you too much about having your way with me in the interrogation-room."

"My way?" Holly gasps incredulously, blushing violently. "You're the one who-" Holly pauses then, waving her hand animatedly as she tries to pull herself together. "I kind of hate you in this moment," Holly mumbles eventually, her cheeks still tinged with pink as she shoves Gail away from her playfully, making Gail laugh again.

"I guess I'll leave you two to it then," Gail smirks, walking backwards towards the door, her eyes never leaving Holly's.

Traci grasps her arm as she passes and leans in close to her ear. "You owe me a night of drinks and gossip soon, Peck."

"Tomorrow," Gail promises as Traci lets her go with a smile.

She leaves the room with a final teasing wink to Holly, and she knows that by the mortified look on Holly's face that she'll pay for it later.

Gail's still smirking when she gets to the cruiser, and even Dov seems miraculously in a better mood when she pulls out of the station singing loudly to the radio. This time he even joins in, laughing at her accompanying dance moves.

Everything somehow feels lighter now in the glow of the afternoon sun with her lips still tingling from Holly's insistent kisses.

She might not have it all figured out just yet, but Gail Peck is sure of one thing; kissing Holly Stewart is one of the best feelings in the world, and she intends to keep doing for as long as Holly will let her.

Gail makes sure she doesn't spill any of their drinks as she carefully sets a large glass of red wine in front of Traci before slipping into her own seat and taking a long swig of her beer. Traci runs the tip of her finger around the rim of her glass as she stares at Gail, eyebrow raised and smirk on her face, the unspoken question hanging between them.

"What?" Gail drawls, playing purposefully coy.

"You know what," Traci says, finally sipping her wine. "Are you going to tell me about what's going on or am I going to have to get all detective on you?"

Gail swipes her thumb over the bottle of her beer, catching a bead of condensation running down the side as she avoids Traci's eyes. She shrugs. "You saw for yourself. There's not much else to say."

Traci sighs, and kicks Gail gently under the table so that she glares over at her. "Come on, Gail. Yesterday you seemed opened to sharing your affections."

"I'm kissing, Holly," Gail says simply, picking at the label on her beer. "And I like her. That's about all I've figured out so far."

"Okay," Traci replies, taking another sip of her drink. "She seems great by the way. A bit of a nervous rambler, but very nice."

Gail flicks her eyes up to Traci's face and studies her for a long moment, looking to see if there's anything else Traci's not saying hidden behind her casual reaction. Traci just shrugs and smiles at her, and starts talking about their case from earlier in the day as if Gail just commented on the weather or something.

"You're not going to say anything about the fact she's a woman?" Gail asks slowly, interrupting what Traci's saying completely. "Like, you did notice that, right?

Traci just shakes her head, narrowing her eyes slightly. "Of course I noticed, Gail. But what do you want me to say? So you've got a girlfriend now instead of a boyfriend, it's not a big deal. We're all people."

"She's not my girlfriend," Gail objects, watching as Traci shoots her a sceptical look. "And, I don't know, I thought you'd be more surprised or something."

Traci hesitates for a brief moment, regarding her carefully before she says, "Look, Andy told me about what happened with Nick-"

"Holly has nothing to do with that," Gail cuts in, her jaw tightening defensively.

She's been waiting for this, the moment where someone will point out her messy break-up with Nick and assume Holly is nothing more than a rebound. She doesn't know how to explain that it has nothing to do with Nick and their failed whatever, but everything to do with the fact that Holly's gotten under her skin in a way that just feels right.

"I'm not saying she does," Traci continues, ignoring Gail's scowl and the way her body has gone rigid and tense. "I was just trying to say that you looked a little lost after Nick got back from undercover, and then seeing Perrick again didn't seem to help things. But these last few weeks you've seemed more at ease. I thought it was just because you had a new friend to confide in – someone who wasn't one of us – but if she's something more than that, that's great, Gail. Really. It's nice to see you moving on."

Gail feels the fight leave her body, her shoulders dropping in surrender. "Oh."

"Like I said before, everybody deserves to be happy Gail, even you. Even if that means you're kissing the ladies now," Traci teases, winking at her.

Gail rolls her eyes but smiles, and just like that the conversation she's been on edge about all day is over and done with. It makes her feel better somehow knowing she has Traci's acceptance.

"Speaking of moving on, how are things with my doofus brother?"

"He's very... Steve," Traci says with a fond laugh. "I've got to say, you Pecks are a strange breed. I'm never quite sure what to expect."

Gail smirks. "Wait until you meet our parents; that will really blow your mind."

Traci grimaces, and finishes her wine. "I think I'll hold off on that for awhile. Superintendent Peck might just be mom to you, but she's one of my superiors, and I think I need to achieve more for myself before I ever meet her. Besides the first thing that will scream out at her when she looks me up is that I was teenaged single-mom; it hardly screams appropriate for her golden boy."

"Don't knock yourself, Trace. You've been promoted to detective, and Steve is crazy about you and Leo," Gail says, watching as Traci's eyes soften at that bit of information. "Plus, Steve really is her golden boy; he's had mom wrapped around his little finger since we were little. If he says she has to play nice, she will."

Traci laughs at that, and then, "Maybe I'll bring you and Holly for back up."

Gail chokes on a mouthful of her beer and shakes her head violently. "That's a battle for another day. Anyway I'm out." Gail waves her empty bottle in Traci's face, wanting nothing more than to change the topic. "You want another?"

Traci nods gratefully, and Gail heads back to the bar, managing to grab the barkeeper's attention straight away. She's making her way back to their table when she spots Traci waving at somebody across the room, and when Gail follows her gaze, she sees Andy sitting alone, tucked away in the corner and nursing a drink tiredly.

"Here," Gail says, passing Traci her drink. "I'll be right back." When Traci sees which direction Gail is heading in she hurries after her. "It's okay," Gail mouths at Traci's look of concern, and she stops then, lingering back a couple of steps as Gail approaches Andy's table.

Andy looks up in surprise as Gail's body suddenly blocks the light in front of her, and Gail's aware of how nervous Andy suddenly looks as her eyes dart around in search of Traci for back-up. "Hey," Andy breathes, flicking her eyes up to Gail's briefly.

"How's Sam?" Gail asks, careful to keep her tone as even as possible. "Trace said he's staying with you while he recovers?"

Andy looks surprised at her question but nods her head, her mouth opening and closing a couple of times before she manages to muster a reply. "Yeah, he's staying with me. He's erm- He's doing better, thanks." She pauses for a moment, blinking unsurely as she regards Gail, and then, "I'm so sorry, Gail. About before. About Nick – me and Nick – it shouldn't have happened. We're friends. Well, we were..." Andy trails off, shaking her head sadly. "I messed up. I know that. And I get why you're mad, and why you're probably going to throw your drink on me, especially since I'm back with Sam now and it was all for nothing, but I'm sure you and Nick can work it out once he gets back from his undercover-"

"Stop talking, McNally," Gail interjects, reaching up to rub between her eyes. "You all talk way too much," she mutters to herself.

Andy narrows her eyes questioningly. "Who all talks too much?"

"It's not important," Gail waves her hand dismissively. She's trying to make peace here, but there's no way she's telling Andy about Holly yet, she has to earn Gail's trust back before they reach any kind of sharing level. This is just supposed to be a start. "I want to buy you a drink."

"You, want to buy me..." Andy points between them dumbly. "...a drink?"

Gail nods. "Yes. And not to throw at you," Gail says simply, pinning Andy with her eyes. "So, stop looking so nervous, it's annoying."

"I don't understand," Andy says, her eyebrows knitted together in confusion. "You hate me."

Gail sighs heavily. "I don't hate you, Andy. I just- It hurt..." Gail confesses quietly, hating how raw and exposed she feels. " sleeping with Nick. Because we're friends, and I trusted you, and there's a code, and you broke it."

"So, this is about me and you," Andy tries to clarify as she pieces together what Gail's saying. "It's not about you and Nick."

"It's definitely not about me and Nick," Gail confirms as their eyes lock. "It was never about Nick at all, Andy," Gail sighs woefully.

Andy swallows hard and nods her head sadly, her eyes glassy with tears. "I'm so sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry I'm such a jerk."

Gail feels her mouth twitch up slightly at that, remembering a conversation in a car with Holly only a few weeks prior where she said the exact same words. Holly had been patient and forgiving with her. She was willing to be understanding and accept Gail's mistakes and apologies. It makes Gail feel like she can do the same here for Andy; like she actually wants to do this and be the bigger person. If the events that happened recently have taught her anything, it's that life is too short to hold a grudge.

"Come on, McNally," Gail says, offering Andy a smile as she stands, still looking a little bewildered by their whole exchange. "You should go sit with Trace while I get you that drink. I think she might be worried that I'm going to fly across the table and choke you."

When Gail joins Traci and Andy back at their table a few minutes later, she fights back a smirk at Traci's surprised but proud look, and rolls her eyes when Traci nudges her elbow with her own.

"My little snowflake is all grown up," Traci teases, her voice low so that only Gail will catch it. And then, "So, what were you two gossiping about? I feel left out."

Gail takes a drink of her beer and shrugs her shoulders as she glances over at Andy. "I was just reminding, McNally here, that is she ever breaks the girl-code again, I'll be forced to destroy her."

A split second of uncertainty flashes in Andy's eyes before she realises that Gail is playing with her and she scrunches her face up in mock indifference, and huffs, "With those noodle arms, gurlll please..."

Traci laughs and Gail and Andy share a smile, and just like that, everything is forgiven and put behind them.

By the end of the night, her stomach hurting from laughing too much, and her head buzzing from the alcohol, Gail thinks she might be getting good at this whole moving on thing. She's truly growing, and Gail wonders how much the change in her has to do with the fact that she wants to be a better version of herself for Holly.

Chapter Text

There's a few things Gail's come to know about Holly during the time that they've been friends; like how she likes a ridiculous amount of sugar in her coffee despite being a healthy eater, or that she secretly loves watching reality TV shows – they're scientifically fascinating apparently – and that she shares Gail's love for tequila but not her hate for sports. And there's even more things she's learned since they've become something more; namely that Holly is an extremely tactile and affectionate person. Gail's grown super aware of Holly's need to be touching her in some way every time they're together, whether it's subconsciously caressing Gail's hands with her own, or pulling her in for a hug just because; Gail learnt quickly that it's all part of how Holly communicates.

Astonishingly, Gail doesn't mind the touching, in fact she's come to really like it, expect it even, so she isn't surprised in the least when Holly greets her for their morning coffee meet with a kiss, and a hand trailing down her arm to squeeze at her wrist before extending an invitation to come over for dinner that evening.

What does surprise her however, is the little origami flower Holly gives her after she asks – pulling it out from her pocket and shoving it into Gail's hand before scuttling away without another word. It's beautiful and delicate, and really rather romantic – in an odd sort of way – and it leaves Gail more than a little confused.

Holly's not really into cheesy romantic gestures – she doesn't see the point in flowers and chocolates and cuddly toys clutching love hearts – it's something that Gail really likes about Holly, that she shares Gail's opinion that all that stuff is totally unnecessary and pointless. She likes that Holly agrees that simplicity and honesty is far more alluring.

It's why the paper-flower pricks at Gail's thoughts like a thorn unnervingly throughout her shift, putting her on edge as the hours pass, and making her unusually anxious as she heads to Holly's apartment later that evening.

Holly greets her normally though, telling her to make herself at home before she disappears back into the kitchen to finish cooking, and it's only as Gail lets herself look around at the set-up Holly's created for the evening that she gets a further inkling that there's something more to this night than just a regular dinner date.

The table is already set, flowers and candles in the centre and soft music playing lowly in the background, and it makes Gail increasingly apprehensive as she puzzles her brain for ideas of what this sudden shift in Holly's attitude might mean.

"What's all this for?" Gail inquires carefully as Holly waltzes back into the room, and places a plate of fancy look food in front of her. "Am I missing something like your birthday, or an article you wrote got published and we're celebrating?"

Holly just flashes her a smile and shrugs. "You haven't missed anything. Can't I just spoil you with my wonderful cooking skills every so often?"

"Sure," Gail says, drawing the word out unsurely. It doesn't make sense, not when they've always eaten out in little bistros or tacky diners; they've never been fancy restaurant, eating by candlelight, and drinking champagne types before.

Gail swallows down her remaining questions as Holly starts talking about her day and asking Gail about hers, and tries not to focus on how unexpected this all is. Except for the slightly formal set-up though, their dinner goes exactly the same as all the others they've shared, and Gail feels a little more relaxed each time they banter back and forth.

It's only once they've cleared the plates away and moved into the living-room, falling back on the couch with their glasses of wine, that Gail starts to become aware of an odd energy creeping into the room again and settling heavily between them.

Holly, Gail knows, is a nervous talker; she starts rambling uncontrollably whenever she feels worried about something. And it's as Holly launches into a third consecutive ramble – this time about some medical article she's been reading – while purposefully avoiding Gail's eyes and sitting stiffly upright, hands wringing so tightly around her glass of wine that the pressure makes her knuckles turn white, that Gail's suddenly hit with a brainwave.

"Is this about sex?" Gail blurts, cutting Holly off mid-sentence, and blushing furiously as Holly's eyes widen in shock.

"What? No!" Holly stutters, her own cheeks flushing as she shakes her head and dares to meet Gail's eyes briefly. "It's just been... awhile since we started, you know... seeing each other more. And I thought dinner would be nice, that's all."

"Awhile..." Gail repeats, letting the word roll off her tongue as her eyebrows knit together in thought. "...since we started seeing each other more."

She's aware of Holly becoming more and more tense beside her as she silently plays the time they've spent together lately over in her mind, remembering back to their first kiss in the interrogation-room. It hits Gail then that it hasn't just been 'awhile', it's actually been more like two months since that first kiss; since they decided to just go with the flow and see what happens.

Now it all makes sense, Gail thinks, the origami flower, the fancy set-up, the romantic music, and Holly's nervousness; this is Holly's little way of celebrating this mini milestone for them without trying to make it into a big deal.

Gail flicks her gaze over to Holly and sees the alarm written across her face, and she understands now why Holly's being so weird. Holly doesn't want to freak her out, Gail realises, and this is Holly's way of trying to be subtle about being happy about how things are between them and failing miserably.

It sends a burst of warmth through Gail's body, starting in her toes and spreading upwards until it settles comfortingly in her chest. She thinks then, that Holly might be the most adorable person she's ever known.

"Well then," Gail says softly, smiling at Holly and holding her glass out towards her. "I think we should toast to us, don't you?"

Holly's mouth twitches from a tight-lipped frown into a beautiful full smile as her eyes wash over with relief. "To us," Holly says, clinking her glass with Gail's.

The awkwardness fades easily after that, and Gail shuffles across the couch until she's tucked in against Holly's side, letting her arm drape over Holly's stomach as Holly's arm slips around her shoulders, her fingertips tracing mindless patterns against Gail's arm. It doesn't feel like a big deal when it's just the two of them, lost in a bubble that's strictly theirs, but Gail knows that this thing that's happening between them matters to her like crazy, and that makes it significant in ways Gail doesn't even know how to start to process yet.

What Gail does know however, is that each absent sweep of Holly's caress feels like it's setting her skin on fire. It makes Gail shiver, her mouth turning dry as a thrumming desire blossoms low in her stomach. She's sure Holly meant what she said about this night not being about sex, but as Holly's nails tickle against her pleasantly, Gail finds herself unable to suppress the urge to tilt her head so that she can press her lips to the underside of Holly's jaw.

Holly's breath hitches at the touch and it makes Gail repeat her kiss, desperate to hear the sound again. It's a gasp this time, and it makes Gail's heart pound rapidly in her chest as want tingles down her spine. They've done a lot more kissing since that first innocent one they'd shared at the station, and each time they do, the intensity of their mouths pressing together never fails to take Gail by surprise.

It's part of the reason they've been taking things so slow, why they never let themselves become too engrossed in each other, because Gail knows that once they reach the point of crossing that final line between friends and lovers, it will only take a spark to ignite a fire that can't be stopped or contained; control will almost certainly be lost indefinitely.

(Gail's not sure she's ready to be that powerless just yet).

Holly shifts just enough to put the tiniest space between them as her eyes seek out Gail's curiously. They're a shade darker than they usually are, dangerous and wanting, and it makes Gail lick at her lips, her head barely nodding in answer to a question Holly hasn't even asked before their mouths are pressing together in a way that's so needy it makes Gail's head spin.

It turns frantic in the blink of an eye; all teeth and tongues, and breathy moans swallowed before they can fully escape. It's hands groping wildly, and fingers pushing and pulling at clothing as they urgently search for the warmth of soft, smooth, skin. It's bodies sinking into each other until they're lying entangled along the couch, their limbs intertwined and their lungs burning at the lack of oxygen.

Holly is relentless; her lips are pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses along Gail's throat even as Gail struggles to hold herself up, panting heavily and gasping for breath. A guttural moan spills from her mouth as Holly sucks at the spot below her ear, one hand sneaking beneath Gail's top and pressing into the small of her back, urging Gail impossibly closer.

Gail feels Holly arch up against her, her hand tangling in Gail's hair and drawing her back down to her mouth as Gail palms achingly at Holly's breasts. Holly's kisses are exceedingly desperate; her lips forever seeking, and her hands clutching at her tightly like she's afraid Gail will stop at any second and leave her hopelessly adrift. It terrifies Gail completely, to have somebody crave her so openly, so wantonly, and yet it's unbearably exhilarating to feel her body so alive by the simplest of touches.

Her mind is lagging, thoughts lost in a cloud of lust as her body takes the reins of control, their kisses growing evermore dirty and frenzied. Holly's hands slide down to her ass, fingernails biting into the material of her jeans, and encouraging the steady movement of Gail's hips as she rocks against Holly's thigh in an unstoppable rhythm.

Gail moans at the contact. It's too much and not enough at the same time; Holly panting into her ear, whimpering low in her throat, and gasping as Gail sucks at her jaw and bites at her neck; Holly's skin, soft and supple under her hands; Holly arching and jerking against her each time Gail rocks into her just right.

It's intoxicating.

She's vaguely aware of the delicious friction building low and all too swiftly in her stomach, each stroke of Holly's tongue in her mouth timed with the rhythm of their bodies and bringing her closer to the edge. With great difficulty Gail finds the will to pull back, her chest heaving and her lips red and swollen as Holly stares up at her with dazed, hooded, eyes.

"Wait..." Gail gasps shakily, the word catching in her throat as Holly's hands unconsciously flex against her ass, groping and urging her closer. "Fuck, Holly," Gail whimpers, her eyes rolling back into her head as her body instinctively goes with the motion. "We should- Jesus- I really... ugh... need to stop."

Holly looks alarmed then, the haze shifting from her eyes and her hands falling away from Gail instantly. "Are you okay? Did I-"

"No, it's not you- it's just- It's really, really, good... too good," Gail breathes, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment as Holly's eyes widen in understanding. "I'm sorry," Gail averts her eyes, pushing herself up off Holly and onto her knees.

Holly follows, pushing upright until she's close enough to reach out and cup Gail's cheek, tilting Gail's head back so that she's looking at her. "Don't be sorry. It was- I was feeling it too," Holly admits, smiling shyly. "It's just... you were driving me crazy and it got out of hand so fast and I- tonight really wasn't about sex."

Gail licks at her lips and nods, understanding completely, and reaches out to cover Holly's wrist as she turns her face and kisses Holly's palm. "I know," Gail murmurs softly, wanting to dispel the worry lingering in Holly's eyes.

They relax back into the couch then, shifting until they're snuggled together, their breathing a little laboured as they struggle to regain composure, and Gail closes her eyes as she tries not to think about how sensitive every inch of her body feels. She knows that she wants Holly, she just isn't sure if she's ready for all that that means just yet.

After what seems like ages Holly releases an amused sigh into the silence, and it makes Gail's eyes flick open, an eyebrow arched quizzically.


"I haven't felt that out of control since I was a teenager," Holly answers with a laugh, smile gracing her face.

It makes relief rush through Gail's chest, glad that Holly's able to joke about it, that she's not angry that Gail put a stop to what they were doing. There's no bitterness in her eyes, or subtle attempt to manipulate Gail back into the moment, only understanding and acceptance.

Gail's mouth curls into a smirk at that, and then she bites at her bottom lip and shrugs. "It's because I'm hot. Like, unbelievably, ridiculously, hot."

Holly scoffs through a laugh. "And arrogant apparently."

"A killer combo that you just can't resist, huh?" Gail taunts, slipping her hand back under the hem of Holly's shirt and scratching her nails across Holly's taut stomach, making Holly shiver and grab for her wrist.

"You're a tease," Holly retorts fondly as she pulls Gail's hand from her shirt and lifts it to her mouth to press gentle kisses to her fingertips. "A hot, arrogant, tease."

Gail grins cheekily. "You love it though."

Holly hums in agreement, dropping their hands to her lap and letting her fingers play with Gail's quietly for a few moments. And then, "Do you want to maybe... stay over? Just to sleep. You don't have to if you're too uncomfortable or if you prefer sleeping in your own bed, or maybe you just-"

"No," Gail counters quickly, shaking her head at Holly's confusion. "I mean yes. Yes, I want to stay. I'd really- I'd like that," Gail confesses. Holly smiles softly at that, the corners of her eyes crinkling happily as she leans forward to press a chaste kiss to Gail's lips, hugging her closer.

Later on that night, when Holly leads Gail to her bedroom, sliding under the sheets and patting the space next to her invitingly as Gail lingers shyly at the end of the bed, Gail finds that it's not desire that fills her body, instead it's a sense of unwavering peace that she finds in the comfort of Holly's arms.

It's the best night's sleep she's had for ages.

Ironically, the same week Holly has to leave for Vancouver for a week-long conference – some annual forensics thing which Holly had geeked out over for days – her mother invites her out for one of their annual mother-daughter lunches.

It's the one Saturday every few months that Gail really dreads.

Elaine Peck is an impeccable woman; fiercely independent, strong, smart, capable and ruthlessly passionate, especially about her job. They're all qualities that Gail admires greatly in her mother, but at the same time, they're qualities that often, when directed at her, Gail loathes.

Her mother has always been a little detached. She's pushy and dominating to an agonizing degree, and Gail knows that even though her mother loves her dearly, she's never been one to openly show such emotion. It's part of the reason Gail finds it so hard to be open with people, to be so carefree with showing her emotions; her mother had taught her to be reserved, emotions had a time and place that didn't belong in view of watching eyes.

Growing up, it had meant that Gail had the pressure that came not only from being part of a police family, but to top it all off there were the expectations her mother reserved especially for her. Elaine had used her own impressive achievements for the foundation on which her ideal of what her daughter should and ought to be was built upon. It meant that she'd set her goal for her daughter high up on a pedestal, and Gail's reminded every time they interact, that she still hasn't come near to reaching it.

Her shortcomings in her career and her personal life are always the priority of their conversations, and Gail's learned over time to ignore the sting of her mother's words, to simply smile and agree with what's being said. It's easier than trying to stand up for herself; rebellion against her mother's image of her has never gotten Gail anywhere. If anything, trying to be the opposite of what her mother wanted has only served to make Gail all the more awkward and lost.

Without the Peck name and the path her mother so unwaveringly created for her, Gail's not entirely sure she'd know who she is or what she'd be doing with her life. She's never really been given the chance to find out, and it's that terrifying thought that keeps Gail attempting to fulfil her mother's expectations; she'd rather be Gail Peck, failing daughter, than Gail Peck, unknown and uncertain.

"Have you been to the range lately?" Elaine asks, looking up from her salad with demanding eyes. "It's important that you keep on top of your skills, Gail. You can't afford to fall behind your colleagues, especially given the suspension on your record and your demotion. You've got to step up your game if you plan on applying for the next detective rotation."

Gail nods compliantly, ignoring the kink in her neck that always flares up when her mother berates her. "My aim and timing are above average, Mom. I go to the range on a weekly basis, just like you and dad recommended."

"That's good," Elaine replies, eating a bite of her salad and then, "You are planning to apply for the next detective rotation, are you not?"

"Of course," Gail says, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck, the stress tightening her muscles and making them ache. "I've already signed up for all the additional classes I need."

"Well, maybe you should ask your brother for some extra guidance since you were passed up for the opportunity last time," Elaine reminds her, pinning her with a less than impressed stare while smacking Gail's arm all in one motion. "Elbows off the table, sweetheart, you know better."

"Sorry." Gail averts her eyes, dropping her hands into her lap. "I'll ask Steve for some pointers, okay? I promise."

Elaine nods. "Steven will be a good mentor, he got the detective rotation on his first try after all. He's a natural; very good instincts. You'd do well to listen to him." She catches a passing waiter's attention and orders another glass of wine before turning her attention back to Gail. "Maybe I should have a word with Frankie, see to it that he considers your application properly this time."

Gail sighs heavily.

She hates this awful habit her mother has of trying to undermine her. It's part of the reason Dov, Andy, Chris and Traci didn't accept her as a fellow rookie in the beginning; the Peck name to them meant guaranteed success, and Gail despises that none of them – her own mother included – believe she can succeed based solely on her own merit.

"Please don't," Gail says, holding her mother's gaze pleadingly. "I can do this. I'll get it this time, I promise. I'm going to work hard and really earn it. Just trust me, okay?"

Elaine studies her for a second, making sure she believes Gail's determination. "Okay," she agrees, albeit reluctantly. "But there are eyes watching you, Gail. The Peck name is to be upheld, understood?"

"Understood," Gail repeats dutifully.

"Good," Elaine says, her mouth shifting into a smile. "So, tell me what's new with you?"

Gail lets her thoughts momentarily slip to Holly and she fights to hold back a smile. She's also keenly aware of her mother's eyes on her, and so she just as quickly shoves the thoughts away and shrugs. "Nothing much. With the remnants of the Ford shooting and all, I've just really been focusing on work. Taking extra hours while Officers Swarek and Price recover enough to get back to active duty."

"And what about your dating life? No luck, I'm presuming?" Elaine inquires obnoxiously, not giving Gail the chance to reply. "It doesn't matter because I bumped into Dianne Keeler yesterday and she told me her son Mark is moving back to town. He's a handsome young man, and more importantly he's a very successful lawyer. I passed along your number since he's single and looking to get to know people. I think you'd be wise to have dinner with him."

Gail flashes back to the last few men her mother has set her up on dates with, all equally egotistical, pretentious, rudely assuming, and unsurprisingly with well established families. She shudders at the thought of having to act interested in another one of those self-important morons, especially now she has something going on with Holly. Wonderful, smart, kind and weird, Holly, who just happens to make Gail extremely happy, and who also happens to be a woman.

She doesn't even know where to begin with that, but she's so tired of this dance she does with her mother that she doesn't know how much longer she can do it, and more importantly, she's not sure she wants to.

"Actually, I'm seeing someone," Gail says carefully, cautious as she treads into dangerous territory, and watching as her mother sits back in barely hidden surprise.

"It's not the man-child again is it," Elaine asks, her lips pursing together in disgust. "Craig, was it?"

Gail scoffs in annoyance. "His name is Chris, Mom. I know you know that. And, no, it's not him."

"Well, that's something at least. He had no ambitions, sweetheart. He might have been fun but he wasn't really appropriate," Elaine says, lifting her napkin to dab at her mouth, and then stares at Gail expectantly. "Tell me about them, then?"

Gail bites at her tongue, tries to decide what she can or can't say – or rather what she's ready and not ready to share just yet – and then, begrudgingly, "It's still kind of new. We're still getting to know each other but I think it could really... be something."

Elaine eyes her curiously, her interest piqued. "And what does this mystery person do for a living, may I ask?"

She asks, but Gail knows from years of experience that just from her mother's tone of voice that it's actually not a question so much as a demand.

"They're a doctor," Gail replies, fighting back a smirk as her mother hums her approval. "Forensics."

"Impressive," Elaine notes. "It's about time you started considering serious prospects for your future, you're not getting any younger, you know, Gail. Now really is the time to work hard, secure and establish your career while building a family of your own. Need I remind you that Pecks were made to be successful in all aspects of life."

Gail forces a smile, trying desperately not to roll her eyes at how obnoxious her mother is. There's no way in hell she's letting this woman anywhere near Holly anytime soon, but thankfully Holly's impressive intellect has bought them a little more time. As long as her mother thinks Gail is at least attempting to meet her standards, she allows her some much needed breathing room.

She watches then as her mother's phone rings, answering it swiftly with short sentences and an ever growing look of irritation. When she finally hangs up she instantly starts gathering together her things, throwing some money onto the table as she stands.

"I hate to cut our precious time short, sweetheart, but I have to go and fix another incompetent idiot's mistake," Elaine explains gruffly, stopping to brush a kiss onto Gail's cheek. "I'll see you soon, okay? And you can tell me more about this doctor you're hiding away."

Gail nods blankly, ignoring the way her heart hammers in her chest. "Sure."

"Work hard, darling. And call your father," Elaine says, patting her cheek before marching away without a single glance back.

Gail watches her round the corner and drops her head down to the table, breathing a deep, heavy, sigh of relief. It's a momentary feeling though, because Gail knows that now she's opened her mouth and given her mother something to latch onto, it's only a matter of time until she digs for more. And that means she has to try and figure out what's going on between her and Holly as soon as possible, whether she's really ready to or not.

That thought alone is enough to fill Gail with trepidation.

On the day Holly's due back from Vancouver, her flight gets delayed at the last minute.

It means their plans for dinner are immediately out of the window, and Gail reads the simple text – 'Hey you, stuck here a bit longer. Flight not coming in until early hours. Rain-check on dinner until tomorrow? H x' – with a growing scowl.

She knows it's not Holly's fault, but she's had a really crappy day – some little punk elbowed her in the face and left her with a fat lip – and after seven long days apart, Gail's been counting down the hours until her flight was due to land; the thought of seeing Holly being the only thing keeping her from ripping the bratty girl's head off when she brought her in.

It makes Gail feel kind of pathetic, to be upset by a few extra hours apart, and that in turn makes her angry at herself, which leads to a black mood that has everybody wary of her throughout the rest of her shift. She knows her mood must be horrific when they don't ask her to join them after work for a drink at The Penny. Gail's actually rather glad because it means she gets to go home and curl up in bed and sulk without having to explain away why she has an ever-darkening cloud hanging over her.

She knows it's completely ridiculous, to be this – she settles on the word lovesick even though it makes her face wrinkle up in disgust – but she doesn't know how else to describe the longing she has just to see Holly's face, and hear her voice (even if it's just to hear one of her weird rants about really gross science-y things that Gail never fully understands). She's never felt this relentless aching for anybody before, and Gail has no idea what to do with it.

Despite how much she tries, sleep doesn't come easy, and Gail finds herself watching the blinking lights of her alarm clock as the minutes drag on by. She debates taking one of the sleeping pills she keeps in a bottle in her top draw – left over from a prescription given to her after her abduction when she'd been too shaken up and scared of the darkness to even think about closing her eyes – but even that idea doesn't sound like it will be a cure for her problem.

Instead, she gives in to the niggling feeling in her stomach and climbs out of bed, pulling her clothes back on and grabbing her car keys as she heads out the door. It's quiet in the car on her drive to the airport, and Gail flicks the radio on, hoping that some music will stop her feeling like such fool.

She grows nervous as she looks up Holly's flight number and waits awkwardly at the arrival gate, but with her heart beating increasingly fast as her excitement builds at the thought of seeing Holly in a mere few minutes, she stops worrying about how stupid and desperate she might seem waiting at an airport at 3am. Instead she focuses on how good it will feel to see Holly's beautiful smile when she spots Gail waiting for her.

It occurs to Gail then, as a group of passengers exit the plane and glance at her as they pass, that maybe she should have picked up some flowers or made a goofy sign with Holly's name on it, because she's currently standing off to the side, hands curled anxiously in her pockets, looking a little bit like a weirdo.

Before she can think about it too hard though, she spots Holly emerging from behind a group of tall men in suits, looking tired and a little dishevelled from hours of travelling but still ridiculously stunning.

Gail feels her breath catch in her throat as Holly looks over at her, her eyes narrowing a little in confusion before she breaks out into a smile so bright that Gail feels her heart melting. Holly raises her hand in a dorky wave, and that simple movement is what propels her forward, smiling uncontrollably as they make their way towards each other.

"Hey stranger, this is a nice surprise," Holly manages softly a split second before Gail launches at her, knocking the bag from her shoulder as Gail's arms wrap tightly around her neck.

Gail closes her eyes as Holly clutches at her back, squeezing their bodies together so that they're pressed flush against one another. She buries her nose into Holly's neck and breathes deeply, letting Holly's calming scent wash over her; the emptiness she's felt all week disappearing instantly as she relaxes into Holly's comforting embrace.

"I missed you," Holly murmurs, lips brushing against her ear and making Gail shiver.

She loosens her grip on Holly's neck, pulling back enough to find her eyes but doesn't let her go as she lets their foreheads rest together. "I missed you too," Gail confesses in a whisper, not missing the affection that glimmers in Holly's eyes. "So much."

It feels like an admission that's part relief and part acceptance; the importance of those simple words a little frightening but mostly soothing, and Gail knows the second Holly presses forward and kisses her – deep and slow, like they've got all the time in the word – that coming to the airport at 3am – feeling foolish and a lot vulnerable – was more than worth it.

They go to dinner at Gail's favourite Thai place – a quaint little restaurant about forty-minutes outside of the city – and so it's more than a little surprising that as their waiter leads them to their seats, they spot Steve and Traci tucked away at a table in the back corner.

Gail freezes mid-step as she catches Steve's eye, the hand she has entwined with Holly's suddenly gripping so tightly that she hears Holly wincing in pain. She releases Holly's hand instantly, and turns to her with sorry eyes even as she feels her spine prickle with fear.

She knows Traci knows about her and Holly, and Gail wouldn't be surprised if Steve had an inkling after he'd seen them together that night at the hospital, but suspecting something and actually seeing it to be true are two completely different things, and Gail suddenly feels unprepared.

Before Gail can think about grabbing Holly and bolting from the restaurant though, Steve stands, offering her his usual goofy smile and waves them over.

"Hey, baby sis," Steve greets with a grin.

"What are you doing here?" Gail blurts in a hushed whisper, trying to ignore Traci who's looking at her like she's an idiot, and Holly who's lingering awkwardly a few steps behind her, clearly unsure with what she's supposed to do.

Steve narrows his eyes, looking perplexed. "This is my favourite Thai place. What are you doing here?"

"You've got to be kidding me, your favourite- This is my favourite Thai place," Gail glares, not believing her luck.

"Oh, cool," Steve smiles, glancing at Traci questioningly before he points at the two empty seats at their table. "You and Holly should join us then. We'll make a night of it, it'll be fun."

(Gail opens her mouth to reply but can't find the words to say; this is so not happening).

"Come on, Gail," Traci encourages, pulling out the chair next to her and patting it.

(Only apparently it is).

She turns back to look at Holly then, and finds her watching the whole exchange with a small smile. Gail notes how Holly doesn't look nervous at the idea of this spontaneous and weird double-date they've somehow walked into, instead she looks more concerned with how Gail feels about it.

It makes Gail feel like a jerk.

She nods her head at Holly, and holds her hand out invitingly, giving Holly an amused yet slightly disbelieving smile as she takes her hand and lets Gail draw her in close.

"Hol, you remember my brother, Steve, right?" she says. Holly nods in response and Steve shakes her hand all the while smirking at Gail.

"Of course, it's nice to see you again," Holly replies, and then turns to Traci and greets her in turn as Steve gestures at his seat and moves to sit next to Traci, allowing Gail and Holly to sit next to each other.

Gail holds her breath, waiting for the awkward silence she's sure will come, but finds it filled with easy chatter as Holly and Steve start talking about sports like they've known each other for ages, and at her surprise, Traci reaches across the table to pat her hand knowingly.

She stops worrying so much after that, and the four of them fall into easy banter as they enjoy their dinner. It's fun and effortless, and Gail finds herself relaxing more and more as the evening goes on. She doesn't even flinch when she feels Holly's arm slip around the back of her chair as they finish off their glasses of wine and wait for their dessert to arrive, instead she drops her hand down to Holly's knee and leans in against her. And when Steve catches her eye again, a fond, approving look on his face, it makes Gail aware of how lucky she's been lately.

(Like always, it doesn't last long).

"What I really want to know though, is what the Peck duo over here were like as children," Traci says a little while later, having just finished off a story about how she'd always wanted to be a princess when she was little, and had, much to her embarrassment, worn a princess dress every day for a week as she tried but failed in her search for a frog to kiss and turn into her prince charming.

"I don't think so," Gail says, shaking her head adamantly. Her childhood is without a doubt her least favourite topic, and she knew the moment Holly and Traci started going down memory lane that the spotlight would end up on her. She's been trying unsuccessfully to change the topic since the moment it started.

"Come on," Holly encourages, her fingers curling around Gail's shoulder and squeezing her into her side. "It's only fair. You've heard all about Traci and her tragic fairytale, and me and science-camp, and my awful, awful, braces that made the other kids call me metal-mouth until I was fifteen."

Gail keeps shaking her head, aware of the ever growing knot that's settling in her stomach, and making her chest tight. "I really don't want to, so can we just talk about some-"

"I've got one," Steve interjects, cutting her off. "When I was like, seven, I became friends with these slightly older boys, and I thought I was totally awesome because of it. My hair was brighter back then, like vibrantly red, and they convinced me we were all superheroes, and that I had the ability to start fires. To cut a long story short, I started experimenting with matches a lot and I ended up singeing parts of my eyebrows off," Steve says, breaking into a laugh. "My mom was so mad because we were going to some big family get together that weekend and she had to pencil them in so that I didn't look so odd. You should see the photos though, my eyebrows are so dark and unruly, I look like a crazy uncle."

Traci lifts the hand she'd been using to stifle her laughter from her mouth. "And you still think referring to yourself as 'Captain of the Universe' is a good idea, really?"

Steve grins back at her. "A true super-hero never dies," he deadpans, making Traci shove him away and call him a loser.

"Come on, Gail, your turn," Traci says, turning back to her. "What was little Gail Peck like? A menace, I bet."

Gail shrugs, trying to play it off. She really doesn't want to get into this. "I was pasty and awkward, just like I am now. That's about it."

"Ahh, come on, sis," Steve retorts, pinning Traci and Holly with a look before launching into a story. "I can contend to the fact that Gail, here, was still as pasty as she is now-"

"Steve..." Gail warns, noting the telltale sign of the rosy flush in his cheeks that suggests he's sufficiently tipsy from the alcohol he's consumed. Gail shakes her head at him anxiously then, knowing how loose lipped he becomes once he's had a few glasses of wine.

"But believe it or not, she wasn't as mouthy as she is now," Steve continues, not noticing her plea for him to stop. "She was actually really shy, and would always be on her own, watching the other kids play but never joining in. Mom tried everything to stop you being so introverted and awkward, remember?"

The knot in her stomach is clenching unbearably, and her skin tingles with the urge to run. This is why she keeps mostly to herself, and this is definitely why she's never been on a double-date with her stupid brother before. She wants the past to stay where it is, over and done with and never to be revisited.

"She joined you up for sports and dancing, and even took you to work with her on ride-alongs but nothing really helped until Grams gave you that old camera she had," Steve continues, oblivious to her discomfort. "Then you spent hours watching and taking photographs of anything and everyone. It drove mom absolutely crazy." His eyebrows knit together then as he stops, lifting his eyes to meet Gail's. "You loved that camera, taking photographs was your favourite thing in the world; it always made you so happy... and now I can't actually remember why or when you stopped."

Gail's aware of them all watching her then, a tense silence filling the room as they wait for her to respond. She darts her tongue out to moisten her lips, swallowing past the lump that's formed in her throat, and lifts her eyes slowly to meet Steve's.

"Grams died," Gail says simply, her heart twisting up at the words, and she ignores the stinging in her eyes as she forces a small half-smile onto her face and shrugs. "And mom told me I had to stop playing around with something that would only ever be a hobby and pull myself together, focus my mind on skills more geared towards policing."

She sees the regret flash in Steve's eyes then as he recalls everything, shaking his head and opening his mouth in a wordless apology. Traci looks equal parts sad and apologetic, the sympathy in her eyes causing Gail to lowers her gaze to her lap, and wring her fingers together until her knuckles turn white. She refuses to let herself look at Holly; she doesn't want to see the pity that will surely be clouding her face.

This uncomfortable moment was exactly what she'd been trying to avoid. It not surprisingly brings with it a numbness Gail hasn't let herself feel since she was a teenager; emotions she'd long since pushed to the dark corners of her mind breaking free and overwhelming her, leaving her defenceless and exposed.

"It's late," Holly says softly, interrupting the deafening silence as she soothes her hand up and down Gail's arm. "I think we're going to head home now."

"Right," Steve says, clearing his throat, and Gail's aware his eyes are still glued to her but she can't seem to make herself look. "Of course. Dinner's on me, so..."

"Thanks," Holly replies, pushing her chair back and shrugging into her coat before she coaxes Gail up to do the same.

Gail lets herself be led, Holly taking her hand and leading her silently out of the restaurant and into the car.

It's quiet as they drive, and Gail lets herself stare blankly out of the passenger-side window, getting lost in the lights of the cars that pass by.

"We shouldn't have pushed you," Holly murmurs a little while later, glancing over at Gail. "You said you didn't want to talk about it and we- I'm really sorry, Gail."

Gail lets her hand reach across the space between them and settle on Holly's knee, her thumb stroking against the fabric of Holly's jeans as she continues to stare out of the window, hoping Holly will know she doesn't need to be forgiven, that she just needs some time to pull herself back together.

When Holly stops the car outside of Gail's apartment twenty minutes later, she cuts the engine and sits patiently in the silence, waiting for Gail to make the first move.

"Will you stay?" Gail asks, finally turning her head to meet Holly's gaze.

Holly's eyes mirror the pain she feels as she nods in response and reaches over to hold Gail's face with her hand. "Of course, baby. Whatever you need."

The term of endearment falling from Holly's mouth for the first time isn't lost on Gail at all, and it makes her clench her eyes shut tightly, pulling away and quickly getting out of the car, knowing that if she stays a single second longer she'll break. It's too much and too sweet when she's already feeling so fragile, and she's thankful that Holly just lets her go without another word.

Holly follows behind her as she leads them inside, flicking on the lights and listening for a moment for signs of movement. Chris has gone back to Timmons for the weekend to see Christian but Gail knows things between Dov and Chloe are still on the mend and there's a chance he may be there. She's more than a little thankful after a few seconds pause when she's greeted with nothing but quiet.

They change in silence, and Gail curls into her bed the second she's done, feeling a headache throbbing behind her eyes, the tension from the evening making her feel tired and weak. Holly climbs in behind her without a word, pressing up against her back as she drapes an arm around her waist and tucks her knees in behind Gail's. She nuzzles her nose into the crook of Gail's shoulder, nudging strands of her hair away so she can ghost her lips across the nape of Gail's neck in a trail of delicate kisses.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Holly whispers against her skin as Gail covers the arm Holly has wrapped around her middle, letting their fingers twine easily together and holding her close.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to say," Gail confesses, her voice small, and her eyes burning with tears she doesn't know if she can hold back for much longer. She hasn't let herself think about any of this in such a long time, and now that she has it feels like a dam that's ready to burst inside her chest; it's overpowering her completely, and Gail doesn't know what she's supposed to do to make it all stop.

Holly kisses the space behind her ear that always makes her shiver in response, and then softly says, "Tell me about your Grams."

Gail shifts around at that until she's can see Holly's eyes in the darkness, their faces barely an inch away from each other as they share a pillow. It's surprisingly intimate; she feels naked and exposed in a way she's never let anybody see her before, but as Holly reaches up to stroke her fingertips soothingly across her face – trailing across her eyebrows and over the curve of her cheek before gently brushing her thumb over her closed eyelids and sweeping away the tears that cling to the ends of her eye-lashes – Gail gives in to it all and lets herself go, trusting Holly to witness what she normally keeps hidden and buried deep beneath the surface.

"Grams was my favourite person in the whole world," Gail breathes shakily into the space between them, the memories she's worked so hard to suppress and forget about making her heart clench achingly as they rush to the forefront of her mind. "We'd spend every summer break up north in our family cottage visiting her. I looked forward to it every year. Steve was right, I was super introverted and socially awkward; even more than I am now," Gail whispers, pursing her lips together sadly. "I just didn't get people all that well, so I watched. My mom didn't get it; she was always such a dominating force, always trying to push me into things I didn't want to do. But Grams... she would spend hours just sitting with me, talking about her life, and letting me be quiet. I finally confided in her one summer that people scared me a little, that they made me nervous and unsure."

"That's when she gave you the camera?" Holly asks, her eyes never leaving Gail's as she listens intently, working her fingertips up and down Gail's back, tracing along her spine comfortingly.

Gail swallows hard and nods, letting her tears fall. "Yeah," she murmurs thickly. "She told me she liked to take photos because you could capture everything; that pictures are worth a thousand words, and that I should give it a try. So, I did, and I fell in love with it," Gail breathes, her mouth curling into a small smile at the memory. "She was right, it did captured everything; a moment someone was having, a feeling they were experiencing, or an expression they were making. I felt like I could finally see people the way others did. The photographs just held onto those little split-second changes and gave me a chance to really look; to understand and to see things people might miss or overlook. It made me feel better, like I wasn't so... alone. It helped me feel like I could finally read people and be confident around them."

"If it was helping you, I don't understand why your mom made you stop?" Holly whispers, her palm falling flat against the small of her back as Gail presses closer, fully entangling their legs.

"When Grams suffered a massive stroke just before my fifteen birthday," Gail admits, twisting her fingers into the back of Holly's t-shirt. "Mom took the opportunity to tell me that photography was taking up too much of my time, and that I should use Grams' death as a lesson to get serious about my life and what I was planning on doing with it; that time wasn't just to be whittled away on idle tasks. That's when she started pushing the idea of the police force again. Without Grams there to back me up, I caved, and just... stopped taking them. Instead I focused on the things my mom suggested would be good skills; I worked out, I learnt a second language, I practiced shots with an old bb-gun. I became a proper Peck."

Holly's quiet for a long moment then, and Gail watches as her eyebrows furrow together as she takes it all in. Holly's one of the strongest people she knows, she's smart and accomplished, and completely unashamed of who she is. She doesn't apologise for her intellect or her quirks because they make her the person she is. They all add up to making her happy, and knowing that makes Gail avert her eyes, not wanting Holly to be disappointed with how weak she'd been back then, so unable to stand up for something she'd loved against her mother's hounding.

"So, you never even really wanted to be a police officer?" Holly asks, her voice small and sad as her eyes desperately seek Gail out.

It's Holly's hand cupping her face again, her thumb brushing along the lines of her mouth that makes Gail feel safe and brave. "Not really," she admits, eyes finding Holly's. It's the first time she's ever said it out loud and it makes her feel lighter somehow. "But, despite everything – my mother being obnoxiously overbearing, and the Peck name being more of a hindrance than a help – I've discovered that I really do love my job. I'm bloody good at it too."

Gail lets her mouth curve into a smile then; truthful and sincere. It makes the tension leave Holly's face, and she smiles back, humming her agreement and making a light-hearted joke about Gail not only being good at her job but also looking good in her uniform too. It makes them both laugh, and Gail feels her world slowly righting itself, the memories that have plagued her all evening leaving her as they fade away into the darkness around them.

"You should start taking them again," Holly murmurs once they've both settled down into a comfortable silence.

"I don't know, it's been such a long time... I probably wouldn't even be good at it now," Gail says, biting her lip unsurely. "Plus, I don't really have the time with work and all, and not to mention I don't even own a camera anymore."

"You should make time, Gail," Holly encourages gently, seeing the small twitch of Gail's mouth that indicates the start of a smile, her eyes glimmering with passion. "It's important to do the things you love. So, just think about it, okay?"

"Okay," Gail breathes, her eyes struggling to stay open as her body melts further into the bed, the exhaustion of the day really getting to her. "I promise."

She burrows in closer to Holly, tucking face into her neck, and lets Holly's arms wrap tightly around her until she feels completely safe and relaxed in the little cocoon they've created in the middle of the bed.

The last thing Gail feels then as her eyes finally give up fighting and drift shut, is Holly's lips lightly ghosting against her hairline, gentle and sweet, and lulling away the last of her thoughts, as she holds Gail close and breathes, "Sleep now, baby, I've got you."

It's a promise Gail had only ever felt safe enough to trust her Grams with, but as she feels the soft press of Holly's lips against her forehead, Gail realises she's comfortable to believe in Holly's unwavering support more and more with each passing day.

"You know what we need, Peck?"

"Alcohol?" Gail growls, still attempting unsuccessfully to wipe the dirt from her uniform.

She'd been on patrol with Oliver for a couple of hours when they'd received a call about a disturbance in a nearby park, apparently there was some kind of domestic happening going on. It had turned out to be a husband and wife arguing heatedly over an on-going custody battle, and had ended up not only as a screaming match, but also with a side of pushing and shoving thrown in.

Shoving that had ended up in a scuffle, which had ended up with Gail's feet slipping out from under her and landing her in a very wet, very muddy, puddle.

It had stopped the argument immediately, both husband and wife looking absolutely horrified, but it had also left Gail caked in slimy soil and pinning them both with a glare/scowl combination that could easily kill.

Oliver had helped her up then, his laughter dying off to a cough as Gail squeezed his hand hard in retaliation, and as an apology he'd let Gail give them a very stern, very angry rant, before writing them both up with a warning and sending them off in separate directions.

"Doughnuts," Oliver chirps happily as they walk back towards the cruiser.

Gail glowers at the side of his head until Oliver glances over at her. "Doughnuts..." Gail gestures to her ruined uniform. "Really?"

Oliver trails his eyes over her, his head cocking to the side as he grimaces. "Actually, I think doughnuts and alcohol might be in order." Gail offers him a tight-lipped smile. "Doughnuts now. Alcohol after shift, my treat."

She lets Oliver drive them out to this little bakery he loves then, and gladly accepts the coffee and doughnut he shoves in front of her once they're seated inside. She watches Oliver munch away happily, a little icing sticking to his top lip and giving him a little white moustache.

He grins at her knowingly, waggling his eyebrows as he points a finger at her muddy uniform. "I think you've got a little something... right there, Peck."

Gail rolls her eyes, but laughs in-spite herself. "You're ridiculous."

"Correct," he replies, licking at his lip as he points at her half eaten doughnut. "Finish it, it'll make you feel better. Sugar is the answer to everything."

"And I thought you'd given up all this junk and gone vegetarian," Gail infers playfully, raising her eyebrow when Oliver narrows his eyes and mutters 'very funny', making Gail break into a smile. "Seriously though, how are things with Celery?"

"Things with Celery are wonderful. She's wonderful," Oliver says fondly, pausing to take a sip of his coffee. "And what about you, my friend; how's your Holly from forensics?"

Gail falters at that, the implication that Holly is actually hers, because it's something Gail knows with absolute certainty that they've actively avoided discussing. Holly feels like she's hers in all the ways that matter, and she feels like she's Holly's, but the actual notion of labelling it with a title so official makes Gail's spine prickle with panic.

She's awful at relationships, but she thinks she could be really good at just being with Holly, whatever that means.

"Holly's... great," Gail confesses shyly, ignoring the heat rushing to her cheeks. "She's really, really, great."

Oliver smiles understandingly, and Gail's thankful that he doesn't tease her. "So, it's gotten serious?"

"It's still- we're figuring stuff out, you know?" Gail worries her lip between her teeth and shrugs. "It's only been a couple of months."

"So, you haven't dealt with the whole... meeting each other's folks thing yet then?"

Gail shakes her head. "No," she answers quickly. "No, it's way too- we're not there yet. Definitely not."

Oliver chuckles at that, taking in the fear in Gail's eyes. "I totally get it, Peck. I remember waiting months before introducing Zoe to my parents, even though we moved in together after a couple of dates. I was nervous as hell. It went okay though. But meeting Zoe's parents... yeah, now that was terrifying."

"Why terrifying?" Gail asks, eyes wide as her chest tightens anxiously.

"Her old man hated my guts, like, the minute I walked through the door," Oliver says with a smile. "Probably something to do with the fact I was going through a little bit of a punk phase, and dating his smart, well put together daughter. I don't think he really started to like me until I became an officer... the uniform made me seem more respectable in his eyes, I guess. That, and Zoe fell pregnant with Izzie. He was kind of forced to like me then, I was partly responsible for his first grand-baby after all," Olive finishes with a laugh.

Gail's quiet then as she remembers the few times she's ever met a boyfriend's parents. Her first real boyfriend Josh had been when she was sixteen, and she was still struggling to grow out of her quiet phase, so it made her seem sweet and well mannered, if not a little odd. But then again at sixteen Gail doesn't think Josh's parents were all that worried for their long-term prospects.

The next time she really got introduced to anybody's parents had been Nick's foster-parents. She'd been nineteen and was in the midst of being a rebellious little brat; she was still awkward but she was also now mouthy, and Nick's foster-mom had caught them drinking alcohol they'd stolen from a local store... it was pretty safe to say that after that, Nick's foster-parents weren't her biggest fans. They thought she was trouble and would lead their gentle Nick astray.

And then Nick had left her, ran off to join the army and broken her heart, and Gail had strictly avoided getting into anything too serious – none of the relationships she had after Nick had ever reached parent-meeting level – until Chris.

But even then, Gail knows, being serious enough with Chris to warrant an introduction to his mom – he'd met hers, had lunch with her whole family one Sunday even – it hadn't come to fruition. Chris never brought it up, and Gail didn't ask. She never even thought about it until that night with Dov on the couch. Then it had occurred to her that maybe Chris hadn't thought she was parent-meeting material, or maybe he just never trusted her enough or didn't really consider her to be a serious option.

(Gail's loathe to admit that that had actually hurt).

Whatever the reason, Gail knows with certainty that she's awful at meeting people's parents, and the thought of meeting Holly's is... Gail doesn't even want to think about it. And there's no way in hell she's letting Holly meet hers. Especially after Steve spilled enough of her secrets a couple weeks back. She can barely imagine the carnage that would be left if she invited Holly to dinner with her mom.

No, Gail thinks, she'll avoid that scenario for as long as humanly possible.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop the icy trickle of apprehension that seeps into her veins and settles deeply into her bones; lingering quietly as it waits patiently for the right moment to strike.

Chapter Text

She's stretched out on the couch, thumbing through one of the medical journals she found lying around on the coffee-table when Holly saunters out from her bedroom, wide smile on her face as she casually brings it up.

"So, listen. Just before you got here earlier, I got off the phone with Jen-"

"Who's Jen?" Gail cuts in, a burst of irrational jealousy exploding in her chest as she pushes herself upright and stares demandingly at Holly. "Ex-girlfriend?"

Holly smirks, and moves to sit on the coffee-table opposite her so that their knees are pressed together. "Not quite. More like my oldest and dearest friend," Holly replies, reaching out to pull Gail's hands into her own, gently uncurling her clenched fingers. "My happily married friend. You'd like her, she's almost as snarky as you."

Gail ducks her eyes, suddenly feeling like an idiot. "Oh."

"Yeah... 'oh' is right," Holly chuckles as she tugs at one of Gail's fingertips until she looks back up. "But at least I know now how you feel about my ex's. I'll make sure to gather them all together next time at the end of our monthly underground meet and warn them about you."

Gail rolls her eyes, and twists their fingers together. "Very funny, fight-club."

"You're the one that carries the gun," Holly taunts playfully, making Gail fight back a smile. And then, "As I was originally saying, I spoke with Jen earlier, and she's having this annual get-together, dinner-party, thing on Friday – it's super casual, just a handful of our friends – and she asked me to ask you. So... I was hoping you'd be my plus one?"

She watches as Holly worries her bottom lip anxiously as she waits for an answer, and Gail knows it should be an easy, instant reply of 'of course I'll come' – just like Holly had when Gail had called her up last minute and invited her to attend Frank and Noelle's wedding with her – but Gail knows that 'plus-one' suddenly holds a different meaning all together. This isn't Holly asking her as a friend to some random work event, this is Holly asking her to meet her people and be introduced as something exceedingly more than just a friend. It makes a lump form in Gail's throat, her pulse racing and her palms suddenly sweating as her body stiffens in panic.

"I don't know Hol," Gail breathes finally, pausing to lick at her lips, hoping the dryness in her mouth will just disappear as she offers a tentative shrug. "Wouldn't you rather go alone so you can catch up with everybody properly? I mean I'm hardly a social butterfly, I don't want to hold you back from having fun with your friends."

Holly cocks her head to side and pins her with a look, and Gail knows instantly that Holly's not buying any of her lame attempts of avoidance. "I've spent time with Steve and Traci, and I've met and been around Chris – your actual ex – and it's all been fine."

"That's different," Gail protests, feeling increasingly anxious. "Besides, look how dinner with them turned out... I'd hardly call that something for the positive column."

"Come on, Gail," Holly prompts, her eyes holding Gail's intently. "You don't have to get all twitchy and weird about this, okay? It's just a handful of my closest friends, and they want to meet the woman who's had me smitten for the last three months. It's not a big deal. It's just one night... just dinner and drinks. They're all really nice and easy going, and I promise you'll like them."

Gail shakes her head hesitantly, finding the objection getting trapped in her chest as Holly leans forward to press a sweet kiss against her lips before pulling back with soft, pleading eyes, her bottom lip jutting out into an adorable, playful, pout.

"Don't... seriously don't look at me like that," Gail groans, unable to stop herself from relenting. "If I agree to this you're not allowed to use this puppy-eyed-pouting-face ever again or I'll-"

"Is that a yes, then?" Holly asks breaking into a teasing grin.

Gail releases a sigh of defeat and nods reluctantly. "Ugh, fine. Yes, I'll be your plus one. But I'm not making any promises that I won't get awkward and snarky."

Holly squeals in delight and presses forward to trap Gail beneath her as she covers her face in kisses, her fingers tickling at Gail's sides and making Gail weakly protest before she gives in to laughter.

"Thank you," Holly murmurs, finally shifting from tickling to caressing up and down Gail's sides as Gail struggles to catch her breath. "It will be a fun night. And I'll do something to make it up to you, I promise."

Gail lets her hands slide up Holly's thighs, suddenly acutely aware that Holly's still straddling her lap, and allows herself to stop thinking as she tilts her face up enough to brush her mouth against Holly's jaw. It makes Holly shudder in response, her knees squeezing tighter at Gail's hips, and making Gail instinctively grip at her harder.

"I think I know how you can make it up to me," Gail whispers, her voice husky and low as her hands slide around to squeeze at Holly's ass before sneaking up the back of her shirt, and encouraging her closer as she trails her lips up Holly's neck.

Holly smirks then, and runs her fingertips up Gail's arms and across her shoulders before tangling them into her hair as she urges Gail up into a deep, hot, open-mouthed kiss that leaves Gail dizzy and gasping for more.

She knows she'll willingly do anything then as long as Holly keeps kissing her so fully, and when Holly nips at her bottom lip a second later and rolls her hips against her, Gail lets her lingering apprehension fade away to want, and focuses solely on doing whatever she can to keep Holly pressed against her and moaning into her mouth.

When Friday finally rolls around, Gail finds herself utterly distracted at work by thoughts of the impending dinner-party – she tries not to tack on 'of doom' at the end, but it rings loudly inside her head every single time she thinks about it.

Her eyes keep flicking down to her watch as she tries to do her paper-work, and she can feel her spine tingling in discomfort as it draws closer to the end of her shift. The knot in her neck is flaring up again, making Gail rub at it insistently as she tries to breathe deeply in through her nose and out through her mouth; a desperately lame attempt to decrease the stress she's feeling.

She tries unsuccessfully not to think about how excited Holly had been that morning over coffee, all bubbly and chattering away, filling Gail in on some of the details of her friends; who did what, who was the funniest, who was married, who was gay, who wasn't, who was annoying, and who Holly adored.

The list had been endless.

Gail finds herself staring blankly at her computer screen trying to remember everything that Holly had told her about the people she's meeting later, but finds that the facts are all jumbling together and she can't remember who's the stay at home mom, and who's the struggling actress, or who's likely to ask Gail a million questions, and who's likely to offer her a bottle of tequila.

It's all giving her a chronic headache.

And it hasn't made the slightest difference that Holly's been reminding her all week that it isn't a big deal, because Gail knows Holly's completely wrong this time. It is a big deal. It's important in ways Gail doesn't know what to do with.

(She doesn't think she's quite ready for something that feels this significant).

More importantly, Gail's terrified she's going to screw it up in some irreversible way. And she really, really, doesn't want to, not when this seems to matter to Holly so much. She doesn't want this to be the thing that makes Holly unsure about her.

Gail's not normally one for praying, but as she packs up her desk and heads towards the locker-room she silently begs whoever might be out there to help her out somehow.

"Hey, Peck," Luke calls out, drawing her attention as he holds a file up in the air. "I've just been assigned a really interesting case, and I could use an extra set of hands if you're free to pitch in? It'll be a good one to add on your application for the detective rotation."

Gail heads over to him and takes the file, flipping it open and scanning over the notes she finds tucked inside. It is interesting case. Damn. This isn't exactly how she was hoping her prayer would be answered.

It's an out, and Gail knows it.

Luke raises an eyebrow at her impatiently and Gail feels the guilt pounding achingly in her chest as she nods her head reluctantly.

"You in?"

"I'm in," Gail confirms, her jaw clenching as she hands him back the file and tries to ignore the regret that's already burning uncomfortably in the back of her throat, the words tasting bitter on her tongue.

"Great, let's get straight on it then," Luke says, strolling off towards his office.

Gail clenches her eyes closed, pinching the bridge of her nose tightly and takes a moment to let the self-loathing wash over her until it's settled painfully in every square-inch of her body. She tries not to think of anything as she pulls her phone out of her pocket and fires off a quick, simple, apologetic text to Holly, hitting the mute button the second she hits send before stashing it back away and following after Luke.

She tries to convince herself that she's just doing her job; that she's doing what she needs to do to ensure she progresses, and that Holly will totally understand, but as the minutes slowly pass, Gail can't shake the sickening feeling that she's made a horrible mistake.

When Gail and Steve were little their father used to tell them that every action had a consequence, and that they should think very carefully before they acted on their decisions.

It's something that Gail's always stuck by.

She's never been one to be impulsive – at least the majority of the time when she's thinking clearly – she always weighs up her options, mentally makes a list of pros and cons, and then makes a choice accordingly.

Nine out of the ten times that Gail hasn't followed this rule have ended badly; her shot-gun engagement to Nick, answering the door without checking to see who it was first and getting abducted, sleeping with Blackstone, and not to mention blurting out her secrets to Perrick to name a few.

So, although a tiny part of her is ignorantly hopeful that Holly will have replied to her text and been fine with the whole blowing her off thing, Gail's not remotely surprised to find that she hasn't heard anything back by the time she leaves the station later that night.

She's not even really surprised that her calls go straight to Holly's voicemail and that the handful of texts she tries are completely ignored – it stings, especially knowing that Holly always, always, answers her phone, but Gail knows she deserves the radio-silence she's receiving.

When she gets home, she sits alone in the darkness for as long as she can handle, staring at her phone and willing Holly to contact her, but when her heart continues to clench achingly, longing desperately for Holly, she decides on a plan of action. She's not entirely sure if she's being foolish and brave, or if she's selfishly running to Holly with her tail between her legs, but Gail knows she can't breathe again until she sees Holly face-to-face.

It's beyond late when Gail finally arrives at Holly's apartment, and even though she knows there's a chance that Holly's asleep and probably doesn't want to see her, she can't stop herself from clenching her eyes shut and knocking on her door.

She fights to listen for signs of movement over the sound of blood rushing in her ears as her heart beats painfully against her ribs, and she's almost given up all together when the sound of keys finally clattering in the door brings much needed oxygen rushing back into lungs.

When the door does open, it's in one quick motion that catches Gail totally off-guard as she finds Holly's tired eyes suddenly glaring back at her. It makes Gail freeze up, the words she had ready to say dying on her tongue as Holly cocks her head to the side and waits expectantly.

"What are you doing here, Gail..." Holly sighs deeply, after a few long and agonizing moments of silence where Gail does nothing but stare back at Holly helplessly. "It's late."

Gail forces herself to swallow the lump in her throat, her voice little more than a broken murmuring as she struggles to explain herself, "You didn't answer my texts or my calls and... I-I was worried so I-"

"You never had any intention of coming tonight, did you?" Holly interjects, ignoring Gail's ramble all together, and watching Gail carefully as she shifts uncomfortably under her gaze.

"Of course I did," Gail retorts, feeling her cheeks flush heatedly under Holly's continued scrutiny. She can feel her skin prickling defensively, her natural instinct to retaliate and protect herself kicking in subconsciously. "But then Luke asked me if I was available to assist on a case and I-"

"So he asked you to stay?" Holly cuts in again, her mouth pursed together as she raises an eyebrow demandingly.

"Yes," Gail retorts, knowing it's only a half-truth but unable to stop the word from escaping out of her mouth.

"But it wasn't an order, so you could have said no if you really wanted to?" Holly challenges instantly, not giving Gail's mind a chance to stop spinning and catch up as Holly pins her with a less than impressed look.

Gail's chest heaves out a shaky breath, and she shakes her head pleadingly. "Holly..." She watches then as Holly starts shaking her own head and makes a move to close her door. It makes Gail rush forward, her palm catching against the surface of the door to keep it open. "Please don't be like this, I was just doing my job, you know how important it-"

"No," Holly finally snaps angrily, her eyes glimmering with hurt, and even Gail knows her flimsy argument is unconvincing. "You were looking for an excuse not to come and you found it. I know we're taking things slowly, Gail, but it's not like I was asking you to meet my parents. It was just dinner with some of my friends. We didn't even have to stay for long if you were too uncomfortable." She pauses then, stumbling over her words, her voice thick with emotion as she continues, "They're important to me, Gail. They want to know about what's happening in my life, and I want to be able to share things – you – with them. Even if it's just a little so that they have a face to put with your name when I'm telling them about how crazy I am about you, and how happy you make me."

Gail's speechless then, the guilt rocketing over her like a bucket of ice cold water and crumbling the last of her weak defence; she feels her chest seizing up in frantic panic as searches her mind urgently for something to say that will makes things better. "I-I..."

"Just be honest with me," Holly pleads, her voice small and her shoulders dropping sadly as Gail fails to say anything worth hearing. "Why did you agree to come if you knew you wouldn't?"

"Baby..." Gail chokes out brokenly as she watches tears escape from Holly's eyes, even as Holly's hand instantly reaches up to swipe it away in an attempt to regain her composure.

She knows that all her words are falling hopelessly short, but her head is spinning and everything feels like it's jumbled up in her chest. She can't seem to untangle the mess she's made fast enough for it to make a difference and stop things falling further apart.

Gail steps forward then, reaching out desperately for Holly's face, needing to touch her, to hold her close, to stop her slipping from her grasp, but Holly shakes her head, averting her eyes, and Gail feels the bite of rejection deep in her stomach as the stinging in her own eyes increases with the uncontrollable racing of her heart.

"Don't," Holly whimpers, stepping back so she's just out of her reach. "I just... I need you to give me some space for a couple of days. I'm really-" Holly sucks her bottom lip into her mouth to stop herself the second her voice catches, and Gail reels back at the hurt in Holly's eyes when she looks back up, hating that she's the cause of it. "Just go home Gail, it's late. I'll call you when I'm ready to talk, okay?"

Gail nods weakly as she struggles to fight back her own tears, her lip trembling at the overwhelming sickening regret that's clutching at her heart; the pain she's caused herself excruciating in ways she hasn't ever felt before.

"Okay..." Gail whispers quietly in defeat.

Holly holds her gaze for a second longer before swallowing thickly, "Night, Gail."

Gail watches helplessly as Holly closes the door then, and she finds herself staring back at it for a long moment, willing it to open even though she knows it's utterly hopeless. It's like she's in a daze as she staggers back to her car on shaky legs, her chest tight, and her lungs burning as she struggles to breathe; Gail wonders absently if the painful pressure building beneath her ribs is what it feels like to be shot in the chest. (She decides pretty quickly as wave after wave of gut-wrenching pain crashes over her, that even that probably wouldn't hurt as agonizingly as her heart does now).

An uncontainable sob rips free from her mouth when the little numbness that's kept her barely holding it together fades away, finally causing her body to buckle forward as she's hit with the full weight of her decision. Her chest feels like it's about to explode, her body shuddering as she's wracked with unstoppable tears until she's left grasping at the steering-wheel like it's the only thing that can keep her afloat.

She knows without a doubt then, that she's made a huge, ugly, mistake.

That she had the choice and she chose wrong, and she so desperately wants to take it all back, even though she knows that she can't. She's screwed up majorly, even though she was trying everything in her power not to.

Her only hope now is that Holly finds it in herself to do what the people before her haven't... to forgive her and give Gail another chance. For the second time that night, Gail prays for someone or something to help her, knowing she needs some kind of miracle if she's to stand a chance at making things right again.

Steve opens the door, takes one look at her – hair messy and unkempt, eyes red-rimmed and puffy, and Holly's baggy hoodie wrapped around her as her she shakes her head helplessly – and steps aside to let her in without a word.

Traci's sitting at the table eating a bowl of cereal when Gail enters, but she stops the second she glances up to see the look on Gail's face. She gets up without a word and passes Gail a cup of coffee as she slips down into an empty seat at the table. Gail cradles the cup in her hands, letting the heat sink into her skin as Steve pauses at her side and wraps an arm around her, pulling her to lean against his side.

"I really messed up," Gail mumbles, pulling away from Steve's unusual display of sibling affection, and fighting back another round of tears.

Traci's eyes soften and she exchanges a look with Steve before carefully saying, "What happened?"

Gail shrugs, and lets out a small mirthless laugh, "I ruined it as usual." Steve reaches over and grasps at her wrist, ducking his head so that their eyes can meet, and Gail finds herself unable to hold it all in. "She wanted me to meet her friends at some dinner-party, and I agreed to go and then when Luke asked me if I was free to stay and work on a case I just- I blew her off on purpose."

