Let Us Give Thanks

Peter stared at his best friend, huddled over the meter and a calculator, and waited. The Ghostbusters were gathered in Spengler's lab, standing in a semi-circle around the physicist as he made his calculations. It was early November, but Peter doubted it was winter's cold which make him shiver. He freely admitted he didn't particularly want to hear the prognosis but knew saying so wouldn't stop Spengler from telling them. More importantly, it wouldn't stop whatever the physicist said from being true. Peter exchanged a brief look with Winston, seeing the same subtle expression of dread on the other man's face. He was about to glance at Ray, hoping the expected enthusiasm and optimism on his other friend's face would bolster his own, when Egon spoke.

"We can't let the spectral energy level build up much higher." His calm voice belied a very serious warning.

"How much is too much?" Peter asked, feeling the trepidation spiral into full-blown denial.

Egon gave him a look, blue eyes dark over the rims of his glasses. "It may already be high enough for Hapesthan's purposes."

The Ghostbusters had spent the morning and afternoon gathering data and doing research. They'd received a warning from a friend of Ray's, a psychic who had had a vision of an entity appearing in New York and destroying everything in sight. The woman had also heard a name which she'd looked up in her copy of Tobin's Guide. An hour later she was standing in front of Ghostbuster Central.

Hapesthan was, as the Ghostbusters quickly learned through their own research, a powerful demi-god who drew on the energy of other demons, spectres, and ghosts to create gateways between worlds. The energy he used was from the target world, not the one of origin, as he reached out and grabbed the energy, using it to propel himself towards the new dimension. According to every reference they could find, he also had a penchant for destroying worlds just for the heck of it. There was no reason to think he would not do the same to theirs.

"So what do we do?" Peter asked.

"We will need to bust the ghosts before he can use them," Egon began to explain, consulting various papers and Tobin's Guide to give his colleagues more information than they were willing to digest. "By removing a large amount of the available spectral energy, we will be able to prevent his creating a portal to our world."

"How many ghosts?" Winston asked, sounding to Peter as if he did not really want to know the answer.

Egon looked up, eyeing the other man. After a moment, he said, "A lot."

As was expected of him, Peter asked for the clarification. "How much is 'a lot', Spengs?"

"The total amount of spectral energy would be twenty four point seven two five--"

"How many ghosts?"

Egon gave Peter a disapproving look; Peter felt like the young Chekov did whenever his Vulcan superior had caught him preferring reality over an exact mathematical figure. Egon answered, "The equivalent of one hundred and five class 4s." He waited for the others to stop groaning. "Fortunately we have three weeks in which to capture them, according to the vision Ms. Kelcki had, as well as my own readings of the semi-annual weakening of the barrier between dimensions. Hapesthan will have to wait until at least November 27 before he can even begin to pull the energy from our ghosts. It will then take him approximately two days to absorb sufficient energy to transfer himself here. That allows us plenty of time."

"Plenty?!" Winston repeated. "That's five ghosts a day! And what if we only find class 3's or 2's? Man, we're gonna be busting our tails off!"

