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Only Child

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There are things people don't tell you about San Francisco. They mention the weather and the traffic and the homelessness. They don't actually tell you how bad it is until you get here. When I came out for the job interview, I was toured to all the nice places. The clean, safe, pretty, places. I was not taken to where a forensic pathologist usually ends up.

They also didn't really explain how shitty parking was when I have to go downtown.

And after a long day of meetings and budgets and wishing I could just be looking into the mummified body found in a house the day before (it was deemed that it could wait a day, but I wish I could do it now, since it's so damn cool), I do not want to deal with whomever it is leaning against my car.

I open my mouth to ask them to leave when the shape catches my eye. I'm supposed to notice things. It's my job. So the hunched form in a black hoodie, black jeans, and black boots that were not buckled hits my memory. It's a hard hit. It's someone I didn't expect to ever see again. I know who it is because I've never really gotten over her even if I haven't seen her in almost two years.

"Gail?"

She looks terrible. She looks haunted and morose. I know it isn't just the faded memory of not having seen her (or heard from her) in two years that makes me think that. I've seen Gail like this before, sort of, when she was having a near breakdown in my bathroom. But this seems worse.

"Hi," she says quietly. Her eyes are dark hollows, like she hasn't slept properly in weeks. That's almost all I can see of her face, the eyes. She keeps her head down and looks at me without moving her head much.

My shock and annoyance quickly fade into worry. Concern. For a second I think her face is dirty. I've never known Gail to be dirty. We hadn't parted on the best of terms, but you couldn't not worry about people you'd cared about.

Okay, saying we hadn't parted on 'good' terms was putting it mildly. We'd had a knock down screaming match at each other at my place, which was more cathartic than the non-argument we'd had at the Penny, but just as bad in the end. We may not have been over each other, but we weren't going to be able to pull this off, and I knew it. Things were said that we didn't mean, at least not quite like that. We destroyed any chance of a reconciliation.

That meant I had only heard from Traci about what had been going on with Gail. Like I knew she hadn't adopted Sophie (she was a long shot to start with). And I knew she'd been promoted and Traci suspected she was angling for a White Shirt. But I also knew Gail had been quiet and keeping to herself a lot, and that was something Traci worried about. Gail didn't drink so much, didn't talk so much, and seemed to be lost in her thoughts a lot of the time, said Traci the last time we talked.

Come to think of it, I hadn't heard from Traci in a couple weeks either. I'd emailed her, same as always, but she was a detective. Sometimes she got busy. More than once she'd been radio-silent for a week or more, and then came back to email me a long story about undercover ops.

"What— What are you doing here?" I know it isn't the most elegant way to ask, but I had to know. Why was she here?

"I have no idea," laughs Gail, bitterly. "I mean, I have to be somewhere, right?" The words chill me. If I thought Gail the suicidal type, I'd be panicking right now. Gail's too egocentric for suicide, thank god, so it's not that.

Still, I'm positive that something is way wrong. This doesn't sound like Gail.

She pushes off my car, starting to apologize and I guess go somewhere, when I see her wince when she moves her arm. "You're hurt?" I reach out and touch her shoulder, only to have her recoil in clear pain.

"It's fine," she grumbles, teeth gritted. "I mean, it's a bullet wound, but my stitches aren't bleeding, I think…" Gail looks at her arm and frowns as if it's the source of all that's hounding her right now.

This one-ups both the burnt wrist and the hair disaster in my bathroom. Crap. Maybe she actually is suicidal. That settles it. I can't let her go, it's not safe. "Gail, get in my car," I order, picking up the small bag at her feet. I have no idea what I should do with her, what I can say to her, but I can't just leave her.

She stares at me for a moment, confused and clearly conflicted. Then she shuffles around to the passenger side and gets in without a comment. Whatever had happened to spur Gail, who hates flying, onto a plane this soon after being shot and show up at my office has to be epic. "Thank you," she breathes, shoulders drooping as she buckles in.

"You're an idiot," I grumble. "How did you even know I'd be here?"

"I didn't." She won't take the hoodie off so I can barely see her face. That can't be dirt... I don't like the other option.

"How did you know this was my car?"

She smiles a little. "Office of the medical examiner. Figured you'd be there. Just looked for the hybrid with the newest plates." She leans her head back a little. "I was lucky I guess. The BART smells, by the way."

There is something seriously odd about the way she said 'lucky' that makes my hackles rise. After you work with cops for a while, you get used to sorting out what they don't say. The tone Gail uses to say she's lucky actually chills me. "You want to tell me why you're here?" She shakes her head. Awesome. "Gail…"

"It's not a happy story," she mutters. She sounds sorry. "It's not short."

Most of our story hasn't been happy, it occurs to me. It is a brief story. Girl meets girl over dead body. Girls flirt. Girls kiss. Girls love. Girls are stupid and blow things up and regret everything. But if she's got something that she's saying is unhappy and long, then she may not want to talk about it until her blood sugar is back to normal, which I'm sure it's not. "Have you eaten?"

"Not hungry."

Okay. Something is very, very, very, wrong. Gail Peck is not hungry. I think about what I have at home and make a quick decision. I can probably change her bandages with what I had… hopefully. Then I can order food. I explain this to her and she doesn't answer. Glancing over as the traffic crawled to a halt, I see her drooping more. "Hey, hon— Gail?"

It isn't my place to call her 'honey' anymore. I want to. I know I've never really gotten her out of my system. But it's been a year and change, nearly two, and we haven't been friends in that time. We've both moved on, I thought. Traci told me Gail had gone out on some dates, and I'm seeing someone... Sort of. Still. Gail is someone I care about. I wanted her as a friend when I left Toronto, though that hadn't worked out. She'd been adamant about needing space and time to get over me since I was leaving her. I told her to fuck herself and not call me, because she was good at that.

Yes, thank you, I was an absolute bitch about it. I was hurt and angry and still in love with her. I know I still care about her, whatever that means. And now, clearly whatever has happened to her, she needs me and not anyone else. It feels like a burden, the regret of my past treatment of her sinking in shamefully, but I can't turn away someone in need like this. Certainly not Gail. Very gently I reach over and touch her leg.

She starts awake with a massive flinch as her arm moves. "Fuck," she complains, sounding like the Gail I remember, and holds herself rigid. "Sorry," she adds, hissing through her teeth.

She was sorry? I check the GPS and see that we are deadlocked in traffic for at least a few minutes. Turning, I look at Gail directly. "Take off the hood," I ask her. No. I tell her. I pitch my voice just like my father when I'm being stupid. "Now."

With a very apologetic expression, Gail pushes it off her head. The hair is a dirty red-blonde. Her natural color, as I recall, similar to Steve's red but blonder. It is also chin-length and less than immaculate, which is weird for Gail. I'd never known her not to be fussy about her looks. But her face, which is bare of makeup, is also resplendent with half-healed bruises and what looks like road rash on the right side. Someone kicked the shit out of her. "Not pretty," Gail notes, dryly.

My brain short circuits. "You have looked better," I reply, while thinking she is still beautiful and wanting to murder whomever did that to her. What the hell has been going on in Toronto? "Is that related to your arm?" She nods at me. "That looks horrible."

"It feels about as bad as it looks." She pulls her hood back up and slumps in the seat. "Still. It's been four days."

"Jesus, your roommates let you out of the house?" I really wonder who let her out of the hospital.

"Wasn't there."

I scowl. This is going to be a long story if she keeps telling it like this. "Do you want to tell me now or when we get to my place?"

Gail sighs and leans her head back. "Your place. Please."

That's progress, I guess. We make it to my place, a row house I'm subleasing from a couple who'd moved to Florida, and I hustle Gail inside. She is surprisingly tractable and obedient for anyone, let alone a pesky Gail Peck who is many things, but tractable is not one. Once on my couch, it takes little effort to get the hoodie off, and her over-shirt. Gail has on a tank top (thank god) and I finally get a good look at her.

The bullet is in what we jokingly called the 'TV dramatic injury' spot back when I was in school, being on her upper right arm. The bruising possibly looks worse than it was, given Gail's skin color. She was shot and apparently stomped and rolled. "Is it just the arm?"

"Mmm, the rest hit my vest," she mutters.

Damn. I coax her into lifting the hem of her tank top and see the marvelous bruising from the rounds that hit her where she was protected. "Did they give you painkillers?"

"Threw 'em out. They messed with my head."

Yeah, that was Gail. I sigh and make the order for Chinese food before collecting my med kit from the bathroom and the strongest painkillers I can find. The ones from when I dislocated my finger three months ago are strong but not narcotics. They'll have to do. Gail doesn't argue at all when I hold them out, dry-popping the pills and letting me change the bandage on her arm. The stitches are fine. A little red and swollen, but that's to be expected. She's been moving it around today.

After getting her cleaned up and back in her shirt, I get out frozen peas for her to ice her arm and rib. "Can I lie down?" Gail is almost pleading.

"Yeah, the food will be here in a bit."

She doesn't reply and is asleep in moments. Snoring.

I grimace. This is not going to go over well with my quasi-girlfriend, Maria. I text her to cancel our standing dinner, saying a friend wasn't feeling well and needed babysitting. I try to tell myself that it was okay to feel relieved about not explaining anything to Maria just yet. I like her, but I felt a little pressured to be her girlfriend in the first place, like it was expected just because we were women who went out a couple times.

Maria knows about Gail in broad terms, but we've only been going out for a couple months, so it's not like she knows everything just yet. I'm pretty sure she won't take this well. Maria's a little jealous, which has been something I've actively disliked and told her. Our fights have been around that, and they haven't been super pretty. I'm not sure our relationship will last much longer.

But if things come to a head, if Maria finds out Gail's here and takes it the wrong way, I know what she'll say. She'll demand I kick Gail out. Would I pick Gail or Maria? How much do I want to have my friendship back? Would I be using Gail as a handy excuse to break up?

Sometimes I hate my life. No matter what, I don't want Gail to look like she's an excuse. That's that, this is this. I don't need her or Maria taking things the stupid way like both might do. I also know I'd pick Gail's friendship over Maria any day. Gail's a better person. Ugh. Every time I think about it, I regret Maria and that's really telling.

When the food comes, Gail doesn't even twitch. Clearly the explaining isn't going to come from her, so I call her brother. No answer. Traci. No answer. There are only a few people left that might possibly know and I don't have their numbers. "Oh fuck it," I grumble and dig Gail's phone out of her bag. It is turned off and dead. Of course.

I plug her phone in to charge and call Fifteen Division directly, asking for Oliver Shaw. Gail always spoke highly of him and I'd liked him when we met. He called me 'her girl' with the most gentle of tones. He clearly adored Gail. She put up with him, but I thought she liked him too.

"Officer Shaw," he sounds a little less perky that I recalled.

"Hi, I don't know if you remember me. Holly Stewart?"

There was a moment's pause. "Dr. Stewart? Gail's Holly? From the forensics lab?"

Of course that was how they remembered me. "Yes. I've been looking for someone who could explain what's going on."

Oliver's voice is weird. "God, are you looking for Gail?"

What an odd question. "No. She's asleep on my couch right now— "

Oliver cuts me off. "She's there? Oh thank god!"

"Oh." I frown at the sleeping blonde. Red head. Blonde. "This is making less sense every minute," I admit.

"Hang on a second. Epstein! Call off the hounds, we found her." I hear a second voice ask where Gail was. "She's… Uh. She's okay?"

That was to me. "She's asleep. Her arm's okay, but she looks like shit."

"Okay. That'll do." Away from the phone, he adds, "She's fine, Epstein. I'll give you the details later, okay?"

So Oliver was keeping her location a secret? None of it made any sense to me. "Oliver," I say in a low voice. "Someone better explain why the hell Gail just showed up in San Francisco and why you didn't know where she was."

Oliver exhales loudly. "She didn't tell you anything?"

"She said it was a long, unhappy, story, said she wasn't hungry. And then she fell asleep."

He hesitates. "This is something she should tell you, Doc."

I push. Hard. "She's not going to any time soon. I already tried her brother and Traci, but they aren't picking up. She's here, Oliver. I should know why."

He makes an unhappy noise and then he tells me.

Gail had been working with her brother in Guns & Gangs, just as a uniform. Nothing big. Spying on houses, keeping tabs on criminals. The usual thing. She did a little undercover for him, but most of it was sitting in a van being bored. I could only imagine how she must have bitched. Oliver thought Gail was angling to be a D or maybe get a White Shirt, but she'd been very quiet outside of work. Serious.

It all went pear-shaped four days ago when they went to talk to a drug store owner. Gail had been in uniform, her vest on, while Steve was just dressed like a detective. They were just doing some normal work, making sure the owner was aware of what was going on. From what the police figured out, one of their suspects happened to be in there, buying supplies, and they got the drop on the Pecks. Shots were fired. Gail had jumped between her brother and the shooters, but three bullets went wide. One hit Gail's arm, two hit Steve. There was some kicking as well, which explains Gail's face. The whole thing was caught on video.

Steve died en route to the hospital.

"So Gail… she checked out AMA two days ago, and no one's seen her since. Her father's been going nuts trying to find her."

I can't even fathom how she could have vanished from Toronto like that. Anyone who thinks she's not a good cop needs a kick in the ass. A Peck just ditched the entire Toronto police department and skipped the country. If I wasn't so pissed at her, I'd be laughing. "When she wakes up, I'll see if I can get her to unpack what's in her head, Oliver… Should I call someone?"

"No! No no, I'll take care of this. Uh.. You're Traci's friend too?"

"Sort of. I still talk to her," I admit. Traci is an afterthought right now, which is really shitty of me. But... Gail is here, on her own, and in pain. Theoretically Traci has someone to talk to, and Gail clearly does not. "How is she?"

"She's with her mother right now. They'd just gotten engaged."

I hadn't known that. Traci got engaged to Steve! More than once, Gail had talked about how she liked them together, that Traci brought out the best in Steve. Traci had told me how much she liked the weird Peck. "God, no wonder she's a mess." Her dead, engaged, brother.

He takes a deep breath. "Did either of them tell you about Jerry?"

I frown, remembering Gail touching her severed pony tail and whispering about how that part was when Jerry died. I know nothing, it seems. "No."

And Oliver told me about Jerry, Traci's fiancé. And how Gail had been kidnapped and drugged and Jerry found her but was killed.

And now Gail had been there when another of Traci's betrothed had died.

"Oh Jesus," I whisper. No wonder she was a mess. The burning agony hurts me to the bone, I can't begin to understand how she might feel. I can see some of that pain, some of that agony, I remember it, but this is different. I had nothing to do with anything. I'd been asleep. But Gail has the weight of action on her shoulders and will forever be something she doubts. I know Gail. This will swallow her. This could break her.

"Yeah, it's a heavy, heavy thing. Can you— I hate asking you this, darlin', since I know you guys didn't end so good. I mean, I know my Peck. You really aren't - aren't friends anymore. But can you hang on to her? At least until she sleeps?"

Without thinking or processing, I reply, "Yes, yes, it's fine, Oliver. I'll keep her here for a while."

I have no idea exactly how I'm going to do that. I really don't have the right to do any of that. I was the one who told Gail goodbye. I was the one who snapped and said she shouldn't call me. And here I am, promising to keep her at my place? God. I'm a masochist. But what can I say? She was shot four days ago. Her brother died. Her closest friend, Traci, was engaged to him. She's got to feel hurt. And some of that I do understand.

"Thank you," says Oliver. "Thank you."

I promise to keep him in the loop and study the face of the poor woman in my couch. She didn't even go to Steve's funeral. I know she hates them, more than she hates weddings. This is terrible. I pick the ice packs up off her and put them in the freezer. She doesn't even twitch. I've never known Gail to sleep that soundly.

Her bag is too small to have much in it, and I take it and her boots up the the guest room. It'll be easier to get her up after. She's surprisingly tractable when I wake her, suggesting she try the bed. All she complains is that she wants to sleep, so I nudge her up the stairs and into my tiny guest room. I gamble that she has no capacity to shower, so I just get her onto bed and negotiate her out of some of her clothes, the jeans and sweatshirt go. The over shirt and bra are a problem. It's only after I promise she can wear one of my sports shirts, the one she always borrowed when she slept over with me, more than a year ago, that she agrees to change.

It's not the first time I've seen her naked, but it feels weird now helping her into the comfy Canadiens sleep shirt. She's not my girlfriend. She's not even my friend last I checked.

"Thank you," she mumbles, letting me tuck her in.

"Just get some sleep, honey." I didn't mean to say it, but the endearment slips out. If Gail hears it, she doesn't react.

It makes for one of the worst nights I'd ever had in that house. I barely sleep. I have nightmares and panic that Gail's gone, so I have to check on her what feels like a hundred times. She barely moves all night long, sleeping soundly. Finally I manage to fall sleep.