"Gail..." Traci scolds softly at the same time Steve says, "You're an idiot."

She feels her jaw clench as she tugs forcefully away from Steve's touch, shooting him a glare. "I already fucking know that, okay? And now she doesn't want to see me and I can't-" Gail feels a lump building in her throat as the regret and guilt crash over her again. "I made a mistake," Gail whispers shakily, the fight leaving her completely. "I need to make it right. She's... I-I can't not be with her."

Steve's mouth purses together in a sad smile, and Traci's brow is furrowed together as she processes something that Gail can't decipher. She feels pathetic and helpless, sitting in her brother's kitchen at 8am on a Saturday morning, but after she'd stopped crying long enough to drive home from Holly's, she'd been unable to sleep, haunted with trying to come up with ideas to earn Holly's forgiveness.

"I don't get you at all," Traci finally says, pinning Gail with a confused look. "You're obviously crazy about Holly, and she's ridiculously into you, and yet you won't let yourself just be happy. Why would you freak out so much over meeting her friends? Why would you sabotage yourself before you've even tried?"

Gail shrugs, averting Traci's eyes. "I don't know."

"Yes, you do," Traci retorts knowingly. "Gail, look at me..."

It's the same gentle voice she'd used when she came to see Gail at the hospital after Jerry had died, and Gail lifts her eyes to find Traci's, seeing the warmth of her friend mixed with the probing determination of a detective reflected back at her. It makes her feel exposed and vulnerable, like Traci's looking through her and seeing the truth she's normally better at hiding away.

"It's stupid," Gail mumbles, feeling coy and silly for being so bothered by a comment made long ago, but she knows it still prickles relentlessly at the base of her spine, making doubt creep into her mind until she's sure it's the truth.

"I'm sure it's not," Steve encourages, nudging her gently. "We're not going to laugh or judge you, Gail, I promise. Let us help."

She glances between them briefly before letting her eyes close and breathes in deeply. "When Nick first came back to Toronto and we started fooling around again..." Gail pauses shortly, wincing a little as Steve grimaces in disgust.

(Her brother never had been Nick's biggest fan, especially after he left her stranded in Vegas. He'd been the only one she trusted enough to come and pick her up, reluctantly allowing him to get a glimpse of the hurt Nick had left her with).

"...he kind of told me that I wasn't exactly... girlfriend material," Gail confesses quietly, feeling foolish for being so hurt by his words. She knows she was the one who had kept things between them casual, but he had broken her heart once before, and she was too scared to let him in and trust him again so easily.

But even so, it had still stung knowing that Nick – the man she considered her first true love – had categorised her as somebody he viewed as not needing cuddling, and affection, and dorky date nights anymore. As if she hadn't been the girl that had jumped into his arms and squealed happily when he'd asked her to marry him on a whim.

She thought Nick really knew her. That he saw past all of the walls she'd erected around herself to keep herself safe and protected. But somewhere between being the young man who'd seen her as the snarky waitress with a soft but guarded heart, he'd become a man hardened by war who seemed to extend openness to everybody but her, willing to accept that her tough facade wasn't just a mask but a reflection of who she'd really become.

It still hurts now, especially knowing that when they finally did try again, he still didn't try to really see her; that he'd looked right through her and found himself falling for Andy instead.

He'd planted a seed of doubt that had taken root in Gail's heart and left her unsure and floundering, unable to trust herself fully. It's part of the reason why she's been so afraid of really being with Holly, why she knows that even though she's falling helplessly for her, that she can't stop herself from reaching out frantically and trying to catch hold of anything that will just slow her descent down a little.

Traci pulls Gail's hand away from where it's wrapped around her cup of coffee, and holds it tightly between her own. "Just because Nick wasn't right for you and things didn't work out like you planned, Gail, doesn't mean you should believe in every word he ever said. You're just as worthy of finding love and happiness, and a perfectly healthy relationship, as any one of us."

"Traci's right, little sis," Steve adds, dragging her other hand into his larger one. "Collins, is an idiot. Don't let him make you doubt yourself, because if you do, you're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting Holly too, and she doesn't deserve to suffer for Nick's wrongdoings."

"I know. I just- I panicked," Gail admits, feeling ashamed as she pulls her hands into her lap and averts her eyes. "I just thought if I pulled away before things got too serious, it would make it easier, because she'd never have the chance to get tired of me." She purses her lips together into a small wry attempt at a smile. "But now I feel like such an asshole because she looked- not disappointed, like she was just expecting me to mess up the whole time, but just... hurt. Like she truly believed me when I said I'd go, and was genuinely surprised when I didn't, and that's what hurt her," Gail murmurs, shaking her head at herself. "I just want to make things right – I need to. I need her. I just don't know how to fix it."

Steve holds his hands up and smiles brightly, pointing at Gail confidently. "Buy her jewellery; nothing says sorry to a woman like jewellery."

Gail looks over at him sceptically, narrowing her eyes in disbelief, and then turns to Traci in time to see her rolling her eyes and shaking her head in disagreement.

"Men..." Traci mutters hopelessly. And then to Gail, "Have you tried apologising? Like, saying the actual words 'I'm sorry'?"

"I can't- No, I don't think I did," Gail realises, dropping her head down onto her hand with a slap. "I'm so bad at this. How is it possible that I'm really this much of an idiot?"

Steve clears his throat, forcing them both to turn and look at him. "So, that's a 'no' on the jewellery idea then?"

Gail shifts her gaze back to Traci and watches with a smile as Traci leans across the table to smack Steve playfully around the back of the head.

"I don't understand how you, Peck pod-people, have survived this long without seriously injuring yourselves," Traci teases with an amused breath. "Gail, just apologise. Tell Holly how you were feeling. Be honest. Keep it simple." She shoots Steve a look. "Grand gestures like jewellery are far less sincere, just for the record."

"Noted, Detective Nash," Steve taunts with a cheeky smile. "I appreciate the input from a good, knowledgeable woman, like yourself."

"You're welcome," Traci replies flirtatiously. "Can't have the Captain of the Universe being so misinformed now, can I."

Gail looks back and forth between them as her face twists up into a grimace. "As thankful as I am for your advice, this," she says, gesturing between them with disgust as she pushes to her feet. "Is really gross. So, I think I'm going to go before I have to cut my ears off just so I don't have to listen to – whatever this horrible thing that's happening right now is – for a single second longer."

"Let me know how it goes, okay?" Traci calls at her back as Gail heads towards the door.

Gail throws a hand up in acknowledgment. "Enjoy your twisted role-playing."

"Goodbye, Gail," Steve hisses through his teeth, getting up and ushering her quickly out the door.

Gail smirks, waving over his shoulder at Traci. "Later, Losers."

She catches Traci shaking her head but smiling her way as Steve closes the door in her face, and even though she's playing around, it actually does make her feel better seeing Steve and Traci happy together – even if it is a little weird – it gives her hope that the Pecks aren't completely hopeless. If Traci can put up with her idiot of the universe, hopefully Holly will be willing and able to find it in her heart to forgive her for being such an idiot when she finally gives Holly a long and overdue apology.

It's sheer determination that prevents Gail from feeling anxious as she knocks and then waits patiently for the door to be answered. Where before there was a lingering self-doubt, quietly whispering in her ear and questioning her every decision, now there's only resolute belief and a sense of purpose.

Gail Peck is on a mission, and nothing or nobody is going to get in her way and stop her from achieving her goal.

The door opens after a few moments, and Gail finds bluish-green eyes staring back at her. "Hello."

"Hi," Gail replies with a smile, watching as the woman's eyes narrow a little in confusion as she tries to weigh Gail up. The woman is a little shorter than she is, her hair a mousy brown-blonde, she's slight and petite, and has a baby boy resting on her hip; his eyes watching Gail with an intent interest.

When Gail doesn't say anything else for a long moment the woman raises an eyebrow. "Can I help you with something?"

"Oh right," Gail replies, blinking rapidly as she draws her eyes away from the boy's and back to his mother's. "I'm Gail Peck," she introduces, and then pauses, watching as the woman continues to just stare back at her with a neutral expression. "Holly's... Gail."

"I know who you are," the woman fires back calmly, seemingly unfazed by Gail's random appearance on her doorstep.

Damn, this woman isn't making it easy on her. There's a fierce protective stance and an unnerving loyalty radiating from her that strikes a chord deep within Gail then, and instantly earns her respect.

"Right," Gail nods, of course she knows of her. "Look, I know you probably don't like me very much but-"

"It's hard for me to formulate an opinion when I've never had the chance to get to know you, Officer, don't you think?" Jen smirks, her voice slightly berating in tone.

Touché, Gail thinks. Holly had been right, Jen does have a feisty yet playful snark that Gail recognises and connects with instantly; she likes her already.

She offers a sincere and accepting smile back. "That's fair and justified, and also entirely my fault."

"Yes, it is," Jen says, her eyes finally softening a little. "But since you're here, I'm sure you have every intention of rectifying that."

Gail nods her head resolutely, and it seems to convince Jen because the corner of her mouth curls up slightly into the early indication of a smile. "Is she here?" Jen's the one to nod this time, and Gail's chest floods with relief. "Please can I see her?"

Jen sighs begrudgingly even as her eyes glimmer teasingly, and she steps aside to let her pass, grabbing Gail's arm briefly and pinning her with a warning look. Gail holds her gaze, willing Jen to see the good intention in her eyes. She must find whatever she's looking for in Gail's face, because Jen releases her arm a moment later and closes the door behind Gail, cocking her head to the side in indication for Gail to follow behind her.

"Holls, you've got a visitor," Jen calls out as she leads Gail into the kitchen, bouncing her baby boy on her hip.

Gail wrings her hands together as she breathes deeply, steeling herself as she hears footsteps padding down the stairs, and then a few seconds later Holly is entering the kitchen, looking at Jen questioningly before she catches sight of Gail; her step falters immediately then, and her body turns rigid as she blinks at Gail in surprise.

"I'm going to put Joe down for his nap," Jen announces, glancing at Gail with a warning look again before she breezes past Holly, squeezing her shoulder supportively as she goes.

Gail takes a second to drink Holly in now that they're alone. Her hair's up in a messy ponytail and her eyes look a little tired as she peers at Gail through her glasses. She's fresh faced and beautiful, even as she stands there in a pair of old jeans with rips at the knees and a baggy worn in sweater.

"Hey," Gail offers tentatively, wanting to gauge Holly's mood to her abrupt appearance before she goes into fighting mode.

Holly shuffles uncomfortably from foot-to-foot before sighing heavily and moving to pour herself a cup of coffee.

It doesn't go unnoticed by Gail that Holly doesn't offer her one. In fact it only makes Gail's determination intensify; she knows she's got some work to do before Holly forgives her, but she's more than prepared to deal with whatever Holly deems fit to throw her way in the mean time.

"What are you doing here, Gail?" Holly asks finally, her back leaning against the counter as she wraps her hands around her cup and lifts her eyes to slowly meet Gail's.

"I went by your apartment earlier, but your neighbour – Mrs Grant, I think her name was – told me you'd gone to stay with your friend," Gail explains, her eyes carefully watching Holly's face for the slightest reaction. "So, I got Traci to look up Jen's address for me and... here I am."

She chances a small smile at Holly then, and waits patiently for Holly to say something as she drops her eyes to watch the steam rising from her cup.

"I think some people would call that stalking, and I'm pretty sure that as a police-officer you're aware that stalking is illegal," Holly breathes, keeping her eyes fixed on her coffee.

Gail swallows thickly and takes a small step forward, her movement drawing Holly's gaze back to hers. "It's very stalkerish," Gail confirms with a lip bite. "But I needed to see you, because I owe you a huge apology, and I wanted to beg you for a chance to explain myself even though I know I don't deserve it."

Holly shakes her head, and Gail readies herself for rejection, but then Holly darts her tongue out to moisten her lips and simply says, "Okay, I'm listening."

"I know sorry doesn't even begin to cover it," Gail starts, holding her hands out openly. "But I am sorry, Holly. Really, truly, from the bottom of my heart, sorry. I never meant to hurt you, and I hate knowing that I did."

"I know that you're sorry, Gail," Holly sighs, setting her cup down and reaching up to tuck a stray piece of hair back behind her ear. "I knew you were sorry the moment you turned up at my apartment. I just don't understand why you did it; why you didn't just tell me it was too much for you." Holly shrugs her shoulders at her then, sadness still lingering in her eyes. "You were brave and daring when you kissed me in the interrogation-room that first time, and you've been open-minded and willing ever since, even though I know that this all scares you," Holly pauses then, and Gail can see her eyes glassy with tears as she looks away briefly before pulling herself together, and pinning Gail with a doleful look. "But you were a coward on Friday, Gail. You made me look foolish in front of my friends, and you really hurt me."

Even though Gail knows it's true, it still makes her heart clench painfully hearing it come straight from Holly's mouth. She feels a familiar twist in the pit of her stomach, making her feel unbelievably sick with shame and guilt.

Gail knows that she can be a lot of things, she's perfectly aware of her flaws; that she can be mean and sometimes even cruel, that she can run hot and cold, and never lets people close, but she's never, since her teenage years, let herself be a coward. She's always tried to face everything thrown at her head on. It's a bitter pill to swallow, knowing that she purposely let herself be so weak... that she didn't even try.

"You're right, and I know that," Gail whispers, feeling her eyes prickling with tears. "I was a coward, and I'm so, so, sorry. I should have just told you the truth."

Holly crosses her arms over her chest, as if she's bracing herself for the impact of Gail's next words. "And what is the truth, Gail?"

"That I was – am – scared of screwing things between us up," Gail admits honestly, daring another step closer towards Holly. "That I was terrified that I'd be all... awkward and Peck-like when I met your friends, and that they'd take one look at me and know you could do so much better; that they'd convince you that you were wasting your time with me," Gail confesses quietly, exposing her insecurities and standing naked and vulnerable for Holly to see. "And that you'd give up on me like everybody else has because I'm too much hard work."

Holly's face softens at that and Gail feels her heart pounding in her chest as she watches Holly let out a shaky breath and close the remaining distance between them, instantly reaching out to cradle Gail's face in her hands.

"I've fallen so hard for you that sometimes I can't even breathe," Holly whispers, her thumbs stroking over Gail's cheeks as she smiles disbelievingly, and Gail feels her heart burst in her chest as she gasps in relief. "There's not a chance in hell that I'm giving up on you or us, no matter how infuriating you can be at times. I just really need you not to give up on up on yourself, Gail."

Gail can't help but smile then, her tears breaking free as she nods her head and reaches up to curl her fingers around Holly's wrists, keeping her close. "Never again, I promise," she breathes shakily, turning her face to kiss each of Holly's palms in turn, thanking her silently for giving her a second chance.

"Just don't do it again, okay?" Holly pleads, dropping her forehead down to Gail's as she brushes away her tears. "Just be honest with me from now on. I can accept the truth, I know how to deal with it, but I can't handle half-truths and lies... they just make things so impossible."

Gail lets her eyes flutter closed at Holly's gentle caress, her heart racing in her chest as her body fills with a calming sense of relief; she feels safe again now that she's back in Holly's arms, like she's finally back where she belongs.

It feels like she's finally seeing things clearly for the first time when the realisation sinks into her bones; this is her happy place, this is what she wants without question. She wants Holly, and being with her is all that truly matters, the rest of it is just all so futile.

"Be with me," Gail says smiling freely, opening her eyes and searching out Holly's.

Holly's eyebrows knit together as her face clouds with disbelief. "Gail, you don't have to do this-"

Gail shakes her head, smiling harder. "Be with me," she repeats, watching Holly's mouth twitch, unable to contain her beautiful smile. "I mean it, Hol. I want us to really be together. I'm one-hundred percent in this; I'm committed. So, be with me – really, truly, officially – be with me... please?"

She bites her bottom lip, waggling her eyebrows cheekily as she watches Holly let go of any last concerns she might have and give in to what she really wants.

"Okay," Holly beams, laughing, her face lighting up as she quickly leans forward and presses a kiss to Gail's lips, pulling back to look at her again, and nodding her head resolutely. "Yes."

"Yes?" Gail repeats just to be sure, her eyes a little wide like she can't quite believe her luck.

Holly just answers her by drawing Gail's face to her own again, smiling against her lips right before she kisses her, slow and sweet. Gail hums happily into Holly's mouth, sliding her hands down Holly's sides and around her back, curling her fingers around Holly's hips to hold her even closer as they melt into each other; both perfectly content to let the world around them just fall away.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure about this?" Holly asks, the hand she has entwined with Gail's tugging just enough to draw Gail to a stop.

She looks a little nervous as Gail turns to face her more directly, and Gail can't help but smile a little as Holly bites apprehensively at her bottom lip.

"Absolutely," Gail reassures, brushing her thumb across the back of Holly's hand. "It's been two weeks since we made this official, Holly, it's time. I want to introduce you to them... even if they are a bunch of losers." Holly cocks her head to the side, narrowing her eyes in scolding, and Gail smirks. "Come, on, Hol. I've met Jen and suffered her 'if you ever hurt my best friend again I'll destroy you with my freakishly small ninja hands'," Gail mimics playfully, making Holly roll her eyes. "And I've done the rounds with the rest of your insanely smart friends. Now it's time for you to meet my pack of cronies."

"Okay, fine," Holly relents with a small smile. "Also, I'm telling Jen about the small hand comment and you just know she'll-"

Gail shuts her up with a kiss, pulling back to watch Holly's eyes flutter open, a dazed look lingering on her face. "No," Gail tells her sternly. "No nervous rambling. They're going to love you, because you're a) hot, b) dating me and c) because we're better than them."

Holly chuckles, and shakes her head. "Maybe I should be more nervous about you playing nice."

"Not a chance," Gail teases, pulling at Holly's hand as they start walking across the rest of the car-park and head into The Penny.

She sees them tucked away at their usual table, already laughing and drinking, and Gail offers a smile when Traci catches her eye and waves them over. Gail feels Holly's grip tighten a little but she refuses to let go, pausing only momentarily to take a deep, readying breath, as she leads Holly across the bar and over to her friends.

Gail watches as everybody looks up, some with surprise in their eyes and others with knowing smiles on their faces, as they take in Gail's hand entwined with Holly's.

She keeps her face as neutral as possible, trying not to show her own nerves as she greets them. "Hey dorks."

Dov's the last to catch on and he points stupidly at them until Chloe smacks him around the back of the head, smiling at Gail in that annoyingly chirpy way of hers.

They all murmurs greetings at them, and Gail catches Holly's tentative wave in response and has to fight back a smile. She watches them all squirm for a few seconds more, none of them daring enough to point out the obvious, and then finally relents.

"Let's get this over with shall we?" Gail asks, watching as they all continue to stare back at her quietly. "Guys, this is Holly. Holly, these bunch of misfits are my work colleagues slash friend-people." She glances between them, pausing to slide an arm around Holly's waist and pull her closer as she pointedly looks at each of them. "And yes, we're dating. Questions?"

Traci rolls her eyes at her bluntness, Chloe just grins harder even as Dov continues to look a little confused, and Andy gives her a soft smile, her eyes suddenly full of understanding. But it's Chris who breaks the ice, raising his hand like he's asking for permission but speaking before Gail can say anything else.

"I think this is cause for celebration; can I get you lovely ladies a drink?" Chris asks, smiling in his dopey, boyish way.

Gail feels a surge of affection for him as he stands up and presses a kiss to her cheek, offering Holly his seat as he heads to the bar to get them all a round. She's aware of the underlying tension still lingering in the air as she sits herself in Holly's lap, draping her arm around her shoulders and offering her a smile, but it passes quickly when Holly mentions the trivia cards on the table and sets Dov off on a happy explanation.

Things relax pretty easily after that, even though Gail scowls at Chloe and Andy's lack of restraint when they start digging for more information, asking about how she and Holly met and how they got together. It makes Gail think of gossipy girls in high-school, but Holly seems to be handling it well enough, and so Gail lets her fill them in, content to just quietly watch Holly smiling and laughing.

Gail's actually a little surprised that there isn't more questions about this sudden change in her life, that none of them seem particularly phased that she's previously dated men and now she's dating a woman. It makes Gail feel a little guilty for not trusting them all enough, for keeping things with Holly quiet for as long as she has. It only seems to matter to them that she's happy, and it makes Gail feel a little sentimental about them all; they might not be her family, but they are the people she sees on a daily basis, they're important to her even if she doesn't always tell them, and their acceptance matters to her greatly.

At some point during the night, after Traci's said her goodbyes – stopping to squish Gail in a big hug that hadn't relented until Gail stopped scowling and started laughing – Dov, Chloe and Andy had stolen Holly away to play a team game of pool.

It's what Gail finds herself watching from her seat at the bar, drinking it all in and feeling the buzz of the alcohol fluttering through her body as their laughter echoes happily in the background. It makes Gail smile as she lets her eyes shut contentedly.

She's aware of a warm body leaning against her side, and the squeeze of a familiar arm around her back a few moments later, and she lets herself relax into it as she opens her eyes and looks up at Chris' warm smile.

"Doctor Holly's lovely," he points out, his eyes kind as he watches their friends banter back and forth easily.

Gail hums in agreement, her eyes never leaving Holly, and smiling when Holly pots the black a second later and holds her arms up in the air, cheering loudly as Andy reaches up to high-five her. She can feel Chris' eyes on her, watching her intently, and when she flicks her gaze to his he smiles fondly.

"You're happy," he says simply.

Gail smiles softly and nods. "I really am."

"I'm glad," Chris tells her, pausing for a second as he purses his lips together. "You deserve to have someone special like Holly, who makes you happy and smile like you're smiling right now. It's something neither I nor Nick could ever truly do for you."

"Chris..." Gail murmurs fondly, shaking her head affectionately and wrapping her arms around him in a hug.

He smiles knowingly at her then, and she knows she doesn't need to tell him that he'll always be special to her. He'd been the first one to reach out to her when they were rookies, and even though their break-up had hurt, Gail's found an unwavering friendship in Chris that she cherishes dearly. He's become like another brother to her, and she knows without doubt that he'll always have her back.

"It looks like you're wanted," Chris says, nodding his head over at Holly who's making her way towards them, eyes glued to Gail as she smiles brightly. "I'll leave you two to it," he tells her, pressing a quick kiss to the top of her head before letting her go and squeezing Holly's arm as he passes.

Holly smirks flirtatiously at her then, sauntering the rest of the way until she's standing just inside Gail's knees, her fingers playing with the hem of Gail's top.

"Having fun with the minions?" Gail asks, draping her arms around Holly's neck, and pressing her knees tighter against Holly's hips, trying to bring her as close as possible.

Holly smiles. "They're really nice. They're also a lot more fun than you've previously made out."

"Why am I not surprised that you, my nerd, think trivia night is fun," Gail teases with a smirk. "Dov's going to keep demanding rematches until he wins again, you know."

"Well, since you're my ticket to the trivia underworld, I guess that means I'll have to keep you around for a little longer. At least until I fully establish my reign as champion," Holly retorts playfully, making Gail roll her eyes.

"You're such a dork," Gail replies fondly. Holly nods in agreement, and lets her fingertips trail down Gail's thighs, her nails scratching lightly and making Gail shiver in response as she leans in to brush her lips against the spot just below Gail's ear that always makes her gasp.

"But I'm a dork who can do this," Holly breathes against her ear when Gail whimpers expectantly, trailing a row of kisses along Gail's jaw.

She pulls back then and smirks, and Gail shakes her head at her, feeling her spine tingling with desire. "You play dirty, Stewart."

"You have no idea, Peck," Holly murmurs, looking smug. "No idea at all."

It's insanely hot, and Gail can't help herself as she curls her fingers around the nape of Holly's neck and pulls her down for a hard, deep kiss; her tongue brushing against Holly's and making Holly moan into her mouth.

Just as she feels Holly melting into her, her kisses turning increasingly desperate as she searches Gail's mouth out again and again, Gail pulls back, and flashes Holly a smirk of her own. She can see Holly's eyes growing ever darker with lust and it makes heat blossom low in her stomach.

As Holly opens her mouth to reply, they hear a wolf-whistle coming loudly from behind them, and Gail glances over Holly's shoulder to see Dov and Andy looking at her with amused smiles before she flicks her eyes back to Holly's.

"We'll finish this later," Gail promises, her voice turning a little husky as Holly bites at her bottom lip wantonly and trails her eyes down Gail's body.

It sparks a nervous excitement through Gail's veins, and she tries not to think about the way her heart is racing uncontrollably with desire and anticipation as she downs another row of shots, before letting Holly take her hand and pull her over to rejoin her friends.

They stumble into Gail's room, hands tugging blindly at each other's clothes and kissing hungrily, stopping to laugh against each other's mouths as they clumsily bump into Gail's dresser and knock her lamp over.

"Shit," Holly mumbles, panting heavily and swaying slightly.

Gail attaches her mouth to Holly's neck, kissing and sucking until Holly's tangling her fingers in her hair and moaning as her hips roll unconsciously into Gail's own. She feels dizzy and drunk and ridiculously happy as she nips her way across Holly's jaw before initiating another kiss; it's a little sloppy and a lot dirty, and Gail can taste the tequila lingering in Holly's mouth.

She fumbles with the buttons on Holly's shirt, her fingers feeling clumsy and awkward. "Who made these so damn small," Gail slurs, breaking the kiss and narrowing her eyes as she tries to focus on the offending garment.

Holly tries to work her fingers between Gail's, attempting to get at the buttons herself but it somehow leads to a tangled mess as they both fight to work the buttons free. It ends with Holly's shirt ripping open and buttons flying off in all directions as they break into another bout of giggles.

Gail pushes the shirt over Holly's shoulders and down her arms, still giggling as Holly pulls her hands free and immediately reaches for the bottom of Gail's top. Gail lifts her arms trying not to wobble too unsteadily as Holly drags it up her body, but luck seems to be totally against them and it somehow gets caught coming over her head.

When they finally manage to pull Gail free after a long struggle, they're laughing again, and Holly reaches for Gail's belt-loops and tugs her forward into her body, not expecting their unsteady momentum to cause them to accidentally fall back onto the bed.

"Fuck," Gail grunts when their laughter has died down and she's caught her breath, trying to hold herself up on her arms but failing as her head starts swimming so badly that she lets herself flop to the side next to Holly, feeling overwhelmingly dizzy.

Holly manages to lean up on her elbow, looking down at her in concern. "Are you okay?"

"'m so fucking drunk," Gail mumbles, her tongue feeling thick in her mouth. She closes her eyes for a few long moments, hoping the room will stop spinning, but when she opens them again, Holly is still looking a little fuzzy. "'m sorry."

"Don't be," Holly murmurs, reaching over to brush the hair out of Gail's eyes, and stroking her fingertips over her face soothingly. "We've got plenty of time for this to happen."

Gail nods, closing her eyes again as she licks at her lips. She stretches her hand out, reaching around to pull Holly's hoodie out from under her pillow, and draws it across her body to use as a blanket.

"So, that's where that disappeared to," Holly breathes close to her ear. "I've been looking everywhere for it, you know."

Gail rolls her head to the side and opens an eye to peer at Holly. "I stole it," Gail slurs, with a smile. "It smells like you, and when 'm havin' trouble sleepin' it's like bein' wrapped up in a giant Holly hug."

Holly's eyes soften at that and she smiles fondly at her. "Is that right?"

Gail hums in acknowledgement, her eyes fluttering closed again as she struggles to fight against the dizziness; drowsiness creeping into her bones and drawing her slowly into unconsciousness. "'m gonna keep it, okay?"

Holly snakes her arm gently under Gail's neck, encouraging Gail to curl up against her shoulder as she runs her hand in calming circles over Gail's back.

"If I can keep you, it's a deal," Holly whispers, her lips ghosting over Gail's forehead.

Gail snuggles tighter into Holly's body, wrapping her arm around her waist and lets Holly's caress lull her closer towards sleep.

"Deal," Gail breathes into the crook of Holly's neck, letting herself relax contently in the solace of Holly's arms.

She squints as she enters the locker-room the following morning, the bright lights hurting her already delicate eyes and making her head throb just that little bit harder.

Gail grunts a 'hello' at Andy and Chloe, who look a little worse for wear than they normally do, and tries to ignore the wave of nausea rolling around uneasily in her stomach as she changes slowly into her uniform in-between taking long sips from her bottle.

"If you're drinking that again, I can only assume that you guys kept the night going long after I left," Traci says as she comes into the locker-room, raising an eyebrow as Gail winces at the disgusting taste of her detox cleanse.

"My head's killing me," Andy groans, dropping down onto the bench as Traci chuckles.

Chloe, who despite looking a little paler than she usually does, somehow manages to still be extremely chipper. "I know what you mean," she says with a smile. "My head was like 'whoa' this morning before I took some painkillers, and poor Dov looked green when we got up."

Gail grits her teeth in irritation, the level of Chloe's voice cutting straight through her. "Hey, nails-on-a-chalkboard, think you can tone it down a little, or better yet, shut up all together."

Chloe just stares back at her still smiling, not even looking vaguely bothered by Gail's outburst. It's Traci who shoots her a look that tells her to be nice, and Gail just glares back at her and noisily takes another drink from her bottle.

"So..." Andy pipes up, breaking the tension and flashing Gail a smile. "Holly's really lovely."

Gail closes her eyes and presses her forehead against the cool metal of her locker, letting it soothe her head slightly. She's glad they all like Holly, but she really does not want to do this whole girls-gossiping-and-sharing thing that they seem to be attempting... at least not before somebody gets her a large cup of coffee.

"Yeah, she's very cool," Chloe adds moving to sit next to Andy. "And really smart; Dov was still complaining about how he lost the quiz this morning."

Traci chuckles at that and mutters, "Such a sore loser."

"Plus, you two were super cute together. It was adorable to see Gail Peck smiling like a lovesick puppy all night," Andy teases, throwing Gail a wink when she pulls back to look at her with a scowl.

"I'm not a lovesick puppy," Gail objects with a glare, trying not to blush when they all start laughing. "Oh, shut up."

"I think it's sweet," Traci comforts, rubbing her hand in circles against Gail's back when she drops down onto the bench next to her and groans into her hands.

"It is sweet," Chloe echoes, and then turns to Traci with a smirk. "Although you did miss when they went from cute and innocent to all hot, heavy and super handsy as the night progressed." Gail whips her head towards Chloe and glares menacingly, making Chloe hold her hands up defensively. "What? I'm not judging, I love a good drunken make-out session. It's how Dov and I first ended up hooking up at The Penny. Now, that was a good night; lots of totally hot and dirty sex."

Gail blinks blankly at her for a second and then grimaces. "That's so disgusting; I think I just vomited a little in my mouth."

"Come on, Gail, don't be such a prude," Andy cuts in. "I'm pretty sure we've all made-out in a bar before. I know Sam and I have," she adds on teasingly with a laugh. "What about you, Trace?"

"Do not answer that," Gail retorts, shaking her head. "This conversation is already scarring me for life, I do not need to hear about you and my brother. Just no. I draw the line."

Traci rolls her eyes at her. "I won't say a word about, Steve, I promise. Although Jerry and I were definitely members of the 'hooking up at The Penny' gang."

"See, it's not a big deal," Chloe says, smiling far too brightly for Gail's liking. And then, "So, what's it like then?"

Gail stares back at her in confusion, shrugging her shoulders irritably. "What's what like?"

Chloe rolls her eyes at her like she's an idiot. "Duh, the sex... I mean, what's it like with another woman? Is it weird after having dated only men before?" she asks curiously.

Gail eyes widen in shock and then she feels her face flushing heatedly as her chest clenches in panic. This is why she doesn't do the whole girl-talking, sharing feelings thing. It only leads to awkward, personal questions that have no business being spoken about.

"It's private," Gail snaps, her defences spring-boarding up out of nowhere and making her rise from the bench, glaring down at Chloe angrily.

"Whoa, okay. I'm sorry," Chloe replies, flinching back a little at Gail's outburst. "I thought we were all sharing, and I was just curious-"

"Well don't be," Gail bites, her spine prickling anxiously even as Chloe lowers her head in defeat. "It's none of your fucking business."

She catches Traci and Andy's eyes widening in surprise at her sudden blow-up before she storms out of the locker-room, heading for somewhere she can be alone and hide. Her head's throbbing painfully and now her mood has gone from mildly annoyed and hung-over to black and thundery; Gail feels sorry for anybody who gets in her way today, but they can all thank Chloe Price and her irritating, nosey persistence, and the fact that she doesn't know when to just shut the hell up.

Traci tracks her down about an hour later, hiding in the evidence locker and doing her paper-work on the floor.

"I've been looking everywhere for you," Traci says, reaching down to pass Gail a cup of coffee. "I thought you could use this."

Gail accepts the coffee but doesn't look up from her paper-work. "Thanks."

"Chloe didn't mean anything by her comments, Gail, it's just what she's like, you know that," Traci reasons.

Gail sighs tiredly. "I know."

Traci's quiet for a few seconds, and Gail wills her to just go away, but instead finds that Traci sits down on the floor opposite her, staring at her patiently until Gail glances up with another heavy sigh.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Traci asks in a soft voice, her eyes glimmering kindly. "Is something up with you and Holly again? I mean, you seemed really happy together last night."

Gail opens her mouth to reply but just as quickly closes it again, releasing a deep breath and looking down at her lap. "Nothing's wrong. Holly's great, we're great... it's just... we haven't... had sex yet, okay?" Gail admits quietly, flicking her eyes briefly up to Traci's before looking away again, feeling herself blush in embarrassment.

"Oh," Traci breathes a moment later. "Are you- do you not want-"

Gail shakes her head, knowing exactly what Traci's struggling to say. "No, I want to. I really want to. It just... it hasn't happened yet." Traci nods understandingly and offers Gail a small smile, encouraging her to go on. "It's not like we haven't done stuff... I mean, we fool around and all but then things-"

She purses her mouth together to stop herself finishing her sentence, feeling embarrassed and foolish.

"But then things what?" Traci asks softly. "Start freaking you out?"

Gail bites at her lip feeling the flush rising up her neck and spreading across her cheeks like fire under her skin; she's not sure what's more humiliating, Traci's sympathetic smile or the fact that she's hiding in a closet while talking about having sex with another woman. It's a irony that isn't lost on her.

"Can you not look at me when I tell you this, it's mortifying enough as it is," Gail whines, making Traci smile but turn her head to the side with her eyes tightly closed. "Whenever we're fooling around or whatever, it gets kind of..." Gail pauses, stumbling for a way to put it. "...out of control a little too quickly."

Traci peers at her with one eye and Gail grimaces, feeling impossibly awkward. It makes Traci smirk at her, "So, it's all... too much, too soon, for you?" Traci ventures, quirking her eyebrow playfully.

Gail groans, hiding her face in her hands, feeling flustered and embarrassed even as she nods.

"Gail, it's not a big deal. It sounds like you might just need to slow it down a little, that's all," Traci continues when Gail peeks at her through her fingers.

"It's not just that it's... too good," Gail says, lowering her hands slowly to meet Traci's gaze. "I'm nervous, too," Gail admits shyly. "I know it's just sex and I shouldn't be so anxious about it but it's... different, you know?"

"Because Holly's a woman?" Traci asks gently.

Gail shakes her head. "A little bit, but- I've never been with someone for this long without sex. I mean, I like sex. Sex with guys has always been pretty decent; it's easy and mindless, and it happens and then it's over, and we get dressed and go for a drink, and it's not a big deal. But with Holly... she makes me feel- it's intense, being with her. I feel exposed and..."

"Vulnerable?" Traci fills in softly, her eyes deep and kind.

"Yeah," Gail confesses timidly, biting at her lip. "Plus I want it to be good for her too, I don't want it to be all about me and how... inexperienced I am with everything."

"Have you tried talking to Holly about all this?" Traci asks. "I mean, maybe she's been holding back because you were still figuring things out; maybe she's just waiting for you to let her know that you're really ready."

Gail hums absently in response, thinking back to how things all started between her and Holly; there were no expectations and no rules, and they had held off defining what it was they were to each other until just recently. Holly's been nothing but patient and understanding while she works through her feelings, and it kind of fits, that Holly wouldn't push until she knows Gail's willing to take the next step.

"I'll talk to her," Gail breathes, offering Traci a small smile and receiving a quick rub to the knee in response.

"Good," Traci says as she pushes to her feet and stretches before holding a hand out to Gail. "Now, I think you should buy me lunch because I'm an awesome agony aunt, and if it's possible, you look paler than you usually do; in fact you look so translucent that I can actually see the alcohol floating around in your system. I think we need to get some pancakes or something into you to soak it all up as soon as possible."

Gail rolls her eyes but takes Traci's hand and lets her pull her up. "Yes, mom," she replies dryly.

Traci smirks in response, and wraps her arm around Gail's shoulders, trying to hide her surprise when Gail bumps their hips together before leaning in against Traci's side in an unexpected display of affection, letting Traci lead them out of the room without another word.

Chapter Text

Gail doesn't bring it up straight away.

Instead she decides to wait a couple of weeks, and lets her mind process everything she's thinking and feeling. Waiting until she's one hundred percent certain, that if she doesn't touch Holly soon, or if Holly doesn't touch her, that the desire that's been building achingly inside of her for the past few months will inevitably burn so hot that she'll end up spontaneously combusting.

She uses the time to ensure she's as prepared and ready as she possibly can be. She knows she'll deny it if anybody ever asks, but she sneaks off alone during one of her lunch-breaks and shops for new, sexy, lingerie. It's not something she does very often, but she's snooped through Holly's drawers enough to know that she has good taste, and will hopefully appreciate a little bit of silk and lace. Gail tries not to blush too hard with embarrassment when the cashier winks at her, and settles on reminding herself that it's all about confidence, and that if things go to plan, hopefully what she's wearing won't even really be the focus for too long anyway.

(She may even spend a couple of nights secretly tucked away in her room with her computer, researching and taking notes on all things girl-on-girl related; Gail Peck doesn't like being unprepared for anything – even more so when it comes to things that matter as much as making Holly happy).

(She'll definitely deny the researching if Holly ever asks though).

On the day that she does finally feel ready to talk about it with Holly however, she's nowhere to be found.

She's not in her lab where she should be squirreled away working, and instead Gail finds a lab assistant in her office who informs her that Holly's taken a personal day. It catches Gail off guard a little, and leaves her feeling surprised that Holly hasn't said anything to her, but then Gail figures that maybe Holly just isn't feeling too good, or she's forgotten about a dentist appointment or something simple.

With that line of logical reasoning, Gail tries not to let Holly's unusual absence worry her too much.

She even manages to make it through her shift without checking her phone every ten seconds – just – but when Holly's phone goes straight to voicemail for the third time and all Gail receives is a simple text of 'Something came up. Rain-check on dinner? Sorry, Hx' it sets Gail's nerves on edge.

It doesn't help that she doesn't see or hear from Holly the next day either. It's then that Gail really tries to rationalise Holly's absence in an attempt to keep her cool. Maybe Holly's helping out a friend or a case has come in that needs Holly's undivided attention. It's just... Holly's never disappeared on her before; if she's busy she calls, or searches Gail out and apologises profusely until Gail's forced to shut her up with a kiss, telling her not to worry.

Gail can't shake the apprehension that's crawled under her skin and settled in her chest, and she's so tense and anxious that when Chris makes an off-handed comment about how twitchy she seems Gail bites his head off on reflex, feeling like a complete bitch when Chris mumbles an apology back at her with sad puppy-dog eyes. She buys him a coffee as a way of apologising, and tries not to look at her phone (again) as they head to a crime scene.

"Hey, have you seen Holly?" Gail asks Traci and Andy as she approaches, pointing at the coroner's van, and feeling a rush of relief that Holly might actually be within ten feet of her.

Traci shakes her head apologetically. "Sorry, she's not here; it's the stand-in forensics guy, Dr Fisher."

Gail sighs deeply, and purses her lips together uneasily as disappointment washes over her.

"Missing your honey that badly?" Andy teases with a smirk, quirking an eyebrow at Gail's sad pout. "You really have got it bad, Peck."

"I think she's maybe changed her mind about me," Gail blurts, trying to blink away the irrational sting in her eyes. Traci and Andy look taken aback at the comment and instantly shake their heads at her like she's being silly. "I haven't seen her the last couple of days, and she won't answer my calls, and when I text her she replies like this..."

Gail holds her phone up and shows them the last message she exchanged with Holly earlier during the morning -

'What's going on, nerd? I hope everything's okay. I miss you x'

'Sorry baby, I'm sick, and I don't want you to catch it. See you soon though, I promise Hx'

"Gail, she said she's sick," Traci tells her softly, rubbing at her arm comfortingly. "You're just getting yourself all worked up for no reason."

Andy nods in agreement when Gail flicks her eyes to her. "I agree, you're just being a little... paranoid," Andy finishes reluctantly.

"Yeah, because I've never had a reason to be paranoid before, right?" Gail snaps back irritably, watching as Andy's purses her lips together sadly and lowers her eyes.

"Gail..." Traci chides, shaking her head and looking disappointed.

"It's okay, Trace," Andy cuts in, looking back at Gail. "I'm sorry, and I can keep apologising until you believe me but-"

Gail shakes her head and holds up her hand, knowing she was out of line. "No, don't, Andy. I'm sorry, okay? I'm just..." she trails off with a shrug. "I guess I am being paranoid. I just miss her when she's not around."

Andy smiles at that. "Well since she's sick, you should take her some soup over, it's the perfect excuse to see her and check how she's doing. That way you can go back to being your new shiny and smiley self again."

"Don't count on it, McNally; I don't do shiny on any level. But I guess I can do that," Gail says, pausing a moment, and then, "I don't have to actually make it myself, do I? Because I think I'd just end up poisoning her and making her feel worse."

Traci chuckles in response, smiling fondly at her. "I know a place that does a great chicken soup; I always get it for Leo when he's sick." She pulls her notebook out of her pocket and writes down the address before holding it out to Gail. "Here, stop by after your shift and pick some up, then you can go play nurse with Doctor Holly until your heart's content."

Andy laughs when Traci winks at her, and Gail scowls and plucks the number from Traci's fingers forcefully, making a show to roll her eyes at them and call them 'idiots' before turning on her heel and going in search of Chris.

At first, Gail's not entirely sure what she's seeing.

It's already starting to get dark by the time she pulls up outside of Holly's apartment building, and as she puts her car into park her eyes are drawn over to the silhouettes of two people just beyond the reach of the nearest streetlight. Her natural instinct to be curious kicks in instantly as she exits her car, clutching at the bag containing the soup, and she approaches the pair cautiously, watching intently as one of the figures stumbles unsteadily on their feet while the other attempts to keep them upright and balanced.

Only as the stumbling figure's foot catches against the path and jerks them down to their knees does Gail hurry her approach, her step faltering as she gets close enough to recognise Holly desperately grasping at an older man, pleading with him to get up as she struggles to pull him back to his feet.

Gail freezes then, standing slightly back and narrowing her eyes as she catches the emotion thick in Holly's voice as she begs again for the man to get up. It's completely unsettling to see Holly, who's always mostly been so composed around her, looking so shaken and upset, and even a little helplessly frustrated as she fails to do more than tug at his arm unsuccessfully.

It's when the man mumbles something incoherent in Holly's direction a moment later, snatching his arm free as he jerks forward, vomiting violently, that Gail finally snaps out of her haze and makes herself known.

"Holly?" Gail murmurs tentatively, stepping further towards them cautiously, unsure exactly what to do as Holly squats down and rubs at the man's back, her hand back to grasping at his arm in an attempt to keep him balanced.

Holly's eyes snap to hers swiftly, and Gail watches as they widen rapidly in surprise at seeing her. She starts shaking her head then as Gail makes a move towards her, wanting to try and help even though she's not sure what's really happening.

"Gail..." Holly breathes, looking up at her hopelessly, still shaking her head and making Gail stop still. "I need you not to be here right now. Please," Holly pleads brokenly when Gail blinks blankly back at her. "This is- I'll call you tomorrow and explain everything, I promise, but you really need to not be here right now. So, please just... go."

Before Gail can even process what's happening, the man beside Holly groans loudly and flops down onto his side, his breathing turning shallow as his eyes roll back into his head. Holly curses under her breath and turns her attention back to him, talking to him in a quiet voice as she wipes at his mouth.

Gail rushes forward, dropping the bag she's holding and squats down on the other side of him, her hand hovering uselessly over his body as her eyes rake over him; she immediately notes his unkempt hair, his unshaven face and his scruffy appearance, but it's his arm that holds her attention the most. From where the sleeve of his sweater has ridden up in his fall, she can clearly see the revealed track-marks that blotch angry and red on his skin.

She flicks her eyes back to Holly's then, and watches as Holly shakes her head shamefully; the embarrassment in her normally soft and sparkly eyes making Gail's chest lurch achingly, and filling her with the overwhelming want to reach out to Holly and soothe away her pain.

"My dad," Holly whispers sadly in explanation, averting Gail's eyes as he grumbles Holly's name, his eyes opening enough for Gail to see his constricted pupils as he stares foggily up at them. "You should really go, Gail. I-I can't- I need to deal with this. I'm sorry."

Holly pulls at his arm again, harder this time, until she manages to get him upright enough to wrap his arm around her neck, curling hers around his middle as she makes an attempt to push them up to their feet.

Gail doesn't think then, she just acts on instinct, moving enough to pull his other arm around her own shoulders as she wraps an arm around his back beneath Holly's, and helps Holly get him back up onto his own two feet. He sways heavily against her, and Gail can feel how lifeless and heavy his limbs are becoming with each additional second that passes.

She ignores Holly's weak protests at her assistance, and instead turns her face enough to look at Holly's father as she slaps at his back, imploring him to keep his eyes open and as focused as they can possibly be.

"Hey, buddy, I'm going to need you to move your feet with me, okay?" Gail instructs firmly but calmly when his bloodshot eyes flick to hers. "That's it," she encourages as they start leading him slowly up the steps and into Holly's apartment block.

It's a struggle, and by the time they manage to get him inside, dropping him down onto Holly's couch, Gail lifting his feet up as Holly finds a large bowl to rest on the floor in front of him, the silence between them feels thick and tense.

They stand staring at each other for a long moment, and the look of utter defeat on Holly's face and the lingering sorrow in her eyes propels Gail towards her, sliding her fingers in-between Holly's and holding her hand tightly as she leads Holly out of the living-room and into the bedroom.

Holly pulls her hand free the moment they're inside and sits down on the end of her bed, her shoulders sagging tiredly as she looks up at Gail expectantly.

Gail opens and closes her mouth, finding the words lodged in the back of her throat. She licks at her lips and asks the only question that stumbles into her mind.

"He's not the guy from your family photographs," Gail says, blinking at Holly blankly as she tries to put the pieces together.

Holly shakes her head and reaches a hand up beneath her glasses to rub at her weary eyes. "That's my step-dad in the photos. He married my mom when I was sixteen, and helped raise me and my younger brother." Holly pauses then, watching Gail's face carefully. "The trashed man on my couch is my real father."

"Why didn't you call me?" Gail asks, moving to sit next to Holly and tilting her head to keep looking at her.

"Because it's humiliating and a complete cluster-fuck," Holly breathes despairingly, shrugging her shoulders and wringing her hands together in her lap, still actively trying not to look at Gail.

Gail pulls Holly's hand into her own lap, soothing her thumb across Holly's knuckles. "Holly..."

"What was I supposed to say, Gail?" Holly retorts, her voice trembling as she pushes to her feet and spins around to look down at Gail, holding her hands out helplessly. "'Hey, just to let you know, my dead-beat, junkie dad, who sporadically turns up every now and then has suddenly arrived strung-out on my doorstep,'" she laughs mirthlessly then, shaking her head and blinking back tears. "Things were just starting to really work out well for us, and I didn't want to mess it up again by drawing you into my drama... especially after what happened when I tried to introduce you to my friends. It made this whole, randomly meeting my father thing, not seem like such a good idea."

"That's not fair, Holly," Gail says, her brow furrowing in hurt. She thought they'd moved past that, that Holly trusted her now; it stings a little to realise that Holly's faith in her apparently hasn't been fully restored yet. "I know I messed up with that, but we're together now, and I'm really trying. You're not even giving me a chance to be here for you though. I want you to be able to trust me; to depend on me when you need me."

She watches as Holly releases a deep, shaky breath in response to her words, her eyes shining wetly. "I'm sorry," Holly replies tiredly, the fight draining from her as her arms drop down to her sides as she looks at Gail apologetically. "I know, you're right, and I do trust you, Gail, I swear. I just... I'm used to dealing with my dad on my own. Plus, you're a police-officer; I was trying not to put you into an awkward situation with the fact that I found a bunch of gross used syringes and baggies of drugs his pockets."

"I'm not on duty right now, Hol," Gail replies, her eyes softening sympathetically, knowing that Holly was trying to protect her. "I'm your girlfriend, and I'm here for you in any way I can be, okay?" Gail says softly, patting the space next to her and inviting Holly back, feeling relieved when Holly accepts and settles in against her side, letting Gail wrap her arms around her as she presses a soothing kiss to Holly's forehead.

"I'm sorry I lied to you," Holly whispers, fingers tangling into Gail's jacket, and desperately clinging to her in a way that makes her feel unusually small in Gail's arms. "I felt so horrible doing it and I really missed you."

"It's okay, I get it. I really do. Just don't shut me out again, okay?" Gail says lightly, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair back behind Holly's ear and giving her a small smile when Holly turns her head to kiss Gail's palm. "Promise?"

Holly nods, her eyes regretful. "I promise."

"What about your mom and brother; do they help you deal with him when he shows up?" Gail asks gently, wanting to know more but not wanting to push.

Holly shakes her head. "My mom tried and tried for nearly two years to get through to him when he finished his tour, but he came back a different man; a lot of men in his unit had been killed and it changed him in a way she didn't know how to handle," Holly explains sadly. "He started becoming distant at first, and then he started drinking, and then later the drugs started. And James was only six years old at the time, so..." Holly purses her mouth together in a tight smile and shrugs as she trails off. "I was twelve though. I remembered the man he was before the drinking and the drugs; the dad who taught me to ride my bike and would take me on day trips to the park, and who would do stupid home-science experiments with me in the kitchen," Holly smiles sadly at that, sniffling a little as a few tears escape her. "That's why I can't give up on him, even after all this time."

"You don't have to give up on him," Gail murmurs, brushing away Holly's tears with her fingertips, and leaning forward to kiss her cheeks. "You just have to realise that you're not on your own anymore, I'm here to help you deal with this, okay?"

"Are you sure?" Holly asks, her eyes still a little disbelieving. "He's... well, he's a lot to take. He can be a real dick when he starts coming down."

"I'm a police-officer, baby," Gail smirks. "I handle dicks on a daily basis."

"Oh," Holly chuckles, and raises an eyebrow teasingly even as Gail narrows her eyes at herself realising how her reply sounded. "Do you now?"

Gail shakes her head and bites at her lip to fight back a smile. "That came out so wrong."

"Well, you always said your job was dangerous and sometimes dirty," Holly jokes, making Gail roll her eyes but smile as she reaches up to trace her fingertip across the curve of Holly's lips. "What?" Holly whispers, watching as Gail's eyes trace over every inch of her face.

"You're smiling again," Gail murmurs fondly, her stomach fluttering with relief. "You should always be smiling. I don't like seeing you upset."

Holly flashes her an extra affectionate smile, her tone still playful as she fires back, "Good thing I have you around to always make me feel better then, huh?"

"I meant what I said though, Holly," Gail says, keeping the conversation serious, knowing that Holly's the one who's trying to deflect this time. "I'm here for you, and I'll do whatever I can to help you deal with him. I mean, I have some contacts at a local residential rehab centre, I could call and see about getting him a place if you wanted?"

Holly shakes her head. "I've tried putting him in rehab a couple of times before, he never sticks to it, but thank you," Holly sighs sadly, tangling her fingers with Gail's. "Maybe I should just let you arrest him, at least if he was behind bars he couldn't keep using."

Gail stares back at her, trying to gauge whether or not Holly's actually being serious. "If that's what you really want, just say the word, and I'll call Steve right now," Gail offers.

Holly shakes her head dismissively. "I don't know if I could actually do it to him; which is stupid, right? Considering what he's doing to himself. It absolutely kills me to see him like this but a ridiculous childish part of me still hopes he'll pull it together. That he'll turn up one day and be the dad I remember and love," Holly confesses tearfully, her voice catching over the words.

"That's not stupid, baby," Gail reassures, pulling Holly tightly into her arms as she finally gives in to the tears she's been fighting to hold back, sobbing into the crook of Gail's neck. "It's not stupid at all."

It makes Gail's heart clench in a way she's never felt before; she feels powerless to do anything that will take away all of the hurt and pain that has Holly's body wracking with sobs in her arms. There's nothing she can do to give Holly back the father she remembers and the years she's lost with him, and it makes her clutch Holly desperately closer to her as she rubs at her back comfortingly.

What she can do though, is everything she's possible of to never see Holly this broken again.

It's a vow Gail's determined to keep.

She doesn't sleep.

Instead she lays awake in the darkness with Holly tucked in at her side; her head resting on Gail's shoulder, arm wrapped around her waist and leg hooked over Gail's own as she sleeps restlessly.

Gail keeps running her fingers idly through strands of Holly's hair, a soothing gesture that had helped quiet Holly's tears and allowed her to finally give in to her body's desire to sleep. She tilts her head so that her nose can brush against Holly's hairline and lets herself breathe her in; Holly smells of sunshine and laughter and kindness, and it makes Gail wonder how somebody so intrinsically good could be dealt such a rotten hand.

Thinking of Holly's father – snoring loud enough that Gail can hear him even tucked away in the bedroom – makes Gail think of her Grams, and how she always told Gail that it's never too late for anything; if you want to do something, do it. If you want to change, you change. Be who you are without apology and live your life with no regrets.

Gail wishes she could say that she hadn't made mistakes and that she didn't have any regrets but she knows it's not true. Being with Holly has been like waking up from a life that she's mostly sleep-walked through; she let herself be led down paths she didn't always want because she was too scared of disappointing the people that loved her. But she's not so afraid anymore. Holly lets her be herself, and it's made Gail want nothing more than to live her life the way she wants to, no matter what anybody says or thinks. As long as she's happy, that's all that matters.

It's probably not her place to interfere, but Holly's given her so much, she's always been the strong one and held Gail up when she was beaten down, and now it's her turn to be strong for Holly in return. She doesn't want Holly to look back and have any regrets about the way things went with her father. She's obviously tried as hard as she can to set him on the right path and help him find his way back, but Gail knows Holly can't do it on her own. She's clearly grown tired and she needs somebody to take over for awhile, for somebody to lend her a hand while she takes a second just to catch her breath.

She's let Holly take the lead before, but Gail knows that now it's her turn to return the favour; she'll carry the weight of Holly's burden on her shoulders for the both of them, just for a little while, just while Holly regains her strength.

It's that notion that starts a plan formulating in Gail's mind.

It's still dark outside when Gail manages to carefully untangle herself from Holly's hold and slip from the bed quietly. She pulls her clothes on and grabs her phone off the side before tiptoeing out of the room, and gently pulling the door closed behind her.

It doesn't take her long then to find Holly's laptop, and she finds the website and the details she wants easily, printing off a copy before calling the number and speaking in a hushed voice while she calls in a favour and makes the arrangements she needs.

Once phase one of her plan is completed, she moves swiftly on to part two, making two cups of coffee before heading into the living-room, and seating herself on the coffee table opposite the couch as she looks over Holly's father with scrutiny. She drinks her coffee slowly, her eyes never leaving his face and reminds herself to breathe deeply in preparation for what she's about to do.

It's for Holly, Gail reminds herself to settle the last of her lingering nerves, and then puts her cup down with a little more noise than necessary.

It has the intended effect though, and she watches as bleary eyes – equally as deep and dark as Holly's – blink slowly open. It takes Holly's father several long moments before he looks at her properly, regarding her unsurely.

"Coffee?" Gail asks, not waiting for his reply as she holds a cup out to him.

He sits up slowly then, rubbing a weary hand over his face and through his messy hair before blinking at Gail for a few more seconds and cautiously reaching out to take the cup from her.

"You probably don't remember me from last night," Gail starts, the speech she prepared as she laid awake next to Holly well cemented in her mind. He shakes his head, and glances around obviously looking for Holly, uncertainty etching over his gaunt face. "Allow me to introduce myself," Gail continues, drawing his gaze back to her. "I'm Gail Peck, and I'm dating your daughter." He hums in acknowledgement and takes a sip of his coffee. Perfect timing, Gail thinks. "I'm also a police-officer."

She watches with a satisfied smirk then as he chokes on his coffee, his chest heaving with a fit of coughs as his eyes widen. Gail notes the twitch creeping into his body as he looks about the room again, and Gail shakes her head as his eyes land on Holly's front door, obviously weighing up if he can make a run for it. She glares harshly at him until his shoulders sag in defeat and he cradles his coffee in both hands.

"Holly's amazing," Gail says after a long pause of them just staring at each other. "She's kind and smart, and sweet and funny, and she has such a good heart. She's easily the best thing that's ever happened to me; words can't explain how much I care about your daughter Mr Stewart-"

"You can call me Mike," he cuts in, his voice hoarse, and his hands still a little shaky; side effect from the drugs, Gail notes absently.

Gail purses her mouth together and nods before pinning him with a demanding look. "Do you care about your daughter, Mike?"

He has enough dignity to look a little insulted by the question, and Gail takes that as a sign to keep moving forward with her plan. "Of course I do. I love my baby girl with all my heart."

"Then why do you keep hurting her over and over again?" Gail retorts, cocking her head slightly to the side. "Are you even aware how much it breaks her heart to see you like this?"

"Of course I know," Mike grunts, anger flashing in his eyes. "I don't mean to hurt her though, it's not intentional."

"But it is intentional," Gail fires back, feeling her own anger prickling in the base of her spine. She breathes deeply, reminding herself to stay calm and focused. "You take the drugs, and then you show up here and allow her to deal with you and your mess. I had to watch her last night, hauling your strung-out ass up from the ground while she begged you over and over again to get up... while she broke down sobbing in my arms."

He lowers his head at that and Gail's glad to see the flickering of shame in his body language. If she's going to pull this off she's got to make a real impact, she's got to open his eyes to the damage he's done. She's got to keep backing him into a corner and dealing out blows until he feels the extent of what he's doing to Holly.

"She's not a weak person," Gail continues. "She's strong and independent and self assured, and optimistic; she finds a way to see the good in herself and others at all times. She's also unbearably forgiving." The smile that had crept onto Gail's face at the thought of Holly disappears the second he looks back up at her, and she glares menacingly. "You make her doubt herself; you make her insecure and weak. You're killing her every bit as much as you're killing yourself while you keep this up. I'm not as forgiving as Holly though, and while I could care less about what you choose to do to yourself, I fucking refuse to let you hurt her for a single second longer."

Gail picks up the printout from the table and places it in his lap, staring back at him expectantly, and preparing herself for the next part of the battle. Her heart's beating rapidly in her chest and Gail can feel the fiery determination running through her veins as he lowers his eyes to look over it.

"What's this?" Mike asks, even though Gail knows he knows what it is.

She leans forward and taps a fingertip against the bold lettering at the top. "This is the residential rehab centre that I'm going to drive you to once you've finished your coffee," Gail informs him firmly.

He shakes his head reflexively. "No," he snaps back, his eyes panicked. "I can't go."

"Oh, but you are," Gail retorts resolutely, lifting her wrist up to look at her watch before glaring back at him. "I know you only have a few brief hours before you'll need your next fix, so I'll make this quick and tell you what's going to happen-"

"I can't go," Mike cuts in again, his fingers curling anxiously around the paper until it creases. "I-I can't..."

Gail scowls and raises an eyebrow at him, the unwavering look on her face luckily being enough to stop his protest before it ever really starts. "I may be smaller than you but I swear to god I will wrestle your addict ass to the floor and drag you there," Gail growls warningly, holding up a hand when he opens his mouth again. "You are going. You are going to voluntarily check yourself in. You are going to stay and work the steps and recover despite how long and how painful the withdrawal will be-"

Mike shakes his head again, still panicking. "You don't understand, I can't-"

"You will do it for Holly..." Gail informs him, ignoring him purposefully, her unfaltering and firm tone of voice leaving no room to be challenged. "...your beautiful daughter, who has spent the past fifteen odd years of her life letting you show up whenever you want, high as fuck, and cleaned you up the best she could." He puts his cup down and buries his face in his hands, rocking himself absently where he sits. "She told me you've stolen her money and her jewellery before but that she still lets you back every time because she loves you," Gail softens her eyes then when he looks up at her sadly. "She still believes in the core of her heart that you are a good man; a man who can change."

"I don't know if I can," he whimpers, his eyes glassy with tears that Gail's not sure how to read. "I love her but I don't know if I can, it's too hard."

Gail ducks her head to keep eye contact with him, knowing that she's almost at the last hurdle. She's not going to let him distract her from her purpose no matter how hard he tries; Holly's far too important for her to fail now. She knows how deceitful and manipulative drug addicts can be, how cunning they are at any time, and even though she wants to believe that he can do this, she's not going to let him fool her into a false sense of security. There's only one way this is going, and it's hers.

"You will go to the rehab centre and do this," Gail continues, holding his gaze. "You will come back into her life as a better man, as the father she remembers fondly. Or... you'll check yourself out after a couple of days and keep destroying yourself until you wind up dead. But I warn you now," Gail cautions, her fierce need to protect Holly at every cost keeping her strong and steady. "If you chose the second option, if you are determined to keep poisoning your body with drugs, you are to stay away from her for good. You're never to come back here; back to her. Because I swear to Satan and the fiery pits of hell I won't hesitate to arrest you next time. I'll throw you behind bars and toss away the key; I'll leave you without drugs and your daughter. Understood?

They stare at each other for long, silent minutes then, and Gail holds firm, refusing to show an ounce of weakness as she watches him rock and shake his head, obviously weighing up her words and trying to see if there's any wriggle room. She feels her lungs burning as she holds her breath hopefully; she knows she's taking a big chance and that it could potentially back fire, but she also knows that maybe her intervention could be the thing he needs to finally open his eyes to the damage he's doing to himself and Holly.

"I'll try," Mike says eventually, nodding his head weakly. "I'll try for her."

"You won't try, you'll do it," Gail fires back determined. "You'll do it because you love her, and because it's past time you stopped wallowing in your pain and deal with it."

"What do you know about my pain?" he snipes daringly, staring hard back at her.

Gail darts her tongue out to moisten her lips and swallows the lump in her throat. "I can't pretend to know how horrifying the experiences you've been through are. But I have been abducted and kept hostage; blindfolded and drugged against my will," Gail tells him, hoping that by sharing a part of herself that she normally keeps buried down deep, that he'll be able to relate to her more and see that's she's just trying to help him. "I know that I was in a dark place for awhile after it but because I was surrounded by my family and friends, who loved me and supported me, I got through it okay," Gail confides.

"Sounds like you were lucky," Mike breathes heavily.

"I was," Gail replies, and tentatively reaches out to put a hand on his knee. "You're lucky too, you know. Holly believes in you; she has faith you can do this, and so do I. You can do it. You're a soldier; you're a good man. You know this is the right thing to do. We'll be here with you through it all, you have my word."

He regards her quietly then for a long moment and Gail wonders whether she will actually have to tackle him if he decides to make a run for it, but then he wipes at his eyes and nods, looking at her openly; a hint of passion burning in his eyes. "Okay, I'll go. I'll do it. I'll give it all that I can," he whispers bravely.

"Good," Gail says, offering him a small, encouraging, smile. "Holly's going to be so proud of you, and I'm telling you now, that look on her face, it will make up for all of the shit you have to go through to get through this. It'll be worth it one-hundred percent, I promise you."

He nods again but doesn't say another word, just closes his eyes and takes several deep breaths as if he's mentally preparing himself. It's not quite a success yet, but Gail feels confidence creeping into her chest, she fought and won this first battle and it may only be a small victory but it inspires belief in her that she – they – can win this war. It's not going to be easy or pretty but Gail meant what she said to him, for Holly, it's worth every single second of suffering he might have to endure.

Gail expects him to try and dissuade her from her idea on the drive there, but he doesn't. She expects to have to drag him through the doors of the rehab centre once they're standing outside of it, but she doesn't. Instead he enters quietly, his head lowered, and lets Gail do the talking.

She stays while he voluntarily checks himself in, and waits patiently with him while one of the staff members helps him fill in some paperwork and tells him about the first steps of detox. When he looks to her for support, she smiles and gives a firm nod of her head, and watches as it bolsters his courage just a little. She studies his every move and expression as the doctor explains how there's different recovery methods and that they'll find the right one for him, and tries not to let herself get too pleased too soon about his acknowledgement and questions.

It's only as they finish up, and one of the staff members offers to take him to his room to get him settled before they start, that Mike falters for a moment, stopping in mid-step and turning back to face Gail, his eyes still holding a hint of uncertainty. Gail braces herself momentarily to stop him if he suddenly decides to back out of it and try and leave, but she relaxes a little when he doesn't flinch a muscle, just keeps staring at her anxiously.

"You can do this, Mike," Gail says, finally speaking up again and holding his gaze reassuringly. "I know you can. Holly knows you can. You just need to believe in yourself."

Mike nods tentatively, staring back at her silently for a long minute before squaring his shoulders. "I need you to promise me something, Officer Peck, before I go."

"Okay," Gail says, curiosity settling in her stomach.

"I need you to promise me that you'll keep looking after my daughter. I need you to keep loving her enough for the both of us until I pull myself together and can make amends with her. Can you promise me that?" Mike pleads, his eyes pinning Gail desperately.

Gail smiles softly, her heart swelling with unwavering affection for Holly at just the mere mention of her. "I promise," Gail breathes, emphasising it by adding, "You have my word, I swear to you, Mike."

He watches her for a few more seconds and nods to himself before glancing back to his doctor. "I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be to do this."

Gail offers him a final smile as he glances back over his shoulder, and she stays watching him until he disappears down the corridor and out of view. She releases a shaky breath then, relief washing over her body, a little shocked that she actually managed to pull it all off.

It was a high risk game she was playing, and Gail's not quite sure how she won. It only seems right to put it all down to sheer good luck, and she's so grateful that her impulsive plan seems to be coming to fruition one baby step at a time.

She makes her way straight back to Holly's, feeling even more relieved that she doesn't have any missed calls or texts from her when she quickly checks her phone. Gail keeps her fingers crossed that she can manage to sneak back in without Holly ever realising she was gone; she doesn't know if she has the words yet to explain what exactly just happened.

Luckily for her it's silent when she lets herself back inside Holly's apartment, and she quickly tidies away the coffee cups she used earlier, making sure everything is in its rightful place before she tiptoes back into the bedroom. She's careful to be as quiet as she possibly can as she shrugs back out of her clothes and slips back into bed next to Holly's sleeping form, maneuvering their limbs gently until they're curled up together again.

Holly looks beautiful as her body's gradually lit up by the strip of sunlight that's starting to peep in through the blinds, and Gail trails her fingertips up and down Holly's spine, revelling in the warmth of her smooth skin, and watches fondly as Holly's eyes gradually flutter open into consciousness.

"Hey," Gail whispers, smiling as Holly's eyes focus in on her before she nuzzles closer back into Gail's body.

Holly ghosts a kiss to her jaw in response. "Hi."

They cuddle quietly for a few serene minutes then, content to wallow in the peace and the comfort that comes from just being wrapped up together until Holly pulls back to look at her, her brow furrowing as she remembers the events of the past couple of days.

"Do you think he's gone?" Holly breathes, her body growing tense in Gail's arms.

Gail presses her lips to Holly's and rubs calmingly at her back. "He's gone; there was no sign of him when I got up to use the bathroom a little earlier."

Holly nods and seems to relax again at that, settling back down into Gail's arms, and slipping her hand beneath Gail's shirt to rest against her hip. "I'm not surprised, he never normally sticks around for longer than a few days," Holly pauses and lets out a sigh against Gail's neck. "I wonder what he's stolen this time."

"Maybe you got lucky and he didn't take anything," Gail murmurs, curling her arms even tighter around Holly, wanting to ease the sadness still lingering in Holly's tone. "Maybe he's trying to change."

She tries not to think about the fact that she's having to lie to Holly, but even though things with Mike look promising, like it really could be the start he needs to get himself together, Gail's not willing to make Holly that promise yet. She's not prepared to set Holly up for a fall. Mike has to prove himself a little first, enough that Gail knows that Holly won't get her heart ripped out by him again.

To make it easier to conceal for now, she lets herself consider it as more of an omission of truth instead of an outright lie. She's just protecting Holly, Gail reminds herself, she's doing what Mike asked, and looking out for her, and keeping her loved and safe, and as happy as she possibly can.

"Here's to hoping," Holly replies. She lifts her head to place a sweet kiss on Gail's lips before disentangling herself and reaching for her glasses. "Are you off today?" she asks, changing the subject.

Gail decides to let her, and pushes herself up until her back is resting against the headboard and watches as Holly runs her fingers through her hair, trying to untangle any knots that have formed during her restless night of sleep.

"Yeah, I'm off. You have something in mind that you want to do?" Gail asks.

"I want coffee, a shower, food, and alcohol," Holly replies, moving around the bed and peeling the covers off Gail and poking her in the leg to encourage her to get up.

Gail catches Holly's finger and tugs gently until Holly relents and sits next to her. "Sounds like a good plan to me. Especially the alcohol part."

Holly shakes her head with a smile. "Of course you'd be up for that part," Holly teases, flinching away when Gail tickles at her sides in retaliation. She grabs at Gail's hands in the end to get her to stop, and Gail watches as her face grows serious. "Thank you for—just... thank you," Holly murmurs, drawing Gail's hands up to her mouth and kissing each one in turn.

