Harrow Hallways

Peter headed towards the lab, backpack slung over his shoulder and sneakers silent on the floor. He wasn't trying to be particularly unnoticeable -- the quickest way to draw attention to oneself was to act like you wanted not to be seen. But if he were caught, he could easily make it look like he were here for some reason other than his real one.

Peter Venkman, football star and Tri Cuppa Brew man, had a reputation. He was an athlete first, a party animal second, and a serious student somewhere way down on the lower third of the top fifty ways to describe him. He liked that reputation, even if it meant letting the professors think he paid some schmoe with taped glasses to do his homework for him. That rep kept anyone from looking too closely, or caring too much about what Peter really did with his spare time.

Right now, for example, the guys at the frat house thought he'd snuck off to visit some girl. All his current girls either thought he was at his house, or off somewhere with a new girl. Anyone who might have seen Peter walking across campus with a backpack would probably not recognise him with a ballcap down over his eyes, and a sweatshirt with a cartoon rabbit on the front.

It was probably overkill, and paranoia -- but Peter had been paranoid most of his life, and it served him well. It kept him out of trouble much of the time, and when it didn't, it at least got him out of serious trouble once he got caught. Paranoia had kept him out of juvy hall three times, and out of fist fights the rest of the time.

His old man had always said there were ways to solve problems, and ways to avoid them -- and avoiding them left fewer marks on the face. Nobody trusted a guy with scars on his face.

Peter grinned, turning his head to catch his reflection in the glass of a empty classroom's door. His face was completely unmarked, and -- if the girls knew anything at all about such things, which they usually did -- it was a handsome one. A face that encouraged people to trust him, to like him, and to believe him. It had got him out of the house and away from all the people he hung with, two nights a week for the past eleven weeks.

And once he got to where he went those nights -- it got him nowhere.

Peter had enrolled in a graduate level class this semester with the permission of the one professor in the psych department that knew Peter did all his own work. The course was on paranormal psychology -- the effects of things that go bump in the night on the average person's psyche. It covered areas like mythology, psychology, sociology, and even chemistry, when they talked about real world explanations for so-called paranormal circumstances. It was an interesting class, and one that Peter was enjoying immensely.

Immensely, except for his lab partner.

The course had a practical element, which meant the students had to select a case study and either re-create the conditions using scientific techniques to explain why the situation was not paranormal, or attempt to study the conditions and offer evidence that it was. It was intended to simply further their understanding of what the paranormal was, and why people might be willing to claim something freakish had happened. The students had been paired up to work on their experiments, and Peter had been paired with the biggest nerd in the world.

Egon Spengler was exactly the sort of guy Peter and his friends had joked about in high school. He was the sort Peter's friends would attempt to bully into doing their homework -- attempt, but fail, because the nerds tended to be too smart to succumb to the threats. Either that, or they'd do one piece of homework and it would turn out to have secret codes in it telling the teacher it had been done by somebody else.

Peter had loathed the idea of working with Spengler from the moment he'd heard Dr. Morrison say their names together. Spengler at least hadn't seemed totally repulsed by the idea, or else he'd been polite enough to not show it. It had been clear at their first meeting to set up the assignment that Spengler expected to do all the work and have to carry Peter, so Peter had quickly outlined his idea for an experiment, listed the case studies that might be relevant, and mentioned on or two articles on the subject they could reference.

That meant all Spengler had to do was suggest the set-up for the experiment itself.

The first meeting had gone rather smoothly. They'd talked and worked and made plans for future sessions, then split up to go their separate ways with actual friendly words having been spoken between them. It was with the second meeting, and each subsequent one, that made Peter discover he wasn't enjoying his partnership.

The first reason was that Peter had realised that, close up and personal, Spengler was extremely smart, and smelled great. Peter had then spent the entire night after that second study session with Candy, one of his easiest and most energetic girlfriends. After the third study session Peter had gone over to Marsha's dorm room, and stayed with her for an hour.

