The first time they kiss, Erin's surge of desire is sullied with shame from crossing another line that she was never supposed to approach, from yet another experience that she'd tried to pretend didn't exist. She used to be an expert at lying to herself and everyone else in order to be a good girl, to be successful, to be normal. Now she wakes up in the middle of the night with her heart rattling against her ribs because she was laughed out of her career in academia and because she wants to touch every inch of Holtzmann’s skin. On good days she knows her new life feels right but it's still just so wrong.
They're alone in the firehouse kitchen on a Friday evening; Abby and Patty and Kevin left hours ago to start their weekend “like sane people,” as Patty put it while sailing out the door. Holtzmann sucks peanut butter off a spoon while Erin watches the muscles in her throat move and muses aloud about her day’s work. Her words sputter as Holtz dips her spoon back into the jar of peanut butter.
"Ew! Holtzmann, no!" Erin lunges to grab the jar. "Don't put your germy spoon back in there. We all share that!" She clutches it to her chest as Holtz tries to snatch it back.
"What's a few germs among friends?" Holtz paws at Erin's arms as she dodges away. She laughs and shrieks, hunching her shoulders and curling up to avoid Holtz’s hands. Holtzmann grabs at her, seizes her roughly from behind, pinning Erin against her and pressing her mouth to Erin's ear.
"Eeerrrrin, c'mon." The hum of Holtz's low, cajoling voice and the brush of her breath set off a vibration that thrums every nerve in Erin's body. She goes still, aware of nothing but the parts of her that are trapped against the other woman: Holtzmann's hips cupping the curve of her ass, her belly and breasts molded to Erin's back. Warmth floods her pelvis and rises in a wave, threatening to spill over and dissolve her self-restraint.
"My germs are gonna getcha," Holtzmann says in a stage whisper, tightening her arms around Erin's waist, and she punctuates the threat by flicking her tongue across her cheek. Erin gasps in a high pitched squeak, every muscle going weak, and the jar drops to the floor. Holtzmann’s gleeful whoop turns into a disappointed whine as the jar rolls away, dust bunnies from the neglected floor clinging to the open top.
"Now it's ruined!" Holtz wails. "Noooo!" She thrusts wriggling fingers into Erin's sides, tickling her in vengeance. She wrestles with her, twisting and stomping until they face each other.
Erin pants and trembles, grabbing at her wrists. "Stop! Please."
Holtzmann freezes at her unsteady voice and lets Erin pull her hands away. She holds Holtz's wrists up in the space that separates their bodies, her heart hammering.
"You're really tense, did you know that?" Holtzmann says, studying her with an intense, wide-eyed stare. Erin recognizes her expression from the first moment she met Holtz; it had disturbed and intrigued her and ignited a tiny flicker of desire that she had been struggling to extinguish ever since. There is something deeper in her eyes now, something more than mere challenging provocation.
Holtz's body heat scorches her despite the gap between them. The electric tension of Erin's grip on her slender wrists is excruciating, sparking with the temptation of more skin to skin contact. In a moment of savage honesty she admits to herself, You want this. You want her. Stop lying to yourself. Suck it up and kiss her!
Holtz's lips part just the tiniest bit, quirking up at the corners almost imperceptibly, and before she can talk herself out of it Erin lowers her head to close the scant few inches between them. She's stiff and awkward, but her rigorous self control has torn loose and she wants to blot out the faint smirk on Holtz’s mouth.
She clasps the delectable softness of Holtz's upper lip between her own- so pliant, so receptive- and then Holtzmann's response shocks Erin with its raw fierceness and energy. Her tongue slips deep, deep into Erin's mouth with no prelude, stroking firmly, thoroughly, so sure of herself, so sure now that Erin wants this, and she does, she does want this. Erin whimpers into her mouth and Holtz crushes their bodies together, hips and bellies and breasts pressed tight in a mirror image as Holtz holds her, her forearms up the length of Erin's back, hands grasping her shoulder blades. A shot of pleasure ricochets inside Erin and lodges low in her belly, an explosion of melting heat between her legs, then an icy wash of shame because she’s aroused from kissing a woman, from one long-awaited kiss with this woman.
Holtz gradually withdraws from the kiss with softer flicks of her tongue inside Erin's mouth and on her lips; her grip relaxes, her arms loosely circling her waist. She nuzzles Erin's nose and cheeks, nudges her head back to kiss just under her jaw, and Erin’s breath catches. Her lips move against Erin’s neck as she speaks, the delicate caress a tantalizing contrast to the force of her first kiss.
"I like your outfit. But I think it would look better on my bedroom floor."
"Oh my god. Holtzmann!" Erin pulls back, her hands flailing in front of her face in frustration. "Still with the corny pick-up lines?"
"I would argue that they're working.” Her face is lit up with unabashed glee.
Erin groans and covers her eyes. "We should at least go on a date before..."
"Before what?" Holtz feigns ignorance, lazily caressing Erin's back, brushing her face against the back of Erin's quivering hands, kissing them with her smiling mouth.