Gail can feel the appreciation coming off Holly in waves and it makes her heart clench lovingly, a lump forming in her throat with all the things she wants to say but doesn't know how to put. She settles with pushing herself forward and reaching to hold Holly's face in her hands as she presses their mouths together in a soft, languid kiss; it's you're welcome and thank you for letting me in and I'll always be here all at once.

Holly smiles shyly at her when they pull back and Gail's filled with nothing but overwhelming affection for her that she can't help herself as she leans forward to kiss her again, and again, and again, until Holly's laughter is muffled against her mouth.

"You're such a big softie," Holly teases when Gail finally relents. It makes Gail avert her eyes as she feels a blush spreading across her cheeks, and Holly's fingers instantly slip under her chin and tilt her head back up until their eyes are locked. "I want to take you out for dinner tomorrow night, somewhere nice and quaint and just us... a proper thank you for you being so wonderful and amazing."

"Holly..." Gail ducks her head, feeling coy again, still unused to receiving such sincere compliments, especially as she doesn't think she's done anything particularly wonderful, she was just trying to be a good person, a good girlfriend.

"No, you were amazing last night, accept it," Holly tells her, refusing to let Gail shy away from it as she reaches to brush the hair out of Gail's eyes, smiling fondly at her. "I was a jerk and I tried to push you away, and now all I want is to take my beautiful girl out on a romantic date, so just say yes and let me."

Gail bites at her lip, unable to hide her smile for long when Holly starts tickling at her stomach, making Gail grab at her hands. "Yes, you dork, I'll go on a date with you," Gail says playfully, trying her best to look put out by the idea but failing miserably as her genuine happiness curls her mouth up into a full, revealing, smile.

Holly smiles even brighter then, and shifts until she can swing her leg over Gail's and straddles her lap, her fingertips trailing across the skin of her chest just above the neckline of Gail's t-shirt before they trail up her neck and tangle into hair, drawing Gail into a kiss that's open-mouthed and deep, and full of promises of things still left to come.

Chapter Text

Holly refuses to tell Gail where she's made reservations for them, but she does tell Gail to take as long as she likes to get all dolled up, winking at her playfully since she knows that getting dressed up is Gail's favourite part of a date. It makes Gail roll her eyes, remembering that stupid comment she'd made all those months ago, tucked away in a coat closet at Frank and Noelle's wedding, and tactlessly fishing for information on girl-on-girl dating.

It seems like a lifetime ago, especially now that she's had more dates with Holly than she can count, and Holly's made sure that getting dressed up is certainly not the thing that Gail remembers about their nights together at all. Instead she remembers smiling and laughter, and stealing sneaky glances when she thought Holly wasn't looking, and letting Holly hold her hand and kiss her just because.

Even though Gail knows that what she wears really doesn't matter all that much as long as she enjoys herself, it still makes her stomach flutter pleasantly when she opens the door to Holly's adoring smile and look of appreciation.

"Wow," Holly stutters, trailing her eyes over the black dress that perfectly hugs Gail's body, and blushing a little when Gail quirks an eyebrow as their eyes finally meet. "You look... wow."

"You look pretty gorgeous yourself," Gail flirts back, smirking at Holly's low cut top as she glimpses the swell of her breasts.

Holly clears her throat and winks at Gail as their eyes meet again, and produces a gift package from behind her back. For a split-second Gail narrows her eyes in confusion, thinking that Holly's really going for the whole 'proper date' thing by bringing her flowers or something equally clichéd. Luckily, her confusion doesn't last long though, and she smiles a second later as Holly mock curtseys and smirks up at her, allowing Gail to take the ridiculously wrapped basket of cheese-puffs from her hands.

"I don't know why I just had a mini panic attack about flowers," Gail says with a laugh.

"Flowers?" Holly deadpans, breaking into a smile. "Give me some credit, it's you I'm trying to woo here, Gail."

"Woo, really? What is this, some badly written chick-lit, romance novel?" Gail teases, holding the basket to the side as Holly steps closer to her, ready to say something witty back, but luckily she cuts off Holly's reply just in time with a quick kiss. "Thank you," Gail murmurs against Holly's lips before kissing her again sweetly.

Holly watches then as Gail places the basket of cheese-puffs inside on the table and then holds her hand out for Gail to take, gesturing at her car.

"Your chariot awaits, m'lady," Holly jokes with a fake British accent, making Gail laugh again.

She mutters 'nerd' under her breath, and feigns reluctance at the cheesy romantic charade, even as she allows Holly to lead her to the car and open the passenger side door for her.

Holly makes idle conversation as she drives, and Gail tries not to get distracted too much by Holly's hand resting on her thigh, her thumb absently sneaking under the edge of Gail's dress and brushing against her skin, making Gail shiver in response.

Her skin feels like it's burning beneath Holly's caress, and it makes Gail reach for Holly's hand, entwining their fingers together to put a stop to Holly's subconscious teasing. Holly glances over at her questioningly, and when Gail looks down at where their hands are resting against her thigh and then back up to Holly's eyes with a smirk, only then does Holly seem to realise what she'd been doing.

Gail watches as Holly's cheeks flush prettily as she averts Gail's gaze and bites at her bottom lip, and it makes excitement tingle in the base of her spine as she squeezes at Holly's hand to draw her dark eyes back to her own. Holly's mouth curls into a smile then as Gail raises an eyebrow at her flirtatiously, stroking her thumb over the inside of Holly's wrist in a way that Gail knows will drive Holly just a little crazy, and when Holly hums happily a second later it sparks something in the air around them.

Gail can't help but shift in her seat as Holly stretches out one of her fingers to scratch against the bare skin of Gail's knee in response, and as their eyes meet again it feels like an agreement has passed between them; an unspoken promise of where their night is inevitably leading.

It makes Gail shudder in anticipation as she flashes Holly a shy smile, and her heart races rapidly in her chest as Holly offers back a bashful smile of her own. Gail knows then, without doubt, that they're in this together, and it allows Gail to let her eyes flutter closed, just for a second, knowing that even though she's falling, she's safe, because Holly's right there waiting to catch her.

Gail feels like even though her mind is racing, her thoughts are slow and foggy, and the only thing she's acutely aware of is Holly surrounding her.

Holly's mouth kissing her slowly and Holly's hands squeezing at her hips before sliding up her sides, fingertips tickling up over her body until they're curling around the base of her neck and encouraging her into a fuller, deeper kiss.

She feels dizzy, her lungs burning as she breathes in heavily through her nose, refusing to pull away from Holly's lips for a single second to draw in the oxygen she so desperately needs. Her hands are relentless in the quest to touch as much as Holly as possible; fingers tangled in Holly's thick luxurious hair and keeping her close, palms smoothing over the curves of Holly's breasts, her waist, her ass.

It feels intoxicating; the need to feel her, to be as close to Holly as she can, to touch every inch of her skin that's available to her. Her hands tug frantically at Holly's top then, managing to create enough space to slip beneath it and grasp at the softness of her back, and it makes Holly bite at her bottom lip, pressing Gail harder against the wall as Gail rakes her nails against her skin.

Holly grips at Gail's shoulders a moment later when Gail's hips rock frantically against her own, using them to push herself away from Gail's lips and finally break their kiss, panting heavily as she lets her eyes open to find Gail's questioningly.

"Are you sure?" Holly murmurs, reaching up to brush the hair from Gail's face and letting her hands linger against Gail's cheeks as her eyes search Gail's intensely for signs of doubt or uncertainty.

Gail tilts her head to kiss Holly's palms, and nods as she licks at her lips, trying to catch her breath. "I want you," Gail rasps, holding Holly's gaze, and smoothing her hands down Holly's back and up her arms to curl around Holly's wrists as she smiles reassuringly.

"I want you too," Holly confesses softly, leaning in to kiss her again. It's a gentler kiss, just lips brushing against lips, but it still makes Gail's stomach flutter, her skin prickling apprehensively as Holly draws back to look at her again.

Gail nods at the question still lingering in Holly's eyes, and when Holly presses forward to ghost a kiss against her forehead before stepping back and holding out her hands, Gail tangles their fingers together without a second thought and lets Holly lead them through the apartment and into her bedroom.

They stare at each other quietly for a few seconds after Holly closes the door behind them, and it's only as Holly smiles at her and reaches for her, her hands sliding up Gail's back and automatically reaching for the zipper of Gail's dress, that Gail's mind catches up with what they're actually about to do. Holly tilts her face down slightly to find her lips but Gail pulls back just enough to make Holly halt her actions and look at her in concern.

"I'm nervous," Gail blurts, heat rising up her neck and settling high in her cheeks.

Holly smiles softly at her, her eyes understanding as she trails her hands back down to rest at Gail's waist. "It's okay, I'm nervous too."

"Yeah?" Gail breathes disbelievingly, feeling less anxious at Holly's admission.

"Yeah," Holly nods and leans forward to kiss her chastely. "I've been going crazy, worrying about if you were really ready. I didn't want to do anything you weren't comfortable with."

Gail smiles fondly at Holly then, knowing that she's never once pushed her into doing anything more than she's wanted to. In fact, Gail knows that it's Holly's patience and understanding that has allowed her the time to figure out exactly what she feels and what she wants. Gail knows now, with absolute certainty that she wants Holly in every sense of the word, and that she trusts her completely. She feels happier and more content than she ever has before, completely assured that she can open herself up and let Holly truly see her; that she can allow herself to let go and lose control in the safety of Holly's arms.

"I am ready," Gail whispers reassuringly, her hands trailing up and tangling in Holly's hair as she smiles shyly. "Can we just- I need us to..."

Holly nods understandingly, interpreting the end of Gail's sentence with ease. "We'll take it slowly, I promise."

"Yeah," Gail hums in agreement, getting lost in the warmth of Holly's eyes as she pushes herself closer against Holly's body, pulling gently at Holly's head and encouraging her down into a lingering kiss.

She lets Holly set the pace of their next kiss, allowing herself to melt further into Holly's body with each slow sweep of their tongues, and loses herself to Holly's touch as she entwines their fingers together and brushes her thumbs along Gail's own calmingly.

Gail doesn't honestly think she's ever been kissed this slowly before; Holly's lips are soft and sweet against her own, her tongue gentle even as their kisses grow deeper and more relentless. It makes Gail's chest feel as if it's on fire, and she can't help but moan into Holly's mouth as Holly's hands slip from hers and glide teasingly back up her sides.

When they break apart this time, Gail is overwhelmed by the burning desire fluttering in her stomach, by the audible shakiness in her breathing, and it makes her reach out, fingers tangling in the material of Holly's top to keep her steady and grounded. Holly smiles softly at her, waiting until Gail smiles back reassuringly before she reconnects their mouths.

Holly's kisses move to her jaw then, trailing up until her tongue is flicking out to tease against the shell of Gail's ear, sucking the lobe into her mouth and biting gently. It makes Gail's eyes flutter closed, her head lolling to the side and allowing Holly more room as her lips attach to her neck, sucking reverently at Gail's hammering pulse.

Teeth graze Gail's neck a second later and she whimpers uncontrollably, want coursing achingly through her veins and making the need to be closer to Holly, to feel more of her, almost unbearable. She curls her fingers around the hem of Holly's top and tugs until Holly pulls back from her neck and gives Gail the room she needs to drag it upwards and over her head.

It feels like her eyes can't settle on a single part of Holly's body for long enough; she trails them down Holly's neck and over her bra-clad breasts, watching the way Holly's chest rises and falls with every deep breath she draws, and finally down the smooth plane of her stomach. Gail hovers her hands hesitantly over Holly's collarbones, her fingers itching with the desire to touch but her lingering nervousness holding her back slightly.

"Stop thinking so hard," Holly murmurs, drawing Gail's eyes back to hers. They're filled with an unwavering calmness, and Gail finds herself releasing a shuddering breath, her mouth curling up into a shy smile. "Just touch," Holly says reassuringly, flexing her fingers against Gail's waist and pulling her in closer, easing away the last of Gail's nerves with a lopsided grin. "I want you to touch me."

Gail darts her tongue out to lick at her lips and nods slightly as she lets her fingertips trace the curve of Holly's jaw, down the column of her neck and over her collarbones. She trails the path her fingers take with her eyes and revels in the smoothness of Holly's olive skin, in the way she can see Holly exhaling heavily as her fingers dance down her chest and trace between the swell of Holly's breasts.

It feels different to the mindless groping they've done before, when her mind has been so addled with lust that she's overlooked the pleasure of simply touching just to feel. Gail finds herself lost in how beautiful Holly looks; chest hitching and eyes fluttering closed as Gail daringly dips a finger beneath the edge of her bra and swipes past Holly's nipple.

It's a moment Gail can't help but stop and memorise as much as she possibly can when Holly's mouth drops open in a low moan. Gail feels the vibrations shiver down her spine, making the desire that's blossomed low in her stomach set her body further on edge. It feels a little more desperate when Holly next kisses her, and Gail tangles her hands in Holly's hair as Holly's hands slide down to her backside, groping at her as she pulls their hips flush together.

Gail feels dizzy as Holly's tongue licks slowly into her mouth and curls around her own, and it makes her moan in approval when she feels Holly's hands finally gliding back up her back, not hesitating as she drags the zipper of Gail's dress down with ease.

Holly wastes no time pushing the dress down Gail's shoulders, her mouth immediately descending on the skin she reveals, and Gail tilts her head to the side as Holly ventures hot, open-mouthed kisses down the side of her neck before finding the smooth curve of her shoulder. Gail loosens her hold on Holly long enough for the dress to slide down her body and settle around her feet before she grasps desperately at Holly's face and draws her back in for a needy kiss.

Gail feels like her skin is humming; oversensitive and tingling wherever it brushes against Holly's, and she can't hold back the whimper that escapes from her throat as Holly easily unclasps her bra, dropping it away from Gail's body and letting her hands palm over Gail's naked breasts.

She arches into Holly's touch then and clutches tighter at her shoulders, gasping to catch her breath as her stomach clenches at the sudden sensation of Holly's thumbs sweeping over her nipples. When Holly replaces her hands with her mouth Gail curses loudly, making Holly smile briefly against her before she licks softly over her breasts, sucking a nipple into the warmth of her mouth. At this point Gail would normally tangle her fingers into the sheets or clutch aimlessly at the person's back, but knowing that it's Holly's mouth pressed against her, Gail lets her hand travel down to cup Holly's cheek as she kisses her way over to her other breast, wanting desperately to feel how Holly's jaw moves beneath her fingers as her tongue works against her.

It somehow makes it all the more real, being able to touch and feel every little movement Holly makes as she lavishes her body with licks and kisses. She drops her eyes down to catch Holly's mouth curling into a smile against her skin again, and the intimacy of letting herself take the time she never has before to watch and feel what somebody – what Holly – is doing to her, makes something unravel inside of Gail's chest.

She can't help but curl her fingers into Holly's hair then, dragging her back up in a desperate need just to kiss her, and it makes Holly moan in surprise as Gail presses her tongue into her mouth and kisses her slow and deep. Gail bites down on Holly's bottom lip a second later, making her groan into her mouth as she unbuttons her pants, desperate to eliminate the remaining barriers between them as quickly and as soon as possible. Holly smirks at her when they break apart, panting heavily, and quirks her eyebrow sexily as she reaches behind herself and undoes her bra, holding Gail's gaze teasingly as she holds it out on one finger before letting it fall to the floor.

Gail falters a little then, her mind racing as she drinks in the way Holly's hair spills down around her shoulders and over the swell of her breasts. Blood rushes in Gail's ears, her skin flushing heatedly as she catches Holly watching her as her eyes trail appreciatively over Holly's body.

Holly smiles softly as she reaches to brush the hair from Gail's eyes, cupping her cheek and urging their mouths back together. They kiss lazily, letting their nerves settle again, their hands wandering tentatively over newly exposed skin, and when Gail feels Holly humming happily into her mouth, she can't help but smile against her lips and rock back on her heels, encouraging Holly to slowly manoeuvre them towards the bed.

She loses herself in the haze of Holly's mouth working lazily against hers until the back of her knees finally bump against something. Her mind feels foggy as she finds herself being pushed down until she's perched on the edge of the bed, Holly's fingers cradling her face as she moves to stand between Gail's legs and bends her head to kiss her gently. It's slow and careful and intolerably soft, and Gail feels her chest flood with affection at how sweet and tender Holly is being with her.

Sex has never been like this for her before; even her first time with her sweet but naive boyfriend when Gail was sixteen and equally awkward and scared. It had been a rather rushed and clunky affair and didn't involve much kissing at all, let alone the overwhelming feelings that are currently rolling over her in waves, and it had set the stage for all of her following encounters.

For her sex has always been rather frantic; a heated rush that didn't always necessarily involve removing all of her clothes as long she and whoever she was with got what they both wanted. It's certainly never felt like this, so all consuming, where she's acutely aware of Holly's eyes on her, and Holly's hands touching her, and Holly kissing her like she never wants to stop.

It's exhilarating and utterly terrifying, and yet Gail knows without a doubt that she doesn't want it to stop for a single second. She wants to come alive under Holly's gentle touch. She wants to let Holly devour every inch of her body, and more than that she wants to do the same for Holly in return. It's more than a want; it's an aching need that hums relentlessly beneath the surface of her skin.

Holly nuzzles their noses together as she pecks at Gail's lips a final time, and Gail uses Holly's fond smile as encouragement to crawl further back onto the bed, unable to take her eyes off the way Holly follows after her, her body agile and smooth as she finally settles over her.

There's no urgency in the way Holly dips her head to kiss her then and Gail gasps at the feeling of their naked breasts pressing together. Her senses are on overload; Holly's hands feel like they're everywhere at once, fingertips stroking down her sides and squeezing at her hip, palms spanning across her ribs and over her breasts. Gail can do nothing but let her head fall back, her eyes closing as Holly's lips trail along her jaw, sucking at the sweet spot below her ear, and making her back arch as she moans and grasps at Holly's back.

To stop herself floating away completely she focuses on how tangible Holly feels beneath her hands; how soft and strong she feels as her muscles move under her touch. Holly nips at her neck, helping to keep her in the moment, and Gail's fingernails bite into her shoulders as Holly soothes the sting with the warmth of her tongue.

Gail forces her eyes open as dark hair tickles against her chest, watching as Holly shifts lower so that her mouth can return its attention back to her breasts. When Holly's teeth graze against her nipple and make her hiss – her hand involuntarily squeezing hard at the back of Holly's neck – she lifts her gaze up to Gail's in concern.

"You okay?" Holly murmurs, her hand coming to rest over Gail's racing heart.

"Yeah," Gail breathes, scratching her fingers against the back of Holly's neck reassuringly and sighing happily when Holly ducks her head to press a gentle, pacifying kiss to her chest next to where her hand is resting. "Never better."

Holly watches her closely then as she moves her hand from where it's resting over Gail's heart, slowly trailing her fingertips down the smooth plane of Gail's stomach until they're brushing against the edge of Gail's underwear. The question lingering behind Holly's dark and wanting eyes makes Gail nod wordlessly, her stomach tightening in anticipation as Holly's hand disappears beneath the final barrier separating them.

Her body feels so sensitive to every caress Holly lavishes against her skin, and Gail's not sure she's ever felt so responsive or turned on before as she tightens her grasp on Holly's back, trying to anchor herself the best she can. Holly leans up and kisses her deep and slow, waiting until she feels the last of the lingering tension fading from Gail's body before her fingers dip down to find the slick heat between Gail's legs.

At the first touch of Holly's soft fingers against her Gail whimpers in relief, her head tipping back further into the pillow as her eyes slip closed. Holly drags her mouth along the edge of her jaw and sucks at her neck as she finds her clit with ease and works Gail up with slow, tight circles.

Her hips buck with each sweep of Holly's fingers against her, and Gail knows it's not going to take much. It feels like it's been forever since somebody last touched her, and she groans as Holly's fingers rub over her evermore firmly, her muscles starting to clench as she feels the burn low in her stomach building at an alarmingly quick rate. With another few circles of Holly's fingers against her, Gail feels herself slipping, the warmth that's been trickling through her slowly suddenly exploding inside of her and making her entire body tense as she moans deeply with her release.

Holly brings her down slowly, her fingertips dancing lightly around Gail's clit until the last of her shudders shake down her spine and Gail's forced to reach between them and grasp at Holly's wrist, groaning warningly as her body twitches in response at the lingering pressure.

She feels Holly trail aimless kisses down her neck and over her collarbones before she lifts her head to find Gail's eyes, withdrawing her hand slowly from Gail's underwear and letting it rest against Gail's stomach. It makes Gail blush instantly, feeling a little embarrassed at how quickly she came, and she darts her gaze away from Holly's as she tries to catch her breath.

Holly presses a kiss to her chin then, waiting for Gail to meet her eyes again before smiling softly. Gail swipes her tongue out to moisten her lips and bites anxiously at her bottom lip as she tries to figure out what she should say.

"Sorry," Gail whispers eventually, shyly, still unable to hold Holly's gaze for longer than a couple of seconds.

"Don't be," Holly murmurs, her eyes soft and full of affection as she shifts up enough to nudge their noses together, brushing her mouth lightly against Gail's and encouraging her into a slow kiss that Gail finds herself melting into instantly.

Holly doesn't stop kissing her until Gail feels the familiar heat building between her legs again, her hips rocking involuntarily as they search desperately for friction. She doesn't think she's ever felt so worked up over just kissing before, and it makes her whimper into Holly's mouth as Holly's hands slowly start alternating between palming over her breasts and tickling down her stomach teasingly again.

Everything feels overwhelmingly heightened; her skin feels like it's on fire as Holly teases her mouth and hands down her chest, and when she nips over the soft skin of Gail's stomach she can do nothing but quiver in anticipation and watch as Holly stares up at her promisingly.

Fingers curl around the edge of her underwear seconds later, and Gail trembles even as she lifts her hips and allows Holly to draw them down her legs. She swallows thickly, suddenly feeling overwhelmingly exposed and vulnerable, and she fights hard not to cover her face with her hands, settling for twisting her fingers into the sheets tightly as Holly continues to stare up at her.

"It's okay, I've got you," Holly murmurs reassuringly as Gail fidgets slightly under her gaze. Her mouth curves into a comforting smile that makes Gail's heart flip in her chest as she curls her fingers around Gail's ankle, tilting her head so that she can press her lips soothingly against Gail's skin.

Holly trails lingering kisses up and over her calf, each one making heat prickle along her spine, and Gail feels her breath hitch in her chest as she watches Holly repeat the process on her other leg before she slowly lowers herself against the bed. Her fingers scratch teasingly along the insides of Gail's thighs then, making Gail subconsciously spread her legs wider as Holly settles more fully between them, and she closes her eyes tightly when Holly replaces the caress of her fingers with hot, open-mouthed kisses.

Gail clenches her fingers tighter around the sheets as Holly's tongue darts out to lick over her skin and blood rushes noisily in her ears, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest as anxiousness courses through her veins with every sweep of Holly's tongue. She's never been comfortable letting guys go down on her in the past; it's always seemed unbearably intimate to her, to relinquish so much control, and be so open and exposed and utterly trusting. It's a state of vulnerability that Gail's never felt safe enough to lose herself in before, but as Holly extends her arm, reaching for Gail's hand and gently pries her grip from the sheets so that she can lace their fingers together, Gail feels an unhindered need to let Holly be the one to set her free; to see all the parts of herself that she's normally too scared to reveal.

Holly squeezes their fingers together, her eyes watching Gail's for a sign to whether she should stop or keep going, and it's the unwavering patience and understanding in Holly's eyes that makes Gail squeeze back, giving herself over to Holly completely. When Holly presses the softest kiss to her thigh then it feels like a promise that she'll look after her and Gail lets herself relax, knowing she can trust Holly entirely.

The first kiss Holly presses against Gail is so gentle that Gail whimpers as her stomach clenches tightly, her thighs trembling instinctively in anticipation. Even though she knows it's coming, it still takes Gail by surprise at the feel of Holly's tongue between her legs; warm and wet and incredibly soft against her. Holly holds Gail's gaze as she laps her tongue against her slowly, discovering all of the places that make Gail gasp and shudder as Gail's hips buck frantically into her mouth.

Holly's eyes slip shut as she hums against her appreciatively and Gail's struck with how beautiful Holly looks as she works her mouth against her, alternating between soft sucks and gentle swipes of her tongue. Her muscles clench uncontrollably, each stroke of Holly's tongue adding to the intolerably soft and deep pressure blossoming inside her, and Gail's acutely aware of how close to the edge she is again all too quickly.

Her chest feels overwhelmingly tight with the all consuming need to make it last longer; for Holly to keep touching her for as long as possible, and it makes Gail disentangle her hand from Holly's so that she can push up onto her elbows and reach down to desperately push at Holly's shoulder. It makes Holly stop immediately; her eyes fluttering back open and peering up at Gail in concern.

"What's wrong?" Holly whispers, her brow furrowed and her eyes wide as her fingers find Gail's hips and stroke gently.

"Nothing's wrong," Gail pants, struggling to calm her body and regain some control, and offering Holly a reassuring smile as she lets her fingers tangle in Holly's hair, scratching soothingly at her scalp. "Just... come here."

Holly understands her request instantly, dropping her head to press a final sweet kiss between Gail's legs before sliding back up her body. Gail wastes no time pulling her into a deep but lazy kiss and as Holly's tongue brushes softly against her own Gail moans at the taste of herself in Holly's mouth.

It seems to be the only encouragement Holly needs to slide her hand back down between them and Gail whimpers as she finds the wetness waiting between her legs; Holly's nimble fingers returning to rub slowly against her. Holly keeps kissing her as she works her fingers against her gently, even as they grow a little clumsy with Gail's increasing need to draw back and gasp.

Their foreheads bump together as Holly attempts to stay as close to Gail as she can, her eyes watching Gail the entire time and making Gail unable to look away as she strokes her hands over Holly's shoulders and down her back, trying to touch as much of Holly's smooth skin as she possibly can without breaking the position they're in.

"I want to be inside of you..." Holly pants against her mouth, her expression so soft and full of love that it makes Gail's breath catch in her chest.

She knows Holly is holding back slightly, not wanting to do anything that she isn't absolutely certain Gail trusts her to do, and it's that unconditional need in Holly's gaze, the one that lets Gail know that she wants her to feel safe and relaxed above everything else, that makes Gail swallow against the lump in her throat, nodding desperately as she manages to whimper out a broken, "Please."

The moan that spills from her mouth is throaty and deep with relief as Holly's fingers finally slip inside of her a moment later, and it feels like everything around them fades away, Gail's entire focus narrowing to the slow rhythm of Holly's fingers. Everything feels magnified then; the sounds of their breathing, ragged and gasping in the stillness of the room, and the feel of Holly's fingers stroking inside of her; a delicious ache building again and rapidly spreading through her body like fire each time her hips cant up, drawing Holly impossibly deeper.

Gail can tell she's close to falling apart again; she can feel it in the way her hips start to lose control of their rhythm against Holly's fingers and in the way her breathing grows shallower, broken gasps slipping from her mouth as her body tenses and tightens each time Holly curls her fingers just right inside of her. Holly's eyes watch her the entire time, refusing to let Gail look away for a single second as their foreheads press together, and Gail gasps into the tiny space between their mouths, their lips fluttering aimlessly against each other with every movement of Holly's fingers inside her.

She loses herself in Holly's eyes, whining low in her throat as Holly's thumb swipes against her clit each time she pushes into her, her mouth growing slack and her eyes widening as her orgasm rockets through her forcefully. Gail whimpers softly as Holly brings her down, slowing her movements to a gentle and satisfying stop as she watches the haze fade from Gail's eyes with a ridiculously fond smile.

As Gail manages a smile back, panting heavily to catch her breath and her body still twitching from the aftershocks of her orgasm, Gail can't help but feel like something inside of her has exploded; a vital part of her shattering into a million shards that only Holly will ever be able to piece back together again.

Holly's fingers start idly combing through her hair after a few moments, gently smoothing it out; it's tender and calming and utterly lovely, and Gail tries not to get too swept away with how pleasant it feels as she works her mouth over Holly's chest and softly sucks a nipple into her mouth.

She takes her time as she moves slowly down Holly's body, trailing lingering kisses and taking in every dip and curve, stopping to nuzzle her face against the silky smooth skin of Holly's stomach as she breathes her in.

Gail loves how Holly watches her with hooded eyes, a smile playing across her lips as Gail trails her curious fingertips and eager tongue over every inch of skin that she can. She likes the way she can look up at Holly as she tries something new, gauging the reactions that flash across her face, and allow herself to revel in every gasp and moan she can pull deep from Holly's mouth.

It surprises Gail a little with how much she desperately wants Holly.

She knew she wanted her before tonight, but she wasn't aware of just how much sliding her hands over Holly's naked skin and hearing Holly sigh softly would make her ache deeply with the need for more. Every part of Holly she touches leaves her wanting to explore further; it feels like a craving that Gail yearns to satisfy as she maps out the slender curves and soft contours of Holly's body with her hands and mouth.

"Tell me what you want," Gail murmurs against her skin, pressing sporadic open-mouthed kisses over Holly's ribs and across her stomach, unable to get enough of the way Holly's muscles clench in anticipation beneath her lips.

Holly hisses as Gail nips at her hip before soothing the mark with her tongue. "Just you," Holly hums happily, lifting her hips and letting Gail draw her underwear down her legs, Gail's fingertips wasting no time trickling teasingly back up over her skin.

It's not exactly what she meant, and Gail knows Holly's aware of that, but as Holly reaches down to lovingly brush her fingertips against her cheek, Gail finds her simple request to be more than enough. It makes her slide back up Holly's body, ducking her head with the urgent need to feel Holly's lips against her own.

Fingers trace down her spine, making her shiver, and Gail teases her tongue against the shell of Holly's ear, sucking the lobe into her mouth as she feels Holly's hips rocking up against her thigh, desperately seeking friction of some kind.

"You're driving me crazy, Gail," Holly pants against her ear as Gail bites at her neck, her fingers digging harder into Gail's back as she clutches at her tighter.

The husky and needy timbre in Holly's voice boosts Gail's confidence and she finds her fingers sliding down between Holly's legs before she can stop them. Holly's impossibly wet and warm under her touch, and it makes Gail moan as her fingers fumble against Holly's clit, searching to find a rhythm.

Holly gasps in response to the sudden pressure against her and Gail feels Holly's body trembling beneath her as she keeps stroking her fingers over her, again and again and again.

"Fuck, baby," Holly whimpers, her eyes fluttering closed and her cheeks flushing heatedly. "You're gonna make me come."

Gail moans in response to Holly's confession and dares to dip her fingers lower, pushing inside Holly with ease, and gasping at how tight Holly feels as she clenches around her. It's like nothing she's ever felt before and Gail has to force herself to focus so that she doesn't stutter and stop in amazement.

"You feel so good, Hol," Gail murmurs against her cheek, pressing kisses wherever she can and slowly starting to move inside her when Holly's hips twitch against her hand. "So fucking good."

It takes Gail a little by surprise then when Holly draws her leg up against her side, her hand grasping at Gail's ass and pulling her even closer. Gail shifts a little at the added contact, and it forces a low and deep moan up from Holly's chest as Gail's fingers push into her just right.

Holly's skin feels soft and increasingly familiar against her own and it makes Gail melt into her further, feeling like she's exactly where she's meant to be. She works her fingers inside Holly with more determination, wanting nothing more than to feel Holly coming undone against her hand.

Gail lifts her head as Holly's body starts hitching in time with her breath, watching every nuance of her face carefully and aching desperately to see the exact moment when Holly breaks. It doesn't take much, and with a few more strokes of her fingers, her thumb bumping clumsily over Holly's clit, she feels Holly body bow up into her as she clenches tightly around her fingers and comes apart.

Warmth spreads through her chest at the feeling of Holly coming around her and Gail can only blink in awe, wanting to remember everything about the way Holly looks and sounds and feels as her body continues shuddering even as Gail slows her movements.

Holly's eyes flutter open once her body has dropped sated and limp against the bed, and Gail feels her mouth curling into an unstoppable smile as their gaze meets. Holly bites at her lip shyly, unable to contain her own smile for too long as Gail nuzzles their noses together affectionately.

"Hi," Holly murmurs happily, stroking her hands up and down Gail's back and keeping her close.

"Hey," Gail breathes back, unable to stop smiling as she lets her eyes trail over Holly's face, taking a second just to memorise Holly's content smile and adoring eyes so that she won't ever forget a single thing about the beautiful moment they've just shared.

She stirs awake slowly; her eyelids fluttering open at the delicate pressure of a nose nuzzling gently into the crook of her neck and soft lips starting to trail light, lingering kisses over the back of her shoulders. It makes Gail smile sleepily; sighing happily at the feeling of Holly spooned tightly against her, her body warm and soft in all the places they're pressed together.

Holly hums quietly into the nape of her neck as Gail draws their hands up from where they're resting against her stomach to settle between her breasts, tangling their fingers together and encouraging Holly to press closer still.

Her body hums pleasantly, her muscles aching and sated in the best possible way, and Gail finds herself letting her eyes close, not wanting to leave this wonderful cocoon they're created for themselves a second before she absolutely has to.

Holly curls her leg over Gail's, accepting her request to bask in their afterglow for a little longer, and nuzzles her face against Gail's shoulder, breathing her in and squeezing their fingers together gently.

They stay lying there, wrapped together contentedly in the silence until the sun creeps in through the blinds and illuminates the room brightly. When Gail feels Holly pressing her lips to the spot below her ear, she forces her eyes back open and turns slightly in Holly's arms until she can meet her gaze.

"Hey," Gail rasps, her mouth curling into an instant smile as Holly's face softens fondly.

Holly's eyes trail over her face then, stopping as they settle on her lips. "Hey."

Her voice is low and husky in a way that has nothing to do with being tired, and it makes a dull burn creep into Gail's stomach as she tilts her head to nudge their noses together. Holly closes the remaining distance between them quickly, her mouth finding Gail's and kissing her soft and slow.

It brings memories of the previous night flooding back to her and it makes Gail's breath hitch in her chest, a soft gasp muffled against Holly's lips. Holly reluctantly pulls back just enough to find her eyes and smiles lovingly at her.

"You're beautiful," Holly murmurs unexpectedly, making heat spread across Gail's cheeks in a rosy blush.

She flicks her eyes away from Holly's bashfully, but Holly refuses to let her escape so easily and shifts them so that Gail is laying flat on her back with Holly hovering over her. Her fingertips trace delicately over Gail's eyebrows, down her nose, across her cheeks, stroking along her jaw until she's brushing the pad of her thumb over Gail's bottom lip.

"You're beautiful," Holly repeats softly, her eyes full of wonder like she can't quite believe that Gail's really there with her and it makes Gail's heart beat rapidly in her chest. "I wanted to tell you last night but you kind of distracted me... a lot."

Gail quirks an eyebrow at that and smiles proudly. "What can I say, you're very easily distracted Dr Stewart."

"Oh, is that so?" Holly teases, stroking her fingertips up and down Gail's chest and brushing against Gail's nipples, making her hiss at the touch. Holly laughs at that and draws her hand down the plane of Gail's stomach, tickling gently. "Now who's easily distracted?"

"I resent that," Gail snarks, fighting back a smile even as she reaches down to cover Holly's hand and encourage her lower. She moans the second Holly's fingers rub against her, her hips twitching away at how sensitive she still feels and she grasps at Holly's wrist to make her stop.

Holly smirks, her eyes knowing, and lets Gail pull her hand away. "Too much?"

Gail bites at her bottom lip shyly and nods, feeling a flush spreading across her chest and creeping up her neck. "I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to get up for work, my legs feel like jelly."

"You're welcome," Holly grins smugly, chuckling when Gail playfully shoves at her shoulder and pouts. It only serves to make Holly laugh more, ducking her head and kissing Gail deeply and lazily until she feels Gail melting into it.

The alarm buzzing on Gail's phone forces them apart and Gail groans in annoyance as she reaches over to turn it off before reaching for Holly again, tangling her fingers in her hair. "I'm not ready for this moment to be over," Gail confesses in a whisper, making Holly smile softly. "I like our bubble; I want to hold onto it for as long as possible."

"Me too," Holly sighs happily, and then suddenly, "Oh, I have something for you."

She's up and out of the bed before Gail can protest, and Gail pushes herself up onto her elbows so she can watch Holly's naked body moving shamelessly around the room as she searches for whatever it is she's suddenly remembered.

"Most people just leave money on the nightstand," Gail jokes as she watches Holly root around in her closet, frowning when she doesn't find what she's after. "Come back to bed Hol," Gail pleads, missing the warmth of Holly's body already. "We still have twenty minutes; you can find whatever you're looking for later."

"Hold on just a second," Holly says, her back turned to Gail as she quickly goes through her chest of drawers, turning back to Gail with a triumphant smile as she clutches a neatly wrapped gift.

Gail's eyebrows knit together in confusion as Holly crawls back onto the bed, placing the gift in Gail's lap and smiling at her like she's supposed to know what's going on. "Is this a 'thanks for the amazing sex' gift?" Gail asks as she traces her finger across the top of it. "Because I think you already thanked me enough last night; I was serious about my legs feeling like jelly, you know."

Holly rolls her eyes but smiles at Gail's attempt to deflect the inevitable and nudges the gift further into Gail's hands. "Stop talking and just open it, Gail. It's nothing embarrassing or horrible... well; at least I hope you won't think it's horrible. I've been meaning to give it to you all week, but things got crazy and-" Holly waves her hand in the air dismissively, stopping her nervous ramble when Gail looks at her pointedly. "Just, open it, okay."

Gail breathes in deeply, feeling a little anxious as her fingers work the paper off carefully. It feels a little odd to get a gift out of the blue from Holly – they haven't really done the whole, showering each other with random trinkets thing – but as she removes the last of the paper and takes in the picture on the box, she feels her breath catching in her chest and an unexpected lump forming in her throat.

Holly watches her quietly as she turns the box around in her hands, taking it all in, and she feels her eyes stinging a little at the overwhelming emotions that flood through her. She flicks her eyes to Holly's and opens and closes her mouth silently, the words she wants to stay getting lost on her tongue.

"Baby..." Holly murmurs soothingly, reaching to cup her face and brushing her thumb beneath Gail's eye to wipe away her tears.

"You bought me a camera," Gail finally chokes out, her eyes darting between Holly and the box in disbelief.

"I didn't mean to upset you," Holly rushes, her forehead creasing worriedly. "I just- we talked about it that time and you seemed like you really loved taking photographs, and so I just thought that if I got you the camera, you might, maybe, start wanting to take them again. Just play around with it..." She shakes her head when Gail does nothing more than blink back at her and place the box at her side. "You don't have to though, if you don't want. I can take it back. I wasn't trying to push or pressure you or anything I just-"

Gail reaches for Holly's face and pulls her forward, cutting Holly off as their lips crash together in a desperate kiss. She brushes her tongue into Holly's mouth slowly, hoping to convey all the things she's just failed to say. Holly looks dazed when they break apart, blinking at her in confusion, and it reminds Gail so much of the first kiss they shared in the interrogation-room all those months ago that she can't help but smile.

"I'm sorry," Gail breathes against Holly's mouth, her hands keeping Holly close. "You just had to stop talking."

She watches as Holly's face relaxes then, her mouth curling into a relieved smile as she flicks her eyes between Gail's knowingly. "I won't say another word."

Gail leans in and kisses her again; slow and deep, taking her time to marvel in the suppleness of Holly's lips sliding against her own. It makes her stomach flutter uncontrollably just like it had that very first time; just like it has every single time Holly's kissed her since then. It's a feeling that's become so familiar to her that Gail's starting to get used to the way her heart feels like it's going to explode in her chest whenever Holly so much as looks at her.

"Thank you," Gail says when they finally break apart, her eyes still a little disbelieving as they flick down to the box. "I can't actually believe you bought me a camera. It's- I can't wait to use it."

"Really?" Holly asks, a lingering uncertainty in her eyes.

"Really," Gail nods, smiling brightly. "I meant what I said, I'm not ready for this moment to be over just yet..." She lets her sentence hang in the air as she opens the box and pulls the camera out, her heart swelling with affection for Holly as her fingers find the switch and turn it on. "...and now this can help me hold onto it forever."

She holds the camera up to her face, directing the lens at Holly laying sprawled happily across the bed; the sheets tangled messily around her body, her hair wild and her face expressing nothing but unbridled love and happiness as she smiles shyly up at Gail.

"You're stunning," Gail tells her, and although the image is already imprinted firmly in her mind, she presses the shutter-release and relishes in the click of the camera echoing around the room.

The fact that she ends up being fifteen minutes late for her shift doesn't bother Gail in slightest; not when she spent the majority of those extra minutes showering with Holly in a way that involved deep kisses and more touching then was strictly necessary.

She doesn't even flinch when Frank calls her out as she shuffles into the parade room just as everybody else is beginning to head out, shaking his head with a simple but stern, "Desk duty, Peck."

Oliver raises his eyebrows and whistles as he catches her gaze. "I hope you were late for a good reason, Peck, because now I have to ride with Epstein, and you know how much I hate the way he always monopolises the radio."

"Wish I could apologise and mean it, Ollie, but I just can't," Gail says, trying to fight back a smile as her minds flashes with thoughts of Holly with her head tipped back against the shower-wall, moaning throatily as Gail thanked her properly for the camera.

Oliver narrows his eyes at her but doesn't say anything about her unusually chirpy comment. Instead he pulls a piece of paper from his pocket and hands it to her. "Celery, wants you to call her to arrange a night for a double date; she says you've been keeping Doctor Holly to yourself far too much and now it's time to share."

"I'll call her, I promise," Gail tells him with a smile. He pats her shoulder in acknowledgement as he calls out for Dov, instantly launching into a jovial set of rules about what radio-stations can be listened to in his squad car and what can't.

Luckily, the rest of her morning passes fairly quietly, only a handful of people coming to the front desk to report stolen goods or petty crimes. Gail spends the rest of her time that she should be using to fill in paperwork by zoning out to thoughts of Holly.

Holly's mouth and Holly's hands trailing over her skin; Holly's eyes fluttering closed in pleasure as Gail works her hand between her legs; Holly panting against her mouth as she tightens around Gail's fingers, whimpering as she-

"Are you feeling okay?" Traci interrupts, eyeing her warily as she leans against the desk. "You look a little peachy."

Gail blinks rapidly and clears her throat, trying to ignore the way her face feels like it's on fire. "I'm fine." Traci raises her eyebrow suspiciously and Gail finds herself growing panicked and agitated. "Some gross, crusty, old guy was just in here a few minutes ago, he smelt like musty week-old piss and it made me gag a little, okay? Jesus."

"Okay, chill, Gail," Traci says, holding her hands up in surrender. "I only came over here to see if you wanted to grab lunch but if you're in this kind of mood maybe we should leave it."

Gail sighs as Traci spins on her heel and starts to walk away. "Traci, wait. I'm sorry," Gail apologises as she hurries after her. Traci turns to her pointedly and Gail shrugs sheepishly. "Lunch would be nice if you still want to go? My treat."

"You're lucky I have a soft spot for Pecks," Traci tells her as she nods her head towards the locker-room. "Oh, how about we try that sushi place on King that you so desperately wanted to take me too way back in our first year?"

"Why do you make it sound like I was hitting on you?" Gail scoffs, following Traci into the locker-room.

"I'm not the one who got all flustered while trying to ask a girl out for a bite to eat," Traci teases, winking at her and making Gail glare. Traci laughs at her then. "Don't get all cranky, I think it's cute that I was your first lady-crush."

"My first lady-" Gail echoes exasperatedly, shaking her head and refusing to finish the sentence. "I'm not even going to dignify that insanity with a response. Well... except to say I don't think I want to have lunch with you at all now, you bitch."

Traci smirks, reaching out to rub her arm playfully. "Come on, Gail, we can still be friends," she pleads dramatically.

"Don't touch me," Gail bites mockingly, pretending to flinch away as she fights back an amused smile. "You had your chance with the hotter Peck, Nash, and you turned me down. Now you'll have to make do with Steve and-"

"Do I even want to know what's going on?" Noelle asks, looking between them as she stands awkwardly in the doorway. Gail glances at Traci, feeling a little embarrassed that they've been caught goofing around, but Traci simply laughs and shakes her head.

"Gail's just taking me out for lunch, aren't you, pookie?" Traci teases, making Gail elbow her in the side in retaliation. "Ouch. That hurt."

"Good," Gail snipes, grabbing her jacket from her locker and nodding at Noelle awkwardly. "You could join us if you want...?"

Noelle shakes her head. "I'm good, Peck, but thanks."

Gail turns back to Traci with a glare. "Come on already, I'm hungry."

"So demanding," Traci mutters as she shrugs into her own jacket, saying goodbye to Noelle and following Gail out to her car. "I don't know how Holly puts up with you sometimes."

"It's clearly my winning, charming, personality," Gail fires back. "And the fact that I'm super hot always helps."

Traci laughs at that. "You are so full of yourself."

"Ah, but you didn't object to it," Gail grins cheekily, wiggling her eyebrows. "Now who has a lady-crush, Trace?"

"Just shut up and drive, Gail."

"Gail..." Traci repeats again, a littler harsher this time as she tries to get her attention. "I think your mom just came in."

"What?" Gail blinks, glancing up from her phone with wide eyes as she glances around. "She's not actually here is she?" Traci shakes her head and Gail presses her mouth together in a tight smile. "Sorry."

"Seriously, what is with you today?" Traci demands, staring at Gail expectantly as she drops her gaze briefly back down to her phone as it vibrates in her hand, biting at her lip to try and contain her smile as she reads over Holly's simple text of 'I miss you x'. "You haven't stopped smiling since we got here," Traci continues. "Not even when that guy accidentally bumped into you and spilled coffee on your shoes on the way in. It's starting to freak me out a little."

"Nothing's going on with me; can't I just be in a good mood?" Gail retorts, blushing hard a second later when Holly follows her text up with another; 'I can't focus today, all I can think about is you and how beautiful you look when you come x'.

"Oh my god," Traci breathes out, making Gail look up at her in time to see the realisation creeping across her face, her lips curling into a knowing smirk. "You slept with Holly, didn't you?"

"Shh," Gail hushes, glancing around and catching a teenage boy smirking his approval as he gives her a thumbs up. She glares until he looks away and then turns her eyes back to Traci. "Thanks for saying that as loud as possible, Nash."

Traci just ignores her and keeps smirking. "I don't know how I missed it earlier; I mean you're practically glowing." Gail cocks her head to the side and quirks her eyebrow. "Well, even more than you usually do," Traci jokes, making Gail roll her eyes. "So, how was it? I'm guessing the non-stop smiling means it went well and all your nerves were for nothing?"

"It was..." Gail stutters, fumbling for words to describe just how safe and loved Holly had made her feel. "...really, really, intense."

"That good, huh?" Traci teases, watching as Gail's cheek flush even redder.

"I've never had sex like that before in my life; everything just felt so... right," Gail confesses shyly, watching as Traci's eyes widen in surprise that she's actually answering seriously before they soften at Gail's comment. It makes Gail avert her gaze and shake her head in embarrassment as she quickly sits up taller, straightening her shoulders. "God, I sound so cheesy, like I'm in one of those tacky romantic-comedies, it's gross."

"It's a little cheesy," Traci agrees playfully, flashing Gail a smile. "But, if being with Holly truly makes you feel that way, then that's really wonderful, Gail. It's nice to finally see you so happy."

Gail smiles at that, and then waves a hand in the air and says, "Enough about me. How was your weekend?"

"My weekend was... interesting to say the least," Traci chuckles, letting Gail easily move the conversation on. "Steve introduced me to Mama and Papa Peck."

Gail blanches at that, her brow furrowing in shock. "What? When? Are you okay?"

"Well, I'm still alive and breathing," Traci says with a sly smile, reaching out to pat Gail's hand when her face creases anxiously. "Gail, I'm joking. I can't say Steve didn't surprise me with the fact we were going to have dinner at your parents' house, but it actually went okay; good even. Your dad was a sweetheart and your mom was perfectly pleasant."

"'Perfectly pleasant'?" Gail echoes, looking unconvinced. "That's a polite way of saying she was civil and nothing more."

"Let's just say she certainly lives up to her fierce reputation," Traci returns with a laugh. "She quizzed me but not with anything too obnoxious. It did feel a little like she'd read up on me though; she commented a lot on my work and even brought up Leo."

Gail frowns, sighing heavily, and hopes that her mother hadn't been too damn rude to her friend in her attempt to figure her out in her classic blunt and intruding way. "I'm sorry, Traci."

"Don't be sorry, it wasn't as bad as I was thought it would be," Traci says honestly, giving Gail a smile. "She's a lot to take, but I feel like the stories I'd heard from you and Steve helped me prepare the best I could. I think if anything Steve was the one who left feeling a little shaken-up. She made me show her photos of Leo and started making off-handed comments about wanting grandchildren in the not so distant future."

"Oh god, poor Steve," Gail laughs. "Now that idea's in her head it's all she's going to pester him about." She pins Traci with a serious look and deadpans, "Good luck with that, baby-mama."

"Nope, not happening again anytime soon, thank you very much," Traci says, shaking her head, and then, "Oh, and I should warn you that she was fishing for info on your mystery doctor. I deflected the best I could – including kicking Steve under the table to remind him to keep his big mouth shut at one point – but she's definitely getting impatient."

Gail feels her stomach knotting and her chest tightening anxiously at the news. She knows she's been more than lucky lately in keeping her mother out of her love life. It was inevitable really that her curious and overbearing attitude was bound to resurface sooner than later, and unfortunately, it looks like later is now.

"Thanks for not saying anything to her," Gail breathes, reaching up to rub at her neck.

"Of course," Traci replies, looking over at Gail carefully. "Have you and Holly talked about the whole, meeting the parents thing, yet?"

"No, not really," Gail says, wringing her hands together and taking a deep breath. "I know it's time to tell them, and I do want them to know about Holly and about us, and that I'm happy but I'm just worried my mom will... I dunno, scare her off or something." Gail purses her lips together, her shoulders sagging as she thinks about every time she's taken a boyfriend home to meet her parents; her mom was certainly not the warm and welcoming type, and most of the guys didn't make it back a second time. "I mean, you've seen firsthand how in your face she can be; that's a lot to deal with."

"She is a little overbearing, I'll give you that," Traci concedes. "But, Gail, Holly's crazy about you. She's a smart, tough woman; she's not going to let an awkward introduction with your parents scare her off. You should have some faith in her, even if you can't in your mom."

"I do have faith in her," Gail replies resolutely. "It's just... Holly gets nervous and starts talking like crazy – you've seen it – and my mom would rip into her like a lioness attacking its weak and helpless prey if that happened. I don't want her upsetting Holly or making her feel bad. Things are going so amazing for us right now, and I don't want my parents poking holes in that if I can avoid it."

"I get where you're coming from, Gail, it's a big step," Traci reassures her softly. "But you can't avoid it forever, especially if this thing between you and Holly is serious."

"Of course it's serious," Gail snaps back, feeling her spine prickling defensively even if she knows Traci doesn't mean it like that. "She's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I just don't want my parents ruining it."

"You and Holly won't let that happen." Traci reaches out and covers her hand, squeezing gently to calm her. "Parents just want their children to be happy in life, and if Holly's the reason behind your happiness, your mom will see that and she'll be happy for you."

"I hope so," Gail sighs, leaning back heavily in her seat and wishing she could let herself truly believe that.

Chapter Text

Gail drops her pen down onto her paperwork and leans back into her chair, rubbing a hand over her weary eyes before stifling a yawn. She glances at her phone, checking the time, and when she realises that Holly will be finishing up in the lab for the day, she quickly sends her a text – 'I haven't seen you all week and I miss your face; can I come over when I finish my shift? x'.

Although she feels utterly exhausted from spending most nights of the last few weeks after her shift in evening classes preparing her application for the detective rotation and her body wants nothing more than to go home, fall into bed and sleep for days, Gail can't ignore the need she has to see Holly. Normally a week wouldn't seem so long for Gail to be apart from somebody, but there's a dull ache in her chest that has refused to fade away and only seems to increase the longer she's away from Holly's soothing presence. She misses Holly's lopsided smile, and her sweet kisses, and the way she can make everything else around Gail fall away so that her entire existence is made up of nothing but the two of them; she desperately wants to crawl inside their bubble and stay there for a good, long while.

Holly's reply comes back quickly – 'You better because I'm starting to forget what you look like! Can't wait to see you, Hx'. Gail smiles to herself at Holly's teasing remark. She knows Holly understands how crazy both of their jobs can be sometimes, and it's that understanding and encouragement that has allowed her to stay so focused this time around and get her application submitted well on time.

She finishes up her report as quickly as she can, not wanting to stay at the station for a second longer than she has to – eager to get to Holly the minute she can – and only falters in her path towards the locker-room when Frank pops out of his office and stares directly at her.

"Peck, a word before you leave," he says, waiting until she nods wordlessly before disappearing back inside.

Gail closes her eyes and takes a moment to take a couple of deep breathes to steady her nerves before heading up to his office. She likes Frank a lot, she thinks he's a good staff-sergeant and she respects him a great deal, but even though she was part of his plan to propose to Noelle and she's seen him dance and joke around at his wedding, a large part of Gail is always reminded that he's her superior; her superior who, unfortunately for Gail, has her interfering mother as his own superior. It's that little piece of knowledge that always puts Gail on edge around him.

She knocks once on the door to announce her arrival and stands patiently in front of Frank's desk as he finishes typing something on his computer, trying to ignore the way she can feel her pulse hammering anxiously in her neck.

"You can sit, Peck," he tells her when he finally flicks his gaze her way, and waits until she does so before pulling a file out from his top draw and placing it on the desk between them. "As you know, I've spent the last couple of days considering the applications for the next detective rotation carefully and after some serious consideration; I'm offering it to you if you want it."

Gail blinks disbelievingly and purses her lips together as she stares at her application. She darts her tongue out to moisten her lips, swallowing the lump in her throat before she looks up at him. "I want it. It's just..." she trails off, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth as she weighs up exactly how to ask what she wants to ask without crossing a line.

"Peck?" Frank prompts, leaning back in his chair and studying her carefully.

"Did my mom have any input on your decision?" Gail blurts, needing to know.

She's somehow managed to avoid her mother – especially since her conversation with Traci – but that doesn't mean she hasn't received her emails and texts, reminding Gail that the application period was drawing to a close and not so subtly hinting that she'd be having a word with 'Frankie' next time she was at the station. No matter how hard she's tried, Gail can't help but be aware of her mother's ever lingering shadow hovering over her and whispering in her ear that she has to uphold the Peck name; that screwing up her career any more than she already has is completely unacceptable.

She tries not to let it get to her as much these days, especially with Holly reminding her that she can only try her best, but Gail knows that simply trying will never be enough in her mother's eyes and only achieving will actually do. While most parts of her want to rebel against her mother's standards and be proud of what she's managed to achieve for herself, there's still a small, childish part of her that wants her mom's approval.

Gail's aware that it's a walking contradiction, but with the notion that she'll have to introduce Holly to her parents soon she wants to have something impressive under her belt, something that her mother can hold onto and focus on if there's any fallout from making her affections for Holly known, and she knows her rotation won't hold as much value if her mother's insistence is the reason behind her getting it. She needs to know that she didn't just get it because her mommy said she had to have it.

"Because as much as I want this..." Gail continues, not able to stop now that she's started. "...if she's been trying to pressure you to give me special treatment because I'm a Peck then you should give it to another candidate. I only want this if you think I'm truly the best prospect."

Frank studies her quietly for several long seconds, his jaw set tightly and his expression unreadable, and Gail feels a prickle of anxiety crawling up her spine. She lowers her head, feeling foolish and uncomfortable for even daring to ask and tries to find the words to apologise without making things worse.

"Why did you apply last time, Gail?" Frank asks, just as she opens her mouth to say sorry for her outburst.

Gail blinks at him a few times and shrugs, deciding to try and save face by being honest. "Because I'm a Peck and it was expected of me."

"Last time you applied on the final day I was accepting applications and you filled it in half-heartedly," Franks says, keeping his gaze locked on her and making Gail feel ashamed. "You didn't really want it and it showed. That's why I gave it to, Nash. She worked hard and she wanted it, and her application reflected that."

Gail nods, knowing it's the truth. "You made the right choice, sir. She did deserve it more than me."

Frank smiles wryly at her and leans his elbows on his desk. "Speaking honestly, I think we both know Superintendent Peck voiced her opinion on who I should choose. Both times. But I would hope that you know me well enough by now, Peck, to know that regardless of any suggestions I may or may not have received, that I'm going to pick who I want and who works best for the benefit of my division."

"Of course, sir," Gail replies hastily, feeling panicked, like she's backed herself into a very tight corner that she can't escape without causing more damage. "I'm sorry I implied otherwise, it's just my mom-"

"Now, with that being said," Frank continues, ignoring Gail's apology. "Do you think for even a second that my decision to choose you this time wasn't based solely on your own merit?"

"I'm sorry," Gail repeats, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment. "I was out of line. It's just that being a Peck, and coming through the academy and even being a rookie here at 15, everyone assumes I get favours because of my parents and I hate it." Gail shrugs, feeling small and hopeless as she glances up at Frank. "I work just as hard as everybody else and I want to feel like I got this because I was the top pick. I want my fellow officers to think I've earned it, and not look at me like I'm just a white-shirt waiting to happen."

Frank hums his acknowledgment and closes the folder that contains her application. It makes Gail's stomach drop, and the only thing she can think of as she shakes her head in scolding at herself for being so stupid and opening her big mouth is that she's blown her one and only chance.

"Gail, if your last name was Smith or Jones I still would have given it to you," Frank says, nodding his head slightly as Gail looks up at him, a hint of disbelief lingering in her eyes. "This time I can see that you've worked hard and that you really want it. You're a good officer, Gail, and you've earned your right to be here just as much as anybody else."

Gail smiles softly at him, appreciating his words dearly. "Thank you, sir. I promise I'm going to work hard."

"I believe it," he nods and taps his finger against the closed folder. "Callaghan and Swarek both think you've got potential based on how they've seen you work out in the field. We've all been impressed by you, Gail, not your last name," Frank reassures, and then smiles to himself. "I should warn you that I had to persuade Oliver to loosen his hold on you; he's had you pegged down to be a T.O. since the moment you walked through the door."

"I'm not ruling becoming a T.O. out," Gail returns honestly, feeling a rush of fondness for Oliver. "I just want to experience as much as I can."

From the moment they had set foot in 15 Division they had all known that the senior offices placed bets on where their rookies would end up, and Gail knows that most people just immediately and thoughtlessly put her down to be a white-shirt. For Oliver to have looked past the Peck name that early on, before he even really knew her as a person and deemed her to be a future T.O. warms Gail's heart. It might not be as glamorous or as admired as other units in the police force but after walking the streets Gail has the utmost respect for the likes of Oliver and Noelle, and she knows just how hard they really work; they're the true heart and soul of the police force in her opinion, and she feels honoured that Oliver thinks that's where she belongs.

(It also gives Gail a wry sort of satisfaction knowing that if she were ever to settle on becoming a T.O. and continue to patrol the streets, her mother would have an absolute fit).

"As you rightfully should, Peck." Franks agrees, and then turns to flick through a pile of paperwork until he finds what he's looking for and slides it across the desk towards Gail. "You start in a couple of months once all the paper work is processed. As for Ollie, I recommend buying him those doughnuts with the sprinkles when you tell him."

Gail breathes out a laugh as she rises from her seat and accepts Frank's handshake. "Thank you for the opportunity, sir, I won't let you down."

Frank holds onto her hand for a second longer than necessary, keeping their eyes locked together as he says, "You're the first to know about my decision, Peck, so who, when, and how you tell people is up to you."

He releases Gail's hand then with a knowing look, and it makes Gail flash him one final, appreciative smile before she turns and leaves his office. She knows the first call she makes should be to her mother, who will undoubtedly be eagerly awaiting to hear the news about whether her daughter has finally managed to achieve a better title than 'screw-up' of the Peck family, but as Gail pulls her phone from her pocket and scrolls through her contacts – despite the burning urge to brag to her mother about her newly earned position – there's only one person she really, truly, wants to share the good news with.

Holly picks up after the first ring, and Gail smiles into the phone, skipping a greeting altogether and simply says, "I got it."

"I knew you would," Holly replies without missing a beat, her voice laced with affection and certainty, and it makes Gail's heart flutter that there's never once been a second of doubt in Holly's belief in her. "I think we need to celebrate, don't you, Detective?"

Gail feels heat blossom low in her stomach as Holly purrs her new title in a way that Gail can only describe as irresistibly seductive, and somehow the exhaustion that's plagued her body all day is replaced by a thrumming need coursing through her veins.

"Yeah," Gail mumbles back, licking at her lips as her minds drifts to thoughts of stripping Holly naked and having her way with her.

"Well, it's your night, baby, what do you want to do?" Holly hums proudly.

Gail smirks, loving the way Holly switches from sexy and teasing to sweet and kind in the blink of an eye, knowing that even though Holly acts coy and innocent, she knows exactly what she's doing to Gail. Normally Gail would play along and skirt around what she really wants with just enough suggestive comments to enjoy watching the effects her teasing has on Holly in return, but tonight she can't help but go straight after what she really wants.

"You," Gail rasps into the phone, hearing Holly's breath catch at her honesty. "Just you, Hol."

There's a pause on the line and Gail wonders momentarily if she's been cut off, but then Holly just husks, "I'm already in bed waiting for you, Detective" and that's all it takes for Gail to curse under her breath as she fumbles to get into her car, telling Holly not to start the celebration without her.

She sees Holly already waiting outside the lab for her when she pulls up on Friday evening after her shift, duffle bag waiting at her feet and glasses pushed up onto her head. She looks cute, all wrapped up in a big baggy sweater with her nose looking a little red from standing out in the cold for just a little too long, and it makes Gail's heart swell in her chest at how effortlessly beautiful Holly manages to look regardless of the situation.

"Forget the bag, where's my hello," Holly says the moment Gail steps out of the car, politely reaching for Holly's heavy looking bag instantly, stopping only when Holly curls her fingers into her coat and tugs her forward until their noses are brushing together. Gail rolls her eyes playfully, relenting only when Holly pouts out her bottom lip demandingly, and presses a lingering kiss to her lips.

"Hey," Gail murmurs against her mouth as she pulls back, flashing Holly a smile before pulling out of her grasp and moving around the car to place her bag in the trunk.

"Are you going to tell me where we're going yet?" Holly asks as she settles into the passenger seat and buckles her belt, turning to look at Gail with pleading, puppy-dog eyes.

It's the same look she's been giving Gail for the past two weeks since she asked Holly to book some time off work, telling her she had a surprise in store for her. It's a mixture of excitement and anticipation, and the playful frustration that comes from being continually teased but never told enough to truly piece together the clues.

"Nope," Gail chimes, making the 'p' pop, and breaking into a smile when Holly mock scowls at her and reaches over to pinch at her thigh to show her disappointment.

"If this is a dirty weekend away you're going to be totally underwhelmed by my underwear selection," Holly says once they've been on the road for about ten minutes, taking Gail out of her quiet focus and making her grin in amusement. "You need to give a girl more hints about where she's going if she's to properly and appropriately prepare for this sort of thing."

Gail laughs then, flicking her eyes across to Holly. "I love how I tell you to pack a bag for a surprise weekend away and you just immediately assume it's a dirty getaway. I'm not sure if that says more about you or me."

Holly quirks her eyebrow, cocking her head to the side as she smirks. "Gail, you're the most incorrigible person I've ever known. I've had more sex in the last few weeks than I have in the past couple of years; it's definitely more about you."

"I should get some kind of stud, baby-gay, bonus points for that, I think," Gail says smugly, winking at Holly and making her laugh.

Holly reaches her hand across and lets her fingertips trace idle patterns on Gail's thigh. "All I'm saying is that we've spent a lot of naked time together lately-"

"Are you complaining?" Gail asks, glancing down at where Holly's hand is before flicking her eyes up to Holly's playfully. "Because it really doesn't feel like you are."

"You know I'm not," Holly murmurs, her voice dropping low as her fingers scratch against the inseam of Gail's jeans teasingly, making Gail's leg twitch under her touch. "I just figured dirty weekend away was the obvious guess here."

Gail's lips twist together as she bobs her head from side to side considering the truth behind Holly's words. "I guess it is the obvious guess given how hot I am and how badly you suck at keeping your hands off me," Gail relents, flicking her eyes over to hold Holly's mischievously. "But... that's not what this weekend was supposed to be. Although I have no objections to spending as much naked time with you as possible."

Holly smirks, her hand sliding down to Gail's knee and squeezing. "If you tell me where we're going I may be more inclined not to withhold sex."

"Withhold sex?" Gail repeats, her mouth curling into a sly smile as her eyebrow rises flirtatiously. "I'm not the only one in the car who's incorrigible; may I remind you who seduced who last night?"

"Gail..." Holly whines, jutting her bottom lip out into a pout again, knowing that she can't win when Gail is deflecting so elegantly.

There's something utterly enjoyable about watching Holly become increasingly antsy. Her normally cool, calm, and collected facade swept away easily with a few well timed teasing comments. Gail can't stop herself from breaking into a smile, loving the way that Holly can always play along with her and not take everything in life so damn seriously. For the first time in her life Gail feels like she's in a relationship that spends the majority of its time in the light as opposed to the dark, and Gail knows it's partly due to the way they've grown into each other; comfortable enough to banter and tease without the fear of upset.

Gail sighs dramatically for effect then. "I'm taking you the Peck family cottage," she relents, letting her mouth curve up into a smile when she sees the excitement flash in Holly's eyes.

She knows Holly's been eager to go ever since she filled her in on her Grams and part of her childhood, and although the Peck family cottage is normally under a strict 'Pecks only' policy, Gail feels like she wants to share it with Holly. It's an important part of who she was; the early building blocks that helped shape her into what she's become, and if she can give Holly just that little bit more insight into who she is, Gail's more than willing to do it. She wants Holly to know all the parts that make her up, even if some of the pieces are a little worn and ripped and don't fit quite as easily as the rest. And after successfully managing to bribe Steve into stealing the key from their parents house, and convincing Holly to take some time off work to spend the weekend away with her, here they are; Holly smiling brightly and practically bouncing in her seat at the news, and Gail feeling pleased with her idea but also a tad anxious at returning to the place that used to feel like a second home to her.

"See, this totally has a dirty weekend away vibe; Gail Peck taking me to her family's special cottage to ravish me in her childhood bed," Holly taunts, her hand slipping back up to Gail's thigh and squeezing.

Gail smiles in response and shakes her head. "I may be the best sex you've ever had, Dr Stewart, but I was actually trying to be all sweet and romantic."

"I thought you didn't do romantic?" Holly teases, and Gail chooses to ignore the jibe and focuses instead on feeling a smug surge of pride settle in her chest that Holly hasn't refuted her comment about her lady-loving skills.

"Yeah, well..." Gail shrugs then as she trails off uncomfortably, her cheeks pinking as she keeps her eyes on the road and bites nervously at her lip. "We've kind of been together for six months or whatever on Sunday." She's acutely aware of Holly staring at the side of her face and it makes Gail fidget in her seat, feeling increasingly awkward as silence settles between them and draws on long enough to make Gail's anxiety skyrocket. "It doesn't have to be a big deal, Hol, I just thought it would be nice for us to spend some time together out of the city."

"Gail..." Holly says quietly, her voice a little shaky. "Stop the car."

The sound of Holly's raspy voice breaking through the silence is what makes Gail dare to flick her eyes across to her, her forehead creasing tightly with sudden worry as she takes in the unreadable expression on Holly's face. "What's wrong?"

"Just pull over for a second," Holly breathes, her eyes never breaking from Gail's.

She does as she's told without question, indicating and pulling the car to a stop on the side of the road the second she gets a chance. The unreadable expression on Holly's face hasn't shifted when Gail flicks her eyes to her again and it makes fear prickle up her spine and settle in her chest; her heart beating rapidly as she opens and closes her mouth wordlessly, unsure of what exactly is going through Holly's mind. It feels like her lungs have seized to work as she watches Holly unbuckle her seatbelt and for a split second Gail feels like she's going to suffocate; her breath lodged tightly in her throat and making her head spin. Blood rushes loudly in her ears and all Gail can think of is how she's somehow managed to get things wrong again.

She feels her eyes narrowing and her head shaking a little from side-to-side, a silent plea with Holly not to leave her for being so assuming but before she can reach out and grasp desperately for Holly in any way that she can, Holly is leaning across the centre console, her hand going to Gail's face and drawing her in as she kisses her slow and deep. With each gentle slide of Holly's lips against hers and every brush of their tongues together, Gail feels her body relaxing; Holly not stopping her kisses until Gail is moaning against her mouth and pulling back to gasp for air.

Gail blinks against the fog that's settled in her head, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion as she finds Holly's sweet smile beaming at her. "What was that for?"

Holly shakes her head again, her smile never wavering as she squeezes affectionately at Gail's neck. "To thank you; for always being so sweet and thoughtful, and for constantly surprising me in the best ways possible-"

"Holly..." Gail breathes, cutting Holly off as she shakes her head and blushes.

"And for making me so ridiculously happy," Holly continues, her thumb brushing against Gail's bottom lip as her eyes soften. "How did I get so lucky, hey?"

She says it almost disbelievingly as her eyes trail over every inch of Gail's face; a genuine wonderment clouding her expression as she takes her in. It's a sight Gail's never gotten used to seeing whenever Holly looks at her; so raw and honest, like she sees straight through all of Gail's walls and rough edges, and lets herself get lost in the core of Gail's soul. It makes Gail's heart clench, her breath hitching in her chest and her eyes tearing up before she has a chance to process the overwhelming rush of unhindered affection she feels for Holly and everything that she is.