"Yes, but if we can capture a few class 5's or 6's, we'll need fewer ghosts," Ray pointed out helpfully. Peter noticed that the man did not sound discouraged by the thought of so much work lying ahead of them. He wished that just once Ray would grumble like the rest of them. Unhappily, Peter began helping throw out ideas to capture the needed ghosts.

~~~~~

Unfortunately for the Ghostbusters, Hapesthan did not consume or otherwise harm the ghosts whose energy he needed; the energy was merely 'borrowed' and then reflected back to the individual ghosts. Thus the ghosts had no reason to line up on their doorstep to be trapped -- most would not even notice Hapesthan's use of them, nor be more than inconvenienced by the destruction of the physical world. It would be necessary to go out and bust everything they could find. Fortunately they had several jobs lined up for the month, so they had Janine reschedule those jobs for the first two weeks of November.

"That'll give us two to four jobs each day, with classes ranging from 2 to 5." Ray reported, looking over Janine's spreadsheet after she printed it off for them. "If we get 'em all, we'll have about two thirds the number of ghosts we need."

"Then we will need to bust them as quickly as possible, and devise another method of capturing the remaining number of ghosts," Egon replied. "We can't depend on receiving calls to cover the rest."

"Maybe if we ran a special? Offered a 10% discount on all busts before Thanksgiving?" Stantz made his suggestion with a furtive glance over at Peter.

Peter exploded. "Are you nuts? Do you know what will happen? Everyone who already has their appointment scheduled will want the discount, and then we'll get people calling for appointments after Thanksgiving, but will demand the discount anyway because they *called* before Thanksgiving -- not to mention the fact that if we start giving discounts our customers will start *expecting* them -- and furthermore, if we give everyone 10% off we won't be able to pay our bills!"

As Peter wound down his short tirade, he saw that the other four were simply staring at him. He raised an eyebrow, inviting any of them to respond. He ignored Janine when she rolled her eyes and said nothing.

Egon, however, spoke up. "The other option is to bust ghosts for free -- if we sweep the area and trap whatever ghosts we can find, we should be able to reduce the available spectral energy in time."

With a shrug, Peter nodded. "I'd rather do that than let our customers think they can start chopping our prices. It's hard enough to pay the electric bill and our surly underlings some months. I don't want to start any dangerous precedents." He returned Janine's look of outrage with a stuck-out tongue. She reared back her arm to fling a stack of reports at him, but Winston stopped her.

"He's right, though. You know how tight things have been since we had such a slow 3rd quarter. Even if we do offer a discount, we might not get enough jobs and we'd still be left sweeping the city. Might as well do it that way to begin with."

Janine was still glaring. "You better apologise, Dr. V, or I'll have every invoice this month returned 'paid in full'!"

"You do that and you can say goodbye to your Christmas bonus."

"*What* Christmas bonus? If you ever *gave* me--"

"Fun's fun, Janine," Peter interrupted. "But we have work to do, don't we guys?" He looked over to see his friends all watching the two of them, nearly identical looks of amusement on their faces. "What?"

"Very well, if you are through antagonising our secretary," Egon said. Receiving a raspberry from Peter, he continued, "We should be on our way."

With that the Ghostbusters headed for Ecto-I, assignment sheets in hand.

That kept them busy with two or three jobs a day, busting small but numerous ghosts. Egon kept a running tally of the amount of spectral energy still available, giving the others the update every time they hit the containment unit. By the fifth day Winston was threatening to take Egon's calculator away from him. They worked all day long, falling into cartons of take-out then falling onto their respective beds late each night, only to wake up early and start all over again. On the sixth day Winston made them take half the day off, catching up on lost sleep and meals. Egon protested the first time, but Peter and Janine both sided with Zeddmore and over-ruled the physicist.

By the end of the second week they had cleared their calendar for the remainder of the month and began sweeping the city. They used the PKE meters like divining rods, tracking down and busting ghosts that hadn't been previously reported. These busts took longer because Peter and Ray insisted on researching each ghost's predicament to ensure they didn't bust something that was better left alone. Family ghosts, good spirits, and spectres trying to wrap-up business so they could proceed to the other side all fit into that category.

~~~~~

"I've got one, Stantz," Peter called into the radio. "In the alley behind Moritz'."

"On my way." The other Ghostbuster sounded as tired as Peter felt.

Peter thought fondly of the days of all-nighters in college, partying all weekend and studying all night during the weeks leading up to finals. Somehow they had never made him this tired. He kept his eye on the ghost he'd located -- a tall, thin, wispy wraith. It was a class four which he and Ray were tracking alone while Egon and Winston busted another ghost, one block down. They'd already talked to that ghost and when the conversation kept degenerating into dodging trash can lids, the Ghostbusters had opted to trap now and ask questions later -- if at all. It had just been a class 3, sufficiently harmless to allow Ray and Peter to follow the second ghost.

Peter watched the ghost now, floating beside a graffiti-laden wall. Its attention was focused on Peter knew-not-what, but as soon as Stantz arrived to back him up, he'd get to try to find out. As soon as he finished thinking it, his partner came around the corner.

"Fantastic! A fully formed, free-floating apparition! Let me get some readings."

"Hurry up, and let me get this over with," Peter agreed. He'd been doing most of the talking with the ghosts they'd encountered and was willing to take a few more minutes before doing it again. Winston had 'interviewed' some ghosts, proving to be nearly as insightful as the psychologist when it came to determining the nature of the beast. But Venkman shouldered the bulk of it, as he did all the talking with those who needed help discorporating. He suspected it was why he felt more exhausted than he'd expected. Thinking was hard work.

Ray held his PKE meter out, recording quickly. The ghost took no notice, floating more or less in place. Finally Ray gave Peter a thumbs up. Peter holstered his thrower and stepped forward. "Excuse me..."

There was no response. Peter cleared his throat and spoke a bit louder. "Excuse me, my name is Peter. Uh..." When the ghost failed to respond he asked, "Mr. Ghost?"

At first there was still no response, then slowly its head turned. It looked down at Peter, and he could see the slight frown on the creature's almost-human face. He felt chills, and steadied his hand to grab his thrower. It slowly opened its mouth, revealing an empty black hole. Peter felt as if his hair were standing on end.

"Ms."

He blinked. Then he smiled. "Oh! I beg your pardon. I didn't see-- that is, it's so hard for the living to tell, you know?"

She regarded him for a moment and Peter was glad Ray was standing by. Then she smiled at him and he saw the traces of the woman's face. "No offense taken."

When she said nothing more Peter took the initiative. "I wonder, ma'am, if you could do us a favor?"

"What would that be?"

Peter had a feeling she was amused, as if he were trying out his charms on his grandmother's friend, who was old and wise enough to have heard any smooth comment he could throw at her a dozen times before. Better that then insulting her, he decided, and continued charming her. "Have you ever heard of a guy called Hapesthan?"

Her eyes narrowed and Peter felt a touch of fear. "I do not associate with demons."

