Title: 'You were my backbone when my body ached with weariness'
Author: Tristian Makhai
Feedback address: tristianmakhai@gmail.com
Date in Calendar: 26 December 2013
Fandom: Rookie Blue
Pairing: Gail Peck/Holly Stewart
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 3,460
Summary: It's no surprise that Gail Peck loves surprises. They just probably shouldn't involve blindfolds.
Spoiler Alert: Back half of Season 3 and Season 4
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DD11

Author's Disclaimer: I make no claim on either the series Rookie Blue nor its characters used in the below text. It remains the property of the people who make it, and the brilliant actresses who have brought the characters to life.

Author's Notes: This is written in 2nd POV, tenses are probably inconsistent, and I've liberally used and abused the rules of grammar in the name of 'style'. It also has not been run through a beta yet, though it will eventually, when I can bribe her to deal with this mess.

Merry Christmas to thejollyape, who is solely and entirely responsible for getting me into this show, fandom, and pairing.

"You were my backbone when
My body ached with weariness
You were my hometown when
My heart was filled with loneliness
Just as the dark was rising
I heard you close the door again
Just as the light turns off
I know who I dream of"

You, My Everything -Ellie Goulding

It's a surprise birthday party, because your friends are ridiculous, childish, and think you'll love something like that. Which is only irritating because they're one hundred percent right. They might be foolish idiots, but you do love surprises. At least you used to, when you were the one holding the surprise and dropping the hammer. These days, your relationship with such things is a little more tenuous.

Surprises you can handle, even enjoy. At least when they don't involve blindfolds, which apparently, your stupid boys think is a *great* idea.

The moment synthetic material slips over your eyes, you freeze. It's knotted firmly before you can even think to tell them 'no' or throw an instinctive elbow into Dov's stomach. Your blood is like ice -not as common an occurrence as others might accuse you of- and your heart trips. Any other time you've heard the phrase, you've rolled your eyes and scoffed, but the description is terrifyingly accurate in that moment. All of a sudden, it's like there's an elephant -always fucking elephants- on your chest. Every second the scarf is on your skin, it -the elephant- pressing that little bit harder, pushing the last wisps of breath from your lungs. Heartbeat exploding into a frenzy of fluttering and seizing, it takes every shred of dignity and strength you have left in your bones to not scream, to not kick and lash out with fists not chained down, to pretend you're only startled.

The hands that fall onto your shoulders are heavy, familiar -Chris- and the squeeze he gives is meant to be reassuring, but it merely gives the terror licking up your spine a destination. They encourage you to walk, steering you through the door down a few steps, and into a car. Like you haven't already tripped down this path once before, like the last time this happened there wasn't a detective bleeding out on the floor of a serial killer's study. You'd scream if your throat hadn't already seized and tightened so much your breath can barely wheeze through. Thankfully, the trip isn't long, but the rock and bump of the car in blindness is still too much, no matter how hard you kick and shove the memories away.

You could speak out. Tell them to stop the car, to get this fucking thing off your head. You could tell them that it's too soon, that it's probably always going to be too soon. But it's not just fear that paralyses your tongue. Stubborn, brash pride and bull-headed dignity keep you silent. Because you don't want them to know how deep the damage seeps. You don't want them to look at you as they used to, only weeks out of the hospital. Like you are going to break into a thousand pieces. The thing they never realised was you couldn't possibly break any more than you already had.

So, you grope blindly at your calm, feel your fingernails scrape at the vestiges of strength, and with more effort than you knew was possible, pull control back. You slather glue over all your broken parts and try to piece together some semblance of togetherness before the car stops. Because you know what this is. It's too close to your birthday to be anything but a poorly disguised surprise. Blindfolds give everything away and your stupid boys are lost with subtlety. You pretend everything is fine, that you're not screaming your throat raw, and your silence is just your usual scowling, sullenness. You pretend the damp on your brow is from the heater Chris has blasting and not a cold sweat, and the quick to your breathing is all barely contained excitement.