"I think if anybody's the lucky one here, Holly, it's me," Gail manages to whisper, her voice thick with emotion and cracking over the words. Holly smiles beautifully at that, her whole face lighting up in a way that draws Gail in until she's reaching out for Holly's cheek and drawing her in for an endlessly gentle kiss. Her heart flutters in her chest as she watches Holly's eyes slowly open again, an adorably dazed look on her face as she sighs happily and licks at her lips.

"Maybe we're both equally lucky," Holly hums, her eyes falling back down to Gail's mouth as she nudges their noses back together, tempting Gail back for another kiss.

Gail draws back as Holly's lips ghost against her own, and she smiles at the way Holly pouts in disappointment and sucks her bottom lip into her mouth. Gail lets her fingertips trace the curve of Holly's cheek, tucking a piece of soft, dark hair back behind her ear.

"I wasn't sure I'd ever feel like this," Gail confesses quietly as Holly's questioning eyes meet hers. "I always kind of thought that I was... a little emotionally stunted and unlovable or something," Gail shrugs, watching as Holly's eyebrows knit together in protest. "But you've somehow managed to dispel all that and make me feel safe and cared about, and so ridiculously, unbelievably happy. For the first time in my life I actually feel content and it's all because of you," Gail smiles shyly at Holly and lets her fingertips brush away the tears that are suddenly clinging to Holly's eye-lashes. "Thank you for the best six months of my life, Hol."

Holly closes the remaining space between them by pressing their foreheads together and lets her eyes flutter closed as she takes a deep, shaky breath. Gail can feel the undercurrent of emotion running between them as Holly draws her hand to press against her chest; the rapid fluttering of Holly's heart against her palm enough to make her breath catch, her own eyes falling closed as an overwhelming dizziness creeps into her head. When Holly's nose bumps gently against hers a second later, Gail can do nothing more than part her lips and let Holly kiss her so softly, and so languidly that it feels like everything but them fades away into nothingness.

It should take Gail by surprise really, how being kissed by one person – by Holly – can leave her head spinning so out of control, and her heart swelling rapidly until she's sure it's going to burst free from her chest, but it's become so familiar over these last few months, that when they break apart Gail revels in the feeling of her body tingling from head to toe as she draws in a ragged breath, and settles for resting her forehead back against Holly's to keep herself from melting further into her.

"How much longer until we get there?" Holly murmurs against her lips, her fingers scratching soothingly at the back of Gail's neck.

"About forty minutes," Gail breathes back, keeping her eyes closed for a second longer as her world slowly rights itself again.

"Good," Holly says as she pulls back enough to find Gail's eyes and smile at her softly. "Because I really can't wait to spend forty-eight, romantic, uninterrupted hours with you."

Gail bites coyly at her lip to keep from looking away from Holly's knowing and adoring gaze, and settles for pressing her hand just a little tighter against Holly's chest; loving the way she can feel the gentle and constant rhythm of Holly's heart against her palm as Holly draws her back into another endlessly reassuring kiss.

It feels like forever since she was last here – mostly due to her special talent of managing to always make sure she's been working or travelling every summer her parents and Steve have made their annual July trip up here since her Grams died – and yet as Gail lets her eyes dart around the place, she's amazed by how much it's stayed the same as she remembers.

She deposits their bags up in the room that used to be hers whenever she stayed – thankful that she was always lucky enough to have a twin bed – and makes her way back along the familiar corridor, pausing outside the door to her Grams' bedroom. It only takes a flick of her wrist to reach out and grasp the handle, pushing the door slowly open until she's left standing in the doorway, her eyes falling shut as she's hit with the gentle, well-known scent of her Grams' lavender perfume.

Gail keeps her eyes closed as she breathes it in deeply, and feels her mouth curling up into an involuntarily smile as her ears echo with memories of the soft lilt of her Grams' voice calling her name to invite her inside, and starting to sing to her the words of her favourite Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald songs.

She remembers the way her Grams would encourage her to sing along too, teaching her to listen carefully to their voices and the story in their lyrics; to let the music sink soothingly into her bones and bury her worries and fears until her mind was left in a peaceful lullaby. She hadn't really understood the importance of her Grams' words at the time, it was simply fun, quality time spent alone with her Grams while her parents focused their ridiculously high and demanding energies on Steve. But it was during high school – when her social awkwardness and anxiety left her feeling so numb that she could do nothing but withdraw into herself and hide away behind the safety of her camera – when Gail thought to step away from chart music and seek the calming solace of her Grams' favourites.

Her mother may have put a stop to Gail using her camera like it was some kind of shield she could use to keep people at bay, but even the fierce and mighty Elaine Peck couldn't control or put a stop to what music she listened to. Gail doesn't turn to those precious favourites of her Grams' often – letting herself get washed away instead by whatever heavy drumbeat and electric guitar is pulsating through the latest radio hits – but during her weakest moments, when it feels like even her high, strong, barricaded defences are about to be breached, is when she still finds herself seeking comfort in them.

It isn't hard for Gail to recall the few times she's truly turned to them, listening to them on an endless, repeating, loop; after her Grams died, when she'd spent three days hiding away in her room, tucked up in bed crying until her chest hurt so badly that she couldn't anymore; after Nick abandoned her in Vegas and all she felt was pathetic and so, so, angry that she thought she would burst into flames; and after Jerry had died and she couldn't sleep without her mind replaying her abduction over and over again, and those songs were the only things that kept her from really falling apart.

But the last time her ears itched to listen to the sweet, calming sounds of those soulful voices was the day Ford had shot Sam and Chloe, and kidnapped Oliver.

Only she hadn't been in her own home that night; she didn't have access to her own music and despite getting lucky and finding Holly's iPod, there hadn't been a single one of her much needed songs present in Holly's odd music taste. Gail's not sure if it was just plain luck that Holly woke that night to find her swaying with exhaustion in the moonlight but it feels a lot like something more; that maybe Holly's knowing instinct to pull her close and sing softly into her ear to quiet Gail's racing mind was a sign from her Grams that Holly was always meant to stick around for the long run.

(It's a thought, Gail remembers, that had terrified her to her very core back then).

But the more she's come to embrace the increasing permanence of Holly in her life, the more she had found herself thinking about how ready she was to revisit the Peck cottage after all these years.

Holly is good and kind and supportive; she's understanding and loving, encouraging but never demanding or belittling; she's all the qualities that her Grams had embodied and had used to make Gail feel brave enough to believe she could be who she wanted, and achieve what she desired. Gail's well-adjusted enough to know that she lost that belief in herself when her Grams died, that she closed her eyes and let her mother lead her down a path she wasn't sure she wanted to take because it was easier than having to find the strength to fight.

But she also knows that now, with Holly in her corner, backing her up even when she stumbles a little, that she's slowly finding her way back to the person she was always meant to be; that she always wanted to be. And the icing on top of it all is that she knows her Grams would be so proud of her, and that only leaves Gail wanting to embrace who she is and what she has with Holly even more.

She finds Holly a little while later, sitting on the old wooden bench her Grandpa had built and staring out over the lake, the sunlight shining brightly and bouncing off the water and shrouding Holly with an angelic glow. Gail can't help herself then as she lifts her camera up to her face and snaps off several shots.

The audible click of the shutter interrupts Holly's silence and gives away her return in one foul swoop, but Gail knows Holly doesn't mind for a single second as she calls out a gentle, "hey" even as her gaze remains focused out on the water.

Gail pauses in her approach and lets herself take the view in, closing her eyes for a few seconds as she feels the warmth of the sun against her skin; if feels good to be back here. It feels, in some weird way, like she's finally come home again. When she opens her eyes, she finds Holly watching her over her shoulder, a fond smile on her face.

"It's beautiful," Holly says quietly, as if she's afraid of disturbing the serene calmness.

Gail can't help but lift her camera up in response, taking another handful of shots of Holly as she murmurs, "So beautiful."

Holly bites at her bottom lip and shakes her head as she quirks her eyebrow in Gail's direction. "Aren't you supposed to be using that to take photographs of the beautiful scenery?"

"I am," Gail grins cheekily as she lowers the camera and makes her way over to Holly.

"You're going to have to start photographing things other than me sooner or later, you know," Holly chides as Gail settles down next to her and quickly flicks through the shots she's just taken.

Each one leaves Gail a little more breathless, and as she shifts her eyes back to Holly she shrugs helplessly. "It's not my fault that you're so photogenic," Gail says, tapping her finger against the screen to show Holly one of the images she's just captured. "In fact, it's entirely your fault because you and your beautiful face are stealing my focus, and that's just rude when the view here is as stunning as it is. You're making me miss out, Stewart."

Holly smiles brightly and wraps her arm around Gail's shoulders as she presses a quick kiss to her lips. "You're insane, you know that right?"

"You may have mentioned it before," Gail smirks. "But you're seriously going to have to go inside if you want me to actually take photographs for you, instead of taking them of you."

Holly shakes her head, amusement dancing in her eyes. "See, now if feels like you want to keep me tucked away inside the cottage for the whole weekend; I'm getting that 'Gail is trying to disguise her dirty weekend away plans' vibe again, only this time you're deflecting by not so subtly using your camera."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Gail retorts, lifting the camera up to her face and twisting the lens until she gets the focus just right, snapping away several shots of the lake. "But if you do feel like you should go inside so that you don't keep distracting me, our room is up the stairs, last door at the end of the hallway; the bed even has nice, fresh sheets that you might want to check out while you wait for me."

Holly laughs at that, pushing to her feet and pressing a kiss to the top of Gail's head. "I'll go unpack the bags. Why don't you play photographer for twenty minutes or so and then come in and help me inspect the bed; I think it'll take both of us to wear it in a little after all this time it's been left alone and neglected."

Gail purses her lips together to hold back her smile as she keeps taking pictures and merely hums a half-hearted acknowledgement to Holly's comment, refusing to give in to Holly's light teasing even as Holly pinches playfully at her side and plants a dramatically wet and noisy kiss on her cheek before heading inside, leaving Gail grinning happily.

It's easily become one of Gail's all time favourite things; watching Holly basking pleasantly in the afterglow.

She likes the way Holly's eyes remain a little hooded, all soft and a little sleepy like the daze hasn't quite left her yet. She loves the way Holly's usually perfectly flowing hair looks sexily ruffled and wild – it's even sexier knowing that it's her hands that tangled through it and left it so unkempt – and the way her cheeks still hold a hint of a blush, and her lips look swollen and deliciously plump – if Gail's being truly honest, taking in the sights of Holly like this – a little sweaty and a lot sated – just makes her want Holly even more.

Despite her adoration for Holly in all her naked glory, there's something extremely satisfying about pushing up on her elbows, sitting herself upright so that she's leaning back against the headboard and watching as Holly gets up and wraps herself in the soft, linen sheets; the stark white contrasting beautifully with the elegant bronze of her skin.

"Where are you going?" Gail murmurs, her voice still a little raspy and utterly sated.

Holly flashes her a crooked smile as she picks her glasses up from the nightstand and slides them on. "I think we've worn your bed in well enough for now. I need to rehydrate, and I want to go explore the rest of this gorgeous cottage."

Gail pouts, missing the warmth of Holly's body already and holding her hands outstretched towards her in a silent plea to come back. "Explore later, we've got all weekend."

Holly presses her hands against the mattress to steady herself as she leans forward to press a chaste kiss to Gail's mouth. "I thought this wasn't a dirty weekend away," Holly teases, her mouth twisting into a smirk. "Now, get up and show me around, and I might reward you with the good loving later."

Gail cocks a bemused eyebrow at that. "The good loving? Does that mean you've been holding back all your best moves? Because that's totally unfair."

Holly pecks at her lips again and grins impishly, moving back out of Gail's reach and shrugging. "Come downstairs with me for a little while and I might show you later if you behave yourself."

"Fine," Gail pouts again, pushing herself up and out of bed and shrugging into Holly's hoodie. "I'll go light the fire and you go and find food and alcohol in the fridge. But you owe me. I want to see you really work it later, Dr Stewart; I deserve nothing but your finest moves."

Holly bursts into a hearty laugh in response and it makes Gail's lips twitch involuntarily into a smile and squeeze back when Holly laces their fingers together. "You're such a dork sometimes, Gail Peck."

It's too hard to protest when she feels as happy as she does, so Gail just accepts the kiss Holly gives her and bumps their shoulders together as she lets Holly lead them down the stairs.

She holds her hands up against the flames of the fire, enjoying the warmth radiating out against her skin and feels a little proud of herself that it only took her three tries to light the damn thing. She can hear Holly searching around in the kitchen, humming to herself, and Gail lets her eyes close as she listens to the sound of Holly's voice combining with the crackling of the fire. It makes her sigh happily, a sense of complete and utter peace filling her and leaving her feeling relaxed in a way she hasn't felt for weeks. Gail relishes in her good decision to finally come back here. They both needed a break from their long, hard, work hours, but more than that, they needed some time to just get away and be for awhile.

It warms her heart in the best way possible that her friends all adore Holly and want to spend time with them, but sometimes a completely selfish part of her wants to have Holly all to herself for a little while. Being together, just the two of them, is like a reminder that her life is going exactly where she wants it to go; she's got the kindest, most beautiful woman in all the world, her friends are nothing but supporting, goofy, idiots, and her career finally looks like it's starting to shape into something more solid. Although she's still technically a rookie, and knows she'll be as green as anything going into her detective rotation, it feels like progress, and knowing that she accomplished it on her own without her parents' interference makes it all feel that much more real.

She's growing, finally turning into a real adult even though she knows she's technically been one for years; it's a little scary, but mostly Gail just feels excited to be taking this next step in her life. Especially because she's getting to take it with Holly, and looking forward to what their life could be like together makes Gail's heart ache with such longing that sometimes it feels overwhelming in the best way possible.

"Baby..." Holly calls, drawing Gail from her thoughts and making her get up and head in the direction Holly's voice came from.

She finds her in the hallway, standing in front of the old unit that her Grams loved so much and looking over the selection of framed photographs that line the shelves. Gail pauses at Holly's side and lets her eyes trail over them as Holly wraps an arm around her shoulders and draws her into her body.

Holly reaches out to tap her finger gently against the bottom of one of the frames. "Is this your Grams?"

"Yeah," Gail exhales shakily, her eyes trailing over the photograph of her Grams sitting in her old rocking chair and smiling brightly at the camera. She taps her finger against a frame down on the shelf below. "That's her when she was younger... I think she's actually my age now in this one. That's my Grandpa Peck next to her," Gail explains, her eyes taking in the way they were leaning into each other and smiling; always the epitome of what true love should look like.

"They look so happy," Holly says, and Gail tilts her head towards her just in time to see a smile curving up at the corners of Holly's mouth. She watches then as Holly carefully lifts the photograph next to it up; another one of her Grams when she was a young woman; her mouth pinched into a playful smirk and her eyes dancing with amusement. "I can't believe how much you like her here, Gail."

"You think?" Gail asks, taking the frame from Holly's hands. "I don't know... she had that classic, 1940s, natural beauty about her. I'm kind of a dud in comparison."

Holly pinches gently at her side in response. "You're not a dud; you're gorgeous." She takes the frame from Gail's hands and picks up another one of her Grams, this time a little older with a little boy playing in the background. "Look here," Holly says, tracing her fingers around her Grams' face. "You have her soulful eyes; as blue as the summers sky, warm and knowing, and yet with a hint of grey; just the shade yours go when you're thinking too hard or you have your cranky face on."

"I don't have a cranky face," Gail scowls, her eyes narrowing at Holly who merely cocks her head to the side and raises an eyebrow as if to make her point.

When she doesn't protest anymore Holly pulls her in closer and presses a kiss against her hairline before pointing out a photograph of Gail as a child; all big blue eyes, strikingly white-blonde hair and glowering at the camera as she peers out from behind a young Steve's back.

"There's baby cranky face," Holly notes, laughing when Gail tickles her fingers against her ribs. "Oh, and look at Steve; he wasn't kidding about his hair being really bright red."

Gail shakes her head and grins impishly. "I used to call him Pippi Longstocking when he was being mean to me; it would make him so mad that his face would almost light up as red as his hair."

"Glad to hear you developed your sass from an early age," Holly grins. She lets out a little squeal of excitement a second later when she finds another one of young Gail sitting on her Grams' lap and smiling toothlessly up at the camera. "Oh my god, look how adorable you were." Gail merely grimaces at the image of her younger – gummier – self and shakes her head, watching as Holly goes through the remaining photographs on the unit. "You can really see how much she loved you in all these."

"She was a remarkable woman," Gail nods, feeling her throat constricting with emotion. "I miss her."

Holly tightens her arm around Gail, holding her impossibly closer. "I would have liked to have met her," Holly says softly, her lips ghosting against Gail's temple.

Gail smiles at that, her eyes shifting to the photograph of her Grams hugging her from behind and Gail smiling brightly with happiness. She knows she didn't really smile that freely or that truthfully again until Holly came walking into her life.

She presses her lips to Holly's jaw and smiles as Holly's eyes find hers. "Grams would have loved you."

"Because I'm tall, dark, and gorgeous, right?" Holly jokes, but Gail sees a hint of disbelief in the back of Holly's eyes and it makes her heart pinch in discomfort.

Gail shakes her head, lifting her hand to cup Holly's cheek and brush her thumb soothingly across her skin. "Of course," Gail says, her mouth curling into a sincere smile as her eyes soften fondly. "But mostly because of how truly happy you make me."

"Gail..." Holly breathes, her eyes shining and her mouth opening around words she can't seem to fully muster. She settles for pressing a lingering kiss to the palm of Gail's hand, and Gail can't help but think that it feels like Holly's lips are whispering loving words into her skin.

Gail eyes flutter closed at the touch as she savours the feeling of Holly's tender caress. "That's all she ever wanted for me," Gail says, smiling as she opens her eyes again to find Holly looking at her in awe. "For me to find somebody who I could be myself with and who would make me truly happy; that's why being with you makes me the luckiest person in the world, Hol."

Holly just shakes her head and smiles. "Then I hope your Grams knows that I intend to keep making you happy for as long as you'll let me, because I am so, so, grateful that I found you. You're everything I ever wanted and more. I don't ever want to lose you."

"Good thing neither of us are going anywhere then, huh?" Gail whispers, fighting back the prickling she feels in her eyes.

Holly kisses her softly and takes a second to nuzzle her face against Gail's until Gail can feel the warm touch of Holly's lips dancing against the shell of her ear. "Not a chance. You're stuck with me for good, Peck."

Gail knows it's a promise worth holding onto as she presses a quick kiss to Holly's lips again. She curls herself back against Holly's side, pointing out the remaining few photographs to her, and Holly strokes her thumb against Gail's arm, listening intently as Gail explains a few of the photos with fond little antidotes from her childhood.

"I wish I could see more," Holly sighs sadly, putting the last frame back in its place.

Gail momentarily thinks of not saying anything and of dragging Holly – along with the food and alcohol – back up to bed, but there's something about the way that Holly's eyes light up as she looks over the photos, and the way she sounds so genuinely eager to know more about her past, that makes Gail's heart swell. Holly is interested in her; all of her. She wants to know as much as she can about Gail's life before she came into the picture, and that's something Gail's never had to deal with before. She's never had somebody so desperate to know about her; not only all of the big things but the tiny, little details that really make up the essence of who she is. Where others have only been interested in the pieces that made Gail up in the present, Holly seeks to fill in the gaps of her past too; she wants the complete picture, and that's something Gail can't deny her.

Especially not when each time she reveals more of herself, Holly smiles at her so earnestly and kisses her more tenderly and sweetly, like she cherishes Gail even more now that she knows just that little bit more about her.

"I'm sure I could find more if you want?" Gail asks, twisting in Holly's embrace to loop her arms around her shoulders. "My parents store a bunch of stuff in the attic here, and I'm pretty sure family photographs would be amongst their 'not essential to keep at home' stuff."

Holly tightens her hold against Gail's waist and smiles softly. "I'd love to see more. Maybe we could even take a few back with us; I'd love to have a photograph of little Gail and her Grams to keep."

Gail presses up on her toes to press a gentle, lingering kiss to Holly's lips, and smiles affectionately at her as she draws back. "Why don't you go and settle yourself in front of the fire, and I'll go find the photo-albums and come join you once I've got them."

Holly leans forward to kiss her again, humming happily against her mouth, "Sounds wonderful to me."

She draws Holly down for another kiss – slow and deep, like there's nothing else she'd rather be doing – loving the way Holly slides her hands up her back, holding her so close that Gail wonders briefly if it's possible for them to melt into one as she gets lost in a haze that's all Holly's hands, and Holly's lips, and Holly's tongue curling around her own.

When Gail returns she finds Holly's sitting on the floor with her back pressed up against the couch and her legs stretched out towards the fire as she sips at a glass of red wine. She smiles brightly when she sees that Gail's carrying stuff, clearly having been successful in her hunt for more photographs.

"I'm sure there's probably a bunch more at my parents house but these are what I could find stashed here," Gail says, passing an excited looking Holly an old, worn looking shoe-box and a large photo-album before sitting down next to Holly and mimicking her position.

Holly passes Gail a glass of wine before pulling the shoe-box into her lap. "Did you notice that this has your name written across the lid?" Holly asks, her fingers tracing over the curves of the letters as she flicks her eyes up to Gail's.

Gail shrugs, taking a bite of the cheese and crackers Holly has made up for them to snack on. "I didn't really pay that much attention, I just lifted the lid, saw it had a bunch of photographs inside and grabbed it."

Holly hums in acknowledgement, and Gail watches then as Holly takes the lid off and picks up a stack of the photographs inside. When Holly shows her the photograph on top – a beautiful image taken from beneath the shadows of the trees with children off in the distance playing – Gail recognises it instantly, and it makes her breath lodge in her throat. She can do nothing but stare helplessly as Holly flips the photograph over and takes in the messy scrawl on the back.

"'Outsider'," Holly reads, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion as she turns to Gail questioningly. "Do you know what these are?"

Gail licks at her lips and attempts to swallow away the dryness in her mouth as she watches Holly flick through several more; each photograph containing people in different situations, displaying different emotions and with simple descriptions written on the back.

"They're mine," Gail breathes, shaking her head disbelievingly as Holly passes them over to her. "I can't believe Grams actually kept them."

Holly lets her hand drop down to Gail's thigh and squeeze soothingly as she waits patiently for Gail to take it all in. "They're good," Holly says quietly, her eyes soft as she takes each one that Gail passes her with sincere interest. "You obviously had a natural eye for photography even back when you were younger."

"I don't know about that," Gail murmurs, shrugging unsurely. "Grams just suggested I use it as a way of expressing how I was feeling."

She pauses a moment, pursing her lips together as she shifts through the stack carefully and finds her mind filling with memories of her younger, more awkward self, desperately seeking a way to process all the emotions that sat uncomfortably in her chest that she didn't quite understand how to express. She remembers the relief she felt when she could capture the overwhelming thoughts in her head in a single shot, and how it made her feel less like she was trapped on the outside looking in and failing to be heard no matter how hard she tried.

"We made this deal when she gave me the camera that I would take a bunch of photos and write on the back what they made me feel, and then I'd send them to her every month," Gail explains, flicking her eyes up to Holly's and offering her a tentative smile. "She'd always write me letters back, talking through them all. She was the only person who ever really understood me, who let me sit back, and just learn the world and people in my own way."

"I know things with your parents weren't the easiest but didn't you ever show them your photographs?" Holly asks, her mouth curling down into a frown when Gail shakes her head.

"I showed them a few but they never really got the point behind them like Grams did. My parents are both such extroverts," Gail says as Holly passes her the photographs back. "I don't think they quite knew what to do with me being so introverted and awkward. They didn't get why I couldn't just let go and put myself out there." Gail shrugs and flashes Holly a sad smile. "I'm pretty sure they just wrote me off as the inconvenient black sheep of the Peck flock."

Holly curls her arm around Gail's shoulders, drawing her in to her side, and presses her lips to Gail's temple, lingering long enough to make Gail's eyes flutter closed at the delicate touch. "Guess what?" Holly whispers into Gail's hairline, and making her pull back to find Holly's eyes. "I was kind of the black sheep of my family too."

"Really?" Gail inquires. "You're not just saying it to make me not feel like the odd one out, are you?"

"No, I really was," Holly hums, smiling as she reaches up to brush a fallen strand of hair from Gail's eyes. "So, I'm thinking us black sheep should stick together, huh? Who needs to be just another face in the crowd when you can stand out and be different; our differences are what make us so special."

"I don't know about special," Gail breathes out in amusement, her mouth curling into a playful smile. "I think most people just think we're weird, Hol."

"Well then, there's nobody I'd rather be weird with then you," Holly grins, wiggling her eyebrows and making Gail laugh.

"You're such a nerd," Gail says fondly, smiling affectionately when Holly bumps their shoulders together as they lapse into a comfortable silence.

Holly's hand falls back to rest on the lid of the shoebox and Gail watches as her fingertip stretches out to trace the curves of the lettering spelling out her name, Holly's eyebrows knitting together in thought as she repeats the path over and over again. "Do you think your Grams would mind if I kept them?"

Gail lifts her eyes to find Holly's when she's drawn out of the silence by Holly's gentle yet cautious question. "No, not at all..." Gail says, shaking her head and shrugging unsurely at the strange request. "Why would you want them though?"

"Because they're a part of you," Holly murmurs simply, smiling softly at Gail in a way that makes her stomach twist and flutter pleasantly. "They don't deserve to be stored away here and just forgotten about."

Gail chest swells at the comment and her mouth curves around a breathy, "Oh..."

Gail knows that even after all this time that there are still some emotions that she sometimes struggles to process and put into words, but Holly's answer is so pure and sincere that Gail can feel the truth behind it filling her chest with an surge of affection. To Holly, loving all of her parts – even those that are a little broken and torn in places, and flawed in every sense of the word – is unquestionable; in her eyes, even Gail's imperfections are worth treasuring. It's something about Holly that always leaves her breathless and in awe, that someone as innately good and kind, and sweet and wonderful as Holly can see the beauty in the parts of her that Gail has spent years trying to bury and hide away from.

If there's anybody left in the world that Gail can trust to keep the fragmented pieces of her past safe and held dear, and as a reminder of those parts she's lost of herself, it's Holly, and there's something entirely comforting about knowing that she's somebody that sees Gail just as openly and without judgement as her Grams did.

Holly purses her lips together unsurely as the silence stretches out between them, her eyes fixed on Gail's face. "I don't have to take them if you'd rather I didn't, it's just-"

"No, you should take them," Gail cuts in quietly, drawing Holly's hand up to her mouth and dusting a delicate kiss across her knuckles. "I kind of like knowing that you'll be the one who's keeping those parts of me looked after."

Holly smiles beautifully at that and leans in to kiss her slowly, her lips whispering a simple promise against Gail's mouth, "Always."

Gail snuggles into Holly's side and hums contentedly as Holly wraps her arm around her shoulder and pulls her in closer, Gail's eyes fluttering closed as the comforting warmth of their bodies lulls them into a peaceful quiet. She nuzzles into Holly's neck when she feels Holly's fingertips tickling up and down her arm and tangles her fingers tighter in the sheet still wrapped around Holly's body, anchoring herself in the moment for as long as she can.

Her body feels utterly relaxed; any lingering tension she's carried in her muscles from the past few weeks fading away with every soothing sweep of Holly's caress. It's something that Gail's gotten used to – even though it still amazes her – that Holly just has this natural calming energy that radiates out in each and every one of her bright caring smiles and her gentle knowing touches.

She knows without words exactly when Gail needs her to rub soothing circles against her back – when her shift has been long and awful and all she wants is to curl up into a ball and sleep for days – or when she needs to knead her fingers at the back of Gail's neck – whenever she hears from her mother and the knot that flares up in her neck pinches in relentless agony.

She's never really understood people who were constantly touchy-feely types, but it's moments like this where Holly absently traces endless patterns against her arm that Gail gets it. It's such a basic form of pleasure, and yet Gail's pretty sure that most people – herself previously included – tend to foolishly overlook such simple gestures of affection.

Before Holly, Gail only understood the need for touching with purpose; when stroking fingertips across soft skin and grasping at warm flesh was charged by a sexual undercurrent. But when Holly touches her she isn't aiming for anything. Holly touches because she can and because she wants to; she touches because sometimes words just aren't enough to communicate with.

Gail grew up thinking that that kind of silent emotional touching was pointless, an unwelcome invasion of her personal boundaries that she didn't know how to read – she thinks maybe it's because her parents were more prone to giving a dignified nod of the head and a congratulatory pat on than shoulder than they were an all encompassing hug.

But ever since Holly breezed into her life she's become so acutely aware of the touches they share, that she finds when Holly's not touching her she craves for it. She aches for the way Holly just combs her fingers through her hair or brushes her thumb across her wrist; wanting any contact she can get, no matter how big or small. She's come to know each and every one of Holly's caresses, and she finds an overwhelming comfort in their ability to say so much, so simply. She's come to absolutely relish the way her body reacts; the way it always instinctively burrows closer, her skin humming in delight at the delicate touching, and the way it always leaves her feeling happy and safe.

"This is a really beautiful photo of your family," Holly murmurs quietly, breaking the silence and forcing Gail to open her eyes and look down at the photo-album resting across Holly's lap.

Gail remembers the day the photograph was taken fondly. It had been during the summer a year before her Grams passed away, when her mother had insisted that they put Gail's camera to good use to take some photographs of the Peck family all together. Her father had found his old tripod and taken command of setting up the shot, and no matter how many times Gail had tried to explain to him how to set the timer to allow for enough time for him to make it back into the frame, he had somehow ended up getting it wrong each attempt. As a result they'd ended up with several photographs of them all looking in different directions or blinking, and even one where her father was nothing more than a blur as he skidded into the frame just as the shutter went off. They may not have achieved the perfect Peck family photo like her mother intended, but it had been a fun day that had ended with her Grams firmly demanding that she get a copy of the last one they'd taken.

Gail smiles as she looks down at the photograph, each member of the Peck family looking ridiculously goofy, all caught with smiles on their faces, laughing infectiously as they failed once again to get the timing and poses correct. Gail had understood even then why her Grams loved it so much, it was such a natural and carefree photograph; it stripped away all of the Peck bravado her family wielded and left them looking relaxed and happy and normal.

Even now, after all this time, when she looks at it Gail sees the beauty in it; it's the unguarded look on her mother's face, and her father's crooked smile; it's the way Steve's bent over laughing and holding his stomach without worrying that he might not look like a tough-guy; it's the way her Grams' eyes are sparkling with joy, and the way her younger self is looking at them all with such pure fondness.

It's everything she loves about her family and misses so much that her chest aches with a longing that she immediately has to push back down. They haven't been the carefree people in that photograph for so long now that it only acts as a harsh reminder that they weren't always the kind of family that talks to each other in short, clipped answers, and purposefully avoids spending time together unless it's deemed entirely necessary.

"That... seems like a lifetime ago," Gail replies thickly. She can feel Holly's eyes burning into her, and so she shifts back a little under Holly's arm until she can meet her gaze and shrugs tiredly. Holly purses her mouth together and squeezes at Gail's arm, watching patiently as Gail flicks to the end of the photo-album until she finds the latest Peck family portrait, and says, "This on the other hand, is what the Peck family photographs have come to look like."

She watches then as Holly looks down at the photograph of her family taken during her first year as a rookie, Holly's eyebrows scrunching together at the sheer difference as she takes in their incredibly stiff and staged poses. Her mother's sitting in the centre – Gail tries not to roll her eyes at the way her mother always proudly presents herself as the matriarch of the family – while her husband, Steve and Gail stand around her, their bodies straight and rigid with fake, tight smiles on their faces.

Holly looks back up at her and breathes out an astonished, "Wow..."

"I know," Gail nods, not needing Holly to say anything more about how forced and uncomfortable it looks. "My mom makes us get together every couple of years to have a professional photograph us like this. Elaine Peck likes nothing more than presenting her brood as the ideal, flawless family; she even keeps a framed copy on her desk."

The arm Holly has around her tightens, drawing Gail back in closer against her as her lips press a lingering kiss to Gail's forehead. "If it's any consolation you manage to make the stiff corpse pose look hot."

Gail rolls her eyes at that, and peers up at Holly with a smirk. "You did not just compare me to those gross, smelly corpses you deal with on a daily basis."

Holly winks playfully in response. "I can't help it if you're drop dead gorgeous."

"Oh my god, you're such a nerd," Gail retorts, pinching at Holly's side gently until she squirms away. "That was an awful attempt at a joke."

"Whatever," Holly smiles, and looks back down at the photograph again, her fingertip tracing around Gail's figure. "I like the shorter hair; you look like a cute Disney pop-star."

Gail tries not to smile at Holly's teasing remark and pulls the photo-album back into her lap, flicking back to the earlier pages. "Don't judge the bob until you've seen me during my rebellious years."

"Let me guess, you were all dark and mysterious?" Holly asks, her mouth curling into a lopsided smile.

"Oh, you have no idea," Gail smirks, drawing the photo-album even further into her lap, holding it upright and tilting it away from Holly's curious eyes while she searches for the section that chronicles her late teenage years.

"I still can't get over you with the darker hair," Holly says a little while later, flicking back through each page slowly; her eyes scanning across the photographs until she finds the ones of Gail in her self-proclaimed rebellious get-up.

Gail smiles as she walks back towards Holly with a new bottle of wine in her hand, passing Holly a freshly topped up glass before seating herself back down next to her. "It was part of my do-the-opposite-of-what-I'm-told phase."

Holly's eyes trace over her face carefully then, and Gail knows the question Holly wants to ask before she even says it. "This was after your Grams...?" Holly asks hesitantly, letting her question trail off as Gail nods.

"Yeah, it was a couple of years after she passed. I was seventeen," Gail explains, looking down at the photographs of her younger, dark-haired self. "I got tired of how hard it was for me to try and be the perfect, outgoing, accomplished daughter my mother so desperately wanted me to be. I found out pretty quickly after Grams passed that it was much easier to be all dark, mouthy, and standoffish with people; it gives you an edge, hardens you. It's easier then not to care so much about how people perceive you."

Holly purses her lips together sadly at her admission and Gail shrugs, reaching forward to close the photo-album and draw Holly's hand into her lap so that she can entwine their fingers. She feels Holly shuffle closer to her so that their shoulders are pressing together, and it makes her lift Holly's hand up to her mouth so she can press a soft, reassuring kiss to the back of her knuckles.

"That's all in the past, Hol," Gail murmurs when their eyes lock, wanting to dispel the growing concern in Holly's eyes. "I'm happy now; being here with you. There's nowhere else I want to be."

Holly's eyes soften at that and she takes the opportunity to lean in and kiss Gail slowly, not stopping until she feels Gail smiling against her mouth. "Ditto. Although, it does make you wonder..." Holly begins once she's curled herself up comfortably against Gail's side. "...what it would have been like if we'd known each other back then."

"Well, I was pretty busy shoplifting makeup, drinking any and all alcohol I could get my hands on, and trying weed for the first time in my older next door neighbour's basement just to spite my mother," Gail smiles wryly when she feels Holly let out an amused breath into the crook of her neck. "What were you like as a teenager? All long legs and athletic I bet."

Holly snorts in response. "I wish. I was still growing into my body; I was all long, gawky limbs, which made me super uncoordinated and clumsy. And I was more the geek with the giant glasses who spent their spare time reading and doing home science experiments than I was athletic," Holly pauses and shifts back just enough to allow herself to find Gail's eyes. "I was shy and quiet and busy helping my mom with James. I think you and your permanent scowl would have intimidated me."

Gail lets her mind wonder back to memories of herself at seventeen and remembers the way she would glare relentlessly at everybody, her sarcastic insults waiting readily on the tip of her tongue for any poor soul who tried to invade her space or get to know her. She thinks about a younger, less self-assured Holly, and knows without a doubt that she would have been the harmless, innocent type of person who Gail would have eaten for breakfast without blinking an eye.

"You're probably right," Gail admits, smiling sheepishly. "I was a bit of an asshole back then, with a bad attitude and an even nastier bite. I guess in this scenario I'd be the glowering little brat who would have stolen your lunch money."

"Well, your punk ass would have been out of luck because I didn't take lunch money," Holly replies, her eyes twinkling playfully even as her mouth curls into a sincere but amused smile. "I had a lunchbox."

Gail lets out an amused breath and smiles brightly back. "Of course you did, why am I not surprised in the slightest."

Holly pinches at Gail's side in retaliation, making Gail squirm away until Holly's forced to sit upright. "Seriously though, do you think you would have been friends with me back then?"

Gail opens and closes her mouth wordlessly a couple of times before pursing her lips together tightly as she mulls the question over. Holly watches her quietly, and it makes an anxious knot twist unpleasantly in her stomach. She knows if this was some kind of romantic comedy she'd smile softly and tell Holly that of course they would have been friends, that Gail was just waiting for someone open, and innocent, and kind to befriend her and help ease her wounded soul... but the reality wasn't like that, and Gail knows that no matter how sweet and patient Holly probably would have been with her, that she was too damaged and defensive back then to let anybody get remotely close to her.

"I didn't really have friends back then," Gail breathes cautiously, her eyes fixated on Holly's face. She doesn't want to hurt her but they've promised to always be honest with each other, even if they might not like hearing certain truths, and that's what she has to be. "I'd built my walls up high because it hurt less to isolate myself and my emotions. That meant I pushed people away on purpose..." Gail shrugs, sighing heavily as she lets her gaze drop down. "I would have ignored you, Holly, or been cruel and snapped at you to keep you at arm's length."

Holly's hand cups her face, her thumb brushing soothingly against her cheek until Gail lifts her head back up to meet her endlessly warm and understanding eyes. "It sounds like we met at just the right time in our lives then, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Gail hums in agreement, feeling relieved by the honesty etched across Holly's face. While she knows that the Gail of even a few years ago wouldn't have been ready for Holly, it truly feels like things have fallen into place when and where they were meant to; like she's had to go through all the pain and heartache she has in order to grow and be able to appreciate the beautiful, mature, and open relationship that she's been blessed to share with Holly now. "Do you think it was fate?"

She can't help but notice the way that Holly looks a little shocked by the question that has slipped thoughtlessly from her mouth, and it makes Gail instantly aware of a heated flush creeping up her neck and settling across her cheeks. She worries her bottom lip with her teeth, coyly averting Holly's gaze as a silence settles between them.

"I'm not sure if I believe in fate," Holly confesses quietly, shrugging uneasily as Gail's fingers twist into the sheet covering her waist. "I think it's the scientist in me. I don't like the idea that certain people are destined to have particular things happened to them thanks to some preordained plan."

"So... you think everything in life's just random?" Gail asks curiously.

Holly cocks her head to the side, her eyebrows knitting together in thought. "I guess I believe that life deals in chance and probability."

Gail narrows her eyes in confusion. "Isn't that just the same thing?"

"Maybe; maybe not," Holly shrugs, smiling slightly as she reaches up to push her glasses back up her nose. "Fate just always seems so... linear; like there's no other possibility. But take the day we met for instance, the remains were found but there was hundreds of officers on duty; so why you? Those kids stumbled across it by chance and you got the call because you happened to be in the area. We both work for 15 Division so it's probable that we would meet eventually."

"Yeah, I guess we would have met eventually regardless, huh?" Gail echoes, contemplating the scenario of their first meeting over in her head.

Holly nods her head in agreement, and smiles at the memory. "I wasn't even supposed to be on shift that day we met, but my co-worker's wife went into labour and he had to hurry off to the hospital; it was a last minute thing when I got the call to come in; our meeting on that particular day was just a chance encounter."

Gail's lips press together in an unconvinced pout. "I still don't really get the difference."

"Well, whatever you want to call it; fate, chance, I'm just glad it brought us together," Holly says softly, smiling at Gail in a way that makes her heart thump loudly in her chest.

"Me too," Gail replies, leaning forward to press a sweet kiss to the corner of Holly's mouth. "I've become quite fond of you, you know."

Holly smirks at that and arches her eyebrow flirtatiously. "Oh, you have, have you?"

"Uh-huh," Gail teases, her mouth curling up into a cheeky grin. "I hope you know that as payback for this little trip into my past that when we get back home I expect you to return the favour and show me some photographs of little Holly Stewart; big glasses, awful haircuts, and hideous fashion choices included."

"Oh, don't worry," Holly chuckles, waving her hand absently in the air. "When you meet my mom she'll bombard you with every photo ever taken of me."

It's something about the way Holly says it so flippantly – when; not if – like there's no doubt in Holly's mind that she wants Gail to meet her family, that catches Gail off-guard pleasantly; her breath hitching in the back of her throat and her heart swelling rapidly in her chest until her body is humming with a blanketing warmth.

She can't help then but scramble across the tiny space between them and draw Holly's mouth to hers in a heated kiss; her tongue licking past Holly's lips as her hands start tugging at the sheet still wrapped around Holly's body, desperately needing to seek out the warmth of her deliciously smooth skin.

Holly's surprised squeak is muffled against her mouth as Gail manages to work the sheet off her body, her hands instantly sliding over the supple curves of Holly's waist, palms dragging over her tightening nipples until she's pressing against Holly's shoulders and lowering her down onto the floor.

Holly's eyes slowly flutter open at the sound of Gail hurrying to unzip her hoodie, and she watches foggily as Gail quickly shrugs out of it before she settles the length of her naked body fully against hers.

"Not that I'm complaining..." Holly rasps, her breath catching as Gail ducks her head to trail kisses along the slope of her neck. "...but where'd this come from?"

She sucks teasingly at the soft spot just below Holly's ear, loving the way Holly's legs instinctively fall open even wider to encompass more of her weight as she let Gail press impossibly closer. Holly's hands claw for purchase at her back in response and she lets her head tilt to the side to give Gail more room to work as she moans low in her throat.

Gail nuzzles against Holly's neck, soothing the sting of the mark she's left behind with her tongue and drags her lips up along Holly's jaw before reconnecting their mouths in an endlessly deep kiss.

"I just..." Gail starts shakily, her mind stuttering over her thoughts as she gets swept away by how overwhelmingly beautiful Holly looks pinned beneath her; her dark hair fanned out around her face and framing her perfectly as her infinitely warm eyes stare up at Gail with such open trust and devotion. She'll never get used to the way that being with Holly like this makes it feel like time has stopped; that her universe is made up of nothing but them and the soft crackling of the fire as it makes shadows dance across their naked skin. "I'm so crazy about you," Gail manages in a whisper, her eyes trailing over Holly's face in complete and utter awe. "I hope you know that."

Holly shudders in response, her hand sliding to cup Gail's face and her thumb brushing lovingly over the curve of Gail's cheek. She keeps holding Gail's gaze as she lifts her head up until she's able to ghost her lips against Gail's, coaxing her into an achingly gentle kiss that Gail lets herself melt into.

As she loses herself in sliding her hand down between their bodies – her fingers finding the wetness waiting between Holly's legs and easily working Holly up in the way that makes Holly gasp helplessly against her mouth – Gail's never been happier or so sure of anything in her life.

She's never been able to pinpoint it exactly; the way she instinctively knows when her mother is in close proximity to her. The only thing Gail can think to call it is gut instinct. It always comes out of nowhere, everything seemingly fine one minute, and then next a chill is prickling down her spine and leaving the hair at the back of her neck standing up and alert.

Gail blames her distraction on Holly; the high from their weekend away has crept into the week following and Gail finds her concentration wavering constantly to thoughts of Holly's warm eyes, and her soft lips and her addictive kisses. It's that little loss of focus that throws Gail off her game and makes her miss the signals her body is throwing out at her.

(By the time she actually does notice what her body is warning her of, it's already too late).

She's preoccupied when the first shiver runs down her spine; smiling absently to herself as she lets her fingertips glide across the screen of her phone, tapping out a reply to Holly's cute, flirty, text message. It's only as she rounds the corner from the booking station and a second more noticeable chill tingles uncomfortably down her back that Gail lifts her eyes up from her phone and catches her mother's gaze across the station.

It's the lack of preparation that makes Gail stumble to an unconscious stop in the middle of the corridor, her reply to Holly's text message suddenly forgotten as she blinks dumbly, her body frozen where she stands. Elaine holds her gaze for a second longer, subtlety holding a single finger up at Gail, motioning for her to wait where she is for a minute before quickly flicking her concentration back to Noelle and finishing up their conversation.

There's nothing Gail can do then as she watches her mother make her way across the station, and it feels a little like she's watching her approach in slow motion the closer she gets with only the sound of her heart beating loudly in her ears. Her fingers curl around her phone tightly in reflex as she braces herself for the overwhelming Peck-bombardment that's about to hit her full force.

"Hello, sweetheart," Elaine greets with a tight-lipped smile, her hand reaching out to tuck an unruly strand of hair back behind Gail's ear. "Is there any particular reason why you haven't returned my phone calls lately?"

Gail feels her throat tightening with excuses, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly as her mother merely continues to pin her with an expectant stare. There's perfectly good reasons why she's been avoiding her mother to the best of her ability lately – namely Holly and their perfect, happy bubble – and despite knowing that her ability to dodge her mother was running out like a ticking bomb, it still feels like she's unprepared for the explosion of her mother's sudden ambush.

Her mind lags as she searches for an appropriate excuse and Gail feels panic settling into her chest as she blanks on what to say. It's the arch of her mother's eyebrow a few, drawn out seconds later that makes Gail's face flush from the pressure, her ears burning unbearably hot and leaving her feeling increasingly flustered the longer she fails to provide an answer.

"Well?" Elaine demands, crossing her arms over her chest as Gail fidgets under the heat of her gaze.

"I've been busy with... work and stuff," Gail mumbles finally, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips as she reaches up to rub anxiously at her neck. "Sorry."

She watches the way her mother's mouth twitches at her response, and Gail knows she's less than impressed with her non-answer, answer. To Gail's surprise though, Elaine doesn't push for more details, instead she simply shifts until she's able to loop her arm through Gail's and leads them to the unoccupied parade-room.

She releases Gail's arm the moment they're inside and naturally moves to position herself behind the podium, nodding her head at the row of seats in front and indicating for Gail to sit. Gail does as she's told, moving to one of the hard plastic chairs like she's on auto-pilot and sits down stiffly.

"Your birthday is on Friday," Elaine says, her eyes trailing over Gail's seated form and regarding her carefully. "You're aware of this, yes?"

Gail feels her jaw tightening in annoyance as the fog shifts from her mind and has to fight not to roll her eyes. "Yes, I'm aware of when my own birthday is, Mother."

"Well, I was just making sure, since you've been so..." she pauses, holding Gail's gaze as her mouth twist up into a accusatory smile. "...busy and all." Gail tries not to flinch at the dig, knowing that she should always be ready for the impact of her mother's verbal attacks, and yet she subconsciously presses her back further into the chair, trying to make herself as small as possible as she shrugs sheepishly and averts her mother's gaze. "I like to know how my children are doing, I don't think a phone call or getting together for lunch every few weeks is too much to ask for, do you?"

Gail shakes her head, trying to will away the guilt her mother is always so able to inspire in her. "Of course not. It won't happen again."

"I should hope not," Elaine reprimands, her shoulders relaxing a little then as she lets her mouth curve into a small smile. "Getting back on topic – your birthday – I've booked a table for us on Friday at Alfonzo's. I've already invited Steven and Traci, and I've talked to Frank about ensuring you're not working a late shift that night so you have no excuse not to come and celebrate."

Gail forces a smile onto her face, and wrings her hands together in her lap so tightly that she can feel the casing of her phone creaking under the pressure. "That sounds... great, Mom. But you really don't need to make a big deal, I know how expensive Alfonzo's is and it really isn't necessary-"

"Nonsense," Elaine interrupts, waving her hand dismissively. "It's your birthday; you deserve to have a nice evening. Besides, I expect you to bring that mystery doctor of yours, sweetheart, it's been what, six; nearly seven months? It's about time you introduced them to us."

Gail remembers how Traci had warned her of this, and she knows herself just how impatient her mother can be, especially when it comes to her love life. She's not entirely sure how she's managed to avoid offering up too much information about her relationship until now.

With Nick, Gail hadn't given much thought to what her parents thought, that was the whole point of her teenage dating choices; more to annoy then to impress. With Chris, it had been a case of wanting to try and show her mother that she was a real Peck; a rookie officer dating another, charming, rookie officer – unfortunately for Chris, her mother had perceived his kindness as a weakness and had deemed him (after only two hours) unsuitable for anything more than short term 'fun'.

Rationally, Gail's always known that she couldn't put off introducing Holly to her family forever. It's not even like she intended to keep their relationship a secret for so long – her brother knows already and so do her friends – the only excuse Gail has for holding back is that she wanted to make sure; to be certain before she revealed the truth about herself and her heart to her parents. But now things with Holly are well and truly serious – it's without a doubt the most real relationship she's ever had – Gail knows that it's the right time to tell them.

Even though a part of her is terrified of what her parents' reactions might be, Gail honestly wants to share Holly with them. She wants them to get to know Holly; to know how smart, and funny, and kind she is. Gail wants them to see the happiness Holly's brought to her life, and to finally know who she really is. For so long now she's hidden parts of herself away and held back but being with Holly has allowed her to truly be herself; to start accepting all of her weaknesses and flaws and embrace all of her strengths and ambitions – even if they're not what other people (namely her mother) want for her.

"I think so too," Gail breathes softly, pushing herself to her feet so that she can be level with her mother, hoping it will give her just a little extra strength.

Elaine's eyes widen momentarily, a little surprised at Gail's lack of resistance but she covers it with a bright smile and moves around the podium until she's standing in front of Gail, her hand reaching up to cup Gail's face affectionately. "It's gotten serious then?"

Gail nods, smiling shyly as her heart swells with thoughts of Holly. "Very."

"Well then," Elaine continues, giving Gail's cheek a gentle pat. "I'm very much looking forward to meeting the man who's stolen your heart."

The words echo around inside her head loudly as her mother presses a parting kiss to her cheek, and Gail can do nothing but stand motionless as she watches Elaine Peck strut from the parade-room with her usual determination.

She doesn't understand how the happy fluttering that had filled her chest only moments before could be so easily, and so quickly, replaced with a crushing heaviness that leaves her bracing her hands against her legs as she buckles forward and tries desperately to catch her breath. Her lungs burn painfully, aching with every deep inhale she draws. It takes several minutes before Gail's able to fight off the overwhelming wave of panic that's spun her out of control and stand upright again, her breathing still shaky as the fear slowly ebbs away.

The phone vibrating in her left hand is what finally anchors her and Gail clutches at it tightly, ignoring looking at the screen in favour of letting her feet lead her towards the source of comfort she so innately needs.

Her feet feel heavy as she exits the elevator and heads down the corridor towards the lab, and her normally swift, and ninja-like approach is nowhere to be found as she fumbles noisily with the door handle, startling Holly as she enters the lab and making her look up abruptly from her computer.

"Hey you," Holly greets, flashing her a lopsided smile as she looks up to find Gail lingering in the doorway. "To what do I owe this surprise visit? If it's about you neglecting to reply to my messages, I know how busy you are, okay? I promise I'm not mad. Although I wouldn't totally object to you making it up to me later by giving me a foot rub."

Gail remains in the doorway fidgeting absently with the phone in her hands as her mother's words ripple around her head again. "Sorry..." Gail mumbles distractedly.

"Hey, is everything okay?" Holly asks, standing from her desk and making her way over to her, her hands instantly going to Gail's and gently prying her fingertips from her phone so that she can place it on the side. Gail finds herself drawn to the calmness in Holly's eyes as Holly returns to her, her thumbs brushing soothingly against the back of Gail's hands while she waits patiently for Gail to compose herself.

"My mother was just here," Gail blurts, the words spilling from her mouth before she can over-analyse them. "Apparently she's hosting a get together for my birthday on Friday and wants to meet you."

She watches Holly's eyes widen at her news, the outburst obviously catching her a little off guard. It makes Gail draw her hands from Holly's until she's able to curl her fingertips into the softness of Holly's shirt and urge their bodies closer together.

Holly lets her hands go instantly to Gail's neck so that she can knead away the tension she knows will be lurking uncomfortably in Gail's muscles. "You actually told your mom about me?"

"Not quite," Gail replies, letting her eyes close as Holly's fingers work a particularly sensitive spot on her neck, humming appreciatively when Holly works the knot out. "All she knows is what I told you before, that she knows I'm dating a doctor," Gail continues as she opens her eyes to find Holly's. "And that it's serious."

Holly smiles softly at that and dips her head to press a lingering kiss to Gail's forehead. "Why do you look so horrified then?" Holly questions gently, sliding her arms down to Gail's waist and drawing her closer. "Do you not want me to meet them yet? Is that it?"

"No," Gail retorts shaking her head and watching then as a glimmer of hurt flashes in Holly's eyes. She tightens her hold on Holly quickly, realising the mistake of her words. "No, that's not- I mean... I want you to meet them, Hol; I really do." Holly relaxes back into her hold then and Gail slips her hands beneath Holly's shirt to caress the soft expanse of her back. "It's just my mother... she's so... difficult," Gail continues, unsure of how to explain the situation. "And I've kind of been using gender-neutral terms whenever she's asked about you and now she wants to meet, and I quote, 'the man who's stolen my heart'."

Holly quirks her eyebrow with a smirk. "'Gender-neutral terms'," she echoes teasingly. "You're such a goober."

Gail scowls at the insult and then pinches Holly's side. "That's what you got out of what I just said, nerd? Really?" Holly lets out an amused breath and ducks her head to kiss Gail slowly in response. When they break apart Gail's eyes flutter open in confusion. "Why are you smiling; she thinks you're a man."

Holly laughs at that and presses her lips back against Gail's when she pouts in annoyance. "Baby, you've never given them any indication that you've switched teams, so how is your mother supposed to know that I'm a woman? I mean it's not her fault she missed the hints you were giving off by using 'gender-neutral terms'," Holly in-tones playfully.

Gail purses her lips together at Holly's teasing, relenting only when Holly's fingers tickle up her side until she can't help but smile back and grab at Holly's hands to make her stop. "God, I'm so bad at this," Gail sighs, rolling her eyes at herself. "I'm just being an idiot and freaking out hard, huh?"

Holly looks back at her thoughtfully, reaching up to brush the hair from Gail's eyes and letting her thumb caress the arch of Gail's cheek reassuringly. "Introducing somebody you're dating to your parents for the first time is always stressful, regardless of gender, Gail. But we can do this however you want to, okay? If you want me to be with you when you tell them, I will. If you'd rather go alone and tell them, that's okay too. I'll support you in whatever you decide."

Gail smiles at Holly's unwavering calmness and snuggles further into her body, burying her face in the crook of Holly's neck and lets her lips press against the warm skin she finds there as Holly's arms tighten around her and hold her impossibly close.

"Will you come with me on Friday?" Gail whispers, nuzzling her nose against Holly's neck and breathing her in, loving how Holly's always so familiar; always so warm and solid. Gail knows without question that she can rely on Holly to get her through this next step. "I want you there with me when I tell them."

She feels Holly's breath ghost across her hairline. "Of course I will," Holly murmurs, her lips pressing a soft, lingering kiss to Gail's head.

Gail lets her eyes flutter closed at that, and tries not to worry about what she'll say or how her parents will react, instead she forces her mind to quiet and relishes the peace that encompasses her whenever she's in the safety of Holly's arms.

Chapter Text

Holly ends up being the one who drives them to Alfonzo's on Friday evening while Gail uses the opportunity to try and calm her nerves with little success.

Her fingers curl tightly in the fabric at the hem of her dress and her knee refuses to stop jittering up and down like crazy no matter how hard she tries to get it to stop. She presses her forehead against the coolness of the window and closes her eyes as she releases a trembling exhale.

Gail's never been a big fan of her birthday – sure, she loves cake and presents as much as the next person – but birthday's in the Peck household have always involved being celebrated in a rather stiff, formal way that completely negates the notion of fun and relaxing.

It's even worse this year; the stress she already feels by having to get dressed up and eat out in fancy restaurant – a restaurant, it should be noted, that she doesn't even like – is doubled by the added pressure of introducing Holly to her parents for the first time. Steve and Traci had promised to have her back and Gail knows that they will, but that doesn't stop worry from creeping into her stomach and sitting heavily as she thinks about the way her mother is bound to attack Holly in her subtle but ultimately devastating way.

The only thing that's kept her remotely calm is Holly; her unconditional, soothing reassurance, and ability to chase away Gail's fears preventing her from turning into a complete and utter anxious mess. Gail sets her jaw firmly and lets her fingernails bite into her knees as the desire to get Holly to turn around and run away in the opposite direction of her mother rushes over her.

She opens her eyes at the warmth of Holly's hand covering her own, her fingers gently working Gail's free from the hem of her dress until she's able to tangle their fingers together, squeezing comfortingly.

"It's going to be okay," Holly murmurs, taking her eyes off the road briefly to glance at Gail. "I'm here and I'm not going anywhere, no matter what happens, I promise."

Gail releases a long, shaky breath, her mouth curling into a grateful smile as Holly dismantles her greatest fear with a few simple words. The rational part of her knows that Holly would never just up and leave her, that they have something solid and stable where honesty and trust from their friendship has flourished into the ever reliable foundation that they've built their relationship upon. But sometimes, in moments of weakness, she unwillingly lapses, her years of insecurities creeping back into her head and attempting to drag her back into the shadows.

Before Holly, her demons would have slowly lured her into the darkness; filling her head with doubt and making her already wounded heart ache tauntingly. The demons had dug their claws tightly into her when she tried again with Nick, always whispering provocatively in her ear; a constant reminder of all of her short-comings. It's part of the reason why she had acted out and cheated on Nick; a sad and desperate attempt to protect herself before he could really hurt her. Gail knows in the end that she only ended up hurting herself more with her actions, but Nick's dishonesty with her had only fuelled the whispers of the demons inside her head more, and by the end of their relationship she had been left bruised and beaten and more determined than ever to build the walls back up around her heart.

She doesn't know how the hell Holly got past them; how she seemingly walked past all of her defences and scared her demons away with a quick flash of her endearing, lopsided smile. Whatever the reason for her heart willingly accepting Holly inside it, Gail has never been more thankful in her life than she is right now.

"You ready?" Holly asks gently, breaking Gail's train of thought and smiling reassuringly at her.

Gail takes a moment to peer down the street at the restaurant, letting herself take a few steadying breaths as she catches sight of her parents and Steve and Traci waiting outside. It's the belief she sees in Holly's eyes for her that gives Gail the final surge of strength she needs; it's now or never.

She draws Holly's hand up to her mouth and dusts a kiss across the back of her knuckles, offering her a smile and a firm nod of her head. "Ready as I'll ever be."

Holly squeezes her hand a final time, waiting until Gail releases her grip and exits the car before she does the same. She makes sure to follow Gail's lead from there on, walking next to her as they make their way over to the restaurant, conscious enough to balance leaving a respectable space between them while also staying close enough to remind Gail that she's there.

"We were beginning to wonder if you were still coming," Elaine says in lieu of a greeting, and Gail offers a tight-lipped smile back as her mother steps forward to press a quick kiss to her cheek.

Gail notices her mother's eyes shifting to Holly as she hugs her father hello, and quickly pulls herself back to stand at Holly's side before her mother can say another word.

"Mom," Gail begins, taking a quick breath as she lets her eyes flick briefly to Holly's. "This is Holly-"

"It's always nice to meet one of Gail's friends," Elaine cuts in, extending her hand to Holly and shaking her hand cordially before turning her focus back to Gail. "Where's your doctor then? Please don't tell me he's gotten cold feet and decided not to come? It is your birthday, sweetheart, he really should be here."

Gail catches Steve's gaze over her mother's shoulder and takes his smile and slight nod as encouragement to slip her hand deliberately into Holly's, her eyes returning to flick between her mother and father's as she tries to read the expressions etching across their faces.

"I don't understand," Elaine says, her eyes moving slowly up from their hands to settle questioningly on Gail.

She feels Holly's thumb brushing comfortingly against her skin and dares to take a second to look over at her father. He lets his mouth twist up into an understanding smile, and Gail knows that he's okay with everything when he steps closer to her mother and places his hand on her shoulder.

"Elaine my darling, why don't we go inside?" Bill suggests cautiously. "Gail can explain more once we're seated in the warm."

"She can explain herself now," Elaine retorts shakily, her eyes never straying from Gail's face. "Gail?"

Gail swallows past the lump forming in her throat and focuses on the warmth of Holly's hand curled around her own, keeping her grounded and remaining supportive even as Holly stays silent and lets Gail handle this the way she wants to.

"Mom," Gail murmurs softly, willing her to take a step back and look clearly at what she's trying to tell her. "Holly is doctor I've been dating..." Gail trails off, watching the confusion in her mother's eyes slowly starting to fade away.

Elaine blinks back at her for a long moment then, her eyes wide with bewilderment, and Gail flicks her gaze up to Holly's, feeling helplessly unsure with how to continue.

Luckily for her, Holly knows how to read her perfectly and she doesn't hesitate to extend her hand out towards Elaine again. "Doctor Holly Stewart," Holly says confidently, smiling warmly. "It's nice to finally meet you Superintendent Peck."

Gail watches anxiously as her mother regards Holly's hand suspiciously for a painfully drawn out second before her whole body language shifts in a way Gail's seen time and time before; her shoulders squaring, her chin pointing up and her face steeling into an unreadable mask.

"Please, call me Elaine," she says as she accepts Holly's handshake briefly, her eyes betraying no hint of emotion. "Bill, get the door would you, I think it's time we go inside and get out of this cold."

Just like that, Gail watches her turn on her heel and strut inside, Steve and Traci following behind her without daring to say a word. She's not sure whether to be relieved or even more terrified at her mother's reaction – or rather, lack of reaction – and she doesn't realise that she hasn't moved an inch until her father's voice cuts through the silence.

"Don't worry about your mother, kiddo," Bill reassures her with a sincere smile. "She'll come around, you know how she is; she just needs some time to process the change, that's all."

Gail purses her lips together and shrugs tiredly. "I hope so," she says, unconvinced.

"Come on," he says, nudging his head towards the door, his eyes twinkling charmingly. "We have a birthday to celebrate, and I for one am very excited to get to know the lovely lady on your arm."

She feels her eyes prickle at the warmth and ease of her father's acceptance at least, and the affectionate kiss he presses to her cheek as she passes is what gives her the resolve she needs to lead Holly inside and face the rest of the evening.

Trying to get a read on her mother has always been a challenge.

Even as a child Gail had struggled to grasp her mother's ever stoic personality; the vibes of happiness or anger she sometimes gave off often conflicting when combined with her ever neutral facial expression. It often left Gail unsure, forever cautiously treading a fine line that she could misstep at any given moment.

It doesn't surprise her that her mother is hiding behind her steely facade; her Superintendent Peck persona stifling any hints of the small – and not to mention inadequate – pockets of maternal instincts that she hasn't rejected entirely.

Steve, Traci, and her dad solider through the blanket of tension that is covering them all and spend the first half of the evening making pleasant, easy-going, small talk in an attempt to sweep away the awkwardness. Holly is a saint; she keeps a smile on her face and powers through, sharing stories and laughing at her father's awful jokes while managing to remain completely composed under her mother's unwavering gaze.

Her mother refuses to meet Gail's eyes, but she makes sure to keep her intimidating gaze fixed on Holly despite her unwillingness to participate in the conversation taking place around her. Her stare is piercing and Gail knows personally how it feels to be under its fierce intensity – it normally causes people to buckle and crumble, their weakness only signifying Elaine's smug victory – and the fact that her mother's scrutiny is lingering unfairly on Holly alone only further fuels the hurt that's bursting through her veins.

Gail doesn't realise that she's started to glare furiously at the side of her mother's face with only the sound of her heart hammering noisily in her ears, until Holly's hand slides into her lap; her palm trailing soothingly down Gail's leg until she can curl her fingers warmly around Gail's knee. The touch draws her back to the present, her head turning towards Holly so that their eyes meet. Holly smiles softly at her and Gail lets herself look back until she loses herself in the calmness of Holly's eyes. She lets her hand cover Holly's over her knee, her fingers falling into the spaces between Holly's as she gives her a reassuring smile of her own.

"So, Holly, you're in the medical field?" Bill asks, drawing their eyes over to him across the table as he tops their glasses up with more wine.

"Yeah, that's right," Holly smiles in response. "I'm a forensic pathologist working for the Toronto PD; 15 Division mostly."

"Ah, I heard about a Dr Stewart working the forensics on the Phil West murder case a few months back... of course I didn't know who you were at the time," Bill comments with a smile as he pieces the memory together. "You did some outstanding work there; we wouldn't have been able to convict Lamar Mason without your findings."

"Thank you," Holly replies with a smile. "That really was a tough case to crack but I got lucky finding some stray hair fibres."

Bill smiles back at her. "If you don't mind me asking, how old are you, Holly?"

"Dad," Gail hisses warningly, raising her eyebrow at him. "You're not supposed to ask a lady her age, remember?"

Bill holds his hand up apologetically and grins when Holly just chuckles at the exchange and says, "Gail, its fine." And then, turning back to Bill, "I'm thirty-two."

"Remind me why knowing her age is important here?" Gail inquires, narrowing her eyes at her dad.

"It's not important, kiddo," Bill retorts, shaking his head. "I was merely curious. Being only thirty-two and one of the few female forensic pathologists in Ontario is very impressive. Your Holly is a clever young woman, Gail, you should be proud of her."

Gail watches Holly blush a little at the compliment and finds herself smiling fondly at her. "I am," Gail murmurs softly, her eyes meeting Holly's as she lifts Holly's hand to her mouth and presses an adoring kiss to the back of her knuckles without a second thought.

"My husband's right," Elaine says, her voice cutting through the pleasant atmosphere like nails on a chalkboard. "It's very impressive what you've managed to achieve so far in your career, Dr Stewart. I've heard the chief medical examiner, Dr Spencer, talk highly of your published works."

There's an unnerving edge to her mother's tone that makes a shiver prickle uncomfortably down Gail's spine. This is how she always starts her attack; a few half-hearted pleasantries used to create a false sense of security before she goes in for the kill. Gail's seen it happen time and time again, and she knows the only way to beat her mother at her own game is to act unaffected. Holly, however, looks a little startled by her mother's sudden involvement in the conversation and it's all Gail can do to squeeze at Holly's hand and encourage her back into action as she lets her eyes flick between them.

"Thank you, Elaine, that's very kind of you to say," Holly replies with a strained smile, lifting a hand to push her glasses further up the bridge of her nose. "And please, call me Holly."

Elaine hums in acknowledgement and purses her mouth together in a tight-lipped smile. "I would have thought a woman such as yourself – that is to say, highly educated and clearly ambitious – would have been drawn to somebody more... on your level, so to speak."

It's mostly an innate reflex that causes Gail to drop her gaze down to the table as the sting of her mother's first shot hits her head on. It makes her lungs burn achingly as her chest starts to constrict in response and she struggles to keep her breathing level.

Gail's grown used to it after all these years, the way each little dig her mother makes at her feels like another splinter is being embedded sharply beneath her skin. Sometimes, in the sweet moments of reprieve her mother grants her, Gail forgets that they're even there. She foolishly tricks herself into believing that the wounds they've left behind have healed. It's only when her mother crashes back into her life and launches her next batch of insults that Gail's left wincing from the way each one pricks painfully into her flesh.

"Excuse me?" Holly snaps back, causing Gail to look back up in surprise. Her tone is biting and her eyes are dark and narrowed – she looks utterly affronted, Gail thinks briefly – in a way she's never seen before Holly look before.

"I'm just saying that you're clearly a very accomplished individual, while my daughter is turning twenty-nine today and is still only a rookie officer," Elaine pushes on, seemingly unaffected by Holly's daring defiance to interrupt her. "Her ambition has always been a little... unfocused. You're rather mismatched, don't you think?"

Gail lets her shoulders sag in resignation as her eyes start to sting involuntarily at her mother's ability to always be so cruel and hostile. She wishes there was something she could say or do but Gail knows from years of trying that it's futile to try and change her mother's opinion of her.

She watches then as Holly's eyebrows knit together in disbelief, her mouth parting as she releases a deep and shaky breath.

"You really don't know the first thing about me, Superintendent Peck, so don't assume that you do," Holly states calmly while simultaneously pinning Elaine with an icy glare as she wraps her arm protectively around Gail's shoulders. "As for your daughter; Gail is one of the most committed and hard-working people I know, and the fact that her ambitions haven't been entirely crushed by your reprehensible opinions about her worth, astounds me." Elaine's eyes widen at Holly's response, a huffed breath slipping from her mouth in disbelief. "From the little I can gather you've let your own weird, twisted hang-ups about what success should be defined as blind you to the incredible person she is," Holly continues, determined to have her say. "You want to keep overlooking her and underestimating her, that's your poor, ignorant decision. But don't think for a single moment you can convince me to do the same."

Gail can do nothing but sit speechless at Holly's unexpected outburst; never has somebody so brazenly come to her defence, especially when up against her mother. Heaven knows her father and Steve have always tried over the years to protect her the best they knew how, but their approach has often been subtle and far too soft, giving her mother the perfect opportunity to bulldoze straight through them.

It feels weird then as she chances a look across at her mother to see the look of utter shock on her face at Holly's daringness to challenge her; her cheeks are flushed and her posture has deflated back into her chair as she carefully averts her gaze downwards. It makes her look more exposed and vulnerable than Gail ever remembers seeing before.

"I'm proud to call your daughter mine," Holly presses on, her voice softening as she flicks her eyes to Gail's and smiles so earnestly and so lovingly that Gail can feel her heart swelling in her chest. "I'll support her in whatever she chooses to do with her career as long as it makes her happy," Holly adds, turning back towards Elaine and ducking her head to seek out her downcast gaze. "I pity you for not having the decency to do the same, because ultimately you're the one who's missing out on the wonderful person your daughter truly is."

There's a heavy silence that follows then, and Gail finds herself leaning subconsciously closer in against Holly's side as they wait for her mother to respond. When she continues to keep her eyes focused down at the table and refuses to say another word, Holly sighs and shakes her head before turning her attention towards her father.

