“I do not want to love you in fair weather. It is easy to love a sunny day where the breeze is cool on you back as the sun beats down hard on you. No. I want you to give me your storm, tornados of emotions, the part of you that hide away because no one else can handle them. Storms apologize to no one, my darling and neither should you.” - Nikita Gill
There was tension in the air. Abby could practically taste it as it consumed her senses, making work very difficult to accomplish. Erin and Holtz were cordial with one another that morning, but certainly not their usual nauseatingly-corporeal selves. It didn’t seem like an all-out drag-your-soul-into-the-ground fight, so much as an argument. Yet it was enough to still the progress of the ever-grinding paranormal world they had contented the scientific community for.
Holtzmann had been sitting, willingly, at a desk, on the first floor the entire length of the morning. If that wasn’t the most surefire way to know something was up…
She and Erin had come in separately — in fact, now that Abby considered it, Holtz had already been at work when she arrived second, and the engineer did legally live in the Firehouse third floor suite according to her New York state ID. If she had actually not spent the night with Erin, there was a good chance it was more serious than she originally thought.
Staring with a furrowed brow at the blonde, she observed as Holtz read and took notes on an article.
Some goddamn voodoo magic was at work for such forces to line up in order to make such an event occur. Abby’s research had yet to delve into voodoo as a topic of study, but after the day she was witnessing, there was a likely case of scholarship in the field.
“If you want me to do some fun poses for your picture that’ll last longer than your stare, just let me know,” Holtz said dryly without looking up, having felt Abby’s burning gaze for long enough. It was after lunch, and though they’d been tense all morning, the comment from the engineer was just enough to indicate she was ready to talk about what had happened.
With as much discretion as could be purchased in such an environment, Abby pulled up a stool to talk lowly with her partner of half a decade. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Holtzmann answered quickly. “I’m fine. We’re fine. Seriously — it’s nothing.” Abby gave her a pointed look. With broken words and antsy fingers, Holtz attempted to elaborate, “She’s right — our argument, I don’t want to talk about it, but she was right.”
Propping her arms up on the desk, Abby stroked her cheeks and waited for more information. Receiving none, she popped a brow, wondering, “Was it just an argument or did you say something hurtful?”
The color draining from Holtz’s face answered for her, and she admitted with a sigh, “I was an asshole.” She brought a finger up to rub the bridge of her nose under her silver-rimmed glasses.
Abby leaned forward on her elbows. “If you’re willing to admit that you were in the wrong, took it too far and that she was right, do you think you could apologize?”
“I need to,” Holtz winced, finally reaching her hand up and taking her yellow-tinted glasses off completely, folding them and lining them neatly against a similar-hued highlighter she’d borrowed from Erin’s supply.
The shorter one questioned, “This isn’t about that teacup of her grandmother’s you broke is it?” Holtzmann shook her head. Again, patiently waiting for the blonde to speak, Abby prompted her to do so. “Do you have plans for your absolution some time today?”
Holtz sighed, swallowing thickly and tapping a pen on the side of the desk that was officially hers, though this particular instance may have been the first time she’d ever put it to use (aside from backing her girlfriend up into the wood to make out with her). “Yeah. Thanks for lookin’ out, Abs.”
Shifting the subject as not to cause a meltdown, Abby peered over her own glasses. “What’re you reading about?”
Eyes lighting up, Holtz started summarizing the details on an article on clean energy from MIT. “Alcator C-Mod tokamak nuclear fusion reactor - it’s insane but I think I’ve got an idea to turn it into a miniaturized version for increased efficiency in the packs, not to mention the gear on top of the car…”
“Oh, have mercy on us all,” Patty murmured as she caught the tail end of the conversation, sliding a stool up to the blonde’s desk. “Baby girl, what is wrong with the way they’re working now? You just added the liquid cooling mechanisms and they’ve been firing like a dream.”
“Nothing’s wrong. They could always use improvements, though.” Holtz’s grin was reminiscent of a cat with cream, “And I put the f-u-n in fusion. Anything for another pretty patent for my collection.”
“You’re like a freakin’ Eagle Scout with those things,” Abby tapped the surface of the desk with the tips of her fingers. “You’re running outta available wall space up there.”
Holtz shot her a look. “I’ll build another damn wall if I need to, just call me DJT.” She stuck out her tongue. “You know how much extra dough I’m raking in on the new synchrotron alone? Holtzy’s ‘bout to get her new bike.”
“I repeat, have mercy on us all,” Patty rolled her eyes. “I’m proud’a you, girl. No one else can do what you do. You terrify me, but I’m proud of you.”
Holtz blew her a kiss. “My mom used to say the same thing.”
Just as Patty was about to take a turn to encourage the engineer to go have a chat with her sulking girlfriend, the firehouse alarm sounded and Holtz was the first one showing enthusiasm for an afternoon of busting.
Kevin appeared from the other side of the first floor, explaining they were needed in a tunnel for freedom. Thankfully, Abby had installed a recording device onto the phone system. Pulling up the app she and Holtz had developed on her smart watch, she explained, “Ghostly sightings underground, Freedom Tunnel, Riverside Park. Gear up, girls.”
Pumping a fist in excitement she rolled her chair backwards and spun it around with a loud whoop, Holtzmann was dressed in an instant, bouncing on her toes as she waited for her coworkers to get ready.
Erin appeared at the bottom of the stairs within the minute of the alarm sounding, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and sporting one of Holtz’s many unique ‘old man’ sweaters as they officially were. She looked put-out and her expression was bordering on miserable, making Holtz feel an invisible punch to the gut as she watched her pace to the changing station.
With a little guilty grin in her girlfriend’s direction, Holtz shuffled across the floor while the taller woman peeled her sweater off. “I’m going to formally apologize and ask to talk to you after the bust,” She said in one hurried breath, “But I am sorry and I love you. Bunches.”
Erin’s expression went somewhere near soft as she gave a shrug. “I’ll be ready to listen. Can you grab that knew ninja-ghost-knife thing you made? I wanna try something with it.”
“Sure babe,” Holtz jittered on the tips of her toes; Erin was always ready to try a prototype. “If this doesn’t take too long, how about dinner as part of my condolences?”
Erin bit her bottom lip, squeezing her girlfriend’s arm. “Dinner would be nice.”
Nodding, Holtz let her wander off to the ‘locker room’ to get ready. Letting out a loud, long breath in some sort of relief that at least there was a plan to get a resolution to the pretty painful conflict she’d endorsed the night before, Holtz shook her arms and started to get the gear together. She moved through a series of back doors to the car, loading the packs and double-checking the latest side arms she’d stowed inside them.
The rest of her team followed shortly, Patty claiming the coveted shotgun seat and Abby stealing the keys with a wicked laugh while Holtz was reminding Erin about using her proton-based shuriken, telling her it would be safe in her pocket, but to remember that aim was essential, as it might not have a return. Trying not to give Abby the stink eye for forcing her and Erin to share the back seat, she slid in, making sure to leave a few inches of space between them, unsure of how intimate her girlfriend was feeling at the present.
Patty perused her phone for information on the location they were headed to. “Hey Siri, take us to Freedom Tunnel,” She said loudly into her phone, which pulled up directions.
“This would be way more spooky in the dark,” Holtz commented off-handedly as the mid-afternoon sun bared down on the hearse through the windows on the way to the place of the latest haunting.
“Well it’s December, so if we don’t work quick the sun will be down in less than two hours,” Abby reminded them. “I don't know about you, but as nice as Riverside is during the day, I’ve seen some scary living things there at night.”
“Cool, it’ll give me a chance to test out my new miner’s light slash cyclops proton gun.”
Erin nudged her. “I thought we decided shooting nuclear lasers off your forehead was a bad idea?”
“You did, I said no such thing.” She cheekily, then found a frown when she remembered the heated conversation the night before. “But I didn’t make it anyway. Probably a poor choice.”
Patty shot her a look through the rear-view mirror. “Holtzy, you already got enough screws loose, you don’t need to add a hole in the head, too.”
Erin’s hand rested between their legs, tapping absently on the leather surface of the seats. There were a thousand thoughts rolling off her, none of which Holtzmann could read. Letting a puff of air between her lips, the engineer decided, given they were in the presence of their teammates and headed to work in an extremely dangerous environment, humor would probably be her best bet at engaging her girlfriend.
In a surprising move, Erin tilted her head down to rest against her girlfriend’s. She found a small smile when Holtz drew her fingers forward and rolled up her sleeve a little, revealing the tattoo that she’d designed for her several months prior. The complexly gorgeous mark had finally completely healed up after the second edition of color just a week previous. “I know that I’m the one in the dog house, so you should chose, but if you picked a place with pancakes my heart would be really happy tonight.”
“I don’t know, Holtz, do orangutans like breakfast foods?” Erin questioned in jest, staring down at her tattoo.
Holtz’s face went the color purple and she felt the terrible argument from the night before playing on a loop in her mind as Erin teased about it.
Abby opened her mouth to question the remark, then quietly mumbled, “I don’t wanna know. What’cha got, Pats?”
Casually leaned back in her seat, the resident historian summarized the little information she had on their destination. “The tracks weren’t open for too long before shutting down. It was considered a Mole city for a few years, with over a hundred people livin’ down there, a whole damn community from the looks of it. In ’94, Amtrak opened it back up and kicked out the homeless population. Could be lookin’ at the ghost of someone displaced in life and death, though I ain’t so sure it’s gonna be super malicious. The place is already a graffiti dump and an urban explorer outlet, could be a whole lotta nothing. From these arrest records I’m looking at, it seems to be more of a hotbed of low-level criminal activity and drug dealing than anything else.”
Erin observed as Holtz still looked particularly rosy after her comment. Pushing relationship drama aside, she focused on the work. “No splitting into singles, then. I don’t want one of us getting accused of criminal activity with no witness.”
“I gotta stay with Patty,” Holtz added quickly, trying to explain it wasn’t because of any turmoil between them. She watched Erin’s fingers flit against one another at the comment. “New mini-guns are fully operational but I need to see the speed and kickback on the field for any additional adjustments.”
As they arrived, Holtz hastily slid away from Erin and out of the car, both their body postures falling into bust mode; military-like in movement and precision. Popping the back of the hearse open, Holtz outfitted everyone in their gear, making sure everything was functioning before sending them into battle. As she strapped on her own pack, Holtz felt her breath catch when Erin’s fingers came to buckle the middle piece. “We really need to sort this out as soon as this bust is over,” She stated quietly as Patty and Abby spoke with the officer who’d called them in. “I hate this feeling.”
The blonde whispered, unable to make eye contact, knowing her words and stubbornness had been the cause of Erin’s detested emotions. “I said some really rude, awful shit. And I regret every word.” She bit her lip before pressing them together.
“I know your filter isn’t always great, but, that stuff you said came from a place of frustration,” Erin explained, sounding a little too textbook. “So, we really do have some things to talk about. But I don’t want you to go in there and think I love you any less because of it.”
Her breath hitched again and Erin drew her fingers back from her waist, giving her left hand a little squeeze. Finally able to glance up, Holtz found genuine devotion evident on her girlfriend’s face, which somehow made her feel even guiltier.
Abby waved them over to the officer, who was giving a brief rundown of the situation. Forcing with their argument on the back burner once more, Holtz shook her head and tuned, attending to the situation at hand.
“…Usually we don’t take much of what the moles say too seriously,” The officer started, his dark eyes accentuated with a sense of belief in their work that many in the NYPD still doubted. “They been asked to leave time and again, we got a shelter right up down the road, it’s almost never full. They don’t wanna leave the city, so we usually just ignore ‘em, figure someday they’ll figure out if they don’t like the crime down here, they can stop breaking the law too…but Jenkins, this old ‘Nam vet in the city, he ain’t much of a complainer. When he started talking about seeing excessive movement down here at night, we started to get a little suspicious. All the NYPD read up on your first case, we know that the dude stickin’ those ghost gear in the subway started all this. Didn’t wanna take a chance that it could be happenin’ here, too.”
“We’ll take a look… you haven’t seen any apparitions personally?”
“Not me, the moles been describin’ just the one, say it looks like an old dude with a pipe in his hand. That’s all I got. Ya’ll are the experts though, so I’m leavin’ it to you.”
Abby nodded and they each flicked on the (non-nuclear) miner lights that Holtz had fit over their heads. As they entered the tunnel, there was an immediate decision to be made. “Erin, you and me, to the left, Patty, Holtz, to the right. Walkie’s on?”
Patty pushed the button on hers, revealing static. “Ready. Let’s do this!”
After walking in quiet for a full minute, keeping sure to speak lowly in case sound traveled easily off the tunnel walls, Abby questioned her best friend, “So what’s going on? All Holtz said was that it was her fault, she needed to apologize and it wasn’t about the teacup.”
Erin sighed, fingering the four-inch metal circle in her pocket which had a proton-enhanced blade hidden in the middle, one of Holtz’s weirdest weapons based on a cosplay Vine she’d seen online. “Last month’s teacup incident is long forgotten. Last night was really just shocking because it’s the first time she’s ever…called me a name, I guess? Like, not endearingly. I really frustrated her and didn’t realize it until too late. I’m pretty sure she feels too guilty to talk about it. I’m not really that mad? I guess I’m more shocked that it happened.”
“What did she say to you?”
Gnawing at the inside of her cheek, Erin considered what had transpired the evening before.
Tuesday night had drawn to a close three hours previous. When five o’clock rolled around and there was no ghostly activity reported, Patty had headed out of the firehouse, followed by Abby less than a half hour after. Yet, the couple of the group was still at headquarters. Erin had finished her work before six and was about done with waiting for her girlfriend to finish.
“It’ll still be here in twelve hours, Holtz,” She’d said quietly, ready for a quiet night of snuggling on the sofa, hopefully sneaking in the new episode of the Bachelorette if she could keep Holtz physically satisfied to distract her from realizing it was on the tv.
“Got ideas now, babe, I’ve been stuck on this for too long to not work. I’ll meet you at home — or not, I might just crash here if it’s past midnight.”
Erin felt her heart skip a beat. Months prior, she’d have left the woman alone to work, but their ever-evolving intimacy didn’t have a separate box for such nights anymore. She couldn’t remember the last time Holtz had crashed at the firehouse in her bedroom upstairs.
Dropping her shoulders, the physicist straddled a stool next to her girlfriend, who seemed to stiffen at the action. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Um,” Holtz blinked, pulling the pair of tick, black yellow-tinted goggles over her eyes and to the top of her forehead. “No, nope. I’m good.”
“What are you making?”
There was a shrug and a smirk. “Don’t know yet, but it’s coming along quite nicely.”
Erin drummed her fingers against the table. “Okay, well…I’ll…”
There was an odd passing of an emotion that the older woman didn’t recognize on Holtz’s face before she suggested, “Go home, sweetheart. I’m probably going to stay the night, there’s no way I’ll have this done in any sort of reasonable time.”
With a sinking feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach, Erin shook her head. “It’s alright, I’ll just stay in case you need me.”
“But I won’t,” Holtz responded in a tone that was almost stern. “I’m fine. I just want to work. You don’t need to wait for me.”
Erin’s blue stare was filled with confusion. “Did I…did I say something to upset you?”
Holtz’s fingertips curled in agitation. “You didn’t say anything.”
Pushing, as she tended to, Erin frowned and asked, “Did I do something? Or not do something? I know sometimes —“
“Erin,” Holtz snapped, dropping the screwdriver onto the surface of her lab table with a metal-on-metal clink. “You didn’t say anything. You didn’t do anything. Please, I just want to work.”
“Okay,” The older of them huffed, standing, her hip popped a little. “Why are you getting so short?”
The blonde was tense, her entire body rigid She bravely brought her eyes up, but kept them looking past Erin’s face and kept the gaze locked on a wall as she tried to honestly catalogue her feelings. “I’m feeling frustrated with this conversation.”
“Holtzmann,” The physicist was still fairly neutral with her tone, which was an honest development for her, “I just want to go home.”
“So go!” The curly haired one raised a hand, wincing internally as she knew what it sounded like. “Erin, I know this might be a surprise to you, but I did, in fact, live by myself for about ten years. I worked in a lab, this lab included, very late into the night before I met you, and even after we started dating before I moved in. This isn’t new.”
“Okay, but…I just sort of thought we changed all that.”
“And for the last few months, I’ve gone home with you at night, but I do technically live here, and maybe tonight I want to be here.”
Knowing she was stuffing her foot in her mouth but unable to stop it, Erin commented, “Alone.”
Finally, Holtz stood, her fingers curling into fists in anger. “I don’t need a babysitter; I used to stay here or…wherever I was working at the time by myself. I know how to put out fires and treat minor injuries. I’m fine.”
“I didn’t mean to babysit,” Erin felt her own fury starting to build up. “Holtz, I love you. I just don’t want you to be alone.”
“But I want to be alone,” She said with an exasperated sigh, bouncing twice on her toes to try and let out some energy before it all came out of her mouth. “It’s fine. It’s not like this is a regular thing. I’m not building a bomb or even a laser, I’m just crafting some sort of shell…containment — I don’t know! I just need to be alone with it. Can I just get one freakin’ night?”
Erin watched the blonde cringe, knowing it wasn’t what she meant to come out of her mouth, but it slipped anyway. Knowing her words were about to be much the same if she didn’t reel herself back, the taller of them stepped forward so she hovered the mere two inches that she was higher off the ground to her advantage. “I don’t mean to pacify you,” She cupped Holtz’s right cheek with her left hand, stroking a little line of grease off. “I love you and I just want to know you’re safe is all. I know you don’t set out to build bombs, but sometimes things just go poof anyway, and I want to be here to help if you need it.”
“Erin,” Holtz said with a cool breath. “When you say that, it feels like you don’t trust me. Like you need to watch me and when you can’t even leave me for a few hours, it’s like you’re trying to win the coveted title of most protective mother in the kingdom —“
The older scientist rolled her eyes, starting to feel the fuel nipping at her fire to cause it to ignite. “Okay, Holtz—“
“—and you’re way prettier than an uptight orangutan, so please, don’t baby me.”
Holtz blinked. Erin blinked.
But Holtz didn’t stop. “I should be able to be trusted. I should be allowed to work alone. I’m not some mad scientist that people want to paint me as. Yeah, I’ve had accidents and I’ve caused accidents, but I’m not a lose canon!”
Before she could prevent herself from the words coming out, Erin foolishly added, “You put someone in a coma, Holtz.”
Anger flashed through her eyes and though she didn’t want to disprove what she’d said about herself, Holtz closed her eyes and yelled incoherently for a moment to keep from breaking something and causing yet another explosion. “You don’t get to talk about that!”
“Why not?” Erin wondered, “It’s something that happened when you weren’t acting safely.”
“Oh, that’s what this is all about?” She leered, goading her. “Tell me more about my lack of safety. Like I’m not aware. I’m not a fucking idiot!”
At the drop of the f-bomb, Erin took a physical step backwards. “You are not an idiot, and I didn’t say you were. I’m saying you sometimes don’t consider the consequences of your actions.”
“Sorry for not living in a perpetual state of anxiety like…” you . The word spoke itself and Erin drew her bottom lip in between her teeth in the very behavior Holtz mentioned. Unable to look at her still, the engineer kept going. She had opened a can and the worms kept crawling out, word vomit of the worst kind. “I’m not a worrier. Never have been. I go with the flow - and, sometimes - that flow, involves fires and explosions! But I deal with them as they happen, I don’t stress over what could happen. Do you think I could have made all this,” She gestured wildly, her breathing erratic and words stuttered, “If I was - anxious all the time? I couldn’t. I’m sorry that you’re anxious, but I can’t let that stop my productivity.”
When Holtz finally stopped her rant to glance at her girlfriend instead of some far away space in the expanse of the room, she found nothing but pain.
“Fuck, that’s…jesus, I — ah!” Holtz turned around and pulled her goggles back over her eyes, flopping her bottom on the stool and lifting a screw driver, indicating she was finished with the conversation.
There were so many various emotions rolling off her shoulders in waves that Erin felt herself being pulled under by them. Quietly, she left the second floor lab and made her way home without her girlfriend for the first time in months.
“She called you an uptight orangutan?” Abby snorted, “Wow, that’s…you know, don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s not completely inaccurate, nor is it really an insult. Orangutans are the most territorial and protective out of any species when it comes to protecting what they love.”
“Oh, hush,” Erin slugged her with an elbow. “That wasn’t the hurtful part.”
“I know,” Abby sucked in a breath. “She called you out on your anxiety, and that’s not cool, at all. No matter who it comes from. She knows that’s your deepest place, and she took you there anyway. That hurts. I’m sorry, Erin.”
“Don’t apologize,” She shook her head, sighing deeply. “I did push her. I did, as I almost always do. But I didn’t expect her to push back like that. And then, just…keep working.”
“Ultimately, this was all over your concern for her safety, though.”
Erin nodded. “I just…especially now that we’re dating, and, very seriously, it’s different thinking about the Holtzmann I love getting hurt. I know my being there wouldn’t necessarily stop her from getting hurt, either but…I love her and I want to support her however I can.”
“We had our fair share of those types of arguments back in the day, too. Ultimately, she and I came to the conclusion that if Holtz ever got blown up, it probably wouldn’t be her fault because her science is too damn good. Still, it doesn’t make it easier to leave her in a room full of nuclear lasers and particle accelerators knowing she’s making shit up as she goes along. Maybe when you guys talk about it tonight, you should tell her what you just told me. I think it’ll help her understand.”
Erin felt a little woozy as she processed it all via the conversation with her best friend. “You know, though? I was so not Ghost Girl about it? I just walked away. My parents would be thrilled to know their forty-three year old daughter has finally learned to back away from a fight.”
Chuckling, Abby was about to respond when the static from the radio got both their attentions.
“Yo, we got a reading on the meter, there’s definitely some activity — shit, Holtz!”
The walkie went dead and Erin and Abby both took off running to the other end of the tunnel, conversation forgotten. They stepped onto the train tracks a half mile and four minutes later, just in time to see Patty holding off a class four vapor. Holtz was shaking out her left wrist as she pulled her wand off the back of her pack, hissing in pain.
Erin jumped in to help Patty hold back the bald-headed, army jacket-wearing ghost while Abby tried to triage Holtz’s hand, which was oozing blood just below her wrist bone. “‘M fine,” She said stubbornly, elbowing her shorter friend away and firing a beam at the ghost, shouting as Patty’s stream almost crossed hers, ignoring that was all her fault.
Abby tossed up a grenade, effectively stunning the ghost, for what would usually have been long enough for Holtz to capture it. However, trying to use one hand, she lost the momentum she needed to secure her gun and activate the trap.
“Holtz!” Patty called, blasting the ghost back again with her mini-gun as it came forward. Erin wanted to use her shotgun, but knew that the enclosed space of the tunnel did not make it a safe choice. Abby hastily drew on her glove, giving the ghost a firm punch to the gut as it tried to descend on her, while Holtz finally managed to open the trap.
Erin had her wand out as she watched the phantom fly back from the effect of Abby’s punch, then suddenly disappear all together, though it definitely wasn’t obliterated.
“Shit,” Patty cursed. “Holtz, baby, let’s get you wrapped up, man, come on, when you’re down, you’re down, it’s okay to need help.”
The adamant blonde turned away, mumbling about being fine before putting her trap away, feeling like every problem in the world was her fault.
“You two go after it?” Erin suggested to the women she wasn’t dating. “I’ll get her patched up.”
Abby, knowing that Holtz’s new rigid streak was ultimately coming from the event of the night previous, nodded, making a gesture to Patty, who she’d catch up on the way to find the ghost once more.
As Holtz struggled to get the thermos on her back again, she grunted when Erin attempted to take her hand.
“Enough,” She said sharply, like talking to a child, bringing back the argument all over gain for Holtzmann. The blonde pulled away, looking at the wound herself with a hiss. It was almost bone-deep and with the pain shooting up her tendons, she was fairly sure the whole arm was sprained.
When her lower lip quivered in pain that she refused to let out, Erin’s face took on a new wash of empathy. She carefully guided Holtz down by the shoulders, getting her to sit down off the tracks. With a loving expression instead of a judging one, she bit the inside of her cheek and examined the injury once more. “Damn, honey, this is deep. What did you get hit with?”
“His fucking pipe,” Holtz responded in a near spit, staring at the dirty ground as Erin knelt beside her, loaded the trap into her pack, then reached into her pocket for a little package of first aid supplies. The number of times her girlfriend had said the word ‘fuck’ in the last twenty-four hours was out of character. She tore open a sterilizing wipe with her teeth, making Holtz hiss as the alcohol came in contact with her broken skin and she tried to pull her wrist away.
“You’re going to need stitches,” Erin said with certainty, taking Holtz’s glove off her left hand to wipe the blood that had trickled up her fingertips. The older of them took a strip of cotton pads from the package of field treatment options, holding it in place, then wrapping it secure with gauze, which almost immediately soaked through with blood. “Damn. Take it easy, Jill, please?” She shimmied out of her proton pack, then worked Holtz out of hers, forcing them to switch so she could be in charge of the trap. Securing the opening around her upper arm, she took Holtz’s good hand, pulling her to her feet.
“Wait,” Holtz’s forehead crinkled and her eyes squinted beneath the thick yellow lenses. Bending down, she retrieved a long piece of metal from the floor. “His pipe..de-ionized.”
Erin leaned over and sniffed it. “It doesn’t even have a trace of decay…it just…turned into an ordinary pipe.”
Turning it over in her hands, Holtz raised a brow, skimming her fingers over a perfectly drilled hole in the pipe, tilting her head so her light shone inside, revealing a cacophony of wire.
“Holy shit,” She muttered, dropping the pipe, ignoring the sticky trail of blood that oozed from under her bandage. “Erin, that’s an old, old, old pipe bomb. There’s no switch to activate, but…fuck, that could mean…”
Getting on the walkie talkie faster than she’d ever used it in her career, Erin called for the other two Ghostbusters to use extreme caution.
“We’ve gotta find him,” Holtz mumbled to herself. “If there’s more bombs, and he knows we’re here…he’s going to try to activate them. C’mon!” She ran forward while Erin fumbled in her suit for her cell phone, the reception making completing a call difficult as she got in touch with their Homeland Security agents, knowing that they would tell the women to get out and wait.
Breathlessly, she explained the situation as best she could given they were underground, pretending not to hear when she was told to stay above ground until the bomb squad arrived.
“If there’s one, there’s more than one. If he activates it, all of Riverside is going down,” Holtz said with panicked breath. They caught up to Abby and Patty within a minute, everyone holding their side arms and ready to capture the spirit of the apparently, very bitter old man.
The PKE meter in Abby’s hand swirled violently and she tucked it back in her pocket, giving a yelp when the pipe bomber came lunging at her again. Erin tossed her ninja-star-like proton knife at it, securing a hit to his head which knocked him back. Patty blasted him up with her mini rifles and as Holtz as about to fire her proton gun, she shouted something incredulous and terrible.
“Don’t shot him!” She screeched, stepping forward in front of the three women, both arms extended, blood still dripping from her left side. “He’s got his finger on a trigger!”
There was panting and panic behind her as she swore, trying to think of any possible way to get the trigger out of his grasp without setting it off.
The ghost made a roar and lunged at the group, Patty disregarding Holtz’s direction and firing at his hand, making him laugh at first, before his expression grew ghastly.
There was a scream, then Erin slid around Holtz, blasting under her arm at his chest, Abby stepping forward and securing a ring around his middle. Erin activated the trap, the three streams drawing the struggling phantom into the light, then sealing it with a hiss.
“It’s not over,” Holtz whispered, her sensitive cochlea picking up the sound of a tick in the distance. Moving with haste to the source, she followed her ears, where it picked up intensity right below the next fork in the tracks. Holding her breath, Holtz approached a rusty support beam, spotting the pipe bomb immediately.
Sliding a switch knife out of her side pocket, the engineer took it with delicate hands, clipping the wire to the timer, letting out a breath when it didn't blow up in her face.
Erin was at her side a second later, proton pack abandoned by the trap, ripping Holtz’s arm away from the bomb. “What the hell are you doing? Jillian!”
“Don’t,” The blonde muttered, feeling light headed from blood loss, blinking tiredly.
“Holtz?” Her girlfriend changed her tone as she noticed Holtz’s stumble. “Honey —“
Suddenly, Holtz had another sixth sense of doom wash over her. “That…” She turned, staring at the support beam with the pipe bomb. “I…I don’t think that was the only bomb.”
Rushing forward, she ran down the tunnel, Erin screeching after her, Abby speeding fast on her heels, Patty back on the phone with Homeland Security.
Holtz had her hands tangled in the wires of a second bomb as Erin spotted her around the corner, yelling incoherently, though for the engineer, the only noise in the world was the raw static of nervous energy that surrounded her.
After disassembling another two, noting there had only been 31 seconds left on the countdown clock from the last one, the blonde stumbled down the tracks, her fingers jammed down a metal tube as she realized there had to be a way to stop the mainframe on the rest of the bombs if there was one. They were connected, and destroying one at a time would mean they were going to blow regardless.
“Jillian!” Erin screeched, trying to pull her off, but the youngest Ghostbuster elbowed her back and used the tip of her knife to press a few keys on the electronic circuit inside the bomb. She let out a little shout of joy as she realized she’d turned off the ignition for any remaining bombs on the tracks.
Eyes wide in panic, Holtz suddenly recognized that stopping any future explosions hadn’t taken the live trap off the bomb before her, and in turning off the circuit board, she’d just killed the only way to stop it.
With a violent whip, Holtz shoved Erin back with as much muster as she could. She threw her body back on top of her girlfriend —and in an instant, all that the universe held was a violent noise, quaking earth, a blinding flare, and then darkness.
The first of her five senses Erin regained was smell — burning, char, smoke…Touch being her next as she coughed violently in attempt to clear some of the explosive haze from her lungs and the burning sensation that washed over her was excruciating. Hearing herself cough was relieving, as it meant the sound of a bomb going off hadn’t immediately deafened her, though the taste of copper in her mouth made her wonder where she was bleeding from.
Finally opening her eyes a second and a half later, she gasped and sputtered another cough at the sight of her girlfriend’s body, laying crumpled on her side next to her.
Suddenly aware of another presence, this one trying to move her, Erin started screeching and flailing her limbs (some part of her consciousness was grateful that they all were in tact). “Jill! Jillian!”
“Nope! Nope!” She heard Abby’s struggling sounds over her head, “You are not going over there right now! Ow! Erin! Quit, fighting me, Jesus!” She was hysterical as she screamed in a way her vocal chords had never attempted to move before, about ready to bite at Abby’s hands to get her to let go.