Come morning, I call in and ask my assistant to run the house mummy for me, explaining I have a family emergency. He's a darling and says he'll put it last, just in case I make it in before he gets to it. That leaves me with a sleeping ex in my guest room.

Gail is still sound asleep too. She's not waking for anything, not even when I walk into the room with coffee. She's feeling bad. I wonder if she slept at all in the hospital or on her impromptu trip here. Probably not. I let her sleep and do my paper work from home. At least I get caught up in that.

It's a full twenty hours before Gail opens her eyes. She comes downstairs in the sweats and shirt I left for her, looking too thick headed and bleary to be really comfortable. "What time is it?"

"Almost five," I tell her and she frowns. "It's also Wednesday."

Her eyes go wide. "What?"

"You slept all day," I explain. "Hungry?"

She looks at a loss and nods a little. "Kind of. Thirsty."

I save my work and open up the fridge. "I have leftover broccoli beef and sesame beef." She doesn't answer and I look over. The pure adoration on her face is a surprise.

"Nick forgets I can't eat tomatoes," she says, blushing. "We haven't talked in two years and you remember my Chinese food order."

When she puts it that way, I sound a little creepy. "I think we determined my value of Nick a while ago," I say a little flippantly.

Part of me wishes I hadn't. Because Gail said that I was better than Nick in many ways, but at the time she'd said it first, she meant in bed. "You'll notice I'm not at his place," she sighs, agreeing.

Bullet dodged. A metaphor I won't be using in my out loud voice any time soon. "How about I get you both and some water. Sit on the couch?" I turn away, trying to fight my flush. When I turn back with a plate of food, she's sitting at the table, looking at her phone. "I charged it."

"Thanks," she says, staring at it and tapping, but not typing. "Who did you call?"

I don't know if the phone gave it away or just her latent deduction skills are waking up. "Oliver."

She turns her phone off and tosses it away from her. "Okay. What do you want to know?"

I want to know why she's here. I want to know if she's okay. I want to know if she has anyone to talk to. I want to know what she needs. I want to know why she picked my doorstep, of all people's, to show up on. I want to know if she has feelings for me. I want to know if I have feelings for her. I can't ask those yet.

Instead I just say the obvious. "I'm sorry about Steve." I put the plate and a glass of water down for her.

Gail wipes her face. "I couldn't stay there."

"I don't blame you." I didn't realize I was going to say it until I do, but when I do I know I mean it. I couldn't have stayed. I didn't stay. I went away to school. "How the hell did you get here without them finding out?"

For a moment I see that sharp, smiling Gail I love. The wicked grin. "I used Mom's credit card. Memorized the numbers."

I can't help it. I laugh. She laughs too. We're both laughing helplessly. It feels good. "Oh god," I chortle.

"They'd figure it out in a couple weeks," she admits. "But I'll be gone by then so it won't matter."

The words slash cold water on my soul. "Where are you going?"

"Dunno. Anywhere? Somewhere?"

The night before she'd told me she had to be somewhere. She had, literally, no one but me to turn to? How desperate must she have felt? "They know you're here now, so you'll stay here," I tell her. I don't ask. I tell.

She stops eating and looks at me like a deer in the headlights. "Holly... We don't even know each other anymore."

That's true. "We know each other enough," I argue.

"God we know each other too well. I mean, I was nasty."

I snort. "I was the one who told you where to shove your phone," I point out, and she cracks a smirk. "Look. You're hurt, and I don't mean your arm. So let's start over."

Gail looked at me, confused. "So I should call you lunchbox and kick you out?"

That feels like a million years ago. Not just a year and a half. "It's my house, I belong here. I'm Dr. Holly Stewart, medical examiner's office, San Francisco. I used to date you when you were a blonde." I hold out my hand.

She starts laughing again. "You are so very weird, Holly." But she takes my hand. "Gail Peck. Unemployed thief."

My eyebrows raise. "Unemployed?"

"Oh? Oliver left that out. I threw my badge at my mother and quit."

"He did not mention that, no," I sigh. "You sure?"

Gail looks surprisingly calm as she nods. "Yeah, yeah I am. I can't do it anymore. Not there. Jerry and Steve ... No."

I can understand that. She's not really the cause of the deaths, and I know she knows it. But I also know she's so sensitive. I know why this hurts. What can I say? Nothing. I touch her hand. "Stay here for a while. I have a spare room. Sleep in it until you feel better. I can afford to feed you."

She smirks a little. "You got a raise?"

We both laugh. "You're not eating normally," I point out and gesture at her plate. She's eaten very little.

Guilty, Gail picks at the food, but her heart isn't in it. We end up sitting on the couch, watching TV, and she starts to drift off. This time I make her shower and change. She has nearly no clothes in her bag, so I throw what she does have in the wash. I can probably pick up something at the store on my way back from work.

She's still out when I go to work the next day, so I leave her a note. Around lunch, she texts asking if she can finish the leftovers. Then, at three, a more serious question of where her clothes are comes. I tell her they're in the dryer. She's asleep when I get home and I let her rest.

This goes on for most of a week. She's either asleep or hanging out with me. Quiet. I've never known her to be quiet. Then she texts me on Thursday saying someone's at the house to see me.

I'm not sure what to expect when I get home, but it's not what I ever imagined.

Maria and Gail are sitting across from each other at my kitchen table. Fuck. Me.

"This is your sick friend?" Maria's bilingual. So's Gail, who is fluent in French (and she claims other languages), but Maria learned Spanish at her abuela's knee. When she gets mad, the accent slips out. Right now it's there.

I hang up my coat. "Yes," I say simply. Gail's face still looks like crap. She still looks exhausted. A week of sleeping hasn't been enough to chase away her pain or let her heal.

"I'm going upstairs," starts Gail, getting up.

"Sit." Maria's voice cracks like a whip and I wince, expecting Gail to snap back.

My ex is weirdly surprising me a lot. She doesn't sit down, but she looks very sorry. "Look, Maria, I told you, I didn't come here to hook up with Holly. Okay? I just... I needed not to be... I-"

I can't watch her talk about it. I can see the raw agony. "It's fine, go upstairs," I tell her.

"Sending your little bitch away?" Maria's already at her worst. Excellent.

Gail hesitates. Her eyebrows arch and I know she's asking if she should stay for me. I give a small head shake. She nods. "I'm not anyone's bitch," remarks Gail flatly to Maria.

I smile. I shouldn't, but Gail and I are still on the same page for so many things. Still, that isn't the subject at hand. As soon as I hear Gail's door close, I turn to Maria and hiss, "Would it kill you to have some compassion?"

"For her? For the ex you never got over?" Maria is loud, like she gets. Gail got loud. But not like this.

"Did you even see her face?" The bruises are still epic. Even after a week, she was black and blue and green and yellow.

"She get too uppity for you?" Did she actually say those words?

I feel my face heat up. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

And we have a row. It's ugly. The words you say when you're angry are the worst. You say the things you know will hurt the worst, and I do. I pick the scabs in our relationship and I know it's wrong but I can't help it. She's got no reason to be worried about me and Gail because there is no me and Gail. There's a friend who is hurting and in a bad place and yes, damn it, I'm going to help her.

I know it's over as soon as Maria starts devolving into Spanish. She slams her hand on the table, shattering a glass that spins off. I call her a name my parents would be shocked to hear me use and pick up the glass, cutting myself in my haste. I tell her off as I'm washing my hand off and wrapping a towel around it, while Maria is saying things I don't understand fully, and that's when Gail comes back.

"Everyone needs to calm down," she says, in her cop voice. It stops Maria. It stops me.

Maria bristles. "Now you come back?"

I've seen many police officers hold the pose Gail has now and it washes over my anger like cold water. "Holly, are you okay?" Her voice is controlled and solid. Dependable. It reminds me of Oliver when I met him and Gail and her army ex, Nick, were picking a fight. And just like that, Gail's calmed me down.

"Gail, it's fine," I tell her. It's not, but now that the rage stopped, I can collect my brain. "Maria, go home."

But Maria doesn't. "You don't get to tell me what to do or how to feel."

Oh. This is over. But before I can say anything, Gail speaks in a low, dangerous, voice, "Holly told you what I do for a living?" Maria nods slowly. Gail jerks her chin at the door. "She told you to go home."

When Maria opens her mouth, Gail takes one slight step towards her. It's not even a step. It's more like a half-lean. It's something I've seen her do before to intimidate the crap out of drugged out idiots twice her size. It worked then. It works now.

I've never seen Maria look scared before. "So that's how it is?" She may be scared, but she's still loud and angry.

"No." Gail's voice is tight. And then she says something, very quickly, and Maria's eyes widen. "You should know, some white people speak Spanish too."

Maria looks at me, then Gail, then she grabs her purse, dropping her set of my keys on the table. The word she uses as she leaves is one I do know. It's not polite. The door slams and I startle. Did that just happen?

"Are you okay?" Gail's voice is suddenly softer, more gentle.

"You speak Spanish?" That wasn't what I'd planned on saying. Sometimes I just say things without my brain getting in the way.

"A little," she dismisses. "Did she hit you?"

My eyes feel huge. "What!?"

"She was saying ... God you don't speak Spanish at all. She was saying ... Well she was saying she should smack some sense into you. That's when I heard the glass break." Gail searches my eyes for something. She's treating me like a cop facing the victim in a domestic.

I feel cold. "I need to sit down." She helps me to a chair, gets me some water, and starts a kettle. Had I just been saved from a relationship that was about to get abusive? Was that how they started? "I thought she was just jealous," I whisper.

"Yeah, it starts like that sometimes," says Gail. She's sad and worried. "I'm sorry. She let herself in and ... I just said I was your friend from Toronto. I didn't know how to ... I didn't know what else to call me."

"Well," I laugh shakily. "You just saved me from a girlfriend who has a mean streak. Ex girlfriend now. So friend is a great term." I reach for my purse and pull out my phone, texting that we are over. She left the keys. I think she knew.

Gail gestures. "You can block her number."

"I might." I don't think it'll be a problem. I hope not. "What would you have done if she hit me?"

"Been arrested for assault," says Gail flatly. I just look at her for a long moment and she shrugs. "What happened to your hand?"

I look down. I forgot about that. "I cut it picking up the glass she broke."

Gail nods and cleans up the rest of the glass, even getting out the vacuum to make sure.

I watch her as I put a bandaid on my hand, which really isn't that bad at all. When she comes back to stand by the chair near me, I ask, "How bad has this year been?"

"Kinda depends on what Oliver told you."

"He told me about Steve. And Jerry."

Gail exhales a soft 'ah' and sits down. "About the same as getting kidnapped I guess. I mean, I bashed my face in the same, but didn't get locked up in a serial killer's basement, just because I was a hot blonde call girl."

I blink. Clearly Oliver left things out. The problem is I do know the rest of the story the moment she says that. I did the autopsy on the call girls and everyone was talking about how the killer had taken an undercover police officer. Ross Perik. That was Gail? Again, a question pops out of my mouth without asking permission, "How... How the hell did you go back out there?"

She looks surprised. "I didn't want to be some sad, pathetic little girl who can't hold her own," she explains.

I look at her. She went back after being kidnapped and probably assuming she'd die. She went back after being shot at. And this time, this time she can't go back. But that isn't it at all. "Tell me about Steve," I ask quietly. "Not how he died. Tell me about all the crap you two used to do."

And we sit for a long time, through the Egyptian food I get delivered, and she tells me all about the crazy things she and Steve did. It's haltingly at first, in fits and starts, but eventually she starts to tell me. She tells me about the movies and music they shared, the plays they went to, and everything illegal. The time Steve came home high on weed and had a panic attack about their parents, who were in Texas on a business trip, finding out, so he locked himself in his closet and couldn't get out. She laughs so hard she starts crying when she tells me about how she 'borrowed' his car to drive with Nick to Las Vegas.

The tears keep coming after that until she's just destroyed with them and she folds on herself, sobbing. I give up the the distance I was trying to create between us and hug her, letting her get through what I think is the first really good cry she's had about this since it happened. She's always so self contained and closed off about her feelings, like she's ashamed to have them. She barely cried when she was freaking out in my bathroom.

Unlike that time, this one doesn't lead to us making out in my shower. I knew it wouldn't and that's okay. That's not who we are anymore. And anyway, I just broke up with my, apparently, crazy girlfriend. What she needs is a friend, and so do I.

It's very odd, but now I have Gail as a friend again. It's a good trade off, I think. Gail's incredibly loyal and devoted to her friends, even if she can be dismissive of them. They've all betrayed her, except Traci and Chloe and Oliver (and I'm under a sworn promise never to mention that to Chloe). I can't say that having an ex-cop around doesn't make me feel better when I slap a restraining order on Maria, just in case. That happens after Gail suggests I run a background check and, when I do, I find that Maria was arrested for domestic violence. Twice. Gail gives me a knowing look, but when I ask if she ran a background check on me, she won't answer. So yes. She did.

In the next few weeks that she lives with me, she haunts the place. She stays out of my way a lot, sleeping most of the time, cleaning, doing laundry, and avoiding talking to her friends from Toronto. I promised Oliver I'd keep her around, like a pet cat, for a while, but I also know she's got to deal with some of this.

It takes me the rest of that first week to get her to talk to Oliver. When she does, there are no tears. She's solemn and quiet, but insistent. She cannot go back to the job. Not there. Not anywhere right now. Oliver makes her talk to her father, who in turn somehow gets her mother to call me.

I've never met Elaine Peck. I'd seen her around, of course, but we never talked. She thanks me for keeping an eye on her only child. That hits me hard, and I wonder if she knows. Probably. Gail's said that Elaine has a spy network. Elaine surprises me, telling me she understands why Gail doesn't want to come back right now, but it would be nice if she did. For herself, Elaine promises she's not just going to show up. She's giving Gail the space and time she needs to heal.

They all seem to think Gail will get over this and come back to Toronto. The more I watch her, the more I see her dread the very idea of leaving. She's scared.

I think about it for most of the second week and finally figure out how to explain it to her over a quiet dinner. We're both cooking, her making pasta carbonara and me making some vegetables, when I start. The only way to do this is to tell Gail something I don't want to tell her. I don't want to tell anyone.

"This is a shitty club."

Gail looks at the tv, which has the news on, as if it has the answer. When it doesn't, she asks, "What club?

I know her. I know she likes the straight forward, the direct. If I beat around the bush, she'll just get frustrated. I say it. "The dead big sibling club."

She looks over at me, stirring the sauce. "What?" She's surprised and confused.

"My sister died when I was seventeen."

Her face is a weird mix of stiff and sad. It's tight, like she's holding back the pain for both of us. "I ... I'm sorry, I didn't know."

I realize she thinks I'm annoyed, or hurt, thinking about her. "I know. I don't talk about it. Lisa and Rachel don't even know."

She's surprised. "They're like family," she says.

"We keep things from family," I point out. But then I ask, "It wasn't on my record?"

"I didn't look at yours," she replies. "You were hired by the Territory. They tend to be pretty good about that sort of thing."

I smile. "Cheater."

"Peck," she counters. She's not smiling. She's looking guilty. "You don't have to tell me."

I don't want to. I don't want to explain how she was driving me back from checking out universities and I was asleep. I don't want to talk about how she flipped the car in the middle of winter, trying to avoid an idiot on a motorcycle, and how we landed upside down on the side of the road. I definitely don't want to talk about how I hung from the seatbelt, watching my big sister bleed out with a tree branch through the windshield and her neck. It's why I'm a pathologist, but it's not a story I like to tell.

I don't tell her the story now. I can't. And I think she understands that. She understands the agony that is losing a sibling. The pain from having to tell people, over and over, fact that rip at you like tiny razors. Like you're walking on thumbtacks. And they just keep asking you the same thing in different ways and you want to do something, anything, to make them shut up and leave you alone.

Like disappear from a hospital, AMA, get on a plane and fly to California to your ex's.

I just went away to college in the States.

But yes. I get it. She gets it.

"I'm just saying, Gail... I kind of understand, a little, how it feels. And you don't have to go back to Toronto unless you want to."

Enlightenment dawns on her face. "Thank you," she says softly, and looks back at the sauce.

She understands I've told her this now because I won't kick her out. My revelation explains why I want her to stay. And now we don't have to talk about it at all, she just knows she can stay as long as she needs to.

It's weeks before she really manages to come out of her depressive haze. She finally stops just existing and starts living. Her arm is better, to the point that I can take out her stitches and nag her about doing exercises. She also finds some initiative and sorts out her career. She talks to HR and they settle on a retirement package due to trauma, provided she get a psych consult. That takes my help, which I'm happy to give when she asks. I find her a shrink from the SFPD to talk to who confirms that she has enough mental trauma from the kidnapping and Jerry and Steve to keep her from working safely.