"It was lovely to finally meet you, sir," Holly says, smiling warmly over at him. "And I apologise for the way things have played out tonight. Hopefully our next meeting can be on more pleasant terms." She turns back to Gail then and squeezes her shoulder. "I think it's about time we left, birthday girl, don't you?"

"Please," Gail murmurs thankfully, without a moment's hesitation, flicking her eyes over to her father's. "Do you mind?"

"Of course not, kiddo," Bill replies, offering back a small smile of his own as they all stand from the table.

It's beyond awkward as they say their goodbyes – her mother holding on to her resolution not to look up at them again – but Gail takes the time to allow Steve and Traci to wrap her in big hugs before her father offers to walk them to their car.

"I'm sorry about your mother, Gail," he says once they're outside the restaurant and able to talk more freely. "Don't you take any notice of what she says, okay? I know at times we've pushed you a little too hard but I hope you know that I'm nothing but extremely proud of you."

Gail feels the tears she's been holding back all night spill free from her eyes and escape down her cheeks. "Thanks, Dad," she replies thickly, letting him pull her into a warm hug as he brushes a kiss to the top of her head.

She watches as he extends his hand to Holly once they've parted. "It really was nice to meet you, Holly. I hope we'll have the chance to get know each other better."

"Me too," Holly says with a smile, grasping his hand and accepting his handshake.

"Right, I guess I better go and make sure your mother hasn't massacred the waitstaff," he jokes, reaching out to squeeze her arm. "Try and enjoy what's left of your birthday, kiddo."

"I'll make sure she does," Holly says softly, offering her father a final smile before he takes his leave and heads back inside. Once they're settled in the car, Holly reaches across the centre console to take Gail's hand. "I know this probably doesn't make up for what we just sat through but there's still some of the night left, we could go get a drink somewhere if you fancy it?"

Gail releases a deep breath as she lets her head fall back against the headrest and smiles tiredly. "You know, all I really wanted for my birthday this year was you and me, snuggled up on the couch, and watching lame TV while we made out like horny teenagers."

Holly chuckles in response and smirks over at her. "I think I can arrange that for you, birthday girl. Besides, I already have chocolate cupcakes and tequila waiting with your name on it back at mine."

"This is why you're my favourite," Gail murmurs, letting her mouth curl into a cheeky grin when Holly glances over at her. "Add in birthday sex and you just might be able to redeem this night completely."

"Might be able to?" Holly echoes with mock disbelief. "Baby, I'll make you think that all your birthdays have come at once."

"As long as I'm coming that's all that matters," Gail teases back, laughing when Holly wiggles her eyebrows flirtatiously at her.

She realises ironically then that this – just her and Holly being goofballs together – is what has made her smile properly for the first time all night. It shouldn't really surprise her given how time with her family normally goes, but she feels overwhelmingly appreciative for Holly even more so now that she's been exposed to the Pecks for a couple of hours.

"Hey, thanks for being there tonight, Hol, and for... defending me," Gail breathes quietly, rubbing her thumb across the back of Holly's hand appreciatively; it somehow doesn't quite feel like enough.

"I meant what I said, Gail, I'll always be here for you, no matter what," Holly says softly, tugging at Gail's hand until she can lift it up to her mouth; her lips pressing a gentle, lingering kiss across the back of her knuckles. "I really do just want you to be happy."

Gail lets her eyes close at Holly's comforting and consistent devotion, and tries to ignore the niggling ache in her chest that wishes her mother would feel the same way.

She's in the bathroom, fresh out of the shower and cleaning her teeth when she hears the doorbell ring out through Holly's apartment. She hears Holly's footsteps pad noisily past the door as she rushes from the bedroom to answer it. Gail glances at her watch sitting on the side, the early hour piquing her curiosity as to who it could be at 8am on a Saturday morning. It's the way Holly's voice drops from happy and chirpy – her usual morning tone – to low and unimpressed that fully catches her attention and clues her in as to who it might be.

Gail quickly spits the minty foam in her mouth out into the sink, pulls on her sweats and t-shirt and rushes from the bathroom to find her mother standing awkwardly in the doorway. Holly turns to look at her over her shoulder as she remains blocking the doorway, refusing to let Elaine in, and quirks her eyebrow questioningly as to what Gail wants their next move to be.

"What are you doing here, Mom?" Gail asks, crossing her arms over her chest in a subconsciously pre-emptive move to protect herself.

Elaine shifts nervously, her shoulders dropping a little as she dares to look past Holly to Gail. "I came to speak to you both," she says, flicking her gaze between them. "To apologise; to Holly and to you."

Holly looks back at her again, and Gail purses her lips together unsurely even as she nods her head giving Holly permission to let her mother inside. She watches then as Holly steps backwards, gesturing with her hand for Elaine to come inside. Her mother does as she's bid and enters into the apartment only a few steps before stopping hesitantly.

Gail watches as her mother daringly lets her eyes dart around Holly's apartment, surveying it with intrigue and stopping only when Holly passes by her to stand supportively at Gail's side.

Elaine clears her throat and open and closes her mouth tentatively before averting her gaze again. She takes a deep breath and then focuses her attention on Holly. "You know, I looked you up when I got home last night Dr Stewart, you truly are an impressive young woman."

"I'm glad your background report on me impressed you, Superintendent," Holly retorts, shaking her head in disbelief that this is how Gail's mother is choosing to start the conversation. "What's next, do you want some of my blood so you can get a DNA test?"

"That's not what I-" Elaine fires back, stopping to swallow away the dryness in her mouth. "That's not why I read your report. You were right, I don't know the first thing about you but I wanted to get a sense of who you are. I read up on your work and on your personal statements; you seem like a very nice and kind young woman with a variety of interests in things outside of your field, and I apologise for being so presumptuous about you and your relationship with my daughter."

Gail lets out an audible breath of surprise at her mother's revelation; it's not often that she's ever seen Elaine Peck apologise and look like she means it. Holly slips her hand into Gail's and brushes her thumb soothingly against Gail's skin, her eyes searching out Gail's to make sure she's okay.

She squeezes Holly's hand back and watches as Holly takes a breath to steady herself before turning her attention back to her mother. "I appreciate your apology, Superintendent Peck," Holly replies calmly. "Thank you. I won't apologise for what I said last night, but I am sorry that we didn't get off on the right foot because I would actually very much like for us to get to know each other."

Elaine nods her head in acknowledgement and gives Holly a small smile before she lets her eyes shift to Gail. "I would like to speak to you alone, if you'll allow me to?" she asks softly, her eyes pleading.

Gail feels her stomach knot anxiously; dread prickling down her spine as she worries her bottom lip nervously between her teeth. It's early and she still feels like her wounds are raw and barely healed from her mother's attack the previous night. She doesn't know if she should expose herself to her mother's potential onslaught again so soon.

Holly senses her reluctance instantly and shifts until she's standing in front of Gail, blocking Elaine from her view as her hands move to cradle Gail's face. "It's okay if you're not ready to talk to her," Holly whispers, searching out Gail's eyes intensely. "If you want me to get her to leave, I will."

Gail lets her eyes close and focuses on the warmth of Holly's hands on her face. The fact that her mother is even there and looking sincere in her attempt to patch things up is enough for Gail to at least try to hear her out. Elaine Peck doesn't extend olive branches often and Gail is mature enough now not to throw it back in her face.

"It's okay," Gail murmurs quietly as she looks back up at Holly. She sees the hesitation lingering in Holly's eyes even as she nods her head understandingly, and so Gail takes a moment to close the space between them and kiss her softly in an attempt to reassure her.

Holly smiles warmly when they break apart, holding her close for a second longer before stepping back and turning towards Elaine. "I'll be in the bedroom if you need me," Holly says, letting her eyes flick between them; Gail knows the look is reassurance for her and a warning for her mother.

It isn't until Holly has disappeared behind the closed door of the bedroom that her mother dares to step closer to her. "Thank you for talking with me," she says timidly, her eyes trailing over Gail's face as if she's unsure of how to read her.

Gail swallows thickly and shrugs. "You're my mom," she replies simply, as if that's explanation enough.

She can't help but notice then the way her mother twists her fingers together nervously, her brow furrowing as she speaks again. "I was out of line last night..." Elaine breathes, shaking her head at herself. "...way out of line, I know that."

"Yes, you were," Gail replies, folding her arms over her chest again.

"I'm sorry for the things that I said; it was just such a shock... I'm not sure that I even understand now," Elaine says, her eyes narrowing in confusion. "You've always dated men in the past. Even during your rebellious years you never brought a girl home. It seems like such an abrupt change this late in your life, Gail."

Gail lets her arms fall down to her sides and takes a step closer to her mother in return, hoping that they can manage to keep the lines of communication between them open and honest without falling back into their old patterns.

"Look, it took me by surprise too, okay?" Gail admits truthfully. "I didn't set out to fall for Holly, but I did, and she makes me so happy, Mom. Happier than anybody has ever made me." She pauses then, smiling as she thinks of Holly. She holds her mother's gaze, hoping to emphasise the point. "Does it honestly matter to you that much that she's a woman?"

She watches as her mother purses her mouth together pensively, a long moment of silence passing between them before she says, "It could complicate your career, Gail."

Gail scoffs in disbelief and squares her shoulders defensively. "Well, according to you I'm not ambitious enough to have a successful one anyway, so what difference does it make?"

"Sweetheart..." Elaine murmurs softly, her eyes flashing with hurt as she shakes her head in disagreement. "That's not true... I-"

"I know it's a big change to my life," Gail cuts in, unable to ignore the fire rushing under her skin that's giving her the courage to say what she's always held back. "And if it, for some reason, has any effect on my job, I'll work twice as hard to prove that who I share my life with has no bearing on my capabilities, okay? I love being a police-officer and I intend to make it my life's career, but just because I don't go about it in the way you would doesn't mean that I'm not driven."

It surprises her a little then, the way her mother's eyes shimmer in the early morning light with unshed tears. "Despite what you've grown to think of me, I've only ever pushed you towards what I thought was best for you," Elaine confesses quietly, her gaze never wavering from Gail's own. "What I thought would make you happy."

"I know," Gail replies softly, feeling her defensive resolve shifting down a gear as she reaches out to briefly touch her mother's arm. "But the one thing you've never been able to understand, Mom, is that I don't want being a police-officer to be all that I am. And I know some people will look at me differently now because I'm with Holly but I'm still the same person I've always been. All I can hope for is that they still see that in the end. But more than anything I wish you'd see that," Gail whispers, shrugging as she bares her heart truthfully. "I wish you'd see me for who I really am and not who you want me to be."

At that, Elaine closes the remaining space between them and reaches out to tenderly cup Gail's cheek. "You're my daughter, Gail, nothing will ever change how much I love you, you have to know that," she breathes, the words catching in the back of her throat. "I'm aware that I'm not a perfect mother, and I know our relationship has been a struggle at times," she adds, nodding her head then, as if feeling the need to acknowledge her pitfalls in a way Gail can physically see.

"Mom..." Gail whispers helplessly, knowing there's nothing she can say to convince either of them that what her mother is saying isn't true.

"My mother was always tough on me growing up and I guess I ended up copying her methods because I didn't know any other way to relate to you," Elaine continues, her eyes full of regret. "From them moment I married your father your Grams called me 'tough old boots' behind my back when she thought I wasn't listening," her mother chuckles fondly at the memory. "And when you came along she started to nag at me, telling me I was weighing you down with too much pressure; that in the end it would only end up pushing you away... I guess the old bird was right, huh?"

She purses her mouth together into a rueful smile and lets her hand slip from Gail's cheek as she averts her gaze down to the floor. Gail feels her eyes stinging as her chest constricts at the flood of overwhelming sorrow radiating out from her mother's body. Gail can't help but notice then, the way her normally bigger than life presence has disappeared, stripping her back completely and leaving her mother looking frightfully small and vulnerable.

It's her that reaches out this time, letting her hand curl around her mother's arm and squeeze gently until she's met with clear blue eyes so similar to her own. "I don't doubt that you love me, Mom," Gail says, offering her a small smile. "I just- All I ever wanted was for you to let me be my own person and make my own decisions; right or wrong, success or failure. I don't need you to put in a good word for me or push me towards what you think is best for me from your Superintendent point of view." She pauses then, holding her mother's gaze intently, even as a few tears escape from her eyes and trail down her cheeks. "I just need you to be my mom."

"I can do that," Elaine says softly, stumbling a little as her voice catches, and reaching up to wipe the tears away from Gail's cheeks as her mouth curls into a gentle smile. "There's nothing I want more then for us to have a proper relationship."

Gail lets out a breath of relief as the weight that's always lingered heavily around her shoulders finally slips away. "Me too," she breathes, smiling back happily. "I really need you to be supportive of whatever I choose to do with my life though, whether that's becoming a detective or a prestigious white-shirt, or even if I choose to spend my hours grafting as a beat-cop on the streets of Toronto."

"I can do that," Elaine repeats, her eyes understanding as she lets them trace over Gail's face lovingly. "And for the record, I'm very proud of you. I know I don't tell you enough, but I am; I'm so very proud of you," she says softly, making Gail's eyes well with more tears as she finally hears the words she's always so desperately yearned for her mother to say to her. "You're a remarkable person, Gail, and I'm honoured to call you my daughter." She pauses then and nods her head in the direction of the bedroom before letting her eyes flick back to Gail's. "You're right, it doesn't matter that she's a woman as long as you're happy. I know you'll do amazing things regardless of any challenges life throws your way, not just because you're a Peck but because of the incredibly strong and determined person you've become."

Gail blinks back the tears still lingering in her eyes and lets her mother take her hand. "Part of that's thanks to Holly," she admits, smiling affectionately as she turns her head towards the bedroom. "She's supported me and encouraged me unconditionally; she's made me believe that I can achieve everything that I want to."

"I'm glad you've found somebody who makes you feel that way, Gail," Elaine says, squeezing Gail's hand gently. "She seems like a person well worth having in your corner; I think I can testify to her strength of character after taking a few – and I admit, well deserved – hits from her last night."

Gail lets out an amused breath; the image of Holly challenging her mother and winning is something that will forever be etched in her memory. "You'll like her when you get to know her more, I promise."

"I don't doubt that," Elaine replies smiling kindly, pausing a second before nervously saying, "Would it be okay if I... gave you a hug?"

The question catches Gail off guard and makes her heart ache sadly. It's such a simple request, something that Gail knows people – especially mothers and daughters – do all the time without a second thought, but the uncertainty that echoes in her mother's voice reminds her that it's something they've both gone far too long without.

Gail nods her head and whispers longingly, "Yes please."

She swallows hard against the overwhelming emotion rising in her chest as her mother closes the space between them and wraps her arms securely around her; her hand soothing up and down Gail's back as Gail's body crumples into her embrace, clinging tightly.

Her mother presses a kiss against the side of her head just like she used to when Gail was little and inhales deeply as she breathes in the sweet-scent of Gail's soft hair. "I really do love you very much," Elaine whispers. "And I'm truly sorry from the bottom of my heart for not always being the kind of mother you deserve."

Gail keeps her eyes closed for a moment longer, allowing herself to absorb the feeling of love and acceptance her mother is finally emitting. She pulls back and presses a kiss to her mother's cheek. "I love you too, Mom, flaws and all," she says smiling, and watches as her mother's eyes glimmer gratefully, her face lighting up with a relieved grin.

Her mother apologises then as her phone rings out loudly between them, disturbing the moment, and steps back to reach into her pocket to retrieve it. She ends the call without even considering answering it and turns her attention back to Gail.

"I should get going and leave you two in peace to enjoy your weekend. Not to mention your father will be pacing around outside in the cold and worrying himself into an early retirement," Elaine in-tones jokingly as she glances at her watch. "Maybe we could all have dinner together again soon – a peaceful dinner this time, I promise. I really would like to get to know the woman who's stolen your heart," she says honestly, echoing her words from before and consciously adjusting it in a way that makes Gail's heart swell appreciatively.

"I'd like that," Gail replies softly.

"I'll call you to arrange it during the week," Elaine says with a smile and leans forward to press a kiss to Gail's cheek before she turns on her heel and makes her way to the door. Gail blinks in confusion as she suddenly stops and marches back towards her, pulling something from her bag. "I almost forgot," Elaine says, passing Gail a gift wrapped box.

Gail takes the box, holding it anxiously as she flicks her gaze to her mother's. "What's this for? You already gave me a birthday present; you got me that red dress I wanted months ago and let me have it early, remember?"

"I remember," Elaine replies and shakes her head. "This isn't for your birthday though." Gail quirks her eyebrow suspiciously and narrows her eyes at her mother in confusion. Elaine merely reaches up to pat her cheek and smiles. "Congratulations on getting the detective rotation, sweetheart."

"How did you know?" Gail mumbles in surprise, and then feels the light bulb literally going on inside her head. "Let me guess," Gail says, cocking her head to the side accusingly. "You asked Frank last night when you were doing your research on Holly, right?"

Elaine chuckles and shakes her head. "No I didn't, he won't answer my calls." Gail feels her face twist up in puzzlement then, knowing for a fact nobody but her, Holly, and Frank know about it yet. "Holly..." Elaine explains simply, her mouth curling into a smile. "It was written all across her face last night how much she believes in you and how fiercely proud she is of you. She hit a nerve when she said I underestimated you and I figured it out from there."

Gail smiles warmly in response. "What can I say; I'm very lucky to have her defending my honour."

"Indeed," Elaine concedes, nodding her head. She touches Gail's wrist gently, offering her a parting smile before saying her goodbye and making her way out of Holly's apartment.

Gail stands in the quiet, the box feeling heavy in her hand as she narrows her eyes in disbelief. It all feels a little surreal and Gail closes her eyes tightly and counts to ten, thinking that when she opens them again she'll be waking up in Holly's bed from a very odd dream. When she opens her eyes again and finds herself standing in the same place, the box still in her hand and her cheek still tingling from where the press of her mother's lips had been, she lets her feet carry her into the bedroom to find Holly.

Holly immediately looks up in concern from her position on the bed when Gail bursts through the door looking bewildered, her eyes still a little red and puffy. She puts the book she was reading back on her nightstand and pushes her glasses up onto her head as Gail crawls onto the bed and settles in at Holly's side.

"Are you okay?" Holly whispers, wrapping her arms around Gail's body and pressing a kiss to her hairline. "How'd it go? What's in the box?"

Gail lifts her head to find Holly's eyes, and smiles softly as she rests the box on bed and rubs the palm of her hand soothingly against Holly's stomach to calm her rambling. "I'm good," Gail breathes, blinking in disbelief a couple of times before letting out a bemused breath. "It went really, really, well. We actually talked some of our shit out; she apologised, and told me she's proud of me and that she loves me. I feel like I'm having a dream and I'm going to wake up at any second, Hol." She lets out a little yelp of surprise when Holly pinches at her arm a second later, and scowls up at her. "What was that for, you bitch?"

Holly laughs and rubs her hand over Gail's arm, ducking her head to kiss away the pout forming on Gail's lips. "I was just reassuring you that you weren't in some weird twilight, parallel universe where your mother is a saint who loves puppies and rainbows."

"Funny," Gail snarks, even as she breaks out into a smile. "But seriously, it went better than I ever thought it would. She really, honestly, promised to try harder to let me live my life the way I want and not the way she thinks I should. I mean, that's a good start, right?"

"It sounds promising," Holly nods. "At least now I can stop thinking up all the different ways I could hide her body without leaving a trace."

Gail tuts mockingly. "Dr Stewart, you weren't planning a murder were you? I'd hate to have to arrest you."

"You wouldn't dare," Holly taunts, tickling her fingers against Gail's ribs and making her squirm. "Who would be your badge bunny then, huh?"

Gail laughs deeply at that. "Oh my god. I can't believe you just- Never call yourself that again, you giant nerd."

"Sure thing, Officer," Holly teases with a wink and mock salute. Gail retaliates instantly, burying her face in the crook of Holly's neck and nipping gently at the soft skin just below her ear. Holly pinches at her side again to get her to stop and Gail presses a sloppy kiss against her neck before lifting her eyes to find Holly's again. "Are you going to open the box or what? Way to keep a girl in suspense, Peck."

Gail shifts her body until she's leaning up against the headboard and reaches for the box, turning it over slowly in her hands a few times as she flicks her eyes to Holly's unsurely. Holly curls an arm around her shoulders and nods her head encouragingly.

She takes a deep breath then and lets her fingers work the ribbon loose, cautiously sliding the lid free and letting her eyes take in a familiar locket on a fine, silver chain. Gail lets out a shaky breath and reaches out to trace her fingers over the cool, smooth metal, her mind flooding with the memory of her younger self doing the exact same thing as it rested against the warmth of her mother's chest.

"It's beautiful," Holly murmurs softly, drawing Gail's attention to her as she takes in the intricate design etched into the locket.

Gail hums in agreement and pulls it from the box, letting the chain spill down the back of her hand as the locket rests in the centre of her palm. "It's my mom's," Gail breathes. "She always had this on when I was growing up. I don't know why, but I always loved it and used to beg her to let me wear it. I was never allowed though," Gail shrugs as her eyes flick to Holly's. "It originally belonged to my Grams, but she had given it to my dad to give to mom when they got engaged; it had been passed down to Grams from her mother when she met her husband, and because Grams only had dad she wanted her new daughter-in-law to have it. My mom always said she'd pass it down to me when I-"

The rest of her sentence dies off as Gail feels her breath lodge in the back of her throat, the realisation of what it might mean that her mother has chosen to give her the locket now hitting her squarely in the chest.

"Your mom always said she'd pass it down to you when you... what?" Holly prompts, her eyes wide with curiosity.

Gail feels her heart swell with affection for her mother and her acceptance as she curls her finger around the locket and lifts her eyes to Holly's, smiling fondly. "Just... when I was old enough," Gail deflects, watching as Holly's eyebrows knit together as she cocks her head to the side sceptically. She's thankful that Holly doesn't question her about it anymore and instead simply takes the locket from Gail's hand.

"Lift your hair up," she instructs with a smile, watching as Gail bites shyly at her lip before doing as she's told and turning her head so that Holly can reach around her to place the locket around her neck; her fingers brushing tenderly against Gail's skin as she connects the clasp. "There," Holly whispers, pressing her lips to the nape of Gail's neck once she's done and smiling when Gail moans quietly at the touch.

"Thanks," Gail breathes, letting her hair fall back down around her shoulders as she turns her head back towards Holly.

She feels her heart beating rapidly in her chest then as Holly's fingertips reach out to trace over the chain resting against her skin, her thumb brushing over the locket carefully as she holds Gail's gaze.

The amount of love Gail sees reflected back at her in Holly's eyes makes her stomach flutter pleasantly, and Gail can't help but lean forward and take Holly's face in her hands; kissing her slow and deep, and hoping desperately that her lips and tongue can translate the overwhelming feeling she knows her heart contains but that she hasn't yet found the courage to speak aloud.

The cheer that erupts loudly the second she steps foot in The Penny makes Gail squeal involuntarily in surprise, her hand instantly going up to cover her mouth in embarrassment as her friends smile and laugh, their clapping and wooing for her continuing even as she makes her way over to them.

She feels a flush creeping up her neck, leaving her cheeks rosy and the tips of her ears burning as she takes in the hand-crafted sign they've hung up above their normal table which reads 'Congratulations Detective Peck #2!'.

"What's all this?" Gail says, trying to play it cool as she unbuttons her coat and throws it over an empty stool.

"Well, Peck..." Oliver says with his usual dry, sarcastic tone. "...a little birdie told us you got the detective rotation that's coming up."

Gail shrugs awkwardly in response. "Maybe."

Traci rolls her eyes at her and hands her a drink. "Come on, don't be all coy, Gail; you know you're excited that you get to join the non-uniform gang."

"Traitor," Oliver coughs into his fist, holding his hand up innocently a split second later when Gail turns to pin him with narrowed eyes.

"Don't listen to that grumpy old man, Peck. He's just upset that his favourite rookie is coming to play with the big kids," Sam says from his seat next to Andy, his mouth twisting into a smirk when Oliver throws a peanut over at him.

Oliver pats the seat next to him and waits until Gail sits down before slinging his arm around her shoulders. "Sammy's right, I am upset. How could you not tell me, Peck? After all our bonding over junk food and fine women, I really thought we had something special," he teases.

"Maybe it's because you titled me as 'Peck #2' on your sign," Gail snarks back, recognising Oliver's handwriting easily.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Oliver says, feigning ignorance and making Gail break into a smile even as she rolls her eyes at him.

Gail downs her drink quickly and then glances around at them all as she asks, "Who told you lot anyway?"

Chris shakes his head with a smile, taking her empty glass from her. "Holly, obviously," he answers as he gives her shoulder a congratulatory squeeze before he spins away and heads back to the bar to get another round in.

"She's so proud of you," Chloe chips in, smiling over at Gail from her position on Dov's lap. "She was so adorable when she invited us all here to celebrate with you."

Gail instantly twists her head, letting her eyes dart around the bar in search of Holly, and blushes brightly when she hears Dov poorly impersonate the sound of a whip. "Shut up," Gail hisses, glaring at him and making everybody laugh.

Andy touches her arm gently and smiles at her. "She's here, don't worry. She just nipped out back into the kitchen."

"What's she's doing in there? Do I need to be worried?" Gail questions, jumping a moment later when a pair of familiar hands squeeze at her shoulders playfully.

"You should always be worried when a nerd plots something," Holly teases, leaning down to press a quick hello kiss to her cheek.

Gail tugs at Holly's arm then and draws her down onto her lap, fully intending to reply with a witty remark only to find herself getting lost in the warmth of Holly's eyes instead. "Hi," Gail murmurs stupidly, finding herself unable to stop from breaking out into a fond smile as everything but Holly seems to fade into the distance.

"Hey yourself," Holly breathes back, her eyes flickering subconsciously down to Gail's mouth.

Gail tilts her head up invitingly, letting her nose bump against Holly's before their lips find each other's with ease. A chorus of catcalls forces them apart only seconds later and Gail hides her face in the crook of Holly's neck as Holly breaks into a laugh.

She's about three drinks into her evening, and holding her arms up in celebration for kicking Traci's ass at pool, when Steve arrives. He catches her unaware and pinches playfully at the back of her neck in the way he used to when they were little and laughs when Gail turns around, scowling menacingly as she shoves at his chest.

"You suck," Gail growls, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck where her skin stings.

Steve just purses his mouth into a mock pout. "Aw, you poor baby," he teases smugly, and then winces a second later when Gail punches him in the shoulder.

"Hey, play nice, Pecks," Traci instructs, positioning herself so that she's standing in-between them.

Gail scowls grumpily. "Your man child started it," she retorts, watching as Traci shakes her head, waving her finger warningly at them both before heading over to join the others.

"Don't look at me like that, you know I'm just playing with you," Steve replies, reaching for her and tugging on the sleeve of her top until she's standing in front of him. "I know things haven't always been the easiest for you but you did really good here, little sis; I'm proud of you."

She watches him shuffle a little awkwardly under her gaze and feels a surge of affection for her annoying, doofus of a big brother. He's always had her back and even when he teases her relentlessly or gets on her nerves in ways only big brothers truly can, Gail knows she can count on him when things truly matter.

"Thanks," Gail says, bumping her fist against his arm affectionately as she averts her eyes.

A moment of awkward silence lingers between them and Gail's thankful when she hears Steve disrupt their weird bonding moment by clearing his throat. "Buy you a drink to celebrate, Peck #2?" he asks, his normal cocky smile firmly back in place as he inclines his head towards the bar.

"You bet, Pippi Longstocking," Gail fires back, sticking her tongue out at him tauntingly as she walks backwards towards the bar.

Steve frowns, shaking his head. "I don't like you," he breathes, rolling his eyes when Gail smirks back at him and follows behind her.

At some point during the evening, when she'd been settled comfortably in Holly's lap – she thinks it was sometime during her forth drink and god knows how many shots – Dov had demanded they all take part in his latest trivia challenge. As the damn quiz finally draws to an end – Gail well on her way to being blissfully buzzed – she finds herself happily zoning out, enjoying watching her friends all be together; laughing and generally being their idiotic selves. It feels like it's been awhile since she let herself be thankful that they're all there; all together under one roof, all safe and healthy and living their lives fully. It feels like a blessing that Gail never really knew she needed, and has only this year come to truly understand and appreciate.

She hums happily at the thought and feels Holly's hand slip beneath her top so that she can trace her fingertips up and down the slope of Gail's spine. It makes Gail smile at her when she catches Holly's eye briefly, and she can't help but nuzzle her nose along the shell of Holly's ear, letting her lips press a lingering kiss to the smooth skin below it.

Chloe's eyes are on her when she looks back up again and Gail narrows her gaze irritably. "What?"

"Nothing," Chloe says, her words slurring a little as she shrugs happily. "Well, actually, I was just thinking-"

"That we're cute together, I know, you've told us like a million times," Gail cuts in.

Chloe giggles and shakes her head. "Not what I was going to say."

"Oh," Gail mumbles, blushing.

"I was just thinking, with you and Steve both being detectives now, are they really going to call you Detective Peck #2?" Chloe questions thoughtfully. "It's going to get super confusing otherwise."

Gail shrugs, her brow furrowing as she says, "I hope not."

"I know," Chloe exclaims a second later, clapping her hands together loudly and drawing everybody's attention. "They could call you Detective Peckling since you're basically like the little, odd duckling of the group; always waddling around and being grumpy, pecking at us all with your sharp little beak."

Gail wrinkles her face up in disgust as everybody laughs at Chloe's suggestion. "That's gross and totally not happening," Gail scoffs, and glares when they only laugh harder at her reaction.

"It is kind of perfect for you, Gail," Andy says, all wide, excited eyes and bright teasing smiles. "You do peck at us a lot when you're in a bad mood."

Gail shakes her head. "No," she repeats adamantly, piercing Andy with an unimpressed look, knowing exactly where this is headed. "Absolutely not."

"I like it," Chris chips in around a mouthful of burger, shrinking back when Gail turns her glare on him.

"It's shorter to say than Peck #2," Steve adds with a smirk.

She lets her eyes flick around the rest of the group then and takes in the way they're all grinning smugly back at her. Gail shakes her head even more, determined to object despite knowing she's already lost. She turns towards Holly, silently pleading with her to back her up and make it stop.

"Tell them it's not a good name for me," Gail prods hopefully.

Holly opens and closes her mouth apologetically before biting back a smile that leaves Gail pouting. "I'm sorry, baby, but now they've said it, you do kind of remind me of a little, adorable duckling; you're so cute and fluffy even when you're being grumpy and pecking at people."

Gail scowls in response, and tries to half-heartedly remove herself from Holly's lap as Holly quacks playfully at her and tightens her hold around Gail's waist, pulling her in closer until she's wiping the scowl from Gail's face with constant little kisses.

"I'm not some stupid, grumpy, pecking, fluff-ball duckling," Gail protests weakly, her mouth curling into an unwarranted smile as Holly keeps kissing all over her face.

Sam arches his eyebrows at her when he catches her eye. "Your missus has cast the deciding vote; you're now officially Detective Peckling to the rest of us."

"I hate you all," Gail says, trying her best to glare at them but getting distracted as she sees Oliver emerge from the kitchen carrying a giant chocolate cake.

Traci appears alongside him with a tray of shots, handing everybody a glass as Oliver sets the cake down in front of Gail. She notices instantly that the icing handwriting across the centre of the cake that simply reads 'Congratulations Gail xxx' is Holly's and it makes her smile lovingly as she turns her head to find Holly's eyes.

"To Peck," Oliver says, raising his glass up. "For not only always secretly being my favourite-"

"Not a secret," Dov, Andy, and Chris all call out together, grinning teasingly at him and making Gail chuckle.

Oliver shrugs at them and turns back to Gail. "As I was saying, to Peck, for not only always being my – apparently well known – favourite partner in crime but for being an impeccable officer and friend. I wish you all the luck in the world on your detective rotation... even though I do wish you'd consider staying on the streets with me." Gail laughs as Oliver clinks his glass against hers then with a cheeky, "Cheers!"

She watches everybody tip their glass towards her with a mixed chorus of, "To Gail" and "Detective Peckling" and rolls her eyes fondly at them as she raises her own glass in thanks before downing her shot of tequila.

Everybody slowly starts to depart shortly after that, each taking the time to seek Gail out to give her a proper congratulatory hug, and Gail feels her cheeks aching from smiling too much by the time Oliver shrugs into his jacket and comes over to say goodbye.

"How long have you been waiting to use the impeccable line?" Gail asks, quirking her eyebrow up at him.

"From the moment I met you," Oliver replies with a smile, pulling her into a brief hug before patting her affectionately on the cheek as he pulls back. "Just been saving it for a special occasion."

Gail feels her throat lodge with an overwhelming rush of fondness for him, and settles for pulling him into another hug, hoping that he'll understand that she'll miss being partnered with him too.

Oliver smiles warmly when she finally releases him, and squeezes her arm in acknowledgement as he says goodnight and heads out into the cold.

She feels a pair of arms slipping around her waist then as a familiar warmth blankets her back, Holly's lips trailing a row of kisses from the crook of her shoulder up her neck until she can nuzzle her nose behind Gail's ear. "I hope you don't mind that I told them all," Holly breathes into her skin. "I just thought you deserved to blow off some steam and celebrate after the last couple of weeks we've had."

Gail hums contentedly at Holly's caress and folds her arms over the top of Holly's, holding her in place. "Tonight was really great," Gail murmurs, twisting her head to seek out Holly's eyes. "Thank you for organising it, I appreciate it."

"Even if I agreed with them that deep down you really are just a cute and fluffy little duckling despite your tough persona?" Holly jokes.

"As long as they know that I'm only your cute and fluffy little duckling, I'll get over it," Gail whispers with a smile. "Besides, if they try and tease me too much I'll just remind them all just how hard ducklings really can peck."

Holly shakes her head in amusement and smiles loving at her in response, and it makes Gail's heart swell with unbridled happiness as she reaches up behind her to tangle her hand in Holly's hair and draw her down for an infinitely soft and endless kiss.

Chapter Text

It's become so routine over the past couple of months for Gail to spend her mornings off at the Lakeside Residential Rehab Centre that the receptionist, Fran, greets her with an ever more familiar and chirpy, "Good to see you again, Officer" as she signs Gail in and hands over her visitation-pass.

Gail smiles thankfully in return and clips the pass to her sweater as she waits patiently for Fran to buzz her into the main building. Once she's inside she follows the corridor until she reaches the break room and finds Mike waiting for her at their usual table, his hands curled around a hot cup of coffee as he looks off out of the window.

"You came," Mike says in lieu of an actual greeting as she settles into the seat opposite him and draws his attention. His mouth curls up into a lopsided smile that is so much like Holly's that Gail can't help but smile warmly back at him.

"Don't I always?" Gail replies, quirking her eyebrow and letting her eyes carefully trail over him.

It always amazes her each time she visits how much better he looks compared to that first night she met him; gone is the unkempt hair and beard, replaced instead with a short tidy cut and a clean shaven face. But even more surprising and comforting is the way the washed out gauntness of his face has gradually been restored to an increasingly healthy glow.

Mike smiles at her, his eyes bright as he leans back into his chair and holds his hands up in defeat, and says, "You do, and as always it's deeply appreciated."

"Well, I made you a promise to support you through this every step of the way and I intend on keeping it, you know that," Gail says reassuringly, watching as Mike nods knowingly in response, and then, "How are things going?"

"Amazing," Mike replies a little too quickly, and then lets out a weary sigh when Gail cocks her head to the side disbelievingly. "I'm getting there; some days are better than others," he confesses. "The doctors are monitoring my medication, I'm attending all of the group therapy sessions, and the one-on-one counselling is really helping me sort my head out. It's going to be a long road but at least I'm making progress, right?"

Gail smiles understandingly at that, knowing how difficult the recovery has been for Mike so far. She remembers visiting during the first couple of weeks of his detox, and thinking hopelessly that he wasn't going to make it through as she caught glimpses of him struggling to fight through not only the physical symptoms of his withdrawal but also the waves of depression that seemed to follow. But somehow he'd found the strength to stick it out, and with each passing week Gail feels nothing but respect for his enduring courage. It warms her heart to see him slowly starting to take control back of his life, especially when she knows how much it's going to mean to Holly.

"You're doing incredible Mike," Gail says softly, reaching her hand out to cover his where it rests on the table. "I'm so proud of you and I know Holly will be too. You've just got to keep sticking at it, okay?"

"I will," he says resolutely, his shoulders squaring at the sound of Holly's name. A smile follows quickly, lighting up his whole face and making the corners of his eyes crinkle affectionately when he desperately adds, "How is she?"

"She's good," Gail says, smiling fondly, knowing for a fact that her continued mentions of how Holly will be so proud of him for doing this is the one thing that Mike really holds onto during his lower moments. "She just had an article published actually; something about anaphylactic deaths and serum levels or something," Gail grins sheepishly. "I can't remember all of the huge scientific words, but she worked her ass off on it and her peers were really impressed."

"She's always been clever," Mike replies, beaming proudly at the news. "Even when she was younger and I'd do those home science experiments with her, she always just seemed to know what to do. I remember one time when she was about eight and we were doing the whole, make your own volcano one, and I got baking powder instead of baking soda; she was so bewildered that I got such a simple thing wrong that she relegated me from being her assistant to a mere observer," Mike says chuckling fondly before trailing off and adding sadly, "I've missed out on so much time with her."

Gail purses her mouth together understandingly. "She misses you too, Mike," Gail assures him. "That's why you're doing this though, so you can go back to sharing moments like that together. I know it's tough but it will be worth it, I promise."

"I know," Mike relents, reaching up to rub tiredly at his face for a moment before shrugging his melancholy back off. "My councillor says that by next month I'll be ready to start having family therapy sessions," he adds positively. "Do you think Holly would want to come?"

Gail nods, feeling a surge of relief flooding through her veins. Keeping Mike's recovery a secret from Holly has been beyond difficult; the desire to tell her growing even more unbearable during the moments when Holly voices her anxious concerns for her father's well-being aloud. But Mike had made her promise not to say anything, telling Gail he needed to be sure of himself and his state of mind before Holly knew and Gail had agreed, not wanting Holly to get her hopes up only to be crushed again if things didn't work out.

Even though it's been hard, it's a promise she's kept, and knowing that soon it will all have been worth it helps calm Gail's lingering guilt a little.

"Mike, if Holly knew that you were here she'd be here every day," Gail confesses with a smile. "She worries about you like crazy and I know she's going to be so happy when she finds out you've been here, getting yourself back on the right track instead of out on the streets. It's going to make her whole year."

"Well, I hope you know that it wouldn't be happening without you, Gail," Mike replies, his eyes softening as they hold hers. "I'm so thankful for you getting me in here and supporting me every step of the way. And I'm even more grateful that you've been taking care of my little girl; we're lucky to have you."

Gail blushes at the compliment and averts her gaze. "I just gave you a nudge; you're the one doing the hard part."

"It was a nudge well needed," Mike retorts, refusing to let Gail brush off her role in his recovery. He reaches out tentatively and pats her hand until she's forced to look back at him. "I don't think I've ever thanked you properly before, but I hope you know that I'm sincerely grateful that you believe in me enough to give me this chance," he says, his eyes soft and warm. "So, thank you."

Gail smiles shyly back and nods her head. "You're welcome."

"You promise you'll get her to come?" Mike inquires again hopefully an hour later as Gail's getting ready to leave.

She sees the hint of doubt lingering in his dark eyes and reaches out to touch his arm reassuringly. "Nothing would make me happier than to see the look on her face when she sees you looking as healthy and as good as you do now," Gail tells him with a smile. "You keep working the program and embracing your recovery, and I'll make sure Holly's here, okay?"

"You've got yourself a deal, Officer Peck," Mike replies decisively, his posture straightening with a determination that Gail can feel radiating out of him in waves.

The firmness of Mike's handshake and the belief in his eyes as she leaves is what finally lets Gail truly feel, for the first time since she set her plan into motion, that the risk she took was actually lucky enough to pay off. It's a victory she celebrates with an overwhelming sense of relief but mostly with anxious anticipation and a longing for Holly to finally know the truth.

Gail doesn't remember when it really started.

All she knows is that there's framed print-outs of her photographs lining the walls of Holly's apartment, and the purple ottoman she's had since she was a teenager – which her mother had loathed from the moment Gail brought it home, and Dov and Chris had looked at with horror whenever they caught a glance of it – is in front of the chair that Gail likes to nap in when she gets a rare afternoon off. There's also the fact that the left side has, in unspoken terms, somehow become hers; the left side of the bed, the left half of the closet, the left row of draws, hell even the left side of Holly's make-up table is covered in a messy collection of her lipsticks and eye-liners.

She doesn't really notice, however, that even more and more of her things – DVDs, CDs, odd trinkets and the majority of her shoes – have somehow migrated their way from her shared apartment with Chris and Dov and into Holly's, until Holly's presenting her with a small little box one night after dinner and looking so excited that she's practically bouncing in her seat.

"It's a key," Gail drawls slowly, flicking her eyes up to Holly's as she holds the box in her hand.

Holly smiles at her happily, her eyes bright and beaming. "It's a key to the apartment."

Gail feels her eyebrows knitting together as Holly stares at her expectantly, like she's just supposed to get what Holly's saying without using as many words as she's normally so fond of doing. "Um, Hol, I already have a key to the apartment," Gail says slowly, placing the box on the coffee table and drawing an identical key from her jeans pocket. "You gave it to me months ago, remember? Telling me to come over whenever I wanted, and just to let myself in after I'd finished a late shift so I didn't have to wake you."

Holly laughs at her then and Gail feels her confusion expanding, her eyes narrowing and her lips pursing together into a pout. Holly just grins at her with soft, affectionate eyes and reaches out to pat Gail on the cheek like she's some cute little puppy. It makes Gail glare involuntarily.

"No. No cranky face," Holly murmurs, noticing the shift in Gail's mood instantly and leaning forward to press a lingering kiss to her lips until Gail smiles reluctantly against her mouth and shoves her gently away.

"I already have a key," Gail repeats, feeling like she needs to argue her point again just in case Holly has gone crazy and forgotten.

"God, you're adorable," Holly breathes, her lips twisting into a smirk as Gail scowls. She pinches the key from between Gail's fingers and holds it up to her face. "This is the spare key to my apartment which I let you borrow," Holly explains, leaning forward to place the key on the coffee table and picking up the box containing the new key. "This..." she continues, holding the box up and then placing it in Gail's hands. " your key."

Gail squints at the key in the box and then glances over at the key resting on the table before looking back up into Holly's eyes. "So, you wanted your spare key back and then... decided to get me my very own spare key, which is technically exactly the same as the original," Gail ventures, still not entirely getting what was wrong with her old key or why Holly apparently seems to so desperately need it back now after all this time.

Holly laughs again and shakes her head briefly before reaching out to cradle Gail's face in her hands so that their eyes are locked together. "No, doofus. Forget the spare key. This is me trying to ask you to move in with me... apparently it was a little too subtle though. That or your detective skills really need working on before you start your rotation next week," Holly teases, nuzzling her nose playfully against Gail's and watching as her eyes widen in shock.

"You- you want me to move in with you?" Gail repeats, her mouth struggling around the words as she lets her fingertips brush over the key in the box; her key.

Holly just keeps smiling and nods. "You already stay here most nights, and more and more of your stuff has found a place here with my things, so I just thought it would be nice, and not to mention make me really happy, if you moved yourself in here permanently and made it your home," Holly says all in one breath, and then bites anxiously at her lip before quickly clarifying, "Our home."

"I-I..." Gail stutters, trailing off and blinking slowly as she swallows against the lump forming in her throat. She hears the words echoing around inside her head and it feels like everything has slowed down as her mind processes what Holly's asking her. It hits her fully a second later, a breath rushing from her lungs and filling her with a bubbling excitement as she reaches her hands up to hold at Holly's wrists and blurts, "I really like waking up with you."

"Is that your way of saying yes?" Holly asks, her eyes twinkling with amusement.

Gail knows it's a big step but nothing in her life has ever felt so right before, and as the yearning need to say yes spreads through her, she can feel her heart pounding so rapidly that it feels like it might explode from her chest with utter happiness.

She finds herself nodding decisively as the words catch on her tongue. "Yeah. Yes. I-" she stumbles momentarily as she breaks out into an uncontainable grin. "I would love to live with you."

"Yeah?" Holly echoes, her eyes a little wide and disbelieving.

Gail nods again, smiling brightly. "Yeah."

Holly releases a little squeal of happiness in response, her smile widening as she grabs at Gail excitedly and draws her into her lap, peppering her face with fevered kisses until Gail's laughing and they're both left panting for breath. Gail feels her heart clench as her eyes lock with Holly's then and she can feel the magnetic pull between them as Holly's eyes dip down to her mouth. Gail darts her tongue out to moisten her lips subconsciously, and within a split-second she's tangling her hand in Holly's hair and curling her tongue around Holly's as Holly's hands slip beneath her top and desperately caress over her soft, warm skin.

That's all it takes for Gail to be consumed in a frenzy that's all Holly; Holly's hands tearing away her clothes and pushing her down, and Holly's lips pressing against her skin, and Holly's tongue trailing a hot, wet path down her chest and over her breasts.

It feels like a conundrum where time has stopped and yet she's only just blinked as her body coils tightly, her back arching at her swiftly building release and a moan rushing from her mouth as she comes undone easily beneath Holly's touch.

Gail hums contentedly when Holly finally allows herself to collapse on top of her, her breathing ragged as she ghosts her lips over the shell of Gail's ear. She soothes her hands up Holly's back and laughs low in her throat as time slowly comes back to her, the lust-filled haze clearing out from her mind.

"Guess we christened this room," Gail chuckles, closing her eyes as Holly bites at her neck.

Holly soothes the sting with her tongue before lifting her head to find Gail's eyes. "Want to do the kitchen next?" Holly breathes, her eyes dark with want.

Gail licks at her lips and smirks. "What happened to it being unsanitary for my cute little butt to even sit on your counter-tops?"

Holly pushes herself up onto her knees and it makes Gail instinctively push up onto her elbows to follow after Holly's missing warmth. "Gail, you're moving in with me; fuck the counter-tops," Holly rasps, ducking her head to nip promisingly at Gail's bottom lip before pulling back again.

Gail feels the blood rushing in her ears then as desire settles low in her stomach again, and it's all she can do to follow after Holly's sexy, retreating form, making a quick mental note to herself to ask Chris and Dov to help her move the rest of her stuff in as soon as possible.

When they eventually make it to the bedroom – bodies sweating and achingly sated and content; Gail falling into Holly's side and tucking her head into the crook of Holly's neck as Holly curls their hands together and rests them against her chest – Gail lets herself hope longingly for things to always be this way between them.

It's barely 6am when Holly waltzes back into the bedroom clutching two cups of coffee, her sleepy eyes shining fondly as she pauses to lean in the doorway and watch her quietly for a few moments.

"I feel weird," Gail murmurs, flicking her gaze to catch Holly's as she shifts uncomfortably in front of the mirror and reaches up to fix the collar on her shirt for what feels like the billionth time that morning.

"You're just nervous," Holly replies as she moves further into the room, setting their cups down on the bedside table before she curls herself around Gail's back. Her hands instantly slide to Gail's waist as she rests her chin on Gail's shoulder and smiles back at her lovingly. "You look hot," Holly comments, trailing her eyes over Gail appreciatively, and smirking at her when their eyes meet again in the mirror.

Gail feels her eyebrows knit together disbelievingly as she flicks her gaze over herself again. "I look like one of those stiff, up-tight, business women who populate the courthouse," Gail retorts, frowning at herself. "Only I look less powerful and put-together and more... awkward."

Holly chuckles in response and slides her arms around Gail more firmly, pulling her back against her chest as she presses her lips to her neck. "Maybe you should lose the blazer if you don't want to look entirely like a lawyer, just a suggestion."

"I knew listening to my mother's advice was wrong," Gail huffs, pulling out of Holly's arms and shrugging out of her blazer irritably. "Stupid fucking thing."

Holly catches her wrist and draws her back towards her. "You're freaking out," Holly tells her calmly, lifting her hand up to tuck a stray strand of hair back behind Gail's ear and brushing her knuckles soothingly against Gail's cheek. "You're trying too hard; you just need to relax a little."

"I just... I don't want to screw this up," Gail admits shyly as she leans into Holly caress and releases a deep, shaky breath to try and calm herself.

She knows it's a little silly to be this nervous about starting her detective rotation but it's something she's spent months working hard for and she wants desperately to prove that she deserves it; that she is without doubt, completely and utterly ready for this next challenge in her career.

"You won't," Holly assures her as she slides her hands down to Gail's chest and undoes the top two buttons of her shirt. "There, now you look like you can actually breathe," Holly smiles, smoothing her hands down Gail's arms until she's tangling their fingers together. "I'm so proud of you, and I know you're going to be amazing. I wish you'd believe that too."

Gail sighs heavily, knowing that Holly is right and shrugs helplessly. "This is going to sound so lame..." Gail starts, pausing to roll her eyes at herself before she continues, "...but putting my uniform on every morning made me feel confident; I knew people would see me in it and know I had the authority to carry out the law," Gail confesses quietly and then gestures down at herself, and adds, "In this, I feel... naked and powerless. It's just throwing me off my game a little, I guess."

Holly purses her lips together thoughtfully for a moment. "Why don't we try making it a little less 'serious business woman on a mission' and a little more you?" Holly suggests, not waiting for Gail to answer as she spins on her heels and disappears out of the room.

When she returns a second later holding Gail's black leather jacket, Gail quirks her eyebrow questioningly. "My leather jacket, really?" Gail asks, even as she lets Holly hold it out for her as she slides her arms into it.

Holly reaches around her a second later and straightens up her hood before she takes a step back and nods her head to herself. "Much better," she says with a smile. "Now you look more like you and less like you're trying to look like what you think a female detective should look like."

Gail turns to look in the mirror again and trails her eyes over herself with scrutiny. She narrows her eyes at herself, still feeling odd, and then reaches up and releases her hair from its tight bun. She runs her fingers through it a couple of times before pulling it back up into a messy ponytail and turns back to Holly with a pleased smile.

"Better?" Holly asks simply.

"Almost," Gail nods, using the toe of one heeled boot to help her flick off the other. "I need sensible shoes." Holly watches patiently as she roots around in the closet, letting out a hoot of success as she finds her combat boots and slips them on. "How do I look?" Gail asks, her teeth toying at her bottom lip nervously.

"Sexy and badass," Holly replies, her mouth twisting into a smirk. "You can arrest me any time, Detective."

Gail rolls her eyes at that, shaking her head as she lets out an amused breath and pulls Holly in for a quick kiss. "Thanks, my nerdy little badge-bunny."

Holly kisses her again sweetly, keeping her hand curled around the back of Gail's neck when she pulls away. "Seriously though, you're going to be great, Gail," Holly says softly, her eyes warm and proud.

"You're right, I've totally got this," Gail retorts confidently, feeling bolstered by the belief in Holly's eyes. "I've got my leather jacket, my comfortable combat boots, and my girl supporting me, what more could I ask for, huh?"

Holly kisses her again then, humming happily against Gail's mouth when she feels Gail's hands slipping under her t-shirt, her fingertips scratching pleasantly at the base of Holly's spine. Holly draws her in further, pressing their bodies together impossibly closer and Gail lets herself get lost in the comfort of having Holly surround her so completely for a few, long moments.

"Just promise me one thing," Holly whispers shakily against her mouth when they finally break apart.

"Anything," Gail murmurs as she presses their foreheads together and clutches at Holly's back, keeping her close.

"Promise me that you'll be extra careful," Holly says as she curls her fingers into the lapels of Gail's leather jacket. "I know your job can be dangerous and sometimes you're going to get caught up in situations that you have no control over, but it scares the hell out of me knowing that you're not wearing a vest at all times now."

"Detectives do still wear vests in dangerous situations, Hol. We don't just go out there like we're an army of Terminators who can easily take a few bullets like it's nothing," Gail teases, trying to lighten the mood.

Holly pulls back, shaking her head, her eyes serious and pleading as she whispers a desperate, "Gail..."

It makes Gail's heart pinch uncomfortably and she swallows away the lump forming in her throat as she holds Holly close. She knows how difficult it is for someone like Holly – someone who isn't a cop and didn't sign up for placing their life at risk to honour their duty – to understand that she willingly goes headfirst into dangerous situations.

She saw the fear in Holly's eyes that day at the station during the Ford shootings all those months ago, when even just the idea of Gail heading back out there knowing that she could be shot at again had left Holly so bewildered, that she couldn't even process what it meant that Gail was a police-officer who was just doing her job.

Having dated other cops herself, Gail knows there's an unspoken understanding between them; they know that they could get hurt or killed, and even if they don't like it they accept it because that's what the job is. But while Holly may have come to understand what Gail's job entails, Gail knows she'll never be able to fully grasp and accept what it truly means; that she'll never be able to quiet the niggling worry in her mind whenever Gail walks out of the front door to leave for work each morning.

It isn't fair but Gail knows there's nothing more she can do than to believe in herself that she's coming home at the end of each day, and to try and make sure Holly believes that there's nothing more she wants than to return each night to the loving safety of her arms.

Gail lets her hand reach up to cup Holly's cheek, seeing the unhindered fear evident in her eyes and draws her down into a soft and gentle kiss as she struggles to find any words that can make this easier for Holly. She searches Holly's eyes out when she pulls back, making sure to hold her gaze unwaveringly as she promises all that she can.

"I can't promise you that I won't ever get hurt because of my job and who I am," Gail says apologetically, watching as Holly's eyes tear up as she bites at her bottom lip and nods her head knowingly. "But I can promise you that I won't ever be foolishly impulsive or thoughtless out there," Gail reassures softly, letting her mouth curl into loving smile. "How could I be when I'm lucky enough to have you to come home too?"

Holly sniffles at that and lets Gail draw her into another soft kiss. "I'm still going to worrying about you," Holly admits with a small smile. "I can't help it."

"I know," Gail nods. "But you have my word that I'll be extra, extra careful. I promise."

Holly nods, flattening her palm against Gail's chest over her heart. "You better," Holly warns her sternly. "Because if anything ever happens to you I'm going to be so pissed at you, even though I know it's totally crazy and irrational."

Gail smiles at that and reaches up to cover Holly's hand with her own. "Well, now I have another reason to stay safe," Gail replies softly. "Because you've been mad at me before and it was easily the worst few days of my life. I don't ever want to hurt you that way again."

"I know you don't," Holly breathes, closing her eyes as she rests her forehead against Gail's and soaks her in. "Just please try and come back to me in one piece, okay?"

"I promise," Gail murmurs.

She holds Holly close for as long as she can then, revelling in the loving calmness that comes from being wrapped up in their bubble, and when the time comes for her to leave for her shift, Gail takes a few extra moments to kiss Holly deeply, making sure to whisper endless promises against her lips of staying safe and seeing her again in just a few hours time.

Gail tries not to fidget nervously as she stands at the back of the parade room, listening as Frank briefs them all, but she still can't shake how weird it feels to be out of her uniform. Traci slinks quietly into the room a few minutes later and raises her eyebrow when she catches Gail's eye and mouths 'breathe' to her as she takes in Gail's stiff posture.

She's in the middle of taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself when Frank's voice rings loudly in her ears and she feels the burn of everybody's eyes turning back to look at her. "I just want to remind you all that it's Peck's first day on her detective rotation, so no it's not dress down Monday," Frank says with a playful smile, making a few of them laugh and causing Gail to purse her lips into a tight smile as a few of them nod their heads in congratulations at her. "As always, assignments are on the board. Serve, protect, and most importantly stay safe out there," Franks says, dismissing them all.

Traci makes her way over to her then and lets out an amused breath as she trails her eyes over Gail's face. "You look as white as a sheet," Traci says with a smile which Gail only glares at. "Seriously, Gail, relax. You're going to be fine. I was super nervous on my first day as a detective too," Traci reassures, reaching out to rub at her arm.

Just as Gail's about to open her mouth to reply she sees Luke striding towards them, his face serious and determined. "Looks like you picked the right day to start your rotation, Peck. I just had a call about a burial site being found; three bodies recently dumped by the sound of things," Luke explains. "You ready for this?"

Gail pushes down her lingering doubts and nods resolutely. "Absolutely."

"Good," Luke replies, beckoning her to follow with a wave of his hand. "Nash, I could use you on this too if you're free?"

Traci quickens her stride to catch up with them. "Of course. What's the initial report?"

"Private property just on the outskirts of the city," Luke starts, tossing his keys to Gail without a word and climbing into the passenger seat as Traci ducks into the back. "The groundskeeper stumbled upon the bodies around 7 am this morning. The forensics team is already there."

Gail listens quietly to Luke's initial report as she drives them out to the crime scene, and tries to bury her lingering anxiety by processing what they already know carefully in her mind. She follows Luke and Traci over to the bodies and feels her mouth curling into a smile when she spots Holly talking with a member of the forensics team.

"Dr Stewart," Luke greets, bobbing down on his heels to get a closer look at the first body. "What do we have?"

"Three Caucasian females, all between eighteen and twenty-five," Holly replies, her eyes softening as her gaze shifts to Gail's momentarily. "Initial evidence – the bruising around their necks – indicates they were all strangled but I'm going to need to get them back to the lab to take a closer look."

"Do we have their ?" Gail asks, Holly's look of encouragement helping her to find her voice for the first time as she trails her eyes over the bodies before directing her gaze to the officer standing next to Holly.

He nods, and taps a finger to his notepad. "All of the girls were buried with their purses; their driving licenses have been bagged already," he explains and then points to the first body. "That's Emma Clews; nineteen, lives here in the city. Jenna Martins, twenty, again lives here in the city, and finally Phoebe Jenkins, twenty-four, lives in Montreal."

"Okay, thanks," Luke replies, rubbing a hand over his face before looking up at the officer. "Have you taken the groundskeeper's statement?"

"Yes, but I kept him here for you guys," the officer replies promptly. "Mr and Mrs Goudie, the owners of the property, have also been questioned but didn't seem to know anything."

Traci shares a look with Luke and then nods. "I'll go over their statements and question them all again." She flicks her eyes to Gail then. "Want to help, Peck?"

Gail nods, even as she keeps her eyes on the bodies. "Sure, just give me a minute here, okay?"

"Sure," Traci replies slowly, raising her eyebrow curiously, but doesn't question Gail any further as she lets the officer lead her off towards the house.

Gail bobs down next to one of the bodies and narrows her eyes in thought as she takes each girl in slowly.

"What are you thinking, Peck?" Luke questions a few minutes later.

"They all have the same tattoo; look..." Gail responds, pointing at their wrists with her pen. "Do you think it's a gang tattoo?"

Luke tilts his head to the side, giving himself a better look and shrugs. "If it is, it's not one that I've ever seen before but you might want to run it by guns and gangs, see what they have on record."

Gail nods, making a quick sketch of the tattoo in her notebook before pushing herself back upright. She catches Holly's eyes then, and nods her head off to the side indicating for Holly to follow.

"You okay?" Holly asks in a hushed whisper, reaching out to touch her arm. "Good pick-up on the tattoo. I told you that you had nothing to be worried about, you're clearly a natural." Gail lets out a breath of relief and quickly glances around before giving Holly a chaste, appreciative kiss. "What was that for, Detective?"

Gail smirks then and shrugs, the remainder of her nerves disappearing completely when Holly smiles proudly at her again. "Just because..."

Holly shakes her head and lets out an amused breath as she shoves at her shoulder. "Go take your statements, and I'll get the bodies back to the lab and get started on the autopsies, see if I can find anything else to help you figure this out."

"Thank you," Gail replies softly, making sure to hold Holly's eyes as she brushes past her, hoping that Holly will understand the double meaning behind her words.

She glances back over her shoulder and feels her heart swell in her chest when she sees Holly smiling knowingly back at her; she was right of course, all Gail needed to do was truly believe in herself.

Luckily for her it's easier to do now that she's got someone as unconditionally supportive as Holly in her corner, and as she pieces the evidences together over the next few days and helps Luke crack the case – the matching tattoos tracing back to an up and coming gang who the groundskeeper's son just happens to be a founding member of – it feels like she's finding her stride out of her uniform and proving to herself that she has got what it takes to be a good detective all in one fell-swoop.

Chapter Text

It's not that Gail forgets to bring it up, it's more that she isn't sure how to.

She's never been the best at broaching delicate subject matters, always slightly fearful of the unexpected array of emotions that come with peoples varied responses, and even though she's gotten better at it as part of her job – learning quickly to read the signs of when to comfort or when to stand back and give much needed space – dealing with Holly feels significantly more daunting.

There's a knot sitting heavily in her stomach; a tangled mess of apprehension and guilt, which continuously tightens as she struggles desperately with how to finally tell Holly the truth about her father. They've always been honest with each other, and knowing that she's concealed this secret from Holly plagues her mind relentlessly until she finds herself doubting whether what she's done is actually a good thing or not.

It's the consuming fear that Holly might feel betrayed by her actions and the unpredictable scope of her reaction that makes Gail keep her mouth firmly shut until she can't possibly avoid bringing it up any longer.

"I need to..." Gail starts aimlessly, trailing off the second she draws Holly's eyes away from her book and up to hers.

"You need to what?" Holly asks, her forehead creasing in concern as she watches Gail's mouth open and close around words she can't seem to fully muster.

Gail draws her bottom lip into her mouth, worrying it with her teeth for a few seconds before releasing it and breathing out, "Will you take a drive with me?"

"Okay..." Holly drawls slowly, the corners of her mouth curling upwards into the beginning of a bemused smile. "Is everything okay? You've been weird and quiet all weekend."

Gail nods and reaches up to rub at the tightening muscles in her neck. "I'm fine. I just..." she pauses then, taking a second to inhale deeply as she holds Holly's gaze intently. "There's something I really have to show you."

She knows Holly must see the worry written across her face because she reaches out to rub her thumb soothingly along the arch of the foot Gail has resting in her lap. "Give me a second to get ready and we'll go wherever you need to go, alright?"

"Thanks," Gail replies with a small smile as she draws herself up from the couch and offers Holly her hand, pulling her to her feet and pressing a reassuring kiss to Holly's cheek before she disappears to gather her things together.

Holly lets the silence settle between them as Gail drives, and Gail finds herself being thankful once again for Holly's unwavering patience to just let her work through things at her own pace. She stretches her hand across the centre console to find Holly's, and tangles their fingers together and squeezes in a way that she hopes is comforting as she draws the car to a stop just outside of the Lakeside Residential Rehab Centre.

She hears Holly's sharp exhale as she turns the ignition off and daringly turns her head in Holly's direction, letting her eyes roam carefully over Holly's face as she tries to get a read on what she's thinking.

"What are we doing here?" Holly breathes, her voice shaky and confused as she forces her gaze slowly away from the building to find Gail's face.

Gail feels the rush of her heart beating loudly in her ears, and has to swallow loudly to clear the nervous lump that's lodged tightly in her throat. "Your dad's here," Gail admits quietly as she watches Holly's eyebrows knit together in disbelief.

Holly opens and closes her mouth several times before pursing her lips together as she shakes her head. "No, he... he left..." Holly retorts, her eyes narrowing further as she watches Gail shake her own head in dismissal. Holly draws her hand away from Gail's then and reaches up to adjust her glasses, tucking her hair back behind her ears in a motion that Gail knows is a nervous tick.

"Baby..." Gail murmurs pleadingly, reaching out for her hand again when she hears Holly's breathing deepen as she struggles to process what Gail's telling her, and tugs gently until Holly looks back at her. "I-"

"He's really here?" Holly cuts off, her question rushing out all in one breath.

Gail darts her tongue out to moisten her lips and nods. "He's really here," she confirms, her eyes never leaving Holly's as she finds the words to explain. "He's been working the program and he's doing really great," Gail rushes as she watches Holly blink blankly back at her as she tries to take it all in. "He wants to see you, Hol; he wants to make amends."

Holly pulls her hand free from Gail's again and regards her quietly for a painfully long moment, her expression unreadable. "You knew he was here..." Holly whispers incredulously. "The whole time he's been gone, you knew this is where he was?"

Gail lowers her eyes as her heart clenches agonizingly in her chest and nods. "Yeah."

"I don't-" Holly stops abruptly, sighing heavily and closing her eyes as she lets her head rest back wearily against the headrest. "I thought we told each other things?" Holly breathes sadly as she tilts her head towards Gail expectantly.

She sees the hurt in Holly's eyes then and Gail finds herself nodding her head hopelessly as her heart plummets to her stomach. "We do."

"Just not this," Holly accuses without missing a beat.

Gail feels her stomach twist at the bite in Holly's words and whispers, "I was trying to protect you."

Holly huffs out a heavy breath as she reaches a hand up to rub at her temple, and Gail watches anxiously as Holly stares off out towards the building, purposely refusing to meet Gail's gaze again. The sense of dread that's crept into her bones, and refused to let her sleep peacefully from the moment Mike had given her the date of his first family-therapy session, prickles up her spine and makes Gail wring her hands together tightly in her lap to stop herself from reaching out for Holly again, knowing with certainty that her touch won't presently be welcomed.

"I don't need you to be my white knight, Gail, I just need you to be my partner," Holly finally says, breaking the stifling silence that has settled between them. She turns her head to meet Gail's eyes briefly then and when Gail remains unable to hold her gaze for more than a split second, the guilt rendering her speechless, Holly releases a final, disappointed sigh as she adds, "You should have told me the truth about this from the start."

Holly doesn't give her a chance to reply then, instead she opens the door and gets out of the car in one fluid motion, not looking back as she stalks off towards the entrance to the centre. Gail lets her go, taking a second to fight against the sting in her eyes as she whispers a remorseful "I'm sorry" into the empty space Holly has left behind.

She follows tentatively behind a few moments later, arriving inside just in time to see Holly lay eyes on Mike for the first time in months, and even though her heart aches relentlessly with the need to make things right between them, she lingers back and allows Holly to have her moment with her father, knowing it's something Holly's always longed for but never allowed herself to truly believe she would ever have again.

It feels like she's intruding on a moment that she once thought she'd get to share with Holly as she watches as Holly's face lights up with a bright smile, her eyes brimming with tears that quickly spill down her cheeks as she hugs Mike tightly, pulling back after a few long minutes to hold his face and look over him in proud awe.

Gail averts her gaze after a few moments to give them some privacy and wraps her arms around herself as she takes a step backwards, pressing herself into the corner and trying to make herself as small as possible. It should feel amazing, knowing that she helped bring them back together like this, but all Gail feels is her stomach knotted with guilt and disappointment in herself for ever thinking that keeping this quiet was a good idea.

Holly's been consistently supportive during these past few months; always quietly and patiently nurturing her doubts and helping to reassure Gail of her own capabilities. But not once has she ever taken complete control of Gail's life. Instead, Gail knows that Holly nudges her gently, steadying Gail until she finds her feet, and once she's sure that Gail has her balance, she backs off and lets Gail go free, believing fully that Gail is more than competent to handle things on her own.

It reminds Gail of her birthday dinner, when her mother had been on the attack and successfully inflicted her with pain. She'd had the chance to step-up and defend herself, and yet when years of lingering insecurities had rendered her physically unable to, only then had Holly swooped in to protect her. Gail feels her lungs burning as an endless wave of guilt rolls over her again, and she presses her hand to her chest to try and ease the relentless ache, remembering how Holly had willingly stepped back again, the following morning, once Gail had assured her that she was ready to stand-up for herself and face Elaine on her own.

Holly has always given her a choice, and Gail knows without question that it's that complete lack of having the option to be included in Mike's recovery that has Holly so mad at her.

She's pulled from her thoughts a few seconds later by a hand gently touching her shoulder, and she looks up in surprise to find Mike standing in front of her, grinning happily. "Thank you for getting her to come."

"Of course," Gail says, flashing a smile back, knowing how much it means to him. She chances a glance over his shoulder and sees Holly talking to a plump, smartly dressed woman who's clutching a file to her chest.

Mike tilts his head to follow her gaze. "That's Nancy, my therapist," he says, turning back to her as he addresses her unspoken question.

"She looks nice," Gail returns absently, her eyes remaining focused on Holly, willing her to look back at her with no such luck.

"You'll soon find out," Mike tells her, drawing Gail's gaze back to him as her eyebrows knit together in confusion. "It's a family-therapy session, Gail, and you're family now. I was hoping you'd join Holly and come in for the session too."

Gail swallows thickly and shakes her head. "I don't think I-"

"Dad, Nancy's ready to get started," Holly interrupts as she appears at Mike's side and touches his arm while still managing to avoid Gail's eyes.

Mike nods. "I was just trying to convince Gail to join us," he says, flicking his attention to Holly.

Gail watches then as Holly forces a fake smile onto her face and waves her hand dismissively. "I'm sure she would rather wait out here, Dad. Right, Gail?"

The force of Holly's simple brush off hits her squarely in the chest and makes Gail's heart wedge in her throat; it feels like she's choking on it. She recoils back slightly as the words sink in, never knowing Holly to be so distant with her before, and nods her head in agreement as her heart drops to the pit of her stomach, mumbling a pathetic, "Right."

She feels the tension bubbling around them as Mike glances between them suspiciously, putting his arm out to block Gail's path of retreat. "It would mean a lot to me if you came in Gail," Mike says, curling his arm gently around Gail's forearm and encouraging her to walk with him at the same time as he shoots Holly a questioning look, and nudges her towards the therapy room.

Despite the burning urge to run, Gail lets herself be led, finding her will to protest stunted by Mike's firm insistence and the determination tightening his jaw.

Nancy directs her and Holly over to one of the couches while she and Mike sit on the one opposite, and as Holly sits as far away from her as possible on the small two-seater, Gail curls her nails into the palms of her hands to fight off the desire to get up and run.

She stays quiet for the first half of the session, offering Mike and Nancy small smiles as they talk through Mike's recovery so far, and it isn't until Nancy asks Mike if there's anything he'd like to say that Gail's forced to become an active participant.