"Oh, I never meant to say you did! It's just that, well, he's heading our way and we thought you might like to go someplace safe. Out of reach as it were."

"And if I do not you will take me?"

"No! No, ma'am, we only bust dangerous ghosts. We don't bother those who... uh... just what exactly are you doing, anyway?"

Peter was relieved when she smiled. "I am studying the art of your youth. I find it quite fascinating how they reveal their inner thoughts and feelings in just a few words and symbols." She turned slightly to face the wall again. "There is so much here, not just the anger and fear one sees on the surface, but hope and beauty as well." Floating upwards, she indicated one large piece of graffiti. "You can see the desperation in this one, trying to share his message with everyone before it is too late." She floated back down, regarding them with solemn eyes. "The boy who painted it died a year ago. Killed by gunfire on that street." She pointed at the one they'd followed to find her.

When she fell silent Peter wondered what, if anything, he should say. Behind him Ray spoke up. "Does he still paint?"

Her smile grew. "Yes, he does." Suddenly she began to fade. "I will go home for a bit, until this demon has lost interest in this world. And I will tell Devin you saw his work." Then she was gone.

For several minutes Peter and Ray simply stared. Then Peter shook his head, feeling the exhaustion hit him again like a sledgehammer. He looked over at his partner. "We better go check on Egon and Winston."

"Yeah... you know, she's right. There's a lot more in this graffiti than you might think at first." Ray was staring up at the wall, much the same expression of wonder on his face as there had been on the lady ghost's.

Peter smiled and shook his head, then tugged at the other man's sleeve. "Come on, Tex. We can appreciate the art of today's youth some other time." A yawn grabbed him, and he added, "I wanna appreciate my bed, and all the wonderful things I can be doing on it." Ray gave him a quick grin, and Peter shook his head. "I wish I meant it that way. All I wanna do is sleep."

They headed out of the alley to find their friends in time to take the last of the full traps back to the firehouse. The rest of the week was much the same, a mix of friendly and unfriendly spectres, busts both easy and difficult. Some of the friendly ones listened and some did or could not; the Ghostbusters refused to bust them simply because they wouldn't cooperate. Egon kept a list of their locations, however, in case it became necessary to remove them to prevent Hapesthan's arrival.

Three days before the deadline, exhausted and still running close to the limit of dangerous levels of spectral energy, they lucked out. Winston opened the door one morning to find a queue of ghosts. He calmly closed the door and fetched the others. Thus fortified and armed, he re-opened the door. It turned out that several of the ghosts they'd left unbusted had spread the word; those that could not disperse on their own volunteered to be temporarily trapped in a separate containment unit until the danger had passed. Ray and Peter quickly set up the miniature portable unit, then stepped back to let the ghosts inside.