The truck stops, doors open, and you're drawing in a huge gulp of air, trying not to choke on it or the bile that wants to claw up your throat. You pretend to stumble getting out of the car to cover the weakness in your knees and cause for hunching over, hands on those very same knees. They're oblivious, of course, excitable and bouncing with glee that their mission is almost accomplished. Then, they're tugging you along, navigating down another couple of slushy, salted steps, and pulling a heavy door open. Beer, bodies, and burning meat make you want to vomit, nearly as much as it provides a welcome distraction.

When they whip off the blindfold and the bar explodes into cheers of birthday wishes, you pretend the swaying is from surprise. That the pale of your skin is from the cold. You pretend for your boys and for the family and friends putting up a god-awful ruckus that everything is all right. You pretend for yourself, because you can't keep falling into this. You can't keep letting the terror of one day -no matter how impossibly long- destroy your life again and again. You pretend because Chris and Dov can't know what their childish prank has just cost you.

You give a brittle smile -you've flashed enough of them to get away with it. You let Chris smother you in his Labrador puppy hug -even let him pick you up and swing you around in circles. You pretend to be disgruntled at such a public display and swing a smack that connects with Dov's shoulder. You accept the hugs from Steve and Traci, the awkwardness that is Nick, dodge the hug McNally almost unleashes upon you in the form of a pounce on principle alone, and the ginger, careful greeting from Chloe. You think you've done a pretty good job of pretending everything is completely fine, that you really were just surprised.

Then, you see Holly; can read the tension in her jaw and the way her hands are shoved deep into her pockets where she stands at Oliver's side. You can read everything in those damn eyes: all of the horror, the anger, and the hurt. Everything you won't let yourself feel Holly is wearing on her sleeve, and you swear the floor will drop out from beneath your feet. Then, Holly has a hold of you in the tightest hug you've ever had. Sweet, fierce Holly who suddenly seems taller, bigger, and more protective than you've ever seen anyone, especially for *you.* Holly, whose skin smells like home and shoulder feels like more safety than you ever knew existed as you bury your face into it. Holly, whose arms gather up all your broken pieces, cradle them carefully, and with each pass of her palm along your spine and sides, seems to rebuild you from the ground up.

One hug won't -can't- fix everything, and everything is not all right. But that's okay, because Holly has you and that's enough. Enough to let you pull back and smile up at your girlfriend, regardless of the trauma wrinkling around your eyes. It's enough for now, even if you know you're going to have to talk later, even if it's going to mean making the call to your shrink sooner than your regular, standing appointment. It's enough to pretend for this night, to lean up and press a grateful kiss to Holly's cheek and then her mouth, because it's your birthday, damn it.

It's enough to shrug off the concern in Traci's eyes at Holly's behaviour and your response, enough to forgive your brother's inquisitive looks and Oliver's always too perceptive gaze. It's enough because it's only been a little over a year and you're going to have triggers for a long time -maybe forever. Because Holly is there. Holly who somehow gets it without having an explanation. She knows some of what happened, but not everything, not all of the details you're never going to be able to forget. It's also not just Holly, but Oliver, who always infuriatingly just *knows*, Traci, who will pull the truth out of you eventually and will know more than almost anyone else in this room. It's all of your fellow Rookies -like you'll ever graduate beyond that title- all of your TO's, and the messy, chaotic family of cops, a witch, several forensics, and anyone else crammed into this dive bar of yours. You might not know everyone here, but you know a whole lot of them, and you're even amazed to realise you can count friends amongst them well into the double digits.

If Holly seems to stick closer to your side than usual though, you pretend not to notice as you do the rounds to greet the people crazy enough to come out on a frigid January night. Her arm is warm and solid where it curls around your shoulder, frequently sliding down to rest on your hip or linger low on your back when you end up moving to different tables throughout the night. Instead, you willingly take advantage of her need to keep you within reaching distance and curl into her side, even though it does provoke a few surprised glances from those who have never witnessed your tactile nature -and extremely indulgent looks from Traci and knowing ones from Dov and Chris. In that moment, with a few shots under your belt, you don't care, not even as your hands spend most of the night wandering along her ribs and tracing her hands when you zone out of current conversations. You don't care, and you're willingly beckoning the distraction Holly always seems to bring with her presence, because today is meant to be a happy day and Holly is the best kind of distraction you've ever discovered.