After the fourth session he knew it wasn't going to do any good, and all he could hope for was to not do or say anything embarrassing. He didn't need Spengler knowing his project partner was a fag -- wouldn't do his reputation as an all-American football jock a bit of good. Not to mention how his frat brothers would react...

The other thing that made working with Spengler such a trial was that he didn't fall for anything Peter said. The face didn't work on him.

Peter had no idea why. He'd tried all the tricks he knew -- jollying Spengler into agreeing to attend a basketball game, to "expand his horizons" which was really just an attempt to make Spengler admit he was only being nice in order to get through the course with an 'A'. Spengler had gone, though, and confessed to not completely hating it.

Peter had tried his 'poor me' routine, to see if Spengler would pay for the pizza they ordered for dinner, and Spengler had paid for it unquestioningly -- but totally unfazed. Peter had known that Spengler thought as little of it as if Peter had asked to borrow his textbook for a day. It wasn't because Spengler was rich -- even though Peter knew he was. It was just that Spengler didn't seem to fall for Peter's routines, and had somehow known this was just another one of them.

It was infuriating, and frustrating, and made Peter dread their study sessions as much as he looked forward to them. Despite how annoying Spengler was, as well as distracting, it was the best part of the semester. Possibly the entire year.

Spengler didn't dumb down his vocabulary to Peter -- when all the other nerds did so, assuming the jock couldn't understand them if they used words of more than three syllables. Most of the time Peter did understand what Spengler was saying, and when he didn't, he didn't feel like a moron for asking what Spengler meant. Spengler didn't treat him like one, either. More than that, Spengler didn't say anything about Peter having a brain, or using it -- or pretending that he didn't.

No matter what Peter did, it seemed, Spengler just shrugged and let it go. Neither believing or disbelieving, and never acting as though anything surprised him. If Peter had thought for a moment he would ever be spending more time with the guy after the semester was over, he would have made plans to try to upset that equilibrium.

But as soon as finals were over, he was probably never going to see him again. Spengler was a physics student, and was only taking the course because of the science element. Peter had just enough hard science on his transcript that he could graduate, and nothing more.

Nothing that would put him into a class with a second year grad student.

Peter sighed to himself, and tried to pull his thoughts onto something else. He was almost at the lab, and he had two hours to look forward to spending with Egon Spengler, regardless of how frustrating and rewarding it was. It wouldn't matter how much Peter tried to make a joke that would make the egghead laugh, or whether Spengler would finally call him on something Peter tried to pull over on him. They'd focus on their work, more or less, and whatever happened Peter knew that he'd enjoy every second of it.

Except for the parts he didn't.

With a grin to himself that he turned into a self-satisfied smirk, so Spengler might ask him what was up, Peter reached the lab and pushed the door open.

He stopped. Spengler glanced up and said, "Ah, Venkman, good. I want to get started on this segment right away--"

"Who's this guy?" Peter asked, staring at the student who looked too fresh and wide-eyed to be a senior, or a grad student.

Spengler looked startled -- perhaps at Peter's tone. Peter didn't care; he wanted to know who the kid was. "This is Raymond Stantz," Spengler explained. "He's a freshman--"

"Actually I'm a sophomore," Stantz interrupted. He immediately looked abashed, but continued, "I tested out of enough hours this is my first semester as a sophomore."

"Great," Peter told him, as sarcastically as he could. "Very nice. What're you doing here?"

Stantz frowned, and glanced at Spengler who didn't seem to notice anything unusual in either of his companion's behaviour. Spengler replied to Peter's question. "He's assisting us with the third section of the experiment. We need a naive test subject, and Raymond has an interest in paranormal studies. Dr. Morrison recommended him to me, when I explained what we wanted to do."

"He did, did he? That's great." Peter leaned against a counter, and folded his arms. He would have shot Spengler a dirty look but he didn't think Spengler would notice -- and he thought Stantz *would*. The kid was grinning and half-bouncing like a kid going to a carnival. Peter wanted to send him on his way.