That put the spectral energy at just below the level necessary to allow Hapesthan's crossover. Egon hesitantly but firmly suggested a safety margin of 10% to allow for error, which translated into continuing to bust ghosts for the remaining three days. They all agreed it was better to work hard now than to risk Hapesthan arriving later. Peter complained, as he had all along, but he worked just as hard as the rest.

~~~~~

Peter slumped onto his desk, gazing around wearily. He thought it might be Wednesday, but he couldn't be certain. The calendar on his desk was still open to November 4. He wondered if the calendar on Janine's desk would be current, then he wondered if standing up and walking over to her desk to find out was worth it.

He dropped his head to the desktop. Definitely not. If today was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, then he could take a nap. If it wasn't... then he'd take a nap anyway and let one of his friends wake him for the next bust. He scooted back in his chair a little, easing the angle of his neck until he was almost...

"Peter! Are you down here?"

Peter found himself staring at the wooden divider between his office and Janine's. Blinking, his brain floated lazily in limbo. Ray had yelled for him. Why was Ray yelling such a silly question? Where else would he be? "What?" He called back.

Ray's footsteps came pounding down the stairs; soon afterwards Ray poked his head into Peter's office. "Peter? Are you doing the paperwork?" Ray sounded truly astounded.

"What paperwork?" Peter looked down on his desk. Lots of papers, but he didn't remember anything he was supposed to be doing with them.

"The invoices from this month's jobs. You're not doing them, are you? I didn't think you would..." Ray had come all the way in, and was smiling down at Peter. "You usually start the holidays a day early even when we haven't been working this hard. Can I borrow your green duffel bag? I promised Aunt Lois I'd bring her some things and my luggage isn't big enough for it all."

"Huh? Sure, I guess." Trying to remember what Aunt Lois had to do with the invoices, Peter opted for the simpler part of the conversation. "If you can find it."

"I already did." Ray gave him a careful look. "Peter, why don't you go upstairs and get some sleep? You look exhausted."

"I'm not the only one, Tex." Peter eyed his friend right back, noting the same lines of exhaustion he could feel on his own face.

The other man shrugged, and smiled. "I don't have time before we leave; besides, I can get a nap on the bus."

Peter tried to remember who 'we' was, then once again decided to opt for the part that made sense. He pushed himself away from his desk. "Bed sounds like a great idea." Weaving slightly, he navigated his desk, Ray, and the filing cabinets. Ray followed him as they slowly climbed the stairs. Peter thought about how good the mattress would feel when he finally lay down on it. He could feel huge chunks of his body already falling asleep at the mere thought of lying down. Halfway up, he stopped and watched in disbelief as Ray bounded up the stairs past him.

The other man called as he went, "Egon! We gotta get going!"

Peter pushed himself up the remaining stairs, not thinking about where his friend was getting the energy to move so fast. He'd have blamed it on youth, but that would have engendered admitting he himself was no longer that young. Yawning again, Peter headed for the bunkroom, wove past his friends' luggage, and went straight to his bed. The nosedive into the pillow was just as he'd anticipated -- direct, short, and blissful. He barely had time to smile before he fell asleep.

Peter opened his eyes to find the bunkroom almost completely dark. Blinking, he focused on the various shapes around him -- Egon's empty bed, a window, floating ghost, another empty bed, a pile of indescribable lumps on the floor, and a third empty bed. //Everyone must have gone downstairs,// he realized. A growl from his mid-section prompted him to push himself out of bed. Hopefully there would be dinner ready, courtesy of one of his absent housemates.

He found the hallway with difficulty, since he couldn't keep his eyes open. Stumbling, he tried to wake himself up a bit by promising his exhausted body he would head right back to bed after supper. It worked well enough until he found the stairway. Blearily he looked down.

"All right, who put these stairs here?" Peter glared around at the empty air. When no one answered he continued down the stairs. In the kitchen he found no sign of dinner, nor of his friends. "Guess it's up to Dr. Venkman to save the day... or at least the stomach," he remarked to himself in a tone somewhere between resignation and heroics.

He began rummaging through the fridge, hoping for leftovers, when he remembered his conversation with Ray. Ray was gone to his Cousin's for the holidays. Peter grinned -- that meant they must have been successful in keeping the big nasty out of their home dimension, else Stantz would never have left. The last few days were a blur so he couldn't be certain -- but he knew if the guys were out busting ghosts, they'd have dragged him along with them. Ray had gone to visit Sam and Aunt Lois, though, so it must be over.

For that matter, he realized, Egon was gone too. The physicist's mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other assorted Spenglers were having a large family gathering somewhere up north. Or was it west? He couldn't remember which relative had volunteered to host the event. He did have a vague recollection that both men would be gone until the following Tuesday, taking advantage of the cleared calendar to extend their vacations through the end of the month.

"Aha!" Peter saw a foil wrapped object which was suspiciously wedge shaped. Had to be pizza. How it had escaped Slimer's notice he didn't know, and wasn't going to ask. He grabbed it and a soda and headed for the table. He'd accounted for two of his missing cohorts. So where was Winston, then? Peter racked his brain as he unwrapped what turned out to be three slices of leftover pizza. For a brief moment he wondered how old it was, then he decided he didn't care and began eating. //Not bad. Couldn't be more than four days old.// He couldn't remember when they'd ordered it -- but in truth, all he *could* remember of the last several days was chasing ghosts and collapsing into bed. For all he knew, he had been the one to place the order. He tasted the green pepper and spit it out. Ray had ordered it.

"Well, Venkman, there'll be nothing but rest, sleep, and more rest for the next week!" Peter leaned back, enjoying the thought of having nothing to do and lots of time to do it in. He finished the first slice and began the second, and found his brain slowly beginning to percolate. Winston had told him, way back at the beginning of the month, that he would be spending the long weekend with his parents and a brother's family. Peter felt relieved at finally remembering where his buddies were. He'd hate to think some nasty spook had crept in while he slept and stolen them away.

For a moment he paused, uncertain, then shook his head, laughing at himself. He had seen Ray leaving, alive and well, just a few... however long ago it was. He glanced at the oven clock. 10 p.m. Now, if only he knew what time he'd gone to bed he'd know how long ago Ray'd left. Looking back down, he realized he'd finished the third slice of pizza. Checking carefully, he decided that any more food could wait until breakfast -- right now all he wanted was more sleep. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving, and he could eat all he...

Peter froze. Candace. He'd meant to get himself invited over to her place for Thanksgiving. When they'd talked about it in October she'd seemed very happy at the idea -- her parents and sister were supposed to be visiting and Peter got the impression she wanted to show him off. But that had been a month ago, and he realized that he hadn't even spoken to her since. For a moment he sat still, feeling the guilt begin to creep in. As far as he could tell he hadn't even *thought* about her in a month. He jumped up and ran down to his office. Janine had been leaving messages on his desk, hopefully there would be one from Candace.

Snapping the desklamp on, he found a pile of papers there: a jumble of invoices, bills, memos, and whatnots that looked as if someone had simply dumped them then run away. He began sifting through the stack, pulling out all the pink phone message memos and scanning them. One after another he scanned and tossed back onto the pile, until finally he found one with Candace's name on it. The date was three days ago -- dinner had been moved to her sister's place in Baltimore. "Call me by Wednesday morning if you want to drive down with me." Peter groaned, crumpling the message.

"12 hours! Missed it by a measly 12 hours..." he complained. But at least she'd invited him -- that meant someone, probably Janine, had explained they were working and that he wasn't ignoring her. He'd lost a few girlfriends that way, who didn't understand or appreciate the odd working hours of a Ghostbuster. It looked like he'd have to be nice to Janine and actually give her the bonus he always threatened to withhold.

From the tone of the message it appeared Candace was not irrevocably displeased with him. Of course, now that he was missing Thanksgiving with her family that might no longer be the case. Unfortunately there was nothing to be done about it. He had no way of getting ahold of her at her sister's to drive down tomorrow morning even if he'd had a car to drive down in. Peter frowned. So now what? He stared around him at the dark office, illuminated only by the circle of light from his lamp. It was cold down here.

It wasn't the first time he'd spent a holiday alone. As a kid he'd always spent Thanksgiving with his mother, but once he'd left home he had started spending them by himself. His father had never been around for Thanksgiving, the old man hadn't even seemed aware there was such a holiday. Once he'd hit college, though, he'd usually been invited over to spend the day with his current girlfriend's family, or with one of his friends. For the last several years he had spent each Thanksgiving with one of his friends' family; three years ago the Ghostbusters, including Janine, had hosted the dinner themselves, and the firehouse had been packed full of relatives.

Peter smiled, remembering last year when he'd gone with Ray to spend the day with his Aunt Lois. They'd played a wicked game of scrabble, where every word had ended up either being, or being about, a social taboo. Ray had blushed when his Aunt played her winning word, and they'd all had a great time. Lois had given Peter a standing invitation to attend their holiday gatherings whenever he pleased; he'd been touched by the sincere offer and had intended to take her up on it at least occasionally. He had, how ever, made very sure his friends knew he was spending the holidays with Candace this year -- beautiful, successful, intelligent Candace whom Janine swore was either blind or playing him for a fool. Peter knew otherwise -- Candace was having fun, as was he. Nothing wrong with it, until you were left alone for Thanksgiving.

//No point in worrying about it now.// Peter told himself. It was late and he was exhausted. Tomorrow would be soon enough to figure out what, if anything, he would do. Wadding up the foil, he tossed the aluminum ball into the recycling bin and headed back to his bed firmly putting it all out of his mind. Behind him he heard Slimer digging through the pizza boxes. The disappointed 'aw!' followed him as he headed upstairs. //Maybe we'll order pizza tomorrow,// he thought. //How pitiful can you get? Thanksgiving pizza with a Spud.// Peter made his way back to his bed, telling himself to think only of how nice it would feel to be asleep again. He screamed when he saw his bed -- green slime smeared across his pillow.

"SLIMER!!!" The ghost was nowhere to be found although Peter didn't look any farther than he could see from where he stood in the doorway. "Tomorrow that Spud is toast! He can find his own Thanksgiving dinner..." Seriously annoyed, Peter stared at his bed. No way did he feel like trying to clean the mess up and why should he? Three perfectly good, slime-free beds were available to use. With a grin and a yawn, he walked around to the closest, Egon's, and fell over onto it. With only one turn to roll the blankets over him, Peter closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.