Patty appeared a moment later at Holtzmann’s side, searching for a pulse. “She’s alive, Erin…holy shit, holy shit, holy shit…ambulance should be here any second…” She didn’t want to touch or disturb the fragile body of their friend in fear of making matters worse. Not knowing what else to do, she spoke softly, “Holtzy, hang in there sweetie, hang in there for Patty, come on baby doll.”
There was absolutely no movement from Holtz and Erin’s hysterical sounds were difficult to interpret but finally the tallest (and most technically trained for emergencies) of them said calmly, “I’m not starting CPR, if I do chest compressions, this is gonna get a hell of a lot worse. But she’s got a pulse, she’s…she’s got a definite pulse.”
Erin finally pushed out of Abby’s hold, stumbling five feet forward to her girlfriend’s side, screaming into Patty’s chest when she caught sight of her, bloodied face and chest, lacerated with shrapnel clearly sticking out in multiple places, tiny metal shards covering her exposed arm as well.
It wasn’t long before Erin was nearly unconscious again as she slipped into some sort of anxiety-induced stupor and Abby pulled her into her lap, while Patty kept a hand sturdy on Holtz’s neck, constantly feeling for her heartbeat, her face growing pale when a full minute passed.
Sounds of sirens in the distance thankfully eased her a bit as she shook her head when Abby mouthed a question to her. It was another full two minutes before a bomb squad showed up and Patty screamed that their services weren’t necessary and something about kicking their asses all the way to the ghost zone if they didn’t get a medic in the tunnel stat.
Everything was a blur for Erin, she recalled watching the EMTs cut open Holtz’s jump suit, trying to carefully place defibrillator pads on her chest while avoiding all the metal that was perturbing from her skin.
“I thought you said she had a pulse!” She shrieked, kicking at the ground when Abby held her down again.
In the middle of another panic attack while still in Abby’s secure hold, she looked down at her own bloodied arms (which were making a mess of her friend’s khaki), noting the blood working it’s way over the tattoo. The torrefaction symbol was soon drenched to the point of invisibility and as she considered the irony of the situation, she gasped out a sob. Holtz’s body jolted from the shock of the AED and she let out another cry. It happened three more times before the medic finally declared that she was back, and Erin’s rigidity disappeared as she fell limp in Abby’s arms .
Abby’s fingers were combing through her filthy hair and she hummed, trying to calm Erin down until another paramedic arrived with a second gurney. She tried to refuse, her heart beat practically falling out of her ears as she couldn’t process a word anyone tried to tell her. “No, no, no,” She sobbed, pushing at the EMT with her bloody arm, blubbering. “No, take…take care of her…”
“Ma’am, we will, we’ve got four units outside, we’re all here to help all of you. I’m pushing 10cc’s of diazepam.” After unzipping her jumpsuit, revealing just the tank top she had worn under Holtz’s grandpa sweater that day, he cleaned a spot on her elbow bend, finding her vein and sliding a needle in. She cringed and started to increase her breath again, Abby trying to hover her face over her friend’s in distraction as a cool rush of liquid met the inside of her arm, making her gasp. Being shifted and having her legs strapped down, the gurney was lifted and the two medics at her side started to carefully push her out of the tunnel.
Wooziness set in right away, and she started to grasp that she was pretty banged up, but at the sight of Holtzmann being transported into another ambulance, any thought of her own injuries disappeared.
“Jill,” She sobbed, staring at Abby, “I wanna go with her!”
“Patty’s going with her,” Her lifelong best friend assured her. “I’m going with you.”
Erin would have been flailing again if she had the ability to move. “I don’t need you! She needs me! Please, Abby, we have to help her! I love her!”
The shortest of them placed a gentle yet firm hand on Erin’s shoulder. “Erin, honey, listen to me. Holtz needs a lot more help than you do right now and will continue to after they get her treated. She is going to need you for that. But in order to help her, you have to be treated too. You aren’t even processing the extent of your own injuries right now. As soon as they get you cleaned up and cleared, you can be at her beck and call. She’ll probably really enjoy that when she comes to. For now, you need to let us take care of you, too.”
By the time she was closed into an emergency wing in the hospital with a curtain for privacy, Erin was in and out of consciousness from the trauma and medication.
A nurse picked loose shrapnel and other debris out of her wounds. She had a large gash on her forehead, one half it’s size on her cheek, and her left arm was riddled with little cuts. The precision tweezers were cold, but with the amount of narcotic in her veins, Erin felt no pain.
Abby stayed at her side; after having convinced the medics to wait long enough for her to gather all of their gear with help from homeland security and stick it in the Ecto, driving it behind Erin’s ambulance. She ran her thumb along Erin’s right hand, which was completely undisturbed by the injuries, and her other hand along the crunchy cotton of the hospital gown Erin didn’t remember being changed into.
The nurse seemed satisfied with her tweezing and began flushing the injuries before gently patting the surrounding areas dry and allowing the gashes to as well. She smiled after wiping a sterile cloth over Erin’s tattoo. “This is lovely, I recognize these as ancient alchemy symbols.”
Erin found a soft smile, drawing comfort from the permanent ink on her skin. “Thanks…my girlfriend designed it for me…” She looked up then, with wounded eyes. Abby shook her head. There had been no word in the last hour that passed as to Holtzmann’s status, and Erin was thankful for the diazepam, otherwise she’d surely have had a heart attack at that point.
“Tell me about it?” The nurse asked as she prepared a surgical needle. Erin winced, knowing it was a distraction technique but allowing it to work anyway, explaining each of the symbols, down to the significance of the triangle position and poem around it.
As the woman’s tan hands closed the skin on Erin’s head together, she applied liquid stitches to her cheek, which were less deep, tacking a few places on her arm before guiding her to a station to rinse the dust and pieces of metal from her hair, checking once more for any possible head injuries or cuts in her scalp that may have been originally missed.
“We’re going to have you slotted for a CT scan just to double check and make sure there’s no internal bleeding, though you have no signs of any, then after the doctor gives you the go ahead, you can be discharged to stay with Dr. Holtzmann.”
Thanking the woman, Erin accepted the offered sponge bath while waiting for the test, wanting all evidence of the attack off her body, despite the exposure it was leaving her usually timid person.
Once she was clean and being wheeled to the room for the scan, Erin was fairly lucid, and in a fair bit of pain, but willing to embrace it knowing how much worse Holtz’s was.
On the other side of the hospital, Patty waited outside of an operating room. Holtzmann was headed into hour two and a half of emergency surgery. She paced every so often, her eyes locked on the door that she knew a hospital attendant would walk out of sooner or later.
Another hour of sitting and stewing passed before Abby arrived, pushing a still-recovering Erin in a wheelchair. They were both dressed in clean, gift shop sweats, a bag on Erin’s lap for Patty to change into. After a brief, gentle hug, Patty graciously took the crinkly plastic sack and made haste to change, making an off-color comment about the jumpsuit being more flattering when she returned.
Erin’s hair dried naturally with a little wave to it, which Patty ran her fingers through as the physicist curled into her side when they settled into a sofa in the family room at the end of the hall that a nurse escorted them to when realizing how long they’d been sitting for. There was nothing to be said between the three of them as they waited, waited, waited.
Finally — almost six hours after the bomb had gone off, a middle-aged man in a sea foam green set of scrubs appeared, his hands having clearly just been dried as he called for, “Family for Jillian Holtzmann?”
Patty and Abby eased Erin up, supporting her as the man introduced himself as Dr. Wallus. “There was shrapnel that had pierced the wall of her esophagus, stomach, and large intestine, causing serious internal bleeding. Thankfully, one of you refused to start CPR?” Patty nodded and the doctor applauded her, “If you had, there’s no way she’d have made it. Your call of not touching her was the best choice. Because there hadn’t been any movement to exaggerate the pieces, we were able to remove and cauterize the bleeds.
“Her heart stopped twice during surgery, but once we were able to find a nicked vein and repair the damage, it held steady.
“She’s also got a sprained left wrist, broken ankle, and over two hundred lacerations, most of which were small and will heal with liquid stitches. We’re assuming there has been a concussion, though there were no bleeds in the brain that we have picked up on our quick pre-surgery scans, we will be doing an MRI in a few hours. We’re kind of going to be in a wait-and-see limbo for the next twenty-four hours or so to determine if any motor function or other physical damage such as hearing or vision was sustained. Our biggest concern at this time is risk of infection due to the amount of open wounds and risk of additional internal bleeding.”
Erin looked about ready to pass out again and she quietly choked out, “Can we see her?”
“Within the hour. We’re transferring her now. You’ll have to scrub into the room.”
“Absolutely,” Abby responded. “Thank you doctor.”
“I’ve already told the staff that I’m on-call for this case.” He offered them a polite smile. “My family has been on the receiving end of your work a few times and it’ll be the least I could do. Thank you ladies, for all you’ve done for the city. I promise, Jillian’s going to be in the best hands I can put her in.”
When he left, Erin felt tears of relief rushing down her cheeks, burning her gash, but she hardly cared. Holtz would be okay and that was all that mattered.
Erin pulled a yellow scrub top over her sweatshirt, feeling jittery as the nurse tied her hair under a cap and tucked her face into a mask when they’d been clear to enter Holtz’s recovery room. “God, if she wakes up she’s gonna think she was abducted by aliens.”
“Pft, Holtz would love that,” Patty commented. “Especially if the aliens looked like you.”
Finding a smile under her mask, Erin shuffled in the faux-fabric booties over her hospital-issue slippers, antsy in desire to see her girlfriend, though having been warned it was not an easy sight to see.
The nurse led them in through a sealed door, where Erin felt tears pricking her eyes once again at her first glance of Holtzmann.
The blonde’s face was covered in shiny cuts, at least two dozen when quickly subitized. Most were small, the size of a pencil eraser, but others were long, and one was especially deep on her left cheek, held together with stitches instead of glue. “The good news is that all of her shrapnel injuries apart from her trunk were superficial. They will heal. A few might scar, but they will heal if properly treated.”
“You mean if we can keep her from pickin’ at ‘em,” Patty said with an attempt at humor.
“We’re gonna have to get her those little baby mitts they put on their hands so they don’t scratch their face.”
A breathing tube was down her throat, though the doctor said it was just to keep the burden off for now. She looked so young laying against the white sheets, one arm wrapped completely and the other covered in IV lines and wires. Her hair was tucked under a cap, and the bandages on her torso were visible beneath her gown.
Erin bit back the sob she wanted to let out, and instead sat herself at the very edge of the bed, noting the cast on her foot. “Hey, Jill,” She said, “You’re so brave,” She whispered, rubbing gently at her unbound leg, which was just about the only part of her that had withheld injury. “You’re going to recover…I can’t imagine how much fun trying to feed you a clear, liquid diet is going to be for two weeks, though.”
Patty and Abby both hissed in a breath, making Erin chuckle. “Yeah, give me strength now. Don’t worry, as soon as your clear, I’m going to get you all the pancakes in the world that you wanted earlier.” There was another little laugh, and Erin knew that was the sound Holtz would want in the room.
They spent well over two hours talking among themselves and to Holtzmann’s unconscious body. A nurse came in to announce that a private room had been set up for them down the all, courtesy of the mayor, and that two officers from Homeland Security were there to speak to them. Erin refused to budge, saying that there was nothing possibly more important than staying with her girlfriend.
Patty and Abby let themselves be stripped of the scrubs before meeting Hawkins and Rorke in their new private abode.
“I know the circumstances are horrific, but,” Rorke started as they sat around a table and he slid over a manilla folder. “Dr. Holtzmann’s actions may have very well saved the entire Upper Westside. We’ve only canvased about six miles of tunnels so far, but that ghost had either been working for a very, very long time, or not alone. We’ve uncovered two hundred thirty-seven pipe bombs already in just eight hours. When she deactivated the motherboard of the one that ultimately exploded, she stopped the series from continuing and they are as dead as can be, at least, for now. Our bomb squad is going to be working around the clock for weeks — we’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve got the National Guard, CIA, FBI, and half of NYC’s finest in the tunnels right now. I’m waiting for Bane to roll his thumb over the trigger and turn out this whole thing was a hoax to get us unto an occupied state.”
“Aww, come on, as if our boys in blue could be that clueless. Plus the eyeliner on the extras in the Nolan-verse? Tragic! Call a drag queen next time, the makeup would be more subtle—“
Patty shrugged her, focused on the issue at hand. “You think there’re other ghosts involved?”
“We know there are,” Hawkins turned his iPad around, showing several grainy security videos of apparitions messing with support beams in the underground train system. “We don’t know the goal or motive, but I don’t think that ghost you captured was behind it all. Now there’s no proof we can find in the last three weeks of recordings they planted the bombs because this stuff takes time, but they have to be involved somehow. I think this may just be the start of a very dangerous, ugly situation. All train-based transportation has stopped in the city, and the public is in a frenzy.”
“Jennifer and Mayor Bradley are working with us to come up with a plan as to what we should tell the citizens, but it’s going to go down as a very miserable few weeks for New York. We don’t know if this is related to terrorism or just ghostly activity, but we are going to need your help where you’re able to give it.”
“Unfortunately, as soon as she’s able, we’re going to need Dr. Holtzmann’s brilliant brain on the case—“
Patty lifted a hand and stared at Hawkins with a stink eye. “Do you have any idea the extent of injury that she’s suffered? She saved half the city, I think she can take a little recovery period.”
“The city might not have a little recovery period,” Rorke sighed, scratching his hairless head. “We’re going to need those of you who are available first thing in the morning.”
Abby frowned, staring at Patty, “We’re really the only ones who can do this.”
“Don’t know how the hell we’re gettin’ Erin outta here.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Abby sighed, standing. “Gentlemen, thank you for your urgency in responding to our need for help today, but now, we must bid you goodnight.” She rubbed her temples as she left, groaning deeply. “Okay. Erin has until Holtz is conscious, then she’s gonna have to join us. She’s medically clear, and this is gonna be difficult enough without Holtz, but practically impossible without both of them. I don’t wanna rush her and I know that she processes trauma slowly, but…”
“From the sounds of it, we don’t have time to give her,” Patty said quietly.
They cornered Erin in the recovery room, trying to share information about the case as best they could.
Erin rolled her eyes, regretting the action as the strain made her realize just how tired she was. “So what is this, ghost terrorism? Are they aligned with ISIS? They can’t seriously believe that.”
“Something’s going on,” Patty explained, expression stone serious. “They’ve already uncovered over two hundred bombs. All the transportation in the city that is below ground has been stopped. The National Guard is here, this is frickin’ serious.”
Erin’s eyes found a spot on the ceiling as her shoulders dropped. “Okay, well…is there nothing I wrote into our handbook about sick day policy when it comes to being blown up?”
“Only for lab injuries,” Abby retorted. “Come on, Erin, since when do you back down from a ghost?”
“I’m not backing down!” She shouted, then drew her hands over her mouth, closed her eyes, and took a breath. “I’m just…not comfortable leaving Jill here like this. She crashed three times today, you guys, and I know she’s strong and if any of us got hurt, she’d be the most resilient to it, but she shouldn’t have to rush this horrific recovery. And I…I can’t leave her alone. I won’t.”
“Can we make a deal?” Abby asked, tilting her head and rubbing a gentle palm along Erin’s uninjured arm. “You are off-duty until she’s regained full consciousness. After, only when officially called in until you and she think it’s okay for you to be gone for so long. We love her to, Erin. We just know that we can’t do this without both of you.”
Sitting down on the edge of Holtzmann’s bed again, Erin let fresh, anxious tears fall. “I know,” She managed. “And you shouldn’t have to.” Clearing her throat, she sighed. “Okay. It’s my job. And I’ll do it. We’ll make this work. We have to. We’re the ghostbusters.”
Around nine that morning, Abby opened a duffle bag in the family room they’d been provided, handing Erin first a change of clothes that belonged to her. The taller woman hastily slipped out of the hospital sweats and into a pair of grey, thick cable knit leggings and one of Holtz’s bizarre David Bowie space oddity shirts, zipping it all under a Princeton sweatshirt and toeing on her sneakers. Abby giggled. “That’s a look. Here,” She tossed her a twelve-inch grey plush cat, that was entirely too chubby to not be adorable, and eating a pink-frosted doughnut for good measure. “You know, you say you think it’ll make Holtz happy when she wakes up but I think it’s mostly for you.”
Erin stuck her tongue out, clutching the ridiculous thing to her chest with a hug. “It was all she wanted for her birthday. ‘One of those cats that’s so stupid it’s cute’ and a fancy maroon colored pencil. I couldn’t let her down. She named it Siouxsie and wants three more to have the Banshees.”
“Of course she does.” Abby rolled her eyes as Erin squeezed the plush, nestling her nose into it’s velvety faux fur — it smelled like their bedroom. Though she was in no state to do so, Erin imagined that having Holtz recover at home would be a hell of a lot easier than the doctors were going to discover in the hospital. “Well, we’re off to save New York City, again. Please keep me posted.”
After a gentle embrace, Erin forced herself to eat the banana that had been brought with cereal and coffee for breakfast, though she could hardly even stomach the fruit. Finishing with haste, Erin shuffled quietly down the hall to the room Holtz had been moved to early that morning when she was out of recovery and had another few scans run.
Her breathing tube was out, replaced with an oxygen nasal wire to keep things a little easier for her, while her bandages were redressed in Erin’s brief absence. With a heavy heart, the physicist curled up in a chair that she pulled right next to the bed, holding onto the ridiculous stuffed cat like her life depended on it.
Several hours passed before the sound escaped her girlfriend’s panicked breath drew Erin’s attention.
Holtz opened both eyes in a wicked snap, screeching with her raw throat, wild emotions written on her badly bruised and scraped face. She continued to scream incessantly as several nurses ran into the room at break-neck speed, making observations to one another in medical jargon that Erin only half understood. She stood by in a panic as great as Holtz’s, gaze misted over as Holtz could not be calmed. Her heart rate climbed into the 190s and her blood pressure spiked, as she catatonically let pain and confusion take over.
“Pushing 10cc’s Ativan,” One stated firmly. The effect took over in a minute as Holtz stopped screaming, though didn’t snap out of her stupor.
Dr. Wallus entered while pulling on a pair of latex gloves, shining a pen light into Holtz’s eyes, muttering about being unresponsive to visual stimuli.
Erin panicked — had something happened to Holtz’s vision?
“Heart rate is descending, standby,” He said calmly. “Jillian, Dr. Holzmann, do you know where you are?”
Her head rolled to the side and a brief wave of understanding passed through her features. She closed her eyes after locking sight on Erin. A minute later, half an eye was blinked open and Holtz made out the image of the woman she loved once again, Siouxsie the Pusheen cat still in her hold. Holtzmann let out a rough sounding giggle as she mumbled, “Hmmm…kitty.”
Erin let out a relieved laugh and stepped forward a little, earning the tiniest of grins against Holtz’s cheeks. “Hey, sweetheart.”
The blonde groaned and kept her blue eyes locked on her girlfriend, some sort of recognition present. “M’b’by.”
Dr. Wallus nodded and put a hand on Erin’s back. “Go on, see how long you can hold a conversation for.”
“Jill? You’re in the hospital, honey. Do you remember the tunnels?
Holtz didn’t move any more than she had, save for the briefest hint of a smile growing. “Tunnel’a’love. You. Love you.” Disappointed, Erin realized this wasn’t going to be Holtz’s wake up, but she’d take the brief interaction.
“I love you too, Jill,” The scientist let out a long breath as well while Holtz slipped back out of consciousness with her eyelids fluttering shut.
Letting a few stray tears out, Erin dared to glance back up at the doctor. “What was that?”
“Probably a panic attack due to some sort of nightmare, though we have no idea what her mental state is. The delirium could be increased by the Ativan the nurses used to get her heart rate down, so hopefully that was all that was about. As I said, it could be a day or two before she really comes back to us. Her body will give her the time she needs.”
Gnawing at the inside of her cheek, the physicist waited for the room to clear out before walking with trembling legs to the edge of Holtzmann’s bed. Trying not to have a need for tranquilizers herself, she took long, deep breaths, eyes opening and closing. “You’re okay,” She said to herself and rolled up the sleeve of her left arm. The tattoo Holtz had designed for her almost appeared to be moving in her dizzying state, but the near mandalla-like appearance to it was calming. She forced herself to stay strong as she put a hand on Holtz’s waist over the thin blanket covering her. “You’re okay,” She said again, this time, for both of them.
Meanwhile, Abby and Patty sat dumbfounded in the offices of the FBI in downtown Manhattan as they stared at photo after photo of what was being uncovered by the various round-the-clock agencies.
“You do realize, that, while we specialize in the Paranormal, we’re not experts at terrorism, right? Or bombs? Well, Holtzmann probably is, but…I’m not sure how we can help you right now. Are any of the scenes clear for us to head into for a look? If I can pick up some paranormal readings, I can get a sense of what, if, any ghost might be responsible for a particular tunnel.”
“At this point, we’ve got about eight sites that we feel are completely clear of explosives. You’re welcome to investigate, but not alone.”
After heavy discussion and a brief training session for Rorke and Hawkins in using two of Holtzmann’s miniature, portable ghost stun-guns, they were off to the tunnels. Patty gripped the wand of her Proton gun, having a sense of doom as they strolled through the underground tracks of the Steinway tunnel, the PKE machine only emitting light ghost activity, level one vapors at max.
“There’s no way level ones could assemble or even protect a planted bomb,” Abby said, staring at the cotton candy-like machine.
They walked for nearly a half hour before the machine picked up, whirling so suddenly it flew out of Abby’s grip and against the wall.
“Oh, shit,” Patty mumbled, wincing. “Abby!”
A large phantom appeared in front of them suddenly, appearing to wear some sort of conductor’s suit. “Oh, hell, I think that’s the ghost of the guy who funded this place!” Patty said with a frown. “He was a piano player, finally coughed up the coin for tracks to get him where his show was from his place when every other source of funding kept runnin’ out.”
“Your knowledge of all things NYC is inspiring, but I don’t think the piano is his instrument of choice right now! Fire!”
The four aimed (the two-non Busters far too hesitant) at the smartly-dressed figure, which laughed and launched a ball of slime at the agents.
“Well, at least it wasn’t me,” Patty said with a shrug. “Come on, Abby, fire!”
The two struggled against the ghost for nearly ten minutes, and by the end of the fight, they weren’t sure who was weaker. It wasn’t until Abby finally shouted, “Screw it,” and tossed the trap out, hoping for the best, that they caught a break, successfully trapping it into the metal canister.
The two backed themselves up until they had a supportive wall to stand on, giving one another a desperate expression.
That evening, they trudged themselves to the hospital to debrief Erin on what was happening. Holtz had woken up only once more, screaming just as horrifyingly as before. The difference was that with the haunting yells came real, blubbering tears of fear, though her psyche was still too damaged to do anything about it. As her girlfriend explained the behavior to their coworkers, it happened again.
The nurses rushed in followed by Dr. Wallus’s partner, a younger female wearing a multi-color hijab. “Holtzmann,” She said calmly, a hand on her shoulder earning her a look, something Holtz hadn’t given to anyone save for Erin earlier in the day. “That’s it,” She said firmly but kindly as Holtz stopped screaming and only crying continued. “You’re in the hospital. Your friends and girlfriend are here. You’re recovering. Everything will be alright.”
At that, the blonde was unconscious once more, leaving only the stunned expressions from the women who’d literally seen ghosts.
Patty spoke to Dr. Kouri, asking questions that Erin couldn’t begin to have constructed in her state of shock. Abby held her in a backwards hug, then rubbed her upper arms as Patty thanked the woman.
“They’ve decided to do another scope in the morning, check her intestines again,” She softly explained. “Damn. This is…yikes. I’m sorry, Er, I wish there was more we could do.”
Erin stoked Holtz’s stomach underneath her bandages as they waited for the results of the latest endoscopy to check the status of the healing bleeds. She was just coming out from anesthetic and whimpering as a result. The doctor predicted that this would likely be her actual return to consciousness and Erin just wanted any sort of conversation she could hold with the woman. “I know, sweetheart, I know,” Erin mumbled, kissing her cheek below a line of stitches.
“Erin?” She whined, blinking an eye open and trying not to cry. “Wh’app’en’?” Holtz moaned, letting out a little cry as pain finally started to settle into her now-awake brain. “Erin, my stomach!” She sobbed and tried to bring a hand to clutch her gut, then realized her arm was wrapped solid with a splint from her palm to her elbow, earning a yell of a cry. “My arm!”
Feeling herself getting emotional again, the older scientist nodded. “You’re probably going to be in a rough state for awhile.” Tears slipped out as she asked, “What do you remember?”
Blurry, tear-filled eyes gazed up at the blinding fluorescent light of the room. “Bomb. I remember…I’w’s stupid, not de…active….before…the…Erin!” She realized, suddenly, that she wasn’t the only one who sustained injury as evidenced by Erin’s visible stitches on her cheek. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” She said with insistence. “Just a few stitches.” Her voice broke when she explained, “You threw yourself on top of me and took the damage. Jill,” She cried, leaning down to capture dry, cracked lips in a kiss despite the state of things. “We lost you three times,” She whispered into a long cry. Despite the pain, Holtz brought her unwrapped hand up to fall into Erin’s messy hair, crying with her. “It was so scary. Oh my god…You lost a lot of blood— you had internal bleeding, and your right foot is broken…you’ve been in and out for two days.”
“Two days?!” She shouted, then regretted her sudden movement. “Erin, I’m so sorry, I—“
“Jillian,” The taller of them said sharply, “You not only stopped the bombs, but uncovered a really malevolent plot that almost took out half the city. You saved us. You saved me. And…you’re here. You have nothing to apologize for.”
Hardly hearing her, Holtz let out a loud sob. “It hurts, Erin!” She screeched, her fingers falling out of her girlfriend’s hair to clutch at her stomach as her face twisted into a silent sob.
Erin sat up, about to stand and call for the doctor, but Holtz aggressively shook her head, then lurched a little at the dizzying sensation that swept through her due to the movement. She moaned and cried for a moment, sucking in a heavy breath of air. “Just stay?” She pleaded.
“Of course, of course,” The older of them let out a long cry of her own. “I don’t know what to say, Holtz. I’m so relieved, you are going to recover, even if it’s slow and painful. We’re so lucky you’re too damn stubborn to give up.”
Holtz’s tears stopped as she adjusted to the awful feeling throughout her whole being. She started breathing more normally, and Erin merely held her gaze, speaking without talking.
“I feel weird,” She said with a long sigh. “Like aside from being stabbed a thousand times, I just…I feel…like sparks. Like…” She tried to describe the odd vibe rolling through her. “My heart is…it’s…not right and…my head, I…could puke, but — not, because I’m sick and…”
“The doctor said you’d probably be having quite a bit of anxiety over this. That it’s a perfectly normal response to…”
Erin kept talking, but Holtz locked in on the one word that had started the whole series of her personal demise earlier in the week.
Her heart rate sky rocketed again and she shook visibly as she couldn’t make eye-contact with her girlfriend. Genuinely alarmed, Erin kissed her temple that wasn’t bruised or scarred and let Dr. Kouri step in as she came into the recovery space.
After understanding that Holtzmann was having a conscious panic attack, she didn’t want to push any more tranquilizers. Settling the woman organically she spoke in low, soothing tones, her voice and accent having a gentle, bell-like ring to it. “That’s it, Dr. Holzmann. You’re looking at me, you’re in the hospital, you are recovering.”
After taking a few more breaths, she asked for water with a parched breath and Erin slid out of the room and returned with a foam cup at record pace. The doctor held it in place for Holtz to sip, and finally the blonde was in a slightly better state. “Easy now. I don’t want to give you anything since you’re just coming out of anesthetic. I’m going to do a quick work up and consult with Dr. Wallus, then see if the results are back.”
She went through a series of physical maneuvers on Holtz, ordering for a blood draw and scribbling some vitals down before promising to be back within the half hour.
Alone with her girlfriend after the blood draw, Holtz found herself unable to meet her gaze. “I did it,” She whispered.
“Did what, honey?” Erin questioned, fingers tangling in blonde matted curls.
“When, we fought…” She stuttered out, looking wild, young, desperate in her position on the bed; broken body wanting to move into a position for some sort of formal apology. Her pupils were dilated from the pain medication, giving her a more unhinged look than usual. “You said, you get nervous, leaving me alone.”
“Jill,” Erin calmly tried to stop wherever her thoughts were plummeting to, “The argument is the furthest thing on my mind. It ended and we have a lot of very serious things to deal with right now—“
“No!” She cried, shaking her head once against the stack of pillows. “It’s a big deal! We never got to talk about it, then I went and did it, I blew myself up.”
“Oh my goodness, Jillian, it’s forgiven! We were both crabby and totally overreacted. It’s fine.”
Holtz looked up again, the ceiling drawing her pupils, letting out a sharp pitch of a cry. “It’s not fine! What if the last conversation we’d had was me calling you names and telling you to leave me alone? I was mean and I kept pushing and I regret it, and it’s not true, look at me! You’re right! I’m so fucking reckless, I’m an idiot, I—”
“Shush, shush, shush,” Erin kissed her palm, then her fingers that were free on the other hand in the splint. “You weren’t wrong about me being uptight. It just…I mean, the comment about my anxiety, it hurt, mostly ‘cause it came from you. But it’s not so damning as to take away this,” She took her fingers between her own. “Holtz, I forgive you. I, honestly, haven’t even thought about it.”
Apologies were hard for Holtz, but she forced her self to speak, even if her voice had a terribly shaky edge to it. “But I made you feel bad. Like…what you felt didn’t matter, and it does, Erin, you matter and you are not who you are because of your anxiety. I hate that I said it and I hate that I didn’t take it back right away and that I let you think about it all night and into the next day. And then I did what you were afraid of, I blew my self up. I’m a real asshole.”
“Jill,” Erin said with a tired breath that had her girlfriend’s eyes finally lock to her own, which also caused her to realize the bags under the woman’s eyes. “It was uncalled for, it was. And it hurt. But it’s nothing compared to what we’ve been through, physically, since. We’ve gotta move past that argument so we can focus on getting you well.”
“You said I’ve been here for two days?” Holtz curled her fingers down and winced, even the slightest action managed to hurt. “You’ve been here the whole time?”
Giving a half-hearted shrug, Erin kissed her sore digits and confessed, “I couldn’t leave you.”
“When do I get to go home so I can put you in bed?”