This time my call from Elaine is less happy. She's livid that I've helped Gail leave policing. She's irate I'm giving her a safe place to stay. She accuses me of having ulterior motives ... Well, to be fair, we did date. But damn it, that's not what's going on here.

I tell her off. I unload on Elaine, informing her that her daughter could use a damn bit of support for a change, and not to call me again until she learned how to have feelings. Gail is delighted to find this out, as Elaine tries yelling at her about it next, and apparently told her I was unhelpful. She tells her mother than she's done trying to be what Elaine wants, and she's going to figure out herself.

We both delete a lot of messages from Elaine for the next few days, until Bill calls Gail to apologize and promises to calm his wife. Gail mutters that it's a fat chance. But after that, Elaine texts with an apology.

Things don't go perfectly from there on out. Gail and her mother fight about things, but I hear it as a mother and daughter who are struggling to find their new place together. It prompts me to call my own mother and catch her up on the last few weeks.

Mom and Dad don't really like that I'm letting Gail stay here. They don't think it's good for my heart. Mom especially is worried about me hurting myself up until I tell her about Maria and then she asks what she can send to thank her. But they both still ask me to please be careful about throwing myself into things. I tell them the truth. I do love Gail, but as family.

They both still live near enough to Toronto to find out what happened. Peck is a well known name in policing if you just ask. They find out about Steve and that he was Gail's brother. Detective killed in shootout. The news, which they email me, makes Gail out to be a hero. Which she is. But they know how much it hurts to lose family, if not in this way.

All arguments about Gail staying with me fade away. No one, not even Traci, finds an picking point with it. Not even Lisa.

"How long can I stay?" Gail asks it a few weeks later as we're watching a BBC period murder mystery.

"As long as you need," I promise. "I told you that. I mean it."

Gail plucks at a string on the blanket she's got on her lap. "I don't have a visa."

A passport is good for six months. So she's thinking about staying longer. That may get complicated, I realize. "You can stay here, with me, if you want," I say again. "But... Yeah."

"I'll have to go back. Or get a job."

I'm making enough that she doesn't need to pay me, but I know that would help her stay. "Do you want to do anything?"

She shrugs and we drift back to watching the movie. She spends a lot of time after that looking things up on the Internet. In the end, Gail finds a job and magically sorts out a work visa in half the time in took me. It's literally a month, start to end, and she's set up. I suspect she used her Peck Powers and connections to make it happen.

What the job is surprises me. "You know sign language?"

"I do. And they need a Canadian Language teacher to help, so ..." She shrugs as if it's no big deal.

I'm always finding out new, awesome, things about Gail. "We should celebrate," I decide, and drag her out to dinner.

Through whatever means, she doesn't even have to go back to Canada to pick up her things. A couple boxes show up, labeled for her, and it turns out to be her clothes and some personal affects. I wonder who packed them, or what happened to the rest of her things. She had books and video games and I thought furniture.

Gail barely unpacks, keeping it clear that she feels her status in my place is temporary. She also takes her new job very seriously. Kids love Gail and she loves them. Kids who hate everything because they're different adore her because she gets them. Many seem to find her the only hearing instructor they connect with.

She even starts to make some friends. The parents of her students are delighted to have someone who is willing to help without giving priority to the kid or the parents. She ends up giving a night class for parents so they can learn sign language, telling them how important it is.

She doesn't why she knows sign language, but honestly I don't ask. She's starting to be happy again, and it makes me happy. I've never know happy Gail before, or at least happy outside our little bubble. We don't have that romantic bubble anymore, so this is the truly happy Gail, and it's beautiful.

The weeks blend into months, and we find a place where we are friends again, truly. She teases me about not going out, or about the lack of lesbian bars in San Francisco. When she gets a bicycle, I harass her about how terrible she is on it. We both complain about BART and MUNI and the smell. Oh god, the smell!

We have fun. We go to new restaurants, shows, sports games, and we make new friendships with other people. The one thing Gail doesn't do is connect with cops. When I go out after closing a case, she doesn't come with me and is less than chatty once I'm back. The next morning, I ask her if it bothers her and she says it doesn't, that it's just weird.

I try to keep my work out of her hair but that only lasts until I have a devil of a case. I'm up at three in the morning trying to make sense of the evidence I'm reporting, trying to phrase my write up so it helps the detectives, when she walks into my office and sits in my spare chair. She's adorable in my Canadiens shirt and short shorts.

"Tell me," she says, propping her feet up.

When I hesitate, she arches her eyebrows. "It doesn't make sense," I sigh, and detail my case.

I've never really worked on a case with her before. She was a patrol constable when I was in Toronto, and I've never seen the brilliant detective mind before. No wonder Elaine lost it when Gail stopped being a cop. She's really good at this. She sees things in the whole of a case, things I don't notice when I'm mired in science, and she can explain them. By morning, I'm untangled and she's off on her bike to work, saying she's fine on short sleep.

I have a problem. I have a big problem.

I'm sipping coffee when it hits me. I didn't just not get over Gail, I'm still in love with her. And not as just a friend. Because after she saves my case, I'm grinning and all I really want to do is thank her somehow. The first ideas that pop into my head are decidedly not what friends do. Half memories and half fantasies, my mind is firmly set in enjoying Gail and making her smile.

Shit.

Either I'm still in love with her or I fell in love again, not that it matters which. But how could I not? Gail's not the same Gail I met in the forest. She's still acerbic and prickly, and the name Peck suits her because dear god, she will peck you to death. But she's sweet and kind and great with kids and funny and she smiles a lot more now. Not just around me. Every time she smiles at me, though, I feel warm inside. Every time she smiles at me, I want to do anything to see it again.

It's terrible and I know it. Gail doesn't need that, not from me. She needs someone who is a friend and not telling her she's wrong or stupid or crazy. That's what her friends say. Andy and Dov are very vocal that Gail is wrong. They tell her, and me, that she's a cop and should stay a cop. When I call Andy an illiterate prole, Gail laughs so hard she cries. I find it weird that she doesn't have any problems with her friends being adamant that she should come back.

"They don't see me like I am now. You do," she shrugs.

See, it's things like that which make me love her. She just drops little bombs that say she sees me, and I see her, and she trusts me.

But it's also when I get nailed by a migraine (the smell from a case did me in), she rides her bike downtown, picks me up, and drives me home. There's no question in her mind that I need a hand, and she does it. She gets me into my bed, puts an icepack on my head, closes the blinds and sits with me, quietly reading. I don't have to ask a thing.

The arguments with her Toronto friends draw lines and I'm surprised that even Oliver thinks Gail should try to come back. It's really everyone except Traci. Traci and Gail have had long, thoughtful, phone calls about things. Traci has even started to mention she'd like to visit, and Gail's answer stuns me.

I don't know if I was supposed to hear it, but I do. She's on the phone, walking through the house, and I wasn't supposed to be home.

"Maybe you can visit after I move out. It's not fair to dump all that on Holly," she says.

She's leaving me.

She's not mine, I know that, and she's shown zero interest in being mine, or anyone's frankly. Gail is trying to be independent and do things on her own, and I laud that choice.

It's just that I hate the idea that she's leaving.

She doesn't tell me about this plan for a couple days. "So... I found an apartment," she says carefully as we watch backlogged episodes of Mr. Selfridge.

"Expensive?"

"Rent here is astronomical," she grumbles and I smile. "It's not that bad. Relatively."

She shows it to me online and I have to agree it's not that bad. One of the parents of her kids found it for her. They knew her budget and since she's an ex-cop, they used that to talk down the rent a little. The building is owned by another ex-cop, and it's a cute little walk up. But she's leaving me. I can't help but hurt. And she looks so excited to be moving forward. She shows me how it's close to my place, close to the private school where she's working, and close enough to the BART that she can get to her classes to get teaching certification. The bar for getting certification for teaching in a private school is shockingly low, and I'd teased her about that before. Now, as I see how she's set things up to make all that easier, without me, I feel some agony.

I've gotten used to having Gail around. I've gotten used to her wit and sarcasm about things, her studying habits, her inability to put her boots away when she walks in, her weirdly obsessive cleaning of the bathroom, her usage of all the hot water on a cold winter morning. I've gotten comfortable with her in a way I never thought I would have with Gail. She always seemed prickly and sharp, even when we dated, but in six, seven months of being roommates, I found the soft parts of Gail I'd never known.

The woman who gets me comfort food when I have a case with a child. The woman who cheers on a sports team with me, clearly having no idea who is who is whom. The woman who dances with me to stupid music when we both need to just get it out of our systems. The woman who sings karaoke and introduces me to some amazing music.

I've fallen in love with her again, in a totally different way, and clearly she's not feeling the same towards me or she wouldn't be moving out.

I'm such an idiot.

What did I expect? I have no idea. Maybe a miracle.

For a couple weeks, back months ago, I'd tried to see if she was interested in dating. We'd been at an outdoor yoga class (her idea) and I mentioned the instructor was sort of cute. Gail looked back at him and shrugged, saying she guessed so. Given that all the straight women in the class were swooning, I assumed she was really a lesbian now. So when I pointed out various attractive women and got the same reaction, I decided she just didn't want to date anyone.

Anyone includes me. Maybe I was pushier than I thought. Maybe I scared her off.

I'm being a shitty friend, and I know it, so I push aside my feelings and I try to be the friend I should be.

When she moves in to her new place, at the first of the month, I help her because I'm clearly a masochist. Three boxes and a bicycle, all of which fit in my car. I insist on helping her with cookware and dishes. Her mother, surprisingly, is the one who gets furniture delivered. Even Gail is surprised that they show up right when we do. The van is full of the things one needs, like a good mattress (Gail has an air mattress, which she's insisted is just fine), a bed frame, a couch, a table, some chairs, a dresser. She doesn't have much space, and once it's all in, the apartment is cramped.

The unexpected van makes for a chaotic move in but in the end we have a pizza on her couch that still smells of plastic wrap and look around at a small, comfortable, apartment.

I point out to her, "No TV?" We've been Netflix junkies for a while.

"I'll watch on my laptop. Or come over and watch your big screen," she shrugs. She's not worried at all, and she's really not all that far from me. It's a quick bike ride.

"Oh so you're going to keep coming over?" I try to be teasing, but I think my tone is too heavy.

Gail chews her lip. "I'd like to. I like hanging out with you."

And yet she moved out. "I wasn't sure... I thought maybe I was too pushy."

She shakes her head. "No, no, actually the opposite. You've been really awesome."

"I'm glad I could help." I mean it sincerely.

"You did. More than... More than anyone, Holly." She looks weirdly shy.

The flip flopping in my stomach needs to stop. Damn it. She's just so beautiful when she's not being all Peckish, which she hasn't been much at all since showing up in San Francisco. It's like she's finally blossomed and become more than just the things she had to be.

"You're welcome," I say softly.

We don't say anything more as we nibble our slices of pizza. The sound of traffic filters through her open windows.

"We should do dinner," Gail says abruptly.

I look at the half eaten pizza (Gail never really got her appetite back) and gesture. "We are."

"Not this. I mean out out."

I have no idea what she's talking about. "We eat out all the time."

Gail gives me a look like I'm an idiot. Then she looks nervous. "Sorry, that's... That's totally... God I'm sorry."

The clue drops.

I knew she didn't end up in California for me, or to hook up with me. She came here because she trusted me and needed someone in a dark time when everyone else was too close to her and too close to her world, but would still understand her. That really only left me. The fact that we never got over each other didn't matter at that point. It didn't matter when Maria was an idiot. But now, months later, it's different.

It matters now.

Because it turns out I'm not the only one who didn't get over someone. It appears that I'm not the only one who fell in love again. "Are you asking me out out?"

She nods and looks apologetic. "Yeah, sorry, I mean, you and Maria, and me, and history, and... That's a bad idea. I'm sorry, forget it. That... Yeah, I'm just going to make this hella awkward now." She screws her face up into a self deprecating sneer.

I stare at her and can't stop the smile that inches up my face. "No. No it's not a bad idea."

Gail blinks. "It's not?" I shake my head and she looks relieved. "I thought I lost my ability to read people."

Funny how I was thinking the same thing. I shake my head again, "I just, you know, I though you weren't into dating anymore."

"Oh," she exhales. "I wasn't. I mean, hello, have you seen how fucked up I am?" Gail slouches in her seat. "Not really girlfriend material."

I reach over and poke her shoulder. "And yet you're asking me out? Mixed signals there, Peck," I point out.

Gail looks chagrined. "I'm really good at that."

I chew my bottom lip for a moment. "So?"

She looks up at the ceiling. Anywhere but at me for the moment. "So I know this is just all kinds of stupid, Holly, but I still like you. A lot." I can't say anything to that. It's such a relief and a comfort and a little confusing. When she looks over at my face, her 'are you stupid?' expression comes back. "Seriously? You thought I didn't like you?"

"We had a pretty epic breakup," I sigh.

"We did," she agrees. Her fingers pluck at the couch arm. "It's not like I was trying to, you know. It was just really weird. You were there, and you were… You were you. Smart, and funny and I meant it when I said you're the most wonderful person I've ever had in my life." Her voice gets quieter. "I know I'm all messed up, and this might be a bad idea, but I'd really like... I'd like to maybe try again?"

I wonder if she's right. Is this about to be a bad idea? Do we know each other too well? Do we know our foibles and pain points to closely? Are we doomed to do the dance where we're friends and lovers and then not talk?

But the reasons we broke up are unlikely to happen again. She's not the Gail who walked out on me at the Penny. I'm not the Holly who didn't defend my girlfriend to my friends. She's still sure she's broken and I'm sure I'm still spineless in my moments. I probably wouldn't have broken up with Maria that day if she hadn't been there.

But. But. But. I love us together. We work well together. We're a good team. I smile at her because that's the only expression my face can make right now, "There's a good Ethiopian place we haven't tried yet."

Gail's smile matches mine. "You busy Thursday?"

"Oooooh," I joke. "A week day date?"

"Don't want to rush in again," she says seriously.

I understand that. "I just have two questions." She gestures for me to go ahead. "Did you move out just because you have a crush on me?"

There is the briefest of pauses. "Mostly." I arch my eyebrows, silently asking for elaboration. "The other part was I was sure you didn't - I thought you weren't into me, and I figured if I screwed this up then at least we wouldn't be in the same house."

"That makes sense," I agree.

"Sometimes I'm very smart," she smirks. "What's the other question?"

"What time should I meet you?"

Gail smiles and blushes at once. It's that hint of the old Gail who wasn't sure how to tell me she liked me, but knew I had to stop talking. It's the Gail who lit my world, briefly, and whom I've missed terribly. I see it in her eyes. She's filled with hope and doubt and fear and relief. I said yes, after all.

She reaches over and takes my hand. There's no kissing here. There doesn't need to be. For the first time in a while, we're both whole of heart and head and in the same place. A right place where there's no drama from friends being shot or hair being chopped out. We're people who know each other well, as people, who have a connection that we can't deny.

She keeps smiling and says, "Seven."

Once, Gail told me her mother said success was 90% luck and 10% timing. Maybe our timing's right. Maybe we're just lucky. But we're going to try again.

Chapter Text

I spend a lot of time worrying about Gail and I know I shouldn't.

She's been doing great on a lot of levels, including being a kick-ass teacher. At the school, she's the popular teacher though not the best disciplinarian. She's really patient and calm with the kids, and in general. Oh, she's still snarky and vicious when it's called for, but I've never seen her snap at the kids except the one time there was a massive bullying case.

For us, the last five months have been pretty amazing. Gail still lives at her own place, but we spend a lot of time at each-others' places, hanging out and other things couples get up to. She listens to me a lot more, not just what I say, but how I say it. She pays attention differently that she did the first time we went out.

And she was right to move out before we starting dating. That extra space helps when we get into fights or just need some solo time. When I get mired in work, she keeps out of my hair. I worried at first that me working in crime would be a problem for her, but she's helped me untangle tricky cases without a twitch. She seems to know when I need her to hang out in my office and help me visualize a problem, and when it's better to just make sure I've eaten.

Related, I can figure her out pretty well. I can read her moods, her 'cat in a tree' reactions, easily. I don't let her get to the point that she creates an emergency. When Lisa comes to visit, I give her one warning. Be a bitch about Gail's job or life, and we're done. Lisa's shocked to hear me say that, but apologizes to Gail about it. They find some weird common ground in their bitchiness and while Gail still makes snide remarks about Lisa's boobs, Lisa digs at Gail's lack of a teaching credential. They're like semi-feral lionesses in rival packs who've decided not to fight.

Besides all that drama, Gail's easy to understand. She's deep and complex and smart and thoughtful, but she's remarkably straightforward. She hates all those games people play and she just wants life to be uncomplicated. So I try to keep us uncomplicated. I was worried it was not working at one point and, yes, I told her that. When I explain I'm very complicated and I like her and I want us in the complicated ways, she just smiles and says okay. Because that, to her, is not complicated. To her, we are not complicated because we are honest with each other.