~~~~~

A phone rang late the next morning. "I'll get it!" a young woman's voice cried. A blond teenager dove for the phone at her grandmother's place, hoping that it was a certain young man she'd been seriously put out at being away from for an entire five days. "Hello?" Her face fell. "Hang on... Uncle Egon!! Phone!"

A few moments later the uncle in question came into the den and accepted the phone as well as a stern warning not to tie up the line. He smiled as she left then spoke into the receiver. "Hello?"

"Egon!" Ray's happy voice greeted him. "You made it all right!"

"Yes, Raymond," he said with some surprise. With a slight grimace he added, "If you ignore the band of caterwauling fraternity boys in the rear of the bus." He and Ray had shared a taxi to the bus station. Egon had tried to take advantage of his bus ride to catch up on lost sleep, but the noise had made it difficult. Fortunately he'd arrived at his aunt and uncle's early yesterday and been able to sleep throughout the evening.

"Oh, good. I was worried when I heard the radio this morning about the snowstorm in Snyder county but I guess it missed you, huh?" Ray sounded his usual exuberant self, and Egon could tell his friend was recovering rapidly from the previous three weeks' hard work.

"We traveled through that part of Pennsylvania two hours before the storm hit. My apologies, I should have realized you could not have known and that once you heard the news you would become worried."

"That's OK, Egon, as long as everyone is all right. Aunt Lois and Sam say 'hi'."

"Thank you, please give them my regards. I trust all is well?"

"Oh sure! We're great; Aunt Lois wishes you all could have come with me, she got a deluxe edition of scrabble last month."

Egon laughed. "Perhaps in the spring we can all make a visit. Business always slows down in May, that might be an ideal time."

"Yeah," Ray shared the laugh. "You know how much Peter loves a farm in spring! I still can't believe he didn't want to help with the calving last time."