Picking at her gnarly hair again, Erin shrugged. “You had internal bleeding. They did surgery when you came in and and you just came out of a scope to check the healing. If it’s doing what they wanted it to, then you’ll be able to leave in the next few days…otherwise they’ll probably have to do more surgery. I know you hate hospitals, but I promise, I’ll be here whenever I can.”
Holtz blinked away tears of regret and pain. “I wanna go ASAP…can Jennifer Lynch call in a favor?”
“If you leave, you won’t have that cool morphine pump,” She said gesturing to the device hooked up to the wall on Holtz’s left side. “And I think you’re going to want that for as long as possible from the extent of the damage,” She said quietly.
Frowning, Holtz glanced down at her arms, taking in the bandages and IV. “I’m on morphine and it hurts this bad? Fuck.” Her eyes went teary again and Erin wanted nothing more than to snuggle her down and make her feel better. “Erin, I know you say you’re over it, but I promise, when I’m out of here and able to, I’m going to do something so you never forget just how much you matter to me. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Erin sat down properly next to her girlfriend on the bed, placing a gentle arm over Holtz’s shoulders and lowering herself in as gentle of a hug as she could manage. It was enough to satisfy the blonde, who sighed happily at the light contact before giving a little gasp. “You brought Siouxsie!”
Following her gaze to the table tray that had a book Erin was attempting to read and a few empty cups of water and coffee, the scientist rose and retrieved the plush, letting Holtz snuggle it to her side.
“I don’t freakin’ deserve you,” She muttered quietly. “Erin,” She said a little desperately, “Will you come hold my hand again?”
Erin smiled again, curling her body carefully next to Holz’s, wishing there was a safe way to really cuddle her as she gingerly touched her fingers. “I love you, Jill.”
Patty arrived in the hospital room a little after seven in the evening in comfortable clothes after a long day following the incident in the tunnel that morning. She stopped in the doorway before either member of the couple’s party knew she had joined them. The sight before her was simply precious, like a gay Nickolas Sparks novel. With a smirk on her lips, she sneaked her phone out to zoom in on the image before her, snapping a photo.
The picture displayed Erin, in her mis-matched glory she’d put on that morning, sitting on the side of Holtz’s bed that hosted her IV in her non-sprained arm. Bruised fingertips splayed over Erin’s knee. The auburn haired woman managed to worm her thin body next to Holtzmann in such a way that her body was just grazing her girlfriend’s, one hand tangled in her hair, the other holding up a book with a black cover, containing golden writing that Patty couldn’t make out in her near-sightedness.
Holtz was staring up at Erin like she hung the moon, despite her strung-out glaze from the highest level of morphine possible dripping through her veins.
Erin’s voice was a melody, carrying literal poetry through the room to the cadence of rhythmic beeping from Holtz’s heart monitor.
“I do not want to love you in fair weather. It is easy to love a sunny day where the breeze is cool on you back as the sun beats down hard on you. No. I want you to give me your storm, tornados of emotions, the part of you that hide away because no one else can handle them. Storms apologize to no one, my darling and neither should you.”
Feeling like she was disrupting some monumentally powerful, intimate moment between them, Patty shivered and stepped back, sliding out of the room for a few minutes. She called Abby to find out if she was on her way over — as much as she loved both of the dorks in the patient ward, she wasn’t about to step between that as the third wheel.
When her shorter friend arrived, they stepped into the couple’s space together, though their presence was unnoticed while Erin and Holtz had locked eyes, the book still open, sharing another beautiful span in the universe that was them.
Abby cleared her throat and the couple finally unwound from one another. Erin closed the anthology and tucked it on the bedside table, while Holtz offered a sleepy smile their way. “Hey,” She croaked prompting Erin to hand her a cup of water which was mostly ice chips. “Miss you.”
“And do we miss you,” Abby said with a loud breath as the two pulled up chairs to Holtz’s bed. “I’d ask how you’re feeling, but I’m fairly sure I know the answer.”
“Like a pipe bomb exploded,” Holtz answered, dryly. “They won’t allow me to access my full power.” She held up the little button for the morphine drip. “They tapped it off and Erin won’t give me a screwdriver so I can reprogram it.”
“That Erin, such a bully,” Patty teased. The bully in question smiled into a kiss on a part of Holtz’s face that wasn’t scabbing over, vowing to return with something for her to drink.
Holtz’s stoned expression stayed the same as she commented, “I know I’m high so please stop me from asking her to marry me under these circumstances.” Both women cracked up, putting a twinkle into the overly-large black pupil of Holtz’s eye. “Honestly? She’s the best.”
“Well, let’s just say in the last twenty-four hours alone we’ve come to realize just how great both of you are. Not that we didn’t always know, of course, but…”
Patty shook her head. “Bustin’s a bitch without you, baby. We tired.”
“Erin said something about lots’a bombs?”
Abby chuckled and rubbed Holtz’s uninjured leg. “Oh honey. Ohhhhh, honey.”
“Yeah, and don’t be mad but men are useless—“
“This I have been aware of since I was about twelve,” Holtz added.
“—Hawkins broke one of your mini-guns.”
Holtz furrowed her brows together. “Why is there a boy touching my toys?”
“Because every tunnel that contained a bomb also contains a minimum of one class five, so far max of seven class threes and we can’t do it with just two of us.”
Abby took a turn to plead, “Tell me you had blueprints for those and that’s not just something you made up in your beautiful brain? I wouldn’t trust them to ruin any of our other equipment.”
“Mmm…mini-guns?” She flipped through the rolodex of her brain, nodding. “Should be in the top drawer of the red toolbox. Also there’s probably an order of aluminum waiting at the supplier with my name on it, you’ll need it to make repairs.”
“You’re the best. Aye-yay, cap’n,” Abby saluted her and it gave Holtz a warm feeling inside she smiled with a peachy look as she observed her friends.
“Last time I blew myself up, Dr. Gorin made me come into the lab after two days, so thanks for givin’ me some time. I can’t really sit up right now, let alone use my hands.”
Rolling her eyes, Patty wanted to slug her. “We’re probably going to have to force you to stay home in a couple’a weeks. Don’t thank us just yet.”
Suddenly, Holtz’s look held something aside from raw appreciation. “Not so sure about this one, guys.” The others waited for an explanation, unfortunately not receiving one as Erin stepped back in with a nurse, who came to do a quick check-up, Holtz happily taking her purple popsicle prize afterwords.
Erin resumed her perch on Holtz’s side, mostly giving her girlfriend her eyes and attention until Patty asked if she could post a picture of them on the GhostCorps™ social media.
“Everyone knows?” Erin groaned.
“Well, there was a few media reports that night of the explosion, but with everything as it is now with the majority of the city’s transportation shut down and us two fools rollin around the city ourselves the next few days, stories are flying. I figure if I put something on our page, at least people will have an answer and shut up.
Erin shrugged. “Fine by me, Holtz, honey?”
“Just make sure to get my good side.”
There was a snort as Patty snapped a picture with no intention of using it.
The conversation shifted as they started to discuss what was going to happen for Holtz next, who responded to physical therapy with, “There’s only one kind of physical therapy I’m interested in,” And tugging Erin’s face to hers with a soft hand.
An eye roll from the other two was the next transition into the actual situation at large. “We’re going to need you tomorrow, Erin,” Abby said with a serious tone, earning a frown from the physicist, who clutched onto a place in Holtz’s arm that wasn’t covered in shrapnel injuries. “We got our asses kicked today. We need help.”
Holtzmann leaned her head to the side, “You gotta go if they need you, babe. I’ll be woefully lonesome, but I’ll be okay.”
Erin squeezed her uninjured fingers and nodded, vowing to soldier on. “Just call me when you need me. I’ll make myself there.”
Abby and Patty watched the exchange with an unreadable fondness.
Clearing her throat of the awkwardness, Holtz hastily changed the subject. “Did you know that the world’s tallest giraffe is only a third of the size of the tallest discovered dinosaur? Can you imagine, three giraffe’s tall, tromping down Fifth Avenue? I think about that a lot.”
There was silence before a ripple of laughter passed through the other three women, each of them giving some sort of small squeeze to the city’s single savior.
Holtz tried in vain not to cry as she stood for the first time since the accident. She’d woken up with sobs three times over the course of the night, claiming pain as the cause. Erin was standing nervously behind a physical therapist and her girlfriend’s primary doctor, her hands in fists near her face as she watched the blonde struggle to support herself. The walking cast wasn’t so much of the problem, but the line of sixty stitches along her front and still-burning intestines were so excruciating, it wasn’t a surprise when the usually unstoppable engineer collapsed back down, eyes searching for Erin desperately.
Wiggling her way forward, the taller of them stood supportively in front of Holtzmann, whispering nonsense shushing sounds as she dragged her fingers through messy blonde locks and had a wrapped arm locked around her waist. “It hurts, I know…and it’s okay that it hurts.”
“I just wanna go home,” She cried into Erin’s chest. “Please?”
“Honey, you have to prove minimum independence to leave. C’mon, let’s try getting up again, okay? I’ll help, I won’t leave your side.”
With a congested whine, the small scientist shook her head. “I need a nap,” She mumbled, actually dozing off within seconds with her face between Erin’s breasts.
The auburn-haired one looked up at the doctors with a raised brow and the PT only shrugged, helping to get Holtz laying back on the mattress once more. Erin settled Siouxsie in her hold and turned to speak with the doctors. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to take her home like this.”
“No, we wouldn’t expect you to.” The dark-skinned man assured her.
“It’s…it’s really not like her to show any pain or weakness. She’s been concussed and bloodied to hell on busts before and not batted an eye, so I can only imagine the pain she’s in is horrific,” Erin said firmly, forcing herself to keep from choking up again.
“Unfortunately, she’s delirious enough. If we kick up the medicine any more, she’s going to spend more time unconscious. I hate to say it, but she’s going to have to ride the next few days out.”
“Erin?” A groggy voice came from below their attention. Snapping her head around, Erin found Holtz with her eyes snapped back open, panic stricken on her face. “You’re ‘kay?”
“I am, promise,” The older woman replied sweetly. “Go to sleep, Jill.”
“You’re not hurt?”
“No, honey,” The older woman sighed, wondering where the thought was coming from while Holtz closed her eyes once more.
After wrapping up with the doctor, Erin stepped into the hall, heading to the family room, where her phone was lit up on the kitchen table with a half dozen missed calls.
“We need you out here,” Abby said as soon as Erin dialed. “ASAP. There’s gear for you in the car; I need you to find a ride to Midtown.”
Trying to emotionally pull herself together, Erin jittered in the backseat of a taxi twenty minutes later, letting out a long breath as she tried to persuade herself she was ready to get back in action barely four days after the explosion. She closed her eyes and focused on breathing evenly, frowning when she opened them and already saw the vehicle rolling up to the entrance of the Midtown Tunnel, which was closed and surrounded by hundreds of emergency vehicles. “Thank you,” She said quietly, pressing the pay button on her phone (which went straight to the government offices if the ride was related to work). After spotting Patty, she gave herself a mental pep talk and sauntered over to them, pulling the offered coveralls over her jeans and sweatshirt. Erin shivered in the December cold.
“The bomb squad is clearing the tunnel for us right now, but the ghost activity is off the charts. I’m thinkin’ multiple level fives. This tunnel is for vehicular transportation, not trains, so I think it goes to better thwart theories of disgruntlement from the mole ghosts. This is clearly more widespread than that.”
Erin had a few theories, though she’d hardly been able to flush them out with her time in the hospital. Trying to stuff the guilt away, she made a silent vow to split her time between the team and her girlfriend.
She let Patty help her into Abby’s proton pack. Hers and Holtz’s had been too damaged by the explosion to be used without major work from the engineer. Given the shape Erin was still in, Abby had volunteered to wear one of the older models, which had a good extra ten pounds and significantly compacted the spine more, but she was willing to take the risk.
Waiting for their signal, they pulled on miner’s hats and discussed a three-man plan of attack on specters, who would be facing which roles given their lack of Holtzmann. Knowing this would be how busts were handled for likely the next six or more weeks, Erin was already tired.
“It’s going to take more firepower,” She muttered, wincing as her uniform grazed one of the long wounds on her arm. “We need to focus on the side arms first to weaken the ghosts. We barely held onto that class four with just the packs in Freedom Tunnel, and we had four fully functioning guns. We’ve got to focus on offensive maneuvers before trapping.”
“At this point, study is out the window, our focus is on safety,” Abby responded. “Obliterate when possible. We don’t need to trap and contain if there’s an opportunity to completely take these ghosts off the grid. I know it’s much more tiring, but we’re better off then trying to lure it into the trap. It’s Holtz’s job for a reason, she’s the best at it and without her, and having no foreseeable down time for research in the next month or two, let’s focus on getting these ghosts off our plane.”
“Here, here” Patty acknowledged, patting her side. I’ve got the new chipper, my mini-guns, and one grenade left. Erin, we didn’t recover your throwing star, but the shotgun’s tucked into the side, and Abby’s wearing Holtz’s old pack that has her favorite side-arm stun guns. Let’s get lit, ladies!”
Agent Hawkins stepped out of the tunnel, his hands on his hips, looking a little pale. “So…there’s, um…something in there — it’s…a ghost, by your reader but, um, it…”
“Looks terrifying?” Abby supplied.
“Doesn’t appear human.”
“Well, if you read our monthly reports, you’d see that approximately a fifth of all apparitions currently found in the field don’t take human form, so,” Erin said with a shrug, biting back a comment about the men needing the ladies to sweep the monsters out from under their beds.
Hawkins cleared his throat, eyes targeted on their boots. “Anyway, the area’s been declared safe for now, if you wouldn’t mind…?”
Silently, they moved into the dark tunnel, miners lights activated. Erin couldn’t recall the dread in the pit of her stomach like it was since their earliest days of busting over a year prior. Hawkins led them down the eerily silent modern cave, about half a mile down before there was any other sign of life.
A yelp caught all their attention, and the women moved forward as a faint glow in the distance had them drawing weapons. Erin was all four-letter-words in her mind as she psyched herself up.
“Oh…my…” Abby cringed as a twelve-foot tall, easily eight-foot wide semi-solid ghost turned to face them. It was nearly an opaque grey, with green slime oozing out of every orifice in it’s…face?
“Is it a giant face with limbs?” Erin tried to process, quickly activating the Holtz-version of a go-pro which was attached to the shoulder pad of Abby’s pack, knowing her girlfriend would begrudge her if there wasn’t photographic evidence of the…creature.
There was a giant, pinkish-hued slit that could have been a mouth as the stomach, with two garish eyes perched like Micky Mouse ears atop it’s head. Arms that were so muscular they could rival a twelve-foot John Cena rippled from the sides, while two large feet plastered the ground with slime.
“It’s like Sid’s bedroom on Toy Story come to life,” Patty groaned. “If there’s goggles in your pocket, Erin, I’mma suggest you put ‘em on, ‘cause you know you’re gonna be drenched.”
“Really?” She groaned, fishing into the deep cargo side as the creature continued to ignore their presence, drooling green ooze all over itself. “This is repulsive. Truly. I’m so sad Holtz is missing it.”
“She’d probably think it was cute and try to think of a way to shrink it down and keep it as a pet.” Abby replied with a snort.
With a giggle, Erin sighed longingly. “Yeah, she would. Alright, ugly. Let’s get this over with.”
She blasted Abby’s gun forward, while Patty brought her shredder up and Abby unleashed Holtz’s guns. The onslaught at first seemed to barely affect the blob monster-ghost, almost bouncing off it’s slime-fused body.
Suddenly, it’s mouth began to open from the odd-slit to an oval, and than a complete circle. Abby, Patty, and Erin each took a step back, sharing a look before turning their backs as a stream of slime came out in a projectile wave, sending no less than a dozen wickedly screeching apparitions out with it. The grey figure disappeared and all that remained were the low-level entities.
None of them had a comment for what they’d just witnessed; missing Holtzmann more with each passing minute.
Abby lifted the PKE meter, “They’re weak! They might’ve been strong together, but this should be no problem. Let’s go!”
Twenty minutes later, fourteen small ghosts were obliterated or trapped, Erin shrugging off the Proton pack as the last was caught into a mini-thermos from the side of it. She sat down on the ground in the middle of the six-lane highway, trying to catch her breath and shake the slime off her. Reaching to the pack strap, she removed the HoltzPro and turned it off, excited to show it to her girlfriend that evening.
Stripping the green-soaked coveralls down and off her waist after squeezing as much of the slime from her hair as she could, Erin looked at her teammates, who were still laughing over the sight of the ghost.
“Erin, we gotta get that footage up ASAP. That was priceless.”
“I’m gonna run back for a quick shower and let it load while I’m doing that so Holtz can see.”
Patty cringed, “Bradley would like to speak with us after we clean up. I know, you wanna see your girl, but we could use you - your brain is the most rapid-fire when it comes to theory.”
Opening her mouth, Erin bit back an argument and gave a nod. “Of course. This is my job and having two of us out of commission doesn’t make sense if I’m able to be here.”
Abby tried to counteract her surprisingly calm statement. “It’s not that…we just…Eh, Erin. We’re barely ourselves without Holtz. Without you, too, on this scale? It’s been too much.”
“Okay,” Erin vowed. “I’m here. I’m here to help.”
Her entire life, she’d searched for a group that needed her. And though part of that group was put up in Bellevue, she wasn’t going to let the others down, either.
Holtz yawned as she struggled to keep her eyes open around eleven o’clock that evening. Between the various medications, especially what she’d been given in the last hour, exhaustion from nothingness was eminent, though it terrified her.
Throughout the mere thirty-six hours of wakefulness, she’d had at least five daytime attacks of some sort, something like Erin’s panic attacks, though they didn’t seem to have a trigger. Out of fucking nowhere, Holtz’s mind would spiral into a loop of complete disarray, of trying to stop the bombs, then the subsequent explosion and horrified look on Erin’s face when she’d thrown her body down to protect her. The intrusive thoughts came out of thin air and she was powerless to stop them. Included with the nightmares from the night before, she’d been playing it down as moments of fleeting, excruciating pain. She didn’t want to explain to anyone how pitiful she felt.
Despite the knowledge she was inevitably going to panic, Holtz asked for the lights to be turned off and against the dark hum of machines, it almost felt like falling asleep in the lab.
The lab. Her job. Erin.
Her chest squeezed tight as she considered the last interaction they’d had in the workplace once more. She’d been so awful. If Holtz had learned anything dating Erin, the woman needed no help making herself feel small and unimportant.
A stream of light poured into the room and a lanky, shadow of a figure appeared in the doorway with a little tutting sound. Smiling, despite the guilt still swallowing her, Holtzmann said, “It’s okay, I’m up.”
Erin stepped into the room fully, pulling the door closed behind her before hitting the button on the table lamp. “I am so sorry it took me so long, I swear, I didn't expect a twelve hour day, well, we were done by nine but then I fell asleep in the second shower I had to take, I think, because I was in there forever and trying to get around this city with only vehicles is a bitch and —“
Holtz quieted her with a tug on her arm, wanting Erin’s presence on the bed with her. The taller woman needed no convincing as she curled around Holtz as carefully as she could, avoiding damaged areas and bandages. “Long day at the office, kitten?”
“The longest,” Erin sighed, wishing she could nuzzle into her girlfriend’s chest. “I love my job. But I didn’t realize how much of my job I loved because I get to do it with you.”
Actually blushing, Holtz pressed a warm kiss to the top of Erin’s head, earning a happy squeak of a groan. “I wound up standing today,” She said, “I felt like a friggin’ baby learning to walk. I know their brains are programed to like over the top reactions from people, but mine isn’t and I wanted to punch the PT in the face. It’s a good thing you weren’t here, you might’ve actually done it.”
“You’re lucky you’re already injured or I’d slug you for that comment.”
The tone shifted just slightly as Holtz did. “Erin, I know you’re over it but I keep thinking about that argument. I just can’t believe I said the things I did…and I’m not speaking down to your character at all, but…I can’t believe how quickly you forgave me. It’s hard to feel like I deserve you when you are like…goodness personified.”
“Hush, sweetheart.” Erin took her free hand then winced, reaching to the bedside table where she’d brought some supplies from home. Pumping a small dollop of lotion in her palm, she took Holtz’s and started to slowly massage the substance into her dry skin, then on the exposed fingers of her other arm. With a little nibble to her own lip, she gently cupped Holtzmann’s chin, smearing a layer of chapstick on, pressing their mouths together after with a tiny, happy moan.
Holtz tugged the bunched fabric of her sweatshirt into her hand, drawing her close, sighing so contentedly. “I love you.”
“I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone,” Erin said so softly it was hard to hear her. “And one small argument could never change that. And since then? You’ve done nothing to make me feel small. You make me feel like I matter. You need me, and that’s enough, Holtz. It’s enough.”
There was a long sense of quiet between them and they both stared off into nothing, contemplating everything. The look on Erin’s face…how opposite of the terrified one it was four days before…Holtz jumped suddenly after about ten minutes to avoid sliding into hyperventilation as she shook the thoughts, earning Erin’s stare. “Sorry,” She flushed eyes lost on an invisible spot on the wall as she sped her heart down, “Morphine makes me jumpy.”
Erin gnawed at the inside of her lip as she stood nervously over Abby, sweat beads formulating under her bangs as the two worked at a tortoise pace in attempt to fix Holtz’s mini-guns.
“Easy…dropping the cable on three…one…two…three.”
Both women winced, then sighed in relief a few seconds after securing the repaired miniature nuclear reactor to the clip.
Laughing anxiously, they shared a sloppy high five, both almost too tired to function. It had been a long, grueling day in the tunnels. They’d lost count of how many ghosts they’d obliterated, and had twenty-seven in containment units.
“When this is over?” Erin sighed, wiping her forehead with the back of her wrist, “We’re coming up with something, anything to communicate with them. And I mean anything. I want to be able to ask who they’re working for and why. It has got to be a single human with power to communicate with many ghosts I just don’t see how else this could be happening.
“But for one person to get that many devices underground?”
Shrugging, the physicist retorted, “You heard them, some of them have been there since before 9/11. Clearly this has been an extremely long-term project for somebody.”
“Or something,” Abby mumbled. “Anyway, we gotta get to the Clark Street Tunnel by seven, so we should probably get going.”
Erin rubbed her face, threading her fingers through her hair with a silent move of frustration. “I need to call the hospital,” She quietly mumbled, fingers fumbling for her phone in her back pocket.
Abby wanted to comment, but merely walked away, spotting Patty at the bulletin board on the first floor as she descend the stairs. It was like a ‘70s crime drama, littered in an organized fashion with pushpins documenting maps, ghosts, and all other sorts of historical notes that made most sense to her.
“She gettin’ moody again?”
“Not moody,” Abby shook her head. “Just…sad. I think this is a good awakening to herself though, just how much she loves her. Not that I think there was doubts, but damn, it’s real and true and honestly disgustingly beautiful. Never thought I’d see the day, for either of them.”
Patty chuckled, taking out her phone and unlocking the home screen. Pulling up the team Instagram account, she turned the device around. The picture she’d taken two nights before of the couple had been lit in a soft glowing filter, with the caption; “@GhostCorps You could say all the bomb exploded was their love for one another. Erin is back to Busting and Holtz is expected to make a full recovery. Send ‘em your love! @93percentdusted @hottsmann #BustingBabes #Ghostbusters #TunnelGate2k17” With eyes wide, Abby shook her head. “We gained eight thousand followers in a night. 857k likes and counting.”
“Erin’s gonna kill you when she sees this,” The shorter of them laughed. “But it really is sweet. I still can’t believe she missed it on the Today show, she was sitting right there.”
“That’s deep frickin’ love, man. Remember how obsessed she was with our reports in the beginning? Shit. I’m thinkin’ this whole thing’s gonna lead to a GB wedding, ya’ll. Call Savanah Guthrie for that shit.”
Erin was downstairs a few moments later, a look of worry etched on her face. “She’s about to go under for another scan — she’s been having severe pain again all afternoon, they think the bleeding continued or re-ruptured, I don’t-I don’t know, I’m not that kind of doctor!” She was panicked as she considered what could have gone wrong from the time she left…”Oh my god, it’s been ten hours? Goddamnit.”
Neither Patty or Abby wanted to tell Erin what to do. But the scientist seemed to know what was required of her as she pulled a jumpsuit from the closer, zipped it and motioned to the door. “Let’s fucking go. I don’t have time.”
Arriving at the hospital near midnight, Erin knew what she physically needed was a long collapse on the firm mattress of the family room. Naturally, she shuffled into Holtz’s space, a backpack with cats, dogs, and rainbows strewn across one shoulder. A nurse was in the middle of helping Holtz with her IV, though her girlfriend was almost completely delirious.
“Hey, there,” Dedria, Erin recalled from the first night, greeted her. “We just got her back here from the recovery room. She did as expected.”
Finding a relieved smile, the auburn haired woman took her perch at Holtz’s side, where the engineer’s voice was painfully scratchy from having a tube shoved down it for several hours. “Er’n, g’t’bed, baby.”
“I will, I will,” She insisted, stroking her upper left arm. “I’m just hoping to get away with sleeping with you again tonight and I’m waiting for Dedria to leave,” She tried to wink.
Holtz cracked the faintest of smiles. “I wan’ our bed,” She croaked. “No sex. Jus’bed.”
“Well, you’re certainly in no condition for that,” Erin said, the flush on her cheeks obvious as the nurse started a new IV drip and changed the catheter bag. “On one hand, I’d love to take you home and nurse you back to health.” She winked. “On the other,” a sigh, “I know there’s no physical way for me to give you the care you need, especially given our chaos right now. I’m sorry.” Her nose crinkled and Holtz brought a finger up to bop it.
With zero reservations about doing so in front of a stranger as the nurse departed, Erin pulled Holtz’s face forward, giving her a long, sweet kiss.
When she pulled away and cuddled into Holtz’s side, Erin informed her of the details of the bust. “We obliterated twenty-three, captured six. New record for one sweep. But the good news is, there’s only twelve more tunnels to raid. Then we still won’t have answers, but at least we’ll catch a break. Bradley wants us to go for four a day to be done by the weekend and have the field agents rest until Monday.”
Yawning, Holtz nodded, her eyelashes tickling her skin as they kept falling harder on her optical bone. Wishing Holtz could roll over so she could rub her back, Erin worked a hand along her scalp instead, eventually putting her girlfriend to sleep with the rhythmic movements of her hand.
Dedria hadn’t kicked the taller woman out of the room and Erin pulled up a reclining chair, positioning it as close to Holtz’s side as possible. Taking her wrapped hand, she stroked the fingers, finally falling asleep herself.
Sleep didn’t last long for Holtz, however. At four in the morning, she woke with a panicked yelp, her heart monitor soaring. She silenced a cry as she pulled at her stitches with the movement of surprise, trying to gather herself together. The nurse rushed in, Holtz played off that she’d just woke up unaware of her surroundings (she’d been saying that to the various nurses every time she was startled awake, grateful none of them had started asking further questions). Glancing down at Erin, she knew just how fucking exhausted the woman had to be to sleep through all the noise. Biting back any thoughts of the perturbing, reoccurring nightmare she’d had since her admission to the hospital, Holtz hankered back down onto the mattress, pulling Siouxise the stuffed cat to her side and nuzzling her nose into the faux fur, wishing it were Erin’s hair.
Morning came just two hours later with a knock on the door and a groan from Holtz, who clutched her stomach with a subsequent whine. Erin tried to process her surroundings as Abby stepped in, a trouble-making grin on her face and a hand behind her back.
“Holtzy, I have a gift. And your nurse said it was okay,” She said offering the stink eye to Erin if the woman tried to argue.
The blonde found a little ghost of a smile as she croaked, “What’s’it?”
Abby produced a blue and green popsicle, making the engineer grin completely. “I promise you a freakin’ feast when you can eat solid food again. But blue’s your favorite, so—“
She unwrapped it and laced the stick in the woman’s good hand. “Thanks, Abby.” Sucking on the top she watched Erin in full morning glory, puffy under her eyes, hair tangled and expression lost in space. “Patty’s on her way with something for you, too. We’ve got about an hour before we have to head downtown.”
Not missing the look on Holtz’s face, Erin stood up, muttering, “I’ll be right back. Anything I can get for you, sweetheart?”
She shook her head and locked eyes with Abby after the door shut. A few tears escaped and the older woman was at her side instantly. “Hey, hey…what’s wrong, Holtz?”
“I don’t want her to worry any more,” She said with a whispered cry, biting into the top part of the frozen treat. Once she swallowed, she explained, “I’m having really, really bad nightmares. I just keep blowing up,” She sobbed the last part, biting her lip before sucking on the popsicle again, though serious, she was still typical Holtzmann. “She’s going to make herself sick worrying, I can’t tell her.”
“Honey, have you told the doctor?” Abby asked her quickly.
Shaking her head again the blonde shrugged, biting the popsicle once more. “I…I…It just seems like a low priority with my bleeding intestines and broken appendages.”
“Do you want me to say something before I go?”
Holtzmann looked off to the side, shrugging once more. “It’s,” With a deep breath she explained, “It’s not just when I’m sleeping. Sometimes, a lot…like…constantly, I blink and boom! Everything feels hot and dark and…” She let another tear escape.
Abby brushed them away with her thumbs, kissing the top of her friend’s head. “I’ll talk to the doctor, okay? I’m really sorry we can’t be here with you during the day.”
Holtz finished her popsicle, chewing on the stick when she was done, not bothering with the joke as she collected herself before Erin could walk back in.
“I know she’s over it and probably sick of me saying it,” Holtz sniffed, “But I’m still feeling so bad about that argument we had. It could have been the last thing we said to each other!”
Twisting blonde curls off her forehead, Abby reminded her, “But it wasn’t. You’ve got to forgive yourself, honey.”
“I’m finding a way to make up for it,” She vowed. “I need to remind her that she matters to me, all the time. Her opinions, needs, desires. She matters, more than anything.”
“A wedding ring would probably say it all.”
“Abby!” Holtz whined, “It’s only been ten months. Not yet.”
Receiving a pointed look, her fellow scientist reminded her, “Yeah, and she already got a tattoo of yours inked onto her skin.”
Eyes lighting up suddenly, Holtz smiled. “That she did. Thanks, Abs. And thank you for talking to the doctor for me. I…shit, what would I do without you guys?”
“Probably be really freakin’ bored and uncool,” Patty said as she stepped into the room with a few bags. “Yo, Auntie Patty’s got you the hookup, baby girl.”