Spengler *was* right, they needed a test subject, and using one of the actual experimenters was probably a bad idea. But they hadn't talked about what they *were* going to do. Peter hadn't really given it much thought, but he hadn't expected Spengler to just... bring someone in. Without telling him.

"Yes," Spengler said absently, as though not aware of Peter's hostile tone. "If you would come over here and help me set up, we can begin."

Peter blinked at him, with an expression of great surprise. "You want me to do actual work?"

There was a moment of nothing. then Spengler looked up, slowly straightening, and half-turning towards him. He looked slightly confused. "Yes, Peter. Just--"

Peter scowled at the set-up. "Looks complicated." He didn't move away from the counter towards the apparatus they'd set up in the weeks before.

"It is no more or less complicated than it was last Thursday," Spengler said. "I would appreciate some assistance, Peter." There was a slight note of reprimand in his voice.

Peter looked away. "Why do we have to do this tonight? Why do I have to be here, anyway?" he asked casually. He didn't want to hear Spengler's response. He didn't want to be saying these things -- but he had to. Spengler had brought this guy, this total dweeb freshman in, without talking to Peter. The "sophomore" rather, who only knew Peter Venkman as the star quarterback and campus ladies' man.

After tonight Stantz would go back to his dormroom and tell all his little friends he'd actually *talked* to Peter Venkman. Seen him on campus, and helped him with a school project.

He'd tell everyone that the guy was a total jock, a total jerk-off, and only concerned with having a good time, just like everyone expected. Peter didn't want to look over and see what Spengler thought about his sudden change in behaviour. What did he think Peter would do? Let Stantz go back and tell everyone that the great Peter Venkman was a closet egghead?

"Peter, if you would," Spengler began, his voice coloured with forced patience.

"Nah," Peter said lightly. He pushed himself away from the counter, and grabbed the shoulder strap of his backpack. "I think I'm gonna head out. Find Cecily. She invited me over, earlier, but I figured I should stop by and see what was going on in the realm of academia. Looks like you two have things in good hands, though, so I'm outta here."

Peter still didn't meet Spengler's eyes. He glanced towards the apparatus, feeling guilty but squashing the feeling with long practise. He looked at Stantz again, but saw nothing there except what he'd expected to see. Stantz wasn't surprised, nor visibily upset. He was trying to hide an expression of disappointment, which Peter could care less about.

"This thing's gonna take all night, right? This test thing you wanted to do on Raymond?" Peter asked as casually as he could.

"Yes, Peter. It will possibly take two sessions to get an adequate field of data." Spengler's tone was flat, utterly devoid of anything approaching the humour Peter had discovered after weeks of patient trial.

"Great. You don't mind if I skip the next time, too? There's a party at IPG and I was gonna swing by."

There was a second of silence, before Spengler said, "Of course, Peter. Do what you think important."

Even without looking, Peter could feel himself being dismissed. He forced a cheerful, grateful tone. "Great! I'll catch you later!" He turned and headed towards the door. Behind him, he heard Spengler starting to explain the set-up to Raymond. Peter pushed the door open, and stepped into the hallway, letting the door swing slowly closed.

He stepped away from the door, but paused in the hallway. After a moment he could hear Raymond begin asking intelligent, eager questions. Spengler answered them as thoroughly as he'd ever answered Peter's, showing no more and no less emotion than he ever did.