"Speaking of Peter, I should call him and Winston and Janine as well, to let them know I evaded the storm."

"Good idea, Spengs. Winston's at his folks' place, and Peter... didn't he go to his girlfriend's?"

"Candace Richardson. I suppose I shall have to call directory assistance--"

"I'll call Winston, while you're talking to Janine. Maybe one of them knows her number."

"Perhaps. In that case you and I should speak again before I attempt to locate her phone number by other means."

"Sounds good. Talk to you in a bit, Egon."

Egon dialed Janine's number, knowing that she would be much more worried for his welfare than Winston, should she hear news of the storm. The phone rang twice before she picked up, and the happy tone in her voice told him calling had been a good idea. She hadn't realized his proximity to the blizzard which had struck; in fact it took Egon several attempts to explain the reason for his call and even then he got the feeling she didn't entirely believe him. "It's just so sweet of you to call on Thanksgiving, Egon," came over the line more than once. Finally he managed to remind her that he still needed to phone the others, and she let him go.

Ray hung up then quickly dialed the Zeddmores' number. Winston's mother answered, and after inquiring after his and the other Ghostbusters' health, general well-being, and holiday activities, finally passed the phone to her son.

"Ray my man, what's up?"

"Winston, I called Egon a few moments ago and he's fine -- they made it ahead of the snowstorm which hit last night."

"Oh, I heard about that but I didn't realize it was in the same area he was traveling through. Man, if I'd known I would have been worried!"

"That's what I told him!" Ray laughed. "But everything is OK. He's calling Janine now and then we're going to try and find Peter. Do you know where his girlfriend lives or what her number might be?"

"I don't know a thing, Ray. Sorry. Do you want me to run home and look it up in his little black book?"

"Oh, no! That'd take all afternoon. If Janine doesn't know, we'll call directory assistance."

"OK, then. Give my best to Aunt Lois and Sam, willya?"

"Sure thing, Winston. See you next Tuesday!"

A moment before Egon could dial again, the phone rang. He answered it even as he heard his niece call, "I'll get it!" It was, as he suspected, Ray.

"Winston doesn't know her number, Egon. I guess we better call the operator."

"Actually, Ray, that may not be necessary. According to Janine, Candace went to her sister's place without Peter. Candace called the firehouse and left several messages for Peter, inviting him to accompany her then indicating her willingness to see him again after she returns."

"Huh! I wonder where he is, then? He didn't go with Winston or Winston would have said something. You don't suppose..."

"That he's at home? Yes, Ray, I imagine that is in fact where he is. I will call, however, to verify that."

"Gosh, that'd be awful! He shouldn't have to spend Thanksgiving all alone."

"I am aware of that. Perhaps we can arrange something," Egon replied thoughtfully.

Soon there was another phone call, and five rings before Peter's sleepy voice answered. "Yeah, Ghostbusters."

"Peter? I didn't mean to wake you."

"Egon? What... what's wrong?"

"Nothing, that's why I was calling," Egon spoke quickly to assuage the note of alarm that had appeared. "There was a snowstorm in central Pennsylvania last night as I was traveling to Aunt Rose's, however it missed us by approximately two hours. I thought you might have seen the news and become worried."

"Oh. No, I've been unconscious since we got home yesterday. Well, I think I went downstairs for some pizza, but-- no, Slimer! Get off me, I don't have any pizza! Anyway, I didn't see the news. Glad you missed it, though."

"Indeed." Egon didn't have to think about it to understand the situation -- clear as crystal by the tone of his best friend's voice. He refrained from mentioning it as Peter asked about his mom, and Egon told him about her latest adventures while he considered the matter. Peter sounded pleased to hear from him, if tired, but underneath it was an old, familiar taint of emotion which Egon hadn't heard in a long time.

If it had not been such a long trip he would have offered to bring Peter out to his Aunt's and Uncle's to spend the holidays -- assuming of course Peter would agree, and head down with only a phone call telling him to do so. As much as the psychologist had changed in the last several years, he had not changed that much. He hated to appear as if he needed anything, and showing up to share in Egon's Thanksgiving a day late would make him look -- in Peter's eyes -- pitiful.

If Egon could have gone home and brought him back it would be another matter. Peter had long since lost his ability to out-stubborn Spengler face to face. Long distance, however, Peter could simply hang up on him. Ray, too, was too far out of reach to cajole the man into joining his family for the holidays. Fortunately, Winston was not.