Holtz wiped at her eyes one last time for good measure, hissing as she eased herself up a bit to sit up properly. Taking one of the reusable totes from Patty’s arm, she discovered an adult coloring book with a sci-fi theme and some fat, odd looking colored pencils. “They’re for like…four-year-olds or some shit, they’re lightweight but thicker, figured it’d be easier for your sad-ass fine motor skills right now.”
“Aww, Pattycakes, thank you!”
“Oh, that’s not all Ms. Claus brought you now! I know it’s freakin’ cold in here,” She tugged out a velvety-warm blanket with sleeves which was shaped like Spider-Man’s uniform. Holtz laughed into a, “Yesssssssss,” and letting her tug it over her person. “And, the start of your Banshees,” She removed another Pusheen cat, this one eating an ice cream cone, which Holtz clutched tightly.
“You guys are the best,” She said, a genuine smile encouraging her friends.
“Least we can do baby, least we can do.”
Erin stepped back into the room with a chuckle, hugging her coworkers and accepting the bagel breakfast from Patty, describing it in detail for Holtz when she asked.
As the seven o’clock hour rolled near, Holtzmann grew antsy, starting to feel a fresh wave of tears prick the back of her eyes as the ladies began gathering themselves for the first of four busts that day.
She starved them back, but Erin knew that they were there. Kissing her fiercely, soundly, she promised, “We’ll be safe. We love you. We’ll be back.”
Abby shot her a knowing look, saying she was going to scoot out early to run to the restroom. Patty followed, giving them a moment.
“I’d never been worried about busts going wrong before,” Holtz admitted, sniffing and leaning her damaged forehead forward, not caring about the incited pain at touching Erin’s. “But I’m so afraid of you going out there.”
Erin didn’t know what to say, so she let actions speak for her as she held her girlfriend and kissed her soundly.
Two hours later, Holtzmann couldn’t have made eye contact with the doctor if someone offered her a box of fudge and a kitten. She was ashamed and feeling weak.
“Holtzmann…” The woman smiled with compassion, rolling a stool over to the bedside. “This is completely, perfectly normal for someone who has been through trauma. Half of all people who experience something physical like this have symptoms of post-traumatic stress, sometimes short-term, sometimes long-term. It is okay to feel the way you do.”
She pulled her ice cream cat, which she’d named Bowie, into her hands, turning it over. “It would be easier if my friends were here.”
“Well, it’s good that you have a support system,” Dr. Kouri explained. “And I know you don’t want to worry Erin any more, but I think you should tell her what’s happening. I, of course, cannot if you are able to advocate for yourself. But I think she completely understands and would be another great support for you to unload this on.”
Holtz stroked the ice cream cone that the cat was holding with a long sigh. “She has enough to worry about, though.”
“But, Holtzmann…” Dr. Kouri’s kind, dark eyes finally met hers. “Somehow, it will come out eventually. You do live with her, and work with her. When she finds out, if it’s much later, I think there will be anger added onto her worry, and I feel that would be much worse. I, of course, cannot tell you what to do, but as your doctor, I’m advising letting your significant other in on this. She loves you so much, Holtzmann. Most people can’t even dream of a love like you have with her. It’s beautiful.”
“I don’t deserve her,” She sighed, nuzzling her nose into the cat.
Dr. Kouri laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m going to talk to the psychiatrists, then counselors. We’re going to work together to get you feeling a bit more like yourself. It will take time, and work, but we’ll get you on the right path. Would you prefer a female if there is one available?”
“Yes, please,” Holtz responded in a small voice.
Holding back tears, she turned on the tablet Erin had brought in for her, loading a video on the HuluPlus application, waiting for it to load. She let out a loud breath, then looked at the time. Noting it was only nine in the morning and at the rate things had been progressing all week, Erin might not return for fourteen hours. Letting a tear escape, she curled onto her side as much as possible given her stitches and pain, willing time to pass faster.
Thoughts were similar for Erin as she clutched the dual-wielding proton pistols that Holtzmann loved so much. How were they up against a half dozen spirits at nine in the morning?
“Erin, left side!”
Blindly, she aimed in the called direction, shouting her thanks at Abby as she obliterated a ghost with ease. Holtz’s oldest sidearms were by far one of the trustiest weapons she’d ever built, but they required a load of stamina to keep going that only the blonde seemed to carry.
Tossing them back after shooting the phantom down, Erin pulled the wand up and over her shoulder, aiding Patty in dealing a hefty vapor that just wouldn’t let them blast it into a trap.
When it finally entered, they both had their hands on their knees, trying to catch their breath when Abby screeched, “Incoming!”
Both ducked forward, heads colliding, earning mutual groans, but missing an ionized pipe.
Abby snorted, blasting the ghost that had projected the metal, which Erin picked up. “Was that the last of them, nine?”
“By my count,” The shortest of them rubbed her neck. “Damn I need a chiropractor. When’s Lynch adding that to our insurance? Ugh.”
The physicist agreed, passing over the cylinder. “We’re still saving the pipes for evidence, right?”
“Now entering pipe number eight hundred sixty-seven to database F, which does, in fact, stand for fuck this,” Abby joked. Getting on a small walkie talkie, she called up, “53rd is clear, over.”
“Think you girls can handle one more before lunch?”
Patty grimaced, taking the talking mechanism. “Is that an offer of choice, Hawkins?”
“…It just sounded nicer than, ‘let’s get going.’”
“Thought so. Damn suit wearing motherfucker.”
Holtzmann had many reasons to be nervous as she was wheeled to the psychiatrist’s office. The first of which, that she was going there. Dr. Kouri had convinced her to try sitting up for the forty minute initial intake session. She was moderately comfortable in a decked-out wheelchair full of cushions. Yet, the thought of being in the upright position for almost an hour with the transport process was making her dizzy.
She hadn’t been evaluated by a psychiatrist in years. In elementary school, it had been because her teachers couldn’t handle her vibrant, loud, energetic personality. In high school, it had been necessary for public health services through the foster organization she’d been placed with. Since then, though several professors and colleagues had so politely suggested perhaps seeing someone about medication would help her focus, she’d refused.
Now, she was about to be open and vulnerable to the most unsound, private, embarrassing parts of herself. Trying not to vomit at the thought, she let the nurse push her into the modestly sized room, which was fairly bare and blissfully devoid of inspirational quotes.
A woman who appeared old enough to be a grandmother, with curly salt-and-pepper hair stood from her desk, long gypsy-style skirt flowing behind her. A pair of cat-eyed spectacles was perched on her nose, and a vest that clashed terribly with her skirt pattern was buttoned on top.
Holtzmann liked her already.
“Hello, there. I’m Dr. Sarah Opie, but you can call me Sarah. I see from your file, you prefer to go by Holtzmann, or Holtz, for short?” Nodding, the blonde let Sarah take over the handles and IV, thanking the nurse. “Now, if you’re getting uncomfortable, please speak up, we can always take this back to your room.” With another nod, Holtz felt a bubble of relief pass through her, already feeling safe in the space. A distinct aroma of lavender oil filled the room, and Holtz let out a little breath of laughter when she saw the diffusor, which was shaped like a cauldron.
“Anything I can get you before I go?” The nurse questioned.
“Just water, please?” Holtz responded, and within the minute, had a foam cup filled halfway with ice chips. “Thank you.”
“Okay, well — I usually start by letting my patients know a bit about myself. Not to be vein, of course, but I think it helps to open up to someone if you know why they’ve got the title to do what they do, hm?” With another bob of her head, Holtz encouraged Sarah to speak. “I’ve been practicing psychiatry for nearly thirty-eight years, back in the infant days of the field, so to speak. I was the only woman in my class and it was quite taboo. I also disagreed with many classifications and practices at the time, so I’ve always been a bit of an outsider.”
“Well, I’m a Ghostbuster,” Holtz shrugged, though it hurt a little to do so. “So I feel ya.”
“I thought you might,” Sarah had large teeth which were glowing white. Holtz took a sip of her water and listened as he explained how she got the position in the hospital, then started to ask questions about Holtz’s history. “So, tell me about your history with psychiatry?”
Shrugging the blonde answered plainly, “In grade school, the teachers couldn’t handle me and wanted me in special ed. When I got tested, it turned out that I had an IQ of 163 and a severe case of ADHD to match, so they put me in a special school for gifted and talented kids, but I didn’t really fit in there, either.” Holtz fiddled with a loose thread on her hospital gown. “In high school, I was bussed to the community college for half the day and took all my math and science classes there. During my senior year, my mom passed and my dad had died a few years earlier, so I was put into a foster care group home. They did all kinds of testing, but with as fast as the magic government machine is, I aged out before they did anything with it.”
She hadn’t been so honest with Erin when they’d first started dating, and it felt weird laying herself out before a stranger. Going through her life from college to starting work with the Ghostbusters took a mere ten minutes as she headline news’d it, skipping dramatic details and focusing on major events.
“So, you’re having sleeping and waking nightmares,” The woman expressed, reading from a little pad of notes she’d brought over to the sofa with her. “You don’t recall having anything of the sort before the accident?”
“Never,” Holtz shrugged. “I mean, I’m sure I’ve had nightmares, but just the went naked to work or swallowed by a one-eyed sewer rat kind.” Pressing her lips together, she added, “Annnnd I’ve been known to space out during the day, but…not…” With a deep breath she sighed, “Like this.”
“Alright, so tell me about what you recall during the accident. What specific events lead up to the explosion?”
Verbally working through the awful bust in the tunnel, her first injury that had ultimately been her sprained wrist, not trapping the ghost, being useless in the second battle, then discovering the bombs.
At the mention of the word bomb, she froze, her words caught in her throat. Suddenly, the room was warm, too warm. Her chest tightened, eyelids smashed shut, and bile rose in the back of her throat.
“Holtz,” Sarah said her name firmly, “You are not underground. There is no device in the room. You are safe here.”
Working through the physical reaction quickly with the woman’s help, Holtz took a deep breath, sweat pooling at her nape as she calmed herself down with Sarah’s breathing technique she walked her through. “Very, very good, Holtzmann. Excellent.”
“I-I, I don’t,” She focused on her air flowing through her respiratory system before finally stating, “No more talking, about it, not now.”
“That’s acceptable, Holtzmann. We got this far, and we’re over forty minutes, so I’d say you did very well today for a first session. I think this is a pretty clear-cut case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Frowning, she tried to lean down into her chair, wishing she could slouch. “‘M not a soldier,” She muttered.
“It’s not just for veterans in combat. And, really, you’re in combat every day, Holtz. Just with ghosts instead of a foreign army.
Breathing techniques are going to help get you through this, though because it is so fresh and you’re dealing with a lot of other medical issues, I’m going to prescribe a SSRI. It’s a type of medication that will ease your anxiety and help you deal with these intrusive thoughts, especially when we get to more strategies, okay? Holtzmann, this was great, I’m very proud of you for opening up like this.”
Wiping a tear that had escaped, Holtz gave a nod, feeling wildly out of character as she forced her body to calm down once again.
“I’m here five days a week, and Dr. Wallus says you’re here for a good stretch, so, we’ll do some work together. I believe that you are capable of working through this at a fairly fast rate, as long as you keep acknowledging it. Admitting something is wrong is the first step to solving any problem.”
“I know,” She said with a pout. “Thanks, Sarah. Catch’ya tomorrow.”
As her nurse was taking her back to the room, Holtz raised a finger when they passed a wall of windows that she’d been to nervous to glance through on the ride over.
A children’s play room was before her, and a little boy with no hair was making a bragging gesture to a male nurse, a video game controller in hand. Holtz pointed at the TV with a set of wickedly raised brows, despite the angry red slash that went through one of them. “That boy needs a slice’a humble pie. And I’m about to personally deliver it to him. Lez’go.”
At six o’clock, Holtz was just about to enjoy a dinner of apple juice and orange jello, when she was surprised by the door opening and revealing a fresh-off-a-bust Erin, who was miserable at best.
Holtz frowned, sliding over as the woman stepped out of her boots and wiggled out of her jumpsuit, revealing a set of all black Underarmour. She curled right into Holtz’s side, shivering. “You’re freezing, baby girl.”
“Fuck this city right now,” Erin mumbled into Holtz’s neck, kissing above a shrapnel wound. “Fuck it straight to hell, fuck it straight in it’s uptight asshole. I cannot even.”
“I will totally not judge you, but did you leave mid-bust?” Holtz worried about their coworkers.
“No, I just very professionally told Bradley to stuff his plan down his pants and stormed out of a meeting. I’m not a machine. I didn’t join the army for a reason.”
Holtz let out a little mewling sound before nuzzling Erin’s cold hair with her chin, wishing she could pull the woman’s body over her own. There was no comforting words for her, so Holtz kept quiet, simply listening to Erin ramble about the plan for the next two days (just two more days of utter hell before all the tunnels were clear, thankfully) and eventually fell asleep with Holtz’s sprained arm locked around her waist. Cringing and pretty hungry, Holtz leaned forward with her good one, carefully spooning jello into her mouth despite the stretch to her ligaments it caused.
Her jaw dropped into a little ‘o’ when a wiggly piece fell off the spoon and landed on Erin’s hair, then slimily worked it’s oozy-substance way down her temple, cheek and landed on her lips. She cringed in her sleep then blinked an eye open, lifting the offending piece of gelatin with a pincher grasp, staring at Holtzmann with a stink-eye. “Really? Are you kidding me right now? The first day since this madness begins that I don’t get slimed by a ghost, and my girlfriend is going to get me all sticky?”
Letting out a loud laugh that turned into a painful snort, Holtz nearly choked when Erin dropped the jello bite into her mouth, swallowing it and laughing some more. Erin sat halfway up, about to reach for a napkin, when Holtz fought through the pain to use her abdomen muscle, sticking her tongue out to slide up the orange trail on Erin’s face, making her yelp. “Holtzmann!”
Still maniacally giddy, the blonde continued to fight the ripping sensation in her belly to tug Erin to her in a long hug, kissing her everywhere her lips could reach.
“Okay, you’re feeling better now,” The auburn haired woman finally let out a little laugh and sighed as she avoided any major injuries, but embraced her girlfriend back. “Mmm, I miss us.”
“Me too,” Holtz declared loudly.
“Dr. Kouri and Wallace think you’ve got another week here,” Erin said with a frown. “But when I get you home?” She winked and hovered over her. “I’m going to make you remember why we fell in love and I’m going to be the best nurse you could ask for, I promise.”
“You know,” Holtz rolled her eyes up and to the left as she did when she had a terribly dirty idea. “They make these…little…cute…nurse outfits, and I think the Love Store has them in stock…”
“Oh, tell me more?” Erin licked her bottom lip and it was too sexy for the hospital. Biting back a groan and her own bottom lip, the engineer shrugged. “Do you have lots of ways that I might be able to help you feel better?”
Playing along, Holtz reached her fingers forward and tugged at the stupidly-not-but-totally sexy spandex turtleneck her girlfriend had on. “Mhm. Physical therapy’s my number one goal.”
“Rehabilitation to the environment is critical to a patient’s success post-trauma,” Erin stated like a text book. “I vow, as Dr. Gilbert, to give you a rehab experience insurance doesn’t cover.”
Wanting to laugh, Holtz felt herself get trapped in the phrase trauma. Erin seemed to notice and cooled off the sexy talk, lining her spine up straight as she dangled her legs off the edge of the bed. Curling her fingers in between Holtzmann’s, she waited patiently for the blonde to share.
“Erin?” Holtz’s voice cracked a bit, “I…Had…” She closed her eyes and found courage before explaining, “I had an appointment with a psychiatrist today. She thinks that…I’m experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress.”
Erin shifted and bent her face down to press a slow, sweet kiss to Holtzmann’s lips. “It’s normal, Holtz. It would almost be weird if you didn’t have some sort of it after what you went through. I think my mind is to busy with all this tunnel stuff, otherwise I’d probably be right there with you.”
Holtz nodded, feeling relief after telling her girlfriend. “I didn’t want you to worry any more. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” She said with another fault in her tone, about to really cry. “All the times I’ve been waking up, screaming, or jumpy during the day? It’s been, like…flashbacks to the explosion. I’m sorry, Erin, I just didn’t want to give you one more thing to think about.”
Not quite sure how to respond at first, the physicist took a moment to stroke a smooth thumb over Holtzmann’s jawline. “I’m not mad at you, Jill. It’s hard to talk about anxiety, trust me, I know.”
Suddenly feeling the ultimate nail in the coffin from their argument as well, Holtz’s face crumpled and she cried out tears that had too much in them — flashbacks, pain, regret. “I’m tired,” She whispered hysterically, “And I want to go home, but I don’t deserve to have you taking such good care of me, and I—“
“Honey,” Erin tucked her hair back behind her ear. “I want you to stop with that. Let me decide what you deserve from me, what I’m willing to give to you. I’ll know when it’s too much. I’m tired too, and all I want is to have you at home with me. I don’t care what shape you’re in, I want you home and I want to give you whatever you need. Whatever you need,” She repeated for emphasis.
Holtz was on the verge of hyperventilating while Erin, the expert at the subject, talked her through the attack, easing her back into a normal intake of air and eventually causing her sobs to subside. “This isn’t you,” Erin said gently. “This is the trauma, and it’s going to…emotionally hurt like this for awhile. But it will get better, I promise. It will get easier. And I’m going to be here for you at it’s hardest point, and I’ll be there for you when it starts to fade. I’m here, Holtzmann. I love you.”
It was quiet for a beat as Erin teased Holtz’s curls, missing it’s usual style, though the bun against the pillows would be uncomfortable. “Do you want to talk about your first session?”
“It went okay,” Holtz said, her throat raw from crying and nose stuffed. Erin passed her the apple juice, which she chugged, then listened to her talk again. “I did a lot of that. But…she said I probably needed it, and she helped me, like you just did, said I’ll learn to do that on my own…they started me on an SSRI this evening. Don’t feel it yet.”
Erin kissed her temple. “It takes a few days to kick in. Do you like the psychiatrist?”
“Yeah, actually,” Holtz found a little smile again. “She was cool. Like, hippie-cool. You’d like her, too. I’ll be going every day I’m here.”
“Well, I’m…proud of you,” She said fondly, earning a cocked brow of confusion. “Admitting that something’s not right, in that way, is really hard. But you were brave enough to say you were struggling with processing this and you are getting the help you need. I’m proud of you.”
Holtz motioned in for a kiss, which Erin happily delivered. “Do you know that Christmas is Monday?”
Frowning suddenly, Erin realized, “You’ll be here…that’s why Bradley was adamant about us finishing this tomorrow and giving us the weekend through Tuesday. Legally he has to…damnit, I’m so sorry.” Letting her shoulders sink down, the auburn haired woman pouted. “I actually had some stuff I wanted to do with you for our first Christmas. I’m sorry you’re stuck here, I’m going to bring as much of it here as I can.”
“Well, I was in the middle of making something spectacular for you,” Holtz said, trying to keep the sadness out of her voice again.
“I bet it’ll make a great Valentine’s Day gift, too. Can you believe it’s almost been a year that we’ve been together?”
“Time flies when you’re catching ghosts,” Holtz winked. “But they’re doing a bunch of stuff here for the kids this weekend and Monday, so maybe we could help with that where we can?”
Erin took her pinky and gave it a little shake. “Sounds like a good first Christmas to me,” She shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t believe it’s only four days away!”
Adding to her earlier comment, Holtz rolled her eyes. “Time also flies when you explode and wind up in the hospital for nine days and counting.”
Giving her a playful push, Erin stood up to toss out the empty food and juice containers, saying she was going to get dressed in her PJs and be right back.
Snatching her phone that she’d left on the table, Holtz quickly dialed Patty’s number. “It’s me. I need a Christmas miracle and I’m aware that I’m about six blocks west of thirty fourth street for the irony, but I’m wondering if you could deliver for me anyway?”
Erin struggled to lift the last ghost trap over her shoulder, muscles devoid of any possible sporadic moves. Abby had fed her a Rockstar for lunch and after dry heaving and then nearly having a heart attack from the energy, she vowed to get Holtz off them as a new year resolution. Loading the last of three phantoms into the hearse, she kicked the door after closing it, raising both arms, “Thank you, Manhattan, good night!”
“That’s it! We did the damn thing!” Patty laughed into a weak high five from her usually upbeat post-bust friend. “Erin, you’re a wreck. You aughtta take a lil nap before headin’ to the hospital. At home. In your bed. Tell me after ten days your spine isn’t screaming for it?”
“Trust me, it is,” She sighed, rubbing the knotted bone. “But, tease me all you want, it’s not bed without Holtz in it. Damn, when did I become this person?”
She was rubbing her temples as her breath was visible in the air. Shivering, she slid into the back seat, dramatically laying down across it as Abby put the Ecto in gear. “I gotta get the stuff to Holzmann anyway, though. Any chance one of you would stay the night with her? By the time I get home then back to the hospital it’s gonna be past midnight and she’ll be out and really sad.”
“I’ll do it,” Patty offered, with alternate plans anyway. “You take the night off, baby doll, before you run yourself ragged. I won’t leave her until you get there in the morning, I promise.”
Dropping the scientist at the apartment, Abby sped off with a wicked laugh. “You’re so smooth.”
“Like clear-cut diamonds, that’s me. Alright, what did Holtzmann refer to this operation as?”
“I don’t remember the freakin’ title, but I do believe she referred to us as ‘Subordinate Clauses.’ The nerve of that string bean.”
Patty cackled, “I’ll take a good grammar pun today though, only ‘cause I’m tired. Alright, so…she’s already called the jeweler, we just gotta pick up the goods, then sneak a soldering iron into the hospital. Shouldn’t be too hard right? We the Ghostbusters.”
It turned out to be surprisingly easy to sneak the machinery into the hospital. Holtz’s state though, was not very conducive to the metalwork she wanted to do though, and after an hour, she was in tears of frustration. Patty took the device and let it cool down before hiding it away. “If you really think that Erin is expecting a homemade gift in your condition, you’re crazier than the doctor says.”
Holtz shrugged, throwing her cards on the table. “I just want to make everything up to her.”
“I’m not honoring that with a response,” Abby stated firmly. “Now that the engineering hour is up, would you like to see the gift you are giving her?” Frowning, she shrugged again. “Oh, stop pouting. Just because you didn’t actually make this one doesn’t mean she’s going to like it any less. She’s going to cry like a baby and you know it.”
Holtz took the long, narrow box. A ring would have been too much under the circumstances, and Erin had a variety of necklaces she’d found herself appealing over the years, none which held much personal meaning to her. Holtz hoped to change that.
Opening the black, velvet lid of the rectangular prism, she smiled fondly at the simple, yet emotionally complex necklace she’d had commissioned by someone she knew in the business. A thin, gold chain held in the middle, a Lapis Lazuli gemstone. The back was plated gold, and inscribed in tiny cursive was a line to a poem from their favorite anthology, ‘she is in every corner, in every essence of me.’
“It’s freakin’ beautiful. Also, when did you two nerds become such goddamn poets? Like, can you leave nothing for the rest of us average IQ humans to aspire to be?” Patty teased.
“I am a deeply sensitive soul, Patricia,” Holtz said, fingering the letters and pressing a kiss to the back of it before neatly laying it in the box. “We like to get cozy and drink coffee and read poems together. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” Abby said with a snicker, pulling out her phone. “It just seems so out of character for you, but, hey, love makes ya do crazy things. You guys are cute, and almost a million people think so, too.” She chuckled again, flipping to their Instsgram, scrolling past pictures of the three active duty busters at work in the tunnels. “This is what we wound up posting to let everyone know you two were alright. It increased our followers by a fifth.”
“Aww,” Holtz softened, loving the sight of Erin looking at her so fondly doing what they enjoyed sharing together. “Can you send that to me?”
“Jesus,” Abby rubbed under her glasses. “You love her enough not to let that embarrass you. God. You guys are gross. Love you, but you’re gross. Let’s get that wrapped, Holtzy.”
They worked together to get that and the other odds and bobs Holtz had stashed away in the firehouse wrapped and hidden in a closet for Christmas morning. They spent the next half hour watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special on Holtz’s tablet, before Abby took off for the night.
Patty tucked Holtz in, even pressing an affectionate kiss to the top of her head which made Holtz blink in a squinty-relaxed cat-like way. “Good night, baby girl, holla’ if you need me, okay?”
“Okay,” Holtz said, despite being relaxed, she was nervous about falling asleep in front of her friend, knowing a nightmare would be inevitable.
Sure enough, at three in the morning, she was screaming and Patty had her calm within a minute when a nurse came in. “She’s alright,” Patty told the woman, holding Holtz against her chest. “Holtzy, you’re alright.”
Snuggling her face into Patty’s well-endowed chest, Holtz asked if she could stay there all night. Chuckling, the taller woman ruffled her hair and pulled her off. “Try to go back to bed, love bug.”
Erin looked like a new woman when she showed up mid-morning that Saturday, wearing an over-the-top red Christmas sweater with a white reindeer pattern on it. Holtz loved it, wiggly as she waited for a proper greeting from her festive girlfriend. She set down the armful of totes and backpack she was carrying before strutting over and getting pulled by the loops on her jeans down for a kiss. Patty didn’t wait before jumping into the bag that held breakfast, sticking around to eat before heading out to get herself properly undone from the bust the night before.
“I missed you,” Erin said with a perky voice.
“But it sounds like you needed an evening at home,” Holtz added honestly, playing with her fingers. “You look…brighter.”
“I feel better, I do, but it was lonely.” She kissed Holtzmann again before standing. “You’ve got PT coming in the next few minutes and when you come back, I will have worked my mother’s inner Christmas magic on this room.”
On cue, a nurse arrive to take Holtz to therapy, which she grumbled about but left knowing what Erin was capable of.
After an hour of walking between bars with dramatic straining sounds, moving her sprained wrist up and down, and doing some form of sadistic sit-up like ab movements, she was receiving an icepack on her wounded stomach and waiting with bated breath to see what Erin had concocted in her room.
When she was wheeled to the door, she was greeted by Erin, who had a festive reindeer mug with apple juice and an individual-sized blue Jello mold of a gingerbread man. Holtz squeaked and shifted excitedly in her seat, accepting the treats on the tray of her wheelchair before letting her jaw drop at the sight of her temporary home. She found the most ear-splitting grin she could muster with her mouth open and clapped her hands together, despite the pain it caused the left one. “Erin! Gilbert! How did you! Do! The thing!”
Erin giggled as she tried not to flush. “Well, the nurses on the floor did help me under the condition I’d help them make the kid’s room look the same for when Santa comes tomorrow. But…yeah, I had to give you the Standard Gilbert Christmas.”
The Standard Gilbert Christmas contained a four foot snap-together tree on a crate in front of the window, which was devoid of ornaments that sat in a little basket next to it so Holtz could decorate. The rest of the room, however, had spiraling snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, faux snow blankets filled with knickknacks, and enough burlap to be straight off a suburban mom’s blog. “This is amazing, Erin!” She was feeling choked up again, reaching for a hug. Erin bent down to deliver it to her, kissing her cheek fondly.
“Will you help me decorate the tree? It’s kind of a big deal in my family. We’re not allowed to do it until we’re all together.”
“Yes!” She motioned forward and Erin rolled her over, handing her the basket, which weren’t just odd orbs and random ornaments. Each one she’d found from her own collection and purchased new, Holtzmann would find, had some meaning or reasoning behind it.
She lifted the one on top which appeared to have at one time been a magnet, replaced with a paperclip. Flipping it over, she revealed their trademarked work symbol. She grinned, sticking the NO GHOST on the very top and middle. Giving a giddy little dance with her hands and pressing her lips together, she took a chunk out of her jello before reaching in for the next one, a transparent star that was filled with gold and purple glitter.
“Stardust,” Holtz smiled, handing it carefully by the ribbon to Erin, who hung it up on the side. The blonde stuck her hand in again, pulling out a plush cat that was the same design as her stuffed ones, only wearing a little santa hat. Holtz gasped and reached over for another kiss before kissing the cat ornament itself, placing it on the tree near the Ghostbuster one.
They worked through the basket, Holtz finding some discarded parts to inventions that Erin had twisted together into Steampunk looking ornaments, more space-themed bulbs, a few nerdy ones, and at the bottom of the basket was a little box. “Patty gave me that one last night,” She said quietly. “Then showed me the post, but whatever.” Inside was a four by four inch square piece of wood, which had burned the picture from the GhostCorps Instagram feed on it. The inscription at the bottom read, ‘First Christmas in Love, Erin and Holtz 2017.’
Choking up at how sweet and perfect it was, Holtz hung the satin ribbon around a branch, letting it dip just a tad. Erin leaned her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder as she crouched next to her, the string of lights on against the morning’s foggy background. “Happy start to our holiday, Jill.”
The blonde crinkled into another wild grin before belting in a high-pitched voice, “All I want for Christmas is you, baby~!”
“But why can’t I just use the catheter for the rest of my life? Think of the convenience factor? Long busts? Sitting through a movie? Making a new weapon? Consider the amount of productivity I could gain by wearing a catheter forever!” Holtz was deeply protesting the thought of having to physically move to the bathroom each time she needed to go. She’d been free-peeing into a bag for over a week and it had been awesome, under the circumstances.
Erin leaned down so the doctor couldn't hear her, whispering, “I’m not putting my mouth or fingers anywhere near you while you’ve got a pee tube next to your cooch.”
“Well, on that note, rip the damn thing out!” Holtzmann said animatedly, sitting up, ready to do it herself.
“Easy,” Dr. Wallus chuckled, hands in his pockets as he had been attempting to walk the couple through the next week’s plans on Christmas Eve. Holtzmann’s constant interruption was both funny and irritating as she was starting to have her personality return while being weened off morphine. “We’re going to schedule that for this afternoon. You’ll find yourself very relieved to have more mobility, I think. Even if it does make relieving yourself a bit of a process. If we stick to this plan, we’ll have you out of here for the New Year. And, as an early Christmas present, based off the results of the most recent endoscopy…” He placed a menu for the hospital cafeteria on her bedside table. “You’re being upgraded to soft solids. Page seven. Lots of soups to chose from!”
Erin rubbed Holtz’s upper arm as she flipped through her options.
“You’ll be completely off morphine by the morning as well, which means you’ll only be managing pain with Hydrocodone alone, so be prepared it’s going to be a tough adjustment.”
Holtz was too distracted by soup, so Erin thanked the doctor while the blonde tried to prep herself mentally for eating something with a texture that wasn’t like slime. “Applesauce and cream of chicken this is the best day of my life,” She uttered dramatically, laying back against Erin and kissing her cheek. “Also, I’m saying it so it’s out there — I’m sorry, because once they take out the pee tube, things are going to start to get gross and dramatic I think.”