With a firm grip on his backpack, Peter walked away.

~~~~~

Peter didn't go to class the next day. It didn't matter if he skipped class; he could either get lecture notes from somebody, or he could just accept the fact that he wasn't going to know what they'd talked about that day.

It wasn't like anyone but him cared if he got a decent grade in the course. Missing the occasional lecture wasn't going to make or break anything that really counted. Peter spent his time hanging out at the frat house, alternating between shooting the bull with the guys, and sneaking up to his room to read parts of the assigned reading for the class he was skipping. He didn't know what he was going to do about the next class.

Spengler would still be there, and he wouldn't have forgotten what Peter did just three days before. It wasn't likely that he'd decide to just ignore it... and they had another study session scheduled for the following evening after. That was easier to deal with, though; if Stantz was still there, Peter wouldn't be.

He just didn't know how he was going to apologise to Spengler for ditching him. If the guy even cared. Peter told himself, while he was lying on his bed pretending to be pretending to study, that Spengler probably could care less what Peter did. Just because *Peter* spent a good bit of his free time thinking about ways to hang out with Spengler without ruining his reputation, didn't mean that Spengler wanted to hang out with *him*.

He might well have just gone to the game that time out of a sense of scientific curiosity; he certainly hadn't gone to another one. Not that Peter had invited him... though he'd been thinking about inviting him to the next home game. Or maybe a baseball pre-season game, for a little variety.

He didn't figure there was much chance of that happening, now. Even if Spengler had liked him before, and would have wanted to indulge in "crude and neolithic displays of barely restrained ritualised violence", after Peter's own crude display, Spengler would no doubt consider himself well rid of such a jerk. One thing Peter had learned about the guy was that he had high standards. With his schoolwork, with himself, and with the basketball teams and cheerleaders and opera singers -- none had escaped Spengler's sharp eye for quality.

It wasn't until now, when Peter let himself think about the implications of what he'd done, that he realised that Spengler must have approved of Peter to have behaved well towards him.

If Peter was the friend-making kind, he would have said he and Spengler were friends. Or becoming so; most of Peter's acquaintances were "buds" and girlfriends, so he really didn't have much to compare with what he and Spengler had had.

But that mattered as little as the class he was missing. A guy like Spengler wouldn't stand for Peter's rudeness. He'd maybe demand an apology and give Peter another chance -- but Spengler wouldn't understand Peter's problem, and he'd no doubt end up doing something like it again. Peter knew guys like Spengler; they didn't understand anyone's point of view but their own. He'd invited Raymond around once, he'd probably do it again.

Hell, Spengler had probably already told all *his* friends about the jock, Venkman, having a brain. He'd probably sat around the bubbling beakers with his physics pal and spread the dirt on how Peter played up his image and wasn't anything like that, at all.

Peter felt his stomach contract, tightly. He shoved the book off his bed, and told himself it didn't matter. Who listened to a bunch of eggheads, anyway? Of the people on campus who mattered, how many of them even talked to guys like Spengler? His reputation was safe. Probably safe. Even if eggheads started talking about Venkman having a brain, none of the people who hung around peter's circle of acquaintences would believe a word of it.

Rolling over on his bed, Peter grabbed his pillow and buried his head in it. There was nothing to freak out over, he told himself sternly. Things were good. He was on his last semester of his junior year, and his scholarship was still in place for his last year. He was well on track towards getting his bachelor of arts in psychology, and he was still well-received at all the important parties. No one whispered behind his back, no one left notes on his door or stuck in his backpack, no one giggled as he approached only to snub him when he asked what the joke was. He was accepted by all the popular people, and he had it smooth sailing.

What else was there?

Other than not seeing Spengler narrow his eyes at him, and dismiss him without a word.

Peter squeezed his eyes shut. It didn't matter, he repeated, sternly. It didn't matter what an egghead and nerd like Egon Spengler thought. Guys like him didn't care about guys like Peter.

Probably a week after they handed in their project report, Spengler would have forgotten all about him except as 'that guy I had a project with'. This time next year, Spengler would be saying "Venkman who?"

Peter had to choke back a sudden cry. He squeezed his eyes tighter closed, and thumped the mattress with a fist. It doesn't matter, he repeated as loudly as he could inside his head. He didn't *care* what Spengler thought, or didn't think about him. Peter should just be grateful for an excuse to not spend any more extra time with him.

It was easier not to succumb to temptation, alone in his room if he didn't have things to remember, mannerisms to recall. He could forget all about the things he wanted to pretend he could ever do, and get back into the swing of how things were supposed to be. Peter Venkman was supposed to be concerned only with football, parties, girls, and not flunking out -- in that order. Not blonde physics nerds.

He felt the pit of his stomach fall.

"Hey, Venkman!" Tony called through his door, banging on it at the same time.

Peter sat up fast, wiping and rubbing his face and composing himself in seconds. "Yeah?" There was no sign of anything in his voice. Just normal, unworried Peter Venkman.

"There's a guy here. Says he wants to talk to you."