"I'm not really good at this but I'm trying, so..." Mike admits, rubbing nervously at the back of his neck as he smiles sheepishly and flicks his eyes across to Gail. "Gail, I just want you to know that I appreciate everything you've done for me. I know it took a lot of courage to back me into a corner like you did. I mean we were strangers really and yet you threatened to drag me here if necessary; which, I have to admit, pretty much intimidated the crap out of me," Mike jokes, smiling when Gail does. "But in all seriousness, you hit me with some pretty harsh truths that I needed to hear and it opened my eyes to how selfish I've been... how much hurt I've caused." He pauses then, lowering his head shamefully before clearing his throat and adding, "I hope you know that I'm eternally grateful for you getting me a place here; without it, I know I wouldn't be getting my life back together."

Gail smiles genuinely at that. "You're more than welcome," she replies softly, not knowing what else to say to such an honest speech, especially as she can feel the pressure of Holly's eyes burning into her intensely and making her breath lodge painfully in her chest.

"Holls," Mike continues, pulling Holly's gaze away from her and giving Gail a second to get her lungs to work normally again. "I know I'll never be able to make up for all of the pain I've caused you, and for all of the shit that I put you through, but I need you to know that I'm truly sorry, from the bottom of my heart," Mike murmurs brokenly, his voice thick with emotion as he offers his hand out towards Holly, letting out a relieved breath when Holly leans forward and takes it without hesitation. "You didn't deserve to grow up taking care of me. I was supposed to be the parent and I know I let you down, baby girl. We've missed out on a lot of time together and that's my fault, but I want so badly to try and make it up to you if you'll give me a chance too."

Gail watches out of the corner of her eye as Holly leans even further forward so she can cover Mike's hand between both of hers, squeezing comfortingly. "Of course," Holly replies, sniffling a little and giving Mike a sincere smile. "I'm so proud of you for doing this, and I forgive you, okay?"

Mike nods and pushes to his feet, drawing Holly into a tight embrace as he presses a loving kiss to her cheek. Gail allows herself to watch, feeling a warmth spreading through her chest as she catches a glimpse of the happy smile on Holly's face as she clings tightly to Mike for as long as she can, soaking him in.

Nancy offers them a smile when they finally break apart. "This was a good first session, we've got the lines of communication open and that's going to be essential moving forward." She flicks her eyes between the three of them then. "Does anybody have anything they'd like to add before we end for this week?"

Gail shakes her head dismissively and pushes to her feet, her eyes meeting Holly's for the first time in what feels like hours. Holly doesn't look away but Gail finds herself unable to read the expression washing over her face and clouding her eyes.

"I have one final thing to say," Mike interrupts, cutting through the thick silence that has filled the room. "Both of you, look at me," Mike demands, waiting until they do before he pins them with a serious look. "I get the feeling that whatever this... weird tension... is that's going on between you two right now, is about me and-"

"Dad, we're fine," Holly retorts, the unexpected abruptness making them all flinch a little in surprise.

"You're not fine, Holly," Mike replies calmly, holding his hand up when Holly goes to interrupt him again. "You might forgive me but I need you'd stop pretending that you're okay with everything I put you through. You're allowed to be pissed at me or upset at me-"

"I'm fine," Holly repeats stubbornly. "We're fine, and Gail and I are-."

"Fine?" Mike echoes, his tone unconvinced as he reaches for Holly's hand. "You've always been a terrible liar," he says softly, ducking his head a little to meet her eyes. "I know you, and deny it all you want but I know you're angry, Holly. But please don't take it all out on Gail, she doesn't deserve it. If you want to be angry and lash out at somebody, take it out on me, okay? I'm the one who stole from you and disappeared for months on end without a word, and I'm the one who made Gail promise to keep it quiet, okay? I didn't want to disappoint you anymore than I already have if I couldn't do it again."

"Your father's right, Holly," Nancy adds, her voice gentle as she rises from her position on the couch. "You're allowed to feel whatever it is that you're feeling, but the best way for Mike's recovery to continue progressing is for everybody to be honest." Gail watches Holly nod her head reluctantly in acknowledgement and Nancy smiles back encouragingly. "Take some time, I know this is all very overwhelming. We'll keep working on all of this in our next few sessions, okay?"

Holly swallows thickly and tucks a fallen piece of hair back behind her ear. "Okay," she relents quietly, accepting Nancy's parting handshake.

Gail watches as Mike wraps Holly up in a final embrace, lingering for as long as he can before letting Holly go and moving over to position himself in front of her. "She's stubborn, just like her old man..." Mike stage whispers, taking a second to flick his eyes between her and Holly's, making sure that they're both listening before he adds, "...and we tend to take things out on the people we're closest to even though we don't always mean to. So, do me a final favour and let my bull-headed daughter apologise for not knowing that it's okay to lean on somebody else sometimes when things get too tough to handle alone."

She nods understandingly and lets Mike pull her into a hug, his hands rubbing a soothing circle on her back before he releases her and says his goodbyes to them both. Holly turns to her once they've watched Mike retreat from the room, and as their eyes meet, Gail's finally greeted by the familiar warmth and affection she's come to expect from Holly's gaze.

Holly closes the lingering divide between them timidly then, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth as she comes to a stop in front of Gail, looking weary and lost. "I'm officially the world's biggest asshole, huh?" Holly whispers guiltily, her eyes shining with tears.

Gail shakes her head and shuffles a little closer, instinctively seeking out Holly's touch as she lets their hands bump together clumsily, a rush of relief flooding her chest when Holly curls her fingers around hers and clings on tightly.

"You were right, I never should have kept it from you," Gail murmurs back, shrugging sheepishly. "I'm the asshole who blindsided you with it and-"

"Don't," Holly cuts in, shaking her head firmly. "Don't you dare just brush this off; you did this amazing thing for my dad and for me and I just... I was jerk. My dad's right, I'm so used to tackling things alone that I don't really know how to handle not being in control of things or how to accept help. I'm really sorry I was such a bitch to you."

Gail smiles softly in return and wraps her arm around Holly's waist, drawing her in closely. "I made a mistake keeping it from you, I should've let you be a part of this process, but I really was just trying to protect you, Hol; I didn't want you getting hurt again, I couldn't stand it. I promise though, that I'll never hide the truth from you like this ever again, okay?" she murmurs as Holly leans into her gratefully and rests their foreheads together.

"Thank you," Holly whispers, her eyes flicking up to find Gail's.

Gail soothes her hands up and down Holly's back comfortingly. "I just wish you felt comfortable leaning on me as much as I lean on you, Hol," she breathes, making Holly nuzzle their noses together and close her eyes as she releases a shaky breath.

"I'm sorry," Holly replies, pressing a kiss to the corner of Gail's mouth. "I didn't mean to make you think that I don't trust you because I do. I'm just so awful at losing control... it makes me feel weak and useless and I hate it."

"Baby, you've taught me that it's okay for me to need you, so let yourself need me in return, okay? That's what I'm here for," Gail says softly, pressing her palm warmly to the base of Holly's back beneath her shirt. "There's nothing weak or useless about us needing each other."

"I know," Holly nods in response, her eyes tearing up again as she leans in to press another kiss to the opposite side of Gail's mouth. "I promise I'll start getting better at letting you take care of me when I need you too," she murmurs honestly.

Gail smiles in return and tilts her head forward to nudge their noses together again, encouraging Holly into a tender, lingering kiss. "I'm holding you to that," Gail whispers against Holly's mouth, smiling softly when she feels Holly nodding eagerly in acknowledgement before she lets Gail draw her in for another kiss.

It makes her heart swell reassuringly as Holly melts into her, her eyes slipping shut as she sighs contentedly into the kiss, trusting Gail to be the one to keep her together. Holly's fingertips press tightly against her back, holding her impossibly closer as she takes the time to kiss Gail slow and deep; the earnestness of her apology felt in every brush of their lips together.

But it's the look Holly gives her when they break apart – her eyes trailing over every inch of Gail's face with complete and utter awe – that reminds Gail that it's not just her who's having to learn to let somebody else in. She lets herself takes comfort then, in knowing that even though both of them have their faults, that they're growing together, and that's all that really matters.

The crunch of the glass under her shoes makes Gail grind her teeth together involuntarily as a disgruntled shiver prickles up her spine, and she can't help but glare down at the offending shards briefly before stepping over the rest of the mess and following behind Traci as they head further inside Milton's Jewellery Shop.

Oliver spots them immediately and beckons them over, turning to order something animatedly at a fresh faced uniformed officer lingering behind him. Gail watches as the young officer awkwardly flips his notebook open and writes down whatever Oliver has said before scuttling over to the group of witnesses.

Gail quirks her eyebrow questioningly and Oliver rolls his eyes. "New rookie," he explains without missing a beat. "I swear the water at the academy must have something in it because you lot get infinitely over-eager and clueless each year."

"Come on, we were never that bad," Traci fires back, her eyes narrowing as she watches the guy fumble with his pen and drop it.

Oliver looks between them in amusement and smirks. "Sure thing, Nash, whatever you say."

Gail lets out an amused breath and tunes out the rest of their banter as she takes a moment to survey the scene; smashed up display cases, the spray of blood on the wall behind the cash register and the battered face of a dark-haired man wearing an ugly brown suit.

"So, a robbery that got out of hand," Gail starts, flicking her eyes back to Oliver and drawing his attention. "How very original. Specifics?"

Oliver smirks at her snark before snapping back to the job at hand. "I questioned the witnesses and from what I can tell, three masked males entered the store with guns; one held everybody up, the other smashed the cabinets and grabbed what he could, and the third guy tried to get the owner to open the register but he refused," he explains, hooking a thumb over his shoulder towards the register as Gail nods. "Seems like there was some kind of disagreement between our buckos then though, the guy holding the gun at the witnesses wanted to leave but the other two didn't seem keen on leaving without the money..." Oliver points over at the guy wearing the brown suit. "Mr O'Neil there used their momentary distraction and tried to grapple suspect one for the gun, suspect two intervened and pistol-whipped him across the face – thus explaining his bloody nose – while suspect three shot the owner in the shoulder."

"They took the money then?" Traci questions, looking up from her notepad.

"Nope," Oliver replies with a shake of the head. "Apparently the shot freaked suspects one and two out and they fled, making suspect three hightail it out after them without bothering to grab the money. They drove off together in a white van. We got here a couple minutes later but they were long gone. I called for backup and then held pressure over Mr Milton's wound until the medics got here while my rookie started taking the statements."

Gail turns her head towards the front of the store, making a mental note of the street name and the possible routes heading away from the shop. "Did anyone get the van's plates?"

Oliver shakes his head. "No, but I've got Epstein and Diaz looking over the security camera footage for the area; hopefully we can pick it up on there."

"None of the witnesses saw their faces; masks stayed on the whole time?" Traci questions.

"Masked the whole time," Oliver echoes. "Although the witnesses claim one man had a thick accent; the consensus is Russian."

Traci purses her lips together thoughtfully and lets her eyes roam over the store for a moment before turning back to Oliver. "You got Mr Milton's statement before the EMT's took him to the hospital?"

"It was only a shoulder wound; through and through, so I got a quick run down from him before they took him," Oliver replies. "I've sent Price to the hospital to get a more detailed account from him once they've patched him up."

"Did you question Mr Milton about a personal link; any disgruntled employees out for revenge?" Gail theorises. "This is a pretty nice area of the city; lots of private company security guards and cameras. Seems like a high risk area to target when there's other jewellery stores in the city that would make an easier mark."

Oliver folds his arms over his chest and shrugs. "Didn't mention anything to me but I'll have Price question him about it."

"Thanks Ollie. I'm going to go and take Mr O'Neil's statement," Traci says with a small smile before flicking her eyes to Gail. "Take a look around, see if you can spot anything. Also talk to forensics, I want details on that bullet, and see if they've managed to find anything else; stray hair, a careless fingerprint; anything for us to go on, okay?"

Gail nods. "I'm on it."

She purses her mouth together tightly and starts looking around, letting her eyes trail over everything slowly. She's almost given up hope of finding anything when she spots a shard of glass tipped with a dash of red on the corner of one of the display cabinets.

"Hey, can I get forensics over here," Gail calls out, not taking her eyes off it. She's joined only seconds later by a guy from the forensics team who swabs it. "Is it blood?"

He squints at it, holding the tube up to the light for a better look. "It's hard to say without testing it for sure but I'm going to go on a whim and say yes. Looks like one of your guys cut himself when he smashed through the cabinet. There are some fibres here too, probably from the gloves he was wearing. I'll run them as soon as I get back to the lab and get you some concrete answers."

Gail lifts her eyes as she hears a crash and looks up in time to see the new rookie squatting down to pick up the pieces of a vase he's just knocked over. She flicks her gaze to Oliver then and quirks her eyebrow. It takes a second for him to catch on but then he waves his hand in the air, clicking his fingers and calls over his rookie.

"Walker, I want you to go with forensics and sit on this until they get the results and then run it through the database," Oliver orders slowly, cocking his head to the side and regarding his new rookie carefully. "Then you're going to call me with the results. Think you can handle that?"

Walker nods eagerly. "Yes, sir. I'm on it, sir."

Gail tries not to smirk when he doesn't move an inch and continues to just stand there, and it isn't until Oliver narrows his eyes at him, holding his arms out at his sides that Walker jumps back into action. "What are you waiting for rookie? Go, now. Hurry."

She catches Oliver's gaze then and smiles in amusement. "Wow."

Oliver smiles and points back at her. "Don't judge, Detective, it wasn't so long ago that you were a bumbling idiot like him."

Gail scowls in reply. "I was never that bad, I was a bit of a snot but I wasn't that bumbling or clumsy. He kind of reminds me of a Chris/Dov hybrid; an eager and cheerful puppy who accidentally chews things he's not supposed to."

Oliver laughs at that and then points at her. "You really were a little snot," he jokes. "What happened, Peck?"

"I had good training officers; so I watched, I learned, and I grew up," Gail returns, smiling genuinely.

Oliver smiles back at that and then glances around suspiciously before beckoning her over to the back corner of the store. She follows behind him curiously, and raises her eyebrow questioningly when he slips an arm around her shoulders and pulls her in close to his side, tapping his finger against one of the only remaining undamaged display cabinets.

"What one do you like, Peck?" he asks, his voice hushed conspiratorially as he quickly looks back over his shoulder to make sure no one is watching them.

Gail lets her eyes trail over the selection of rings inside before returning her gaze to his. "Ollie, I know you're very fond of me but I really don't think you should buy me a ring," Gail jokes.

Oliver glares back at her, not amused, and taps his finger against the glass again. "I'm serious, which one do you like? Or are they all hideous? I mean, that one caught my eye but I'm not sure... it's got to be the right one when you ask, right?"

"Oliver..." Gail murmurs calmingly, noting the seriousness in his eyes. "They're all beautiful."

He regards her sceptically for a few seconds making sure she's telling the truth before pointing to one specific ring. "I think that's the one; it just has a certain vibe about it, you know? I can see her wearing it."

Gail smiles softly then, knowing exactly what Oliver is asking her advice about. "I think Celery will love it; it's very unique," she replies, smiling brighter when Oliver grins at her and pats her on the shoulder thankfully. She watches then as the relieved smile slips from Oliver's face as he reaches up to rub a hand wearily through his hair. "What's wrong?"

"Look," Oliver says dejectedly, pointing at the price banner underneath. "I was so hyped when I saw it that I didn't even notice how expensive it was." He sighs sadly then and shakes his head. "I can't afford that... I guess it's a good thing Wiccan's only have hand-fasting ceremonies, huh?"

Gail offers a small, agreeing smile back and nods. "They'll be other rings, Ollie," she says reassuringly as she reaches out to squeeze his shoulder.

Oliver averts her gaze and nods, trying to play off his disappointment. "Of course," he replies with a shrug, stepping away from the display case. "I'm going to go call and check in with Price."

"Ollie..." Gail says softly, watching as he waves his hand dismissively at her and wanders out of the store without looking back.

She glances back at the ring a final time before heading over to Traci and quickly trading notes with her, throwing a few of her own questions at a couple of the witnesses. Traci leaves her inside a few minutes later while she goes to phone Chris and Dov to see what they've found on the van, and Gail takes the moment of quiet to go back and investigate the ring further.

"Is everything okay, Detective?"

Gail turns at the voice and finds a middle-aged woman looking at her with concern. "Everything's fine ma'am, we're doing our best to work this investigation as quickly as possible," she replies, her eyes suddenly drawn to the woman's expensive looking necklace and then her name tag. "Mrs Milton, right?"

The woman smiles but shakes her head. "Mrs Milton is my ex mother-in-law; I'm Judith Milton," she replies, offering her hand out to Gail. "My ex husband called me from the hospital, said his father had been shot and asked me to come see what was happening at the store."

"You still work here even though you're divorced; isn't that weird?" Gail asks, her interest instantly piqued. "I'm sorry," she adds a second later, catching herself. "That was inappropriate."

Judith waves off her apology and smiles back. "I guess it is a little odd, but our marriage ended amicably and I loved working here, so they let me stay."

Gail smiles back, feeling a daring urge rush through her. "Can I be inappropriate again and ask you something about one of your rings?"

"Of course," Judith replies, moving closer to look at the one Gail points at.

"My friend, Oliver..." Gail starts, taking a second to glance behind her and point him out to Judith, feeling relived that he's busy discussing something with Traci not to notice her. "...Officer Shaw," Gail emphasises. "He wants to propose to his girlfriend and he's fallen in love with this ring but we're cops, you know? It's a little out of our price range," Gail breathes, holding Judith's gaze and shrugging sheepishly. "Is there any way you could discount it for us or let us pay it off in installments?"

Judith breaks her gaze to look over at Oliver and then turns back to Gail with a smile. "Does your friend know you're asking me this?"

Gail shakes her head, and sighs, "No, he'd kill me if he knew. It's just... he's so in love and was so happy when he saw it; he said he could imagine her wearing it, and I normally wouldn't ask but I really want to help him if I can, so..."

Judith smiles at her and arches her eyebrow questioningly. "Have you always been such a romantic?"

Gail feels a blush creeping up her neck and shakes her head with a sheepish shrug. "Not always, no."

"Ah," Judith murmurs, her eyes twinkling knowingly. "Well, falling in love can certainly change that about a person." Gail feels the tips of her ears burning as her heart hammers loudly in her chest and she averts her gaze briefly, feeling exposed all of a sudden. Judith reaches out and pats her on the arm then, smiling softly at her as she says, "I think I can find a deal on the ring that's suitable for your friend. I do have one condition though."

"If it's to try and make us work the case faster, I'm afraid we're doing all that we can, and we're not allowed to accept bribes," Gail rushes, feeling the need to exert some authority again.

"Of course not, Detective," Judith replies with a bemused smile, shaking her head. "I was just going to say that when you're ready to take that next step with the special person in your life, I insist that you come back here and let me help you pick out your rings."

Gail blushes even harder at that but breaks into a smile when Judith wiggles her eyebrows at her knowingly. "I think it might be awhile as yet," Gail murmurs nervously. "But when I do decide to propose to her I'll let you know."

She realises then what she's said and opens her mouth to explain herself only to have Judith beat her to it. "What's her name?"

Gail releases a shaky breath and feels her defences deflate again when she sees the warmth in Judith's eyes. "Holly..." Gail breathes, smiling fully as thoughts of Holly flood her chest and make her heart swell. "Her name's Holly."

"Well then, I very much look forward to meeting your Holly someday," Judith replies kindly. She cocks her head in Oliver's direction then and smiles at Gail. "Go and get your friend, and we'll get the ring boxed for him."

Gail smiles appreciatively in return. "Thank you."

It might have been a little inappropriate, but Gail knows that it's worth it when she sees Oliver's face light up again as he flicks open the box and shows her the ring once more later on that evening as they're finishing their shift. She lets him pull her into a crushingly thankful hug before planting a cheeky kiss on her cheek and telling her the drinks for the night are on him.

(It feels even more rewarding knowing they've ended the day with the three suspects in booking after tracking their van down at an old abandoned warehouse just outside the city).

But what makes the day end on an even higher note is the way Holly snuggles back into her sleepily when she climbs into bed later that night, her left hand instantly tangling with Gail's own as she draws them up to her chest and sighs happily. It makes Gail's stomach flutter longingly, and she can't help but press her mouth to the nape of Holly's neck in a delicate kiss; her lips whispering loving promises into the soft warmth of Holly's skin.

She spots Chris sitting over at their usual table the moment she sets foot inside of The Penny for her lunch break. He catches her eye and waves her over, nodding in acknowledgement when she points at the bar first.

With her burger and fries ordered and her glass of orange juice in hand she makes her way over to Chris and slumps down onto one of the empty stools, quirking her eyebrow questioningly. "Eating lunch alone, Diaz? That's sad, even for you."

The easy-going smile slips from his face and Chris narrows his eyes at her accusingly. "You just came in alone. Besides, I'm not... alone that is."

"I'm meeting Holly," Gail replies, smiling appreciatively when the barman delivers her food a second later. She takes a large bite of her burger, glancing around the empty bar before pinning her eyes back on Chris. "You on an imaginary date again?"

Chris rolls his eyes at her and steals some fries from her plate. "I'm here with Walker, the new rookie. He just went to the restroom," he explains, reaching for more of Gail's fries only to have his hand smacked away.

"Touch my food again and die," Gail growls just as Walker emerges from the restroom and joins them at the table.

"Hi Detective," he greets chirpily, flashing her a boyish smile that she doesn't return. He fidgets a little under her blank gaze then and turns back to Chris, immediately launching into a round of questions about a few of the calls they've obviously made that morning.

Gail tunes them out for the most part, letting the low thrum of the background music fill her head instead as she happily munches away on her lunch, and it isn't until she hears the bar door swing open, announcing somebody's arrival, that she's drawn back to their incessant babbling.

"15 Division has some real babes," Walker states, his gaze directed over at the bar appreciatively where a group of officers are talking and turns back to Chris adding, "You hooking up with anybody from the station?"

Gail glances over her shoulder to see who they're gawking at and rolls her eyes at them before pulling her phone from her pocket to see she's missed a text from Holly saying she's running a little late.

"No, not from the station," Chris replies. "I have a date on Friday with this woman I met at the coffee shop the other morning though."

"Good for you, man," Walker says, slapping Chris on the back so hard that he buckles forward a little at the sudden contact, and causing Gail to fight back an amused smile.

"What about you? That red-headed rookie, Evans? She seems interested in you from what I saw this morning," Chris returns courteously, shuffling his stool away a little to give himself some space.

Walker shakes his head. "Not my type, man. But her..." he says, nodding his head over at somebody. "...she's totally my type; I mean look at her; endlessly long legs and a super toned body. She's a total babe. Plus, I met her last week when Officer Shaw sent me to the lab and she was totally flirting with me. I think I might have a shot with her."

Chris's eyes widen when he follows Walkers gaze and he shakes his head discouragingly. "Erm, Walker, I don't think so man, she's-"

"I know she's a little older than me but I like that," Walker cuts in. "They tend to really know what they're doing if you know what I'm saying?" Walker chuckles, wiggling his eyebrows and making Gail narrow her eyes in disgust at him before she returns her attention to her phone. "Dude, look she's totally smiling over here, I told you she was into me. I think I should ask her out. Do you think I should go for it?"

Gail feels a hand patting insistently at her arm then and she lifts her eyes up to catch Chris' gaze, watching as he raises his eyebrows dramatically at her, his mouth opening and closing wordlessly as he stutters over her name. Gail scowls at him and shoves his hand off her arm before huffing out an irritated breath as she turns to see who exactly Walker is directing his attentions too.

She sees Holly leaning against the bar, laughing at something the barman has said, and she lets her gaze flick back between Chris, Walker, and Holly knowingly then, catching on to exactly what Chris was struggling to get out.

When Chris fails to reply to Walker's question, he diverts his gaze to Gail. "What do you think, Detective? She does keep smiling over here so that means she's interested right? I should totally go for it, yeah?" When Gail just stares blankly back at him he whips his gaze back to Chris and adds a hushed, "I'd be a complete fool not to try and tap that, man, you know?"

Gail glares at Walker then as a fiery prickle rushes through her veins, and as she watches his eyes rake up and down Holly's body hungrily – not missing the way his eyes linger extra appreciatively on the sleek curve of Holly's bare legs that are revealed by her skirt – she can't help but feels the need to teach him a lesson. She glances back over to the bar and catches Holly's eye briefly and smirks when Holly smiles beautifully over at them; or rather, at her.

"You do what you gotta do, Walker," Gail replies with a shrug, acting as disinterested as she possibly can, and glancing over at Chris, grinning warningly when Walker isn't looking.

Walker pushes to his feet as Holly turns from the bar with a drink in her hand and waves her over. "Dr Stewart, come sit with us."

Gail leans her elbow on the table, propping her chin against her hand and smirks as Holly's eyes meet hers, her brow furrowing a little in confusion. Holly lets Walker awkwardly pull out a stool for her and sits down slowly, flicking her gaze between Chris and Gail with a bemused smile.

"Thanks... Walker, right?" Holly asks, curling her fingers around her glass.

He nods eagerly, his face lighting up into a bright smile. "That's me," he returns goofily. "But you can call me Denny."

Holly offers him a smile in return. "Denny, right. Got it," she says kindly. "How are you enjoying your first few weeks on the job as a rookie?"

"It's been awesome," Denny replies excitedly. "I feel like I'm already learning so much. Speaking of which, it was super cool getting to see you forensics peeps at work last week. I really appreciated the help you gave me when I was down at the lab. I feel like I'm totally up to date on my medical jurisprudence now and that's all thanks to you Dr Stewart."

Gail catches Holly's eye briefly and nods along with Walker's horrible attempt at flirting, chipping in slyly, "Walker's right, it's never too late to learn about medical jurisprudence."

Holly cocks her head to the side and quirks her eyebrow pointedly at Gail before returning her attention back to Denny. "You're more than welcome, Officer Walker."

"Well, maybe we'll get to work together again soon at a scene; I'd love to really see you in action," Walker flirts back, leaning in closer to Holly.

Chris stands abruptly then, grimacing hard, and Gail fights hard to keep her face neutral when his gaze meets hers. "Walker, we've got to get going," he blurts, reaching out to grab at Walker's shoulder, pulling him to his feet.

"Sure thing, sir," he returns firmly, squaring his shoulders and tucking his thumbs into his belt as he looks at Holly again. "It's a tough job out there protecting the streets but somebody's got to do it."

Gail sniggers a little then and Holly kicks her under the table. "I'm sure," she replies, struggling to keep her smile in check. "Stay safe out there, guys."

"Walker," Chris says again, trying to gain his attention only to be waved off. "I'll be in the cruiser," he adds, shooting Gail a parting look that says 'play nice' before turning on his heel and heading out of the bar leaving Walker to fend for himself.

"So, listen, Dr Stewart, I was wondering if maybe you'd let me take you out for some drinks on Friday night; I know this guy who can get us into that swanky new bar on King. What do you think?" Denny asks confidently. "Me, you, some drinks, some dancing, and wherever the night takes us."

Gail watches then as Holly's eyes widen almost comically as she chokes a little on her drink, completely caught off guard by Walker's unexpected forwardness. She run her hand over her mouth quickly and shoots Gail a look before offering Walker a small smile.

"Denny, that's really sweet of you, but erm... you're not really my type," Holly says apologetically.

Gail tilts her head to the side, letting her eyes roam over Walker with intrigue, wondering how quickly he'll buckle from being rejected so easily. To her amazement though he only smiles brighter and shrugs smoothly.

"How do you know I'm not your type, you haven't even given me a chance," Denny replies casually, and Gail can see the way he physically puffs his chest out to give himself more confidence. "Just one drink, that's all I'm asking, and if you're not interested after that I'll call you a cab home myself."

Gail flicks her eyes to Holly's and smirks, watching as Holly struggles with a way to let him down easily. "Again, you're really very sweet and I'm honestly very flattered," Holly starts, pausing to glance at Gail again who merely quirks her eyebrow curiously, wondering how Holly will talk herself out of this one. "But you're really, really, not my type. I'm sorry."

Walker holds his hands out in defeat at that. "Fair enough," he says with an easy smile. "You can't blame a guy for trying. But can I just ask, is it because I'm too young or because I'm a cop or-"

"No, it's not that, it's-" Holly retorts, cutting herself off and shaking her head as she releases a pacifying breath before calmly saying, "Hot, blonde, great ass, fantastic boobs, and the most kissable pouty mouth in the whole world; that's my type Walker."

Denny stumbles back a step and Gail watches smugly as his brow creases in confusion as he processes what exactly Holly's just said. "You're gay?" he blurts a second later, and Gail can't help but let out an amused breath even as Holly kicks her gently under the table again.

Holly just smirks and winks at him. "Sorry, buddy."

"No, I'm sorry," Walker replies shaking his head, a rosy blush colouring his cheeks in embarrassment. "I honestly had no idea. I wouldn't have been so persistent if I knew. I feel like a real jerk now."

Holly pushes to her feet and rubs his arm reassuringly. "Hey, no worries, okay? We're cool," Holly tells him with a kind smile as she picks up her empty glass. "I just hope my girlfriend will be as understanding about you hitting on me while she's right here," Holly teases, letting her gaze flick to Gail and linger until she sees Walker catch on.

Gail raises her eyebrow at him as their gazes meet and she has to bite at her bottom lip to keep from smiling when his face whitens in shock. He points between them dumbly and Holly just pats him sympathetically on the shoulder before heading back over to the bar, leaving Gail to have her fun.

"So... you and Dr Stewart are together, huh?" Walker says sheepishly, reaching up to rub nervously at the back of his head. Gail nods, making sure to glare at him as she hums in acknowledgement. She sees the panic settle into his eyes then and it's no surprise when he suddenly starts rambling awkwardly, apologising profusely at his mistake.

"Walker," Gail snaps, cutting him off briskly. "Stop talking. Now."

He nods then and purses his mouth together tightly before uncontrollably blurting, "I really am sorry, Detective."

Gail shrugs in return. "I don't blame you for trying, she is gorgeous after all. In fact, I commend you on your good taste in women," she says with a wry smile, waiting until he lets out a relieved breath and smiles back at her before adding, "But, Walker, if I ever catch you inappropriately checking her out again or commenting on her 'super toned body' ..." she drawls, mocking him with air quotes, "...I'll rip your eyeballs from their sockets and feed them to you. Understood?"

Walker swallows thickly and nods. "Absolutely, Detective. Understood one-hundred percent."

"Excellent," Gail chirps before narrowing her eyes at him pointedly. "You should probably head back out on patrol now, rookie, those streets aren't going to protect themselves, are they?"

"R-right," Walker stutters, lowering his gaze and backing away quickly until his back hits the bar. He blushes harder then and quickens his pace as he turns and makes his way to the door.

Gail lets herself smile fully as she catches Holly looking at her, shaking her head fondly before she turns back to the barman and accepts her drink order.

"I can't believe you set the poor kid up like that," Holly says as she slides back onto her stool and pushes a fresh glass of orange juice in front of Gail. "You're a big ol'meanie."

"How was I mean?" Gail replies feigning ignorance as she watches Holly steal the last few fries from her plate. "He was the one blabbering on like an idiot about how you flirted with him last week which, according to him, meant he totally had a shot with you." Holly quirks her eyebrow at Gail's explanation and Gail shrugs as she confesses, "I was going to let it go but then he charmingly claimed that he wanted to 'tap you'... so I may have decided that watching you shoot him down would be a fitting punishment."

Holly chuckles at that and bumps their shoulders together. "Your little jealous streak is adorable, Detective."

Gail pulls back and scoffs. "I do not have a jealous streak... especially over some fresh-faced rookie without a clue." Holly stares back at her and hums disbelievingly, her mouth twisting into a delicious smirk that makes Gail smile despite herself. "I don't," she repeats.

Holly just hums her acknowledgement again and rubs her hand comfortingly up and down Gail's thigh. "Whatever you say, baby."

"Maybe I just needed reassuring that you still think I have a great ass," Gail huffs back. "It's been a couple of days since we've really gotten to spend some quality, naked time together, and I'm feeling unappreciated... even more so now that I know you've been flirting with other officers."

Holly leans over then and quiets her with a kiss. "You're ridiculous."

Gail pouts at the comment knowing Holly won't be able to resist leaning in to kiss her again and when she does – taking Gail's face in her hands and sucking teasingly on her bottom lip – Gail can't help but smile into it and chase after Holly's mouth as she goes to pull away.

Holly lets Gail kiss her for a little longer, swatting at her shoulder to get her to stop only when Gail starts trailing her mouth possessively along the curve of her jaw, and nipping playfully at her neck as she slips her hand beneath the edge of Holly's skirt.

"Behave," Holly murmurs warningly as she pulls back and grabs Gail's hand, stopping her from stroking her fingertips further up against the inside of her thigh.

"Spoilsport," Gail says as she rolls her eyes and withdraws her hand. Holly just shakes her head fondly at her then and smoothes out her skirt before reaching up to push her glasses further up the bridge of her nose. "How was court this morning?" Gail relents, deciding to do as she's told.

"Fine," Holly replies hastily and then she reaches up to tuck a piece of hair back behind her ear. "Actually it sucked. I fumbled over my notes on the case and I knocked over a glass of water while I was up on the stand... it wasn't my best work."

Gail slips her hand over Holly's knee and squeezes comfortingly. "That's not like you to be so unsettled. What's up?"

Holly takes a long sip of her drink then, giving herself a moment to collect herself before she covers Gail's hand with her own and holds her gaze intensely. "My mom called me right before they called me in, she knows I've got that long weekend off coming up at the start of next month and she invited me to go visit."

"I thought you got along well with your mom and step-dad?" Gail replies, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion.

"I do," Holly nods. "She just... well, she wants me to bring you home with me and finally introduce you to them, which is great, right? I mean, I want you to meet them and everything, but I just... I know it's a big step, and you just started your rotation last month and you're really busy-"

"Holly," Gail cuts in, ducking her head to force her way into Holly's eye-line. "You're doing that super fast, rambling thing that you do when you get anxious."

She watches then as Holly lets out an shaky breath. "Right."

Gail swallows away the lump in her throat and tentatively asks, "Do you- would you rather I didn't come with you?"

"No," Holly retorts quickly, tangling her fingers through Gail's. "I would love for you to come meet my mom; I just don't want you to feel like you have to. At least not right now. Things have been crazy lately with your mom and my dad, and now things are calming down and it just seems unfair to ask you to take time off from your rotation when you're just starting to find your rhythm and actually enjoy it."

"Hol, I asked Luke earlier to switch weekends with me so we could have some time off together. I was going to ask you if you wanted to go up to the cottage with me again, so..." Gail trails off, smiling brightly.

"So..." Holly echoes, her mouth curling to reflect Gail's bright smile. "You'll spend what could be a relaxing few days off at the cottage coming to Vancouver with me and meeting my crazy family instead?"

Gail purses her mouth together and cocks her head thoughtfully, letting out a small chuckle when she sees Holly's eyes flash with doubt. "Of course I will, you goof," she replies happily, reaching for Holly's face and drawing her in for a sweet kiss. "You still owe me embarrassing photographs of your childhood, remember?"

Holly lets out a relieved breath and smiles. "How could I possibly forget? I know you've been snooping around at home trying to find some."

Gail tries to look indignant but she can't help but laugh at Holly's knowing head tilt and smirk. "You did claim to have the worst hair cut of all time while you were growing up," Gail says with a smile. "I was just trying to save you the humiliation of having to show me yourself."

"Uh-huh," Holly hums disbelievingly. "I think you just like going through my things."

Gail shrugs and grins cheekily in response. "We live together now, so technically, what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine."

"I guess it's a good thing that I don't have any secrets from you then, huh?" Holly replies easily, turning to thank the barman as he brings over her bowl of pasta.

Gail quirks her eyebrow. "What about that purple box right at the back of your bedroom closet?"

She can't help but purse her mouth together into a smug smirk then as she watches Holly's mouth drop open. "When did you look through that?" Holly demands, dropping her voice to a low whisper and blushing as she glances around to make sure the barman has gone.

Gail laughs at the embarrassed look on Holly's face and leans in to plant a purposefully noisy kiss on her cheek. "Hey, I get it, you were single for a year before we started dating, a woman has needs," she says teasingly, loving the way Holly blushes even brighter.

Holly shoves her away playfully, averting Gail's eyes. "I don't like you right now."

Gail just smiles back affectionately at her and leans in again, kissing below Holly's ear, and murmurs lowly, "If it makes you feel better, I haven't been able to get the image of you touching yourself out of my head since." She hears Holly gasp at her confession then as she sucks the lobe of her ear into her mouth, grazing her teeth over the flesh before releasing it again.

Holly shoves at her shoulder again forcing Gail to pull back and meet her gaze. It makes Gail's breath hitch in her chest then as she takes in the way Holly's eyes have darkened with want as she bites at her bottom lip sexily. It's Holly who leans in this time, her breath hot against Gail's cheek as her lips ghost against the shell of her ear. "Maybe if you're really lucky I might let you watch sometime."

Gail feels a heated flush creep up her neck and spread across her cheeks as her heart hammers loudly in her chest, and all she can do is dart her tongue out to moisten her lips and nod dumbly back. Holly smirks at her response and slides her hand up Gail's thigh, dragging her nails along the inseam of her jeans, and as Gail feels the familiar ache of desire blossoming low in her stomach, she knows she's lost the upper hand.

"You okay? You look awfully hot and bothered, baby," Holly murmurs teasingly.

Gail grasps Holly's hand, stopping it from creeping further up her thigh. "I don't like you right now," she replies with a pout, echoing Holly's earlier comment.

Holly just smirks again and leans in to kiss her sweetly. "I did tell you to behave."

She pouts harder in response then, narrowing her eyes glaringly at Holly when she only lets out an amused breath and smiles fondly at her. Before she can reply with something witty in return Sam strolls into The Penny, spotting her easily and beckoning her with a simple motion of his hand.

"I have to get back to work," Gail says apologetically as she pushes to her feet.

Holly gives her an understanding look but catches her wrist. "Be careful, okay?"

"Always," Gail reassures with a soft smile as she cups Holly's cheek and ducks her head to kiss her promisingly. "I'll see you back at home tonight."

Holly nods in response and tilts her head up for another kiss. "See you at home."

"Peckling, come on already, enough of the lovey-dovey stuff. We've got a murder scene to get to," Sam calls out to her, smirking when Gail flips him off as she presses a final parting kiss to Holly's lips.

As Sam throws his arm around her shoulders and leads her to the car, Gail can't help but wonder how in one lunch break she went from being annoyed by a fresh-faced rookie flirting with her girlfriend, to agreeing to meet Holly's parents, and to finally not being able to think of anything else except Holly naked and panting and writhing beneath her.

She can't help but think then, that it's definitely going to be a long and endlessly slow shift.

Chapter Text

She wakes groggily, her head lolled against Holly's shoulder as the pilot's voice echoes through the cabin speakers. She forces herself to sit upright, her neck and back aching from the uncomfortable position she'd fallen asleep in, and reaches up to rub the weariness from her eyes.

"We've landed already?" Gail asks through a yawn, stretching her body as much as the small space will allow her to.

"Yeah; you were pretty much out for the count from the moment we took off," Holly replies with a fond smile as she closes her book and tucks it back into her bag. "Probably a result of all that unnecessary stressing you've been doing all week about meeting my folks."

She knows it's true. She'd been tense and panicky all week, and that meant she'd been an unpredictable mix of extra quiet and withdrawn one moment or cranky and biting the next; constantly snapping at anything and anybody who accidentally got in her way. Holly had tried to reassure her that it would all be fine by telling her dorky little antidotes about her family to make them seem less scary, but even so she's been unable to shake off her anxiousness.

She can count on one hand the number of her boyfriends' parents she's met before, but even though it won't be an entirely new experience for her, she's acutely aware that those weren't serious; she didn't have to worry back then because none of the relationships felt long-term enough for her to deem the parent meeting part important. But she knows this time that it matters greatly, that this is it; these are the people that could one day be her future in-laws and while that fills her with happiness, it's also nerve-wracking to the extreme. She knows she can't afford to get this introduction wrong. It has to be perfect.

Gail smiles sheepishly in return and rubs a kink in her neck. "I just want to make a good impression on them, Hol."

Holly smiles softly at her and leans forward to press a kiss to her cheek. "They're going to love you, I promise," Holly tells her, swatting Gail's hand away from her neck and massaging the spot with familiar ease until Gail sighs in relief. "You just need to relax. My mom and step-dad are nowhere near as intimidating as your parents. Think of it this way, I had to be terrified of your mother having her own gun, you on the other hand only have to worry about mine offering to teach you yoga."

Gail lets out an amused breath and smiles. "Fair point," she says with a smile. "I just hope you warned them how awkward I am."

"You'll be great," Holly reassures her as she unbuckles her seatbelt and reaches over to undo Gail's. "Now, can we please get off this thing? I always feel so gross whenever I fly and I really want to get our bags, go home, and take a long, hot shower."

"Fine," Gail relents, the anxious knot in her stomach still refusing to fully untangle. "But you're not just going to introduce me to your parents and then leave me alone with them while you go off and shower, right?"

Holly shakes her head and smiles despite herself. "Gail, I promise you that I won't leave you to defend for yourself, now get up."

Gail waits until the family sitting along the same row as them has gotten their hand-luggage down and started to make their way off the plane before she stands up and holds her hand out to pull Holly up. She gets their bags down and shuffles nervously until Holly catches her gaze and rolls her eyes affectionately at her as she sees Gail's reluctance to leave.

"They really are going to love you, baby, I promise," Holly murmurs soothingly as she reaches for Gail's hand and tangles their fingers together. Gail sees the certainty in Holly's eyes then and lets it calm her as she releases a shaky breath and nods acceptingly, squeezing their fingers together tightly before letting Holly lead her out of the plane.

It feels like they have to wait forever for their bags to be unloaded off of the plane, and by the time Gail's grabbing them hastily from among the other passengers' suitcases – the constant shoving, pushing and elbowing, making her glare at anybody who overly invades her personal space – she's just about had enough of airports to last her a lifetime.

Holly interlaces their fingers the moment Gail returns to her and she follows willingly as Holly navigates her way through the familiar terminal towards the car rental booths. A man with the least sincere smiles she's ever seen greets them and Gail finds herself unable to stop staring at him as he looks for their reservation as slowly as humanly possible.

"I'm sorry Dr Stewart, it seems your reservation was cancelled yesterday," he says with an irritatingly monotone voice.

Holly shakes her head and lets out a frustrated breath before forcing a fake smile onto her face and saying, "Well, what have you got left? We'll take whatever as long as we can both fit in it."

Gail narrows her eyes pointedly at the guy behind the desk as he hums disinterestedly and begins looking for something vacant for them to rent, and tugs on Holly's sleeve to get her attention. "Can we please just go and get a cab so that we can get the hell out of here," she begs, glancing around menacingly as the family behind her shuffles in so closely that she can practically feel their body heat radiating against her back. "I can't handle this for much longer; I'm going to end up yelling profanities at somebody if I get even as much as remotely nudged again."

"Aren't cops supposed to be used to swarms of annoying people?" A playful voice quips near her ear, catching her off guard and making Gail whip swiftly around knocking into the guy accidentally. The guy regains his footing easily and holds his hands up apologetically. "Whoa, sorry didn't mean to startle you," he says with a smile, and then flicks his eyes over to Holly's. "Hey Hollypop, long time no see."

Gail feels her eyebrows knit together in confusion even as Holly breaks out into a surprised but happy smile and reaches out to pull the guy into a crushing hug. She pulls back a moment later and pats his cheek affectionately.

"It's so good to see you, Jimmy. I've really missed you," Holly says into his shoulder as she pulls him in for another squeeze before releasing him properly. "Wait, what are you even doing here?"

"Mom wanted to come and pick you up and surprise you, but since she dinged the car this morning it's back at the shop for repairs again. So, being your favourite brother I naturally offered to pick you up instead," he tells her with a grin.

"You're my only brother, you ass," Holly teases as she shakes her head knowingly in response and quirks her eyebrow. "Let me guess, mom was the one who cancelled my rental, right?"

James shrugs back at her with a smile. "She means well, she just doesn't always think everything through logically, you know that."

"I do," Holly replies fondly, and then remembering herself, turns back to Gail and holds her hand out to pull Gail into her side. "Sorry, I'm being rude," she murmurs and then flicks her eyes between them both. "Gail, this is my younger brother, James; James, this is Gail."

Gail involuntarily squares her shoulders then and offers him a smile as she awkwardly extends her hand. "Nice to finally meet you."

"You too," James replies warmly, taking her hand and pulling her into a friendly hug before letting her go and smiling back at them both. "It's about time Holly stopped hiding you away. We're all really looking forward to getting to know you, Gail. But first, let's get out of here." He reaches for Gail's bag then and nods his head towards the exit, indicating for them to follow. "I'll have you ladies home in no time so that you can freshen up a bit."

"Are you saying I smell?" Holly fires back playfully.

James shakes his head. "Of course not, my dear, dear, sister." He turns his gaze to Gail then and nods his head as he pinches his nose teasingly.

Gail watches Holly punch him in the arm then and can't help but smile at the easy nature of their relationship. It reminds her a little of Steve and she can't help but feel more at ease the longer she watches them banter back and forth.

Holly reaches for her hand again, drawing her out of her thoughts and squeezes their fingers together as she mouths, "you okay?", Gail nods in return and swings their hands between them as she tugs Holly to follow behind her brother.

"I have a question for you, Gail," James says, turning to walk backwards a couple of steps as he talks to her. "Is being a cop anything like what they show on TV? Because it looks so badass. I always wanted to be a cop; solving murders, arresting bad guys, saving the day and all, you know? But when the final choice came down to it my inner piglet won out and I ended up going to culinary school instead of the police academy."

Gail feels herself relaxing instantly at James' easy conversation, his eyes warm and soothing as he patiently waits for her answer with a smile. "Kind of. We do have to use our guns a lot more than I ever expected but there's also lots more paperwork than they show on TV."

"Paperwork?" James repeats with a grimace. "Ugh. Well, I might not own a gun but I do own a very large collection of kitchen knives. That's equally badass, right?"

"Totally," Gail says with a laugh as she catches Holly rolling her eyes fondly.

"If not, I also make the most delicious apple tarte tatin," James replies with a playful smile as he opens the trunk of his car and puts their bags inside. "Light, golden puff pastry, caramelized apples, marzipan filling, and mouth watering cinnamon ice cream. Now that's truly hardcore."

Holly shakes her head at him. "You're ridiculous."

"You won't be saying that later when you have a slice," James grins in response and opens the front passenger side door, flicking his gaze to Gail again. "Are you a dessert lover, Officer?"

Gail nods. "Oh yeah."

"I think you'll have competition in the 'who can eat the most' contest, Jimmy," Holly adds. "This one loves food almost as much as you do."

"Finally someone who understands," James replies, raising his fist towards Gail and quirking his eyebrow at her until she fist-bumps him, smiling in amusement as she does. "You get to sit up front with me, Gail. I'll teach you how to make anything you want, and you can share some secret cop stories with me while stinky over there sits in the back."

Holly swats his shoulder again. "Be nice to me, I'm your big sister."

"Okay, okay. Gail can sit up front with me so we can discuss how badass we both are, and you get to sit in the back and relax like we're your personal drivers. Better?" he replies teasingly.

"It'll do," Holly says, flashing him a lopsided smile while he presses a quick kiss to her cheek. He opens the back door for her then and mock bows as she steps past him and climbs inside.

Once he's shut the door he turns his attention back to Gail. "You ready for phase two?"

Gail shakes her head and smiles. "Yes and no. Honestly, I'm a little nervous; meeting your girlfriend's parents... it's a big deal, you know?"

"I felt the same when I met my girlfriend – Phoebe's – parents, but I just tried to relax and be myself and it went great," James confesses with an encouraging smile. "You've really got nothing to worry about, Gail. If it makes you feel any better my mom made me cook all of the food for tonight's meal because – well, truthfully she's a terrible cook – but really she asked me to do it because she's nervous and wants to make a good first impression on you since she knows how much you mean to Holly."

"That's really sweet," Gail says softly, feeling oddly comforted by the fact Holly's mom feels just as nervous about meeting her as she is about meeting them.

"Don't tell her I told you about the food though, she'd be embarrassed if she knew I'd told you," James adds as an afterthought, grinning sheepishly. "But if she ever offers to cook you pancakes, decline for your own safety, okay?"

"Got it," Gail replies as she smiles back reassuringly. "And not a word, I promise."

Holly's head pops out of the window then and she glances between them with concern. "What's going on; is everything okay?"

She flashes Holly a smile and nods. "Everything's fine, Hol, relax. We're just bonding over our mutual love for the champion of all foods... cheese-puffs."

Holly shakes her head fondly in response. "As happy as that makes me, can you two bond while we drive? I really want to get home and take a shower."

"Aye, aye, captain bossy pants," James teases, throwing Gail a wink before he walks around to the other side of the car and climbs inside.

She follows his lead, and within seconds they're pulling out of the airport short-stay car park and heading down the highway. She lets James ask her questions about her job and finds herself falling into easy conversation with him as they move on to more food and then video games. It isn't until he announces that they'll be at the house in ten more minutes that Gail realises Holly's been silent the entire journey, and as she glances into the back and finds Holly sleeping peacefully – her head lolling against the window with a content little smile on her face – she realises that her anxiousness has completely faded away.

"I thought she could use forty-winks," James says, glancing at her with a smile.

Gail smiles softly in return. "She always falls asleep when she sits in the back, huh?"

"Yeah. I hope you don't mind, I just thought she could use a short respite because otherwise she's going to start nervous rambling like crazy," James murmurs fondly. "That doesn't mean that I didn't honestly want you to sit up front with me, because I really did want to talk with you."

Gail smiles understandingly in return, and can't help but acknowledge then that there's just something so easy about being around the Stewarts'; that without even realising what they're doing, they somehow manage to calm her usual awkwardness and leave her totally comfortable to open herself up.

Somehow it makes the thought that she's actually, finally, about to meet Holly's mom and step-dad seem a lot less daunting than it did only hours before.

The first thing she thinks when James pulls into the driveway is that it looks far more like a proper family home than the house she grew up in. There's an old tire-swing still hanging from a tree and a couple of goofy garden-gnomes standing by the front door; their panted faces bright and happy as they hold a little sign between them that says 'welcome' – (she knows her mother would think they're ridiculously tacky, but Gail finds herself smiling at the little touch of character the Stewarts' have added to their home).

"Why don't you wake her up while I take the bags inside, that way it gives you a couple of extra minutes to ready yourself," James offers kindly as he turns the ignition off.

"Thanks," Gail replies appreciatively, flashing him a smile before they both climb out of the car.

She helps James get the bags out of the trunk, accepting the final reassuring squeeze he gives her shoulder before he heads off towards the house. Once the front door has closed behind him she opens the back door of the car as gently as she can, trying to be careful not to jerk Holly awake and takes a moment just to take in how peaceful Holly looks. Her hair looks a little ruffled and her glasses have tilted to a weird angle but she still looks absolutely beautiful, and Gail can't help but think that there's something utterly lovely about the soft, content, little sounds she's making as she sleeps.

"It's time to wake up, sleepyhead," Gail murmurs, reaching her fingertips out to stroke lovingly against Holly's cheek. She feels her heart swell with affection as Holly's eyes flutter slowly open at her feather-light touch, her mouth twisting into an adorable, sleepy smile as she nuzzles her face further into Gail's touch.

"I fell asleep," Holly says, a touch of surprise in her voice as she stumbles more into consciousness.

It makes Gail chuckle fondly as she lets her fingers brush the hair from Holly's face. "You fell asleep," she confirms with an amused smile.

Holly unbuckles her seatbelt then and pushes herself upright as she moves her glasses to rest on top of her head and rubs the lingering haziness from her eyes. "I hope Jimmy didn't talk your ear off too much, I probably should have warned you that he's a bit of a chatterbox," Holly says as she accepts Gail's hand and lets her help pull her up and out of the car.

"He's nice," Gail replies, stepping back to give Holly the room she needs to stretch. "A little weird and nerdy but then again I think that must just run in your family DNA."

Holly shakes her head with a fond smile and reaches out to pull Gail into her arms, their hips bumping together as she searches out Gail's eyes. "How are you feeling? Are you nervous? Because we can go take a drive and come back when you feel ready, if you want? I mean we've got all weekend, there's no rush and-"

Gail presses their mouths together softly, quieting Holly's anxious babbling with a lingering kiss that she feels Holly melt into with ease. "I'm actually feeling oddly calm about this now," she says with a smile as she pulls back. "I want to get to know them, Hol."

Holly lets out a breath and smiles happily back. "It's going to be a good weekend, I promise."

"Oh, I know it will," Gail quips back with a playful smile. "I've already been promised delicious food, and there's colourful gnomes standing outside your parents' front door welcoming me with glee, what more could I ask for?"

Holly laughs at that and takes Gail's hand, tugging her up the front path towards the door. "Want to know an embarrassing secret? I painted the left one and Jimmy painted the right," Holly confesses. "My mom thought they would be a charming addition to our home."

"Well, she was right. Although it has to be said, it looks like you weren't the neatest painter, Dr 'steady-hands' Stewart," Gail teases. "Even Jimmy did a better job and he's what, six years younger than you?"

Holly bumps their shoulders together and chuckles. "Shut up. I'm just not artsy, okay?" Gail just smirks back and lets Holly lead her through the front door and into the house. She hangs up their coats and then reaches for Gail's hand again, giving it a final, reassuring squeeze before calling out, "Mom, Pop, we're here."

Gail inhales deeply then, bracing herself as she hears the soft padding of footsteps hurrying their way. Within moments they're being greeted by a woman smiling welcomingly, her eyes flicking between hers and Holly's with comforting warmth.

The first thing that strikes Gail is just how much Holly looks like her mother; endless brown eyes, dark flowing hair and a smile so sincere that it instantly settles any last lingering nerves that were fluttering in her stomach.

"You're here," she exclaims happily, reaching to pull Holly into a brief but tight hug before pulling back again. "It's so good to see you, sweetheart."

"You too, Mom," Holly smiles, leaning in to hug her again before pulling back and slipping her arm around Gail's waist, her fingers stroking soothingly at Gail's hip as she turns her head towards her to check that she's okay before turning back to her mom. "Mom, this is Gail; Gail, this is my mom, Maggie."

She smiles shyly then as Holly's mother's eyes fall to hers again, regarding her kindly, and it takes her a little by surprise a moment later when she's pulled into an equally warm and tight hug as Holly had received. "It's so lovely to finally get to meet you, Gail."

Gail pats at her back a little stiltedly at first, still not overly used to people communicating themselves through embraces, but feels herself relax into it a second later as relief rushes through her with how welcomed she genuinely is. "You too, Mrs Stewart. Thanks so much for inviting me."

Maggie releases her but catches her hand between her own and pats it idly. "It's our pleasure to have you," she replies with a smile. "I know how busy you two are, but I'm just so glad that I can finally stop pestering Holly to book some time off to come home for a break. You both look tired; did you get any sleep on your flight? I bet you're both working far too hard, it's not good for your health, you know-"

"Maggie, give the girls some room to breathe, they've barely even made it through the door," A male voice interrupts playfully. He offers Gail a smile as he comes to stand beside his wife, immediately wrapping his arm around her shoulders. "Welcome to the mad house, Gail. I hope Holly gave you fair warning about my wife... I know she's a little eccentric but you'll grow to like her; trust me, I did."

Gail smiles in amusement then as she watches Maggie turn and swat at his arm, shaking her head with a warning smile, and says, "I'm glad you warmed up to me, dear, it would have made our marriage a little awkward if you hadn't."

"I wouldn't have you any other way, my darling, you know that," he replies charmingly, and leans forward to kiss her cheek.

Gail sees the love passing between them then as they momentarily get lost in each other's eyes and something about it warms her heart. She thinks it's the way they seem so at ease around each other; happy to joke and banter affectionately still after years of marriage, unlike her own parents whose interactions seem to have grown increasingly sombre throughout the years. It makes her hope longingly that her and Holly will always remain so in-step with each other; she never wants them to lose the ability to laugh together, or to look at each other like they're the only two people in the room.

Holly's step-dad seems to remember himself a brief moment later and he extends his hand to Gail. "Forgive my poor manners; I should have introduced myself already, I'm Ted," he says as Gail takes his hand and shakes it.

"Nice to meet you, sir," Gail replies, offering him a smile.

Ted nods his head in Holly's direction. "Polite and respectful; I like her already, Holls."

"Me too, such a lovely girl," Maggie chips in, her eyes flicking to Gail's again. "You've got such a beautiful complexion; are you a natural blonde, Gail?"

Gail tries to ignore the way the tips of her ears start burning at the attention, but she knows her cheeks must be tinged with a rosy blush when Holly rolls her eyes at her parents and pulls Gail closer into her side protectively. "Enough already you two," Holly cautions fondly. "You've got all weekend to get to know each other, but for now, step away from my girlfriend and give us a chance to settle in."

"You're right, we're being overbearing and you've been here for less than ten minutes," Maggie says apologetically. "You've just got time to freshen up before dinner. It should be ready shortly; it's pork tenderloin with a honey glaze and veggies, I hope that's okay?"

Holly smiles back. "Sounds lovely, Mom. Just remember no-"

"Tomatoes," Maggie cuts in knowingly. "Gail's allergic. You told me and I remembered. Don't worry, my cooking isn't going to poison her, Holly, you can relax." She turns her gaze back to Ted then. "Get the girls some drinks will you, dear."

Gail smiles in amusement then as Ted mock salutes her, earning himself another swat across the chest as Maggie rolls her eyes at him and heads back into the kitchen. "What can I get you; wine, beer, or perhaps something stronger? I'd personally suggest something stronger, getting through a meal with us can be quite the ordeal."

She glances up at Holly then and Holly just smiles back at her reassuringly before saying, "Tequila, Pop; she wants tequila."

"Ah," Ted hums with a smile, pressing his hand against his chest playfully. "A woman after my own heart. Why don't you two go freshen up and I'll go and get the good bottle out of hiding; it's about time it came out for a special occasion again, and having you two lovely ladies here with us for the weekend is definitely a cause for celebration."

Gail returns his parting smile and feels Holly's fingers sneaking beneath her top, softly caressing the smooth skin at the small of her back. "On a scale to one-to-terrified, how are you feeling?" Holly jokes as Gail turns to look at her.

She offers Holly a soft smile and reaches up to cup Holly's cheek, drawing her down for a quick, sweet kiss. "They're nice," she says reassuringly, and then echoing her earlier thought she adds, "A little weird and nerdy but then again I think that must just run in your family DNA."

Holly laughs at that and smiles happily. "I'm really glad you came with me."

"Me too," Gail replies honestly, knowing already that she's going to get along just fine with Holly's family.

Holly ducks her head to kiss her again then, and Gail lets her eyes flutter closed, allowing herself a moment to just enjoy the simplicity of what it means that she's actually there with Holly at her childhood home, meeting her parents, and she can't help but think that it feels like another piece of her life is falling into place.

Compared to the dinner they had with her parents that first time, sharing a meal with Holly's family is considerably tame. The food is delicious – she makes sure to send James a sneaky smile when she meets his eye across the table – and the conversation flows easily; there are no awkward silences or overbearing, prying questions, just a continuous flow of good natured curiosity, mixed with genuine laughter.

James leaves shortly after he's served them all a slice of his apple tarte tatin, pressing a quick kiss to her and Holly's cheeks and inviting them over the following evening to catch up properly. As Maggie starts clearing up their plates, Gail can't help but insist that she help, and even as Maggie protests, Gail carries several dirty dishes over to the sink and holds her ground until Maggie relents with a grateful smile.

They shoo Holly and Ted from the kitchen a few moments later, and although she'd normally feel a sense of dread at being left alone with her girlfriend's mother, chatting with Maggie as she washes and then passes the plates to Gail to dry, seems like the most natural thing in the world.

"Holly tells me that as well as being a hard-working detective, that you're also a rather wonderful photographer," Maggie says, passing Gail a wine glass to dry.

Gail nods in response as she runs the dish-towel around the glass, holding it up to the light when she's done to make sure she hasn't left any water-marks. "I'm actually kind of just getting back into it," she confesses as she places the glass back in the right cupboard.

"Was it a hobby you had as a child that you lost touch with?" Maggie inquires.

"Yeah," Gail breathes, darting her tongue out to lick at her lips as Maggie's eyes hold hers with gentle encouragement. "I was kind of a shy and awkward child so my Grams got me into it to try and help bring me out of my shell a bit..." Gail trails off then, not used to feeling like she can be so open about that part of her past, but something in Maggie's eyes – Gail thinks it's the familiar unrelenting, understanding warmth she sees so much of in Holly's – makes her feel like she can trust her. "I stopped after she died. My mom wasn't a fan of it; she thought it was a fruitless pursuit that was just wasting my time, so..."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Gail," Maggie murmurs softly as she reaches out and touches her arm comfortingly. "But I'm glad you've found your way back to it; it's important to do the things you love."

Gail feels a rush of affection fill her chest then and she offers Maggie a smile as she says, "Holly said the exact same thing to me awhile back. It's thanks to her that I've even picked a camera up again. She encouraged me to just play around with it, and I've got to confess, I didn't realise how badly I'd missed it until I was getting out there again and taking photographs of the things I love."

"That doesn't surprise me," Maggie replies, turning so that her back can lean against the counter. "Holly's always been good at giving people a helping hand; she's just not very good at accepting help herself unfortunately."

Gail sighs softly in agreement. "Tell me about it; she's annoyingly stubborn sometimes."

"She gets that from her father," Maggie says, and then raises her eyebrow. "But you already know that, I'm sure." Gail presses her lips together and nods, not wanting to say something she shouldn't, especially knowing that Holly doesn't share things about Mike with her mother or James. "He called me from the rehab centre last week," Maggie adds. "It was the first time I've heard from him in over ten years."

Gail swallows past the lump in her throat and averts Maggie's gaze. "Oh."

"He told me everything about what had happened, and he even apologised to me for things that happened between us long ago. It was surprising but I think we both needed that last bit of closure. I'm happy to know that he's doing well," Maggie says, her voice cracking a little. "I also know that it's partly my fault that Holly's so independent and reluctant to acknowledge when she needs somebody to lean on," Maggie admits guilty, her eyes brimming with tears as she holds Gail's gaze. "I fell apart when Mike was using heavily; I just didn't know how to cope. I'd tried to help him but he wouldn't let me in, he shut us all out and then he just upped and left." Gail feels her heart aching in her chest then as Maggie sniffles and reaches out to curl her fingers around Gail's wrist helplessly. "James was still so little and Holly, even though she was only just becoming a teenager, was the one who pulled it together when I couldn't. She was the one who would force me to get up off the couch each morning, and who would help me get the groceries, or remind me to take James to school..."

Gail covers Maggie's hand then and squeezes comfortingly even as her heart pinches at hearing more about Holly's difficult childhood. "You did the best you could, Maggie."

"She had to grow up too fast," Maggie murmurs, reaching up to wipe the tears away from her eyes. "And I know she's kept what she knows about Mike from me all these years because she wanted to protect me, but I just wish she didn't put such a brave face on all the time."

"Me too," Gail nods understandingly. "But it's a work in progress, and I promise you that she is getting better at letting me know when she needs some support."

Maggie smiles softly at that and pulls her into a tight hug. "I'm so glad she has you in her life, Gail. It makes me worry less knowing she has somebody like you looking out for her."

She pulls back after a long moment and presses a grateful kiss to Gail's cheek; her eyes trailing over Gail's face so trustingly that Gail feels an overwhelming need to go and wrap Holly up in her arms and hold her tight for awhile.

Maggie pats her cheek knowingly and nods her head towards the door. "You go spend some time with our girl, I'll finish this last part up and then make some tea and come and join you all."

"Thanks," Gail replies with a smile, letting Maggie pull her into a quick hug again and making sure that she returns it just as tightly before she pulls back and adds softly, "I hope you know that I'd do anything to make her happy."

"I know." Maggie smiles fondly back at her then, nodding her head. "That's why I like you so much; I can see it in your eyes how much you care about her, and I know she feels just as strongly about you because her whole face lights up in a way I've never seen before whenever you're around."

"I hope so," Gail murmurs affectionately, her gaze holding Maggie's when she quietly adds, "She's the one, you know."

Maggie smiles knowingly back at her then and presses another kiss to her cheek, and Gail feels the understanding pass between them as their eyes lock; they're family now, and they both know that it's only a matter of time before it actually becomes official.

When Holly leads her upstairs later on that night, Gail can't help but forgo getting changed straight away to look curiously around Holly's childhood bedroom. There are little signs of the Holly she already knows; books and CDs lining her shelves, and a large poster on the back of her bedroom door of an anatomical skeleton, but there are also glimpses into what Holly was like as a child. There's a well worn looking teddy-bear with only one eye sitting against the pillows of her bed, and scattered around the room she can see a few old toys; a purple hoola-hoop, a pair of well worn looking roller-skates, and even a couple of old Barbie dolls – one of which is wearing a white doctor's coat which causes Gail to turn to Holly and quirk her eyebrow teasingly.

"When I left home for university my mom sold a lot of my old childhood stuff, these are the few things she randomly kept," Holly says with a lopsided smile, and making Gail eyes twinkle with amusement. "I think they mean more to her than they do to me."

What catches her eye the most is the pin-board of photographs that is over next to Holly's little desk. She trails her fingertips across the surface as she leans in to get a better look, and smiles when she sees a few of younger Holly posing with a little James, or a little Holly with her hair in bunches, grinning at the camera with her arms looped around two of her school friends.

The one that holds her attention the most though is a photo-booth strip of snapshots of a teenaged Holly and a dark-haired, well-built, handsome teenage boy. In the first one they're both smiling at the camera with their heads leaning together, in the second one they're pulling silly faces, but in the last one they're sharing a kiss.

It seems a little silly to feel so bothered by a photograph that was taken so long ago, but Gail can't help but feel a prickle of irrational jealousy shiver up her spine at the sight of somebody else kissing her girlfriend.

"Old flame?" Gail asks, trying to mask her intrigue by shifting her fingers across to another photograph as she feels Holly come up behind her.

"My high-school sweetheart, Jared," Holly replies lightly, and Gail lifts her eyes up to Holly's face in time to see her mouth twitch up into a fond smile. "We'd been friends for a couple of years and then we started dating during senior year for awhile. I broke up with him a couple of months before we graduated though because he started talking about changing his plans and coming to Toronto with me for university."

Gail hums in acknowledgement and narrows her eyes at the photo-strip of them both, wondering why Holly's kept it all this time. "Did you stay in contact with him?"

Holly shakes her head. "To begin with, I did occasionally. But during my second year at university I'd realised I was gay and I'd started dating this girl, Kimberly, and when I bumped into him that summer he tried to ask me out again and I had to tell him the truth. He didn't take it too well."

"Ego bruised, huh?" Gail smirks.

Holly reaches out and squeezes at Gail's hip. "Don't be mean, he was a really nice guy and he was always a good boyfriend to me; treated me with respect and never pushed too much, you know?"

Gail hums in response again as she starts changing into one of Holly's old t-shirts and a pair of shorts, the little knot of jealousy that had settled into her stomach fading away completely now that she knows the story behind the photographs.

She watches Holly pull back the covers on her bed and plump the pillows a little before she climbs in and makes herself comfortable. Gail crawls in beside her and shifts so she's facing Holly before cheekily asking, "So, did your childhood bed ever see any action with this Kimberly chick? Or did she luck out just as badly as Jared?"

Holly shifts so she's facing her more and lets her mouth curl into a small smile at Gail's obvious teasing. "I never brought Kimberly or any of my other girlfriends home actually. I've always introduced them to mom and pop when they were in town visiting me," Holly replies, and Gail feels herself smiling smugly in response, liking that she gets to be the first, and then after a beat Holly thoughtfully adds, "And what makes you think Jared 'lucked out'?"

"You said he never pushed," Gail says, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion as Holly's smile suddenly grows sheepish.

"Gail..." Holly says slowly, reaching out to brush her hand soothing over Gail's hip. "Jared never pushed me to do anything I wasn't comfortable with... but that doesn't mean I didn't have sex with him, you know that right?"

Gail feels her breath lodge in her throat then, the realisation hitting her square in the chest as a renewed rush of jealousy burns through her veins. "That- that douchebag in the photograph... that's the one and only guy you've ever had sex with?" she hisses indignantly, the urge to get up and rip the photo into pieces enough to make her curl her fingers tightly into her palms.

"Gail..." Holly murmurs gently, slipping her hand from Gail's hip to settle at her back, pulling her closer as she strokes her fingers up and down Gail's spine soothingly. "Come on, don't be upset about this... you knew I'd dated guys before; it was like one of the earliest conversations we had, and besides it was years ago."

She knows she's being irrational, but she can't shift the uncomfortable weight that's sitting in her chest that reminds her that somebody other than her has been lucky enough to touch Holly, and be close to her in a way that's so intimate that it makes Gail screw her eyes shut as she tries not to think about it.

"Baby..." Holly coos softly, hands stilling on Gail's back as she presses even closer, tangling their legs together. She nuzzles her nose against Gail's cheek then, letting her lips follow with a trail of tender kisses until Gail's hands clutch at her t-shirt.

"I know it's stupid," Gail whispers petulantly, averting Holly's gaze. "But I always thought you'd just casually dated guys throughout high school and that you'd... I don't know, had a non-serious fling at some point. I didn't realise you'd had a serious relationship with some handsome, teenaged guy who looks like the lead in some lame romantic comedy, where he's all super charming and plays every sport in the world, and sweeps the girl off her feet without even trying."

Holly lets out an amused breath at that and smiles softly as she starts caressing her hands reassuringly up and down Gail's back again. "He didn't sweep me off my feet," Holly breathes, waiting for Gail to meet her eyes before continuing. "I was struggling with how I was feeling and I just wanted to try and fit in, so I tried to do the whole relationship thing with him. I only slept with him because all of my friends were doing it with their boyfriends and talking about how amazing it was, and I didn't want to be the only girl who went to university as a virgin still."