On any other occasion, you probably wouldn't be quite so candid with your affection for this woman -not that pretty much everyone here who matters doesn't already know about you two- but there is a safety and an assurance in every tangle of your fingers, be it with her own or catching at the hem of her shirt. Holly doesn't make you forget everything else; she puts it all into perspective. You want to be here and now, in this moment and not one from more than a year ago. You join in frequently enough to ensure she's not left carrying the conversations on by herself, even if she is far superior at ones that don't mostly consist of barbs and sarcasm, because it helps.

You dwell too much on the bad, become mired down in all of the horror you've seen and everything that could or has gone wrong. You -despite what some might believe- are a thinker and if you're not careful, you can and will become too stuck in a moment. Which is one of the most amazing things about Holly: she doesn't pull you out of the tar holding your boots captive. She makes you want to fight for something better, causes you to realise you don't have to remain stuck. After Nick, Ford, and everything that has followed in the months leading to now, Holly has given you something different. So, you make the effort. You talk and you laugh, but you also spend a *lot* of time watching her because Holly is always fascinating and utterly gorgeous to watch whether she's being sciencey, dorky, or her incredibly charming self. (Your favourite is the combination of all three.)

If you're completely honest, you spend a lot of time watching this woman both at work and at home. You've spent so much time, in fact, that you've become quite adept at doing so without her being entirely conscious of it. Which is how you catch the harsh glares she occasionally throws towards the boys when she thinks you're distracted. You smile a little into your drink because it's amazing, endearing, and a lot adorable that someone is so protective of you. The boys may've delivered the 'if you hurt her' speech but they're quickly realising they might have more to fear than Holly does on that front.

Your crazy, stupid friends are enough to distract you for now, to let you push aside the storm of before. They're hilarious and insane, but they're also the most ridiculously loving -maybe a little too much so when you consider the collective bed-hopping- people you've ever met. And they make mistakes, especially with each other, but this, you decide as Traci slips into Holly's seat, is what Family really is.

You also pretend to not notice the brief exchange between Holly and Traci before your girlfriend disappears. Traci incites a playful round of verbal Peck rivalry between you and Steve, and you play along, letting her think you don't know she and Holly are trying to make sure you're suitably distracted into also not noticing Dov and Chris' absences too. You pointedly pay no mind of when they reappear, Chris rubbing his jaw and Dov shooting Holly an impressed if slightly terrified look. Holly looks better, a little more settled, when she takes the other seat beside you and steals the drink from your hand. Steve continues on with his story, totally oblivious as your blue, blue eyes narrow in a glare anyone else but your girlfriend would cringe under. Holly simply grins at you over the bottle, a crooked smirk you're sorely tempted to kiss from her mouth.

Traci -amazing friend that she is- cons your brother into getting the next round of drinks, so you let the beer theft slide and watch the couple head towards the bar. Steve stumbles half way there, solidly body-checked by Traci for god knows what. He deserved it, that much you're sure, but from the way she tips her head back and laughs, full and loud, you know he's actually going to take the hit with some amount of grace. It wouldn't have been anything you would've predicted a year ago, but you're glad two people you love and care about so much -yes, even Steve- have found this happiness together. Differences aside, your brother isn't that bad of a guy and he's equal parts terrified and enamoured with Traci, so you can't think of a better match.

It's Holly's arm falling to rest casually on the back of your chair that pulls your attention away from your brother and friend. A memory surfaces from the early days of your relationship as you lean back into the warmth of her arm. You really should've put things together quicker, about Holly and you, especially after the wedding and the way this woman so casually and comfortably slid into your space. No one else had ever really dared the level of familiarity Holly exhibited, and you'd permitted even fewer to do so. Then and now, you responded the same: instead of brushing her arm from your chair or edging way from her nearness, you slide close and lean into her body, promptly forgetting your usual demand of clearly defined space.