If his stomach hadn't already been squeezed flat and bottomless, this would have made it worse. As it was, Peter tensed as he called back, "Yeah? So where is he?" It might have been someone from another frat. One of his teammates, third-string and unknown by Peter's frat brothers. A random kid selling magazine subscriptions, or even someone here to tell him his old man needed bailing out again.

"Downstairs, geez. Where do you think?"

Peter heard Tony walking away, and he stood up slowly. It was Spengler. No doubt about it. He took a couple of deep breaths, before heading towards the door. There was no sign on his face of what he was feeling, that he knew.

No one would be able to tell that he knew that Spengler's being here was just going to cement the end of things. Even if he would forgive Peter's being a jerk before, in front of Raymond, there was going to be no forgiving what Peter would have to do in front of his frat brothers. Not that he would insult Spengler or treat him like a nerd, but he couldn't exactly be friendly. Polite would be pushing it, in front of his brothers.

Peter hurried down the stairs, wanting to get this over with. He felt as though he'd left his insides back upstairs, when he finally descended into the common room and found Spengler standing there. He hesitated, trying hard to keep his expression calm, before walking into the room and giving Spengler a carefree smile.

"Spengler, what's up?" He kept his tone neutral.

Spengler turned and gave him a calm, quiet look. "I need you to sign off on the report," he said.

"Huh?"

"The report for "our" project. You have to sign it." Spengler kept giving him that look, the one that might almost have been a frosty stare if there had been any emotion in it.

Peter swallowed. "Yeah, sure. You need me to do it now?"

Spengler nodded. He pulled his briefcase out and opened it, dug through it for a moment then frowned. "I've left it in the lab," he said absently. Then he looked up at Peter. "Come on, this won't take long."

"You want to go *now*?" Peter couldn't believe it. Spengler wanted to drag him across campus to sign a piece of paper Peter wasn't sure really had to be signed -- and if it did, shouldn't that be done when the report was finished? Spengler hadn't completely finished the project in one day, had he?

Had he? Had Peter just been slowing him down? He'd thought he and Spengler well enough matched on the project, though in the different areas of their expertise. But if Spengler had done it all without him, so quickly...

He swallowed again, and gave Spengler a sharp nod. "Fine. Let's go."

He headed for the front door, not looking to see if Spengler was following. Of all the things to come of his display yesterday, this hadn't been what he'd expected. To have Spengler write him off, yes. But to find out he'd been *impeding* his progress... maybe that Ray guy had helped him. Maybe he was some brilliant kid genius, and had figured out everything Peter had spent three years learning and helped Spengler finish the project last night.

Peter didn't even notice how fast he'd been walking, until halfway down the block Spengler jogged [to catch him?] up, saying, "Peter! Slow down!"

"Why? Don't you want to get this over with as soon as possible?" He didn't look over, afraid he couldn't keep his face from showing anything important.

"There is nothing to sign."

Peter stopped. He turned and stared at Spengler. "Huh?"

"It was all I could think of, to get you out of the fraternity house without... letting making your housemates suspicious."

Peter stared some more. He blinked once, but it didn't help. Spengler was standing there, watching him, and acting like he wasn't at all upset. He wanted to know what was going on, but all he could think to say was "Huh?"

Spengler glanced away, seemingly uncomfortable for a moment, before steeling himself and looking Peter in the eye. "I should apologise for bringing Raymond in, without telling you."

"You... what?" It wasn't much more coherent than 'huh', but it was all Peter could think of. Why was he suddenly at a loss for words, anyhow? His ability to talk through anything was his greatest skill. Now here he was, gaping at Spengler because he'd done something nice after Peter had been a jerk.

"I realised the problem right after you left. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"You're... you're not mad at me? For acting like that?"

Now Spengler looked surprised. "No, Peter, I'm not mad. I understand why you did it. You were afraid Ray would spread information that would be contrary to your reputation." Spengler's face darkened, a little. "I'm not sure why it's so important that everyone believe you're dumber than you are. But it is your decision." Spengler shrugged.

This time the stupefied blinking was a little faster, and Peter felt like he might be able to form a complete question. "You... know?" Perhaps not 'complete'.

Spengler gave him a look that made Peter think maybe he hadn't left his stomach in a bottomless pit in his room, after all. It made him want to reach out and apologise right back, and ask Spengler if he wanted to go get a pizza and beer. Did Spengler drink beer? He couldn't remember.

He didn't, however. Spengler didn't seem to notice the way Peter had had to jerk his hand back in the nick of time, either. He was saying, "Yes, Peter. I know."

There seemed to be something else in Spengler's expression, something that Peter hadn't noticed before. It looked scary. Familiar. "You wanna go grab a pizza?" he asked, knowing no one would notice or care what time he got back.

The expression in Spengler's eyes changed, as he smiled. "I would like that."

Peter grinned. "Great. You can tell me all about whatever you did to poor Stantz, and I can tell you where you went wrong."

Spengler rolled his eyes, but didn't respond. Nor did he protest as Peter took a deep breath, then a major chance and slung a comradely arm over Spengler's shoulders. They talked about the experiment, and Raymond, as they continued walking down the sidewalk.