Still. With all that understanding of Gail, I have to ask.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come?"

Gail looks up from her packing. "Seriously? I'll be gone four days, Holly. I'm fine."

She's been gone longer, having spent a week and a half at a camping thing with the kids. Gail came back sunburnt and grumpy, but full of stories and a photo of herself holding a fish. She'd never gone camping before, which meant the kids had taught her all about making a fire and cleaning the fish.

But this is different. "I know, but I can still come with you."

"It's just Toronto," she says dismissively.

It's the unveiling of her brother's gravestone is what it is, which isn't 'just' anything except a subject of concern.

But Gail listens to me more now. And more importantly she listens when I don't say anything.

"Holly," she says softly and walks around her bed to take my face in her hands. The kiss is slow and sweet and I'm smiling when she pulls her face away. "I'm okay with this. I don't need you to come. I'll be okay."

"But do you want me to come," I stress and she kisses me again. "Stop shutting me up." I'm not really complaining and she knows that.

"I think it would be harder if you came. For me."

I sigh and wrap my arms around her. I can understand that. Having her know about my sister at all is hard. Not even Rachel or Lisa know about her, and we were all but family in school. Having them too close to that pain made it worse for some reason.

And I know it's not that Gail's embarrassed we're back together. I caught her gleefully telling Traci that our 'back together sex' was the most phenomenal sex she'd ever had, and I was insanely good with my hands. They didn't get further with that before I snatched the phone out of her hands.

It's really just that it's easier to compartmentalize this kind of agony without a fussing friend or lover.

Been there, done that. We both have.

"I don't want to make it harder," I mutter.

She holds me close, our temples touching. "You make so much easier," she replies in a whisper. There's another soft kiss and she lets go to return to putting shirts in her suitcase. Her uniform is still in its zippered garment bag in the back of the closet, same as it's been since it showed up here, and frankly I don't think she'll ever wear it again. "Besides, you know Dr. Crazy said I should do this on my own."

Dr. Ivan Krazniy, her therapist, had said so to me as well. Once in a while I tagged along to Gail's sessions. It was her idea early on, since I knew a lot of the drama, and she was my house pet at the time. Now it just continued because Krazniy said it was good for everyone to be on the same page sometimes. Gail likes to call him Crazy Ivan, after the movie, and he hasn't told her not to.

But Krazniy thought that if Gail was going to go to the unveiling, she should go on her own. Handle her fears or she may never get past them. I didn't really agree, but I wasn't a head doctor.

"I know," I sigh and lie down on her bed.

"Good. Stop fussing over me, Holly."

I prop myself up on my elbows. "Am I being pushy?"

She glances over. "Not really. You're just hovering." But she's smiling at me.

"If you change your mind, I will fly up there in a heartbeat."

Gail smiles and zips up her bag, tossing it towards the door. "Okay," she agrees.

"Who are you staying with?"

"Traci." She pulls her favorite leather jacket out of her closet.

It was Steve's jacket as a teenager. She stole it when she was twelve and never gave it back. I remember when she told me that story for the first time. We'd gone to a park just to hang out and enjoy the surprisingly warm weather. I'd teased her about bringing the jacket, and then the weather did what San Francisco does, and it was cold. She gallantly put the coat on my shoulders, saying that being a cop had inured her to the cold, and as we walked, her hand in mine, she told me the jacket was Steve's. She'd 'borrowed' it to impress a girl at school and never given it back. In retrospect, she remarked, maybe she should have seen the gay thing sooner.

The jacket isn't the subject of our conversation, though. "Not your parents?"

The whole reason she's going is because Elaine came out here and asked her to think about it.

Weirdly, I like Elaine. She's decided her only child is someone she can't afford to lose and has been very nice to her since that initial outburst. She and Bill spent a week out here, visiting and admonishing Gail on her tiny apartment, but in the same way my parents harassed me about my car choices. Lovingly.

When Gail explained she and I were dating again, Elaine didn't turn a hair. She had no issues with Gail being gay, or gay for me, or whatever she was. That said, Elaine asked me to be gentle with her daughter. Gail snorted and pointed out that the dating was her idea, not mine, and that we were fine.

We are fine.

"God no. I'd hit someone." Gail stretches out on her bed beside me, looking amused. "Besides, Traci and I have a lot to talk about."

I know they do. I reach over and caress her face. She smiles at me. "Okay. I trust you."

I don't just trust her, I love her. We haven't said those words yet. I dare not.

"Good." She turns and kisses my hand. "Besides, you have to figure out what to do about your lease."

I groan and roll onto my back. My sublease is great but the owners want to sell. I'm not sure I want to buy. I know I'm stalling a little (a lot) because I've been floating the idea about moving in somewhere with Gail. My place is a little far from her school. I just haven't actually pitched the idea to Gail yet is all. "You suck, Peck," I tell her.

She scoots over and straddles my hips. "I'm awesome," she corrects me. Her hands run up from my waist and I suck in a breath. "How late can you stay?"

I'm taking her to the airport in the morning. I have clothes here at her place. I'm parked in a good spot on the street. "I can spend the night," I say and run my hands up her arms. "Come down here."

Of course she does.

I like her tiny apartment more than my place in so many ways. One of those ways is because I know the only two people who've slept in the bed are her and me. I got a new mattress not all that long after Gail moved in, erasing the last memory of my ex. I didn't tell Gail, and she's never asked about it. But it bothered me.

I don't think about anyone but her that night. She's attentive, always has been, picking up on the little cues. I used to be self-conscious about being quiet in bed. For whatever reason, I'm just not vocal. I hate giving directions and suggestions. It's not embarrassing, I just can't think at the time. At least I can't think and speak at the time. But Gail doesn't seem to need directions, she never has. She twigged that me being quiet didn't mean I wasn't enjoying the hell out of what she was doing, and figured out how I ticked.

The sex has definitely been even better the second time around. I never worked up the courage to ask if she seriously dated anyone in the time we broke up. I know she didn't get back with a boy thanks to Traci, but I couldn't find a reason why I'd be mad if she wasn't single the whole time. Or celibate. I don't really care that she's only told me random aspects about her dating life in the time we weren't talking, I think. And then I can't think at all because my entire world is her mouth and her hands.

Afterwards, in Gail's bed, in her arms, it's restorative. It's good. It's great. She cradles me close as I swim back to a place where my body wants to move, not seeming to mind that it takes me a while. She's a bit smug, to be honest. It's not her most appealing trait, but I can understand why. Talk about good with her hands.

As she strokes my hair, I think about how easy it would be to just fall asleep. It's so nice to sleep with her in the bed. She doesn't toss or turn and she doesn't snore. She has a nice, deep, even breathing that always helps me sleep better.

She's about to be gone for five days.

I'm going to miss that.

Yes, we've spent more than four consecutive nights in separate beds since getting back together. Including when we're in the city at the same time. But I like being in bed with her. I like touching her. I like feeling her heartbeat. I like knowing that if I can't sleep, I can drive over and she'll always welcome me. I like knowing if she's scared, she can ride her bike over and I will always let her in.

I shift around and kiss her neck, then her lips, and in a moment I'm lost in her. There's something about her feel, her smell that just ignites me. Gail's volume in bed is moderate, but her verbalization skills plummet when she's really, really, into it. The sounds she makes are quite interesting. My inner scientist (which Gail would say is most of me) loves it.

When I'm sure she's satisfied and on a plane of existence where smiling is the only possible facial expression, I pull the blankets up around us and nestle in against her. "I'll wash the sheets while you're gone," I tell her as we settle down.

"So romantic," she chortles, sleepily.

I really want to ask her to move back in with me, but I don't know if now is the right time. Not 'now' as in right this second in bed. I mean now as is this point in our relationship. What we have now is good, and I can't see ever wanting to change things. It's easy and safe right now.

In the morning, I drive her to the airport and then go to work. I'll clean her place after work, but I already threw the sheets in the wash so I just need to toss them in the dryer on my way home.

My assistant, who has met Gail a few times, asks if we're doing anything that weekend, and if we want to catch a stand-up routine his brother is doing.

I'd been at a loss for what to do on that weekend. For the last year, we've gone out and done things. At first it was just me hauling her out to try and break her through the hazy depression she'd been in. Then it turns out she loves watching sports. I know! Who would have thought, but my Peck loves cheering and celebrating and being loud. We've watched the Giants lose their pennant race, seen the 49ers kick ass, and once we spent a weekend in LA to see the Kings play (we may have worn the away team jerseys).

Weekends we don't catch a sports game, we go out and do things. Hiking trails (which she claims to hate but after she showed up early at my place one day I think she's exaggerating), going whale watching, bike rides, art shows... We get out a lot. And if we don't get out, we stay in, and I love those weekends too. Maybe more. Curling up with Gail on the couch watching BBC Dramas is fun.

This weekend, I'm going to be left to my own devices. It's happened before, but I usually have an idea about what to do. I've been putting off what I need to do here, and I still don't want to do it. House shopping. Yuck. I don't want to make the choice by myself, so I've been stalling and asking the owners for more time to decide. At least until Gail's got to sort out her lease.

I tell my assistant I'm solo, as Gail's up north visiting family, and I'll take him up on one of the tickets. Not long after, I get a text telling me her flight is still delayed, and can she start drinking now. I tell her no and get a grumpy cat emoji in response. We keep texting until her flight finally takes off, her telling me all about the crazy people in the airport and me making up jobs for them. It's fun. When she boards the plane, she texts me that she misses me already and will call me when she lands.

Okay. Maybe this whole evil 'move in together as a couple' thing has a chance.

I bide my time at work, waiting the four hours with music playing as I go through all the paperwork I tend to put off, review case notes, and generally fidget. A lot. It's nervous energy. I don't text her back because I can't think of what I might possibly say that doesn't sound a little needy and pressurey girlfriendy, but I really want to ask her to move in with me. Wherever I end up moving to.

It's been six hours and I miss her already. I want to tell her that. I want to tell her I've been falling in love with her again, but I don't want to say that in a text. That would make it too much like that silly coat room kiss, which is an option, but I don't care to repeat some of those mistakes. What I want... What I want is to surprise her with something to tell her yes, I love her, in a way that is neither understated nor impossible to miss.

I'm in the middle of washing up after an autopsy when my phone rings.

"Jesus Christmas," she greets me. "They searched my bag. I think I'll leave my guns in Toronto."

"Probably a wise choice," I laugh. She's lived a year without guns. I wonder how she really feels about that. It's a subject she's been avoiding with me for a year.

"I'm getting a police escort. I hope they think I'm some celebrity or royalty."

"Policing royalty?"

"Prodigal daughter."

"Is Traci picking you up?"

"No, Oliver is. I think they thought I'd be less likely to be mean to him or something."

I've warned Traci and Oliver to expect a different Gail. I doubt they believed me, but she is different. She's quieter and less sharp. It may be all the time with the kids, or it may just be the lack of stress from being a cop, but she's more comfortable in her own skin now.

"Don't be mean to Oliver," I tell her.

"I'm never mean!" When I don't reply, she grumbles. "Shut up."

I laugh at her. "You're such a goofball, Gail. Tell Oliver I say hello."

"Ollie, Holly says hi," she announces and I hear a car door. In the background, I hear Oliver saying Gail should say hello to her girl for him. Her girl. "Oliver says hi. Happy? I'm being nice."

"Goof," I restate. "Call me later tonight?"

"After dinner. I think I'm being dragged out to the Penny."

"Don't let them push you around."

"Thanks, Mom," she sasses.

"I love you, you idiot," I laugh.

Oh. Or I could just say that without thinking. Sometimes I think my brain runs on its own rules. It does that more than normal around Gail. She makes me get a little less smart. At first I thought it was just because she's damn beautiful. Heartbreaker. Then I figured out it was because she was Gail.

It takes a second, but Gail replies, "I love you, too." She's awkward, that way she gets when she's not sure about things. Then I hear Oliver tease her about saying that. "What? You're such an ass, Oliver." Then more to the phone, she says in that shy voice she uses when she's trying to be a 'good' girlfriend, "I'll call you later? We can, uh, talk about that."

"Sure. Be safe, honey." There's a hesitation in her voice as she promises to do so and hangs up.

Did we really just do that?

Is that how we state our feelings? Just casually in the middle of normal conversations? Is that good or bad? I don't even know anymore.

There's nothing I can do about that now so I do what I can. It's just another afternoon Gail's out or busy or too tired or grading homework. Right? I go for a bike ride like normal and I'm home, showered, and eating leftovers from our hilarious pizza making adventure earlier that week, when my phone rings.

"Hi, Traci," I say carefully.

"Boy you weren't kidding." She sounds surprised. "Gail's really different."

I had warned her. "She's still Gail," I mutter.

"She ate like a normal person!"

Oh right. That's been one of the odd things about her. She just never got her old appetite back. There'd been a period of time where she'd lost too much weight and I'd worried. We'd been in the roommate stage when that happened. I told her she was too skinny and she complained that was what happened when she switched to vegetarian. Like me. Like half the Californians we knew.

Her switching to vegetarian wasn't my idea either. She just decided to try it, decided she liked it and generally felt better, and stuck with it. Of course nothing kept Gail away from cheese puffs, but we had a fun adventure trying to make our own, more healthy ones. Even so, the weight loss had been startling and unsettling for both of us.

I introduced her to the world of pescetarianism instead of my lacto-ovo vegetarian ideals and it worked. She just needed more protein than the rest of us, which made sense when I thought about her old eating habits. Her metabolism was insane. She'd quickly taken to eating more fish, even going at the crack of dawn to get fresh sometimes, and bounced back.

But that old voracious appetite? No sign. It wasn't just the vegetarianism either, and I knew it. Fundamentally, something had changed.

"She does that," I smile.

"It's weird. She didn't drink much, like you said."

"Was she nice?"

Traci laughs. "She called Nick an asshole."

"Normal."

"Normal," agrees Traci. "But different. She's ... It's like a weight is gone."

That's how I feel all the time about her. She's lighter. "She's happier too, I think."

"She sounds happier. She told me she went camping, Holly."

"With the kids, yeah, ask her about the fish."

"Seriously, Gail Peck drank one beer, ate fish and vegetables, and told us about going to the playoffs with the Giants. What have you done to her?!"

I felt guilty. Did I do that to her? I didn't think so. She'd done the things she'd wanted to do. I think. "Uh," I say eloquently.

In the background, I hear Gail tell Traci to leave me alone, and then I hear her on the phone. "Hey, sexy. Don't mind Traci. I'll explain." Traci shouts for Gail to give her phone and there's a scuffle.

Traci finally gets her phone back. "I'm going to go keep Gail up with girl talk."

"Please don't. I want to talk to her without you tonight," I say wistfully.

"You're so cute," sighs Traci.

A few hours later, Gail calls and we talk for a while. The drinks and dinner were nice, she says, but everyone was on pins and needles around her. They'd forgotten how to talk to her and didn't know what to say about anything. No one mentioned Steve or Gail quitting until Oliver asked how the new job was going.

I tell her how boring it is around here without her and she reminds me that she and I have been apart before, and I'm being a silly Holly Bot.

I hate that nickname and remind her so. It doesn't help much. Some idiot (me) took her to the museum of computer history. While we were there, someone showed off a new robot he'd called Holly. He'd named it after some obscure TV show. Gail found it hilarious and started calling me her Holly Robot. That became Holly Bot. And I hate it.

She laughs and tells me she loves me and is going to sleep. I reciprocate and then ask if we're weird.

"Very, but why do you ask?"

"Because we ..." I trail off. Because we said we love each other. Because of how we said it. Because we're 2000 miles apart when I said it without thinking and, while in a way I think it's a sign of how much I do care about her, it was pretty much a fizzle in the romance department.

Gail is patient with me and waits until it becomes evident I can't figure out how to say it. "I think we are weird," she decides. She makes a noise and I know she's stretching.

"A bit, yeah," I exhale.

"Don't make a fuss about it, Holly," she jokes. "You kissed me as if it was no big thing."

I roll my eyes. "And you, confusingly, ignored it."

"I was in denial," Gail says blithely.

"Are you going to ignore that I said I love you?"

Gail hums softly. "Do you love me?"

I'm blushing. "Yes."

"And I love you," she muses. "I think we're okay."

So we're not ignoring it. Good. "Good. If you were here, I'd kiss you now."

She laughs. "If I were there, we'd be in bed having sex- for god's sake, Traci, I will find your taser and use it on you if you don't close the door!"

There is giddy laughter from behind Gail and I smother my own. I hear Traci warn Gail not to walk around the house naked, even though Leo isn't there, and Gail tells her to fuck off. Yep. That's my girl. As soon as I hear her attention turned back to me, I ask, "Naked?"

"Oh Jesus, you walk naked around Andy's place one time and everyone calls you a nudist," snaps Gail. There's not a drop of venom in her tone.