Egon wrapped up the conversation with Peter with only partial reluctance; Peter's hidden depression had almost completely vanished while they talked but he knew it would hit the other man again as soon as they hung up. Spengler hated to end the conversation, but he needed to call Winston, and the sooner the better.

~~~~~

Peter sat on Ray's bed for a moment, staring at the phone. Egon had sounded like he was having a great time. His Uncle Cyrus was being polite, if not actually nice, for a change. He almost wished Spengler hadn't called though; it'd been nice talking to him but now he felt even more alone. He'd managed to get through the morning so far by rolling over and going back to sleep every time he'd opened his eyes. Except for one trip to the bathroom he hadn't stood up *and* opened his eyes until the phone rang.

Now he was awake and faced with the prospect of the day. Slimer had disappeared after Peter had convinced the ghost there was nothing of interest to eat. He thought about it, wondering if there *was* anything to eat. No one had done grocery shopping in days, and what was the chance of anyone delivering take-out today? None. With a groan, he figured he'd better head for a shower. The grocery stores would definitely be open today, at least for a few more hours. He'd grab a few things and whip himself up a Thanksgiving dinner.

Too bad he couldn't cook. He hated the idea of buying frozen dinners -- nothing like being a pitiful bachelor on a good day, he definitely didn't want to see the check-out person's expression when Peter Venkman came through the line on Thanksgiving Day with a Stouffer's frozen dinner, a bag of chips and a six-pack. Peter grumbled to himself as he headed for the bathroom, snagging a clean towel along the way. When had they done laundry? Did they owe Janine a huge bonus or had someone done it in his sleep? He shook his head and turned on the hot water. He didn't want to think about it.

As he stood under the spray he found himself thinking again about dinner. With nowhere to go and no chance of cooking himself a decent meal, what was left? He could always go to a restaurant, couldn't he? Were restaurants open on Thanksgiving? After a few minutes he groaned. He had no idea. He did know, however, that there were shelters where kindhearted people brought food for the homeless and otherwise meal-less.

He'd never told his friends, but several times during his freshman year of college he'd gone to such places. Back then he couldn't afford to eat out, so when the dorm cafeterias were closed on Sundays evenings and holidays and there were no friendly girls to take him under their wing, he'd eat a meal at one of the missions or shelters. It had always been one as far away from campus as he could walk, so that none of the student volunteers would be from Columbia and thus likely to recognize him. One reason he'd been so eager to join a frat his sophomore year was the open-year-round kitchen.

Peter scrubbed his face hard. This was getting him nowhere, except more depressed. He knew there was no way he could go -- his friends would string him up if they ever found out, and his face was well-known enough that someone would be bound to recognize him. He froze. Unless he went as a volunteer. Volunteers got to eat there, too, didn't they? Maybe not first pickings, but that wouldn't matter. Leftovers would still be good and he wouldn't be alone; besides which he'd be helping others instead of staying home, obsessing and being hungry. Quickly Peter rinsed the last of the soap off, and started to smile.

Father Jonathan's mission was just down the street a few blocks. They ran a free meal every holiday and first Saturdays of the month. The Ghostbusters gave a check when they could, and volunteered for media shoots in the summer for the mission's annual fund-raiser. Peter was whistling as he got out of the shower. Father Jonathan would surely let him come help out, and get a meal afterwards.

If anyone asked, he could always say he'd planned it all along and in the midst of their long hours had forgotten to say anything about it. He hurried to get dressed so he could call the mission. The coil of loneliness that had been filling him since last night started to fade as he found some clean -- who *had* done laundry? -- clothes. He threw on a respectable shirt and some jeans, dug his sneakers out from under his bed and headed downstairs to his office. A quick call to Father Jonathan and everything would be set. He could even get some work done before heading down there, as it was barely eleven and they usually didn't start serving until four.

"I'm sorry; we're delighted that you'd like to help but we have plenty of volunteers this year. Our Senior Singles group has come in, and between them and the college kids we're barely keeping everyone busy as it is. We're even full up for Christmas dinner."

The woman sounded entirely too cheery, Peter thought. He plastered on a smile. "Glad to hear things are going smoothly. Maybe next year."

"Of course! I'll put you on our list. What is your name?"

Peter hung up and stared at the filing cabinets lining one wall of his office. They were, for a change, not covered with stacks of papers waiting to be filed. Janine must have done it while they were out searching for things to bust. It was a good thing, because normally he had to threaten to start piling things in her work area to get her to do the filing. He glanced down; he had to find something to do, and fast, before he started thinking about...

Too late. He spun his chair away from the filing cabinets. What was he supposed to do now? Peter shook his head angrily. It wasn't like he'd never spent the holidays alone before. He'd been spoiled, though, in the last several years, spending Thanksgivings and even Christmases with his friends. So much so that he didn't even have a way to feed himself dinner, now that his previous plans had fallen through. Shoving at the feelings welling up he tried to focus. He had to *do* something. Something so he wouldn't have to feel bereft, feel the way he'd felt years ago, back when he had no one to share the holidays with. It wouldn't be so bad to spend the weekend alone -- he shook his head, knowing he was lying to himself. Not only would he be alone, but he had to find a way to feed himself today. Tomorrow it'd be safe to visit the grocery stores without calling attention to himself. Today...