~~~~~

Three weeks later, things had returned to something Peter might have called normal, if anything in his life were ever such a thing. He didn't mind -- normal was over-rated. But he and Spengler seemed to be doing good, and nothing weird had happened, and they had almost all the data they needed to produce a decent report for their class.

Stantz had been back twice, both instances arranged ahead of time. Once, Peter simply didn't bother to show up, and the other time he hung out making snide remarks and asking what certain doohickeys did while trying to distract Spengler from his work.

He'd discovered that trying to distract Egon was a lot of fun. Spenger put up a very good front, looking like he had absolutely no idea anything was going on outside his focus.

Halfway through the evening, though, Peter had realised that not only was Spengler paying him attention, but he was actively preventing himself from responding to anything that didn't involve imminent destruction of valuable equipment.

Peter hadn't actually tried to destroy anything, but Spengler clearly didn't know how good Peter was with his hands, and hadn't trusted him not to drop whatever he'd been tossing up and down. Once Peter had noticed that, it had become too easy to distract Egon that way and he'd moved on to other things.

All in all, the three hours at the lab while Spengler put Stantz through the tests, had been the most fun of Peter's entire semester -- at least when beer wasn't involved. Afterwards, when Ray had left, Spengler had given Peter a very direct look before informing Peter he could do all the clean up.

Peter hadn't argued, just kept up the steady stream of chatter he'd deluged Spengler and Ray with the entire evening, until he'd got the lab back in shipshape condition. He'd turned around to see a strange look in Spengler's eyes, a look that vanished as soon as Spengler saw he was looking.

Now it was the following day, and Peter had sat in the back of the room for the class lecture. He had his notebook out, but was drawing lines back and forth, slowly, across the page. It didn't bother him -- might even serve as an excuse to ask Spengler if they could grab some lunch while Peter copied Spengler's notes. Peter was only half-listening to the lecture, and half-looking out of the window. He was trying to think of why he couldn't concentrate, and couldn't put his finger on it.

He was pretty good at self-analysis -- too many psych courses using himself as the subject, he figured. But he couldn't pinpoint why he kept just sitting here, thinking about nothing.

He glanced around the room, gave the professor a brief look as if he were actually paying attention, then continued glancing idly around the room. It wasn't that he was bored -- the material was actually interesting, and he'd read the chapters for today so he even had some idea of what they were talking about. But he couldn't concentrate, and he didn't know why.