She watches as Holly shrugs her shoulders then, her eyes darting away from Gail's briefly as she worries her lip between her teeth looking a little embarrassed at her confession, and suddenly Gail feels an overwhelming wave of protectiveness pulling at her heart. She knows from her own experience that her first time with a guy hadn't been the most gentle or elegant experience of her life, but knowing now that Holly only seems to have slept with Jared because she felt scared of what she was feeling in herself and pressured because of her friends, makes her chest ache.

"So, Jared, he took- he was the one you lost your virginity too?" Gail voices quietly even though she already knows, her question drawing Holly's eyes back to hers and making her nod in response. "Was he..." Gail pauses then, swallowing away the dryness in her mouth and darts her tongue out to moisten her lips as she tries to figure out how to put what she wants to say. "... was it okay? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

"No," Holly murmurs, shaking her head and smiling softly back at her. "He was actually very sweet, and he went slow and made sure I was okay. I didn't see fireworks or get why all of my friends talked about it non-stop, but it was... okay, I guess; didn't last particularly long."

Gail reaches up to brush the hair from Holly's face and strokes her fingertips along Holly's jaw and down her neck. "My first time wasn't all that wonderful either if it makes you feel any better," she offers with a smile, feeling relieved when Holly brushes her foot up and down her leg.

"At least sex got a hell of a lot better for us both as we got older, huh?" Holly replies, nudging her nose against Gail's and brushing their lips together in a knowing kiss.

Gail feels herself smiling against Holly's mouth as Holly's fingertips trace the edge of her shorts before sliding beneath them and grasping at her ass. "So, so, much better," Gail whispers against Holly's lips. "The best."

"Mmhmm," Holly agrees, shifting so she can trail her lips up the edge of Gail's jaw before sucking at her neck.

She lets her eyes flutter closed as Holly's teeth graze against her pulse then, and bites at her bottom lip to stifle a moan. "God, you drive me so crazy, Hol," Gail rasps, letting Holly guide her onto her back as she settles over her.

Holly pulls away from her neck a moment later with a parting nip that makes Gail gasp, and shifts until she's sitting upright, straddling Gail's thigh, as she reaches for the hem of her t-shirt and pulls it over her head in one swift motion.

"Whoa... what are you doing?" Gail whispers, her eyes wide in surprise even as she reaches out reflexively to slide her hands up Holly's sides.

Holly just smirks in response. "Well, I finally brought a girl home with me, and now I'm initiating the start of mind-blowing sex."

Gail involuntarily licks at her lips as she takes in the soft swell of Holly's breasts and feels the tightness of desire already coiling low in her stomach. "We're at your parents' house, Hol," Gail says aloud, wanting to remind them both – a little making out was fine, but this... "We can't."

"Says who?" Holly murmurs sexily as her fingers tangle in the hem of Gail's t-shirt and ever so slowly start working it upwards. "They're all the way on the other side of the house."

"They could still hear us," Gail protests, the end of her warning trailing off into a hiss as Holly pushes her t-shirt up over her breasts, exposing her nipples to the cold air and making a shiver tingle down her spine. "We really can't."

Holly just smirks again and ducks her head, trailing a path with her tongue up Gail's sternum. "We can," she murmurs against Gail's skin, lifting her eyes to Gail's as she presses a kiss to the swell of Gail's left breast. "You just have to be a little quiet, that's all," she says, darting her tongue out to lick over Gail's nipple teasingly before sucking it into the warmth of her mouth.

"Fuck," Gail gasps, her toes curling into the mattress at the unexpected onslaught as she reaches up to cover her mouth to quiet her moan.

She feels Holly's teeth graze against her before she shift over and repeats the process on her other breast, and she knows she has to put a stop to it before Holly takes it too far. She tangles her fingers in Holly's hair then and tugs gently, getting Holly to stop and lift her head with a sly smile as she takes in the blush colouring Gail's heaving chest.

"Want you," Holly murmurs, pouting pleadingly.

Gail shakes her head, trying to ignore how good Holly feels against her. "Baby, we can't... you know I can't be quiet when you touch me... I just can't."

"Shh, you can," Holly hushes, pressing forward to kiss her deeply. "Please, baby," Holly whispers against her lips. "You can just bite down on your hand or..." She kisses Gail deeply again then, rocking her hips against Gail's thigh until Gail whimpers against her mouth. "...or I'll just keep kissing you or something... but I need to touch you. Please, baby. I want you so much."

Gail feels her resolve slipping then as Holly starts working her mouth back along her jaw, nipping below her ear before soothing it with her tongue in a move that she knows always makes Gail tremble.

"Fuck," Gail groans low in her throat again, turning her head to give Holly more access to her neck. She feels Holly smile against her skin then and squeezes her fingers at the nape of Holly's neck as she mumbles, "You don't play fair."

Holly lifts her head and smirks victoriously up at her as she shifts lower again to return her attention to Gail's breasts. Gail swears Holly goes slowly on purpose then as she curls her tongue around her nipples at an agonizing pace, sucking at them softly until she's got Gail squirming impatiently beneath her and rolling her hips desperately against Holly's thigh.

"Please, Hol," Gail whimpers, her body flushed and aching to be touched.

Holly makes quick work of helping Gail rid herself completely of her t-shirt before sliding her shorts down her legs and kissing her slow and deep, muffling the sound of Gail's moans with her mouth as she slips her hand down between them and drags her fingertips teasingly down Gail's quivering stomach.

"I need to taste you," Holly pants wantonly into her ear, running her tongue around the shell of Gail's ear and flicking at the lobe teasingly.

Gail can do nothing but let her head tip further back into the pillow then as she gasps in response to Holly's admission, and as Holly starts kissing down her stomach, one of her hands sliding up over Gail's breast, Gail's forced to bite at her hand to stifle the whimper that rumbles deeply from her chest.

She feels Holly shift even lower then, her mouth moving to the junction where her thigh meets her hip, and stroking a wet path along the crease with her tongue before she shifts to press a soft kiss to the slick heat between Gail's legs.

Gail feels the thrum of desire building quickly at the base of her spine as Holly's mouth works against her in a torturous combination of slow, teasing licks, and endlessly, soft sucks. It feels like she should be used to it by now, after all these months, but something about having Holly's mouth on her always feels like that first time when she felt like her heart was hammering so loud, and so fast, that she could have sworn it was only a matter of seconds before it burst free from her chest and shattered into a million pieces.

She knows she's getting close to the edge then when she feels more than hears Holly humming against her appreciatively as Holly's hands try to steady the rhythm of her hips. And as her body tightens increasingly with every stroke of Holly's tongue against her, Gail can do nothing but gasps brokenly into her hand.

It doesn't take much longer after that until she feels the familiar rush of heat bursting inside her, her chest heaving uncontrollably as her body tenses and convulses in wave after wave of mind-numbing pleasure that leaves white light burning brightly behind her eyes as she whimpers Holly's name.

Holly brings her down slowly, pressing gentle kisses against her until she's whining lowly in her throat and attempting to squeeze her thighs together to get Holly to stop. She feels Holly chuckle against her stomach then as she lets her hand fall away from her mouth and breathes a contented, "Fuck" into the stillness of the room.

Gail lets her fingers run through Holly's hair as she looks down at her, and she finds herself blushing as her body slowly returns to a sated calm. "Told you that you could be quiet," Holly murmurs smugly.

"I didn't have much choice, did I?" Gail replies with a pout as she tugs on a strand of Holly's hair, encouraging her back up her body.

Holly laughs softly against her stomach again before moving herself until she's settled comfortably in the bracket of Gail's hips and ghosting their lips together teasingly. "I love watching you come," Holly whispers against her mouth, holding Gail's eyes, and nudging their noses together when Gail tries to look away. "Don't," Holly says softly, her eyes full of love and awe. "You're so beautiful, Gail."

"Glad you think so," Gail quips quietly, feeling the tips of her ears burning under Holly's unrelenting gaze.

There's something about the way Holly always looks at her when they make love that never fails to make Gail's heart swell in her chest, her stomach fluttering with happiness that always feels so big that she's not sure that she can contain it without breaking apart. But then Holly always follows up her look of utter devotion by stroking her nose against her cheek so softly, and so lovingly, before she searches Gail's mouth out for a slow and tender kiss, that it never fails to remind Gail that Holly will always be there to hold her together when it all starts feeling a little too overwhelming.

She loses track of time as she melts into Holly's kiss, her hands clutching desperately at her back as she keeps Holly as close as possible, letting her be the one to tether them to reality. It's only as Holly starts whining softly into her mouth as her body rocks searchingly against Gail's own, that Gail remembers that Holly must be aching for release.

Gail lets her hands slide down to Holly's ass, kneading at the soft flesh and encouraging the motion of her body as she pulls back to find Holly's eyes. "Can you come like this?" Holly's eyebrows knit together as her body continues to rock aimlessly between Gail's legs and she shakes her head in frustration. "Then let me help, baby," Gail murmurs.

Holly bites at her bottom lip thoughtfully for a second and nods her head before shifting off Gail and getting out of the bed, disposing her shorts as she goes. Gail pushes herself upright, immediately missing the warmth of Holly's body and shivers a little as the cool air wisps against the sleek perspiration that's built up on her skin. She watches with intrigue as Holly searches through her suitcase then until she's turning back to Gail and raising her eyebrow questioningly as she dangles the strap-on between them.

"I-I can't believe you actually brought that to your parents' house..." Gail stutters incredulously, her mouth dropping open in shock.

Holly just bites at her lip again and shrugs. "I had a feeling you might get a little... bothered... if you knew I lost my virginity in this room, in this bed with-"

"Don't say his name," Gail growls, feeling a surge of jealousy claw bitingly inside her chest.

"I wish it had been you," Holly admits quietly, soothing her jealousy away easily, and Gail feels her heart lurch longingly, wishing she'd been the only one to ever touch Holly too.

Holly saunters towards her wordlessly then and holds it out for her to take, and even though they've only done this a couple of times since they went to the store and picked it out together last month, it always sends a little thrill up Gail's spine.

There's something about the thought of being able to be inside Holly like this – so fully and so deeply – that makes Gail's stomach clench with an urgent need that she just can't ignore.

She lets out a long, shaky breath then and gets up from the bed, making sure all the while that she holds Holly's eyes promisingly as she takes the harness from her hands and slips into it, pulling at the straps to tighten it around her hips. Once she's sure that it's secure she reaches for Holly's waist and pulls her flush against her body as she kisses her slow and deep; taking control with each sweep of her tongue as she leads Holly back towards the bed.

She remembers how it had taken her a little by surprise when Holly had brought it up that night as they lay panting for breath and smiling at each other in mutual satisfaction – Holly's purple box and vibrator discarded carelessly on the floor by the bed – but really Gail thinks she should have known that her teasing comment at The Penny earlier that day would lead to something more.

Holly is ridiculously confident in bed – for good reason, Gail had learned quickly – and because of that, during their first few times together, she had encouraged Gail to voice what she liked and what she didn't like, and to try things that Gail never had. She'd let Gail have the freedom she needed to explore her body slowly and watch her closely whenever she had touched Holly in return, and in doing so Gail had soon discovered her own confidence in being with another woman.

It's liberating and exhilarating to know just where to touch Holly to make her moan, or how exactly to make her whimper her name, and even though Gail's always thought of herself as somebody that liked sex, being with Holly is a completely different matter. With Holly there's no need to pretend; there's no clutching her eyes tightly closed and letting her mind drift, and no need to sometimes will her body desperately to let go. But the most striking thing is that there's no need to feel like she owes somebody something in return; she touches Holly because she wants to, and Holly touches her in return because she wants to; it's as simple as that.

Even though her sex life has been pretty active since she was a teenager, Gail's well aware that she's never been the most adventurous in bed. She'd always been a little too dominating for Chris, who seemed happy to just let her take the lead given his own lack of experience, and with Nick it had been about getting to the end result as quickly as possible; there'd been no room in the status of their renewed relationship to take time and indulge in each other (and actually, Gail's not even sure if she could have given herself that openly to him even if she tried).

But being with Holly is different. Sometimes it's soft and slow, and sometimes it's rushed and heated, but it's always, always, intimate. Holly always searches out her eyes and makes a connection, and Gail knows that being with Holly is the closest she's ever felt to anybody else in her entire life.

When Holly had suggested that they go toy shopping together, Gail had felt an instant need to shake her head and say no, but something about the way Holly had smiled at her and told her not to be nervous, that it could just be something else they shared together, had made Gail agree to at least take a look and consider it.

She blames her natural curiosity – mostly – for being the driving force behind her agreement to let Holly fuck her with the strap-on that first time, but something about the way Holly had kept her eyes on hers the entire time that their bodies moved so seamlessly together – Gail clutching at her back as her muscles clenched tightly around the extension to Holly's body, drawing her impossibly close and deep as she came apart so thoroughly – had left Gail utterly reeling.

The biggest surprise however, had come the following weekend when Holly had drawn the straps up her legs and told Gail that she wanted to feel her inside her like that. It had been the unconditional trust in Holly's eyes that she had wanted Gail to be the one that she shared that experience with, that had made a rush of unrelenting need course through Gail's body until she was so sure that if she didn't make love to Holly like that she'd undoubtedly explode.

It's that same feeling that fills her chest now; her heart aching to give Holly exactly what she needs from her; wanting to be everything that Holly can ever possibly want and more.

Gail moves carefully, rocking into Holly with smooth, soft thrusts of her hips, keeping her movements drawn out and tender as Holly's initial shaky breath drifts off into a trail of endlessly soft, low whimpers.

She can't help but watch the changing expressions on Holly's face as they move together; the way her eyes flutter closed as she tips her head further back into the pillow, unconditionally trusting Gail to be the one in control, and the way her brow creases in pleasure as she moans, and how she can't seem to stop darting her tongue out to lick at her lips every time Gail thrusts into her just right.

There's something about the way Holly melts into her, giving herself over to her so completely that makes Gail wish that just for one moment that she could actually feel what it's like to be so utterly and completely inside Holly like this; to truly be this close and connected to her. It's the first time in her life that she's ever felt truly jealous of men.

"God, Gail..." Holly moans throatily, forcing her eyes open to find Gail's. " feeling you like this... you feel so good, baby."

The unbridled want and love in Holly's eyes makes her hips momentarily jolt, and Gail feels her heart pounding rapidly in her chest as blood rushes noisily in her ears. "Fuck," Gail gasps, fire racing uncontrollably under her skin. "You're so beautiful, Holly... so beautiful."

"Please don't stop," Holly begs brokenly, her eyes slipping shut again as she bites down on her lip to try and muffle the sound of her increasing moans of pleasure.

Gail shifts her position then, bending lower and pressing every inch of their bodies together that she possibly can as she bows her head close to Holly's ear and thrusts deeper. It doesn't take long before she feels Holly's blunt nails dragging up her back and digging into her shoulder blades as her breathing grows increasingly shallow; her breath coming out as warm, stilted pants against Gail's cheek.

"I've got you baby, let go," Gail murmurs softly into her ear, recognising the telltale signs of Holly drifting further and further towards the edge.

Holly's body starts trembling beneath her then as Gail feels a growing resistance to her thrusts, and within seconds she feels Holly's body tense and arch up from the bed; her hips convulsing wildly as she softly whimpers Gail's name, clutching desperately at her back and riding out the waves of her release.

Gail slows her movements as Holly's body shudders against hers while she comes back down, and she uses the last part of her strength to press up onto her palms, lifting her head enough to find Holly's eyes. There's something ridiculously intimate then about the way her hair falls down around them, blanketing them in the stillness of their ragged breathing, and trapping them in a bubble that's just theirs as Holly blinks lazily up at her, her mouth twisting into a sated little smile.

"Hi," Holly breathes, smoothing her hands up and down Gail's back affectionately.

Gail smiles back at her, and ducks her head to nuzzle their noses together. "Hey."

Holly's eyes drift down to her mouth then and Gail can't resist the temptation to ghost their mouths together, needing urgently to kiss her. Holly hums contentedly as their lips brush together, and Gail feels her heart swell with happiness as Holly smiles into the kiss and traces her fingertips down the ridges of her spine. She shivers at the touch as Holly scratches her nails against the base of her back, and Holly gasps into her mouth as Gail's hips involuntarily jolt against her.

"Sorry," Gail whispers breathlessly, her body quivering wearily as she struggles to hold her position. Holly kisses her chin knowingly in response and offers her a smile as she lets her hands fall down to Gail's hips, steadying her as Gail slowly pulls out.

She slips out of the harness with ease then, discarding it on the floor by the bed and settles comfortably against her back, letting Holly instantly curl into her side. Holly hooks her leg possessively over Gail's hip and presses a soft kiss against Gail's collarbone before she nuzzles her face into the crook of Gail's neck and laughs happily.

"Better?" Gail murmurs, her mouth twisting into a smirk as she strokes her fingertips aimlessly up and down Holly's back.

Holly lifts her head to look at her and shrugs her shoulders. "Meh... it was okay," she teases, unable to hide her smile.

"Just okay?" Gail echoes, scowling in mock offence, and twisting to bite playfully at Holly's shoulder.

Holly laughs again and kisses Gail slowly until she feels her smile into the kiss. "Nobody's ever made me feel the way you do, Gail," she whispers truthfully against Gail's lips then, pulling back to find her eyes as she slides her hand down from Gail's jaw to rest over her heart. "I hope you know that."

Gail smiles softly in response, her heart aching unbearably with how much she feels for the beautiful woman in her arms. "And I hope you know that I feel the same way," Gail breathes, covering Holly's hand with her own.

She searches out Holly's mouth again then, kissing her soft and slow, and hums contentedly as Holly pecks sweetly at her lips a couple more times before she snuggles sleepily into her neck. It doesn't take long for Holly's breathing to even out into a steady rhythm as Gail holds her close, and as she lays in the quiet of Holly's room, she can't help but feel an overwhelming sense that everything in her life is exactly as it's supposed to be.

She wakes gradually, her eyes blinking against the light of the room as she slowly becomes aware of the warm weight still pressed tightly against her side. Holly breathes quietly against her neck, snuffling sweetly in a way that always makes Gail smile, and she tries to keep as still as possible as she flexes her fingers and tries to work blood back into the arm she has tucked beneath Holly's head that's gone numb during the night.

With well practiced ease – thanks to her many early morning shifts – Gail manages to slide her arm free without disturbing Holly too much and successfully replaces the space she's left behind with a pillow that Holly instinctively cuddles into.

She watches Holly for a few moments then, admiring how beautiful and peaceful she looks as her eyelids flutter slightly with the deepness of her sleep, and Gail has to resist the urge to reach out and stroke her fingertips over the smooth arch of her cheek.

Their discarded clothes are haphazardly strewn across the bedroom floor, and Gail picks them up quietly, slipping back into her shorts and t-shirt before placing Holly's neatly on the end of the bed. She almost forgets to hide the strap-on back in Holly's suitcase until she fondly remembers the reason why exactly her muscles ache with every movement she makes.

It feels a little weird, creeping quietly out of Holly's bedroom and making her ways down the stairs of Holly's parents' house, but every fibre in her body is calling out for a caffeine fix and Gail can't help but let her feet carry down into the kitchen.

Luckily for her she finds a fresh pot already brewed, and as pours herself a large cup, sipping at it gratefully, she almost jumps out of her skin when she catches sight of Maggie sitting at the breakfast bar and drinking from her own cup as she flicks through the paper.

"Morning, Gail," Maggie greets with a friendly smile. "Did you sleep well?"

"Morning," Gail nods back slowly, trying not to blush as images of her and Holly from last night rush into her head. "Erm yeah, very well... thanks."

Maggie cocks her head to the side and flashes Gail a potentially knowing smile that only makes Gail blush harder, her ears burning so hot that they feel like they're actually on fire. She's going to kill Holly.

"Wonderful," Maggie replies, and Gail feels a breath rush from her lungs with relief, never more grateful that somebody might be letting her bypass what would undoubtedly be a very awkward moment. "Do you want anything to eat? I can cook you up some pancakes if you'd like?" Maggie asks, motioning for Gail to come and take a seat. "Or Ted has quite the collection of sugary cereals that I'm sure he wouldn't mind sharing with you."

Gail shakes her head and reluctantly sits herself on the stool on the opposite side of the breakfast bar, still feeling the need to avert Maggie's gaze. "No, I'm fine thank you. As long as I have coffee I'm happy," she replies with a sheepish smile, curling her hands around her mug and fidgeting a little as a stretch of silence passes between them.

"Relax Gail," Maggie says, offering Gail a reassuring smile that immediately puts Gail at ease. And then, "Holly told me that you spent the weekend at your family cottage a few months back and that you showed her lots of lovely photographs from your childhood, so I found these up for you earlier this morning, thought you might like to see them."

She slides a photo-album across to her then and smiles when Gail's face lights up brightly in return, eagerly reaching out to open it to the first page. The first sets of photographs are of Maggie in the hospital holding a newborn baby wearing a pink cotton beanie, and Gail smiles as she recognises a tuft of Holly's dark hair peeking out from underneath it.

"She was beautiful even then, huh?" Gail murmurs, tracing her fingertip around baby Holly's tiny form.

Maggie chuckles. "Most beautiful baby I'd ever seen, but then again I might be biased."

Gail smiles at that and goes through each page slowly, taking in the range of photographs from Holly as an adorable baby who smiled at everything, to Holly as a cute toddler with masses of wild dark hair, and lingering over the page filled with Holly as a child, dressed in a little white lab coat and smiling proudly as she stands next to a table with a little science kit.

"How old is she here?" Gail asks, her heart swelling at the sight of Holly looking so much like she does now whenever Gail stumbles across her in her lab, working on something she's excited about.

"Eight, if I remember correctly," Maggie says fondly. "That little science kit was her birthday present. You should have seen her; she was so excited when she unwrapped it that she was practically bouncing off the walls." Gail laughs at that, glancing down at the photo beneath of Holly holding a little Petri-dish up to the camera, showing off the sparkly purple crystals she's obviously grown. "I don't know where she got her love for science from – neither Mike nor I are really what I'd call intellectuals – but I'm so glad she's had it because it's the one thing in her life that's always kept her going, even when things got tough."

Gail smiles softly at that. "Did she ever tell you how exactly we met?"

Maggie shakes her head. "No, just that it was through work."

"I was at a crime scene being all surly and standing off to the side and Holly just strolls on past me without a second thought," Gail recalls with a smile. "I snapped at her pretty much right away, I mean how dare some stranger just walk into my crime scene, you know? But then she just turned to me with this amused look on her face and quickly put me in my place with some sassy science lingo."

Maggie laughs. "That sounds like her."

Gail smiles fondly, remembering the moment so clearly. "She swept me off my feet then before I'd even realised it; I couldn't keep away from her after that."

"Well, it's a good thing you didn't because look at how happy you both are now," Maggie says, making Gail smile as she gets up and brings the pot of coffee over to refill their cups.

Gail flicks through the next few pages with equal curiosity, spotting Holly's awkward early teen years when her limbs looked too gangly for her still growing body, and smiles at the ones of Holly at science-camp, smiling at the camera shyly as the metal of her braces gleamed in the light. The next few pages document Holly's life as she finishes high-school and university, and moves on to medical school and then to her residency.

Maggie tells her fond little memories as they go through them together, and Gail makes a mental note of a few to tease Holly with later. As they come to the end of the photo-album though, Gail can't help but turn back to the one of eight year old Holly dressed in her little white lab coat, and looking unbearably proud as she poses with her little science kit.

"You can have that one if you'd like," Maggie murmurs softly, interrupting Gail's moment of quiet as she traces her fingertip fondly around the outline of the photograph.

Gail lifts her eyes up to Maggie's, her eyebrow quirking disbelievingly as she breathes, "Really?"

"Of course," Maggie replies, drawing the photo-album across to her and sliding the photograph out from beneath the protective plastic surface before holding it out to Gail. "I want you to have it."

Gail takes it carefully from Maggie's grasp then, and offers her a grateful smile. "Thank you."

"You're more than welcome," Maggie says, smiling back. She glances at her watch then and lets out a little sigh before turning her attention back to Gail. "Ted and I have to go and run some errands. You should go and wake Sleeping Beauty and get her to show you around the city, it's a beautiful day out there."

"Have you ever tried to wake her before? Because I'm going to need a fresh pot of coffee just to get her to keep her eyes open for longer than a minute," Gail jokes, making Maggie chuckle as she gets up and sets the machine for Gail before leaving her with a parting smile and a teasing, "Good luck!"

She finds Holly almost exactly as she left her; snuggled tightly around the pillow Gail had slid into place to fill her void – although somehow having shifted over towards the edge of the bed – and snoring softly, completely oblivious to the world around her.

It makes Gail smile fondly as she makes her way over to the bed, setting the cup of coffee down on the nightstand as she crouches beside the bed and strokes her fingertips lightly up and down the smooth skin of Holly's bare back that's peeking out from the top of the bed-sheets. She watches Holly's mouth twitch a little at the caress, and as she gently increases the pressure of her touch, Holly's eyes slowly flutter open to meet hers.

"Morning," Gail murmurs affectionately as she watches Holly's eyes gradually blink into focus.

She presses up on her toes to give herself enough leverage to lean in and kiss Holly softly then, smiling when Holly groans and turns her face away, burying it further into her pillow.

"You taste like coffee," Holly mumbles sleepily, turning her face back towards her and opening one of her eyes to look at Gail accusingly as she adds, "You better have brought me some."

"Like I would dare wake the beast without it, we both know how monstrous you can be without your morning caffeine fix," Gail quips, grinning cheekily as Holly haphazardly swats her arm out to shove at her shoulder. "I had to think of my safety, you know?"

She watches the corners of Holly's mouth curl up into a smile, and Gail knows she's got her as Holly reaches unsuccessfully for the coffee cup. She makes sure she holds Holly's gaze then as she playfully takes a sip.

"That better not be mine," Holly growls, rubbing lazily at her eyes and forcing herself to sit up, instantly making a grabby-hand motion towards the cup. "Gimme, Peck, or I'll really show you what monstrous means."

"Somebody's feeling feisty this morning," Gail teases with a smirk even as she hands over the cup of coffee, and climbs up to perch on the bed next to Holly's feet.

Holly ignores her remark and swallows several large mouthfuls, humming happily and then offering Gail her normally bright grin. "Good morning, baby."

Gail laughs in response, shaking her head as Holly taps her finger against her mouth, silently demanding a proper morning kiss. When Gail doesn't budge, Holly narrows her eyes at her and pouts, nudging at Gail with her foot until Gail relents and shuffles forward to kiss her again.

"Sleep well?" Holly asks when they break apart.

"Yeah, you wore me out pretty well," Gail nods, breaking into a smile when Holly smirks proudly. "And what about you Dr HornyPants, how are you feeling this morning?"

Holly rolls her eyes and shrugs, trying to hide her grin behind her cup as she says, "I feel pretty damn good... a little sore, but in the best possible way. You?"

"Oh, you know..." Gail smirks and shrugs back. "I feel pretty damn good too... a little sore, but in the best possible way."

Holly smiles infectiously at that. "Good." Gail pinches at Holly's side in response, making her yelp in surprise. "Ouch! What was that for?"

"I had coffee with your mom this morning and she definitely let on that she heard us last night," Gail hisses in a low whisper, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment.

"She did not," Holly retorts, shaking her head and rubbing at her side. "You're being paranoid."

Gail scowls, crossing her arms over her chest. "I am not. I'm telling you she knows what we were doing."

Holly lets out an amused breath and quirks her eyebrow disbelievingly. "Okay then, what did she say? Did she tell you she'll stab you to death with one of Jimmy's knives if you ever dirty her daughter's innocence again?"

"No, she didn't- It wasn't-" Gail stutters, shaking her head in frustration, and feeling her chest tighten uncomfortably as Holly continues to look amused. "She didn't actually say she heard us but she just... she gave me that look, you know? Like the 'you might think you're being sneaky young-lady but you're not' look."

Holly laughs heartily at that. "You're being ridiculous. But even if she did guess what we were doing last night, we're both adults, and not to mention we've been together for ten months, Gail, so trust me when I say she knows we're sleeping together; it's not going to be a shock for her."

"Fine, but you're officially cut off until we get back home," Gail says sternly. "Because as funny as you find this, I'd actually quite like to be able to look your mother in the eye without feeling like she knows exactly what I did to you last night."

"Whatever you say, baby," Holly sighs dramatically, setting her now empty cup down on the nightstand and getting up from the bed, stretching her arms above her head as she yawns.

Gail tries not to take notice of the way the sunlight glistens off the smoothness of Holly's perfect olive skin but she can't help the way her eyes are drawn up along the curves of Holly's perfectly toned legs, and up over the firm, rippling skin of her stomach, and the soft swell of her beautiful full breasts and-


She snaps her eyes up to Holly's then and swallows away the dryness in her mouth at being caught staring. "Hmm?"

Holly smirks back at her and raises her eyebrow as she hooks her thumb over her shoulder. "I'm going to go shower... do you maybe... want to join me?"

"No... I-I'm good," Gail replies shakily, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth and knitting her fingertips tightly into the bed-sheets.

"Your loss," Holly shrugs, turning on her heel and sauntering sexily off into the bathroom.

Gail closes her eyes as she hears the sound of the water running, and she manages to count to ten slowly in her head before she remembers that they have the house to themselves. She strips off her t-shirt and shorts as quickly as she can, stumbling a little as she catches her toe against the corner of Holly's suitcase and rushes into the bathroom.

She tries not to roll her eyes when Holly turns to her and smirks smugly, running her fingers through her hair to comb it back from her face as she says, "What took you so long?"

Gail ignores Holly's teasing taunt as she steps into the shower and instantly reaches for Holly's hips, walking her backwards until Holly's back hits the wall. Holly gasps a second later as their bodies press flush together, and she decides then to shut Holly up with the only way she truly knows how.

The second the door swings open, Jimmy greets them with a cheerful lopsided grin. "Hollypop and her badass cop, glad you finally made it. We were starting to think you'd got lost out there in our wonderful city."

Holly shakes her head and smiles back at him. "We would have been earlier but this one..." she says flicking her eyes over to Gail who grins sheepishly in response. " into tourist mode randomly and we had to go explore literally everything."

"Well in that case get your butts in here, you must be starving, and mom and pop are already here," James says, stepping aside and gesturing for them to come in.

Gail keeps her hand tangled with Holly's and lets her lead them further into the apartment to find Maggie, Ted, and an attractive red-head sitting in the living room chatting away animatedly. Holly flashes her a comforting smile, and drops her hand as her mom and Ted come towards her, taking their turns to pull her into a welcoming hug.

"You must be Gail, I'm Jimmy's girlfriend Phoebe, it's lovely to meet you," the red-head greets with a friendly tone, offering her hand out politely and shaking Gail's.

Gail smiles back warmly. "You too."

She feels her anxiousness fade away then as Phoebe draws her into easy conversation, stopping only when Maggie and Ted both draw her into hugs and kiss her cheek hello. Holly catches her eye and smiles encouraging at her, and Gail realises then how easy it feels to be around these people that she's only know for less than forty-eight hours. It's surprising in the nicest possible way.

After they've all eaten – and if she's being honest, she knows she's eaten way, way, too much of Jimmy's delicious chicken curry – Gail finds herself laughing happily as she watches Holly's family all get excited as they drum their hands against their knees and yell 'game night' like a pack of crazy people.

"I hope you're ready Gail, because when we play, we play to win," Ted tells her, flashing her a charming, playful smile.

Gail lets out an amused breath and leans in against Holly's side as Holly wraps an arm around her shoulder and draws her close. "Pop's right," she says, turning her face towards Gail. "Our annual family game nights are legendary."

"Is that so?" Gail replies, smiling in affectionate amusement. "And what do these family game nights consist of exactly?"

"We start easy," James chips in as he walks into the room carrying a stack of board-games. "A couple of games of cards to get us warmed up before we move on to a quick game of Scrabble, and then Pictionary, followed by the best deciding game of all time... charades!"

Gail can't help but laugh again as she glances around the room at everybody, her eyes widening as she takes in how serious they all look. She purses her mouth together apologetically and feels Phoebe reaching out to pat at her knee comfortingly.

"Don't worry, I had the same response to these crazy people as you to start with but you soon get used to it," Phoebe reassures, mock whispering and making everybody smile.

James clears his throat nosily and quirks his eyebrow pointedly at her. "Excuse me, who are you calling crazy people?" he teases. "Only one of us in this room is the reigning charades champion and I believe that somebody's name rhymes with Pee-Hee."

Phoebe rolls her eyes back at him and shrugs before turning back to Gail and smiling. "Like I said, you soon get used to it."

Despite feeling a little self-conscious and awkward to begin with – especially during Pictionary (her drawing is terrible, okay, so back off) – Gail soon finds herself relaxing and having fun as she gets more and more into it, finding herself growing increasingly competitive as everybody cheers her on and banters with her playfully.

After the final round of Pictionary, Maggie calls for a break saying she needs to prepare herself for the charades showdown, and James immediately pulls Gail to her feet, announcing to everybody that she's going to be his sous-chef as he prepares a dessert that will absolutely refuel them all.

"So, what are we making?" Gail asks, closing her eyes in reflex as James slips an apron over her head, and grinning teasingly when she looks down to see the print of a ripped man's naked body on the front of it. "I think the fact that you even own this says more about you than it does about me right now."

James chuckles as he slips an apron over his own head and turns to her to show off the print of a very naked, very busty lady on the front of his. "They were gag gifts from Phoebe's sister," he explains with a shrug. "And we're making a bourbon-pecan tart with a melted chocolate drizzle."

"Did you just say Bourbon?" Gail echoes with a wry smile. "Now that's my kind of dessert."

James winks back at her cheekily. "I had a feeling you'd love this after I saw you downing shot after shot of pop's expensive tequila last night at dinner."

Gail reaches over to swat his arm but smirks back at him when he dramatically feigns injury. He gets her to help weigh out the ingredients and lets her help whisk them all together, teasing her endlessly about how quickly her arm tires, and mocking her lack of 'cop' muscles. Once the pie's successfully in the over, James grabs them a beer from the fridge and leans back against the counter as he regards Gail quietly for a long, drawn out moment.

"I was really worried, you know, when Holly first mentioned you over the phone to me," he admits softly, making Gail eyes snap up to his as a sense of dread washes over her like a bucket of ice cold water. "I could tell she was already smitten with you, even though she'd only known you for a couple of weeks, because she wouldn't stop gushing about you and how amazing and beautiful, and smart and funny you were."

James takes a swig of drink from his bottle then and licks nervously at his lips before he adds, "She's fallen for a straight girl before... once... a long time ago, back when she was in medical school. I was eighteen at the time and all I remember about that winter is how my big sister came home looking like somebody had literally ripped her heart out of her chest." She watches as his mouth curves down into a frown and feels her heart pinch at the thought of Holly so distraught. "She looked really tired and defeated and just so, unbearably sad and hurt... just so unlike herself. It physically pained me to see her that broken up all because some dumb chick decided to use my sister as her personal experiment."

"Oh," Gail murmurs sadly, not quite knowing what to say in response, her heart aching with a mixture of anger at the stupid bitch that dared to ever hurt Holly that badly, and the desperate longing to go and wrap Holly up in the safety of her arms.

"She was always pretty guarded with her heart after that, kept her dating life mostly to herself," James continues, pausing when the sound of Holly's laugh travels through into the kitchen briefly before fading out again. "But I knew she was getting herself in deep with you because she literally couldn't shut up about you; you're all I heard about every time she called."

Gail scratches her nail against the label on her beer bottle, picking at it anxiously as she averts James' gaze and mumbles, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be, that's not-" James struggles, cutting himself off as he waits for her to glance back up at him again and offers her a tight-lipped smile. "It was me that encouraged her to let Jen set her up on that blind date because I didn't want my sister to get hurt by a confused, straight woman again."

"I can understand that," Gail replies honestly, knowing instantly from the look on James' face that he did it with the best intentions.

"It didn't work though," James tells her. "She called me when she got back from her date that night, drunk and babbling, and all I could get out of her was how you'd been there at the bar too, and how badly she wanted to be there with you instead and just kiss you again. She said she thought she'd seen you watching her and that maybe you were jealous, but then she just laughed it off and said she must just be going crazy and seeing what she wanted to see because you were straight..." He smiles knowingly at her then. "She ended our call saying that even though she was trying she just couldn't help herself because you were just so cute and lovely."

Gail remembers that night at The Penny clearly then; she remembers how seeing Chloe and Dov all loved up had made her feel so utterly lonely, and how the second Holly had walked into the bar she felt this need to go and be with her. But mostly she remembers how deflated she'd felt when Holly had strolled over to go and be with her date. She remembers the uncomfortable weight that had settled in her chest that night, growing increasingly heavier the longer she was unable to keep her eyes off of Holly and her date and the way they laughed and flirted together. It had driven her crazy, seeing some other woman touching Holly's hand as she talked and just getting to spend time with her. She'd left The Penny that night with her nails curled into her palms and a raging fire burning through her veins that she didn't quite know what to do with.

She holds James' gaze intently then and says, "I was watching her that night, and I was jealous. I couldn't stand the sight of her being with another woman. And to begin with I might have been confused with how I was feeling towards Holly, but I discovered pretty quickly that what I was feeling for her was real." She wrings her beer bottle between her hands then and shrugs openly. "Holly's everything to me, James, and I promise you that I would rather crawl through broken glass than ever do anything to hurt her."

"I know," James murmurs softly. "I can see how much you love her; it's written across your face whenever you look at her." Gail feels herself blushing then, but forces herself not to look away. "I just wanted to be honest with you, and do the whole awkward 'brother protects sister' thing where I try and act all macho and scary and warn you that if you ever break her heart, I'll kill you..." He points his beer bottle at her then and smiles teasingly. "... badass cop or not, understood?"

Gail holds her hands up and nods her head. "Understood," she reassures, feeling a surge of affection for him rushing through her, impressed and deeply touched by his unconditional love for his sister and his need to protect her.

The oven dings then and James settles his beer down on the counter and sets about retrieving the pie. Gail inhales deeply as the delicious smell fills the room and she can't help but smile when James beckons her over and lets her cut it into six perfect slices while he gets the ice-cream out of the freezer.

"If I carry these three do you think you could manage the other lot?" James asks, expertly resting the plates along his arm.

Gail smirks in response and copies his move with ease. "I was a waitress for a whole year when I was nineteen, trust me, I've got this."

James chuckles and nods his head with an impressed smile before leading the way back to the living-room. Gail smiles as everybody breaks out into a cheer when they enter and tries not to blush when James takes her hand and makes her mock bow with him before they sit down and join the others.

Luckily for her, Gail turns out to be far better at charades than she was at Pictionary, and she can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of happiness settling inside her chest as everybody high-fives her for a difficult but ultimately successful mime. Holly pulls her into her lap then, kissing her sweetly and pulling back to smile at her with so much adoration that Gail can't help but feel herself falling just that little bit deeper for her. She's pulled from her daze by Maggie stepping up to take her go, and as she watches them all laugh at Maggie's hopeless mime, Gail can't help but smile, her heart swelling with affection for them all.

It's at the airport late the following evening though – Maggie, Ted, and James all insisting in seeing them off – as Gail gets pulled into tight, affectionate hugs, with the demand that she and Holly come back soon, that Gail realises just how much that affection is returned, and just how much they've all truly made her feel like a part of their family.

Chapter Text

"While we wait to hear back from Dr Stewart about the blood she found beneath Sarah Having's fingernails, we might as well start questioning Nate Davis and Ken Sumner," Traci says, sighing heavily as she turns back towards the board they've tacked the photographs on. "One of these bastards is definitely responsible for this..."

Gail feels her stomach churn slightly as she lets her eyes roam over the photographs from the scene they'd been called to earlier that morning. They'd arrived to find McNally and Price comforting a distraught neighbour, and Gail knew from the ashen look on Chloe's usually bright face that whatever she and Traci were about to walk in on was going to be bad.

"What kind of asshole smashes a woman's head repeatedly against a wall until she dies," Gail murmurs with disgust, the sight of Sarah Having's crushed and bloody skull still burning on the back of her eye-lids.

Traci purses her lips together tightly and crosses her arms over her chest. "I think we should start with the boyfriend, Nate Davis. The neighbour living opposite Sarah Having said she saw Sarah let him into the house around 7pm that evening, so we know for sure he was there."

Gail nods, flicking through her notes. "She didn't see him leave though, correct?"

"Correct," Traci answers as they head towards interrogation-room one. She pauses with her hand on the door-handle and says, "I'll let you have the pleasure of this one, Peck. Let's see what Mr Davis has to say for himself."

Traci opens the door for Gail then, letting her stroll in first and immediately goes and stands off in the far corning, her eyes remaining focused on Nate Davis as Gail sets the file down and slowly sits down at the table.

Gail doesn't say anything for a few seconds, content to just hold Nate Davis' gaze and weigh him up. He fidgets beneath her gaze, averting her eyes every few seconds and nervously twists at the silver ring he's wearing on his index finger.

"Sarah Having..." Gail says simply, opening the file and sliding the photograph they took of her lifeless body earlier that morning across the table towards him. "...she was your girlfriend, right?"

"Yeah, that's right," Nate replies shakily, instantly pushing the photograph away. "We were together for nearly two years before- please can you put that away."

Gail waits a beat, taking in the discomfort on his face before putting the photograph back in her folder. "Were you with Sarah last night?"

"Yes, but I-I didn't- I would never-" Nate retorts, his mouth twitching and curling downwards as he shakes his head and holds Gail's eyes in distress.

"Relax Mr Davis; I just need you to tell me exactly what happened, okay?" Gail explains, her eyes drawn to the way his jaw clenches slightly.

"We ordered in some Chinese food and watched a movie," he replies, glancing over at Traci. "We do it every Friday night."

When Traci doesn't reply he quickly flicks his gaze back to Gail's. "And what time did you arrive, Mr Davis?"

"Erm... I came straight from work, so it was a little after 7pm, I guess."

Gail nods and mentally checks it off against the neighbour's statement. "So, you ordered Chinese and watched a movie, and then what happened?"

"Sarah said she had a really bad headache and wanted an early night, and she asked if I wouldn't mind going home to my own apartment, so I did... I went home so she could go to bed," Nate explains, gesturing with his hands, trying desperately to get his story across.

"What time did you leave?" Gail fires back, not giving him a break. "Did you go straight home or did you go out for a drink or...?"

Nate rubs a hand wearily through his already messy hair and clenches his eyes closed as he takes a moment to think. "I left at around 10pm... I'm not sure of the exact time though. And yeah, I went straight home."

"Can anybody verify that?" Gail asks, taking in the gauntness of his face and the dark, heavy circles beneath his eyes.

"I-I'm not sure... a neighbour might have seen me come in but I don't know," he rushes. "I went home and took a shower and then watched TV in bed... I swear." She glances over at Traci then and when Traci gives her a subtle head nod, Gail gives Nate a polite smile and rises from her chair. "Am I done? Can I leave?"

Traci shakes her head. "Not yet, I'm afraid, Mr Davis. We'll be back shortly."

Gail leads Traci out of the room then and turns on her heel to face her as soon as she hears the door click shut behind them.

"I'll send Andy and Chloe to go and check with his neighbours, see if any of them heard or saw him coming home last night," Traci says, and then shrugs. "What do you think of his story?"

"I don't know," Gail replies, her eyebrows knitting together in thought as she runs his story and the facts of the case through her head. "Something doesn't add up right. He seemed a little twitchy and nervous to me."

Traci smiles at that. "Trust me; they all look like that when they think they're involved in a murder case."

"I'm still not sure," Gail says, following Traci towards the second interrogation-room. "What about the fact that we found his phone at her house? I mean I know he was there but don't you think it's weird that he just left it? Guys permanently have their phones attached to their hands these days so they can play on apps and annoyingly check their emails constantly."

Traci shrugs again. "Maybe he accidentally left it behind, you know? It's totally possible that he took it out of his pocket when they sat down to watch the movie and dumped it on the coffee table, maybe he just forgot to pick it up when he left. It's not like it was up in the bedroom where we found her, Gail."

"Maybe you're right," Gail concedes with a sigh. And then, "And this next guy was her lover, right?"

"Right," Traci replies, handing Gail his file so she can take a look. "His name is Ken Sumner, and according to the journal she kept on her nightstand, Sarah Having had been having an affair with him for about eight months. The neighbour also saw this guy arrive just before 10.30pm."

"Was this neighbour a member of neighbourhood watch or something?" Gail asks absently, reading over the notes on Ken Sumner.

Traci shakes her head with a smile. "No, just nosey apparently. If you don't mind, I want to take a run at this guy. Dov said he has some scratches on his right cheek... could be a link to the blood under Sarah Having's nails."

Gail nods her head and opens the door for Traci, gesturing for her to go in first as she follows in behind. She stands off to the side, moving herself just enough to take a look at the raw looking scratches on Ken Sumner's right cheek and raises her eyebrow subtly at Traci in acknowledgement.

"Mr Sumner," Traci greets as she sits down opposite him. "I'm Detective Nash and this is my partner Detective Peck and we've got some questions for you about Sarah Having."

"I've already answered the other officer's questions," Ken replies irritably, cursing loudly a second later when Traci shows him the photograph. "Jesus fuck, don't show me that again; it's sick... she might have been a crazy bitch but she didn't deserve that."

"No, she didn't," Traci says sternly, squaring her shoulders. "Why don't you tell me what you were doing at Sarah's house last night, Mr Sumner?"

He lets out an exasperated sigh and scratches at his stubbly cheeks before leaning forward and saying, "Sarah called me just after 10pm, said she wanted to see me, so I went over to her house."

"What time did you get there?" Traci follows up.

"Around 10.30pm, I guess."

Traci hums in acknowledgement and says, "And why did Sarah invite you over, Mr Sumner?"

"We were friends," he replies bitingly. "Sometimes friends get together to catch up, Detective."

Gail can't help but interrupt. "And what about your wife, Mr Sumner, did she appreciate you going to visit a female friend to... 'catch up'... late on a Friday night?"

He turns his head towards Gail then; his eyes piercing as he stands from the table and takes a step towards her. "Unlike you, my wife knows to mind her own god damn business."

"Hey!" Traci snaps, banging on the table. "Sit down." Gail remains holding his gaze, crossing her arms over her chest as she tilts her chin back towards the chair, glaring right at him until he sits back down, huffing loudly. "If you want to do yourself any favours Mr Sumner, I suggest you lose the attitude and answer my questions."

He lets out a deep breath in response, shaking his head as he admits, "We were having an affair, alright? So when she called me up and invited me over I assumed she wanted sex. But we ended up getting into an argument the minute I got there because she wanted me to leave my wife for her and I told her no. Then she told me to leave, so I did. I didn't fucking kill her, okay? Ask my wife, she'll tell you I was home just after 11pm."

"And what about the scratches on your face?" Traci asks, pinning him with a knowing look.

Ken reaches up to touch his cheek, almost as if he'd forgotten they were there. "Got them when I was playing with my dog, Jet," he says unconvincingly with a shrug. "She's a Rottweiler pup and she can get a little over excited... but I'm sure you know how aggressive bitches can be sometimes, Detective."

Traci ignores his baiting smile and glances over at Gail as she pushes to her feet. "We'll be right back, Mr Sumner."

"Wait, you can't just keep me here, I haven't done anything," he snaps, attempting to push to his feet again only to have Gail shove him back down.

"We can legally hold you for 48 hours, Mr Sumner, so I suggest you sit your whiney ass back down," Gail commands firmly. When he does she gives him a little smile and pats his head as she condescendingly adds, "There's a good boy."

She follows Traci out of the interrogation-room then and back up into the detectives' office, and immediately throws herself down into her desk chair. "Well he was certainly a charmer, I can totally see how he'd managed to bag himself a wife and mistress," Gail comments dryly, making Traci snort in amusement even as she shakes her head.

"Casanova's got himself a couple of priors too," Traci points out. "He did a year for assault when he was nineteen, and more recently his wife has filed a couple of domestic reports against him."

"Let me guess... the wife changed her mind and wouldn't press charges?" Gail asks, tapping her pen against her bottom lip as she goes over both Nate Davis and Ken Sumner's files again.

"You know it," Traci replies tiredly. "I'm going to call Holly quickly and see if she has an update on blood we found under Sarah's nails because I'm thinking that poor Jet might be being framed here."

Gail smirks in response and gets up and goes back over to their board, trying to place the pieces of the puzzle that just don't add up. Sarah Having was a thirty-four year old personal trainer, who lived alone and apparently had both a boyfriend and a lover. Her financial records have all checked out okay and apart from one speeding ticket from when she was twenty-five, she seems completely harmless... it doesn't make any sense to Gail why somebody would repeatedly bash her head against her bedroom wall until they killed her.

She rubs tiredly at her face and goes back over Ken Sumner's file; he's thirty-eight, married, clearly has anger issues and works part time in construction (and is a full time asshole, Gail thinks to herself, wondering what the hell someone like Sarah saw in him). Nate Davis on the other hand is thirty-six, and appears to have come from a fairly wealthy family; he was privately educated and is now working as a vet at his own practice.

"It's Sumner's blood," Traci announces, startling Gail from her thoughts. "Holly confirmed it. She also said she finished up the autopsy on Sarah's body and it appears that she died sometime between 11pm and 12pm. We need to talk to Sumner's wife and get a warrant to search his apartment... the amount of blood that was at the scene means there has to be some on his clothes somewhere-"

"Peck; Nash," Frank interrupts, strolling purposefully towards them and making Gail and Traci both stop what they're doing immediately. Gail takes in the way his forehead is creased tightly and the way his eyes are glimmering despairingly, and feels her stomach knot instantly with dread. "I need to see you both in my office. Now."

She watches Frank's mouth move but all Gail can hear is the sound of blood thundering in her ears; her heart hammering so loudly, and so rapidly, that Gail can feel her chest constricting uncomfortably as she forces herself to keep breathing in and out in short, sharp, ragged breaths.

"I don't understand," Traci rasps, breaking the long, drawn out moment of silence. "How could this happen?"

Frank's eyes narrow apologetically. "I don't know all of the details yet, but what I do know is that somehow Perrick managed to get hold of a razor blade – they think from another inmate – and they found him dead in his cell this morning with his wrists slit."

Traci holds her hands out, opening and closing her mouth wordlessly as she struggles to make sense of it, and then sinks back into her chair and lets out a long, deep, heavy breath.

"Gail?" Frank says softly, repeating her name again a second later with a little more strength, finally getting Gail's gaze to snap up to his. "Are you-?"

"I'm fine," Gail retorts, the shock of the situation making her feel strangely numb and removed from it all. "The bastard's dead, there's not much we can do about it." She feels Traci's eyes burning into her and it makes her skin prickle uncomfortably. She pushes to her feet then and clears her throat, avoiding Traci's gaze when she says, "We should really get back to work; we're in the middle of a case, so..."

Frank braces his hands on his desk and rises to his feet, his face etching over with concern as he looks at her and then at Traci. "If you two need to take the rest of the day off, I'd understand completely. I can call Swarek and Callaghan in and have them take over for you."

"I'm fine," Gail repeats with a firm nod of her head even as her stomach lurches in protest.

She hears Traci sigh heavily again but then she stands and echoes Gail's decision. "I'm with Gail. Perrick's dead and we have work to do, Frank. Taking a day off isn't going to change anything."

Frank purses his mouth together in a tight smile and nods his head respectfully. "Whatever you want to do," he reassures. "But if you change your mind or you want to take a couple of days off after you wrap your case up, you've got it."

"Thank you for telling us," Traci says softly. Gail feels Frank's eyes on her and she nods her head in acknowledgement before strolling out of his office.

She hurries shakily into the locker-room and heads instantly towards the sinks, turning on the taps and splashing her face with several handfuls of cold water. Gail braces her hands against the counter and breathes deep and slow, trying to fight through the burning in her lungs as she glares back at her own reflection.

She hears the familiar sound of Perrick's voice echoing with torment around her head then – Guilt is the biggest shadow of all; we wear it on our face, it ages us... – and lowers her gaze, screwing her eyes shut tightly as she wills it desperately to stop.


A gentle pressure weighs against her shoulder, making Gail jump at the touch and spin around quickly, jolting Traci back a step. Traci's eyebrows knit together as she takes in the lingering droplets of water running down Gail's face, and she reaches out cautiously to touch Gail's arm before thinking better of it and dropping her hand back down to her side.

"Are you okay?" Traci murmurs gently. "Because I'd get it if you weren't, and if you've changed your mind about going home then I'd understand, Gail-"

"I'm fine, Traci," Gail insists, reaching up to rub a hand over her face. "Really."

Traci regards her carefully for a moment, her eyes disbelieving even as she holds her hands out in acceptance. "As long as you're sure," she says, causing Gail to nod again. "Okay then. You go and call Andy and Chloe and see if they found anyone to verify Mr Davis returning home, and I'll go and tell Mr Sumner that he's under arrest and get that warrant for his house."

Gail nods quietly in acknowledgement and attempts a small smile to try and reassure Traci that she's fine. It luckily seems to work because Traci smiles back at her kindly and spins on her heel, striding back out of the locker-room and leaving Gail alone again.

She takes one final, deep breath before mentally chiding herself to pull it together and heads back towards the office to grab her files.

It doesn't take her long to find Nate Davis' paperwork scattered were she left it when Frank interrupted them, and as she makes a start towards the door she's stopped in her tracks by a buzzing sound rumbling loudly around the room.

Gail pauses then, turning back into her office and listens carefully as the buzzing continues. She follows the sound over to her desk and finds that it's coming from the phone they retrieved from Sarah Having's house that morning. She takes in the ten missed calls and the several unopened text messages, and narrows her eyes as the screen lights up with a call from 'Parkdale Veterinary Clinic'.

Perrick's voice resounds in her head again then – it's in the back of your eyes, the shape of your mouth; your shadow self clawing to the surface, begging to breathe... – making Gail curl her fingers around the phone, the evidence bag crinkling in her grip as she closes her eyes and tries to ignore the tightness burning in her chest that makes bright spots dance behind her eyelids.

Her spine prickles reflexively with a shuddering chill, the answer dashing forward in her mind and hitting Gail squarely in the chest, making a stuttered breath rush from her mouth as the final puzzle piece falls into place. She doesn't think about it then as her feet propel her towards interrogation-room one and as she barges forcefully through the door, Nate Davis flinches in surprise.

"Detective," he greets, his eyes dark and unnerving. "Can I go now?"

Gail swallows away the dryness in her mouth and shakes her head. "I actually have a few more questions for you," she says, trying to keep her voice steady as she walks around the table to face him more directly. "You said you went straight to Sarah's house from work, correct?"

Nate blinks in confusion buts nods. "Yeah, that's right; it was around 7pm... we've already been over this."

"And you're a vet, right?" Gail asks, ignoring his complaint as she focuses on the way the corner of his mouth twitches slightly.

"Yeah, I'm a vet," he replies slowly. "I have my own clinic on Parkdale."

Gail nods along knowingly. "So you must work crazy long hours then, what with it being your own clinic and all."

Nate's brow furrows slightly at her question, his face etching with bewilderment even as he answers, "Animals need a lot of care, Detective, so yeah I work long hours."

"How long exactly?" Gail replies without missing a beat, keeping her eyes pinned to his face.

Nate shifts under her gaze and subconsciously averts his eyes. "I work from 5am to 6pm every day with a small team of staff. I don't understand... how is my job relevant here?"

"What about emergencies? I mean animals get sick at all hours, right?" Gail questions, feeling her heart racing in her chest. "Someone's got to be there to take care of them, right?"

"Of course," he replies obviously, his eyes narrowing. "I'm always on call to go in for emergencies."

Gail feels her spine prickle knowingly then. "So, the calls from the clinic, they must get redirected to your cell-phone, right?"

"Yeah, that's why I always make sure I have my phone on me at all times," Nate says simply.

Perrick's voice ripples around her head again, the question – Were you replaced? – growing louder and louder as her eyes narrow in on the tired, dark circles lingering heavily beneath Nate Davis' eyes, and the way he presses his mouth together tightly, the corners twitching ever so slightly as if he's desperately trying to keep his secrets locked away.

It feels like it all happens in a blur then; the way her chest bursts with a dark, heavy anger that rushes through her veins like a thick smoke, propelling her feet forward, and making her fingers twist tightly into the material at the neck of Nate's shirt as she uses all of her weight to throw him backwards in his chair.

She ignores his sharp yelp of pain as his head bounces off the floor and presses her knee into his stomach as she pins him down forcefully and demands, "You went back for it didn't you?"

"Went back for what?" he wheezes, his eyes wide and panicked.

"Your fucking phone," Gail snaps, her eyes piercing into him menacingly. "You went back for it and you saw Sumner leaving her house, didn't you?"

"What are you- get the fuck off me..." Nate yells shakily back at her, struggling desperately against her grip.

Gail tightens her hold on his shirt, her knuckles turning white from the pressure as she shoves him down hard again, refusing to budge. "She'd replaced you, so you fucking killed her," Gail hisses through her teeth as she pushes her knuckles into him threateningly. "Didn't you, you son of a bitch? You smashed her head against that wall again and again and again-"

"Peck, let him go!"

"You killed her, didn't you?" Gail growls venomously, her ears ringing loudly as an unstoppable fire races under her skin. "Didn't you?" she repeats adamantly, her gaze unwavering in its intensity as she glares at him.

"Gail, get off him!" She barely registers the arms curling beneath her own, pulling frantically at her as they fight to drag her off of Nate's chest, her focus narrowed solely on Nate Davis as she repeats her accusation again. "Gail!"

The sound of Traci's voice screaming her name blares loudly in her ears then, cutting through the thick fog circling around her head, and she feels her fingers releasing their hold as her body staggers backwards, falling against Traci's chest. She blinks slowly as Traci steadies her on her feet, the haze slowly lifting from her mind as she looks down at Nate Davis lying sprawled at an awkward angle on the floor, staring up at her in utter shock; his guilt creeping slowly out from beneath the cracks Gail's made in his defence.

('s in the back of your eyes, the shape of your mouth; your shadow self clawing to the surface, begging to breathe...)

Traci wastes no time curling her fingers tightly around her forearm and pulling her out of the room, letting her go the moment the door shuts behind them. "What the hell were you doing in there, Gail?" Traci demands, her eyes wide and angry. "You can't just attack the guy like that."

Gail feels her chest heaving as she struggles to draw in breath, her lungs burning from the unexpected exertion of her attack. "He did it, Traci," Gail justifies exasperatedly as Perrick's voice rings agonizingly through her head again. "He fucking killed her."

"Based on what evidence exactly?" Traci retorts in bewilderment, her eyebrows knitting together. "The results of blood belong to Sumner-"

"His phone," Gail shouts, pinching the bridge of her nose, her whole body thrumming with her remaining pent up anger. "He's a fucking vet, Nash. He needs to have it on him at all time and he went back for it and he saw Sumner leaving her house-"

"That's just a theory, Gail," Traci snaps back, holding her hand out and looking at Gail with wide, disbelieving eyes. "You can't just go at him like that without backing it up with concrete evidence."

Gail scoffs and crosses her arms over her chest, turning away from Traci briefly to try and get herself together. "He did it. He killed her," Gail insists, pointing at door determinedly, not knowing how else she can make it clear. "I'm telling you he went back for the phone, Traci."

"If he went back for the phone, Gail, then why was it still there this morning? Why do we have it?" Traci rationalises, her voice rising.

"Because he ended up fucking killing her instead!" Gail retorts with increasing agitation, the pounding in her head making her stomach knot tightly as she's hit by a wave of unrelenting nausea.

Traci shakes her head back at her and snaps, "You have nothing to prove that, Gail."

Gail clenches her jaw tightly in response and steps closer to Traci, invading her space. "He did it," she repeats firmly.

"Peck; Nash!" Frank booms loudly, making Gail jump back and look around, noticing suddenly how all of the eyes in the station are watching them in stunned interest. "What the hell's going on?" Traci gestures at Gail, her face washing over with concern, and Gail feels Frank's eyes fall to her then. "Gail, my office now."

Gail lets her eyes trail around the station, taking in the worried looks on everybody's faces as they stare over at her, and she knows then that those who have overheard don't believe her at all. Instead they stare back at her with the same pitying looks that she remembers had followed her around for months after her abduction, their softening expressions giving away just how fractured they still think she is.

"You know what, screw this..." Gail scoffs incredulously, shaking her head as she pulls her badge from her belt and throws it down to the ground. "I'm out," she breathes, narrowing her eyes at them all with utter disdain.

"Gail, come on, wait a second," Traci pleads, reaching out to stop her only to have Gail shake her off.

She storms purposefully through the station then, refusing to look back as she hears Frank and Traci calling after her, and tries to ignore the way her heart clenches achingly in her chest, her eyes burning in frustration as Perrick's voice – I'm the one taking care of you – continues to echo tauntingly in her ears.

Her phone rings again for what must be the twentieth time in half an hour, and Gail finds herself striding towards where she'd set it down on the coffee table and fumbling to shut it up. It feels like the ringing is growing increasingly shrill and Gail feels herself drowning in a spiral of unrelenting anger as she launches her phone across the room, breathing heavily and glaring at the spot where the shattered parts fall and scatter.

She bites down hard on her lip, stifling the scream that's trying desperately to break free from deep inside her chest, and pushes the heels of her palms into her eyes as she sinks down onto the arm of the couch. Her body feels weary and wired all at the same time and her head throbs excruciatingly with ever shaky breath she draws, and no matter how hard she tries she can't seem to quiet the rage racing around inside of her mind.

None of it makes any sense, and Gail feels her eyes prickling burningly in response as she struggles to process everything that's happened. A part of her knows that Traci was right to question her, but Gail doesn't know how to explain the undoubting feeling she has deep in her stomach that Nate Davis killed Sarah Having. She also doesn't know how to explain how something seemingly took over her body, possessing her so completely, that she couldn't control the way every fibre inside of her was commanding her to take matters into her own hands, encouraging her to slam Nate Davis down to the ground and demand answers before she even realised what was happening.

She's never been a violent person before, sure she's tackled a few guys down for running during an arrest, but she's been lucky enough to never have to truly use her gun before. Today though, Gail knows that if Traci hasn't have come into the room and dragged her away from Nate Davis, that she could have quite easily hurt him without every really intending to.

The sound of the door opening startles Gail from her thoughts and she lifts her eyes to see Holly coming towards her cautiously.

"Traci called you?" Gail asks quietly, her voice croaky and strained as she takes in the way Holly's eyebrows are knitted together tightly, her eyes shining with overwhelming concern as she nods in response.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Holly murmurs softly as Gail's gaze falls distantly off over her shoulder.

"It's not right," Gail blurts without thinking, shaking her head and biting at her lip as she lets her eyes find Holly's again. "That asshole shouldn't just be able to get away with it. He should go to prison and fucking rot there for the rest of his life... he bashed her head in, Holly, splattered her brains against the walls like she was nothing," Gail snaps, anger prickling sharply beneath her skin again as she starts pacing restlessly. "And he's what... just going to get away with it because I didn't do enough to prove it? It's bullshit." She throws her hands up in exasperation. "He should be made to suffer like the victim did; like her family are going to have to suffer for the rest of their fucking lives. It's not fair..." Gail breathes shakily, her eyes stinging with frustration as her chest starts to heave under the weight of her crumbling emotions. "He shouldn't get to just... just... slit his wrists and end his own fucking misery while I still have to live with it every day, it isn't fair, Holly, it isn't-"

She stops herself instantly, her words ringing in her ears and her eyebrows knitting together in realisation as she feels her bottom lip quivering uncontrollably. Her vision swims with tears then as she chokes out a helpless sob, the real truth of her pain and anger catching her so off guard that she can do nothing but let it out.

"Oh sweetheart..." Holly breathes knowingly, reaching for her at once and pulling Gail's trembling body tightly into her arms.

She sobs messily into Holly's shoulder as memories of her abduction suddenly come rushing back to her; Perrick smashing the door into her face and chocking her until she falls unconscious; the haunting sound of his wingtips against the hard surface of the floor as he comes closer to her; her eyes fighting a losing battle against the darkness as she tries to struggle against the drugs he flushes into her system.

Most of all though, Gail remembers Jerry; she remembers him launching as if from nowhere, tackling Perrick into his desk and sending a wave of relief through her, and then for it to be quickly followed by an overwhelming wave of despair as she watches helplessly as his bloodied body falls unconsciously to the ground.

She feels her lingering guilt binding tightly around her heart then, the thought that she should have done something more to try and save Jerry's life clawing at her ruthlessly, and making her hurt so deeply, and so regretfully, that she can do nothing but finally let herself truly feel it as Holly tries to anchor her and prevent her from sinking beneath the crushing weight of it all.

The steady rhythm of Holly's heart beats soothingly beneath her ear, and Gail lets her eyes flutter closed as Holly's fingers keep brushing softly through her hair. The warm press of Holly's lips lingering lovingly against her hairline and gradually lulling away her pain.

She's feels weak and exhausted; her mind and body aching wearily in the aftermath of her unexpected breakdown. Gail's aware that she's never really let herself feel it all properly, and she knows it properly wasn't the healthiest or sanest move she's ever made to just try and carry on with her life as if everything was still normal, but getting back to work and reassuring everybody that she was fine had felt like the least she could do in the face of Jerry's death. Traci was the one who'd had the right to be in pain and fall apart for a little while, not her.

Realistically though, Gail knows she was foolish to ever think that it wouldn't come back to hit her in the face when she least expected it too, but she doesn't think that anything anybody said or done could have ever prepared her to deal with the overwhelming hurt, anger and guilt, she still feels over Perrick and everything that happened during her abduction. She just wishes this wasn't something that she had to dump on Holly and their happiness, especially when everything about her life since they first met has felt like it was finally working out the way it was always supposed to.

"I'm sorry..." Gail whispers apologetically, lifting her head from Holly's chest to find her eyes. "I'm so sorry I'm such a mess about this... I didn't mean to be."

Holly shushes her softly and smoothes her hand in circles against Gail's back. "You've got nothing to be sorry for, baby," she murmurs reassuringly, shifting them both so that they're lying on their sides facing each other and instantly tangling their legs back together. "I know it's not something we've ever really talked about it depth – after that one time you mentioned it when we were just friends I always got the impression you didn't want to – but I just want you to know that you can talk to me about it, about how you feel, about anything you want." She brushes her fingertips against Gail's cheek then, cradling her face gently as she holds her gaze. "You can trust me."

"I know I can," Gail breathes, nuzzling into Holly's touch. "I just... Perrick was in jail and Jerry was dead and it was just easier to try and put it all behind me, you know?" Holly nods empathetically. "I guess I didn't do as good a job as I thought I had."

"It was an awful, devastating, life changing thing that happened to you, Gail, and you did the best you could," Holly tells her softly, her eyes deep and warm and forever understanding. "I'm just a little worried that you-"

She stops herself then, shaking her head a little and pursing her mouth together tightly as if she's afraid to finish her thought. Gail lets her eyes dart anxiously around Holly's face, taking in the way her usually bright eyes shimmer wetly, mirroring Gail's pain back at her as her brow furrows in concern.

"You're a little worried that I... what?" Gail prompts, needing desperately to hear what Holly has to say.

Holly swallows thickly and lets out a shaky breath. "I'm worried that you're blaming yourself for Jerry's death."

Gail feels her eyes sting in response, her heart lurching achingly in her chest. "How can I not, Hol?" she chokes brokenly. "He died saving my life."

"Baby, it wasn't your fault," Holly emphasises as she thumbs away the hot tears running down Gail's cheek. "He died because Perrick stabbed him, not you. He was a detective doing his job, and it sucks that it had to happen while he was trying to rescue you but that doesn't make you responsible for his death, Gail."

Gail shakes her head, averting Holly's eyes. "He might still be alive if I'd just done something more," she objects helplessly. "If I'd just fought Perrick off harder and tried to get to him, maybe I could have stopped the bleeding or got his gun or-"

"Gail, Perrick drugged you, there's no way you would've had the strength to fight him off," Holly cuts in, ducking her head a little to force herself back into Gail's eye-line. "Even if you had there's no guarantee that you would have been able to do anything to stop Jerry from bleeding out, and you might just have ended up getting yourself killed in the process." She screws her eyes shut tightly in response and turns her face into the pillow then, knowing that despite what Holly's saying is the truth of the matter, it still doesn't change the way her heart clenches agonizingly with blame. "Baby, look at me," Holly commands softly, her fingers sliding down to curl around her neck, kneading encouragingly until Gail forces herself to open her eyes and meet her gaze. "It wasn't your fault."

It's not the first time she's heard those words; Traci's said it, Chris and Dov and Nick have said it, even the therapist her mother had sent her to had said it to her. But even though deep down Gail knows it's not her fault, a part of her refuses to accept it. It's that part of her – the part that tells her she could have done something more to try and save Jerry's life – that haunts her in her sleep occasionally when she's working on a tough case, and that keeps her forever indebted to Traci, no matter how hard she finds it sometimes to look her in the eye, knowing that she's part of the reason Traci has to live with the constant pain of losing somebody she loved.

Holly purses her mouth together thoughtfully then, her eyes regarding Gail cautiously as she says, "I know you've said that therapy isn't really your thing, but I know this guy... he's a specialist in dealing with people suffering from all kinds of emotional trauma and grief and-"

"I'm not grieving for, Perrick," Gail interrupts defensively.

"I know you're not, but it's not healthy to carry around guilt like you are, Gail," Holly says softly even as Gail closes her eyes as if to shield herself from the truth. "You rightfully have some unresolved feelings about this still, and I know it's not something that you're ever truly going to be able to get over and forget, but baby, you need to find a way to let your wounds heal. There's no shame in needing help, and I know deep down you know that." Gail nods as her eyes flood with tears, knowing that Holly's right even if she wishes she wasn't. She's floundering frantically right now and she needs somebody like Holly to reach out and offer her a hand to stop her getting swept farther away. "You don't have to make any decisions right now, but after everything that happened today bringing it all back to the surface again for you, I just really think you should consider it."