Leaning forward, she kissed Holtzmann’s cheek, which was scabbing over like a bad case of chicken pox in places she hadn’t been able to help scratching. “Just know how much I love you when I’m giving you a shower on one of those old lady stools.”
An hour later, the love was real when Holtz was sitting up at a table after having had to use the facilities for the first time in almost eleven days. The whole sixty minute stretch had been a messy, embarrassing disaster. A bowl of soup was before her and her cheeks were rosier than Rudolph’s nose.
Erin was a mess of laughter at the seat beside her, cackling madly at the whole scenario. “Remember this when I pee all over you,” Holtz warned her cautiously.
The auburn haired woman wiped the tears under her eyes and stopped laughing long enough to add, “That could be a deal breaker.” The surly younger one had her arms crossed and she winced a little as her foot throbbed in the cast. Erin settled herself and kissed the tip of her nose for penance. “Eat your soup, Holtz.”
“You’re not helpless,” Erin warned her, lifting the spoon into Holtz’s hand. “C’mon, I’ve caught enough re-runs of Supernanny on a Thursday night to know I have to expect you to do these things for yourself.” Holtz put the spoon down instead of putting it in her mouth, staring at the food with a heavy breath.
“It starts with soup,” She explained, hoping Erin would gather where she was going with her thought.
“All good things do, according to Abby.”
“No,” Holtz whined. “That’s not…I don’t…Ugh.”
Erin ceased her teasing, sensing a serious mood change. “Tell me what’s on your mind?”
“It starts with soup,” She repeated, eyes glassy with moisture. “And then I’m living without feeling too much pain, then I’m leaving here and at home and on medication and then in a few weeks, I’ll be back at work, and it’s…a lot.”
“Okay,” Erin understood. “It starts with soup, but honey? It’s just soup.” She kissed her temple, sliding her chair closer, wrapping an arm around the back of Holtzmann’s. “No one is going to rush you. Well, the Mayor’s staff tried, but we told them to back off. You are on your own time table.”
Holtz stared at the thick broth, appetite gone. “What if I need two months? Or three?”
“We’ll figure it out. No one wants you in pain, physical or emotional. You’ll have the time you need to recover, I promise.”
“Are you going to be frustrated if I’m bumming around your apartment while you’re working?”
Wanting to pull Holtzmann into her lap, Erin settled for tugging her head to lean on her shoulder. “I think you’re going to be bored to tears, but you are always welcome. It’s really not my apartment anymore, it’s ours.” She bit her lip, “I know you never wanted to take over my space, but I want you in my space. I…” She winced hated bringing it up, “That night, that we fought,” Cringing again, she felt Holtz stiffen. “I said I don’t like going there alone. It’s not home without you in it anymore. I know you didn’t think it was smart to move in right away, I mean, that was probably a good call. But I…will you? Officially?”
Pulling back, Holtz met her gaze. There was the serious offer and a little fear, that Holtzmann might actually refuse the offer.
“You really want me to move-in, move-in with you? Like, your voting precinct is my voting precinct?”
“Yes,” Erin laughed into a kiss. “I want to vote with you, in the midst of it all, I want that, too. But I mean…it wouldn’t be too much different than it is already.”
“I know, but…” Holtzmann paused, licking her lips. “No one has ever lived with me by choice before, and…I’m a pest and…loud, and messy and…”
“And I’m in love with you anyway.” Erin kissed her again. “Jill. Holtzmann. Move in with me. For real. Please?”
Nodding because talking would have been impossible, Holtz leaned forward again, letting Erin hold her long and tight, stitches be damned.
There was a long stretch of quiet between them while Erin slid her chair back so that it was up against the window by the tree. She took both of Holtz’s hands, guiding her slowly and carefully to walk the three steps to it, then sat her down. Pulling the woman in her lap, Erin helped her by pulling the hospital gown down in the right places; then kept her in a snug, sweet hold as the sun dipped beyond the skyline and their tree cast a glow across their faces. “Can you sing me something Christmasy?”
Erin hummed for a minute before quietly singing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight…Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yule-tide gay.” She paused as she sang the word a little louder and earned a giggle before continuing, “From now on, our troubles will be miles away. Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore. Faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us, once more. Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Hang a shining star upon the highest bough…and have yourself a merry little Christmas, now…”
“Sang more beautifully than Judy herself,” Holtz sniffed as she bowed her face into Erin’s neck while long arms raked their way up and down her back, stroking evenly.
Holtz woke up about a half hour before Erin or the sun as she sat up frantically, not even wincing. She was dripping with sweat from a nightmare and the intensity of the mind’s eye replay was blocking the pain in her abdomen. Trembling fingers pushed messy blonde locks back as she tried to follow through with the breathing techniques she’d been learning with Sarah the week prior.
Unfortunately, a little sob worked through her anyway, startling the woman sleeping peacefully in the chair beside her. Erin was blearily on the mattress next to Holtz, holding her hand and talking rhythmically to her with a low, sleepy tone. She whispered nonsense and tried to convince her girlfriend to achieve calm.
Once Holtzmann had snapped out of the state, she found a half-sincere grin, offering in a tired voice, “Merry Christmas, Erin.”
Sleepily returning the sentiment, Erin offered to help Holtz up and to the bathroom. Guiding her and holding the IV lines out of the way, she turned to give Holtz a moment of privacy before assisting her up and to the sink so she could brush her teeth.
A short while later, a nurse came to finally take the needle out of Holtz’s arm as the morphine was officially through it’s course, revealing a dark red raspberry beneath it. After having the wound dressed and her others cleaned, followed by a wash of her hair, Holtz was given permission to wear clothes that Erin had brought for the first time since arriving.
“I might just miss looking at your butt every time you turn around,” The taller woman teased as she helped Holtz slide into a pair of cozy red flannel Christmas pajama pants that had scottie dogs printed all over them. Sliding on a skid-proof hospital-issue sock over her non-broken foot, she had her take the first of many gifts that day. “Someone made these for us,” She said with a bite to her lip, laughing at Holtz’s wickedly excited reaction to the sweatshirt she pulled from the bag; their logo with a Santa hat on top of the ghost.
“That is epic.” With help, she had it on, sporting it with pride, loving the red sleeves in contrast with the grey body. “Oh, freakin’ sweet. Can you take a picture for our Instagram so we can thank them?”
Erin pulled on her own, posing with Holtz for a selfie, which turned out quite cute considering the circumstances. She let the blonde compose the message of gratitude while convincing her to order breakfast, despite the fact that she was supposedly not hungry. “I think all that Jello ruined you,” Erin said sadly as she had oatmeal and yogurt sent up.
Breakfast arrived around nine and after practically force feeding soggy oats to the woman, Erin was happy to hear the thundering laughter of their friends joining them for Christmas morning.
“Hello!” Abby greeted with a wide smile, sporting a white turtleneck with trees under a tragically ugly vest, while Patty bore a similar outfit, only with a surprising amount of feathers. They were each loaded up with bags and boxes. “Look at you two cozy on Christmas morning! Merry, merry!”
“She’s trying to hunger strike, what I’m not quite sure,” Erin said only partially jokingly, taking the half-eaten bowl of food and placing it on a tray.
Holtz stuck out her tongue and stood with Erin’s help, her walking cast still a bit much to handle unsupported. She wanted to be wrapped up in Christmas joy.
The group hug could have been the only thing Holtzmann had on her list that year. As she gripped her friends and girlfriend tight, she already knew, despite the circumstances, she was about to have the best Christmas in memory.
Erin had pulled a sofa in that morning from the waiting room, knowing at twelve days into the hospital stay, they pretty much got to do what they wanted. Patty and Abby eased themselves into the seats around the tree, while she held Holtz halfway in her lap. The three non-patients ate a breakfast that Abby had brought while Holtz tried to gag down some of the yogurt.
Patty had a playlist going in the background that had more contemporary Christmas music on it, while she had the rest of the crew laughing by telling stories of crazy Talon Christmas’s past as she prepared to spend the afternoon with her family. Abby, not having been able to make her flight to Michigan given the disaster, was roped into attending a banquet with the Mayor’s cronies.
Needless to say, Erin was actually feeling quite lucky that her whole day would be spent curled up with her girlfriend, even if it would take place in a hospital room.
“Okay, so, Ms. Thing…” Abby pulled a gift bag from under the tree where she’d stuffed it, getting Holtz’s attention. “We know you’ll be outta here within the week, but you’ve got a long road ahead of you, so we thought you needed something to take your brain out with.”
Erin smirked as Holtz excitedly leaned forward, reacting like an actual child when she pulled out, “A Sega Gensis! No freakin’ way! I never, I always, ah! Thank you!” She forced herself to stand up, tackling Abby and Patty in a hug and kissing their cheeks before inspecting the system.
“Now, it ain’t the classic, we didn’t have time for messin’ with eBay or a pawn shop this week, but the reboot already has like, eighty of the classic games on it, so you can play —“
“Sonic!” Holtz pumped the fist of her non-sprained wrist up in the air, “And Streetfighter!” She looked at the box, gasping, “Mortal Combat! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Kissing Erin’s nose she cheekily jested, “I’m gonna kick your butt and make you be Tails.”
“I don’t know what that means, but I’m willing to bet you will destroy me in every game we play.”
“You heard that, right?” Holtz kept a brow raised, pointing her thumb at her girlfriend, “She’s gonna play with me?”
“I did, in fact, hear that, um, Erin, good luck, if she gets too obnoxious with it, just threaten to break her other hand so she can’t play.”
Sticking her tongue out at Patty, Holtz grinned and thanked them again, wishing she could tear into the package and start playing right away.
“Erin, we didn’t want you to feel left out,” Patty started, passing the woman a narrow rectangle box. “Now this is something we’ve been trying to cook up for awhile now, thought we’d have it by your birthday, but the academic world is slow…by a miracle we got it in time for Christmas.”
She peeled the paper off slowly, her brow furrowing at the concept of the academic world and what that might mean as she opened a small box, revealing a neatly printed piece of fancy parchment.
Congratulations, Dr. Erin Gilbert;
I along with my board of esteemed colleagues would like to welcome you most fondly to the Quarterly Journal Review of Modern Physics.
“What!” Erin whisper-screamed as her eyes darted up to her friends, “What?!”
—You have been hand selected for our one board member opening (in the last seven years) to join us in reviewing work in the community of physics. You will be offered regular studies to give your expert opinion on before working cooperatively, virtually, with those of us on the board, to write abstracts that declare such works viable.
In addition, with your impressive repertoire of already existing, new, and work in progress, we are hoping you might wish to pen a column for our sister journal, Physics Explored, which now comes out monthly.
You were respected in our community for years, and now with your growing body of research in the existence of the paranormal, we would like to add your particular brand of science to our board. This makes you the first female scientist to be inaugurated into our program under her own category.
We hope you will be able to join us for an official ceremony in the spring, with an additional invitation inclosed in this package. You will also find a list of topics we would appreciate your new level of expertise and insight on. We’ve provided you with the top-of-the-line, newest computer with writing software, and hope it will serve you well.
Congratulations, Dr. Gilbert. We are delighted to meet you soon! Welcome Aboard!
Erin was in tears as she neatly tucked the professional parchment back in it’s box, untangling herself from an equally shocked Holtzmann. She moved herself to their coworkers, letting each of them hold her as she thanked them.
“How did you even…who did you…”
Patty shrugged. “You were off gettin’ that pretty new ink one afternoon,” She nodded to Erin’s arm. “Kevin took a call from a rep from the Review, and he tried to explain to the rep that you didn't work for them, because you were a Ghostbuster…anyway, I called them back and we just thought it would be a great surprise for you once it was all finalized, like you wouldn’t want that gig.”
“Absolutely! Ohmygosh, you guys!” She wiped under her eyes, falling into Abby’s arms next.
Abby patted her back. “I know being respected in the field is important to you. What better way than to be one of the editors of the Review?”
“And this computer, damn! This is the one with the touch pad up top! These don’t even hit the market until next year!” Holtz exclaimed from the sofa, trying not to be too nosey as she poked around Erin’s gift.
The physicist looked through the list of topics the Review wanted her help with. “Well, I certainly have enough to keep me busy! Of course, we’re going to have to focus on the tunnel crisis, too.”
Holtzmann visibly froze as Erin mentioned the tunnels, though she didn’t have an attack of sorts. It did call attention to the long road ahead of them though, one that they had all realized, was going to be a rocky one.
After Erin dispersed her gifts to the women and Holtz winked her IOU, the four of them were invited to the Christmas Day party in the children’s wing, where the kids and families were just as excited to see them out of uniform as they would have been with the packs. Erin could not ignore how demure her girlfriend was during the long exchange. Holtz usually loved kids, and now she couldn’t even blame the morphine for making her loopy.
After the lunch provided with Santa, Abby and Patty were on their way to their respective gatherings. Erin had been convicted to suffer through Home Alone with Holtzmann, who fell asleep less than ten minutes into the movie.
She’d woken up with a yelp when the recorded sounds of gunshots went off on the movie, struggling for a solid minute to get her bearings. Erin shushed her gently, easing her back onto the bed. Realizing that finally, without the catheter and IV wires she could be properly held given comfort for her stitches, leg, and arm, Erin draped the woman’s body over her own. Mindful of where she had the most pain, Erin tugged a blanket over them and half-rocked her as she dealt with whatever scenario was running through her mind. Humming White Christmas low in her chest, she gave Holtzmann all the time she needed. She and the staff had always calmed her down within a few minutes, before they’d even had the full details of the scope of Holtz’s trauma. Maybe this time, Erin pondered, the blonde just needed to cry it out.
When Holtz finally let her body relax as her cries died out, Erin reached for a tissue, carefully wiping her eyes around the scabs on her face, then letting her blow her own nose. Tossing the offending paper off to the side, Holtz buried her whole body into her girlfriend. “Thanks, Erin,” She muttered, referring to the solid tear fest she’d just had.
Erin lifted her sweatshirt up, dragging her hand up and down Holtz’s warm, bare back. The sun was starting to set at the four-thirty hour, basking the room in an intimate glow. Kissing the top of the woman’s hair, she sighed. “I love you, so much. I know the circumstances suck, but I’m so glad I get to spend Christmas with you. It’s nice spending it with somebody you’d move mountains for.”
Holtz glanced up with rosy cheeks from crying, pressing a wet kiss to Erin’s lips in response to the statement. “It makes me wanna get a little house outside of the city, with a fireplace and a big ass tree, a real one…and I’d do one of those really obnoxiously engineered light shows out front.”
“Ohh, a fireplace would be nice,” Erin added off-handedly. “You know, our lease is up in April…”
Somehow burying herself deeper, Holtz slid her unwrapped palm up Erin’s side, giving a little moan of contentment. “I’m sorry, not trying to have hospital sex. Just wanna touch you. Miss you.”
Laughing a little, Erin accepted the skin-to-skin contact. “I did wanna make you sing O Holy Night, but if you don’t want Christmas sex…”
Holtzmann’s hand froze and she pulled back, sat up, and covered her mouth, her entire body shaking with a mad fit of giggles. “How were you not already taken before I snatched you off the market…Erin! I frickin’ love you! And believe me, Christmas sex would be a gift that would just keep giving if I weren’t so afraid of the scolding I’d get when a nurse came in and found me going down on you.”
Flushed, Erin tugged Holtzmann back to her, removing her sweatshirt, leaving a button up, which she undid, finally revealing just a tank top. Holtzmann placed her head between the woman’s breasts, carefully pushing herself down and lifting up Erin’s tank top to put her hand back on skin. “In the NICU, they call this kangaroo care. Supposedly helps babies get better faster. Science of bonding, I think.”
“Well, you call me baby sometimes, so it fits,” Holtz responded with a muffled voice against Erin’s chest. “I missed your skin.”
There was placidity in the air as the two managed to stay awake, in the cuddling position. A nurse came in to check on Holtzmann when the time was going on six, asking if she wanted dinner and flushing when the couple sat up.
Erin convinced her girlfriend to go for a mashed potato and ground meat meal, vowing to eat it with her if it meant Holtz would consume the food without any additional bribes. When they’d suffered through the hospital food, Erin hoisted Holtz to her feet, taking her to the tree and untucking her gifts from the hiding place that Holtz admitted to. Erin brought out the ones she’d brought as well, and the two of them were on the sofa, nuzzled together with the Spiderman Snuggie draped over their laps.
Holtzmann insisted Erin start, due to the amount of gifts she’d received already. Antsy as she watched her girlfriend tear off paper, she bit her lip as Erin examined the new poetry anthology she’d been given. The cover was pink with a grey spine and curvy silver writing and Erin wanted to dive into it right away. Holtz grabbed her hands. “Tonight? Bedtime?”
Nodding, Erin passed her a present that was much the same size, both of them giggling when she opened a poetry book as well. “I’m so jazzed!” She wiggled a little. “So much for you to read me.”
“You’ll be taking a turn too, miss. I hate that you hate your reading voice, I think it’s perfect.”
Holtz gave her a kiss on the cheek, then placed a heavy box in Erin’s lap. “Now, I know this is a little over the top for the circumstance in which I vowed to make it happen, but you’ll see, I couldn’t just get one.”
Erin tore off the paper, recognizing the name of the brand on the box before opening it up. Shooting Holtz a look, she received a sheepish one back as the physicist pulled six perfectly sculpted, then intricately painted teacups, which all held an entire universe of constellations on them. “I know I only broke one of your other ones, and it really was antique, I tried to replace it, for almost a month before I went another avenue. One of the poems was about drinking in the universe and you loved that line and so I figured — now you can drink it in and — mph!”
She was cut off by a kiss that sent her flying into space. Erin was such a beautiful nerd. “Wow,” She giggled, pulling away as hands flew to her own, giving a double squeeze.
“I love them,” The former professor stated firmly, analyzing the little details. “They’re perfect, thank you, Jill.”
Wishing they were at home so Holtz could put on a kettle of tea or pot of coffee to try them out with, she settled for leaning in for another kiss before accepting the next gift from her girlfriend.
“This, is really cool. I was at the office with Jennifer and we saw some kind of infomercial for it and she said, ‘Imagine Holtzmann with one of those,’ while I was imagining it already myself.” The blonde eagerly tore at the paper, revealing —
“A 3D Printing pen! I saw this on Youtube and it looked freakin’ sweet! Oh my gosh!”
Erin observed as she turned the box over, reading the details. “I’m sure eventually you’ll have it torn apart and make it work ten times better, but I think it’ll be really good for you while you’re home recovering. I know you’re not up for your usual inventions right now, but there’s no way my favorite engineer isn’t going to be creative for six weeks.”
Holtz was all smiles. “It’s a great idea, I love it, I love it, I love it. You’re going to come home to some abstract-ass art.”
“As long as you don’t start replacing things that already exist with it,” Erin warned, “I don’t need a 3D printed coffee table, etcetera.”
Giggling, the engineer draped her body over Erin, leaning back a tad and wincing when it pulled at her stomach, but offering a wink. “Baby you might not want to leave me alone.”
“Oh, is this going to become a dramatic scheme to get me to stay with you all the time?”
Another wink and a kiss later, Holtz sat up and shimmied a little before grabbing her final package. “For you, my queen.”
With nimble fingers, Erin removed the paper and felt her heart swelling at the sight of a jewelry box. Aside from her grandmother’s crucifix on her confirmation and father’s blessing ring at her graduation, she’d never been given anything as such for a present.
Opening it slowly, she couldn’t help the gasp that escaped her as she settled eyes on the purest shade of blue that she’d ever seen in person. “Jill, is this…?”
“Yeah,” She smiled sweetly, bringing Erin’s arm to her lips, rolling the sleeve of her button-up and kissing the lapis lazuli symbol.
“Holtz,” Her eyes watered and she lifted the chain from the box, feeling writing on the back of the gem. Reading the inscription, tears fell and Holtz ignored any pain signals her body was sending to climb into Erin’s lap and secure the clasp around her neck, laying it flat on her chest and kissing the flesh next to it. As she suspected it would, the blue of the necklace made Erin’s eyes pop to an intensity she hadn’t seen before.
“Beautiful,” Holtz mumbled, transfixed on Erin’s gaze, kissing the tears away.
“Come here,” Erin pulled Holtz completely to her person for the dozenth time that day, wishing she could properly convey just how much the bizarre scientist meant to her. “It’s stunning, I…no one has ever…you’re…”
She was speechless and Holtz didn’t mind one bit. Instead, she let herself be held for a few minutes before reaching over for the book Erin had picked for her. Though she hated her reading voice, the woman who had her frozen to the spot loved it, and in her mixed emotional stupor, Holtz knew that reading about the love they shared would be the perfect ending to their Christmas.
“You were you, and I was I; we were two, before our time. I was yours, before I knew, and you have always been mine too.”
Holtzmann blew her nose with a honk as Sarah assured her that her thoughts and feelings were valid. “Fear is an absolutely appropriate response, Holtz. You’re right. You’ve been here for sixteen days now, with round the clock care. When Erin hasn’t been here, we have. But, physically? You’re not in need of that care any more. Emotionally? It’s going to be tough being alone. But you have coping strategies. You have a phone, you do have the ability to go down to the station to be with your friends and Erin if it’s too much. You can start coming to the outpatient clinic, to support groups. You can match up with other patients online. Holtz, you will not be alone, not unless you will it.”
The engineer was scheduled to depart the following day, which would have marked seventeen days in the hospital since the explosion. She was walking with support from her pimp cane as she’d called it in therapy, as her abdomen was still too weak to fully support her on the walking cast and crutches were out of the question with a sprained wrist. She’d fully adjusted to life off of morphine and with a low-dose narcotic and SSRI combination, the last step was holding down solid foods which was scheduled for dinner that evening. If all went well, by mid-day, Erin was scheduled to have Erin home for New Year’s Eve.
Having faked sick enough times in her younger life, Holtz was certain she could make herself spew the dinner and breakfast if she didn’t want to leave the hospital. Oh, she did, but knowing that after Monday, she’d be alone for the majority of the day, without a nurse to bother or children’s ward to inhabit, was reeling.
“What if I can’t pull myself out of an attack?” She asked through a sob. “What if I hyperventilate until I pass out?”
“It’s highly unlikely,” Sarah was encouraging. “Holtz, you’re a lot stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for. You survived, and you’ve thrived here. Most people who fall victim to an explosion,” She said, anticipating the twitch the blonde gave as she did so, “Spend over a month in recovery. You’ve done it in half the time. It’s not going to be easy, but you are on the right path. And, because you’re on government insurance, you can call up here and get an appointment with me any day of the week. It’s only a twenty minute cab ride.”
“Ten when they re-open the tunnels on Tuesday,” She said with a loud sniff.
“Right, and you’ve already got one scheduled for Tuesday. Holtzmann? I believe in you. It’s time to believe in yourself.”
She ate dinner slowly, actually savoring the solid food as she chewed it, her jaw sore from lack of the movement for the better part of the month. There were children on each side of her as they zoned out to old Scooby-Doo reruns in the children’s ward.
“Hey Holtz!” Jordon, a nine-year-old with his hair tied into braids started, “I bet you could school these clowns and catch a ghost in half the time.”
“Oh, I’d get myself in big trouble,” She said, eyes wide, expression animated. “The ghosts on here are never real, they’re all humans! Think of how deep of crap I’d be in if I shot a proton stream at a person!”
The rest of the boys cackled at her comment and Holtzmann was thankful for their presence as she forced herself to keep eating.
A few hours later as she was curled up beneath the Spiderman blanket with Bowie under her arm and a Back to the Future marathon on her tablet, she perked up at the door handle turning. Unable to hide her disappointment when it wasn’t Erin but a nurse, she frowned, eyeing the time.
“Did Erin call the lobby?” She asked quietly as Dedria took her blood pressure.
“No, honey, sorry. I know — eleven is late, even for her, huh? Maybe just try to get some sleep? It’s your last night, anyway.” Shrugging impassively, Holtz accepted the nighttime sleep aid that was supposedly going to help with falling and staying asleep. Smiling and leaning into the dark hand that brushed her messy curls from her face, she thanked the woman for her care, nestling back into the blanket with a long sigh.
Close to midnight, the door swung open once more, this time revealing a zonked-out Abby.
“Hey, pumpkin,” The short woman greeted, a sleeve of Oreoes and a carton of milk in hand. “Brought you a midnight snack as a welcome to the world of solid food. Your nurse told me she’d pretend like she didn’t see this.”
Grinning at the sight of cookies, Holtz sat up after turning off her tablet. Greedily accepting the child’s size milk carton, she opened the top all the way, dunking a cookie and eating it with a messy slurp.
“Disgusting,” Abby groaned. “Anyway, I am here, as your humble nighttime representative tonight. Do not give me that look,” She said, eyes squeezed shut so she didn’t even have to see the heartbreak. “I’m not acknowledging it!”
“Is Erin okay?”
“Yeah,” Abby blinked, revealed that there were at least no pitiful tears streaming down Holtzmann’s face while she shoveled another cookie in her mouth. “We were finishing up research at HQ when she fell asleep at her desk at six…remembered she wanted to move some stuff over to the apartment, about ten o’clock, she fell asleep again, on the couch. It was like watching my ninety-year-old grandmother — sat down and instantly asleep. I three’legged’raced her tired ass to bed and decided I’d stay with you tonight. I know I don’t cuddle quite the same, but…”
Holtz put her treat down, found a smile and slid over, making ample space. She patted the mattress and earned a groan from the woman who knew she shouldn’t have made the joke. “Come give Holtzy some sugar, Abs!”
“Only because it’s your last night in the hospital,” Abby said with a glare.
She squeezed herself onto the bed and Holtzmann immediately launched her face to her first friend’s chest, rubbing her cheek against the ample bosom. “So help me god, Holtzmann, if a hand goes to the —“
With a hiss of a laugh, Holtz gave a little squeeze to a boob before removing her hand and tossing half of Spider-man over Abby. “Just give me five minutes to snuggle and then you can be done.”
Not really minding too much, Abby brought a hand to the back of Holtzmann’s head, scratching her scalp and getting her actually purring. “We need to talk to Erin about getting you a real cat,” She muttered, tossing Bowie off the bed as the plush feline was digging at her side.
“Hell yeah, just after I lose the boot, wouldn’t wanna crush the poor thing.” Yawning, Holtzmann smiled again, muttering, “I love you, Abby.”
“I love you too, Holtzmann.”
After the promised five minutes, the blonde sat herself up, allowing Abby to rise and tuck her in properly. “You need your sleep so you’re not a bear for Erin on your first day home. Good night, Holtz.”
Holtzmann was shaking as Erin went through the discharge paperwork with Dr. Wallus. She was dressed in a pair of comfy grey sweats, hair tossed up in a knotted bun while she waited. There were words she was supposed to hear, pages she was supposed to sign, but Holtz was near catharsis as she processed actually going home. As a wheelchair was brought into the room, Erin tried to offer her girlfriend a peachy smile, but it was in vain. There were hugs from both her primary doctors, kind words from the nurses, but Holtz was trapped — trapped in her head, and then suddenly, in a tunnel, watching the time countdown from five as she realized there was no way to stop the bomb.
Erin convinced the nurse pushing Holtz down the hall to pause, asking for a moment as she watched Holtz, who’d started to train herself not to have an extreme physical reaction to a panic episode, freeze and numb to the world.
“Jill,” She whispered, squatting in front of the chair, cupping Holtz’s cheeks and kissing her lips, snapping her eyes to focus. “Hey,” She smiled sweetly. “I know you’re terrified. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to feel nervous and embarrassed and whatever else it is that’s weighing on your heart.”
Holtz brought her hands up, her left wrist bandaged around the skin which was still mangled from the pipe, though the sprain had mostly healed. She covered her face, trying to shut the world off.
“Jill,” Erin quietly called to her again, knowing that at the emotional peak, there wasn’t any sense trying to reason with her. There were no encouraging words she could give. Instead, she gave her the gift of time.
Finally, Holtzmann brought her fingers together and settled them in her lap, eyes glassy. “I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Never,” Erin insisted without hesitation. “You will never be a burden. I don’t care if you’ve lost all executive function and can’t move your limbs. You are the love of my life, and under no circumstances will you ever be a burden.”
Speechless, Holtzmann accepted her hug and nodded. “Can we go home?”
“Absolutely.” Nodding the nurse back over, they made their way out to the main entrance, where a government car was waiting for them.
A twenty minute car ride and a slow journey to the elevator later, Holtz was in near-tears once more as she settled her eyes on their apartment door. An audible sigh filled the entryway when Erin popped the lock, ushering Holtz in, cane first. She breathed in deeply, tugging off the knit gloves Erin had forced over her fingers, then let her girlfriend help with her jacket. Trudging forward, she took a look at the living room, spotting her Sega set up at the coffee table, along with several new poetry anthologies.
“Is the coffee table…that’s new, right? I hadn’t been missing that?”
Laughing, Erin nodded, helping the blonde ease herself down. She lifted up on the edge, making the top rise up and out on a hinge so that it was just under Holtz’s arms sitting down. The engineer looked up with a brow that read, ‘For me?’
“I figured it’d be easier on you since I know you’ll want to be camped out in front of the tube most of the time.” She pointed to the long shelf under the TV. “Your movies that you had up in the firehouse attic are all in alphabetical order inside the doors.” She gestured to the wall on the right. “Your books are also now mixed in with mine, alphabetical by topic.”
Holtz took the arms that hooked around her waist and leaned back for a kiss. She noted the updated pictures in the frames as well, all of which Erin had edited into black and white. They were a darling couple in stills, only one of which they were looking at the camera; the rest of the time they were too busy staring at one another.
“This is precious,” Holtz mumbled, pushing the tray table down. “Did you already bring all my stuff over?”
Flushing, Erin nodded. “I might have been a little over eager. Patty and Abby helped. I put a toolbox in the closet of the spare room, much smaller than your lab, but it organizes all the tools you had in a trunk in your attic space…all your spare parts that were up there and here are also…somewhat organized, I’m sorry I couldn’t —“
“It’s fine,” Holtz said honestly, “If you put stickies on the shelves, I can put it back where you want it.”
“I’ve already got the labels made,” She squeaked out, pressing her lips together. “Want to see?”
“Honestly?” Holtzmann shook her head. “I just…want to stay away from inventing in this time off. I appreciate you getting it organized, though. My brain is going to need that when I get back in the swing of it.