"I want to hear this story," I decide, laughing.

"When I get home," she promises.

Home. San Francisco is home. I'm home. I blush. "It's not even five days, Gail. I'll pick you up."

"I know. But I miss you," she sighs.

"Second thoughts?"

"About you not being here? No, it's … it's a lot easier to deal with these idiots without you. I dunno why."

"Probably the same reason I'd rather deal with my parents on my own sometimes," I say thoughtfully. They'd spent a week visiting. Gail had been circumspect about coming over while they'd been there, at my request.

"I like your mom."

"Please," I snort. "Everyone likes my mom."

My parents had visited after we started dating, and both had cautioned me. They remembered how fragile I'd been when my sister died, how I bounced between some pretty disastrous relationships. Of course, that was more to do with them being men and me being a raging lesbian, but the point was that we all often made bad decisions when sad and depressed.

While there, my mother took Gail aside and talked to her about something. Gail had yet to tell me what, but she'd been thoughtful when she got back. And my parents stopped being nervous about us being an us.

"She's nice. She raised a pretty awesome person."

I smile. "Oh I'm awesome?"

"Well, I'm awesome, so you must be." She yawns. "I'm done, Holly. I gotta sleep."

"Call me if you need me?"

"Stop that," grumbles Gail. "I'm fine. It's cold up here, I miss you, and about the only headache I expect is when my mom argues I should wear my uniform."

She and I had talked about that before she left. Her mother, being a little devious, had sent Gail's uniforms down shortly after she'd moved into her apartment. "You didn't bring it."

"She has my dress uniform."

I groan and Gail laughs. "Tell her no."

"I plan on it. Night, Holly."

"Night, Gail."

She hesitates. "Hey, Holly? I love you too."

"Good," I tease her. "Love you."

We hang up and I smile. There. We've handled that. We've crossed the love hurdle and we're still us. For her, though, it's late. Nearly tomorrow. For me it's just nine and a Friday and a day she'd normally be over at my place after work, telling me about the kids, and we might go out, or we might cook dinner, but rarely is a Friday left without each other.

I'm pretty pathetic, I think. Or smitten.

I get a text at four thirty that only wakes me up because I'm having trouble sleeping knowing Gail's thousands of miles away and not just a mile.

I'm going to kill my parents.

I blink at the text in confusion until she sends a photo of her dreaded dress uniform. I fumble thumb a reply.

It's ass crack early here.

Sorry. Mom brought it over.

I know she hates the uniform now. She has nightmares about it. The first ones happened when she was in my guest room, and they're not regular or common, but they are often enough that I've had a few phone calls over them since she's moved out. Once, a bad one drove her to bike to my place in the middle of a storm. And yet, she won't throw it out.

I have to ask.

You sleep okay?

She replies with an angry face emoji. That's my girl. I smile. I ask her not to kill her mother, please, which gets me a grumpy agreement. I can read her tone in text now, it seems.

The whole day, I get random texts. Like how Dov kissed her cheek. Or how Chloe hugged her. Everything she can pick on safely is hit. I support her venting, replying back when I can to offer things she can do or say to annoy people safely. There's no point to asking her not to. This is just how she deals with stress.

She manages to get through the gravestone unveiling without killing anyone. I get a photo of it for some reason. Steven James Peck. The dates. Nothing more. Gail's propped up a card, though, that says 'Idiotic Brother & Captain Awesome' which is what she's always called him.

We don't get to talk until late, her time, and then it's brief. She's finally back at Traci's and tells me all about the crying and the drama of the stone. I tell her I like the card, which makes her feel better. We talk softly about missing each other. She tells me she just wants to be in bed with me, which starts us talking a little dirty. It doesn't quite get to the phone sex territory, but my face is hot none the less.

Gail's really good at that. When she says she should get some sleep before brunch with her parents, I tell her off for leaving me high and dry and thousands of miles away. She just laughs.

Is this what our life might have been like if we'd tried? If we'd decided to stick it out and try to be a couple, despite the distance, would we have spent nights like this, teasing on the phone and talking about sex? Would I have known about her turning to IA and how she had to testify against people she'd known her whole life? Would she have turned to me for moral support when she'd failed in her adoption?

I don't know. I hope so. Most of the years apart have remained lost to me. Gail doesn't want to talk much about it, dropping bits of information as we've been back together. She said very little at all at first, when we'd been just roommates, and it wasn't until we started sleeping together again that she mentioned things.

Like she'd had a very brief fling with a couple women. A social worker and a fellow police officer. Nothing as somewhat serious as I'd had with my ill-fated relationship with Maria, but still. No men, Gail had told me. But she didn't talk about her work from those days. It was all still too painful for her, and I tried not to press. She needed more time. She may never want to talk about it. I still don't talk about my sister, after all, not even to her.

Sunday is spent with just her family, something she'd been dreading. She uses emoji to text me her feelings all morning, like disgust, a need for a drink, and the wish for sleep.

While she deals with her family, I go back to her apartment and clean it up. Gail's fairly neat, surprisingly for someone who lived with two boys, but her apartment is so small that one day of not cleaning makes it an untidy mess. I put away her clothes, run the dishes, and make sure her fridge is in good condition. I also grab her mail and sort the junk. She gets a lot of junk mail for some reason, though most is addressed to her predecessor.

As I head back, by bicycle, to my place, I decide to hit up an open air market.

While I won't tell Gail this, I believe in fate. It was fate that she and I met in Toronto. Fate that she sought me out over everyone else in her darkest time. Fate that gave us that second chance. Fate drives a lot of things in life, from getting a job off like I had, to Gail finding her new career, to both of us being in the right place at the right time.

So if you ask me, it's fate that I run into Maria, working at a vegetable stand at the market. After all, I was thinking about her, however passingly, a bit ago.

The restraining order was only for six months anyway, since we didn't live together and I had a roommate at the time. She had, after all, only threatened me. Gail hadn't been pleased I didn't push for longer, and made me get a better alarm system. I got why she was nervous and unhappy. Gail spent so many years dealing with abuse, and she still cared about me.

The odds of seeing Maria are astronomically low and very high at the same time. We met at a market, which I realize I'd forgotten. She comes from a long line of farmers, and her parents owned one of the many small ones in the area. I hadn't actually known that early on. I'd only known she was having a smoothie at the same market I was at, and she flirted with me.

Life is very odd. I decide to just wheel right past, pushing my bike past her stall and down the line, when she says my name.

"Holly?"

Busted. "Maria." There are enough people around that my inclination is to not make a scene.

"I wasn't expecting you here."

"Ditto," I admit and look up at the name of the stall. Of course. "Working for your dad?"

"Hard to get a job out of prison," she shrugs.

I blink. Fate, right? "Prison?"

She nods, looking sorry. "It was a mess. Three months, though. In and out."

Yeah, I'm not going to ask. If it was abuse, I probably would have been told. "Well. Good. Good." This is epically awkward.

"Looking for artichokes?"

I chuckle. "Yeah. Two please." Her family always had good produce. When we met, she was grilling some of the artichokes for free samples. I'd gotten a sample and a phone number.

"Two, huh? Your roommate likes 'em?"

"We're not doing that," I warn her.

She holds her hands up. "Sorry." Then she asks, "Girlfriend?"

What she really wants to know is if I'm single. I know that. "Yes," I say flatly.

Maria blinks, surprised that I answer her. "Wow. How's your roommate taking that?"

Decisions, decisions. Part of me wonders if Gail would be mad if I give her personal information. I want to say that Gail moved out. I shouldn't. "She hasn't complained." It's true. And Maria doesn't need to know Gail and I are dating. Maria looks more surprised and I shake my head. "How much?"

She rings me up, the money changes hands, and I put the vegetables in my backpack. "Holly. I'm sorry. I was... I was stupid and wrong. And good luck with your girl."

I do smile. "Thank you," I reply. "And good luck figuring out what's next."

Maria chuckles and I make my escape. Yep, that was awkward. Gail actually likes artichoke better than I do, I prefer eggplant, and my plan is to grill it up for her when she gets back, depending on her mood. As I make my way through the stalls, I find some good looking fish. The best fish, of course, is the stuff Gail picks up at the crack of dawn when she can't sleep.

This fish is good enough, still better than the shit at the grocery store. I get two nice looking guys and take one back to Gail's, putting it in her freezer. Then I take the other home and check my phone. Gail's not texted me in a couple hours, which isn't too weird. She's with her mother, and there's probably a lot of talking.

I text her, tell her I picked up some awesome fresh food for her triumphant homecoming. Her reply is immediate, which makes me think she wasn't texting to try and be a less pushy girlfriend.

My mother is saying I can't be vegetarian because I'm allergic to tomatoes.

I smile at the phone. That sounds like Elaine. She didn't comment on it when she visited. Maybe she didn't notice.

Tell her I say hi.

Mom and Dad say hi. I'm hiding in my room. Call?

How can I say no. I tap her contact info and she picks up on the first ring. "Seriously, it's not my fault I can't eat tomatoes."

"They give you that rash," I commiserate and sit on the couch. "What did she feed you?"

"Tofu. Which I guess is okay."

"Except you hate tofu." She puts up with it when I cook with it, but she likes tempeh better. "And you're a pescatarian."

"Shut up," she laughs. "God, mom hasn't changed either of our rooms."

She looked at Steve's apparently. "Yikes," I mutter. "Why don't you go back to Traci's?"

"She and Mom are looking at Steve's baby pictures and crying. I said I was coming up here to make sure I didn't forget anything."

"Hm. Did you?" I know she didn't.

"Not unless you have a Catholic schoolgirl fetish." I snicker-snort my response. Maybe a uniform fetish, but not a little girl one. "Thought so."

"I'm hot for teacher, not student." And frankly, I prefer her naked. Though now I'm curious. "Plaid?"

She laughs and it makes my heart feel light. "Perv."

"Grey with a blue blazer," I speculate and she giggles more. So I keep doing that, making my voice as sultry as I can when I talk about knee socks and penny loafers. She cracks up.

"Just for that, I'm asking your mom for baby pictures," she promises.

"Oh, don't bother, I've always been sexy," I tease her. I've seen pictures of chubby baby Peck. She was adorable.

"I hate you, I'm hanging up. There's a cute girl who wants to check out my room."

"Tell Traci I say hi," I chuckle. There's no doubt in my mind who's there. We swap endearments and she hangs up.

She'll fly home Tuesday, using tomorrow to sort out some minor details with her retirement from the force. The department psychologist wants to talk to her, just as a follow up. I told her to tell the shrink about her nightmares and the panic attacks. I love her, I will support her choices, but she can't do that job anymore.

There had only been one really bad panic attack, when she'd come to my offices and there'd been a dead policeman. I've never seen her look that bad, before or since. That night, she'd gone back to her place alone, saying she needed to be away from all of this. I showed up at her door anyway, hours later, with ice cream and bourbon.

Probably not the best pairing, depression and booze, but I knew Gail had tequila in the house anyway. We ate the ice cream and cuddled on Gail's couch. She finally told me, from her perspective, what had happened that day. How scared she'd been when she saw the gun come out. How she'd known Steve hadn't had a vest on, and she'd just moved. Gail didn't remember thinking about moving.

The impact of the bullets she remembered. The way they sucked the breath out of her. Two in the vest. One in her arm. Two in Steve. She heard those. She told me she remembered that sound, the wet squish as she felt the bullets pass her. Everything was slow motion. She fell and couldn't breath, couldn't move, and she saw Steve gasping beside her.

Yeah, it was going to be a long time before she can consider her old life as something approachable. It may never be something she can face.

Monday morning she calls me around nine. "Hey, honey, how's it going?"

"I fucking hate my mother," she snarls.

"Oookay," I say slowly and close my office door. This is far more angry than Gail has been in a long while. "Want to run that by me?"

"She and that stupid therapist took me to the shooting range." Gail's angry. No, she's hurt and scared, and it's coming out angry because she doesn't have any other way to say it.

We've been through this before. "Remember what Dr. Krazniy said," I say softly.

"I'm doing that. Did that. Breathing. Trying to think about good things." She hisses and I hear a thump. "Gerald, I swear to god, go away." A door slams. "I'm hiding in Interrogation."

"Did we make out there?"

She's quiet and then she giggles. "Oh my god, we did. This is where you told me you weren't over me."

There. She's in a better place. "I wasn't," I admit. "I don't think I ever got over you. You just exploded my life."

"You changed mine too," she tells me. Wistful. That's what her voice is. "You split my heart open, splattered it on the wall. I fell in love with you way before I figured out that I was in love."

Sometimes that girl is so damn romantic. I sigh. "Jesus, Gail, how come you just say things like that?"

"Hm, Pecks are supposed to be motivational."

I'd move a planet for her right now. "Well. You are."

Flippantly, she replies, "My parents would be so proud."

I take off my glasses and lean back. "Tell me what happened?"

She does. The therapist felt that she was indeed still suffering from the dual traumas of kidnapping and being shot. When Gail told her about the nightmares and panic attacks, the therapist had been understanding. But Gail admitted she hadn't picked up a gun since. So they wanted her to try shooting.

It had not gone well. Oh, Gail shot fine. You couldn't be a Peck and not shoot passably well she reminds me. But she'd thrown up. It was embarrassing and humiliating and she didn't want to go back out there.

"And now stupid Gerald saw me so he'll tell because he's a moron."

"Who is Gerald?"

"Duncan. Whatever. He was McNally's rook, when we were dating the first time, and then mine after she fucked up."

I hadn't known she had a rookie, but the name Gerald is familiar. "Maybe he won't tattle."

"He has the brain of a bag of wet hair, Holly. It took me seven months to make him usable, and that was after Andy'd had him for three. He just got cut loose!"

I have no idea what that means, really. Cutting loose doesn't make any sense. "So. He's going to tell everyone you threatened him and are in an interrogation room?"

"Yeah."

"And your friends will do what, exactly?"

Gail hesitates. "Chloe'll probably knock on the door. Or they'll send Chris or Nick."

The men were people my Gail is unlikely to actually hurt with her barbs. They know her. "I'd send Oliver," I tell her.

"Maybe they'll send my mom," she mutters. "Hang on..." I hear muffled talking. "Damn, you win. Oliver is bribing me with donuts."

"See? Now, can I talk to him?"

She ends up handing him the phone in exchange for the sugar. "Hey, Doc," greets Oliver. "It was not my idea."

"Good," I exhale. I was prepared to rail on him. "I'm pissed at them. She shouldn't need to do that."

"You and me, darlin'. Anything I should know about?"

I hear Gail snap that she's right there. "Oh put me on speaker."

There's a click and the room echoes. "Jesus, Oliver, it's just embarrassing."

"Hey, Peck," he says soothingly. "It's what it is."

"It's stupid. It's-"

"Honey, I can hear you," I smile. She groans. "You were very brave."

"Fudge bave," snaps Gail.

I'm pretty sure she meant 'fuck brave' and that she tried to say that around a mouthful of donut. Oliver's grossed noise confirms it. "You tried," I insist. "You went and tried."

"I just hate it," sighs Gail. "I don't want to be here anymore." She doesn't mean Toronto. She means the station.

"Oliver?" I ask it just by saying his name, hoping he has that dad telepathy.

"On it. Come on, Peckling. You promised lunch. Let's go. Celery knows all the best vegetarian places."

"Your wife's name is Celery," mutters my girl. "There's something wrong with that." The phone sound changes and I just hear Gail. "Thanks, Holly."

"Don't eat all the donuts and get a sugar high, sweetheart."

She promises not to and hangs up. At least if she's with Oliver I know she'll behave for the most part. Sometimes she just needs someone to listen and to know she's not alone. Too much of Gail's life has been alone, isolated, except for her brother. Which is why I know this is so hard for her to face at all, let alone with the added stress of having to demonstrate her inability to be what she was.

I wish she was her, or I was there, to hold her. Or something. I don't really know what she needs at the moment. It's hard.

When she's had nightmares, she just wants company. When she's had a panic attack, she says she wants to be left alone, but I'm not sure about that. She's just used to being alone, abandoned, and unwanted. That's why she's such an attack dog. Bite first, get them to bleed, then you're safe. She's even treated me that way,

It makes for a long day and a longer night for me. I can't imagine how she feels.

She texts me a few times in the day. Celery, and yes that is her name, seems lovely and Gail shares photos of herself and the woman at some restaurant. That night, we talk quietly about other things than Toronto and dead siblings. She suggests we go for a sail out in the bay, which sounds fun. I float an idea of going mountain climbing, which she groans about but I think a weekend in Joshua Tree would be nice. A spa, she says, would be better.

And like that, we're back to normal. We're us again.

Tuesday, I wake and find a text waiting for me on my phone.

Couldn't stand it. On standby for the earlier flight home. No wifi though. Stupid air canada.