Gail nods in concession, knowing that Holly's right and presses herself in closer to her, letting her head return to Holly's chest so that she can press her ear back over Holly's heart and listen to its strong, calming, steady beat. Holly wraps her arms around her, holding her tightly in return and presses a soothing kiss to the top of her head. As they lay together in the safety of their bubble, Gail knows that Holly will always be her strength when she's stumbling weakly, and she knows without a doubt that Holly's more than content to let Gail lean on her for as long as she needs too.

It's that unwavering love and support that fills Gail with a surge of determination, wanting nothing more than to find a way to pull herself through, even if it hurts like hell and means facing those feelings she's worked so hard to bury away and try and forget.

They're sprawled out lazily on the couch – her body still achingly tiredly but her heart a little less heavy – Gail's feet nestled comfortably in Holly's lap as they absently watch some wildlife documentary that Holly had recorded earlier in the week. It's oddly relaxing, Gail finds, even more so as Holly starts stroking her thumbs along the arch of her feet in the way she knows makes Gail purr in pleasure.

Holly stops her caress and looks over at her as their peaceful quiet get interrupted by a knock at their door a few moments later, raising her eyebrow questioningly. Gail shrugs in return before watching Holly slip out from beneath her feet and disappear into the hallway as she goes to answer it.

She pushes herself upright, listening carefully, and hears the sounds of Holly's muffled voice chatting away quietly with somebody else's for a few seconds before they stop again, and as she gets to her feet to go and see who exactly is at their door this late at night, Holly wanders back into the living-room with Traci following tentatively behind her.

Holly glances between them both as they lapse into an unprecedented awkward silence and smiles encouragingly. "I need to go and call my dad, so I'll leave you two to talk," she says, walking over to Gail quickly and pressing a soft kiss to her lips before passing back by Traci and squeezing her hand as she goes.

They stare wordlessly at each other for a long moment, and Gail shuffles uncomfortably where she stands as she racks her mind urgently for something to say that can explain her earlier blow-up.

"Today was a shitty day, huh?" Traci starts, beating her to it, and Gail smiles tiredly back and nods in agreement. "I know it's late but I wanted to bring you this back..." She steps closer to Gail then as she reaches into her bag and pulls out Gail's badge, handing it over to her with a small smile.

"I'm not fired then?" Gail asks, part joking and part serious as she brushes her thumb over the cool metal.

Traci scoffs playfully and shakes her head. "Not a chance, Peck, I'm only just getting used to you being my little side-kick."

"Oh, you wish, Nash, but we both know I'm nobody's sidekick," Gail replies wryly, her mouth curling up into her first proper smile of the day.

"Keep telling yourself that, Gail," Traci teases, making Gail shake her head in amusement. They lapse into silence again then and Gail feels Traci's eyes roaming over her body, weighing her up and taking in her weary stance and her tired, puffy eyes. "I owe you an apology for earlier," Traci says as she lets her eyes momentarily fall to the badge in Gail's hands. "I knew you weren't entirely okay even though you said that you were, and I feel like I didn't handle things too well. I lost my cool with you when I shouldn't have."

Gail shakes her head in disagreement. "I'm the one that owes you an apology, Trace. The Perrick thing... it messed with my head, you know? And you were right about Nate Davis; all I had to go on was a theory and I just... I lost it with that guy and probably caused the case trouble it didn't need."

"Maybe you shouldn't have attacked the guy, but I should know by now that you Pecks' and your gut instincts are usually right," Traci confesses with a smile.

Gail feels her eyebrows knit together in confusion. "What?"

"I couldn't shake what you'd said about the phone so I got a warrant to search his properties," Traci explains. "We found some blood stained clothes hidden in the trash behind his veterinary clinic, and when we told him what we'd discovered he ended up breaking down and confessing the whole thing."

"Davis is really the killer?" Gail says disbelievingly, feeling a strange mix of relief and justice. "What about Sumner's blood under Sarah's nails?"

"Sumner confessed that he and Sarah fought physically too and she scratched him," Traci explains. "But your theory about Davis was spot on, Gail. He had gone back for his phone, knowing he needed it for work and saw Sumner leaving. Apparently he'd suspected Sarah was having an affair for awhile, he just didn't know for sure, and that confirmed it for him. He got angry and went in to confront her, they got into a heated argument, he claims they were shoving at each other and he just lost it and accidentally killed her."

"Smashing somebody's head against a wall repeatedly is hardly an accident," Gail retorts.

"That's what I said to him," Traci replies. "He shut up immediately then and requested we call him his fancy lawyer, but with the evidence and the confession this guy is going away for a long time."

Gail lets out a deep breath and shrugs. "Well, at least Perrick's last 'fuck you' to us didn't stop us from achieving something today, I guess."

Traci sighs sadly then, staring back at Gail for a long, thoughtful moment before saying, "Gail, about Perrick... I know for me, the news about him killing himself... it brought up a lot of stuff about that whole thing again – about Jerry – and I just want you to know that if you ever want somebody to talk to about it, ever, I'm here, okay? I mean, you're the one person who truly gets how I feel about it."

Gail's quiet for a moment, regarding Traci carefully as she struggles with what she wants to say. Except for that first time in the hospital when Traci came to see her, when everything was still so raw, they've never really talked about it. Instead they've simply settled into a bond formed out of mutual pain and understanding that's forever changed their friendship into something deeper, and something that Gail cares about immensely. But with Traci daring to offer out the first move again, being honest feels like the least Gail can give her in return.

"I hate him," Gail admits in a whisper, lifting her eyes to Traci's. "I know I should probably be glad that he's dead but I'm not. It's not fair, Trace... he didn't deserve an easy way out, he deserved to suffer in that tiny, miserable, little cell for the rest of his life for what he did to Jerry."

Traci purses her mouth together understandingly before adding softly, "And what he did to you."

Gail thinks about objecting, wanting nothing more than to remind Traci that it doesn't even begin to compare, but there's something so sincere and empathetic in Traci's eyes that it cuts her protest off before she can even urge herself to say it

"Holly thinks I should start seeing a therapist about it all again," Gail confesses vulnerably.

"You should," Traci agrees with an encouraging smile. "I still do."

Gail feels her eyes widen a little in surprise. "Since when?"

"I never stopped," Traci tells her with a small shrug. "I don't go every week like I used to but I like to go once a month still. It helps to talk about it with somebody even if it doesn't make sense all the time. It helps get things straightened out in your mind, and helps you to learn to accept that sometimes things just happen in life and there's nothing we can do to change it." She pauses then and reaches out to take Gail's hand, squeezing knowingly. "You don't always have to be so strong and stoic, you know."

Gail swallows thickly and lowers her eyes. "It's just easier sometimes; more bearable."

"Jerry's death wasn't your fault Gail, and nobody but you blames you," Traci says softly, acknowledging the heart of the matter and refusing to let Gail keep dancing around it.

Gail feels her eyes prickle with tears as she grasps back at Traci's hand then, the heavy weight that has forever lingered guiltily in the corner of her heart, lifting slightly at her words. She knows it's going to take a lot more than just Traci's reassurance alone, but hearing her say it again, now that she's properly had time to grieve, and think, and weigh it all up, makes relief flood though her in waves.

She sniffles and smiles appreciatively in response, reaching up shyly to wipe at her eyes, and lets Traci pull her into a much needed hug. "I'll make an appointment in the morning," Gail whispers when she pulls back to meet Traci's gaze.

"Good," Traci says with a smile. "Because the best way we can both spite that son of a bitch Perrick, and honour Jer's memory, is to keep moving forward and keep living our lives to the absolute fullest."

Gail smiles in agreement, and lets Traci sling her arm around her shoulders as she walks them towards the kitchen to find Holly, demanding they finish the day off with a much needed drink.

She knows it's going to take some work for her to completely deal with all of her feelings regarding Perrick and her abduction, and her guilt about Jerry, but as she steps into the shower that night before bed and lets the water slowly wash away the lingering tension of the day, knowing that she has Holly and Traci's support and understanding makes Gail finally feel like she can truly finally start to move past it.

Chapter Text

What's meant to be a quiet weekend off after a month of what feels like endless challenging cases, quickly turns into a weekend of unexpected baby-sitting.

(At least for Gail).

It starts when she arrives home from her shift on Friday evening to find Holly sitting crossed-legged in the middle of their bed; Joe seated happily on her lap as she holds out a book for him to see and reads the story aloud in a soft, soothing voice.

Gail pauses in the doorway, feeling both dazed and awe-struck as she watches Holly with him; her eyes sparkling with a natural, easy-going happiness, and her smile so bright that Gail feels her heart melting just from the sight of it.

"Hey," she murmurs softly, reluctantly disturbing the peaceful moment and drawing Holly's attention.

Holly smiles back at her the second their eyes meet. "Hey you, how was your day?"

Gail drops her bag by their dresser and toes off her shoes. "Long..." she replies, trailing off into a yawn. She watches as Holly presses a kiss to the side of Joe's head when he points at the book and says 'doggy', trying eagerly to regain her attention. "Is Jen running late to pick the little guy up?"

"It's Jen and Tony's wedding anniversary this weekend, and I promised them weeks ago that we'd take Joe for them so that they could have some much needed time alone," Holly explains sheepishly as she turns the page of the book for Joe who's babbling nonsensically, and watches Gail shrug tiredly out of her jacket. "I wouldn't have said yes if I knew you were going to be this exhausted."

"It's fine, Hol, don't worry," Gail smiles back and climbs onto the bottom of the bed, instantly pulling a funny face as Joe's eyes lock onto her. He laughs in response and reaches his hand out towards her; she lets him take her finger in his grasp without a second thought and bounces his hand a little. "Ahh, Joe, you've got me," she coos in a silly tone, tickling at his tummy with her other hand and making him smile up at her. He squirms in Holly's lap then and reaches for her more, and Gail quickly sits up and mirrors Holly's crossed-legged position before pulling him to sit on her lap instead.

Holly passes her the book and lets Gail finish reading to him, quietly watching them together with endlessly warm eyes and a soft, affectionate smile that makes an unexpected tingle shiver down Gail's spine. It doesn't take too long before Gail feels Joe's body settle into her more, becoming increasingly heavy in her arms as he grows tired, and she rearranges her grasp around him carefully to hold him closer against her, lightly stroking her fingertips over his soft, chubby cheeks.

"You're good with him," Holly hums as they watch Joe drift off in Gail's arms, his little fingers curled into the softness of Gail's sweater and his eyelids flickering peacefully as he snuffles softly in his sleep.

Gail shrugs and lets her mouth twist into a smirk. "Don't tell anybody but I kind of like children and for some reason they always seem to like me too."

"I bet it's because they sense that you're still a big kid at heart," Holly teases as she gets up from the bed carefully and presses a kiss to the side of Gail's head. "And there's no point keeping it a secret, we all already know that you're just a big softie really, Peck," she whispers playfully, smiling when Gail rolls her eyes.

She passes Joe gently to Holly then, and follows as Holly takes him into the spare room and settles him into the travel crib that's been set up. With Joe tucked in peacefully, the colourful nightlight left on and the baby monitor taken with them, they head into the kitchen.

"I thought we could just order a pizza or something," Holly says as she passes Gail a cold bottle of water from the fridge.

Gail nods and nudges the phone towards Holly in response. "I'll take a large BBQ chicken with extra peppers, please."

"Is that for both of us or just you, piglet?" Holly asks, quirking her eyebrow teasingly. Gail mock glares at her and Holly chuckles and rolls her eyes as she dials the number. "Hi, can I get one large BBQ chicken pizza with extra peppers and one medium vegetarian pizza please?"

Gail grimaces as Holly says 'vegetarian' – remembering Holly telling her the first time that they ever had pizza together that it was the only remotely healthy option – and pokes playfully at her sides until Holly bats her away, finishing their order while Gail pulls herself up to sit on the counter.

"Should be here in twenty minutes," Holly tells her as she comes to stand inside Gail's knees, her fingertips instinctively tracing aimless patterns along Gail's thighs as she leans in to give Gail a proper kiss.

It's only been a few hours since they kissed goodbye that morning but somehow it doesn't seem to matter if it's hours they spend apart or days, it always feels far too long. Gail slides her hands up Holly's arms and over her shoulders, tangling her fingers in her hair as she slides her tongue into Holly's mouth and deepens the kiss. It coaxes Holly even closer into her body, her hands slipping beneath Gail's sweater to stroke along her ribs, making Gail shiver and sigh contentedly against her lips.

Holly slows the kiss and pecks sweetly at her mouth a final few times before pulling back enough to rest their foreheads together as she murmurs, "Hey."

"Hey," Gail echoes, her eyes still closed but her mouth curling into a smile as she feels Holly nuzzle their noses together, taking a moment just to soak each other in.

Holly presses another quick kiss to Gail's lips before drawing back to find Gail's eyes. "How was your session with Dr Ellis today?"

"Really good," Gail replies honestly.

Since she promised Holly and Traci that she would go back to therapy, she has been, twice a week, every week, for the past month, and even though it took her a couple of sessions to really relax and open up, she's found that having somebody to talk to about her life – about her childhood and her Grams, about Perrick and the abduction and her guilt over Jerry's death, and even about her relationship with her parents and her difficulties letting people in – has actually been really beneficial for her. It feels like she's finally putting to rest some of the demons that have always hidden in the back of her mind and tormented her, allowing her to move on and look towards the future without her heart feeling so burdened.

Holly smiles at her response. "I'm glad it's helping, and I'm so proud of you for going, I know it can't be easy."

"It's getting easier though," Gail replies, draping her arms around Holly's neck and smiling happily. "I feel good; lighter somehow."

Holly kisses her again then, soft and slow. "That makes me extremely happy," she whispers against Gail's lips.

"Me too," Gail whispers back, grazing her lips against Holly's and coaxing her back into their kiss; both of them more than happy to lose themselves in each other until the pizza arrives.

Once they've eaten Holly goes to check on Joe while Gail treats her tired body to a hot, bubble bath. She closes her eyes and leans back against the tub, immersing herself beneath the water as much as possible, and it isn't until she hears the soft thud of clothing hitting the floor several minutes later that she opens her eyes again, smirking as she lets her eyes roam up the length of Holly's naked body.

Gail shifts forward enough for Holly to slide in behind her, and instantly closes her eyes again as Holly's body envelops her own. She relaxes back against Holly's chest as she feels Holly's arms slide around her waist and instantly covers them with her own, locking them together as Holly's lips trail gentle kisses down the side of her neck.

"That feels good," she murmurs sleepily, subconsciously angling her head to give Holly more room to work.

Holly hums against her skin and nuzzles her nose into the crook of Gail's shoulder, breathing her in. "You feel good," Holly tells her in a whisper, pressing her lips to Gail's shoulder and letting them linger there.

They lapse into a peaceful quiet then and Gail feels herself starting to drift a little, blanketed in the warmth of the water and the safety of Holly's arms.

"I'm so tired, I feel like I could sleep for days," Gail says, lifting her hand to cover her mouth as she yawns again. "I'm so glad I have the whole weekend off."

"I'll take Joe out for the day tomorrow, leave you to sleep in," Holly replies kindly, pressing her lips to Gail's skin again.

Gail forces her eyes open and tilts her head to find Holly's eyes. "Don't be silly. I want to spend the day with you guys," she says with a smile that quickly turns playful as she adds, "I'll just let Joe borrow me in the afternoon so he can have a nap buddy."

Holly lets out an amused breath and smirks in response. "I thought I was your nap buddy?"

"No need to get jealous, Hol," Gail replies teasingly. "I'm sure Joe and I could be persuaded to make room for you too."

"You better," Holly breathes ghosting their mouths together and pulling back playfully when Gail goes to kiss her properly.

"I will," Gail pouts in response as Holly teases their mouths together again before pulling back as Gail goes to kiss her once more, smirking in delight at Gail's frustration. "Holly..." she whines, tickling her fingernails up and down Holly's arm. "Kiss. Me."

Holly laughs fondly at her petulance and kisses her deep and slow, not stopping until Gail moans into her mouth.

Gail feels Holly's hand slide up from her waist to cup her breast as she nips at her chin. "How tired are you exactly?"

The sultry tone of Holly's voice immediately sends a shiver down Gail's spine, and she feels desire flood through her as she covers Holly's other hand with her own and guides it down between her legs, gasping when she feels Holly's fingertips slide against her clit.

"Never too tired for this," Gail moans as Holly's fingers pinch at her nipple, making her head fall back against Holly's shoulder.

Holly's mouth instantly returns to her neck, licking a hot trail to her pulse with her tongue before grazing over it with her teeth as she works her fingers against Gail knowingly. Gail reaches behind herself to tangle her hand in Holly's hair, drawing her away from her neck as she turns her head and seeks out Holly's mouth for a searing kiss.

It's not long before she feels the familiar tightening in her stomach, her breath catching in her chest as fire races beneath her skin, and her body arching increasingly into Holly's touch as she feels her control slipping. She whines low in her throat a second later as wet heat bursts between her legs, her body shuddering uncontrollably as she comes undone in waves against Holly's fingers.

"Fuck..." Gail whimpers, her body sagging heavily against Holly's chest; utterly sated and sleepy.

Holly chuckles in response and nips playfully at her jaw. "Think you can make it to the bed?"

"You might actually have to carry me after that..." Gail replies, trailing off into a gasp as Holly circles her clit again, her hips twitching away at how sensitive she still feels. "Baby..." she murmurs warningly, reaching down to curl her fingers around Holly's wrist.

"Sorry," Holly smirks, letting Gail pull her hand away and tangle their fingers together instead. "I can't help myself, I love making you come." Gail bites at her lip at Holly's admission and blushes, averting her eyes coyly, and when Holly kisses her neck again in response she can feel Holly's lips smiling smugly against her skin. "I guess we better get you to bed," Holly breathes, tapping Gail's hip and encouraging her to get out of the tub. "My amazing skills have obviously worn you out enough for one night."

Gail rolls her eyes in response as she gets out and wraps a towel around herself. "You're such a smug asshole sometimes," she retorts affectionately, trying to hide her smile but failing spectacularly when Holly just raises her eyebrow and smirks at her proudly as she steps out of the water.

"Don't worry, baby, we'll work on your stamina some other time," Holly replies teasingly as she purposefully brushes past Gail and drops a quick, sweet kiss to her lips on her way out of the bathroom.

Gail instantly follows after her into the bedroom, feeling the need to defend herself even though she knows Holly's joking. "What's wrong with my stamina?" she demands with a scowl. "You've never complained before."

"Gail..." Holly laughs, shaking her head and smiling fondly as she pulls on a clean pair of underwear and a t-shirt. "You know I'm just playing with you, don't get all cranky face on me because you're tired."

"I don't have a cranky face," Gail sulks, even though she knows she's pouting petulantly.

Holly hums in agreement and walks towards her, tugging at the towel wrapped around her body and pulling Gail into her arms. "You're cute," she murmurs lovingly, leaning in to press a kiss to the corner of Gail's mouth and then to the other side before pulling back to smile at her.

"You're annoying," Gail replies grumpily as Holly keeps grinning at her and presses kisses all over her face until Gail can't help but smile and try to shove Holly away.

Holly smiles even brighter in response and keeps her hands locked at the base of Gail's back, refusing to let Gail break free as she leans in to press a kiss to the tip of her nose. "Want to come snuggle? I can help you test out your nap partner skills ready for tomorrow."

"Only if I can be the big spoon," Gail replies adamantly, feeling the need to assert her dominance.

Holly pecks the tip of her nose again and nods, smiling in amusement. "Whatever you want, baby."

She changes quickly then and gets into their bed, watching as Holly makes sure the baby monitor is still on and placed on their nightstand before she slips off her glasses and climbs into her side of the bed. Gail cuddles up against Holly's back instantly, tangling their legs together and curling her arm around Holly's waist to pull her impossibly closer into her body, and immediately enjoys the warmth radiating between them wherever their skin touches.

Holly tangles their hands together in response and draws them up between her breasts, sighing contentedly as she feels Gail's nose nuzzling against the back of her neck, breathing her in and ghosting her lips against her skin.

"Hol?" Gail whispers reluctantly into the dark a few minutes later, knowing that she won't be able to sleep comfortably unless she asks.

Holly hums in acknowledgement, and Gail knows from the tone of it that Holly's smiling. It almost makes her want to resist and on any other night she would happily engage in their playful little game, but tonight she's so tired that all she really wants to do is go to sleep as soon as possible.

Luckily for her, Holly knows exactly what she wants and shows mercy on her, untangling their legs and shifting around until she's facing Gail without hesitating. She quirks her eyebrow wordlessly at her then until Gail smiles thankfully, pressing a quick kiss to her lips and turning around to let Holly cuddle into her back instead.

"Better?" Holly breathes against the back of her neck once they've both settled comfortably and cuddled together as close as they can.

"Mmhmm," Gail hums back content and sleepy, her eyes drifting shut as her body instantly relaxes into the warmth of Holly's loving embrace.

(And somehow it doesn't even seem to matter to her ego that much that she's ended up as the little spoon (like usual) when Holly draws her closer still, holding her securely in her arms and pressing a soft kiss below her ear, lulling her effortlessly into a peaceful sleep.)

Gail wakes pleasantly to the hushed murmurings of Holly's voice and Joe's adorable little laugh floating into the room. She smiles to herself as her eyes adjust to the morning light and stretches sleepily as she listens to the happy lilt in Holly's voice as she talks to him. Gail wastes no time in getting up, drawn to the sound, and finds Holly's blue hoodie, shrugging swiftly into it as she goes in search of them.

She finds them sitting on the living-room floor with toys scattered around them, and pauses to watch for a few seconds as Holly helps Joe make a tower out of his brightly coloured building blocks.

Joe spots her first, and when Gail smiles at him and waves enthusiastically over at him with a big smile, he instantly gurgles happily in response and waves his little hand back, mimicking her actions.

Holly turns to look at her and smiles softly. "Hey you, did you sleep okay? I hope we didn't wake you, I was trying to keep him as quiet as possible so that you could sleep in for a bit longer."

"You didn't wake me, don't worry," Gail replies as she makes her way over to them, bending down to greet Holly with a kiss before squatting down on her heels to get more level with Joe. "Good morning, little guy, how are you today?"

"Try saying 'hi' to him, he should say it back," Holly tells her with a smile as she watches their interaction fondly.

Gail tugs gently at his little foot then, grinning at him as she says, "Hi Joe. Hi."

Joe giggles and beams up at her, opening his mouth enough for Gail to see the few little teeth he has. "Hiii."

"Oh, is this for me? Thank you," Gail chuckles as Joe passes her a red block, babbling away happily to himself. "Should I put it here?" Gail asks, placing it on top of the blue block Joe has just set down and watches as he smiles up at her. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Joe echoes, swinging his hand and knocking it down the second Gail has placed hers on top.

Holly laughs as Gail turns to her and screws her face up, feigning upset at the destruction of their little tower. They watch as Joe's focus shifts to a big, yellow, toy truck then and Holly just shrugs as Gail smiles at her in amusement at his short-lived attention span.

She glances back over at Holly after a few seconds of watching him play contentedly. "So what's the plan for today, Aunt Holly?"

"I don't know yet," Holly replies as her eyes drift back over to Joe, pausing their conversation to make a 'brrmmm brrmmm' noise at him as he pushes the truck back and forth in front of himself, looking back up for Holly's reaction as he does so. "Since it's a nice day out I was thinking about taking him to the park to play."

Gail absently stacks the colourful blocks in front of her neatly. "The park? That's a bit boring isn't it?"

"He's only eighteen months old, Gail. I didn't realise he needed luxury entertainment," Holly quips playfully.

Gail shrugs back at her. "I just think we can do better than the park. I mean, you do want him to think of us as the cool aunts, right?" she asks with a smirk.

Holly rolls her eyes but smiles at her affectionately. "Okay then, Supernanny, let's hear some of your amazing – cool aunt – suggestions then," Holly challenges as she offers Joe his sippy-cup. "Joe-Joe, want some juice?"

Joe looks up at her and shakes his head with a firm, "No."

Gail laughs as Holly sets the cup back down in defeat. "He soon told you," she says teasingly, squirming away and accidentally knocking down her building block tower when Holly nips playfully at her side in retaliation.

"Do you have an idea or not because so far my park idea is winning," Holly says smugly.

Gail pauses thoughtfully for a moment, and then grins triumphantly as she remembers one of her favourite places to go as a child with her parents when they'd actually get the odd day off. "I have the best idea," she replies excitedly, pushing to her feet and making her way towards the bathroom. "Just give me twenty minutes to get washed and dressed, okay?"

"Sure..." Holly responds absently as Joe gets up and waddles over to her, sitting himself on her lap and showing her his toy truck. "Hey, wait," she calls out to Gail. "Where are we going exactly?"

Gail turns back towards her and smirks. "Don't worry, you'll see soon enough; but I promise, you and Joe are going to love it."

She knows she's made the right decision as she watches Joe's face light up; his eyes wide and curious as he babbles excitedly and points towards the monkeys swinging and playing around in their exhibit. Holly doesn't say anything, just rolls her eyes when Gail smirks smugly at her and presses a quick kiss to her lips before she bends down to get Joe out of his stroller, instantly passing him over for Gail to hold.

Gail settles Joe comfortably on her hip, bouncing him slightly as she talks to him. "Can you see them, buddy?" she coos, pointing one out. "Look Joe, that one's got a baby monkey. Can you say monkey? Mah-un-kee; ooh ooh, ahh ahh."

"Mmkee," Joe echoes happily, giggling when Gail smiles proudly and lifts him into the air to blow a raspberry against his stomach.

"Good boy, Joe, you're such a smart little guy," Gail tells him, feeling herself blush a little when she catches Holly watching them with a strange expression on her face that Gail doesn't quite know how to read. "What?" she murmurs bashfully.

"Nothing," Holly replies quietly, shaking her head as her mouth curls into a soft, affectionate smile. "The zoo was a really great idea. I definitely think you've earned your 'cool-aunt' badge."

Gail smirks at her again. "Bet you're glad I didn't let you take him to the park now, huh?"

"Okay, cool Aunt Gail, enough bragging. What animal should we go and see next?" Holly teases.

Gail lets her eyes drift down to Joe. "What do you think, buddy? Do you want to go and look at the penguins?" she asks, watching as Joe's attention remains focuses on the monkeys. "No? Okay, what about the big, ferocious lions? They were always one of my favourites... Grrrrrrr." Joe laughs at her as she curls her fingers into a claw and scratches playfully at his chest. "He wants to see the lions," she tells Holly seriously as she looks back at her.

Holly smiles in amusement. "Sure, it's Joe that wants to go and see the lions," she quips, tapping Gail cheekily on the butt.

"He does," Gail retorts, unable to hide her smile as she starts leading the way and turns her attention back to Joe. "You do want to see the lions, don't you, little dude? There might be a little cub like Simba." She hears Holly chuckle behind her and turns to face her, making her break into a hearty laugh as she bounces Joe on her hip, swaying him in a little dance as she playfully sings, "Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase! Hakuna Matata, ain't no passing craze! It means no worries, for the rest of your days..."

They spend the next couple of hours walking around looking at animals; they see the pandas and the little baby polar bear cub, the giraffes and the alligators, the rhino and the zebras, and even visit the butterfly conservatory much to Holly's – nerdy – enjoyment. They take turns holding Joe and showing him all of the different animals, encouraging him to try and say their names and making horrible impressions at him. When she's not carrying Joe around Gail spends her time taking endless amounts of photographs, capturing the unbridled excitement on his face and the warm affection in Holly's eyes as she watches him; Gail's own heart swelling increasingly the longer she watches them interact together.

When it reaches 1pm, Holly suggests they stop for lunch back up at the picnic area near the 'kitty' exhibit, trying to hide her amusement as Gail scowls back at her – apparently, much to her dismay, when you're only eighteen months old a lion and a cat are exactly the same thing (despite Joe's lack of understanding and Holly's light teasing, Gail remains petulantly adamant that they're not; lions are cool, cats on the other hand are terrifying).

They find a nice spot on the grass and stretch out under the sun as they eat the sandwiches they've picked up from one of the zoo cafés. Joe accepts little bites of his jarred baby food, grizzling a little when Holly takes away the stuffed toy monkey Gail has bought him from the gift shop to try and get him to focus.

"You really should have waited until after he ate to give him that," Holly grumbles when Joe turns his face away from the spoon of food she holds out towards his mouth.

Gail purses her mouth together into a sheepish smile, and immediately stops flicking through the photographs she's taken on her camera. "I'm sorry, I didn't think he'd get all clingy about it," she apologises, sitting herself upright and pulling Joe into her lap. "Let me try," she says to Holly, accepting the jar of food and the spoon. "Hey, Joe, look yummy," she coos, frowning when he turns his face away again.

Holly shakes her head and lets out a sigh. "Jen said he's a fussy eater... maybe we just have to wait a bit until he gets hungrier."

"Pass me the monkey, would you, Hol," she asks a second later, an idea forming in her head. Gail sets the monkey down on her opposite knee and hovers the spoon near the monkey's mouth. "Look, Joe-Joe, Mr Monkey's having some. Do you want to help Mr Monkey?"

Joe watches her in fascination, smiling a little when she moves the spoon from the monkey's mouth to his, mimicking the noise of a plane. He opens his mouth then and accepts the food and Gail lets out a breath of relief as Holly squeezes her ankle appreciatively.

"Well done, baby-whisperer," Holly teases, picking up Gail's camera and pointing it at them. Gail smiles shyly over at her for a second before turning her attention back to Joe, repeating her method until he's eaten all that's in the jar.

They get little pots of ice-cream afterwards, and Gail tries not to laugh as she spoons a tiny blob into Joe's mouth, watching as he rolls it around on his tongue humming happily at the taste before looking up at her and sweetly demanding, "More."

Holly grins over at her as she offers him another little spoonful, and Gail raises her eyebrow knowingly at the smirk that emerges on Holly's face. "Well I never thought I'd see the day that Gail Peck would share her food. Is it actually happening or are my eyes deceiving me?"

"Funny..." Gail shakes her head at Holly's teasing comment and swipes her thumb gently beneath Joe's mouth to wipe away the dribbled ice-cream on his chin. "Just so you know, if Joe wasn't here right now I'd totally flip you off," she murmurs, keeping her eyes on Joe and pulling a silly face when he grabs for the container. "It's all gone, buddy. No more."

Holly chuckles at that and pulls a packet of baby wipes out of the bag hanging from the stroller. "Here, you might want to use these to stop your hands feeling sticky," she says, passing them over to Gail and watching fondly as Gail wipes around Joe's mouth and then carefully does his little hands before wiping her own. "Want to go check out some more exhibits while the little guy is still awake? He'll probably want a sleep in another couple of hours and I know you two need to be home in time for your scheduled nap, so..."

Gail shakes her head and bites at her bottom lip to try and contain her smile, failing when Holly wiggles her eyebrows playfully at her. "Just let me go and put our stuff in the trash and we'll get going again, okay?"

Holly nods in response and holds her hands out towards Joe as Gail lifts him off her lap and settles him on his feet, passing him his stuffed monkey as she bends down to pick up their rubbish. As she heads over to the nearest trashcan, discarding their pots and sandwich boxes, she hears Joe laughing and turns to watch Holly wave the stuffed monkey at Joe, getting slowly closer to him before tickling his tummy with the monkey's hand and quickly pulling it back again before repeating the process over again.

"You have a beautiful family."

Gail turns at the voice and finds an old lady smiling at her kindly. She glances around unsurely then, not sure if she's heard right. "Excuse me?"

The lady nods her head over towards Holly and Joe before flicking her eyes back to Gail's. "You, your wife and your gorgeous little boy; you make a beautiful family," she repeats, smiling sincerely. "I hope you don't mind me saying so."

Gail shakes her head, feeling her cheeks flush and smiles bashfully. "Actually we're-"

It feels like her entire world goes still for a second as she lets her eyes drift back over to Holly and Joe then, her explanation lodging in her throat as she watches Holly get to her feet and pull Joe into her arms, covering his face with kisses and making him smile and giggle happily. Her heart suddenly feels too big for her chest as she thinks about the tender expression she's caught etching over Holly's face whenever she's looked up to find Holly watching her with Joe throughout the day; her smile ridiculously soft and her eyes endlessly warm and loving.

She knows instantly that it must be the same look that's mirrored on her own face now.

A wave of understanding hits her then and she feels her body flood with hope and longing, her heart aching uncontrollably in her chest as her imagination flashes with an image of Holly shrouded in sunlight, smiling brightly over at her as she stands in front of a beautiful, big house and rests her hand over the swell of her stomach; the light catching against the silver band around her ring-finger.

She feels herself breathe in deeply to try and steady herself as her vision fades away again and leaves behind an incredible lightness blossoming in her chest. It feels like she's been granted a glimpse into what her future might look like, and now that she's envisioned it she can't ignore the overwhelming contentedness that's settled in her heart.

Gail always thought something like this would scare her, but it doesn't. Being with Holly is the only place she's ever truly fit, and as Holly catches her gaze then, smiling as she points her out to Joe, both of them waving over at her with happiness gleaming in their eyes, Gail knows with absolute certainty that what she visualised is exactly what she wants for her life; for their life together.

The surprising thing about it though is that what her heart yearns for doesn't just feel like an abstract dream, it actually feels like something that's completely and utterly possible. It's that thought alone that makes her heart race, leaving her feeling happier than she ever has before as she absently thanks the old lady for her kind words and eagerly makes her way back over to Holly who, like always, is waiting patiently for her.

Ever since she and her mother took their first steps towards mending their relationship, it's become kind of an annual thing for all of them to get together for Sunday lunch at the Peck household a couple of times a month.

It still surprises Gail a little at just how different everything has become. Long gone is her mother's Superintendent persona and her unreadable steely gaze, and left in its place is a warm, kind, loving woman who's wholeheartedly devoted herself to getting to know not only who her daughter really is beneath her uniform, but has also made a sincere effort to get to know Holly too.

She feels her heart swell with happiness as she glances around the table to see her father chatting away with Leo about his latest school project while Steve and Traci watch their interaction with bright smiles, leaning into each other like proud parents. But the thing that really makes her heart burst with affection is seeing her mother and Holly; the way they chat animatedly away together, laughing and smiling as if there was never any hostility between them at all.

She listens then as her mother and Holly discuss an article that Holly's working on, and the genuine interest on her mother's face fills Gail with such content that she feels like she might burst. Before, when she's brought home somebody she was dating for dinner with her parents – rare as that actually was – her mother would hold an air of disdain and utter lack of involvement in what her date was saying, but she knows that just by the intrigued look on her mother's face that she has an honest respect for Holly. Knowing that her mother really does like Holly makes Gail feel completely at ease, and she knows that despite their earlier differences, Holly returns her mother's respect fully.

Everything somehow feels like it's fallen into place, and for the first time in years spending time with her parents is something that she actually looks forward to. She likes challenging her dad to a game of chess as they share a bottle of his expensive aged scotch and talk about everything from cars to guns, to movies and books; she likes bantering with Steve and Traci and helping Leo get to the hardest levels of his latest computer games; but most of all she loves talking with her mom.

It's such a simple thing to do, to just talk, and yet if feels like in the past four months they've slowly caught up on the mother-daughter bonding that they'd missed out on all of those years when both of them were too caught up in their own insecurities to reach out to the other. In doing so she feels like she's learned things about her mother she never knew before, and in return of her mother's openness and honesty, she's been able to share things with her mother that she's always held back from her.

The best part of it all though is that it feels like they've both come to understand each other a little better for who they really are and not who they've always seen each other as; that they're finally learning to accept each other, flaws and all.

"How's your father doing, Holly?" her dad asks while they're eating their dessert, breaking the silence that's fallen comfortably around the table.

Gail feels her stomach knot anxiously at the question and instantly lifts her head to search out Holly's eyes, knowing that the subject of her father is still something that's very private to her, and lets her hand curl comfortingly over Holly's knee.

Holly's cheeks flush a little at the inquiry and Gail watches Holly nervously reach up to push her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose before she tucks her hair back behind her ears and offers her dad a tentative smile. "He's doing really great, thanks, Bill. He's now staying with my Uncle Jed and Aunt Marie while he continues with the out-patient rehab."

"That's wonderful news," Bill replies sincerely. And then after a moment's thought, "Is he working?"

Gail glares over at her dad and shakes her head warningly. "Dad..."

Bill holds his hands up apologetically in response. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overstep and pry."

"It's fine," Holly says with a smile, flicking her eyes briefly to Gail's to let her know that she's okay before turning back to Bill. "He's actually looking for a job, he really wants to try and get back to normal, you know? Get working, get his own place; it's all part of his goal to continue his fresh start."

"What kind of work is he looking for, Holly?" Elaine chips in kindly.

Gail soothes her thumb over Holly's knee as she shrugs in response, knowing how difficult it is for Holly to share this part of her life with anybody but her. "I think he'd really like to do something hands-on but he hasn't said anything specific to me."

Elaine sips at her wine and hums thoughtfully for a second before saying, "I know fleet management for 27 division is looking for a new mechanic to help maintain the squad cars, do you think he'd be interested in something like that? I'd be more than happy to put a good word in for him if you'd like?"

Holly open and closes her mouth wordlessly for a couple of seconds, clearly surprised by the offer but then pulls herself together and nods. "That's really very kind of you, Elaine, I think he'd absolutely love that," Holly replies smiling brightly and making Gail's chest flood with relief as she watches Holly's shoulders relax. "Dad and Uncle Jed were always buying old cars and doing them up when they were growing up."

"Sounds like it would be a good fit then," Elaine says earnestly, and then turns her attention to Bill. "You'll call Ron West at 27 and get the details for Holly's father, won't you, dear?"

Bill nods. "Of course, no problem at all."

Holly covers Gail's hand on her knee with her own then and squeezes. "I don't know what to say except thank you, I really appreciate it," she murmurs bashfully.

Elaine waves her hand dismissively and smiles. "We're happy to help," she reassures. "Why don't you let Bill and I sort the details out this week and then next Sunday, if you'd like, you can invite your father to have dinner with us and we can fill him in about the job and get to know him."

"I'll ask him," Holly replies, her eyes a little wide with shock. "Thank you, again."

Gail smiles at her parents thankfully, and lets her fingers lace through Holly's, squeezing supportively as she subtly bumps their shoulders together in acknowledgement. It warms her heart to know that her parents have taken a genuine interest in Holly's family, and she knows that despite Holly finding it difficult to talk about her father sometimes, that she's definitely growing more at ease sharing parts of herself with the Pecks.

In a weird little way, it kind of feels like their families are trying to get to know as much as they can about each other, as if they're preparing themselves now that it feels like it's only a matter of time until they'll actually meet and unite as one big family unit.

Her mother smiles over at her, affection shining in her eyes as the sounds of everybody's laughter drifts from the living-room into the kitchen while they clear away the dishes.

Gail smiles in return, loving the ease which comes with getting together with her parents for these lunches now. She knows she doesn't have to worry about Holly fending for herself, that she'll be relaxing happily and chatting away with Traci while her dad and Steve show Leo another one of Steve's old toys.

What's even nicer though is the enjoyment she gets from having a few minutes to herself with her mother where – without everybody's still slightly apprehensive eyes on them – they can just unwind together and talk about everything and nothing.

"That was really nice thing you did, offering to help Holly's dad out like that," Gail says appreciatively as she dries the final few plates and places them back into the correct cabinet. "It means a lot to me, so thank you."

Elaine smiles back at her and pulls off her bright yellow washing-up gloves. "From the little Holly's told us about her father it sounds like he's worked hard to get his life back on track, and I'm more than happy to offer a helping hand where I can," she replies earnestly, her mouth curling into a playful but knowing smile when she adds, "Especially since we're all going to be family one day."

Gail feels her cheeks flush heatedly and coyly averts her gaze as her mother starts chuckling softly and reaches to curl her arm around Gail's shoulders, pulling her into her side and squeezing affectionately.

"Mom..." Gail mumbles bashfully, the tips of her ears burning heatedly as she slips out of her mother's embrace.

Elaine chuckles again and reaches up to pat her cheek fondly before trailing her hand down to take the locket resting against Gail's chest between her fingers. "I'm glad you're wearing it," she murmurs softly, drawing Gail's eyes back up to her own. "It really does look very lovely on you, sweetheart."

Gail regards her mother quietly for a moment, the question she's wanted to ask her mother about the locket since she first gave it to her burning on the edge of her tongue. "Why did you give it to me that morning when you came by to make-up with me?" she breathes out in a rush, watching as Elaine's eyes widen a little, caught off-guard by the question.

"Because I always promised you that I would," Elaine replies honestly, her brow furrowing a little in confusion. "You know that."

"That's not what I..." Gail shakes her head at the answer, needing to know the truth but struggling to find the words to properly ask. "Why did you give it to me then and there on that very morning? Was it just because you thought I'd forgive you quicker or because you knew I'd got the detective rotation-"

"Of course not," Elaine interrupts, shaking her head. "You know the story behind why your Great-grandmother gave it to Grams, and why your Grams then passed it down to your father to give to me when we were together. I gave it to you when I came by that morning because I knew after watching you with Holly the previous evening just how deeply you felt about her. Even though I didn't quite understand it all just then, I knew deep down it was time for me to pass it down; that it belonged to you now."

"Oh..." Gail murmurs, reaching up to wrap her fingers around the locket as her mother's answer sinks in. She's always hoped that was the reason behind why she'd given it to her, but with their relationship barely hanging on by a thread at that stage, Gail didn't want to just assume her mother was following their family tradition. She feels relieved to finally know the truth.

Elaine watches her quietly for a moment before asking, "Holly; she is the one, isn't she?"

Gail feels her chest fill with warmth as her heart swells uncontrollably at the thought of Holly, and she feels herself smiling back as she nods her head. "Yeah, she is," she confesses quietly.

"Then I was right to give it to you," Elaine replies knowingly, her eyes soft and adoring.

Ever since that day at the zoo the previous week Gail hasn't been able to quiet the thoughts whirring around inside her head. With every passing morning that she wakes to find Holly curled around her, sleeping peacefully, her breathing steady and her face content, the more her heart feels like it's going to burst in her chest with just how overwhelming and intense her feelings for Holly truly are.

She's never known her heart and mind to be so consumed by somebody before, and even though lately Gail's grown more and more aware of the reason why she feels the way she does, it doesn't stop her from feeling both immeasurably happy and yet irrationally terrified.

Gail swallows away the dryness in her mouth and finds her mother's gaze again. "Is it crazy that lately I-I can't stop thinking-" she stammers nervously, stopping herself as she feels a heated blush creeping up her neck and settling over her cheeks as her mother looks back at her with gentle curiosity.

"You can't stop thinking... what?" Elaine prompts softly, her eyes warm and kind.

She brushes her thumb over the smooth metal of the locket as she takes a second to gather her courage, still not overly used to sharing her feelings so openly with her mother. As she lifts her eyes back to her mother's face, she sees nothing but love glimmering back at her and it gives Gail the encouragement she needs to voice her thoughts.

"I can't stop thinking about how badly I want to spend the rest of my life with her..." Gail admits, her voice soft and timid as she holds her mother's gaze, looking for reassurance.

Elaine smiles brightly back at her and reaches for her hand. "That's not crazy, Gail."

"I've never felt like this before," Gail continues, curling her fingers tightly around her mother's, using her steady grip to anchor herself. "In the past, just the thought of this stuff would terrify me and send me running as far away as possible, you know? But it doesn't scare me when I think about it with Holly. I know with every inch of my being that I want to share my life with her; I want us to have a family of our own and grow old and grey together." She pauses then, shaking her head as her eyebrows knit tightly together. "It's the thought of not being with her that really, really, terrifies me. I don't think I could stand it if I ever had to live without her."

She feels her mother bring her other hand up to cover their joined ones, blanketing Gail's in a supporting warmth as she squeezes reassuringly. "You're not crazy," she repeats gently, her smile soft and calming. "All those feelings that feel like they're going to burst out of your chest at any given second... that's just what happens when you truly fall in love, sweetheart." Gail feels herself blushing again as her heart races in her chest at her mother's words. "I'm guessing you haven't told her yet?"

"I-I- no, not yet," Gail murmurs back shyly.

Elaine leans forward to kiss her cheek in response and pulls back with an adoring smile as she brushes a stray wisp of hair out of Gail's eyes, tucking it behind her ear before cradling her face gently in her hands. "You should tell her," she says softly as she lets her eyes trail affectionately over Gail's face before holding her gaze; her eyes incredibly warm and proud when she adds, "Love becomes you, my darling."

Gail feels her eyes prickle in response to her mother's loving words of encouragement, her heart swelling overwhelmingly in her chest and making her smile happily as she pulls her mother in for a tight, appreciative embrace.

"I love you, Gail," Elaine murmurs as she returns Gail's embrace just as earnestly.

She clutches her mother tighter then, letting herself absorb her mother's love and feels a wave of contentedness rush over her. "Love you too, Mom," she whispers back easily, her mouth curling into a smile at just how good it feels to finally have the relationship she's always dreamed of having with her mother.

The rest of the afternoon is spent lazily, all of them chatting easily together and laughing as they play games with Leo. It reminds Gail of days spent at the Peck cottage during those summers of her childhood when her parents would set their phones aside, and her Grams would switch off the TV and their focus would be solely fixed on just spending a little quality time together.

She can't help but be drawn to the look of utter relaxation on her mother and father's faces as they play snakes-and-ladders with Leo. It instantly fills Gail's chest with so much affection that she can't help but lift her camera up to her face to capture the moment. She's always been struck by the unbridled beauty she used to witness at the cottage whenever she just sat back and watched her family interact; their lack of self-awareness revealing the true heart of their personalities rather than their well-honed personas, and as she glances around the room and watches them all now, she's struck by the same sense of overwhelming fondness that used to rush through her as a young child.

Holly turns to her as the quiet flicker of the camera's shutter clicks again, and she smiles knowingly at Gail as she watches her continue to subtly photograph the simple and yet endlessly charming and heart-warming interactions between her family.

It catches her a little by surprise when her mother looks directly up at her a few moments later, and Gail immediately lowers her camera and blushes at being caught. She knows well that her mother has never been the biggest fan of her photography passion, but as their eyes lock Gail feels her brow furrowing in confusion at the small smile the quirks at the corners of her mother's mouth. The look that etches across her mother's face then is one that Gail can't decipher, and she feels her stomach knot anxiously as her mother quickly says something to Leo before pushing herself up from the floor and makes her way over towards her.

Gail smiles sheepishly as her mother raises her eyebrow at her inquisitively. "Sorry, I was just..." she mumbles, quickly clipping the protective cap onto the lens again. "Sorry."

"Don't be," Elaine replies, smiling kindly. "Seeing you with a camera again just reminded me that we haven't taken many family photographs in the last few years." She pauses a second then and shakes her head shamefully. "Well, at least ones that aren't horribly posed."

Gail feels her mouth curl up into an amused smile at her mother's acknowledgement of their awkward, yearly, family portraits. "You're the one who makes us get them taken that way," Gail reminds her softly, watching as her mother lets out a heavy sigh and shakes her head again.

"I know, and I'm sorry," Elaine apologises, her eyes glimmering sincerely. And then, "Would you... do you think you could take one for me now?"

Gail feels her eyebrows knit together at the unexpected request. "What, like right now?"

Elaine nods and glances around the room at everybody, her expression adoring when she turns back to Gail with a warm smile and says, "I think it's about time that I had a photo that shows off who our family really are, don't you?"

"Does this mean that awful one you keep of us on your desk can finally be burned?" Gail retorts teasingly even as her heart swells at the sincerity behind her mother's request.

Elaine chuckles in response. "Absolutely. I'll even let you have the honour of sending it up in flames."

"Well then, how could I possibly say no?" Gail jokes as she pushes to her feet and presses a quick kiss to her mother's cheek.

Her mother smiles warmly at her as their eyes meet again, and Gail feels the gratitude rolling off her in waves as she curls her fingers around Gail's own and squeezes gently. "Thank you, Gail," she murmurs softly, and Gail knows from the way her mother holds her gaze intensely – her love evident in the tender expression etched across her face – that she doesn't just mean for agreeing to take the photograph.

For such simple words Gail feels the weight of their meaning hit her squarely in the chest, and she knows at their core they mean thank you for forgiving me for my mistakes and flaws and thank you for giving our relationship a second chance but mostly Gail knows it's a thank you for helping to bring our family back together. Gail clutches back at her mother's hand and smiles softly, acknowledging the true meaning behind what's being left unspoken.

It doesn't take too long after that for her father to disappear upstairs to his office and return minutes later with his tripod, or for her mother to gather Traci, Steve, Leo and Holly in front of the fireplace, laughing as they all shuffle around and try to find a good setup for Gail to take the shot.

Once she's got her camera set up on the timer – batting away her father's insistence to help with an amused but fond smile – Gail warns them all to get ready as she hits the button and rushes over to join them, smiling happily as Holly instinctively reaches for her.

Moments later, when she goes back to look at the image she's captured – her father with his arm wrapped around her mother's shoulders, smiling happily; Steve and Traci swinging Leo between them and laughing; and her and Holly with their arms wrapped around each as they stare lovingly into each other's eyes – she can't help but feel overwhelmed by how happy and content they all look in the purest way possible.

It makes her heart swell immeasurably in her chest to know that they're finally becoming the family she's always so desperately longed for them to be.

Chapter Text

By the time they arrive at The Penny the celebration has already started getting under way.

She spots Oliver and Celery through the crowd of people and tugs gently at Holly's hand as she leads her over towards them. Oliver beams proudly as Celery excitedly shows off her engagement ring to Chloe and Dov, and Gail feels Holly bump their shoulders together knowingly as they watch the exchange.

"Congratulations you two," Holly says in lieu of a greeting, instantly pulling Celery in for a warm hug before pulling back to do the same to Oliver. "We're so happy for you both."

Gail smiles as she follows Holly's lead and greets them both with a hug. "We really are," she echoes, watching then as Celery holds out her hand for Holly to take, both of them letting out little excited squeals as they start talking animatedly about the proposal and the ring. "Took you long enough, I was starting to think that you'd chickened out," she whispers teasingly to Oliver.

"The perfect fairytale proposal takes careful planning, I'll have you know," he whispers back, smirking when he adds, "Just you wait, Peck, you'll sympathise with my ordeal one day." Gail feels herself blush at the comment and shakes her head with a fond smile when Oliver winks playfully at her. He gives Celery a quick kiss on the cheek then and nods his head towards the bar, indicating for Gail to follow as they leave their ladies to gossip. "What are you and Holly drinking tonight?" Oliver asks with a grin, waving the bartender over and pulling his wallet out of his back pocket. "This round is on me."

"Shouldn't I be buying your drinks tonight? I mean, this is your engagement party, Ollie," Gail returns, raising her eyebrow challengingly at him.

Oliver shakes his head and throws his arm around her shoulders. "You can buy me all the drinks you want for the rest of the night, but for now I want to buy you one to say thank you again."

"You don't need to thank me for anything, you bought the ring yourself, I just convinced the Milton's to let you buy it at a more reasonable price," Gail retorts, rolling her eyes a second later when Oliver covers her mouth with his hand, effectively cutting off her protest. He raises his eyebrow mockingly at her then, staring her down as he lifts his hand away from her mouth. "Fine, two vodka and cokes," she relents, the corner of her mouth twitching up into the start of a smile.

Oliver grins triumphantly and ruffles her hair affectionately before firing off his drink orders to the barman. "I'm a lucky guy, Peck," he tells her with an awe-struck smile, and Gail turns to follow his gaze until she finds herself watching Celery and Holly talking together and laughing. "Very lucky," he adds flicking his eyes back to Gail. "So are you my friend; your Doctor Holly is looking exceptionally lovely tonight, if you don't mind me saying so."

Gail feels her cheeks flushing as her eyes return to Holly, soaking in how beautiful she looks in her new blue dress with her dark hair spilling down around her shoulders and perfectly framing her beautiful face. "I don't know what we did to deserve them, Ollie," she murmurs disbelievingly as her heart floods with warmth. "I mean look at them; they're way out of our league."

Oliver chuckles at that and pats her shoulder. "We are extremely blessed, Peck," he says passing Gail her drink and holding his up towards her. "Here's to us and our stunning, incredible, amazing women."

"To our beautiful women and to your happy engagement," Gail returns, clinking her glass against Oliver's.

They make their way back over to Celery and Holly then, and after a few moments of chatting with them, Gail lets Holly lead her away so that Oliver and Celery can welcome the other people that are arriving to celebrate their engagement with them. They find Sam, Andy, Chloe, Dov, Chris, Steve and Traci over at their usual table at the back and slip easily into the remaining available seats.

"I'm not sure who's glowing more tonight; Celery or Oliver," Andy comments, looking over at them with a fond smile.

"I think you'll find that's just the glare coming off Oliver's head, McNally," Sam quips back, making them all laugh and smiling when Andy sticks her tongue out at him and knocks their shoulders together.

"Andy's right though," Chloe adds a moment later, smiling dreamily. "Look how sweet they are together; they're totally a good match."

"I couldn't agree more, some people are just meant to be together," Dov replies seriously with an equally dreamy smile as he flicks his eyes to meet Chloe's.

Gail watches as Dov wraps his arm more securely around Chloe's waist, pulling her in close to his side as he stares at her adoringly. She lets her eyes trail around the table at the rest of her friends then; Sam and Andy looking disgustingly smitten with each other even as they banter back and forth; Steve with his arm curled around the back of Traci's chair, his fingertips idly caressing up and down her arm as she leans further into him; and even Chris smiling goofily down at his phone as he continually texts back and forth with the woman he's seeing from the coffee shop.

The warmth of Holly's hand is blanketing her knee and she lets her own hand fall down to cover it, lacing their fingers together as she takes a moment to think back over the past few years she's spent with these people. She remembers their first time at The Penny, fresh out of the academy and lined up along the bar as Oliver and the rest of 15 division welcomed them by putting their rookie skills to the test. It almost feels like another lifetime ago now, all of them so fresh-faced and green, eager to please and competitive despite being ridiculously clueless half the time.

As she watches them all laugh and joke together now she's reminded of how far they've all come, not just as police-officers but as people. Four years ago she probably would have been sitting alone, looking in at them all from the outside, but now she knows she's a welcomed and loved member of their group. They've suffered through highs and lows and even come to blows with each other at times, but Gail knows that when it comes down to the things that really matter they always band together.

It almost seems unbelievable to Gail that the chaotic day of the shooting was nearly a year ago now, but as she keeps her eyes glued to her friends she can't help but think that if feels like they've all grown up together, especially in the months since it happened.

When she thinks of that day in the grand scheme of things she knows without a doubt that it was the catalyst they all desperately needed. Gail knows they might not all admit it but they'd grown stuck and stagnant, their relationships strained and their individual wants and desires blurring into their professional lives. It wasn't healthy for them to all be so tangled together like they were; each of them pulling and fighting to get free only to tighten themselves increasingly into unavoidable knots.

As corny as it sounds, Gail believes that the shooting had shaken them all free and opened their eyes to the destruction they were causing themselves and each other. Like Chris had said to her that day, when it's dark enough you really can see the stars. She knows for herself at least, that being reminded so closely again just how precious life really is, had allowed her to stop hiding behind the walls she'd built around herself, let go of her fear and go after the things she wanted; the things that made her happy.

Her eyes instinctively fall to Holly then, and her heart swells with so much love as she watches Holly laugh at something Sam is saying that she can't help but lift Holly's hand to her lips and press a soft, lingering kiss across the back of her knuckles.

Holly turns her face towards her as she feels the press of Gail's warm lips against her skin, and the amount of love that is reflected back at her in Holly's endlessly dark eyes makes her breath catch in her chest. It feels like the world around them falls away as they stare adoringly back at each other and as she lifts her hand up to cup Holly's cheek, her thumb caressing the softness of her skin, she finds herself being undeniably drawn in towards Holly until her eyes are fluttering closed as they come together for a soft and tender kiss.

When they slowly break apart, Gail can feel everybody watching them, and even as she catches their teasing grins out of the corner of her eye, and hears Chris playfully wolf-whistle, she can't find it in herself to fire off a snarky remark. Instead she keeps her gaze locked on Holly's and feels her heart swell with content as they share equally sappy smiles. Daring to let herself fall for Holly is easily the best decision she's ever made, and as Holly stares back at her with knowing eyes and presses forward to kiss her softly again, Gail knows with absolute certainty that she's found all the happiness she could ever possibly need.

They're drawn from their haze moments later when the sound of Frank and Noelle's voices ring around the room as they playfully call out 'speech, speech!' and raise their glasses towards Oliver and Celery with excited smiles, prompting them to address everybody. Gail watches with a smirk as Celery nudges Oliver up from his seat as the room falls quiet in anticipation, encouraging him with an adoring smile when his cheeks turn a little rosy from the sudden attention.

"I guess I should start by thanking you all for coming to celebrate our engagement with us; it really does mean a lot to Celery and I that you're all here... even more so because you all keep buying our drinks and that means I get to order the expensive stuff for once," Oliver jokes, grinning at them all and then turning his attention back to Celery. "In all seriousness though, I am the luckiest guy in the world, and I still can't believe that this beautiful woman next to me has agreed to marry me. Thank you for reminding me what it feels like to embrace life again," he says softly, making Celery tear up as he takes her hand in his, smoothing his thumb lovingly across the back of her knuckles. "You've made me incredibly happy; I love you so much, darling," he finishes, ducking his head to press a sweet kiss to her lips.

Gail winks over at Oliver then when he glances over at their table, and as the room breaks out into a murmured chorus of 'aww' he blushes brightly and quickly averts his gaze. She feels Holly's arm curl around her shoulders, pulling her in closer to her side and flashes her a soft smile as Celery stands and takes a shaky breath to steady herself.

"I'm going to keep this short because if I don't I may start crying," Celery says playfully with a small smile as she looks out at everybody before flicking her gaze to Oliver. "In all my life I can honestly say that I've never met a kinder, funnier, and more generous man. You have such a beautiful heart, Oliver. I love you more than I ever knew was possible and I really can't wait to share my life with you as your wife."

In the moment that follows, as Celery takes Oliver's face in her hands and kisses him again, the room erupting into applause, Gail knows as she glances around at her friends all looking fondly over at Oliver and Celery that they're feeling the same thing; there's not an ounce of jealousy or bitterness between them, only the most sincere and genuine shared happiness for their friends and a renewed appreciation for their own relationships.

She's never really been a big believer in fate or destiny before but as she lets her gaze drift back over to Holly to find beautiful dark eyes already softly observing her, tracing over every inch of her face with such awe and overwhelming tenderness, Gail can't help but think that it feels a lot like they've all somehow ended up exactly where they were always meant to be.

Gail lulls herself by focusing on the basics.

Inhales deeply, exhales slowly; repeats again and again until the steady sound of her heart beating noisily in her ears gradually settles and fades away. It's replaced with the low murmuring of the television playing in background, the bustling movements of Holly in their bedroom as she changes out of her dress, takes out her contacts and gets ready for bed, and the distant echo of rain pitter-pattering against the window.

She finds herself thinking back to the infamous first kiss she and Holly had shared in the interrogation-room. It had been impulsive and daring, and Gail remembers not knowing that she was going to do it until her hands were reaching out and pulling Holly in towards her. By the time her lips were pressing against Holly's it was a little too late for her to really analyse her actions; she was entirely drawn in and lost in the soft suppleness of Holly's lips and the sweet eagerness that Holly kissed her back with.

If she's truly honest, that first kiss is a little bit of a haze, it had been over and done with before Gail had really processed that it was even happening. It's the second kiss though, that she remembers every little detail of.

During those first few weeks of their budding friendship, Gail had been aware that she was drawn to Holly, pulled in by her easy, warm presence, and her witty banter. Holly had intrigued her in ways Gail hadn't completely understood, and yet she knew that whatever it was about Holly that she couldn't quite put her finger on was the thing that mesmerised Gail about her the most. There was an ease that came from spending time with Holly that left Gail feeling happy and relaxed, and desperately eager to seek her out whenever she could.

Initially she thought her unusually strong fondness for Holly was a repercussion of Andy and Nick's betrayal and her amplified loneliness. It wasn't until that day of the shooting though, when Holly was there at the station, flustered and worried, and slipping from talking about Gail's safety to desperately needing to explain her date, that Gail finally started to really piece her feelings together.

Realising what the pinching in her heart might have meant the previous evening when she saw Holly at The Penny with her date had rolled over her like a wave then, rushing at her without warning and knocking her completely off her feet until the only instinctive thing to do had been to reach out and cling to Holly as she pulled her into a crushing kiss.

It was the small moment after that first kiss, when she pulled back stunned and gasping for breath, her eyes flicking up to meet Holly's, that Gail felt it all fall into place clearly in her mind. She remembers how beautiful Holly's brown eyes were in that moment; the way they darted between her own looking for an explanation, and the way they couldn't stop falling subconsciously back down to her lips as Holly promised not to say another word. But mostly Gail remembers how striking they were as they glimmered so many different shades all at once; wanting and yet hesitant, questioning and yet sure.

There had been no doubt in Gail's mind then that whatever she was feeling, whatever was sparking to life between them, Holly felt it too. It was the unwavering calmness etched across Holly's face as she waited patiently for Gail to make the next move that gave Gail the burst of courage she needed to slowly lean in again.

She was acutely aware of what she was doing that second time, and as her lips brushed gently against Holly's, kissing her soft and delicate and endlessly slow, Gail remembers the steadying pressure of Holly's hands grasping at her waist and drawing her impossibly close as Gail swayed into her, letting herself briefly get lost in the solidness of Holly's arms.

What she remembers the most though is the quiet, tender moments that followed that second kiss, when they broke apart as little as possible, their foreheads resting together as they both struggled to calm their ragged breathing and remained holding each other tightly even as their eyes fluttered open and tentatively met. It was the way Holly's skin felt so smooth and warm beneath her hands, and the way she bit coyly at her bottom lip before smiling at Gail so softly, and so reassuringly, that left Gail feeling like her world had somehow shifted.

Sometimes it feels like Holly has dismantled her so completely; easily tearing down all of her defences until she'd been left stripped bare and utterly exposed. And at first it had felt terrifying to have somebody look past all of her snark and bite and see the real her, but at the same time it had also felt entirely freeing to not always have to keep up the act of being who everybody always perceived her as.

Gail feels her heart swell uncontrollably in her chest, thinking about all of the ways Holly has helped her reclaim the person she always truly was, but had kept hidden away from everybody because she was too scared and too insecure to let them really see her. She knows without a doubt, that being with Holly is what has given her the confidence and the courage, to embrace life again and allowed her to see the world anew; suddenly beautifully bright and infinite with possibilities that she'd never dared to let herself dream of grasping before.

She smiles to herself then as she watches Holly emerge from their bedroom. She's swapped her blue dress for a pair of grey sweatpants and one of Gail's old Toronto police-academy t-shirts, and as Gail lets her eyes drift up to meet Holly's, she feels a rush of warmth flood through her body and settle pleasantly in her chest.

Holly is always beautiful but never is she more effortlessly stunning to Gail than when she's like this; the day's makeup long gone, leaving her fresh-faced and naturally glowing; her luxurious dark hair clipped messily up in a bun with a few errant strands falling down around her face; and her gorgeous dark eyes peering at her affectionately from behind her glasses.

"You look miles away," Holly comments as she smiles over at Gail fondly. "What are you thinking about?"

Gail lets her eyes trace the soft lines of Holly's face, memorising the playful twitch of her mouth and the way the corners of her eyes crinkle affectionately as she cocks her head to the side questioningly.

"You," Gail murmurs in awe, her breath catching over the words as her heart swells with so much adoration that it suddenly feels far too big for her chest to contain.

Holly blushes at her confession, her cheeks colouring as she coyly draws her bottom lip between her teeth. Gail smiles softly in response and pushes herself up from the couch, making her way over to Holly while holding her gaze. Holly averts her eyes momentarily when Gail stops in front of her and reaches her hand out to cup her cheek, her thumb gently caressing along the smooth arch of her cheek.

She waits for Holly's eyes to flick back to hers before lightly tracing the pad of thumb down across Holly's bottom lip. "You're so beautiful," she breathes quietly, her eyes full of wonder. "So, so, beautiful."

Holly ghosts a gentle kiss to her thumb before nuzzling her face further into Gail's touch, twisting her head so that she can press a soft and lingering kiss to the palm of Gail's hand. It makes her eyes flutter closed as the warmth of Holly's lips whisper lovingly against her skin, and she can't stop an utterly content breath from escaping deep from within her chest.

"How many drinks did you have tonight exactly, Detective?" Holly teases, her breath tickling against the palm of Gail's hand and making her open her eyes again.

Gail shakes her head and presses her body into Holly's, smiling when Holly's arms instantly wrap around her waist and hold her close. "Only a couple," she replies, absently tracing her thumb across Holly's bottom lip again.

"Mmhmm," Holly hums disbelievingly, her mouth curling into an amused yet affectionate lopsided smile as Gail loops her arms around her neck and brushes their noses together, coaxing her into a deep and languid kiss. "Why don't you go and get changed for bed and I'll make us some tea," Holly murmurs when they finally break apart, moving to trail a row of kisses along Gail's jaw.

Gail sighs pleasantly as Holly presses a kiss to the sweet spot below her ear and darts her tongue out to moisten her lips as a familiar shiver ripples down her spine. "Yeah, okay..." Gail mumbles absently, her eyes falling closed again as Holly's mouth returns to hers.

She pouts petulantly when Holly pulls away again a second later, flashing her a flirtatious smile and pecking at Gail's lips one final time before extracting herself from Gail's arms and heading into the kitchen.

Gail wastes no time going to their bedroom and changing quickly then, pulling on a pair of old shorts and Holly's blue hoodie before making her way back to find Holly again. When she gets to the kitchen, she pauses, leaning against the doorway, utterly captivated in watching Holly hum quietly to herself as she moves around room getting their cups ready while she waits for the water to boil.

Holly catches her watching after a few moments and smiles beautifully over at her. "Did you see how cute Oliver and Celery were tonight?" she comments as she pours the water into the cups. "They both looked completely smitten, it was so adorable."

Gail idly runs her fingers along the edge of the doorway and nods in agreement as her eyes remained glued to watching Holly's every move. "They looked really happy."

"Yeah, they really did," Holly sighs dreamily in agreement as she flicks her eyes over to Gail's with a soft smile.

Gail feels her stomach fluttering crazily in response as their eyes meet, her heart completely overwhelmed with adoration for Holly as she thinks about just how much her own happiness has grown over the past year. It feels like she can barely contain it any longer then, the words that have lingered on the tip of her tongue for months now aching desperately to be set free.

People all the time claim that it's not a big deal to voice how they're feeling, and even though Gail knows that she's got better at sharing hers, she still doesn't understand how three little words could possibly ever be enough to convey all of the emotions that she feels for Holly. It feels impossible that they'll ever truly do justice to just how intense the longing in her heart gets whenever Holly so much as even looks at her, and yet as she watches Holly bustle contentedly around their kitchen, happy and peaceful, Gail can't ignore how overcome she feels with the need to just say it.

"Baby, do you want milk or cream in this?" Holly asks, cutting through her thoughts and drawing her back to the present.

The second their eyes meet she can't stop herself from smiling brightly, her heart swelling immeasurably in her chest until it bursts and shatters. "God, I love you..." Gail confesses in a happy breath; her body suddenly feeling utterly weightless and free. "I mean, I'm like, completely head over heels, insanely, in love with you... you know that right?"

Holly startles a little at the unexpected intensity of her admission, her eyes widening momentarily even as the corners of her mouth twitch up into a big, beautiful smile that reaches her eyes and lights up her whole face in a way that makes Gail's heart absolutely melt.

"I do," Holly murmurs softly, nodding her head to emphasise her words as she gazes at Gail with unbridled affection. "And I am hopelessly in love with you too, Gail Peck... I hope you know that."

And she does.

She sees it in the way Holly looks at her, so open and trusting and deep, like without even trying she looks past all of her rough edges and barbed defences and sees straight to Gail's core. She feels it the way Holly touches her, so soft and consuming, as if she desires nothing more than to discover and absorb as much of her as Gail will allow her to have. She tastes it in the way Holly kisses her, so tender and gentle and achingly slow that Gail can sometimes feel Holly stealing away the breath from her lungs. She hears it in the way Holly says her name, so loving and delicate, like it's something she treasures above all else and doesn't dare risk breaking.

"I do," Gail echoes back in awe, her heart racing uncontrollably in her chest and her eyes prickling overwhelmingly with happiness as she lets out a relieved chuckle.

Understanding passes between them then as Holly laughs with her for a second before she strides purposefully towards her and takes Gail's face in her hands, completely and utterly content to let Gail melt into her as she kisses her long and slow.

"I really am so unbelievably in love with you," Holly pants against her mouth when their burning lungs force them to break apart, their foreheads remaining pressed together as they let themselves indulge in the intimacy of their embrace.

Gail feels a shiver run down her spine in response, her body trembling with undeniable happiness at hearing those words fall so earnestly from Holly's mouth. She clutches tighter at Holly's back then as she forces her eyes open to seek out Holly's own.

"Me too," Gail whimpers desperately, pressing upwards to kiss Holly deeply again. "I love you so damn much, Hol."

"You better," Holly gasps teasingly; her eyes glimmering contentedly with such unrestrained love that Gail can't help but laugh happily again in response.

She knows they still have a lot to learn about each other, and that they'll probably have to face their fair share of challenges and ups and downs in life, but Gail knows, with more certainty than she's ever known anything before, that as long as they're together they can deal with anything that comes their way.

And when Holly smiles into their next kiss and presses into her, urging her through the apartment and towards their bedroom, Gail can't help but think that the best thing of all is that really this is only just the beginning of their life together.