Giving her welcome, she did take her passed the room anyway, showing her the 3D pen already to go on the drafting table with a few of her nerdy collectibles on display in a new hanging shelf above her workspace. A picture of the two of them from Christmas that a nurse had sneaked was also in a frame at the area, giving another reason to smile.
They made it to the bedroom, where Holtz’s elaborate display of lights was still on the ceiling. A flameless candle had the room smelling like them and the blonde kicked her cane to the side and collapsed onto the bed, hobbling to the top on a knee and elbow. “Oh, bed, sweet bed. Girlfriend, come, join me in our bed and never leave.” Giggling, Erin undid the button on her jeans, sliding them off and to the floor. Holtzmann gasped as she stared at long legs. “I’ve missed those, too!”
With so much space that they didn’t need, the couple curled up around one another, beyond thrilled to be back home together.
That evening their legs tangled together under a blanket with Holtz’s boot sticking over the edge of the sofa. On each end, they were scribbling out resolutions as the TV was muted in front of them to the scene that was only a few blocks away in real time. The quiet of their apartment was infinitely preferable to the chaos downtown. At ten minutes to midnight, Holtz stretched and crawled forward, slowly, mindful of her wrist and ankle. “Done, baby girl?”
“Yes,” Erin blushed. “I was just revising.”
Holtz purred and nuzzled her thigh with her nose, earning long fingers along her shoulder. “Such a beautiful dork. Mm, I love you,” She mumbled sleepily, forcing herself to stay awake until midnight on such a long day was grueling.
“Do you want to share?”
“Yeah!” Holtz dramatically reached for her resolution list, which was scribbled in a sketch pad, surrounded by drawings she’d doodled while contemplating what to try and change or do in the new year. Clearing her throat, she began to read: “One, Write something beautiful for Erin…I mean poetry.” She offered a grin up, happily kissing Erin’s palm as it brushed by her lips to stroke her cheek. “Two, Take Erin on more dates. Three, Find a place to take Erin on vacation.” A long finger met just under her chin and she squirmed ticklishly. “Four, quit being a little bitch and get a tattoo. Five, learn to cook Paella for Erin. Six, invent new bubble bath that lets you stay in the tub for hours and not get pruny and keeps the water warm for long baths with Erin. Seven, make the entire house twinkle in lights so that Erin has a little galaxy in every room. Eight—“
A hand was suddenly down the neck of her shirt, touching bare skin. Holtzmann blinked, watching as it slid over and to the left. “Um, Erin?”
“Just checking,” She said with a teasing tone, finding the rhythm to Holtz’s heartbeat and tapping it out on the flesh above the organ. “Ah, it does. Er-in, Er-in, Er-in. Beats just for me. I love it.”
“Such a loser. I love you. Wanna hear my last one?” The blonde piped as she took the slender hand and kissed Erin’s knuckles. After a noise of agreement, Holtz read, “Eight, prove to Erin just how much she matters, remind her how much she is loved every day of the year, without fail.”
With a tug from her girlfriend, Holtz sat up and straddled her lap, broken foot dangling off the side of the sofa. “You’re so impossibly tender and I am so spoiled to have you as my girlfriend,” Erin muttered into a stray curl near Holtz’s temple. “It’s probably very narcissistic of me, but I love your resolutions. Especially the third one.”
“Yeah?” Holtz kissed her neck. “Where do you want to go on vacation?”
“You’ll see.” Erin pulled up her resolutions on the tablet she’d been scrawling on using a stylist. “Start looking for a nicer home with a fireplace for my girlfriend who needs wide open spaces.”
Holtzmann meowed and curled into Erin’s clavicle. “Go out more often with my girlfriend. Spend more time telling my girlfriend how much I love her. Look into places for a possible vacation with girlfriend, somewhere with trees. Balance spare time between my girlfriend and doing research and reviews. Start drafting book ideas. Attempt to convince girlfriend to do a book with me this time.”
There was rustling in her lap as Holtz listened and processed. “Hey, Erin?”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t resolve anything to do with the Ghostbusters —“
“Jill, you didn’t—“
“I’m just not ready to think about it,” She stated shamefully.
Erin pushed forward to capture her lips in a kiss. “You don’t have to. I know when you’re ready to come back, you’ll be doing great work. But while you’re resting, let your mind rest, too, okay?”
Holtz groaned a contented noise as Erin tapped her back and eyed the TV, “Oh! Twenty-seven seconds, come on it’s—“
She saw a blue gaze lock on the giant countdown clock on the screen and Erin immediately recognized that it was about to be a trigger. Turning off the TV with a quick flick of the power button, she pulled Holtzmann into a bone-crushing embrace, threading her fingers through tangled hair. Though the moment was tense and she was stiff and trembling at the same time, Holtz managed to get through the twenty-seven seconds.
Then the fireworks started.
Silent sobs wracked her body as she cried into Erin’s chest, clutching her shoulders and wetting her shirt. She knew it was fireworks, she knew it was a goddamn celebration, but her brain couldn’t filter fact from trauma.
“Sh, sh, sh,” Erin made loud noise in her ear, patting her back in opposite time to the fireworks exploding, kissing and shushing and trying to make the whole world stop for Holtzmann.
She reached for her tablet with one hand, pulling up a random playlist on YouTube, letting the Supremes play as loud as the small device would allow, only turning it down twenty minutes later when the city was back to it’s usual rhythm and Holtzmann had cried herself out.
Erin helped Holtz stand, half-carrying her to the bedroom. “I’m getting your medicine,” She said with a quick fluster to the bathroom once Holtz was propped up against the pillows, her gaze distant.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Erin sighed after guiding the woman to take her pills. “I didn’t even — I was stupid, I didn’t even think —“
“No,” Holt snapped suddenly, an almost angry look taking over. “My resolution. You frickin’ matter. You are not stupid.”
Standing dumbly before her, Erin let Holtzmann unhook the little brown buttons on her shirt, sliding it off her shoulders easily, leaving her in a black sports bra and pair of yoga pants. She watched with a curious gaze as Holtzmann traced the cursive of the poem tattooed to her ribcage with her pinky finger before kissing the word stardust.
“Holtz,” She sighed out, a hand at the back of blonde hair. “Thank you.”
“You matter. That was not your fault. It…” She took a deep breath, “Wasn’t my fault either.”
“Not at all,” Erin assured her, letting her guilt trickle away as Holtz pulled her forward and into bed. After adjusting the blankets so Holtzmann had the thin one covering her and Erin the comforter, they nestled down, Holtz clapping the lights out so only the twinkling stars glowed above them.
Holtzmann watched Erin shuffle about, pulling at a string on her grey sweater before buttoning it over the blue and white pinstripe shirt she had on underneath. Little pearls of buttons lined up in a perfectly even row as she fussed with the collar, settling her necklace in the middle. Clearing her throat, she lifted the flat iron off the dresser surface, running it over her hair a few times before clicking it off. Turning around, she raised a hand at Holtz’s position, sprawled on her back, managing to take up the entire queen-size bed despite her small size. Her booted foot was dangling off the edge of one side, while her head was popped up on her formerly sprained arm on the other. Her hair was a tangled rat’s nest and the t-shirt she had on was pushed up around the elastic of her blue Wonder Woman underwear.
“Would you like me to help you pull yourself together?” Erin asked with a chuckle as she observed Holtz take the edge of the comforter and bundle it around herself like a sushi roll. There was no response from the human blanket pile and Erin shrugged, moving to the closet to find an appropriate pair of shoes to go with her dressier outfit. She took her time, having woken up even earlier than usual in case Holtz decided she needed something extra before spending her first day home alone.
Erin stepped out in a pair of sensible boots with a little heel over the nude tights she had under a navy skirt. She could see one eye staring at her from a little hole in the mound on the bed. Taking a seat at the edge, she observed as Holtz wiggled her way over to place her head in her lap with small, worm-like movements, her arms still trapped in the blankets.
Starting to untangle blonde locks with her fingers, Erin hummed quietly as Holtz stared at her buttons, unblinking. “What’s on your mind, doll face?” Still silent despite a silly nickname to get her attention, Holtz nuzzled her forehead against Erin’s abdomen, closing her eyes. Feeling guilt creeping in over leaving the woman alone, Erin swallowed a lump in her throat. “Can I cook you some breakfast?”
“‘M not hungry,” Holtz mumbled finally, speaking for the first time that morning. An arm appeared and wrapped around Erin’s back, fingers clutching the knitted fabric of her cardigan. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I know,” Erin whispered, bending down at the awkward angle to kiss Holtz’s temple. “I’m don’t want to go either, Jill. But I have to at least make it to the mayor’s office for the morning.”
“Okay,” Holtz said with a monotone voice, picking herself up and putting her head back on the pillows.
“Jill,” Her voice came out a little sternly as Erin stood and crouched in front of her, shaking her head. “I feel really badly about this. I don’t want to go. I really, truly want to be here with you, please don’t make me feel worse.”
Noting the unshed tears sparkling in Holtz’s eyes, Erin leaned forward to kiss her lips for the first time that morning. “Let me help you get yourself set up for the day, okay? I think you’ll feel better if you’re out of bed. C’mon.” She guided the woman up, wandering through the wardrobe to pick something that would fit under the cast, which wasn’t much given Holtz’s collection of wide-legged pants. Taking a pair of her own leggings that she wore beneath jumpsuits for cold busts, she eased Holtz’s leg out of the boot, careful of the wrapped portion as she stretched the legging ankle up and around the sensitive foot, then over the other. Locking the boot back into place, she pulled the black spandex up, then found an old, long-sleeve denim shirt with a Tortoro patch sewn on the upper right arm and a rainbow pin on the lapel. Holtz brightened at the sight of it and let Erin work it onto her form after putting on her own smattering of deodorant. She added a maroon, paisley vest to complete the look and clipped on her standard silver necklace.
Erin let her take her time walking with the supporting cane to the bathroom to brush her teeth, then the taller of them set Holtz’s hair in the style it had been out of for three weeks.
“There you go,” She said with a large grin after watching Holtz swallow her pain and anxiety medication. Taking Erin’s arm instead of the cane, Holtz limped up to the kitchen, sitting down while Erin made her a hot chocolate and toast with peanut butter spread across it, which she ate without argument.
“Your PT appointment is at eleven, make sure you leave here by ten twenty to get there on time, even with the subway open again, it might still be a bit of a mess out there and you don’t want to rush. Your therapy is at twelve-thirty, so make sure you grab a bite after PT - there’s some cash in your coat pocket. You should be home by two o’clock and if there’s no bust, I’ll be home by four thirty.” Nervously wringing her fingers together, Erin sighed. “You’ll be okay, I know you will, honey.”
“If you say so,” Holtz stated, eye locked on the whip cream on top of her hot chocolate. “Can I call you?”
“Of course,” Erin responded softly. “Really, you’ll be busy for a good chunk of the day, so hopefully it goes by quick. Eyeing the time on the microwave, she shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve got to go.”
“Okay,” Holtz whispered, standing and following her to the door, accepting the long hug and kiss after Erin slipped into her grey peacoat. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Erin stated in reply. “Take it easy. Call me. I will do my best to get you whatever it is you need.”
She watched her retreating back with shimmering eyes again, closing the door when Erin was no longer in sight. Locking it, she shook her head, forcing herself to stay calm despite the sudden onslaught of pain at being alone.
For a moment, she was trapped in the tunnel, dismantling the bomb, but she was alone, no Erin, no Patty, no Abby. Her body was blown to bits and real-life Holtzmann was on the floor, shivering and hyperventilating hardly a minute after being left by herself.
Patting her chest with her palm, she shook her head, willing tears back, forcing her body to calm as she clenched and unclenched her opposite fist, eyes opening and closing.
It was almost five minutes, but she finally eased herself up with the help of the cane, getting a glass of water and downing it in the kitchen. She moved to the sofa, sitting down and noticing that Erin had left her 3D printing pen out. Turning on the TV to Cartoon Network, she slowly lowered herself to the sofa cushions and watched the children’s seven o’clock hour mindlessly; jingles for cereal that hadn’t changed much since she was a kid, save from 2D to 3D cartooning, quickly became stuck in her head.
With one final, centering breath, she lifted the pen up after rotting her brain out with an episode of Gumball, she let her mind wander as she started drawing in thin-air, the random commercials of children’s brainwashing inspiring her work.
Her phone chimed from the kitchen windowsill sometime later, and when Holtz finally arrived to it, she realized it was already ten after ten in the morning. Erin had sent her a picture with Abby and Patty on either side of her; eyes crossed, Abby’s face screwed into duck lips, Patty’s tongue out. “A professional reminder from professional people that you should be leaving in about ten minutes.”
Holtz laughed and limped over to her creation, a 3D printed sculpture of the Trix Rabbit, Sam the Toucan, and the leprechaun from Lucky Charms all under a rainbow. Popping the kickstand on her phone case, she set it on top of the coffee table. She crouched (painfully) behind it, taking a selfie with her arm across the surface, other elbow tucked under it, fist holding her chin up like a JCPenny portrait from the 90s.
She sent it with the message, “These 3 are the reason I’m gay. I ate 2 much fruity cereal as a child and now i’m a raging lez. Can you bring home cereal pls i’m off 2 therapy.”
Satisfied with her response, Holtz made her way to a jacket, then started the slow amble down to the elevator. (Bless the ADA.)
Meanwhile, across town, Erin was in tears of joy as Abby was physically making no noise from laughing so hard and Patty was cackling loudly enough to disturb an entire floor of government workers. Jennifer Lynch was shooting them a glare from the head table, where they had been theorizing with their established evidence as to the cause of the tunnel bombs.
“Ladies, I would like to remind you —“
“Oh, can it,” Erin said with another giggle as she stared at the picture again before getting serious. “You know, this really isn’t in the scope of our contract and we appreciate all you’ve done for us in the last eighteen months, but right now? You’re lucky we’re helping you with the situation. We’ve got productivity in our actual by-laws we really need to be working on that have been shelved for three weeks. Several time-sensitive projects are already down the drain, so please. Don’t get petty with us now.”
“Damn, Doctor Gilbert with the receipts!” Patty jested next to her. “Seriously, Jenn, we’ve been through everything we’re talking about now multiple times. We haven't had a breakthrough. Since nothing else has happened, maybe we need some time away from all this drama and revisit later with fresh eyes.”
Abby added, “At this time, I really think we just need to be grateful that nothing terrible, Holtzmann’s injuries aside, has transpired. Maybe we’ll sit on this for awhile, maybe we’ll uncover new evidence in the coming weeks, I don’t know. But right now? Rehashing this again, kind of feels like a colossal waste of our precious seconds on planet earth.”
Jennifer’s lips went tight and Mayor Bradley looked like he was trying to find an argument.
“Alright,” She finally said, tossing a hand up and moving closer to the women. “Ladies I —“ She found herself biting her lip and trying not to laugh at the image of Holtz on Erin’s phone screen, but found herself gesturing to the door as she snorted. “Please, just keep us informed of what you’re working on. Go, just…” There was another beat of laughter. “Have a good afternoon.”
Three hours later, Holtzmann was being pushed out of the hospital in a wheelchair, her cane across her lap as she laughed with Dedria, who happened to be on staff that afternoon. Just as she was about to help Holtz up, the woman gave a little yell and clapped her hands together at the sight of an unexpected ride waiting for her. Patty, Abby, and Erin all stood leaning against the Ecto-1, each holding a red box of cereal, Erin with a bowl in one hand as well, where Holtz predicted all three were mixed together.
“What is this?” She asked, mouth agape and overwhelmed.
“We escorted ourselves out of the mayor’s office,” Abby explained, leaning forward to help the blonde out of the chair. “Very important delivery to make.”
“You guys,” Holtz frowned as emotion overtook her — what had she done to deserve such amazing friends? Abby and Patty clapped her in a tight hug, while Erin waited for them to be done before stealing a kiss.
They loaded Holtz into the back seat with her cereal, which she ate (no milk required), happier than she’d been in awhile to be in the back of her car. A little bought of nervousness hit her and she asked in a quiet voice, “Are we going to work?”
“No, baby, we know you’re tired after PT and emotionally tired after therapy,” Patty said from the passenger seat, offering her a grin in the rear-view mirror. “Dropin’ you two fools off at home.”
Grateful, Holtz tucked herself into Erin’s side, popping marshmallows and Froot Loops into her mouth at the same time.
“I love you guys,” She commented softly, then kissed both women up front on the cheek as they pulled up to their apartment.
“We’re comin’ over for dinner tomorrow!” Patty loudly shouted as they exited the vehicle. “You’re cookin’ Holtzy! Make it good!”
Erin had her laptop case around her shoulder and all three boxes of cereal tucked under an arm as she let Holtz go first to take her time in getting up to their apartment. Once inside, she assisted in settling onto the sofa, curling into her girlfriend’s lap and falling asleep, nightmare free as she used Erin as the ultimate soothing comfort.
After a week, the Ghostbusters seemed to have fallen into a routine. Erin would arrive around nine and leave at four, bust-pending. She was feeling a little more enthusiastic about work again, having started to dive into research for her position as a professional peer reviewer.
One morning, she didn’t arrive until almost nine thirty, looking particularly disheveled.
“Sorry guys,” She muttered, throwing her bag on the downstairs desk that was officially Holtzmann’s.
“Yikes,” Patty mumbled, drawing her in for a long hug, which the physicist graciously accepted. “What happened?”
“Rough night, rougher morning,” Erin sighed, scooting her stuff back to sit on the surface of the desk. She was dressed down in a pair of jeans and one of their logo’d tops, hair swept into a ponytail. “I was going to call you guys and let you know I wouldn’t be in, but she got all huffy and defiant and insisted she could take care of herself…and,” Suddenly feeling emotional, Erin bit back tears, “I didn’t feel like arguing.”
“Oh, Erin.” Abby frowned, squeezing her knee. “How about give her until noon or so, alright?”
“I was planning on it,” She said, shaking her head. “I knew this would be difficult, but it’s so up and down and unpredictable. One day, she’s making cereal sculptures, the next she’s hyperventilating on and off for three hours. It’s just…really hard.”
“You love her, and seeing Holtz, of all people, down like that is just about impossible,” Patty assured her.
Raising a sad hand in frustration she added, “And Holtz, as you said, of all people…she’s suddenly got this streak of self-consciousness. She doesn’t want me to see her injuries. She’s been sleeping with clothes on, and getting all hot and upset when I offer to get the cream she’s supposed to keep on the shrapnel injuries to keep them from scarring so badly…I don’t know. And — I mean,” Erin flushed, “Not that I’m expecting much at this point, but Holtzmann with no sex drive is not Holtzmann at all.”
Abby tried not to roll her eyes at that but offered, “It’s probably the medication. She’ll get through this initial point and once they’ve got her off the vic’s she’ll snap out of it, I’m sure. Still, Erin, you were much, much younger when your trauma occurred but it didn’t make it any easier to process. She’s going to be up and down like this and that’s normal. Exhausting, opposite of herself, but it is a normal part of the process. Give her time, she’ll start to come around eventually. In the meantime…” She gestured to the wall, tossing out theories for the book they’d been starting to put together before the TunnelGate.
Erin was too distracted to be useful for much of the morning, though. By noon, she’d excused herself, not promising to be back, depending on Holtzmann’s state. When she pushed the door open to the apartment, she heard the sound of running water coming from down the hall, followed by a hiccuping-sounding sob.
Rushing to the cramped space, Erin hastily turned off the faucet to the bathtub, which was almost full, despite the lack of stopper, meaning it’d been running for an exceptional amount of time. Glancing at her girlfriend, all she saw was a broken, red-faced, tangle-haired mess on the floor, one leg drawn to her chest, the other stretched out, her boot damp from the humidity in the room.
Gathering her up, Erin half-carried Holtz out of the room. She clung to her like she’d evaporate if let go of, and Erin merely offered sweet shushing sounds in her ear as they approached the edge of the unmade bed.
Knowing there wasn’t much she could say that would register in the hysterical state, Erin was tactile, sliding a cool hand up Holtz’s heated, bare back. Humming whatever tune came to mind, Erin didn’t stop until Holtz’s sobs turned into shivering breaths and she eventually was near-comatose on the woman’s shoulder.
After an unknown length of silence, Erin broke it with a long kiss to Holtz’s temple. “Let’s get you a glass of water.”
“‘Kay,” She agreed, sliding off and following the physicist to the kitchen, feeling the physical effects of dehydration from well over an hour of crying. Her nose was stuffed and dripping, eyes puffy and painful to open and shut.
Holtz slid into the window seat in the living room while Erin filled her favorite cup, a blue water bottle with a green turtle on it that had a silicone straw which needed to be bit open to work. Holtz drank it greedily as Erin grabbed a blanket and tossed it around both their shoulders as they leaned against the window. “I don’t want to tell you how to heal,” Erin started, knowing there was likely going to be a fight in the next several minutes after delivering her suggestion. “But I think we need to call that number for the outpatient clinic that Sarah gave you yesterday. A support group can be a really powerful thing.”
Quiet stretched between them as Holtz kept her mouth busy by biting the straw open and closed, chewing on the silicone thoughtfully.
Erin reached over to her boot, undoing the straps and carefully pulling Holtz’s leg into her lap. Ignoring four week’s worth of prickly hair growth that poked through the spandex leggings, Erin rubbed and scratched the sore and itchy limb, making Holtz practically purr in gratitude.
When ten minutes finally came to a close, Holtz finally popped her straw/chew toy from between her lips, “Can you call them for me?”
“Absolutely,” Erin responded needing no further context. She secured Holtz’s foot once more before pulling her into her lap again, where Holtz molded around her, boot dangling off the edge of the bench while the rest of her clung on under the blanket as she repositioned it. Erin reached a long arm to the sofa, grabbing a pillow and propping her back up with it. She worked her fingers along Holtz’s nape and soaked in the silence.
That night, Erin woke up to a firm shake on her shoulder instead of a deafening scream, which was a welcome change from the last few days worth of trauma-fueled nightmares. Turning over, she found the look of panic on Holtz’s face and opened an arm for the woman to cuddle into. She did, falling back asleep almost immediately on the safe space of Erin’s chest.
When she woke, Holtz dressed herself in another pair of Erin’s under-jumpsuit spandex bottoms along with a tie-die t-shirt from a sandwich joint they frequented under a grey blazer and blue scarf. She was antsy while pulling her hair half-back in a bun, curling the rest and setting it with hairspray.
Erin stepped in to check on her and Holtz offered, “Damn, Doctor Gilbert rockin’ the high-waisted pants!” The former professor glanced down with pink cheeks at her black slacks which sat over her hips, a polkadot polyester shirt tucked in on top with a black blazer to pull it all together. “You’re gonna slay those guys at the review board because you are dressed to kill!”
Rolling her eyes, Erin stepped in to fix her mascara and pull half her hair back with a miniature banana clip. Holtz growled and tickled her waist. Erin squeaked and pulled away, missing the normal interactions more than ever in that moment. After a brief breakfast and a ten minute cab ride on the icy January morning, they were standing outside a VFW post, Holtz’s good mood suddenly bottled back up. “Erin, I…” She squeezed her eyes under yellow-tinted glasses, shaking her head. “I can’t. These guys have been to actual wars. Foreign wars, according to the sign. They’re going to think I’m pitiful because I can’t get over a stupid pipe bomb—“
Erin cut her off with a long, public kiss that had those thoughts sliding down the slippery sidewalk. “Listen to me,” The taller of them said quite insistently, “No one has the right to judge another person’s trauma or think it’s less valid than theirs. This is a public meeting space, not just a vet’s event. In any case, they’ve been through some different experiences that may help you get some perspective and tips on handling your own. I want you to go in with an open mind.”
Hands still shaking, Holtz bit her lip and let Erin carefully push her inside. A middle-aged man greeted her with a firm handshake and a gentle smile. “Doctor Holtzmann! Welcome, welcome! I’m Dan…Sarah told me we’d be expecting you! And you’re Doctor Gilbert?”
“Yes,” Erin shook his hand as well, keeping her left at Holtz’s lower back for support. “Thank you for having her.”
“Absolutely. I’ve been working at this outpost for a few years, but we’re not just a program for vets,” He said gently, his green gaze holding support. “You are most welcome here, Doctor Holtzmann, I assure you.”
Finding her voice, she quietly stated, “You can call me Holtz.”
“Holtz it is, come on in.” He gestured to a cozy looking room that wasn’t set up with metal chairs in a circle like she anticipated. Various mis-matched couches were in a U-shape, about half-filled with older men, a few maybe in their early forties and two women who couldn’t have been older than Holtz. Erin waited for her to pick a seat, then squatted in front of her, knees on her hands as she assured her quietly that she would be safe there.
“You get to decide what to share,” She reminded the leaky-eyed blonde. “You decide what you walk away with. This is for you. Patty and Abby will be here to pick you up at ten thirty so that you make it to PT on time. I’ll pick you up at two.”
Kissing her cheek, Erin stood. “I love you. You can do this. You’re not alone, Holtz.”
The blonde watched her retreat from the room, handing the information card she’d filled out from the internet to Dan, just in case she needed to be reached. Swallowing hard, Holtz observed some of the characters around her as the meeting began.
Squeezing her eyes shut and rubbing under the thick plastic nose pieces of her glasses, she took a breath, noting that she could make it two hours. Clutching her cane between her hands, she thumped the rubber end on the ground, mantra-ing to herself; Two hours. Two hours.
“Hey, everybody,” Dan said and the room greeted him back. He rocked on his toes, looking like a Typical American Dad, wearing a pair of dark wash jeans and a long sleeve green t-shirt tucked in with a belt. “We’re gonna get started, welcome to The Group, as we’ve been calling it for years…We’ve got a new face with us today, so we’re just gonna go around the room and introduce ourselves and what we do day-to-day. I’m Dan, I’m a counselor with CMH, and I have two daughters who are five and nine.”
Holtzmann listened as people around the room spoke their name and a little about themselves. The only two that really stuck out were Norm, a ninety-year-old Vietnam vet who volunteered at a cat clinic in the afternoons, and Morgan, one of the young women who had escaped a domestic situation a year prior and was very proud of the fact that she spent her nights working at a shelter.
Clearing her throat when it was her turn, Holtz rubbed her sweaty palms together, not really sure what to say about herself. Keeping her eyes locked on the floor tile in front of her, she took a breath and began to ramble, “I’m Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, you can call me Holtz. I specialize in particle engineering and currently work for the city’s one and only Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination, sometimes called, um…the Ghostbusters… um…I’m here - because we, uh…had a bust go wrong a few weeks ago…might recall, the entire city’s underground transportation going offline…well, I found a bomb,” She stuttered on the word, “And I stopped a series of what I didn’t know at the time, was four hundred twenty-nine other bombs linked together. But, the one I was able to stop the reaction with went off on me and uh, yeah. It’s…been…a struggle.”
There was a beat of silence before a unanimous round of applause startled her from her gaze-athon.
Dan was near her, and Norm was on his way, struggling with his walker. His baggy old-man pants were held up with a pair of jazzy American Flag suspenders, which matched the Veteran’s beanie that was perched back on his head. He took a seat beside the blonde, offering her an open arm. Her lips drew down into an overwhelmed frown and she leaned forward into the offered embrace, smelling cologne and coffee.
“We knew that the Ghostbusters had something to do with it. Thank you for clarifying that,” Dan said kindly, his hand resting on her shoulder as she pulled away from Norm. “And thank you, for saving our city. Again. Holtz, we know that what you went through was traumatic. But we thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your work that you do. Many of us wouldn’t be here today if you weren’t as skilled as you are. We’re here to support you, however we can.”
The meeting carried on for an hour and a half, Holtz listening intensely to stories, strategies, and laughing along with jokes that were made. As Dan brought out coffee and officially closed the meeting portion, Holtz found herself turning to Norm, who was every bit the grandpa she’d never had.
Asking about his work at the cat clinic, she held in a laugh as he took out his phone (the old man using an outdated Blackberry was just too precious). He fumbled with the tiny buttons and his shaky fingers, but managed to show her some of the cats he worked with on a daily basis. “You know, I’m too old to hold down a job anymore, but it gives me purpose. I got out of the army in ’77. They didn’t use PTSD to describe what I was experiencing back then. I lost a lot over the years. If you don’t treat it, sweetheart, people will leave you. Keep going to your therapy and start joining us when you can. It really will make the difference.”
Swallowing thickly, Holtz nodded. “I hate this. I hate feeling so useless and pitiful and needy. I want to get better. I don’t want Erin or my friends to feel like I’m a burden.”
“Then make sure you are being honest. Hiding your pain is the biggest mistake you can make. I lost my wife, my kids, my job…It wasn’t until after 9/11 when the whole city was undergoing trauma that I looked for help. Thought for sure I’d drink myself to death trying to escape memories of life.”
Stunned by his confession, Holtz took her turn to give him a hug. She’d always been a tactile person, though her ability to connect with strangers had been muted.
“I’ve seen your Erin talk on the news,” He said, peering over his glasses. “She’s a very intellectual woman. Beautiful, too.” He winked. “But I remember in an interview, you guys had — I, sorry, I don’t remember what you said, but —“
Holtz snorted, “That’s because the mayor’s staff tries to keep me quiet on the set. I can be a bit of a lose canon…bomb joke aside.”
Chuckling, Norm continued, “I’ll never forget it, because she understands this, Holtz, better than you might think — She said, having someone believe you, even if what you say is crazy, is the most validating feeling in the world. Your Erin understands you, Holtz. Don’t forget that.”
The two spent the next half hour sharing cookies while discussing bits and pieces of Norm’s time in the army and Holtz’s work with the Ghostbusters before the women she worked with arrived.
“Yo, Holtzy!” Patty greeted her, Abby slugging her for interrupting the conversation. “Hey, man,” She extended a hand to Norm, who shook it gratefully. “Patty, nice to meet you.”
The man seemed surprised by her genuine friendliness, but greeted her with just as much enthusiasm. “Norman, pleasure’s mine. I’m very thankful for what you ladies have done for us New Yorkers.”
Abby took his hand next. “Abby, and we’re grateful for your service to the country. Holtz, you ready to head out?”
Frowning, the youngest of them rolled her eyes and leaned back dramatically. “No,” She said with a grumpy raspberry but kicked her booted foot against the floor. “But if I don’t go, I’ll be wearing this for the rest of my life. Time for my PT, Mister Norm,” She said with a wince. He laughed, pulling her in for another hug.
“I’m here three days a week,” He said pulling back with a wink which made Holtz grin widely. “Will I see you Friday?”
Glancing up at her friends, then back at Norm, she winked in return. “Yeah, yeah I think you will.”