Steve and Traci look as though they're going to be some time -in a cop bar, a badge doesn't gain you any quicker service- and you settle even more against Holly. Her fingers are lazy at your side, skirting along the curve of your ribs. You must seem too comfortable to disturb because for what feels like the first time since you arrived at the Penny, everyone's apparently content to leave you two alone. You're definitely not complaining, because as much as you do begrudgingly love your friends and some of your co-workers, time with Holly in which you don't have to share her with others is still a fiercely contested thing. Both of you have demanding jobs with stupid hours, your boys tend toward sulking when you aren't home at least once a week, and Holly's own friends like to see her as well.

"They didn't mean any harm," you finally, quietly say. You're not really sure why you're excusing them when there's a part of you that wants to rage and make everything bleed as much as you hurt. Maybe it's the fact that you do know it wasn't intentional, and the fact that both boys looked as though they'd taken a boot the gut when they came back in. Or maybe it's that you're finally growing. They'll pay -you haven't grown that much- but later.

Holly's eyes are dark, but warm. Always so warm and gorgeous. "They didn't have to mean it to still cause it." Her body turns a little more into yours, facing you as her voice remains low enough to remain between the two of you, but loud enough to be heard over the din of the Penny. "And they've carelessly hurt you enough in the past." She reaches up with the hand not resting on your back, and brushes her fingers through your loose hair. Her expression is unspeakably fond and while there is some amount of worry in those eyes, she watches you not as some fragile thing, but as something precious.

When her fingers trail down your cheek and finally fall away to land on your knee and your eyes follow, positive you'll do something stupid if you let her look at you like that for too long. A faint frown creases at your brow when you see the redness on her knuckles and it's enough to distract you. "You should probably stop beating up my friends though." The comment is absent-minded as you reach out to brush your fingertips over the back of her hand.

Holly shrugs with an easy grin, used to letting you side-step serious conversations in public, especially when the blush on your damn complexion gives you away every time. "They're big boys -okay, Chris is a big boy, Dov, not so much- but they can take a couple hits from a girl." She smiles like she didn't grow up playing neighbourhood hockey with her brothers.

You're laughing before you can catch it, and the look you give her can only be exasperated as you roll your eyes. Sliding your fingers under hers, you lift her hand to your mouth and press a soft kiss to the faintly bruised knuckles. It's as much of a 'thank you' as the actual words would be -maybe more so.

She's watching you again, charmed and with that look you've been seeing a little more each week. It's affection and fondness, a ridiculous amount of amusement you think you should probably be offended by -she laughs at you a *lot*- and something else. Something, you realise, is complete and utter happiness. You have no idea how you ended up here, how you've become the one to make this breath-takingly brilliant and gorgeous woman happy.

Letting her hand drop back to your knee, your own curls around the back of her head to firmly pull her to you. You really should stop manhandling the poor woman, but from the way she kisses you back, pushing her tongue into your mouth and stealing your breath, she mustn't mind too much.

You know you have an audience -you're too hot not to- but you really couldn't care, not with Holly's taste on your tongue and her hands tugging you closer, insistently. It's not until Steve is wolf whistling -ew- and Dov is risking Holly's continued ire -yes, she actually can sustain anger- with his own whooping, you finally pull back. Only a little, and to distractedly flip them the bird. You've only got eyes for her, and apparently it's mutual because she still got that look again, only this time, you know exactly what it is in her eyes.

"I love you too." The words are whispered against her mouth, not because you don't want everyone to know that, yes, you love Holly Stewart. But because these words are meant for her, especially right now. You'll worry about telling everyone later, about how hard you might shout it from the rooftops -you can be kind of ridiculous when you're drunk. But this, here and now, whispered and burdened with more than you can ever hope to say, this is for Holly.

You know you're going to have good days and bad days, but you're also coming to learn you're going to have ones like today: ones that have measures of both and can't be completely written off. There are going to be days when you think you're not going to be able to survive them, and then there will be moments that remind and show you why you push through or simply outlast the shit. You're not going to ever go back to how you were before, but as you find yourself laughing, when your eyes linger on her, when she turns and her mouth curls up into that lopsided smile, you know you don't want to. You'll be glad for the day when you're not quite so easy provoked, but you think you might just survive until that day, as long as Holly keeps looking at you like that.

And especially if she keeps letting you abruptly grab her and kiss her.