"Before my clothes end up on your floor!" She fires Holtzmann's words back at her.
"Ohhh. First a date and then the clothes come off."
"Oh my god."
Huddled on the couch in the lounge, Erin knows she is babbling, she's folded in on herself, elbows propped on her knees, hands alternately covering her face and jabbing at the air. Holtzmann clings to her side, her face pressing into Erin’s hair, breath warm on her neck.
“I'm afraid of ruining our friendship and we work together and I was only with a woman once before- but I don't even really know if… And you must think I'm a pathetic flakey straight person and I'm sorry and we can pretend this never happened if you want but I just can't stop thinking about you.” She listens to her blood roaring in her ears, ruthlessly reciting in her head every awful and humiliating thing she's ever done.
“I don't think you're any of those things. Especially not straight.”
Erin's breath puffs out in a tense laugh but she says, “Can you please be serious right now?”
Holtz grunts and sighs and shifts, burrowing her face into the back of Erin's neck. Her usual flippant confidence has evaporated. Erin waits.
“I’ve wanted to be with you since the day I met you,” she mumbles into Erin's hair. “I don't want to pretend this didn't happen.”
Faced with Holtz's defenseless sincerity, the strands of Erin's worries are severed and she can't think about the future. All of her reasons to resist fade until they disappear. She reaches for Holtz and they collide. It is not gentle. All of Holtz's energy and intensity is focused on her and Erin’s anxious tension has snapped violently like a broken spring. Holtz's boot kicks the coffee table as she loses her balance, scrabbling for leverage; their foreheads knock together. Holtz laughs and Erin captures her lips with her own.
Holtzmann slides her fingers through Erin's hair, cradling the back of her head, her other hand tenderly clasping her neck. A shower of sparks prickle Erin’s skin from the contact. For just a moment, for once, nothing matters except doing exactly what she wants, without questioning it. She is the very center of the universe and Holtzmann is every galaxy in existence, spinning around her. Time is meaningless, the only measure of it is their reddened mouths from interminable kissing.
Erin breaks away to taste the skin of Holtz’s neck, tiny flicks of her tongue as she kisses her way from jaw to earlobe. She captures the tender flesh between her lips, licks and then nibbles it, the increasingly intense sensations drawing a long, soft moan from Holtz's throat. She is stricken by the sound. How can touching and hearing Holtz like this make her feel so good?
Holtzmann takes her lips again and a single sob rises in Erin’s mouth, a tremulous gasp of half pleasure, half apprehension. Holtz pulls back, cups her hands around the back of Erin's neck, her eyes darting over her face. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just... a lot. Overwhelming,” Erin whispers.
“Sorry.” Holtz scuttles back, putting space between them. She doesn't look at her, a groove appearing between her eyebrows.
“No! No. Don't.” She scrambles to close the gap, grabbing Holtz's t-shirt and pulling them together again. “I just mean… There are a lot of new things happening at once.”
Holtz leans back, drawing Erin with her. She strokes her hair as Erin rests her head on her shoulder. An occasional spasm shakes her chest.
“It’s getting late,” Erin warbles. The thought of traveling back her apartment to sleep alone is daunting.
“Don’t go. Stay and sleep with me? Just sleep, I mean?” Holtz asks, and her embrace tightens.
Erin has trouble imagining sharing a bed with Holtz right now and just sleeping, but she nods. Holtz is delighted. She smacks a noisy closed-mouth kiss on Erin’s lips and bounces off the couch, tugging Erin up after her. Her mercurial moods leave Erin breathless but she's irresistibly swept up in her wake. She doesn’t recognize herself. Who is this person agreeing to share Holtz's shabby bed in the hazardous waste site of her lab?
Undressing in the bathroom, Erin finds her panties slick and soaked through. She washes up and the warm wet washcloth that she swipes between her legs makes her shiver. She changes into a t-shirt and leggings from her locker then steadies herself with deep breaths as she descends to the second floor and Holtz's makeshift bedroom.
Holtzmann is skittering about stuffing clothing into drawers and flinging scattered bits of metal and wire into a pile. A twinge flutters in Erin's chest at Holtz's little gesture to oblige her need for order and tidiness. She crosses her arms, hugging herself, stepping into the room slowly.
Holtzmann stops and faces her. “I meant what I said about just sleeping tonight, Dr. Gilbert.”
Erin sighs, both relieved and disappointed. “Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”
“Someone’s feeling sassy. I like it.” She tilts her head back and looks down her nose at Erin.
“I'm feeling exhausted and out of my mind,” Erin admits.
With sudden surprising gentleness, Holtz takes her hands and guides them both to the mattress on the floor. She fishes a tube of Pringles and a circuit board out of the tangled blankets and tosses them aside.
What am I doing? This is crazy, Erin thinks. Holtzmann flings herself down on the bed and looks up at her with adoration. Maybe being crazy isn't so bad.
Lying next to Holtz's warmth, sleep comes easily after all.