That afternoon, Holtz walked, unassisted, towards the hospital doors, physically bumping into a shivering —
“Erin!” She laughed as the auburn-haired woman helped her keep balance. “Hi!”
There was a long hug as the physicist held her tight before nervously pulling back. “No cane?!”
“Nope!” Holtz had a huge smile on her face. “Gave it back to the PT, told her that she had to be careful because I may or may not have weaponized it. She was a little scared, but it’s good to keep people on their toes.”
Erin pulled an extra pair of knit gloves out of her pockets (ever the mom-friend/girlfriend) and slid them over Holtz’s hands. “Care for a late lunch slash early dinner?”
Realizing they hadn’t been on a public date or outing in over a month, Holtz gave a single, big nod. “Wherever you want, my queen.”
Rolling her eyes, Erin clutched her hand and wound their gloved fingers together, keeping the pace slow as they stumbled into the first diner they came upon.
Their waitress recognized them, and after they ordered, the chef came out to thank them for their service to the city, followed by the manager, who insisted the meal was on the house. Patrons started recognizing the two as they received the attention from the staff, giving even more praise for their work.
After finishing their meal and taking a cab home, the two women flopped onto the couch, bellies and hearts quite full. Holtz told Erin about Norm and the group, saying firmly, “I’m going to go back tomorrow, he won’t be there, so I’ll just have to go back on Friday as well.”
Proud of her, Erin let out a tired sigh and pulled her girlfriend into her long arms, kissing her repeatedly on the mouth, rubbing her back and stroking the curly section of her hair. Though things were far from back to normal, she was glad for a single, contented day.
Week six post-explosion had Erin snapping at her co-workers, ripping a new one to several scientists who’d dared to submit their paper without all of the qualifications, and shutting Jennifer Lynch down in a way that Patty described as, “Harsh and unprofessional, man.”
Erin had her head in her hands, elbows on her knees in the backseat the entire ride back to the fire house. She didn’t return comments to Abby and Patty, even when addressed.
When they arrived, she slammed the door to the second floor lab shut, collapsing into her seat with a very dramatic, “Ugh!”
She was given all of three minutes to brood before her friends followed her, wearing twin expressions of disbelief at her behavior. “Talk, please?” Abby stated with her chin set in a way that Erin knew she wasn’t getting away with a lie or ignoring them. Frowning, she tugged at the ends of her hair, then spread her fingers apart and brought them back together nervously.
“Everything’s better, but it’s not. I don’t know. I just…Ugh!” She growled again, hitting her head down on the desk, moaning at the contact that she really should have seen coming.
Abby walked back to Holtzmann’s uncharacteristically pin-straight, neat station, rolling two stools over for herself and Patty to sit on. “What’s going on at the home front? You said this morning things were progressing since Holtz started going to the VFW.”
“It has,” Erin said softly, unable to look at them. She stared at her lap, chewing the inside of her cheek. “But - that doesn’t mean it’s all normal. Jill’s…she’s still hurting a lot. I think she’s gotten better at coping with it, but I do know she’s terrified at the thought of coming back here. That sweet old man, Norm? He got my number out of her, and…” She pulled out her phone, revealing a poorly texted message from the ninety-year-old. “Dnt let H fool u she isnt rdy 4 work. Said she scared. Boot come off still need more time. Dsnt want 2 say. <3 Norm”
“First of all,” Abby lifted a finger, her lips curled into a smile. “That’s the cutest frickin’ thing I’ve ever seen. Second…When is she going to be ready, then? Weeks? Months?”
Erin shrugged. “Don’t know. I got that last night, she’d already gone to bed and I didn’t want to have that conversation before I left this morning. I’m being so selfish, and I know it but…I just want my girlfriend back,” Erin whined, covering her eyes with her palms. “I miss my Hotlz.”
“Holy shit, girl,” Patty muttered, shaking her head. “She still…you know, frigid?”
“She’s not frigid!” Erin said with a defensive tut, then frowned. “But yes. She’s very clingy, but not…cuddly or…anything else.” Pouting, she let her gaze roll up to the ceiling. “You know, I literally could go years without sex before? It’s been six weeks and I’m dying.”
Patty snorted, “Baby, here’s what you’re about to do. You’re gonna go home, tell Holtzy you got a migraine or some shit, give yourself a little tender lovin’ then go out and pull her into a cuddle while you watching some boring-ass documentary…let her get some’a your pheromones in her senses and boom, sexy time. Get some, Erin. Just careful with that foot.”
Abby was the one banging her head against the desk after that comment and Erin had dramatically melted to the floor.
“White girls, man, I don’t know. Forget Patty tried to help. Erin? Just go home. In the very least, go wine up and binge watch the Office. That’ll at least put you in a tolerable mood.”
Noting it was already after four, she agreed, pulling herself off the concrete and taking the stairs two at a time, Erin arrived home in just fifteen minutes, snow flurries clinging to her hair. She shivered as she locked the door, stepping into the living room to find Holtz mindlessly thumbing the controllers of her Sega, barely managing a “Hey,” as Sonic rolled into a ball to go up a ramp and collect rings.
Considering Patty’s advice and Holtz’s state of virtual hedgehog bleariness, Erin pressed a quick kiss to the top of her head before heading to the bedroom. Closing the door behind her, Erin winced and undid the side zipper on her skirt, pouting as she stepped out of it. Her tights joined the skirt on the floor, leaving her in a button down top that was rumpled at the bottom from having been tucked in all day, and a pair of plain underwear. Biting her lip, she walked to the dresser, opening the top drawer and moving a few fun items around before finding a small pink bullet. She winced to herself as it had been well over ten months since she’d last used anything like it on herself (though Holtz had been plenty creative in the time). Shrugging and knowing she needed it (lest she call the mayor names to his face next), Erin stepped out of her underwear and eased back on top of the bed, putting herself in the middle between the pillows.
With closed eyes, she turned on the bullet, letting out a relieved sigh as she placed it between her legs. Her mouth stayed open as she grazed it along in a back and forth motion, though she’d been so repressed she could probably have held it still for a solid minute and the vibration would have sent her off either way.
Her hips rose and she was not about to stop her body from responding to its own needs any longer, moaning and turning slightly to the side. She was blissed out enough that the door opening did not register.
“Hey, Er — I, I, -aye, ayye…ah…”
Eyelids snapping open, Erin stopped the bullet and sat up, then laid back down after a brief look at Holtz’s face, her expression unreadable. Groaning, her built up pleasure managed to fall further onto the back burner. Tossing her arm over her eyes, Erin raised up a hand, dropping the pink sex toy onto the mattress.
“What can I do for you, honey?” Erin questioned in a genuine voice, though she still didn’t want to look at her girlfriend.
There was a dip in the bed and a quiet sniff a minute later that forced her to glance up. A figure that resembled her girlfriend was dangling off the edge, her legs kicking a little and fingers being played with in her lap, glasses pushed up on a mess of honey-hued hair.
Noting tear tracks falling into the scar from the gash on her cheek, Erin raised a brow. “Why are you crying, sweetheart?”
Holtz opened and closed her mouth, then wiped at her nose with the sleeve of her (Erin’s) sweatshirt. “I’m sorry,” She sighed, frown hard set.
“Sorry for what?” Erin questioned, genuine concern taking over, and not worried how ridiculous she looked with a formal top and nothing on the bottom, she hugged Holtz from behind.
“I’ve been…so low — I haven’t…sex hasn’t been…on my mind — at all, and…I wasn’t even thinking — about you wanting it. You’re still going about life as usual, and just because I’m a miserable lump doesn’t mean you should have to suffer.”
Taking a deep breath, Erin covered her lap with the blanket and tilted holtz’s chin, trying to get eye contact out of her. “Listen to me; I haven’t been suffering. I did realize I was a little horny — well, Patty so discreetly told me I needed to ‘get some,’ but I’m by no means suffering. I was just going to take care of it myself. Sorry I didn’t…I don’t know — warn you or something that I needed a minute.”
“But you shouldn’t have to,” Holtz insisted, guilt weighing her down. “You’ve done nothing but take care of me the last few weeks.”
Not knowing how to argue, Erin shrugged. “It’s okay. I know that your medication has your drive low, and you’re really just not up for sex right now, that’s okay. It’s normal. It’s fine. I just need to…get off and you shouldn’t feel guilty because you don’t.”
Holtz finally gazed into her eyes and Erin recognized the fire that was kindling in the back. “I might not have a need for it right now,” She said, confidence returning, “But can I help you fill yours? My hand’s not broken. Just my foot and…we’ve never really tried anything like that before, so I think it can wait until after it’s healed, if you’re into that.”
Erin laughed, enjoying the brief glimpse into Holtz’s humor that she’d missed as well. Hugging her shoulders, she kissed Holtz’s neck then leaned back against the pillows again. “I just didn’t want to pressure you,” She explained.
Holtz shrugged. “I appreciate that, I do. But, you’ve been taking care of me…let me take care of you.” The blonde reached down and popped open Erin’s buttons methodically, kissing the little inch by inch sections of skin it revealed each time, pushing both palms up to grab handfuls of breast incased in white lace. Erin closed her eyes and licked her lips, sighing out, “As much as..I enjoy that…I was…really — on the edge there, because I’m that needy right now, so —“
“Sure thing,” Holtz winked and moved down, spreading Erin’s legs apart, revealing her glistening center. She had not been exaggerating. “I’d ask if you’re ready, but that’s apparent.”
Snorting a laugh Erin propped herself on her elbows and swatted Holtzmann’s upper arm playfully. The blonde closed her eyes and let her tongue get to work, laying it flat against Erin’s center, causing the older woman to groan and fall flat on her back once again. She tugged at her own hair when the tongue curled across the spot, flickered up and down, then in a circular pattern. “Holtz, yes — Jill, baby, please.”
Pale arms wrapped around tan thighs. Holtz held Erin in place as she twisted against the bed, overly eager after six weeks of unintended celibacy. She was practically panting as Holtz’s lips pressed into a sucking position, holding onto her clit and releasing it after taking her own pleasure in the sounds her girlfriend was making. Letting her teeth graze carefully over the engorged sex, Holtz dragged the act out as long as she could before feeling Erin shudder and pushing two fingers inside to feel the clamping of her walls to ensure success. Thrusting in and out to try and keep the orgasm going, Holtz left her mouth in place, tongue still sliding mercilessly until Erin pushed a hand down to remove her.
The woman was on her side, arm over her eyes, legs clamped shut as she pulsed, sighing while Holtz, now entirely too warm, unzipped her MIT sweatshirt and tossed it off the side of the bed, bringing her body in line behind her to be the big spoon for the first time in too long. Kissing the sweaty base of her neck and juncture of her shoulder and collar bone, Holtz finally shifted the woman completely out of her top. Dragging her pinky along Erin’s bony spine, she nipped a little at the flesh on her back.
“Thank you,” Was all Erin could manage to breathe out as she finally rode out what felt like the best orgasm of their relationship. “Thank you, Jill.”
“My pleasure,” She responded cheekily, “Well, your pleasure, but — I was more than happy to do it,” She said, completely at odds with herself that she wasn’t also dripping with desire after watching and feeling Erin’s body react like that. “I know that I’m in an odd state right now, but…” She sat up, making sure Erin could see her, “Please don’t hesitate to ask for what you need. You convinced me to do the same, in regard to the rest of my body. Let me give you what you need, too, okay?”
“Okay,” Erin assured her with flushed cheeks, pulling Holtz back to her overheated person, laying her blonde head across her chest.
Holtzmann flexed her ankle with a wince for the first time in weeks. “Damn, that’s tight.”
“Probably will be for a little while,” The doctor said stoically. “We’ll continue PT for four more weeks since your insurance covers it, and I’d like to have you working on exercising and building strength back up in the tendons.”
Nodding, she walked without a limp from the boot for the first time in eight weeks as well, tossing her arms up in victory.
“At least I’m straight now.” With a little laugh she shook her head, “My legs are straight. Same size…I, never mind,” She said, enjoying her own unintentional joke.
Dr. Wallus clapped her shoulder fondly. “I’d like to do one final check up before we discharge you from PT…I know Sarah’s reduced your visits to every other week since you started attending group. Holtz, I’m very proud of you. Your progress has been in leaps and bounds and occurred swiftly. I know you don’t think of yourself as too much of a hero, but don’t sell yourself short.”
She walked out of the hospital twenty minutes later, curls blowing in the cold February wind. She stuffed her hands into her pockets, wishing Erin was with her to slide a pair of gloves over her chilled hands. Shrugging, she trudged to the subway, ignoring stares when people either recognized her or were caught by the still-pink scars on her face. Refusing to bend to overly thick makeup, she was dealing with it by letting sly looks roll off her shoulders. Sliding her metro card and not bending to the emotions that being underground tried to bring out, Holtz held onto a pole when her train came. She kept to herself, willing the public transportation to move faster. Finally arriving at her stop, she hastily moved from the cold tunnel to a senior home on the street above it.
Stepping into an office, she greeted the secretary with a smile. “Name?”
“Jillian Holtzmann,” She stated, the grin only growing wider when the woman’s face lit up.
“You’re here for Norm,” She said, “You’re one of the Ghostbusters.”
“That’s me!” Holtz failed at not flushing when the woman gushed a little.
“My daughter loves you guys…and Norm has been talking about you all week! I haven’t seen him this happy in ages.” She buzzed the blonde through the lobby. “He should be back in the lounge. If not, let me know I’ll call his room.”
Pacing back to the open area down the hall, Holtz was greeted with an enthusiastic, “There she is!” Turning to the left, she found Norm sitting at a table with a group of elderly ladies and one other man. Glowing, she flopped herself into the extra seat, accepting the shake to her hand from the other male in the group. “Look at you! No boot!”
Lifting her foot to reveal a Puma tennis shoe that matched the one on her other foot, she shrugged. “S’pretty tender,” She admitted and introduced herself, learning Norm’s friends as Darlene, Sharon, Louisa and Carl.
Sharon, who’s hair was nearly blue and what Holtz could only hope to have some day was all shakes and a wide grin as she expressed, “Norm’s been telling us all about your exciting adventures a as a Ghostbuster! Jesus! I’ve been saying this city was haunted for years! No one believed me! I’m so glad you’re doing the work you do, honey, it makes me proud.”
Shimmying a little, Holtz kept her gaze on them through yellow lenses. “It’s all good fun, when it goes right. Um, Norm? Are we still on for a dance party? I’m ready to break it down now that I’m not so broken.”
“Honey, you know it!” Standing, he shuffled slowly across the room to the speaker system behind a podium, plugging his ancient Blackberry in.
Holtz felt her body react immediately to the song that came on not having expected something so modern. She gave a little, “Aww, shit,” as she rose, her hips moving of their own accord as Norm took to the middle of the room where chairs were cleared away.
He sang and moved as best he could with his walker, going side to side and doing some wiggle moves that had Holtz holding in her laughter. She was all joy as she sang along with the chorus, kicking her legs and performing some of her sickest moves.
“Uptown funk you up, uptown funk you up,” She turned, calling to Norm’s friends to get out in the middle of the floor.
They were hardly reluctant and soon Holtz found herself surrounded by old people, all making her somehow look good with their conglomeration of dancing at their various abilities in their elderly state. She laughed and spun, taking their hands and shaking at them, earning cackles of laughter like the building hadn’t seen in ages.
As the song drew to a close, a slower one took it’s place.
Norm lifted a hand, inviting Holtz in to slow dance. She happily accepted, helping to keep him upright as he told her, “The year was nineteen sixty-five. I was thirty-eight…second tour of duty in ‘Nam. This song came on the radio and I was so damn emotional I could hardly see straight. It was an instant hit. Soared to the top of the charts. Made me miss my wife and my kids so damn bad…” He sighed and Holtz tucked herself a little closer, knowing that the pain he felt then was just as real twenty years later when she was born, then thirty-three more as she took on trauma of her own.
“Put your little hand in mine,” He sang to himself, lost in thoughts as Holtzmann considered how grateful she was that times had changed and she hadn’t had to lose herself for nearly forty years before help would be found. “There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
They finished with a dramatic ending, Holtz helping him back to his walker as they danced for a little longer before Norm was in need of a break, as was her recovering foot. Sitting down for a game of cards, the group taught Holtzmann to play a new game, and it wasn’t until her phone rang at four thirty and Erin was wondering where she was that the woman gave much thought to the world and any trauma that went along with it.
Arriving home in time to have dinner put on, Holtz wrapped herself up in a long hug, kissing Erin hard. “I think I want to go back on Monday,” She said, surprisingly assuredly.
“Holtz,” Erin warned her, “You don’t have to. I know your foot is clear, but let’s not rush—“
“Er,” She said sweetly, kissing her cheek. “I want normal life back. I mean, whatever new normal looks like. I still want to go to group at least once a week, and therapy every other, but I miss our life,” The engineer explained sincerely, earning Erin’s expression of surprise and happiness under the layer of shock.
Erin looked down, laughing at the sight of Holtz in two matching sneakers. She kissed her again and guided her to their small table, taking the lid off the pot of pasta, feeling steam envelop her cheeks as she did so.
“As long as you keep being honest,” Erin expressed, “Keep communicating how you’re feeling and what’s on your mind, I think you’ll be alright. even if it’s hard, you’ll be fine so long as you talk to us…to me about what worries you have.”
“And the good stuff, cool stuff, too,” Holtz winked. “I’ve been stirring up a few thoughts listening to Norm talk about his war experiences. Some neat ideas cookin’.” She tapped her temple.
Trying not to sound like she was being discouraging, Erin nodded. “Just know, it’s…” With a sigh, she tried to explain, “It’s going to be very different actually being at work. You’re probably going to feel like you’re having an out of body experience.”
Reaching over for her hand, Holtz offered Erin a smile. “At least you’ll be there to keep me grounded.”
Holtzmann stared at the equipment in front of her with a blank expression. As she touched the wires to the severely damaged proton pack that had been Erin’s, she pulled her hands away like she’d been shocked. Shaking her head, she took a deep breath and reached forward once more, convincing herself to detach the blue and red coated electrical pathways.
With trembling fingers, it took her two hours to take apart the useful pieces to the pack. Every time someone came up to check on her or try to help, she covered up her anxiety with humor and sent them back down. Knowing she wasn’t doing herself any good, but not wanting to admit how fragile she was feeling and how correct Erin had been about her return, the engineer did her best to work through the emotional sting that was digging at her side.
After finally disassembling the pack, Holtz sneaked upstairs into the twin bed that was once hers, rolling onto her side and letting sleep consume her.
She was awoken several hours later by a cold hand cupping her face. Erin greeted her by pecking her cheek below the long pink scar. Winking an eye open, she tried to offer a grin, but wound up staring at Erin’s lap instead. “Jill, sweetheart,” The auburn-haired woman started gently trying to keep sympathy out, “What can I do to help?”
“Erin, I can’t.”
“Okay,” Erin kept her cool, trying to remember all of the strategies she’d learned over years of intense therapy to talk to someone as upset as Holtz. Playing with the little textured curls at the side of her head, she hummed a little, earning Holtz’s dry hand between her cold ones. “Do you want to go home?”
With a single nod, Holtz sat up slowly, rubbing furiously at an eye, keeping her hand locked between Erin’s. “Can you come with me?”
Erin’s lips curled inside her mouth for a moment as she tried not to show any emotion. “I really shouldn’t, Jill. We’re so swamped —“
“Never mind,” Holtz cleared her throat, shaking her hand free and forcing her eyes to light up a touch. “I’ll be fine. I…really, I just…maybe not in the lab? What are you guys doing downstairs?”
Opening her mouth then closing it with a smile, Erin steered Holtz into the bathroom, motioning for her to sit on the wide, speckled countertop. Not rolling her eyes (because she secretly enjoyed the pampering that involved Dr. Gilbert playing nurse), the blonde complied and let Erin take a squirt of ointment and apply it to the scars on her face. Had she not had the tender hands of the physicist helping her recover, Holtz was sure she’d look like a science experiment gone wrong with her lack of ability to care for herself. The woman waited a moment before applying chapstick to her perpetually dry, post-explosion lips, then moisturizer on her face under the injuries and on the top of her nose, followed by a healthy dose of lotion to her hands.
Holtzmann pulled her between her legs to hold her in a cherry-mint flavored kiss, which Erin moaned into and hooked her arms around her lover’s waist, dropping her lips to kiss her neck over a scar. “I love you. And I’m sorry you’re feeling…blocked by all this. I know you were really looking forward to coming in and getting work done today.”
“What can I say, I’m scientifically constipated, I guess,” Holtz joked, earning a snort. “I…hopefully I snap out of it soon. I know it’s only day one, I just need to relax.”
Erin kissed the tip of her nose before accepting her long hug. “How about coming down and just hanging out? Maybe help Patty out? Fresh set of eyes could make a huge difference in finally solving the tunnel case?”
Shrugging and keeping her physical reaction neutral, Holtz followed Erin out of the bathroom and down the stairs, stopping when Patty locked her in a massive hug. She nuzzled into the tallest of them, melting into warm, dark arms. “Baby girl, you take it easy down here with us, alright? C’mon, come help me out. I need your beautiful brain on the case.”
Though all the discussion of the bombs and explosion and ghosts was triggering, Holtz handled it surprisingly well as she read through notes, dissected tunnel photographs and crossed connections where there hadn’t been. A few hours and a pizza later, she and Erin were headed home.
The cab ride felt endless as Holtz jittered beside Erin, a wave of sudden anxiety washing over her as they neared the apartment. Her leg bounced and palms grew clammy. Erin noticed and tilted her head. “Jill?”
“I feel sick,” She said honestly, the emotional day catching up with her. “Overwhelmed. I…need…I don’t know what I need.”
Erin held her clamped hands between her own, willing the taxi to drive faster.
When finally arriving to their apartment, Holtz ran for the bathroom, dry heating over the toilet, managing to feel more miserable when nothing came up. Not wanting to hover, Erin waited in the living room, wanting to collect her girlfriend when Holtzmann reappeared, tears brimming in her eyes. However, she crawled up the couch, laying down opposite Erin.
She said nothing, Erin said nothing. The silence stretched on for almost ten minutes before the physicist could take no more.
“Holtz. What can I do?”
More waves of impassivity passed before Erin wedged her body next to her girlfriend, holding her like a lifeline.
Holtz was stiff, breathing hard, but she eventually relaxed in the full-bodied embrace. “Tomorrow, can you help me get the pack working?” She wondered in a small voice.
“Absolutely,” Erin assured her. “Anything I can do to help, even if it’s just holding wires for you, let me help.”
Holtz visualized her own fingers trembling while slicing the wire of the bombs. Shaking her head, she focused. “I want to fix the pack. Tomorrow, we’re going to fix the pack.”
With fingers detangling blonde locks, Erin agreed. “We’ll take our time. There’s no deadline.”
“Okay,” Holtz nodded, sucking in a heavy breath of air before shaking herself out of Erin’s hold. “Can we make dinner?”
After a simple rice and chicken dish, Erin led Holtz to the bedroom, wanting her to get a full night of sleep. Watching her change out of the button down shirt and immediately draw on a long-sleeve t-shirt made her depressed. Holtz was still particularly self-conscious of her scars, refusing to sleep naked or even let Erin touch the ones on her chest. So much for returning to normal life. If this was new normal…
Erin sat on the edge of the bed with a frown while the engineer stretched her still-sore right foot, wincing a little. She looked small, and despite just a few visible healing injuries standing between her usual physical self, Holtz still appeared fragile. Erin missed her strong, silly girlfriend and wasn’t sure she was coming back. New normal, she told herself, was going to continue being a major adjustment.
Interrupting the quiet tension, Holtzmann admitted, “Erin, I think I need to go to Sarah’s office tomorrow.”
“Do you want me to call her first thing to get you an appointment?”
Picking at the elastic on the end of her sleeve, Holtz nodded, her eyes cast down. “Could you bring me my medication?”
“Absolutely,” Erin hastily left and returned, a large glass of water and one of the anti-anxiety pills in her palm. Trying to be positive, she commended Holtz despite the mood of the day. “You did make it an entire day at work, though. That is something to be proud of. It was painful, but you did it, and I don’t know that I could've under the circumstances.”
Holtz shrugged, not in the mood to celebrate little victories. Her libido still seemed stunted by the medication and it was hard to climb into bed without any urges to touch her girlfriend. Taking her pills, she accepted a long hug from Erin before rolling onto the mattress and lifting a blanket over her waist, twisting onto her side. The physicist bid her good night before moving herself to the living room, letting out a few tears that she didn’t really have an explanation for.
Holtz entered Sarah’s office with flat affect, much unlike her previous few appointments. Noticing her demeanor right away, Sarah set to work, inviting the scientist to sit down. Holtz took the invitation as a dramatic flop, her hands falling between open legs and head bent backwards to examine the scarf-drapery of the ceiling.
“Tell me about what it feels like to have your boot off,” The psychiatrist started with something that would have a mainly positive connotation.
“Oh that?” Holtz brought her neck straight, staring into the dark eyes of the woman with a shrug. “That’s pretty super. Still a little sore, needs some stretching, but I can boogie now.”
Chuckling, Sarah offered her a tea from the Keurig behind her desk, which Holtz took with a thanks. “Erin still hasn’t asked for sex again,” The blonde admitted out of seemingly nowhere. They’d discussed the incident two weeks prior. “And I feel bad, I haven’t…you know — wanted it, still, but I just, I want to make her happy, and if that’s what she wants, I want to give it to her, but she’s not telling me and —“
“Have you considered she might not want it?” Sarah raised a brow. “Now I don’t personally know Erin outside of our few brief interactions, most of which have been on the phone. But based on what you’ve told me about her, she was alone for a very long time before the two of you were together. She probably enjoys her intimacy with you, but doesn’t crave sex in the way that others might. It’s just a thought.”
Holts fiddled with her necklace and shifted her gaze around under yellow lenses, wondering about the potential accuracy at that. “I just don’t want to bring it up and have her get disappointed because I still don’t want it.”
“Well, we could consider reevaluating your medication,” The woman said with an honest gaze. “Overall, your mental health has improved, and honestly aside from curbing some of the initial panic attacks, I’m not sure how much the medication really did for you. There is no cure for PTSD, so it isn’t as if the medication could make it go away if we kept trying. You’ve been able to do most of the hard work that overcoming these traumatic challenges takes, and I think that weaning you off might not give us an adverse effect as it might to some.”
“I’m happy to be med-free,” Holtz said raising her hands. “If you think it’s best.”
Making a note, Sarah raised a hand. “And we could be wrong. Things could escalate, but there’s all sorts of medications we can try as an alternative. If this is making you…stagnant, then let’s try another option so you can focus on your healthy relationship, which has been such a key player in your recovery. Speaking of…I understand you went back to work yesterday? Tell me about that?”
Feeling sweat beading around he nape, Holtz scratched at her scalp and sighed. “Right now it feels like it won’t ever be normal again. Like I’ll never be that engineer I was before the explosion.”
“Why is that?”
Swallowing, Holtz tugged at her necklace again, her lips shifting as she tried to put into words what she’d experienced the day before. “I’m always going to have that experience in the back of my mind now. Even five years from now, I’m still going to remember it. And it’s going to make me more cautious and a little afraid.”
Squinting, Sarah brought up the argument that Hotly and Erin had the day before the incident. “You told me people have always called your reckless. Do you think that going into work with an air of caution is the worst outcome?”
“No,” She shrugged, brows raising as she considered it was Rebecca and Erin’s goal for her since knowing them. “But I’m worried it will make me too careful. I do my best work when I’m not really thinking things through; I’m just doing. I don’t know. I just don’t want to wind up some chump scientist with half-assed ideas that barely work because I’m too afraid to try what I really want to,” She explained in one quick-paced breath.
Nodding, the psychiatrist leaned forward a little. “That’s a valid point, too. Here’s what I’m going to suggest? At least for now, while these emotions are so strong, self-talk as you work. You’re going to sound like a crazy person, but that’s okay.”
“Be who you are, right?” Holtz teased to herself.
With a little laugh, Sarah explained, “Teachers of young children narrate what the child is doing to help provide them with language and shape metacognition, help them think about their own thinking. I’m envisioning you doing the same, and as you’re talking out loud, you might hear yourself and think — wait a minute, maybe that’s not such a good idea,” She had a finger raised and Holtz was starting to understand. “You might hear yourself and say ‘you can do better,’ too. I’d also suggest, when possible, just having one of the other women in the room with you, even if you’re not having them assist. Having a second person to listen to your thoughts and describing your actions will give you some additional accountability.”
“Erin said she’d stay in the lab with me,” Holtz nodded, “And she always prefers it when I tell her what I’m doing, she’s not so hot in the engineering world, but she is curious.”
“See?” Sarah leaned forward and gave Holtzmann a pat to the knee. “You’re a Ghostbuster, Holtzmann. Your work is too important to be left for much longer. We’re going to keep working as a team to get you back in the saddle, alright? Let me get you a prescription for a lower dose of your SSRI to start weaning you off.”
Nervously, Holtzmann tugged a pair of tinted goggles over her eyes and then shoved some on Erin, too. Holding her breath, she helped Erin get into the position she wanted her in, holding wires above her machine with needle-nose pliers. “Steady, Erin,” She mumbled, sweat dripping down the back of her neck as she forced herself to concentrate. “Lower…” She directed, her own pliers in place as she prepared to attach a new (and of course, improved, despite everything) cryocooler to the pack she and Erin had been focused on the duration of the day. “And…insert…perfect.” With the whirr of a drill, she kept the device from shifting and then pulled off her lab coat, tossing it on the stool behind her with a loud “whoo!”
Erin laughed a little to herself. “You know, I might have been able to get into engineering and physics if my mom hadn’t kept me away from my dad’s garage growing up. I’d like to think I could have been just as good at the hardware if I’d had the opportunity.”
“But then we’d be stretching your precious time away from the theory. We’re the perfect pair, Er. I the limbs you the thoughts of the operation. Pinky and the Brain.”
As Erin was about to make another joke, the alarm sounded, causing Holtz to freeze in place. Almost ten weeks since her last bust was intimidating to think about as it was, let alone the fact that she was still coping with just being in the lab.
Erin cupped her cheeks. “Look at me, baby?” She did, eyes snapping forward. “You don’t have to do this. No one is expecting you to come if you’re not ready.”
“Now or never,” Holtz muttered, running a hand over her blonde curls at the side of her head. “I have to go.”
Taking her hands and giving them a squeeze, Erin led her down the stairs, where Patty and Abby booth whooped at her presence. “You got this, Holtzy!”