Normally it wouldn't have bothered him, to daydream in class. Only he wasn't daydreaming. His mind was more or less blank -- window, lines in a notebook, steady drone of the professor's voice. All humming in the front of his mind, but with nothing going on behind them. Peter shifted in his chair and glanced back a bit to look at Spengler.

His stomach did a flip and he flashed back on the look Spengler had given him the previous night. Startled, Peter didn't move. Why in the world was he thinking about that? Spengler looked at him all the time, why would Peter bother remembering any given expression?

True, he liked thinking about how Spengler's face looked when he laughed, how the deep bass of his laughter created warm fuzzy feelings inside Peter's chest. He liked remembering the looks of exasperation, when Peter refused to be logical about something because it was more fun not to give in than to admit he knew Spengler was right. But they were things he thought about at night, when he was alone. Not sitting in the middle of class.

What was so special about that look? Was he giving too much importance to something meaningless, finding excuses for his state of mind when he ought to just chalk it up to lack of sleep? If he'd been losing sleep, then maybe, yeah. He thought back and tried to place it. It was just a look; Spengler had been standing there watching Peter work. When Peter had turned halfway around to set the last piece of equipment back, he'd glanced over and seen it. There'd been a half-frown on Spengler's face, which had vanished quickly. His eyes had been not quite half closed, but... focused down? Not at the floor but -- at Peter's waist? Except Peter had had his back to Spengler which meant--

Peter tried not to choke out loud. Spengler had been staring at his ass?

Nah. Couldn't have been.

Still ignoring the professor's droning monologue, Peter glanced at Spengler again, and caught Spengler looking at him. Peter smiled, and raised an eyebrow, not commuicating anything other than a greeting, but he wanted to see how Spengler reacted. Spengler smiled in return before returning his attention to the professor and his notes -- still smiling.