The next text was the flight number and landing time, 1pm. And a heart.

Gail will be home early!

I check my workload and call it a work from home day for half the day. My boss is understanding enough when I say I have to pick someone up from the airport. He's met Gail and finds her hilarious and dark and fun. Not a single wrinkle hits my day and I meet her at the international terminal just on time.

Unlike the first time she flew into SFO, she doesn't have to take the BART and haunt my office. And this time we don't have to hesitate or be awkward. She drops her bag and hugs me tight, exhaling as if she'd been holding her breath the whole five days. I feel the same way and squeeze her close.

"Hey," she whispers.

"Hey," I reply, kissing her cheek.

"Hey," she says again, shoulders relaxing.

"You said that already," I tease her, kissing her lips and picking up her bag.

"Sounded familiar. This whole conversation sounds familiar." She takes my hand and we step out to the sidewalk.

I take a moment in the sun to study her face. She looks bad. Tired. Her eyes are sunken a little. "Did you sleep at all last night?"

Gail shakes her head. "No, couldn't. Traci sat up with me, though. She wants to bring Leo out for summer break."

"She can stay with us- me," I stumble over the words and wince.

For all Gail's not a police officer anymore, she still has that mind. She notices things. She makes a noise and squeezes my hand. "Can you see them fitting in my place?"

I laugh. "You have dresses with more floorspace than that apartment." I've seen her in them. She makes a dress look amazing and reminds me why I'm a lesbian. All of Gail reminds me why I'm a lesbian, to be honest.

She laughs as well. "God, I'm glad to be home. Mom didn't figure out I wasn't coming to breakfast until I was boarding the plane. Best hang up ever."

And as I drive her home, she tells me about how her mother called her out for running out on breakfast, and Gail said she was tired of the drama. She wasn't going to be what the Pecks wanted, so why bother playing. It's impressive and I'm proud of her for standing up. God knows it took me years to stand up to my parents about things, like being gay. They hadn't taken that well at all. Probably because I'd been all but engaged to poor Pete.

And, like happens around Gail, I ask before I really think about it. "Gail, how did your parents take the gay thing?"

She props her socked feet up on my dash. "Oh right, you missed that dinner." I vaguely recall she had some plan to tell them with me there. "Went for crap. Mom told me not to be preposterous, Dad said it was 'in' to be bisexual. Mom kept trying to set me up, too." Gail rolls her eyes. "She started setting me up with women too after a while, since I just started every date with a man by telling him I was a lesbian."

I glance over and she has that evil smile she gets. "You're terrible."

"What? Mom has horrible taste in men. And women," she adds as an afterthought. "Anyway. She texted an apology. I'll let her stew and call her back tomorrow."

I roll my eyes at her. "You're pure trouble, Abigail Peck."

"You need a middle name you hate," she sasses, smirking at me. "Holly Bot."

"You can walk home," I warn her without any venom in my tone.

She gives me those big, wide, eyes. "You're dropping me off at my place? But you have that great tub, Holly Bot."

"Shut it, Abigail."

That's as far as our teasing goes, since we make it to my place in record time. No midday traffic. Gail is out first, into my bathroom and I hear the relief that comes from someone cooped up in a metal tube for six hours and who won't use the bathroom. She hates flying because of that. Public bathrooms are gross, and airplanes are worse.

Moments later, I hear the sound of water. Ah, she's going to shower. I start my grill up and get the fish and veggies going. I know she'll be a little longer than normal so I have the time to cook without hearing her tell me how she hates propane. I'm ambivalent in the matter, but the owners had the propane grill.

I get the food inside as she comes down the steps and wraps her arms around my waist. "Oh thank god. I'm so tired of side dishes and shit," she kisses my neck. "My parents had a hard time believing I was really a vegetarian."

"There's a lesbian joke in there," I tease her.

"Fishy conversation," she replies. "I'm getting beer. You?"

"Please. Table or couch?"

"Table."

We set up places and Gail digs in. For a moment, I see the girl whose brother called her a Garbage Pail. "Feeling better?"

"Much," she grins, her toes finding my feet under the table. "Thanks for picking me up, Holly."

"Any time."

There's so much I want to ask her about things, about how she's feeling, and about her parents. You don't just ask Gail those things, though, she gets so tense and pained. I don't want to see her hurt. We finish dinner, well, lunch, and settle on the couch, taking it easy and I have no problem with that.

But I ask anyway, "Can I tell you something?"

She puts the remote down and sits cross legged, looking surprised. "That sounds serious."

I don't want to say this. And yet it's the only way I know of to cajole her into telling me what she's feeling. "My sister, April, was four years older." Gail blinks and opens her mouth, probably to tell me to stop. "She was taking me to look at universities. We went all the way to New York City, driving Dad's stupid Bonneville. We hated that car," I sigh. It was a stupid green color that she and I had learned to drive on.

"Holly, you don't have to tell me," she says softly.

"I know. But you told me about Steve." She looks down for a moment and then reaches over to take my hands. I know she won't say another word until I'm done. "We stopped for lunch on the way back, just past the border, and April said she'd drive so I could sleep. We'd been driving all day. She wanted me to get used to driving in the States. And ... I don't really know what happened. I was asleep. And then I woke up, snapping against the seat belt. The car was spinning, I saw the motorcycle go off the road, and then we were upside down and into the trees and..." I take a breath. "The branch came through the windshield. Through April."

I have to stop. Because there I see it again. I close my eyes and she rubs her thumb on my hand. "How long did... How long were you there?"

"Hours. The motorcyclist went for help, but his bike wheel was bent so he had to walk, broken leg and all, until he found a gas station. The firemen pulled me out, but April had bled out by then." I rub my eyes. "Mom and Dad didn't make it down till the morning, we didn't have cell phones and I was so shell shocked, I kept giving them our grandmother's number."

When I stall again, remembering how confused and scared I'd been, Gail points out, "That's really common, sweetheart." I nod. I know it. "So eventually they made it?"

"Yeah," I sigh. "They left the tree in her, until Mom and Dad came. They didn't want to pull it out. I ... You know, once my parents showed up, I didn't talk for almost a month. I couldn't. It was like I was mute. But then I just started talking again. I don't know why. And ... I spent that whole rest of the year in this haze, until I went to university."

"Columbia?" I nod at her and she gently tugs me closer so I'm leaning against her. It's comfortable and safe there. "Can I ask something?" I mutter she can, and she asks, "Was April's birthday in April?"

I laugh softly. "Yes, April first. Dad thought Mom was pulling his leg when she said she was in labor."

"Your parents have no imagination."

"So true," I sigh. My birthday is Christmas Eve, after all. She kisses my head and we sit like that for a while.

Then Gail tells me about the gravestone and the unveiling and how she felt guilty. She still feels guilty. And the gun had made that worse. She's not afraid of guns but they gave her a memory flashback. The sounds did it I suspect. I tell her how it took me years before I could drive on a snowy road. Part of why I went to school in New York City was I knew I didn't need a car.

She doesn't like the idea that it might be years before she feels like her old self or can use a gun. I remind her that I like her now as much, if not more, than I liked her then. She's different, certainly, but she's still Gail at her heart. And she doesn't need to use a gun.

But we've finally exhausted our ability for serious talk and make it through half of an episode of a new BBC drama about a Tudor Monk before she falls asleep on my couch. I don't want to move her, she's so comfortable with her head on my thigh, snoring. I run my fingers through her hair, smoothing it down. She let it grow to her chin before getting annoyed and chopping it off again this summer. At first she was worried, but I like her hair at any length or color.

It takes cajoling to get her up to bed, but we're both in and curled up before eight. Gail looks wrung out, but not as bad as I'd feared. The food, the cuddling, and the nap seem to have helped.

"So tired," she groans.

"Sleep." I kiss her cheek.

She catches my hand and tugs gently. Maybe that's all the energy she has. I oblige and snuggle up against her. "Did you find a new place yet?" She sounds tired.

"We can talk in the morning," I point out.

"Deflection. Avoidance." There's a large yawn before she comes up with a third word. "Noncommittal."

I chuckle. "That doesn't work, honey."

"Shaddup, I'm tired."

"So sleep."

"I'm trying to let you ask me to move in with you," she mumbles, loosing the fight for consciousness.

What? I sit up a little and look at her. More than once I've been told that for someone with as big a brain as I have, I can be so dense. I want to ask her what she means, but it's clear Gail's out. There's no waking her up unless she's ready.

She wants me to ask her to move in with me? That's passive aggressive, even for Gail, who does still play games with people. But maybe that's not it at all. Maybe she wants me to know that it's okay to want to ask her that. We've had such a weird relationship with fits and starts and bad turns. This may be her trying to tell me she'd say yes. Passive supportive?

I watch her sleep for a while, as creepy as that can be, and study her face as it slowly morphs from controlled adult to exhausted human and now to that gentle, eternally young, expression I love.

I put my glasses on my night stand and curl up around her, fitting myself against her. I fit right there. She fits me right. "When you wake up," I whisper, "I'm going to ask you to move in with me. But not here. Some other place that's just us. And you better say yes, Gail."

She doesn't twitch. But I know I'll ask her. And I know she'll say yes.

And I know we will move in together.

Chapter Text

I like the house a lot. So does Gail. We've been there six months, through a water pipe break in the middle of a sudden cold snap, and through a break-in where Gail shattered the guy's wrist and kneecap with my baseball bat and spent a night in lock up for assault until the cops sorted out that it was our house and she was defending herself. The gun had been knocked under the dryer, which Gail thought was funny in a morbid way and told me about how Dov had killed someone before.

We got better locks and a security system after that.

And the house we moved into six months ago finally feels like a home.

The house is smaller than my subleased row house and bigger than Gail's efficiency apartment (though what isn't?) and we've made it ours.

Her school friends, the teachers and even some kids, threw a housewarming party for us, bringing new appliances and fresh food and of course, candy for Gail. While she eats a lot less junk food, she still has a sweet tooth and the kids love to curry favor with her and bring her treats. So do my parents, who sent us a box of Canadian snacks. Gail refuses to set them out and share.

Six months also means it's an anniversary of the day she came back into my life and the reason why. Six months, eighteen as a couple, twenty-four as friends again. Steve is two years dead.

This year, Gail tells me she's not going to Toronto. She only went back because of the gravestone and because her parents asked. This year, she wants to be home with me. I'm home. I like hearing that. I like hearing we're a home and a unit. I like the life we've made.

Unlike when she was ghosting around my house, finding her way again, living together now has a different rhythm. We both are early risers now, her so she can bike to her school and me so I can get to my office downtown. I try not to drive if I can help it, just because driving in San Francisco is an exercise in patience. More than once, Gail's come by on her bike and raced me home. She nearly always wins.

The days pass differently. By the time we'd moved back in together, Gail had gotten her teaching certificate and was full time at the school. She works year round, which she says she likes, but her breaks are when I take vacations too. We've made trips to wine country and the mountains and the ocean. Sometimes I'm too mired in work to take time off. The last time that happened, Gail took it upon herself to renovate the downstairs bathroom while I worked.

She managed to take the wallpaper down the first day (whomever put black and purple wallpaper in a bathroom should be shot) and by the time the week was over, had the tile up and the new toilet in. I hadn't known she'd known how to do any of that, and she admitted to having used YouTube a lot.

That success spurred us and we moved on to the master bath. She got the new shower in, something she did on a school holiday with a fellow teacher, which means I don't have to tromp down to the smaller guest bath every day. All that needs to be done now is the new tile and the sinks, which Gail swears we can do in one day.

I tease her about being the better lesbian because she's handy about things. Still, as we hit the end of the second day, she's right. We have the new floor, the backsplash, and the sink in. It's crazy how fast it went. After all that neither of us wants to cook, so we order dinner and eat out of the containers, drinking beer, and sitting on our deck.

The neighbors here are nice, waving at us as they walk by with their dogs. It's not too trendy, though Gail says it's too expensive. Her benefits from Toronto PD go a long way to making it all livable, and my father the accountant makes sure we've got savings. Admittedly, after two years in The City, she still thinks everything here is too expensive. I don't really disagree, but I am glad she stayed for many reasons.

What I really want is a way for her to feel safe all the time. I want her bad dreams and sleepless nights to go away. I want her not to freeze every time a car backfires. I know all those things take a long time. It was five years before I got in a car without breaking into a cold sweat. After the break in, things got considerably worse and she started sleeping less and less.

My insurance is better and covers Gail as my domestic partner (a term that makes her roll her eyes), but she uses her retired cop coverage for her mental health. Someone who understands cops and ex cops and nightmares and trauma is, surprisingly, not hard to find. It surprised me how long it takes to find the right one, though. Months passed before she settled with one who she says doesn't make her feel like a failure for being fucked up. That she calls him Dr. Crazy and he doesn't object makes it better, I think.

And as the months go by after that stupid break in, we three try a lot of things. Anti-depressants help a little with the self-loathing issues, stopping her from hitting her lowest point. They don't help the sleep issues, so the doctor changes up the meds a few times until she is able to get some more rest. It's not something she likes and there are other options out there. She doesn't like being reliant on drugs to keep her brain in check, she tells me, and it's something I think about a lot.

I shouldn't worry about her as much as I do, but I do. I hope it's just because I'm in love with her and nothing else.

"Hey," she says, nudging my leg with her bare foot. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm glad you're here," I admit.

She salutes me with her beer. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

I smile and lean back against the house. The other suggestions from her doctor linger in my head. "Should we get a dog?"

Gail eyes me. "We could," she says slowly. "Our schedules are kinda weird."

"Dr. Krazniy mentioned it is all." Her doctor suggested Gail consider a dog to help with the panic attacks and her fears of hurting me. She went to town on the burglar just for holding a gun, but he told me he didn't think that was the issue. He thinks she's just scared and the dog could help give her something safe to focus on. I've been reading a lot of literature about therapy dogs.

Making a face, Gail finishes her beer. "Maybe. I guess." She puts the bottle down. "Do you think I should?"

It's always a tricky conversation. But this time I have an answer. "I do." She startles at me. "I think it could help."

Grumpily, like she often pretends to be, Gail scoots to sit next to me. "I don't like it," she says. But she takes my hand and we watch our neighbor's four year old daughter squeal happily as their family dog licks sugar off her face.

"I know." I lean towards her and rest my head on hers. "I could give you sciencey reasons, but it all comes down to I think it would be good for you."

Her arm slips around my waist and she doesn't say anything. I know what she's thinking. Probably. She's thinking about how she's messed up and broken and damaged. She's thinking about those nightmares and the time the car backfired and she freaked right out. She's thinking about Steve and April and how we both had to get far away from things that hurt us. And how neither went back.

Then she sighs, loudly. "A dog. Well. We have a yard."

"We'll get one good with kids, and you can bring it to work."

She likes that part of the idea. Gail's really gotten into her job. She loves teaching the kids and the parents. She likes helping people. That's the part of being a cop she misses. Service was drilled into her from such an early age, I doubt she'll ever get away from it, and I'm not sure she should.

We talk about the idea of a dog, forming it beyond just a thought and into something that, once we finish renovating the bathroom, will be a thing. I've got the paperwork, I tell her, and she laughs.

A few months later, we have a dog. Biscuit is not the name he came with. They tried to tell Gail his name was King, but he's about the size of a sneeze, perfect for riding in Gail's bike basket, and she announces he's as big as a biscuit and the dog wags his tail. So we are the proud owners of a pint sized fluffy mutt called Biscuit.

As we drive home, Biscuit sitting in the back seat more well behaved than Gail, I bring up the obvious. "He's sleeping on his dog bed."

"He was your idea," notes Gail, amused. "Besides, he's teensy."

"I know, but you hear the stories about dogs and beds and... "

"The dog is not going to stop us from having sex."

In this case, Gail turns out to be right. And while Biscuit does sleep in the bed pretty much from day one (seriously, puppy dog eyes from the dog and my girlfriend is unfair), it's my rescue dog, Dakota, who causes the hold on sex.

Oh yes, I have a dog too. After watching Gail and Biscuit, I think it wouldn't be so bad to have two. A dog and a co-dog means they'd always have friends. That's my idea at least, and I pick out my pup (not a puppy, a teenager dog who was abandoned) from a no-kill shelter. Gail approves of it all, until Dakota is needy and a little too interested in what we do. One cold nose when I'm half un-dressed and I agree that we need to figure something out.

Gail teases me about it for weeks, which is about as long as it takes me to train Dakota to listen to us fully. Biscuit, to our everlasting amusement, leads Dakota around and bosses her around. Dakota's a bigger dog, part lab somewhere in there, that I fell in love with. Which is Gail's fault. Watching her and Biscuit made me jealous in a good way and I wanted some of that puppy love for myself.