Nodding, mostly to herself, she pulled on the new jumpsuit that had been made following the incident with hers having been cut off her body. Screwing her eyes shut, she zipped the khaki up over her clothes, letting out a loud breath after. Lifting the goggles up, she replaced them with a pair of wire-rimmed safety glasses from her locker and tugged on boots, shifting her ankles as she got the feel of them once more. With leather fingerless gloves pulled over her palms, Holtz rolled up the sleeves and shimmied her body.
Erin watched her with fondness, having prepared herself in record speed to support the woman if she needed it. Abby and Patty were dressed and the four were in the garage, checking the status of the equipment in the car. “Abby, can you drive?” Holtz asked quietly.
“Of course. In fact, I’m not so sure you’re getting this seat back,” She teased, Patty stealing the passenger seat.
As Holtz slid across the back bench and into Erin for a long, obviously loud kiss, she popped off questioning, “Sure about that?”
The two up front groaned and Abby tore down the street, Patty explaining that the warehouse they were headed to on the docks had been experiencing noise complaints at night all week, but this was the first they were having any reported activity during the day. “In the ‘60s it was a major drug port,” She stated, reading from her phone. “Could be some ghosty missing their fix.”
Erin rolled her eyes and kept Holtz glued to her side with a supportive arm.
Patty continued, “But the last few years, there have been major stand offs with police in trying to keep the homeless and vandals away from the warehouses out there. The two don’t really seem related, so honestly, I’m not sure what we’re up against here.”
The physicist could feel the engineer’s body pulsing beneath her arm, nervous energy stemming off her. “You’ll stay with me,” She whispered in near silence, amazed that she also wasn’t panicking at the thought of having her girlfriend back in action after witnessing the explosion. Holtz gave a small nod, clutching the fabric of Erin’s pant leg with a sweaty palm. Her mouth was dry and the world seemed to be spinning under a vision of yellow.
They arrived at the pier and she managed not to vomit when opening the Ecto door. Bottom teeth scraping her top lip, she lifted the hatch to the back and rolled out the metal that held their gadgets. She performed her usual duty, helping her friends into their packs as if they hadn’t been doing it themselves for nearly three months. Holtzmann let out a short breath before pulling on her own, one of Abby’s old prototypes which functioned just fine. Abby was still going to man the trap while Holtz got back in the game, though they still had so much work to catch up on, obliterating the ghosts would be a good option as well.
Erin stepped forward to secure the metal around her waist, clicking it with a reassuring grin. “You can do this. And if for some reason, it’s too much, just let us know and I’ll walk you back to the car, okay?”
Nodding, she took her girlfriend’s elbow and gave a little squeeze before fishing a mini gun from her pocket, holding it up Charlie’s Angel style. “Let’s do this, babe.”
They entered the building with an air of confidence. Even if Holtz wasn’t at a full ten, they’d still be a better team with a fourth member. Patty held up a PKE meter, the readings already strong. “Whoa, we got a beastie in here ladies. Watch your backs.”
The swirling picked up the further they walked into the warehouse, light from the outside pouring in through broken windows near the ceiling. Feeling a prickle at the base of her skull, Holtz held closer to Erin as they pressed forward. A screeching sound startled them all — Holtzmann was the first to whip around, spotting a tall, glowing ghost of a man wearing a business suit that had been tore to hell, an axe poking out from the back of his head. As he removed it from his scalp and wheeled it towards her, Holtz let out a yell and drew her mini-gun up, shooting the ionized weapon to the side. Her heart rate was triple what it had been in the car and the excessive beating was forcing her vision to blacken and speckle.
“Holtz!” Erin called as she fell backwards, trying to catch her breath. Erin used the proton wand to wrap around the ghost’s middle, while Patty did the same, Abby sending fire after fire using a rechargeable rifle that looked a little like nerf gun.
Trying not to let tears overwhelm her vision, Holtz forced herself to stand on shaking legs, her mind playing the day in the tunnels on a loop. About to move herself to the door to get out of the rest of the women’s way, she froze when the ghost broke free of the loop that Patty and Erin had on it, swooping at her. Holtz threw herself to the ground, belly first, groaning at the harsh contact, before rolling onto her right side. Gritting her teeth, she aimed up and fired her little gun again, hitting the phantom in the head, causing it to screech.
“Erin, use the shotgun!” Abby shouted as she tried to reign it back once more, but this time the ghost disappeared, then spooked Patty from behind, knocking her to the side with a cackle and a laugh, projecting slime onto her back, earning a sharp yelp in shock and disgust.
Erin had just grabbed the shotgun off the side of Holtzmann’s old pack when the ghost reappeared in front of her, a hand coming up to attempt to knock her down as she tried to fire the gun.
When she was tossed to the side like a rag doll, a dark, familiar urge to destroy swept through Holtz. Feeling powerful for the first time in months, she let out a primal yell and reached behind her for the proton wand. “You asked for it now!” She shouted, directing the stream at the ghost, holding it steady with her feet planted firmly on the cement ground, yelling as she called for Abby to open the trap.
The woman did as instructed and Holtz screamed while directing the blast of nuclear energy into the portable containment unit, shouting again in success when Abby closed it in. Erin stood, shaking her head and arms in surprise, then let out a sob of a laugh before running to her girlfriend.
Holtz stood, entire body trembling as she clutched her wand and hyperventilated, in complete shock that she’d successfully taken down a ghost.
“Jill!” Erin cried, holding her body despite the awkwardness of a proton-pack hug. “You did it! Oh my gosh! You did it!”
Wanting nothing more than to bury her face in Erin’s neck and cry out all the emotions of three months worth of trauma and self-doubt that had lingered before the bust, the women weren’t given the opportunity to celebrate quite yet.
Patty was slinging slime off her hands and shouting, “I think we got more company!”
A blast from behind them shook the floor, and Holtz’s entire being as she became rigid, eyes wide under her glasses at the sound. Her eyes almost rolled back in her head when instinct took over once more as four more ghosts appeared from the direction of the explosion, in the corner of the room. Grabbing Erin’s shotgun from her side, Holtz aimed and fired, obliterating two ghosts as they rushed the couple. Tossing the gun to the floor as it would need a half hour to recharge (she really needed to focus on that after fixing Erin’s old pack), Holtzmann handed Erin her pistol before charging forward in the direction of the explosion.
“Holtzmann! What are you doing?” Abby yelled, following her while Erin and Patty handled the two remaining ghosts.
Skidding to a stop in front of the explosion, Holtz winced upon seeing the familiar remains of a pipe bomb. Shaking, she lifted it, glaring down the tube. “This isn’t chaos theory. There’s no way this isn’t related to everything else. Is it me, am I the trigger here?” She shouted in a surge of anger, throwing the remains at the wall. Yelping, she ducked and covered when they caused a minor explosion in the hole.
“Holtzmann!” Abby sternly yelled, her lips set tight as she marched over to scold the woman, but stopped when she followed Holtz’s line of sight.
In the newly created hole was another wall, a solid wall of concrete.
“The bomb wasn’t placed there to destroy an intruder…” Holtz muttered to herself, moving with slow caution in a curious limbo. “Abby, when they removed the bombs in the tunnels, what did they find behind the walls?”
Blinking, the shorter scientist responded, “I don’t think they drilled into the walls to look. We were working under the impression that it was going to be an act of terrorism.”
As whoops were heard behind them, Holtz waved Patty and Erin over to look at the concrete wall behind the blast. “Look,” She showed them, “Call Homeland security and tell them to bring a wrecking ball. We gotta see what’s beyond this wall, what the bomb was protecting. Somehow I just don’t think that ghosts are involved in terrorist activities.”
It was a full hour before a crew had arrived and were able to start excavating the wall. When it was finally opened enough for humans to enter.
February 14th, 2018
Ghost Bust Leads to Answers: Tunnel Bomb Threat Officially Cleared as Motive has been Found
Nearly ten weeks after the Freedom Tunnel Explosion, which lead to the Manhattan-wide shutdown of all underground transportation, answers are finally within reach as to what set off the bomb (or didn’t, in this case).
Ghostbusters’ Dr. Holtzmann has returned to active duty following severe injuries from the first explosion on December thirteenth of last year. She had been the one to dismantle the circuitboard on one of the Freedom Tunnel bombs; deactivating a sequence that would have blown all of Riverside and the majority of the Eastern half of the borough to bits. After the incident, over four hundred bombs were found in underground tunnels throughout the Manhattan area. All had been connected to paranormal activity, though seemed disconnected from one another as motive was a mystery.
Originally thought to perhaps be involved in homeland terrorism, this theory has been debunked. On Tuesday afternoon, the Ghostbusters were at a call at Pier 83, long abandoned and known for criminal activity and squatters. An explosion in the warehouse drew the attention of Dr. Holtzmann, who recognized the bomb signature as the same from the Freedom Tunnel Incident. Following her instinct, the engineer refused to believe that an uncorrelated move of terrorism would be made by a ghost so far away from the original source.
After convincing Homeland Security to clear out a concrete wall in the warehouse, the remains of a Shantytown were discovered, abandoned for at least twenty years.
Upon urging investigators to look back at the tunnels, despite public protest, a quick sweep of the walls beyond where the bombs had been placed reveal hundreds of small, abandoned squatter villages, inside the city’s mainframe.
When asked about the connection between the paranormal, bombs, and shantytowns, the Ghostbusters had this to say in an official statement:
“While investigations are still underway, putting the early pieces of the puzzle together are leading us to believe that these bombs were created by residents of the ‘mole’ villages in life to protect what they had worked so hard to build. While we are not condoning their behavior in life or death, we are offering this explanation as to why this might have occurred.”
To elaborate further, Dr. Yates offered this brief snippet over the phone:
“You know, when people are at that point in their lives, they’ve already felt that they have lost everything. To indulge in illegal activity to hold onto what they have managed to recreate for themselves is an answer. Not a safe or good one, but it makes sense.”
Patricia Talon also indulged us with bits of history to add to the theory:
“We think that the ghost who initially activated the bomb in Freedom Tunnel had been provoked by urban explorers. I believe that people need to consider being more respectful of what was, even if they don’t agree with it. The past can wind up blowing up in your face if you don’t respect it.”
Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, the one who placed the pieces together, was not up for comment, though Dr. Gilbert added, “With everything she’s gone through, we’re so thankful to have Dr. Holtzmann back working with us. Despite the extent of injury, she’s blown us all away, no pun intended of course, by what she’s come back with, strength, resilience, and finally, some peace for this mess.”
The Ghostbusters plan on working with Homeland Security to study this incident for the next few months in great detail. They will announce the publication of their theory when it is available.
For now, the New York Times would like to thank the members of the NYC Fire and Police Department, the National Guard, Bomb Squad, and Homeland Security for their efforts in keeping us safe. We extend a special thank you to the members of the Ghostbusters for once again keeping our city free of ghostly activity. Finally, we continue to wish the best for Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, and express our deepest gratitude that her expertise allowed her to save us all. We will forever be in debt to these brave women who risk their lives to give peace to those who have already lost theirs.
At eleven o’clock the following morning, Erin felt she had been patient enough. Opening the door to their bedroom, she crawled herself up the bed to a still-sleeping Holtzmann. She hardly looked the heroine that the New York Times was hailing her as, mouth agape, drool on the pillow, hair absolutely wild and shirt bounced up around her underwear as a blanket barely covered the back of her knees.
Chuckling at the sight, Erin bent down to press a long kiss to her temple, stroking behind her ear. Holtz brought a shoulder up to try and knock the fingertips away from the ticklish space, ending up giving a snort of a groan as she startled awake when it continued.
Sitting up too quickly, she felt her head roll back as she tried to get her bearings, squinting at the light streaming in from the window. Wiping her chin with the back of her hand, she opened and closed her mouth, bringing her fingernails to her belly, scratching under her scar before giving a good-morning burp.
“Wow, you are sexy as hell right now, Holtz,” Erin teased. The sleepy woman finally locked eyes on her girlfriend, familiar warmth flooding her vision as she processed her girlfriend’s presence.
“Hey, baby.” She turned herself around, squeaking out, “Trust fall,” Before collapsing backwards onto Erin’s body. The physicist found another giggle and attempted to smooth out the blonde mane.
“I hated to wake you, sleeping beauty, but it’s going on eleven and we’re supposed to have a celebratory lunch with the mayor’s office at twelve thirty and you need a shower.”
“Wow,” Holtz muttered, shaking her head as she stared up Erin’s nostrils from her angle. “Rude. But fine. Can you heat it up for me? I need to stretch out my ankle before it collapses and breaks upon standing.”
“Take it easy,” Erin warned, sliding off the mattress to do as she had been requested. When Erin stepped back into the room after getting the hot water blasting in the shower, she found Holtz on the floor, wincing as she worked the muscles in her ankle. “Still hurts?”
“Like a bitch,” The blonde muttered, feeling particularly awful. “Don’t mean to be a pest, but could I get some tylenol, too?”
“Sure thing,” Erin responded, feeling it absurd that Holtzmann thought she was irritating her after everything she’d gone through and done. Returning with the medication and her favorite water bottle, Holtz accepted it and drank up, popping the pill back before heading to the shower. “You need any help in there?”
Knowing that was code for Erin wanting sex, Holtz opened then closed her mouth, vowing to spend actual time giving her girlfriend what she wanted later that evening. “Not right now, but later I will be more than happy to help you out if you need a shower.”
Biting her lip, Erin twisted her waist, arms following. “I’m probably going to need a lot of help.”
Winking, Holtz took care of getting herself ready, though she whined when Erin insisted she look nice for the meeting. Accepting a grey pair of dress pants with a matching vest over a light blue shirt as the day’s outfit, she tied the oxford shoes Erin set out over a pair of matching argyle socks and picked a bold neck scarf to clash miserably with the whole ensemble.
Rolling her eyes, Erin stepped into the walk-in closet to get herself dressed, finding a light blue dress that matched Holtz’s shirt, a grey blazer over top with matching ankle boots over nude tights.
“Damn do we look good,” Holtz said with a whistle as she caught Erin fiddling with her necklace. “Dr. Gilbert, I could ravish you.”
“I hope you will,” Erin tried to wink as she stepped forward to hook an arm around Holtz’s waist, pecking her lips. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
The blonde frowned. “Mother…effer, it’s VDay.”
Chuckling, Erin leaned forward to capture her mouth again. “We’ve been a little busy, baby. Just take it on as VDay for me tonight, yeah?”
“Oh, I shall!” The engineer licked her lips and growled into Erin’s shoulder, nipping at her dress playfully. “Frickin’ love you. C’mon, though — let’s get this shindig over with. Sooner we get this over with, the sooner I can start getting you and your V hooked up with some real fun.”
Flushing but loving it, Erin held Holtz’s hand after getting bundled up for the New York chill, taking a taxi to the office where they met Patty and Abby outside before heading up to the top floor.
They were in the middle of a recap of the late night out they’d had celebrating the final conclusions in the tunnel madness when the elevator door dinged and they stepped out, Holtz not paying much attention as she stared at Patty while going into detail of a very intense karaoke session the taller woman had missed out on —
“Holtzy,” Patty finally cut her off, taking her head and turning it forward.
Holtzmann froze as she stared at the hall she’d been walked into, where her entire recovery team from the hospital, plus some of the new friends she’d made in her support group, were sitting in the front row of a packed room.
Blinking, she turned to face Erin for answers, but her girlfriend was merely beaming as Mayor Bradly took to the microphone, introducing the women as they were ushered to seats near him up front.
He blathered about the incident, Holtz unable to hear him as the deafening wave of being overwhelmed took her senses. Erin reached to her lap for Holtz’s fingers, trying to keep them still as they kept rising to fiddle with some part of her clothes. Trying to offer an encouraging smile, she nodded her to the podium as applause swept through the room.
Her body might have been controlled by someone else’s remote, because Holtz couldn’t remember walking up to Mayor Bradly or having one of the generals from the National Guard pin an award on her vest. Apparently she found a smile and shook hands because later, there were pictures circulating in newspapers and online.
Holtz finally came to as the room had started to empty for the actual lunch she’d been promised. Finding herself hallway in Norm’s lap as he held her in a long, grandpa-esque hug, she glanced up at Erin.
“What just happened?”
A ripple of laughter moved through Holtz’s recovery team, who’d been invited to the lunch reception as well. Sarah put a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder, assuring her she was getting recognition for a job well done.
Slightly embarrassed, but mostly just overcome with emotion, the blonde shifted to be held by Erin, keeping her face buried in her neck until they were seated and food was a new priority to fix her attention on.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Erin said quietly a little while later, when they were in a cab on the way home. “I knew you’d try to escape. That was a lot, I’m sorry that it was so much. But you really deserve it.”
“Well, you deserve a freakin’ award, too,” Holtz explained with wide eyes. “Erin, I never could have done any of this, dealt with this — gone back to work and figure this out, if it hadn’t been for you. You championed all this for me.” Her voice cracked and she tried to keep it together for the sake of their driver. “I’m never going to forget this. And I hope you never forget how much I love you and thank you for everything you’ve done to help me get better.”
Taking her own turn to get choked up, Erin held Holtzmann to her chest once again, hoping to communicate how she’d be willing to do it all again and forever if necessary.
Holtzmann gritted her teeth as the prickling sensation continued to wash over her back. Compared to the pain she’d been in three months prior, it was practically nothing. The act of laying still doing nothing for hours, however, was grueling. Sucking it up, Holtz considered the ultimate result of the discomfort, however, and found a small smile, relaxing at her own thoughts of self-control. Glancing upwards, she found Norm still giving her silent support, a thumbs up when his eyes met hers.
A week later, she was ready to determine the actual effect of the needle-induced pain she’d put herself under. Three months had passed since the fateful day when her world was literally shaken. In those twelve weeks, she and Erin learned more about one another than they could have dreamed. Holtzmann learned to be gracious and accept help. Erin had found worth in being the solid rock in a relationship. On their first anniversary as a couple, Holtzmann intended on showing the woman exactly how much she meant.
Waking up on the Saturday first with a stretch, Holtz headed to the bathroom, privately getting herself ready for the day. Taking her medication with a full glass of water, she set her hair, brushed her teeth and slid on just the smallest amount of eyeliner along her waterline that made her feel human.
Pleased with herself, she sneaked quietly by a still-sleeping Erin, finding a comfy flannel of hers to put on with her own black pants. Biting the inside of her cheek, she wiggled her fingers a little before reaching a hand to brush loose strands of hair from Erin’s face. A sigh escaped the older woman’s lips and she blinked an eye open at the contact, finding a pretty, sleepy smile. “G’mornin’,” She said with a low voice.
Chuckling, Holtz leaned over to kiss the top of her head, hand traveling to the middle of her back. “Good morning, beautiful. Happy anniversary.”
Erin’s cheeks blushed a pale pink as the warm thought ran through her — they’d made it a year together. It had been the longest relationship she’d ever been in, and they’d made it, despite all the challenges of their professional lives on top of their personal ones. Sitting up, she brushed all her hair back and pulled herself into Holtz’s lap, hugging her long. Holtzmann could have spent the entire day hugging Erin, but she had plans; lots of time to make up for.
“Can you get dressed? I’ve got some places I want to take you.” Pulling back, Erin nodded, rubbing the sleep from her eyes before getting herself ready for the day.
When she was ready, Erin stepped out with a black, button-down top under a sleeveless grey herringbone dress, black tights and strappy shoes on the bottom. Holtz had to physically shake her head to clear her trance, watching as she clipped half her hair back. Her necklace sat proudly on top of the buttoned shirt.
With a dazzling, slightly shy in anticipation smile, Erin took Holtz’s hand after being helped into her spring jacket and Holtz pulled on her leather. “Where are we headed?”
“It’s a surprise,” Holtzmann winked. “We won’t be gone all day, just for the morning and lunch.”
She led them outside and they sucked up their pride for the subway since the distance would have been a hefty cab ride. Arriving at their favorite bookstore in Brooklyn about forty minutes later, Erin noticed the sign outside.
‘Saturday Morning Tea & Poetry - Today’s theme: You are my Springtime.’
Squeezing Holtzmann’s arm in excitement, she led the way in, finding a comfortable seat in the reading room while a poet took center stage, starting her work on describing her partner through prose.
“Your love was born in the wild, growing from the soft earth, surrounded by trees that were surrounded by stars. That is why the forest has such a hold on you. That is why it sometimes feels like the moon knows your name.”
Erin leaned against Holtz as she drank a warm mug of rosemary tea. She hummed, the warmth spreading throughout her veins and giving the poetry a deeper breath of life.
Holtz kissed the back of her head above the clip every so often, palms sliding up and down Erin’s arms as she paid attention for the most part. Her girlfriend of one year was enthralled, soaking up the stanzas like she’d never hear poetry again.
By the time the session ended, the store owner greeted the women, still ever-thankful for their service. She winked and handed Holtzmann a brown wrapped package that had hearts hand stamped on it with a wide blue bow on top. Thanking the woman, Holtz took her by the hand and led her across the street and over a few blocks for lunch. It was a quiet affair at a quaint restaurant; perfect for someone with anxiety on a regular basis, along with someone who was still recovering from trauma.
After they finished eating and stopped at a grocery store for a few essentials, Holtz maneuvered them through New York City and back home, where they put the groceries away and curled up under a light-weighted blanket to watch a movie that they’d purchased online before being called to a bust the night before.
By the end, Holtz was sprawled over Erin as they laid back on the couch, her lips continuing an assault on Erin’s neck. She’d missed the ending of the movie, but did not mind in the slightest. Erin had managed to focus enough to pick up on the plot but was enjoying the physical attention to much to really care. “Holtz,” She sighed as the blonde sucked particularly long and hard at her collar bone after popping the top two buttons of her blouse open.
The engineer sat up, tilting her head to stare down at Erin properly. “I know it’s been a long time, which is mostly my fault, but…could we…?”
“Please,” Erin mumbled, sitting up with Holtz to clutch her cheeks and kiss her lips, earning a happy sigh. “Bedroom, though?”
“Yeah, absolutely,” She wiggled and stood, eagerly pulling Erin down the hall and to their bed. The auburn haired woman let her first slide the dress and tights off, making everything else much more manageable. Stepping out of her own pants, the two of them stood in underwear and button-down tops, Holtz’s arms lining around Erin’s waist again as she pulled her in for a long kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” She smiled into her mouth. “Hey, it’s okay if you’re still not ready…” Erin sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled Holtz close by the front flaps of her top. “I don’t care what your scars look like, you know? If you want to lose your top, I’m not going to let it take me back to feeling guilty or out of place. But if you want to keep it on, I can respect that to.”
Holtz undid the top button. “I’m definitely taking my shirt off,” She said, biting her lip a few times, though it wasn’t meant to be enticing. Nervous about Erin seeing what she’d done for the first time, she took a breath and let nimble fingers work the buttons through the holes of her top.
Once it was open, Erin slid her hands up to Holtz’s bare waist immediately, eyes trailing to the three-inch long, pink scar between her breasts first, which was the first of the major shrapnel wounds. Beneath it were two smaller ones, which were lighter and healed better after surgery. Holtz tangled her fingers in Erin’s hair, tossing the clip out and back to the carpet somewhere while Erin’s mouth moved over all the lines on her front torso. “There’s…I…did, I have something…” The blonde stuttered, drawing her girlfriend’s attention. “You know? I’m just going to show you,” She said quietly. Erin pulled back as Holtz turned around, very slowly, revealing shiny, black scrawling calligraphy. The text scrawled neatly in a small paragraph of five lines on her skin between her shoulder blades.
“Holtz?” Erin’s voice was caught in her throat as she read the words that were now permanently inked onto Holtzmann’s skin:
Together, you are bound by stardust
Although spectacularly created from
The energy of the universe itself.
And that, my darling, is the poetry of physics;
The poetry of you.
Her eyes misted and she found herself twisting, drawing herself to her knees on the bed, placing gentle hands on Holtz’s shoulders. Her lips touched the base of her neck before her eyes truly absorbed the poem, one of her favorites from the collection they’d shared.
“I don’t want you to forget how much you matter,” She said quietly, playing with her fingers in nervous fashion as Erin’s forefinger traced the script. “I-I had something I planed to say, but—“
Erin’s mouth met the tattoo in a long kiss before she turned Holtzmann around to meet her gaze. The lack of confidence in Holtzmann made her ache and she vowed to kiss it away. “You did that for me?”
“Mhm,” She answered, eyes darting to the floor. “I want you to read it at night before you go to sleep and when you wake up in the morning so you never forget that to me…you are the single most beautiful person, made from stars and you are the energy of my universe and my poetry and…” She fumbled with words but Erin understood them anyway.
“You made me this one,” Erin shimmied out of her own top, gesturing to the circle on her forearm. “And you got one of your own,” She processed, “Holtzmann, this…I…I…” Feeling her own struggle, she shrugged and smiled. “Maybe we should just show each other what we’re trying to say?”
With her lips curing up as well, Holtz nodded and let Erin turn her around one more time to continue examining the text, then felt herself get a little push to the mattress. Crawling up it, she found herself sprawled across her stomach, Erin’s fingers busy touching the words with one hand, the other tracing invisible ones down her side.
“Erin,” She moaned, having missed intimate contact. “Thank you for being so patient with me…I didn’t realize how much I needed this.”
Erin’s hair tickled Holtz’s cheek as she bent to sweetly remind her, “You needed time more. I was happy to give that to you. But I’m going to be happy to remind you just what we were missing, too.”
Holtz felt the woman shift on top of her, rolling her back and pushing a knee between her thighs while kissing her hotly. The joint rubbed against Holtz’s center and the woman was reeling in what she’d stopped from happening a few times before. “I love you,” She said, sucking in a breath. “Oh, this is right,” She sighed, her fingers brushing Erin’s own poetry tattoo, dancing below the ink on a sensitive rib. She was practically purring as she meshed their mouths together, holding Holtz’s left thigh and keeping one hand supporting herself in the position.
They kissed for a few more long minutes before Erin pulled back, lips puffy and a genuine smile of gratitude on her face made Holtz give one back. She hooked her fingers in the waistband of Holtz’s underwear, easily sliding the blue boy shorts down and off the bed.
The engineer was finally naked before her for the first time properly in months. Erin almost choked up at how insanely happy she was. Having the woman before her to have and hold and love once more, Erin kissed her lips, her neck, between her breasts, above her belly button, the creases of her thighs and her mouth once again.
Holtz let out a low-pitched moan when Erin paused to take off her bra and underwear, pushing their nude bodies together, nerves firing at every end from the contact. Taking a hand up to lose it in auburn locks, Holtzmann kissed her jaw before her girlfriend slid down a few inches to rub a thumb over her perk nipple. Erin’s hips were grinding down as her fingers ghosted over her breasts, lips coming down to suck and release every few seconds before Holtz was practically thrusting up in return. Her center was slick in desire and when Erin wedged a thigh between her legs, she found out just how.
It had been far too long, she she thought again, her fingers joining her now damp thigh, touching Holtz’s folds with a long stroke, the pad of her thumb drawing a circle against her clit.
A tight sound came out of Holtz’s throat as her eyes screwed shut in pleasure, her mouth falling open as Erin didn’t need to tease her much before pushing two fingers into her, curving them up to slide against her walls. Holtz bit down on Erin’s lip when she tried to kiss her, tugging the puffy bottom one into her mouth and sucking on it to try and divert some of her pleasure sense elsewhere as she was not going to last at the rate she was going. Circling an arm around Erin’s back, she let out a loud gasp when Erin slid a third finger into her entrance and stretched the others apart. “Yes,” She hissed, burying her face in the hollow of Erin’s neck, kissing repeatedly as she tried to focus. “Ohmygod, Erin.”
The sensation continued and Erin creatively used her thumb to stimulate her outside her folds as well, making Holtz twist and buck against her. Knowing that her girlfriend was trying to drag out her first time in months, Erin allowed her to, taking it slow, pausing and rotating her fingers every now and then before ultimately pulling them all away and sliding her whole body down in the same movement, taking Holtz’s center by the mouth and sucking lightly.
Coming in a matter of barely a minute, Holts held onto the sheets as Erin kept her thighs in place when she tried to pull away, making the orgasm last by continuing to flicker her tongue across the sensitive flesh. Finally stopping when Holtz had to physically push her face away, Erin wiped her chin with her palm before coming up to take Holtz’s mouth, where the younger woman moaned again at the taste of herself on her parter’s lips.
“I’m so sorry I kept you from doing that for so long,” She finally managed to breathe out, relaxing in a long cuddle, though knowing how badly Erin likely needed the favor in return.
After dolling out just as intense of a pleasurable amount for her girlfriend, Holtz ran the hot water for the bathtub, watching the syrup she poured in start to bubble. As Erin came in a few moments later carrying a bottle of wine with a tiny slip of a black robe wrapped around her, she sputtered on a cough after breathing in wrong. “Where did you get that?”
Flushing to match the alcohol, Erin let Holtz tug at the silky material. “I…grabbed it when I was out and about a few weeks ago. You like it?”
“It’s sexy as hell,” Holtz responded, purring while touching the hemline along the bottom which was about four inches above the knee. She was about to climb into the tub when Erin made her wait. “I want to get in first, so I can look at this,” She motioned to Holtz’s back and peeled the robe off, climbing into the too-hot water and hissing in delight at it. Holtz took her turn, wanting to lean back against the woman’s chest, but sitting forward so she could read the tattoo again.
“I would like to add large master bath along with fireplace for our next home requirements,” She mumbled as she shifted in the small tub.
“Absolutely,” Erin said without hesitating, tracing each cursive letter with her index finger while Holtz started on the wine. “I want to also add a breakfast nook and a balcony so we can not see the stars at night against the glowing city lights.”
Snickering, Holtz finally leaned back. “I’ll make you a telescope. Then you can see all the stars, baby.”
Erin unpinned what was left of her hair, letting the long locks tumble into the tub. She snaked a hand around Holtz’s waist, still enthralled that the woman had gotten a tattoo to remind her how much meaning Erin brought to her life.
“I love you. And I’m glad you’re feeling more like yourself. You’ve worked so hard and I’m proud of you. And I thank you, that despite all that, you’ve done what you can for me. And this? Jill. No one else will ever love me like you do. I’m so lucky to have you.”
Feeling choked up, Holtz turned how she could so her ear was against her girlfriend’s heartbeat. Erin was right, she still had a way to go before the trauma would be more bearable, before work would be easy again. But she had Erin there, the entire journey. And knowing that Erin — her living constellation, her physics, her poetry, her every essence, was with her in good times and in the worst of them? Holtz knew she’d arrive at healing.