Maybe there would be an open restaurant. Trying not to think of how morose he really felt, Peter turned around again and faced the pile of work on his desk. This would keep him busy. For a while, anyway. If he concentrated on his work then he wouldn't have to think about anything and the day would go by quickly. He was still feeling tired, so he'd throw in a late afternoon nap. Afterwards he'd run out to grab a bite and maybe with an early night to bed, it'd be Friday and Thanksgiving would be safely over before he'd know it. With a firm scowl, he found a pencil, sharpened it, and began wading through the oldest invoices.

The sound of the main door opening made him look up. A third of the stack was now sitting in the outbox, ready to be shuffled off to Janine's desk. Peter dropped his pencil and walked cautiously around to the edge of the divider -- and stopped when he saw Ecto pulling into the firehouse. For a moment he was delighted to see one of his friends. Then he realized something had to be wrong for Winston to leave his parents' place. Alarmed, he headed over and met the other man as he stepped out of the ambulance.

"Winston? What's wrong?"

His friend gave him a stern glare. "Nothing's wrong, Peter. Not if you don't argue with me."

"Huh?" Peter backed up a step. "Why would I argue with you?"

"Because you *always* argue over something like this."

"Something like what, Winston?" Suspicious, Peter narrowed his eyes.

"What's going on?"

"I'm taking you with me." The tone was casual, but the glare remained in full force.

Suddenly he understood. Frowning, Peter returned the glare. "Spengler called you didn't he? Gave you some sob story about me sitting here all alone on Thanksgiving?"

"Not exactly. He *did* tell me that your plans fell through." The glare suddenly softened, but not, Peter could see, the determination behind it. "You're having dinner with us."

"Winston that's not necessary." Peter had to admit that it sounded better than staying here, working. But he was not about to embarrass himself in front of Winston's family. Stubbornly he said, "You didn't need to drive over to ask, you could have just phoned and saved yourself the trouble."

Peter was startled when the other man laughed once. "Right, Pete. You'd have jumped on the subway and come right over if I'd called, huh?" The tone softened the hard words and Peter found himself not offended. Even if Winston was right to doubt. He wouldn't have gone, but being asked felt nice. Now, though, he was stuck. Winston put a hand on his shoulder. "Peter, there's nothing to worry about. So your plans with Candace fell through. After the month we've had it's a wonder any of us remembered it was Thanksgiving at all. So grab your coat and let's get back. We're missing the football games."

He couldn't quite bring himself to say yes. Peter knew that staying home would be no fun, even if he went up and watched the game himself. But he could imagine the look on Winston's parents' faces, at the poor orphan friend who had nowhere else to go. "I really don't--" It felt awful, saying no. But it was too hard to say yes.

"Don't make me call Egon."

Peter made a face, smiling. "What can he do, huh? Not a thing until he comes back." He felt better joking, pretending it wasn't really true. Winston narrowed his eyes. "You've got a point. But there's still Ma."

"What?" Peter blinked.

"If you don't come back with me, I'll have to tell Ma. You *know* what she'll do -- send me right back here to get you. You think you can out-stubborn her? Man, if I show up without you with me, she'll come down here to get you herself."

"You wouldn't... did you *tell* her I was here by myself?"

"I didn't have to. She talked to Ray, and Egon when they called. She told Egon we'd take good care of you. Said something about fattening you up." He gave Peter a light poke in the ribs.

Peter just stared at his friend in horror. "You told your *mom*?" he repeated, then wailed, "Winston!" There was no escaping it now. Embarrassment or no, if he ducked out of this Doris would show up on the doorstep and drag him back by his ears. She'd threatened to do it once before, when he'd tried to get out of showing up at Easter dinner. She'd been headed out the door when Peter finally convinced her he was on his way, and prayed the whole trip over that the subways wouldn't get delayed. Doris Zeddmore could even out-stubborn Egon. It wouldn't matter how badly he didn't want to go. She'd force him into it regardless.

Somehow, as that realization settled in, that didn't seem nearly so bad. If Doris made him go over for dinner, then it wasn't like he'd *asked* to go, wasn't like he'd had no other plans. He'd be going because to not go would hurt the woman's feelings -- and his ears. Peter suddenly saw his way out. He looked up at Winston.

"Better grab your coat, my man." Winston just smiled.

"I'm gonna get you for this. Spengs and Stantz, too," Peter grumbled, hiding his relief at not being left alone and not having to play the part of the begging orphan. He headed upstairs with Winston following, so Peter kept up his muttered monologue as he found his coat, hat, and gloves. "A guy can't spend a quiet day at home without everyone throwing a fit. I might have made other plans already, did you ever think of that?"

Winston said nothing, just kept a watchful eye on Peter as they went back downstairs and climbed in Ecto. Peter didn't try to read his friend's expression, knowing that he probably knew as well as Peter himself that his agreeing to go was not as forced as he made it sound. He also knew Winston wouldn't force the issue. As they headed out, firehouse locked up tight, Peter glanced over. Now that he was committed to going, he could relax a little and enjoy himself. He ducked his head slightly and said, "Thanks, Winston."

"You're welcome." Winston sounded pleased and Peter smiled. It was good to have friends who would drag you out by the ears, when necessary, and let you pretend you didn't want to go. He sat back in the seat.

"Did your Aunt Bobbie make any pecan pie?"