The joke was all on me. Dakota adores Gail most of all. But the four of us go for walks and hikes all the time and they both snuggle with me on cold nights if Gail's out with the kids from her school. Maybe it's that both dogs can sense she needs it more, most of the time, that unconditional adoration. They know when I need it too, when I come home from a dark case. Those days, as soon as I'm out of the shower, I have two mini shadows who sit with me and unpressingly lavish me with quiet affection.

I probably should have gotten a dog when I was younger.

As the days get colder in what passes for winter around here, the people we know start in on those questions again. And they're the questions everyone asks, and they are so very annoying. Like Elaine and my boss want to know if we'll become American citizens. It's something I say that Gail and I need to talk about, but there have been so many other things.

The more time passes with us together, the more we talk about other things. Sometimes it's important, like the dogs, and sometimes not. We've somehow inched up on year three together and renovated the whole top floor to be open and airy. Gail's fixed the leak in the ceiling and I've tiled the kitchen.

Gail, again, doesn't go to Toronto on the third anniversary of Steve's death. This time, her mother comes to see us, stay with us, and she and Gail take the time to do the touristy things like Alcatraz and a cable car ride. I don't join them for most of it, giving them the space they need to sort out their new themness.

At first, Elaine is disparaging about the dogs. The second day, she pulls me aside at breakfast and says Gail looks happier and more relaxed with Biscuit around. By the time Elaine goes home, we have a photo of her asleep on the couch with both dogs. She does think Biscuit is a stupid name, and Gail just grins.

The dogs are great for her and for me. They even help Gail and her parents, since after leaving us Elaine gets one of her own. Of course hers is a retired K9 but it seems to be what she needed as well. The photos of Elaine and her German Shepherd named Oscar are hilarious. Gail loves the one where Oscar dug up the flower garden and found the lunchbox she and Steve had buried as children. Their time capsule. It's mailed to us, unopened and Gail lets it sit for a long while before opening it up with me.

That night she pulls out Steve's favorite action figure (Han Solo), his baseball card (Wade Boggs, which would be worth a lot more if it wasn't moldy), her medal for swimming (second place), and other weird kicknacks they'd felt were important. There are letters too. Each sibling wrote a letter to their future selves. She reads her own first, which is self-disparaging, noting that she'll probably be a cop unless she runs away and joins the circus. But it also tells her that her favorite thing is watching the sunset up at the cottage. Gail informs me that this was written before her parents made her walk from town to the cottage on her own.

She can't read Steve's though. She tries, and in the end I take the letter. The first part is about how he wants to be a detective before he's thirty, marry a brilliant woman, and have kids. The second half though is written to Gail, telling her to be what she wants to be, and he knew she'd read his letter anyway, so don't feel bad about it. He loves her. And he knows she stole his Princess Leia toy and wants it back.

We carefully keep the letters, and the moldy card, framing them together and hanging it up in the hallway. A photo of Gail and Steve from about that time is also in the frame. Gail's chubby grin is gap-toothed and broad, the canines flashing in the sun, while sunburnt Steve is already starting to look like the man I knew.

Most of that year, we spend fixing the yard up properly. Gail's first attempt at gardening fails after Dakota decides to 'help' and dig. Her second attempt involves wood pallets that she nails up to the fence. She had to rebuild the fence first, of course, but that goes amazingly well. A vertical garden was, I admit, not something I envisioned, but it gives the dogs space to run around while she can grow herbs.

Gail has, surprisingly to both of us, a green thumb. She grows herbs, of course, but also flowers. The backyard becomes a colorful realm of peace. When she adds in a small picnic table and chairs, we start entertaining our friends at night. Before long, our place is the hang out for Saturday evenings.

I like having friends. Some are from Gail's work and some are from mine. Some are actually our neighbors who have a kid and kids love Gail so that always works well. It's not the same as Lisa and Rachel, or Dov and Chris, but our friends stick by us all the same and it's nice. When we had our break in, the neighbors all came and watched the house for me while I was trying to get Gail sprung.

The neighbors too want to know if we're going to be American Citizens, so as we inch towards a fourth year, I start to think that I should bring it up with Gail more seriously. But after a long hike one Saturday when we get caught in the rain, and after Gail's washed both dogs and dried them and the house stops smelling like wet dogs, and we've got Irish mochas and a fire going, she says it.

"We could convert."

"To... What?" I'm confused.

"To Americans."

I eye her. "You mean become American Citizens? That's not conversion."

"Shut up," she laughs. "You know what I mean." Gail ruffles Dakota's head. "Scoot over, pup," she orders, nicely, and my dog huffs a long suffering sigh before getting up and walking over me so Gail can press herself up against my side. We're sandwiched between our cold, tired, canines. "We should, though."

"You want to be Americans? Give up health care, poutine, and hockey?"

"I think your boss would be happier if you did," Gail says accurately.

"True," I sigh. "And Canada won't make us rescind our citizenship, so we can go dual." That makes it not so bad. I like Canada. I don't go back very often, only once in the last year, since all my cases have been closed. Gail, on the other hand, is avoiding it a little.

Gail smiles. "Run away if America elects a raging Republican psycho?" Her arm wraps around me, pulling me close so I'm leaning up against her entirely. It's warm and comforting.

I rest my head on her shoulder, since it's there. "What about you?"

"Me what?" Her breath is warm, stirring my hair a little.

"You American."

"I did say we, didn't I?" She shifts and sips her drink. "If you do, of course I will. That way they can't kick me out without you."

There are other ways to ensure her permanence here, like marriage, but this plan is smarter. And that's how our next adventure begins, acquiring American citizenship. I've already been in the States for five years, Gail four and change, and I know it's five years of residency before you can even apply. We both have green cards, but this is the right next thing to do.

Another passing of Steve's death happens before then. I hate that I mark time like this. I hate that I think of his death as a simple flag to tell me that this is how I will remember when Gail and I became friends again. But as soon as he's been dead five years, then it will be another three months before Gail's had her green card for five years, and that means she is eligible to become an American.

I wait for her, telling my boss that's why, and it has a wonderful impact on things. I'm pretty sure the city medical examiners office would have a fit if she doesn't get citizenship, just because they don't want to lose me. Gail is annoyed with the fact that we have to take a test, but as soon as her students find out, they want to help.

I like her students. They're a mix of deaf and mute children, and Gail works in the transition department, helping them get ready for mainstream education. If possible. Gail's also been going back to school, getting a degree to help her with all that, though her social services bachelors degree is enough to make everyone think she's capable.

The oldest students she has are some teenagers who steadfastly refused to communicate until recently. Gail's been introducing them to music lately, much to their delight. She's also been teaching them how to flirt, which I'm sure isn't on the curriculum, but watching her signing with them and showing them how to be coy is hilarious and heartwarming.

While I can't say I didn't have the biggest lady boner for Gail in her uniform, I'm totally hot for teacher Gail too. There's something about watching her shine that makes me grin ear to ear. And she's happy. I love Gail all the time, but a lot of our first run at a relationship was spent in pain. This time we're happy and both in better places.

I don't know a lot of sign language, but I know enough to figure out that one of her students is gesturing at me and asking, I think, how Gail and I ended up together. Except they're a little more crude. As soon as I see them both look my way, I sign that I heard that and they break up laughing. Gail tells the kids she'll be right back and runs over to the fence where I'm perched with my bicycle.

"Hey, you solve the crimes already?" She leans over the fence to kiss me.

"I did. Ready to go?"

Gail glances back at the kids. "I'm here for another hour. Angie's kid decided that punching was the right response to idiot jokes about your mom talking funny."

I've met Angie and her son. She's one of Gail's fellow teachers, mostly deaf, and her son, who can hear, is constantly defending her to idiots. He's been suspended a few times. "Again? Poor Angie."

"She was calling him all kinds of things," sighs Gail. "Anyway, I said I'd fill in till after sports. You want to stick around? The kids wanna ask you about your job."

Which explains why she wasn't worried about them reading her lips when she talked about my job. "Oh, you have a wanna-be pathologist over there?"

"I got four teenagers who are into the morbid," she corrects, rolling her eyes.

"How mad will their parents be?"

Gail shrugs. "Maybe a little." She tugs my hands and I laugh. I can't say no to her easily.

I wheel my bike around. If it had been actual school hours, I wouldn't have swung by. But it's after hours and when I saw her here on Find My Friends, I figured she was finishing up paper work. Biscuit is happily playing fetch with one of the kids, but seeing me, he brings the ball over instead. The kid is upset for a moment, but then rushes over as well.

This is one of Gail's morbidly curious kids, it turns out, and he and I are talking about my work when his father swings by to pick him up. Gail and the dad chat in halting sign language, my cutie helping him form the gestures better. His son follows my look and tells me his father had been reluctant to learn sign language until he met Gail.

I know he means for it to be a happy ending for a troublesome youth, but it just makes me sad. Parents are so confusing. My own parents struggled coming to terms with the reality of me being a lesbian, for reasons they now say are absolutely stupid and pointless. My grandfather never got over it, to the point that he cut me out of his will. Mom likes to say the joke's on him, since she inherited it all anyway, and just gave me what I was supposed to get in the first place.

Families are seriously messed up. Even ours. Especially ours. Gail's parents are a handful. Her mother still thinks that Gail will 'get over it' and go back to being a cop, but she's finally stopped nudging Gail about the subject and leaves it alone. I think her father's given up. He's the Peck, after all, and it hurts him more visibly. Elaine, for all her fumbling approach, just wants Gail to be happy. Seeing her with me (and the dogs) shows her happy, so that seems to be enough.

Once all the kids are gone from school, Gail locks up, checks the building, and then plunks Biscuit into her basket. Watching her ride the bike with the pup in the front basket is always a little hilarious. I think, sometimes, that we could move to Portland and live in a lesbian Mecca that's better for her chosen method of transport.

Maybe one day we will. Maybe one day we'll move together to another city. Maybe I'll change careers. Maybe Gail will. We could go to New York or Texas... Maybe not Texas. The point is, we have a lot of possibilities open to us because next Tuesday afternoon, we will be American citizens.

That day is exciting to me for a lot of reasons, including that it's hit up on our anniversary. Five. Who saw that coming? When she showed up on my proverbial doorstep, it was the furthest from my mind. When we became friends, it wasn't on my radar. And now, now I'm happy with her.

"What's going on in that big brain, Stewart?"

"Are you happy?"

She does a double take and swings off her bike as we pull up to the house. "Happy? I think so. Why?" Gail chews her lip for a moment. "Are you, uh, not?"

I coast up to her and smile. "I am very happy, Gail."

Gail tilts her head. "Good...?" She's nervous and I get off my bike to kiss her. "Why were you thinking about if I was happy?"

"I was thinking about how I'm happy," I correct. "And I hoped you were happy too."

"Oh." She shakes her head. "You're weird, Holly." We push the bikes around and Gail lets Biscuit run off into the backyard. Dakota, ever patient, is silent even when we let her out to romp. Normally Gail leaves the dogs together at home, which causes less trouble than one home alone, but today she'd woken up uneasy. Today she'd needed her pup around.

The dogs romp around, clearly excited to see each other after the day. "What do you think they're talking about?"

Gail sits on the bench and watches them for a moment. "Smells," she finally says, smiling. And she proceeds to pretend to be the dogs, talking to each other about the day. I get the giggles when she describes Dakota's day as sleeping in different rooms and on places we don't like the dogs to sleep.

I sit in Gail's lap and drape my arms around her neck. "You're such a goof," I inform her and kiss her softly. In response, her hands slip under my shirt, cool fingers finding my spine.

She knows what I like, I realize. After five years, she ought to. But should she still make me feel little a giddy teenager? I don't think I felt like this when I was younger. I was too confused about my feelings for women, too determined to make emergency situations and get out of relationships with men. Right now, I don't want an emergency with Gail and I'm pretty sure she doesn't with me.

When another day passes, and we're finally American citizens, I ask her how she feels about it and she shrugs. "I still feel like me."

I catch her hand and squeeze it. "Yeah? Is you ever getting a driver's license?"

"Ugh, this again?" Gail's resisted it since settling in to life here. I'm not a fan of being the only person who drives. "Why? The city has Uber and Lyft and where do I need to drive?"

I shrug. "What if we move?"

She eyes me. "Holly." Her voice is low and serious.

My secret, my tiny teensy secret, is that I'm constantly being head hunted by forensic groups. It's not really a secret. Gail knows about it in general and has been supportive of my career, but with her emotional state, I felt it was better not to bring it up. And that is something she does not know. "I turned them down," I reply.

Gail sighs. "Holly."

Damn, she's good at that. "Portland's been making a pitch," I grumble. And it's a good one. I like it.

"Well," muses Gail. "My plan tonight was for a romantic dinner and then sex, American style. But Portland's crazy bike-able. And it's Oregon, which is like the lesbian Mecca. Bet there are lots of schools I could teach at, too."

Since when has Gail been this easy going? Have I missed a transformation? "You'd move to another state with me?"

"News flash. Kinda moved to another country already. State ain't nothing," she grins. "Look, do you want to be with me?"

"Always," I say before I can even think their might be another reply.

Gail gives me her best, toothiest, smile. "Okay."

I eye her as we get to the car. "That's it?"

"That and if we move, fine, I'll get a stupid driver's license." She steps in front of me and takes my other hand, pulling me close, smiling. "So. Romantic dinner? Sex? Or long talks about a maybe job up north that isn't Canada?"

A maybe is what got us here in the first place. "Sex," I decide. "Dinner first, though."

We get cards and calls and emails from our friends back in Toronto, teasing and then the next questions happen. Now that we're Americans, what else are we going to change? We own a house together already and we're clearly in a good place with our relationship. So of course there's Traci who wants to know if we're ever getting married.

I suspect not, I tell her.

It's not about love. I end up explaining this when she and Leo come to visit and Gail takes Leo out to the Pier for some tourist fun. I love Gail. She loves me. We know those things. But we also know things like we're both pretty messed up people. Gail's not the only one with trust issues.

Not that I don't trust Gail. I do. I trust her with my life and, maybe more importantly, my heart. I trust her to love me and care for me. But getting married is a big thing. It changes things in a lot of ways that I'm not really ready for. Like most girls, I thought about weddings when I was smaller. We played wedding in the school yard. I hated it. I didn't want to be the one in the dress, being given away like property.

Besides that, I know I'm still impacted by my sister's death. I try to take every opportunity life throws at me, which is why San Francisco was a thing and it's why I still float the notion of Portland. I may never get another chance for those things. I may never get another chance for Gail either, and I don't care to rock our wobbly little boat. I got a second chance already.

That said, I don't know Gail's feelings on the matter. I know she was once engaged to Nick, but that seems to be the closest she's ever gotten to any of it. I've always kind of wanted to know what went on there but I've never sorted out how to ask it. I do know why she got back together with Nick, and I quote 'it was easy and he was there.' She told me that when we started exploring a second chance, prefacing the statement by saying we weren't easy but she wanted to try.

Sometimes Gail can be incredibly romantic and sweet. Not often. I don't mind at all. She's caring and she's always here for me, so I'll pass on sweet and sappy as long as I get the woman who wakes up early to make sure I eat breakfast before court, does the dishes, and even though she still doesn't put her shoes away, walks the dogs every day.

Leo likes the dogs, as it happens. He finds it perfectly reasonable that Gail's dog is named Biscuit, and asks if Gail would bring him if she came back to Toronto.

While checking the grill, Gail nods. "If I do, sure," she says, and even the pre-teen catches that phrasing.

"You're not coming back?"

Gail sighs and shakes her head. "No, not unless I have to. I can't be there anymore, Leo," she tells him. Gail's so used to kids, but it still surprises me that she doesn't pull a punch with that. She's just going to tell him the truth.

Slowly, Leo nods. "Is it because Steve died?"

"It is and it isn't." That wins an annoyed look from Leo. "It's how he died."

Leo looks surprised and turns to his mom. "But—"

Clearly they've talked about it. Traci cuts him off. "It's not, Leo, I know. Gail knows."

This confuses Gail, who frowns. "Part of it is my fault, Trace," she points out.

"Sure. And part of Jerry is me, for not teaching him how to use his phone. I mean, it was an iPhone!" She grimaces.

Gail grunts an epitaph. "Well. Whatever. Toronto makes me feel like shit, I don't want to go back unless I have to."

We're all quiet for a moment, and then Leo announces, "That makes sense. I'll just come here more often! Right, Mom?"

With what are probably tears in her eyes, Gail hauls Leo into a hug. He yelps that it's not cool, but hugs her back.

A few days later, after Traci and Leo go home, after the house is us again, Gail brings up marriage. "Traci wants to know if we're going to get married."

"What did you say?" I'm deflecting and I know it.

Gail squints at me as we fold the laundry. "I don't know."

I eye her back. "You don't know what you said?"

"No, no," she laughs. "I told her I don't know. I mean... God I had the shittiest time of it with Nick."

I gnaw my lip. "Okay, I don't want to ask..." She hands me a towel with a smirk. "Can I ask?"

"About Nick?" When I nod, she nods back. "Sure. What do you want to know?" She sounds so calm.

"What happened? I know he left you at the altar but that's it."

She exhales softly. "We were in Vegas. On a vacation. It was fun, you know, in that drinking and partying way." Gail folds a towel and frowns. "After we saw the tenth chapel, I said we should get married."

When she pauses, I ask, "Did you want to?"

"Marry Nick? Yeah, I did. He was kind of scruffy then, a bad boy, but he cared a lot." She smiles and throws the last towel at me. "I was always way too much for him to handle."

I grin back. "I can see that. Did you get a license?"

"We did!" Gail laughs at me. Or maybe it's the memory. "We got a license and said if we still wanted to on Thursday, we'd do it."

"Thursday was significant?"

"Well Saturday we were going to drive home." She shakes her head. "Thursday comes around, we go to a chapel. We're in line, next up, and Nick got all pale. He got freaked out and said he couldn't do it, he didn't want to be that kind of guy, and then right as they call our name, he bails." That doesn't sound like the Nick I know, but I didn't really know him.

I pick up the basket of folded laundry and we head upstairs. "What'd you do?"

"I found him at the hotel, punched him, and told him to get the hell out of my sight." Gail sits on the bed. "He drove home, alone." And she falls silent and thoughtful.

That's odd. "How the hell did you get home?"

She's still quiet. "I called Steve," she says so softly I almost miss it. And then I could kick myself for asking. "I called him up, he bought me a plane ticket home, picked me up at the airport, and I stayed with him for the rest of the next week so Mom wouldn't find out I was home early."

I put the basket down and sit next to her. "I'm sorry..."

But Gail is smiling. "Steve was awesome. Really. He teased the hell out of me, but man, I deserved it. What the hell was I even thinking." She leans back on her hands, a real grin on her face.

Not a bad memory, it seems. I smile at her. "What did Elaine do?"

"Oh god, you know we never told her!" I laugh with her at the hilarity of that. "I just said Nick and I broke up and then... Then I finished college and went to the Police Academy," she sighs.

"Was that why?"

"Nah," she shakes her head. "I did it because of Steve."

I'm inching up on dangerous ground, and I know it. I don't know what to say, so I cover one of her hands with one of mine. The dogs sense something's up and hop up on the bed, Biscuit in her lap and Dakota sprawled over mine, her head on Gail's leg. We look at the furry beasts and laugh, because that's all we can do.

She leans over the puppy pile and kisses my cheek. Then she tells me about how she joined the force not because she was a Peck or because of Nick, but because the only person in her life who had stood up and cared for her was Steve. He always had her back, he always helped her, and he was a cop. So she was a cop. And when she'd floundered, after me and Sophie, it was Steve who collected her and pulled her along.

Which was why she couldn't do the job anymore. Not that it was too hard without him, but that it was too hard with knowing why he died. It wasn't her fault, she told me, but she'd seen him dying and was unable to do anything. Right then she'd realized how much she needed him there to do the job, how much she needed him, and then he was gone.

I lean towards her, resting my head against hers. I don't say I'm sorry. She knows that. She knows I know some of that agony and I'm not going to make her do anything. And I understand why she can't do that job anymore.

"Why didn't you talk?" The question surprises me. "That month?"

"After April died? No idea." I lie down on the bed, letting my legs dangle. "I just couldn't."

There's a disgruntled noise and the dogs get off us. "I can get that," she admits. "I didn't ... I didn't know what to say in the hospital." Gail lies back beside me. "Did you go to the hospital?"

I have to struggle to remember. "No. The EMT checked me out and ... My folks showed up, we got home, and then when I woke up, I just couldn't say anything."

She's quiet for a moment and then says something that surprises me. "I learned sign language because I didn't want to talk."

Turning my head, I look at her thoughtful expression. "Didn't want to?" It's the only safe question I've got at the moment.

"Yeah, I was being picked on for being weird in school, when I was eight, so I thought maybe I could become a mute. Steve said he'd learn sign language if I did, and then... We just learned sign language."

It's stupid, but I say the obvious. "I didn't know." Of course I didn't. She'd never told me.

Gail turns to look at me, smiling. "I was thinking, we could have met then. You being a selective mute, me being a hearing sign language instructor."

I scoff. "I was seventeen so you were, what, fourteen?"

She stretches a little. "And volunteering as an interpreter, because Pecks are nothing but over achievers."

Suddenly Gail the Teacher makes more sense. Social work, of some sort, has always been in her blood. And here she found a way to keep in touch with parts of her brother that she loved and leaned on and misses. "I think our relationship might have been a little icky at that age," I tease her.

Laughing, Gail pokes my ribs. "Perv. I knew you were into the whole Catholic Schoolgirl thing."

"Am not!" I laugh too, because it's just that sort of feeling.

"Okay, one day you need to tell me why you're a dead people doctor, Holls," she demands, but with a kiss to my cheek, she gets up and is out of the bed and back to doing the things we have to do on a weekend in order to have a clean house.

Weeks and months pass before we get back around to why I'm a doctor of the dead. It's not really an interesting story and really it's about how when I came back to Toronto for school. And that involves Gail getting the story about Pete, my nearly fiancé in med school. He broke up with me after catching me in bed with his sister. She laughs uproariously. The idea of me and a man is hilarious to her, since she always thought of me as a Gold Star Lesbian.

Nope. I had a boyfriend. I had a really serious boyfriend who had met my parents and came up to Canada for spring break one year, and then I started med school and he started law school and then I had a massive crush on a younger woman in my class. Who happened to be his sister.

In my defense, I didn't know that at the time. They have different last names and fathers. But what I did know was that I was drawn to her in a way I'd never felt before. There was something about her that made me blush every time we talked and I just wanted to be with her. She gave me sleepless nights and some pretty vivid dreams.

When I tell Gail that, she gets weirdly serious and tells me that's how she feels about me. As she explains, she knew she liked me but thought it was just as a friend until she realized how mad she was when I was at the Penny with that date. From that moment, being shot at just made her think none of anyone's stupid judgements mattered. She wanted me.

It's daunting and flattering and it sidelines conversations for the rest of the day because as she keeps babbling about how she didn't realize she'd been in love with me for too long, she really is and... The last time either of us had a case of motor mouth that bad, Gail kissed me to shut me up. Payback is sweet. I take a hold of her face and kiss her.

We're in the middle of the sidewalk, walking the dogs, and everything just stops for that moment. She's startled but leans in and kisses me back. Someone hoots at us as they drive by and I don't care.

"You had to stop talking," I whisper when we break apart.

"Har har," she sasses.

I kiss her again, softly and tenderly. "It really was a stupid set up. Lisa thought I needed to stop obsessing about this straight girl."

Gail smiles and takes my hands, kissing my knuckles before we start walking again. "Generally good advice," she agrees. "But currently more reasons to hate Lisa." I'm about to tell her there's no reason to hate Lisa, when she blurts, "Hang on. You met Lisa and Rachel in med school."

"I did," I nod.

"But you were in school in New York!"

I know I'm blushing. "I transferred after the whole Pete and his sister thing."

"And that explains the dead people doctor because…?"

I sigh. "I had a panic attack after I was back in school in Toronto. I had unresolved crap from April. I hadn't remembered I'd see her die."

She seems to understand that. "I'm sorry." It's one of the things I love about her. I can leave some things unsaid and she understands and doesn't press.

But I need her to know she's not pressing me right now. "No, it's okay, honey," I assure her. "It's just embarrassing that I'm a forensic pathologist because I saw my sister die, which I only remember after my boyfriend caught me in bed with his sister and chased me out of New York."

Gail frowns for a moment. "Yeah," she decides. "That's worse than the Nick thing!"

And it's funny again. We laugh about it and teasing each other about the idiot men we've dated and the things we did because of it becomes a new thing.

That does sideline any serious discussions about marriage for almost another year. That's when Oliver and Celery visit and he asks Gail if she's going to make an honest woman of me. I don't think Celery and I are supposed to hear the commentary, but the two are louder than they think.

"I'm just saying, you can't help who you love." That's Oliver.

"We're not having this conversation," snarls Gail.

"I know what you're thinking, I'm not one to talk. I move in with women I love too fast, I got married too fast, I'm in love with a witch."

"Holly's in love with a bitch," Gail remarks, snidely. "Stop, Oliver. I don't think we're going to get married."

I freeze and wonder how to pretend I didn't hear a thing. Celery looks surprised. "It's not that," I whisper. I mean, I know it's not that she wants to leave me. I think. I hope.

"Something wrong, darlin?" Oliver is so kind and his voice is so gentle now.

"No, God, you're all idiots. Any time I say we're not getting married, you all freak out." She's scoffing at him.

"Just not married?"

Gail groans loudly and Biscuit yaps at her. There's a sound I'm used to hearing, Gail scratching the pup. "I'm fine," she says, probably to the canine.

"Is it... That?"

"What? Perik? Or Steve?" She laughs at that. "Look, I love Holly. I've loved her for longer than I think I knew. But just because I love her and want to spend my life with her doesn't mean we have to get married. Does it?"

There's a pause and then Oliver allows, "Well. No."

"No. So I'm going to live with her and love her as long as she'll have me, because she's the best thing that ever happened to me, and I'm not fucking it up again."

Celery tugs my arm gently and we step away from the window. "I'll tell him to leave her alone about it," she says to me, and then hugs me. "Thank you."

I have no idea why she's thanking me. "I need her too," I mutter.

And it's so true, but so hard to define. I feel like I need her like plants need the sun and the rain. I need her to make my days brighter and colorful. I need her to help me when I need the strong shoulders of someone who understands why my work eats me sometimes. I need Gail because I've been in love with her probably since the wedding. I need her.

When we're all holed up in our rooms, the dogs doing their usual patrol of the house and making sure our guests aren't dead, I hug Gail close and whisper that I love her.

"This would be awkward otherwise," she jokes. "You heard me and Ollie, huh?"

Never try to pull one over on a cop. Even an ex-cop always knows. I roll my eyes. "Yes, I did. I don't want to get married either."

Gail exhales softly, tension oozing out of her spine. "Can we just live together forever and with dogs and a house and be happy forever?"

"I'm pretty sure you're not genetically disposed to eternal happiness," I tease her.

"Yeah. There is that. I'm really good at crapping on things."

"Climbing in trees."

"I hate men," giggles Gail. "But I love you."

It's nice to have that settled I realize, because nothing changes after that. Nothing about us at least. Once we declare we aren't getting married, that we're both okay with who we are together, it all seems to be easier and simpler. At Gail's push, I have an interview with the forensics lab in San Diego. The move here was a promotion in a way, changing to do a different kind of work and different cases. The one there, if I take it, would be the same thing in a new location with slightly different crimes. More border work.

We talk about the idea of moving and the idea of the job but, after a trip down to see the place, I realize I don't want that job. I like here too much, and there isn't as much for Gail to do down there. She asks me if it's her. If I'm saying no because of her. I'm not. At least I don't think I am. It feels more like I'm saying no because it's not right for me there. It's not right yet.

Lots of other things are right. We are very right still, and take a long weekend down in Ojai wine country to remind ourselves of that over the summer. Neither of us are heavy drinkers these days. Gail stopped when she started on anti-depressants and I stopped because I didn't think it would help her to have me drinking around her. But since then, we enjoyed a beer or a glass of wine at dinner. Nothing hard.

A long weekend in wine country for us means some long walks, a sleep in without the pups, and a lot of us time. A glass of wine at dinner and then we're in our tiny boutique hotel, and Gail's hands are in my hair and on my lower back, pulling me in close before the door to our room is even closed.

How I love how she makes me feel. She knows, somehow, what I need in the moment. When I asked, she just said something good had to come out of all that cop training. I can't like how it treated her, the shit it dragged her through, but without that, we wouldn't be who we are now.

The Gail Peck I have now, the woman who snores in the bed with me, who shoves her cold feet on me, is profoundly different from the woman I met in the woods. She's still sarcastic and bitter and silly and fun. But she thinks a lot more and she's quieter. Some of her died with her brother, and while I miss her being so vibrant all the time, I see the more intellectual.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what Gail would have been like without the parental influence. Is this who she would have been? Without the generations of service and loss, would she still have given herself to the world? Because that's who I fell in love with.

It was when she was shot at that I realized I couldn't hide what I felt about her. This woman who went out and did things because the world needed her, that was who I loved. I loved a martyr who would sacrifice herself. I loved the pelican who pierced her own heart to feed her young.

I could care less how our love manifests. We could have been friends... Well. No not friends. I would have cried myself to sleep if she'd only wanted friendship. But we could have kept living separately while dating. Because with the secure knowledge that I loved her came the trust that she would be there with me.

When I heard her tell Oliver that she didn't want to marry me, but she wanted to be with me forever, my heart exploded. Suddenly there was no question in my mind that she is who I will spend my life with. However she'll have me, in whatever way.

"You're supposed to sleep after mind blowing sex," she yawns. Her eyes are thin slits in the dark, the blue peering up at me with some annoyance.

"I need you," I tell her. Because I can't unpack everything in my head just yet.

Gail smiles at me in slight confusion. She probably wasn't expecting the word need, and I wasn't planning on saying it. But she does that to me. She makes me say things I feel without stopping to think. "Sorry, what?" She props herself up to get a better look at me.

I lean in and kiss her, slowly. The kind of kiss I know warms her. The kiss I know drives her wild. I do the thing with my tongue that she really likes, reminding her that I can do it in another way that will make her cry my name out into the night. "I need you," I tell her, breathlessly. "I need you in my life. I need you with me."

Her eyes have closed at some point, probably when we were kissing, and her smile is soft and slight. It's a smile that even I rarely see. "No ones ever said that to me before," she says quietly.

The idea that no one's ever told her they need her before cuts me to the bone. God the world is stupid. "It's true," I tell her, trying to put all of my sincerity into my voice.

Even though we're never getting married, I can't avoid my parents, who want to know if they'll get grand babies out of us.

That's the question Mom asks me when they come visit and Gail's at the store getting food for dinner. "So have you two thought about babies?"

"Jesus, Mom," I groan.

"You don't have to get married," she insists, giving me a look. "I'd just love to see you two, happy."

"Mom, we are happy." I'm firm. We don't need a baby to be happy, damn it. I don't want one. It's something Gail and I have talked about, and she was iffy on after having her heart torn out over Sophie. As for me, I love kids. All my objections about Gail's adopting Sophie had to do with how she met her. It was too much and it was going to eat her soul. Maybe I was the only person who saw how sensitive and vulnerable Gail was back then. Maybe I'm the only one who sees it now. Either way, I know she can't handle kids. Not after Steve.

We're still arguing about it when Gail gets back with my Dad. "Run, Blondie," he hisses at her. "My wife's got grandmother hands."

But this is Gail, who's faced down serial killers. She's stood up to her own parents, who are far more intimidating than my mother. Cute as a button is how most people describe Mom. Gail cants her head to the side and says, flatly, "We're not having a baby."

There's something about her tone that cuts my mother off cold. She apologizes and we go through dinner as if nothing at all had gone on.

After they go home, after life returns to normal, Gail tells me she doesn't think her heart can take raising a child. Not after everything else. "Some days," she says quietly, scratching Biscuit behind the ears. "Sometimes it takes everything I've got to get up and be us, Holly. To watch you go out, to go out myself, and just do normal things. It scares the hell out of me."

I cross my arms and look at her, Dakota leaning up against my leg until I pet him. "Then we won't," I say simply. Because ... It really is that simple to me. Option one is a life with her, option two is without, and there's no competition. Two is not going to happen.

"I'm sorry I'm all screwed up," she sighs.

She is. She's broken in ways I think may never heal. She's shattered and battered and in pain. Her guilt hangs over her on a good day. The bad days, it envelops her. I really only understand that gaping hole of loss. I miss April every day, and that has never changed in over twenty years. I will never not miss her.

Gail has to carry Steve with her forever. I cannot, I will not ever suggest that it should be any other way. It wasn't her fault he died. Her actions were an attempt to prevent it. She tried. She tried and could have died for it.

Still. I love her damaged soul. It's horrible to say that I love her because she's in pain, but in a way I do. I love her because the strength to go on, to muscle past the agony and heartache, has always been there. She's not a tragic little girl. She's not a sad, lonely, woman. She is amazing and powerful.

I unfold myself and walk over to her, taking her chin in one hand. "Don't be sorry." She blinks at me in confusion. "Don't be sorry for being you, Gail. I love you."

She exhales a puff that might be the word 'oh' and leans, pressing her cheek into my hand. "So now what?"

Now?

We will never have children.

We will never get married.

We won't live in San Francisco forever.

But we will be together.

I smile and take her hands, pulling her up. "Now we see what's next."

And I am content in knowing whatever is next, it's us.