Peter had a very, very bad feeling. It was one thing to lust after a guy who had no clue. It was another to lust after a guy who stared at your ass when you weren't paying attention.

~~~~~

Peter decided that he was either imagining things, or he wasn't.

In either event there was nothing to do about it -- the only time it was safe to ask a guy if he was checking out your ass was when you'd gone to a club somewhere in The Village where no one knew you and all anyone cared about was if you had a boyfriend who was going to walk in halfway through proceedings and get violent.

That decision didn't make Peter very happy -- but it allowed him to think about meeting Spengler in the lab as scheduled, without turning into a complete tongue-tied moron. Thirty minutes after they met at the lab and proceeded to work on their project, Peter was relieved to note it kept him from acting like a tongue-tied moron in person, as well.

He kept his comments confined to the project, and to class, and managed to not ever look over at Spengler to see if he could catch another one of those looks, to figure out if it really was what he thought it couldn't have been. He did ask if he could borrow Spengler's notes from the last class meeting, which earned him a new look entirely.

Peter tried smiling, hopefully. Spengler shook his head. "You were in class, Venkman."

"Er, yeah? My pencil lead broke and I didn't have a sharpener." Peter didn't know if Spengler was going to buy the lame story -- chances were, he wouldn't. But Peter didn't think he'd bother calling him on it.

Spengler gave him a bit more of the new look. It resembled an expression of disbelief, but Peter didn't get the impression the other man was about to get derisive. But neither was he saying that he would lend Peter the class notes.

Peter tried smiling more expansively. "Come on, Spengs. Just let me copy them? It'll take half an hour, tops."

"I certainly doubt that. My notes are extremely thorough."

Peter raised an eyebrow. "They can't be *that* thorough. Doc Morrison didn't talk for more than an hour."

"*Extremely* thorough." Spengler turned away, returning his attention to the apparatus on the counter.

Peter was disheartened to realise the only comeback he could think of was 'are not'. Maybe it was because Spengler had his back to Peter and was slightly bent over. Peter told himself not to look, so he did. Briefly.

"So does that mean I can borrow them for more than half an hour?" Peter finally asked.

Spengler looked over at him and smiled, but didn't answer.

Peter chalked it up as a winning point, though, and returned to his work. Neither of them said anything more about it, nor about anything unrelated to the experiment for nearly fifteen minutes. It wasn't completely unheard of, but Peter was still surprised when he glanced at the clock and realised he'd been happily working alongside Spengler for so long without pausing to give him a difficult time about something.

Now seemed like a good time to do something about that. He hadn't been able to knock Spengler off his cognitive balance in much too long. Before he could open his mouth, Spengler looked over at him.

The serious expression on his face made Peter clamp his mouth shut.

"Peter," he began, and he sounded awkward and uncertain. Not exactly the discombobulation Peter would have gone for.

"Yeah?" he asked, keeping his tone casual. He couldn't think of anything Spengler would be looking so nervous about -- except maybe for saying he'd spilled the beans about their work together. Peter frowned.

"I wish to ask you a question. Your answer in no way will reflect upon my ability to pursue the completion of this project with you, nor on the quality of my portion of the work. But I feel compelled to ask."

Spengler didn't look away, though Peter figured anyone else would be fidgeting, and staring at the floor right about now.

"Is this about how I got freaked over Stantz being here?"

"No. In fact, it is totally unrelated. I attempted to hold off asking this, as we have only a few more weeks before the end of the semester and the deadline for handing in our project. But I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate, and I suspect I need my question to be answered, in order to concentrate effectively."

Peter didn't even have to tell himself this sounded bad. But he was pretty sure he hadn't done anything -- except tease and harass and distract Spengler while they worked, and that was all in fun. If he was going to ask Peter to knock it off, he would. No big deal. "OK, Spengs. Ask your question."

"Would it be detrimental to our work together if I confessed to finding you extremely... distracting?"

Peter blinked. Then he grinned. "You mean it worked? Man, Egon, you put up a great front! All this time I thought I wasn't getting to you--"

Spengler was shaking his head. "Forgive me, I said that... inaccurately. I-- find you attractive."

Peter blinked again. "You mean you *were* checking out my ass?" As soon as Peter heard the words coming out of his mouth, he groaned. Why did he only ever lose complete control of his mouth and his brain when he was around Spengler?

Spengler was looking abashed. It looked good on him, Peter decided. "I'm sorry, Peter. I--"

"Don't apologise, Spengler. I readily confess I have a great ass. I don't mind."

Spengler frowned. He opened his mouth, but said nothing, and his expression grew confused. "It doesn't bother you?"

Peter shook his head. "Nah. Doesn't bother me." He gave Spengler a grin, hoping it would reassure him that Peter really *didn't* mind. Because he did, he minded very much, but not because he didn't want Spengler liking his ass.

Rather, Spengler looking at his ass made things much more complicated, much more dangerous, and gave Peter one more [another] reason to hope this semester ended soon and without any major catastrophes. It was all well and good to check out a guy's ass. It was also well and good -- and a hell of a lot of fun -- to go out to a club where no one knew you, and find a guy to slam you into a wall and suck you off, or vice versa.

But the twain were not supposed to mix. Liking a guy didn't lead to having sex with him, because that was when the entire campus found out their star quarterback was a fag.

Peter kept his grin in place, and watched as Spengler's confused look melted away. The look that appeared was a good one -- half smile, half already thinking about something complicated and academic. Peter expected Spengler to be back at work in another two seconds, conversation filed away under 'dealt with'.

"You'll understand if I request that you keep this quiet," Spengler asked, in a normal tone. Definitely no lingering trauma here, Peter noted. Their friendship was still on solid ground.

"Yeah, no problem. Mum's the word. Or the flower. You know, I never did get where that phrase comes from."

Spengler was still looking at him. Was he actually going to neglect work, for an extended chat? Wonders would never cease. "If word were to get back to my family," Spengler began.

Peter raised his hand to stop him. "It's OK, Spengler. I get it. I'm not going to tell anyone."

"I know. I just want you to understand why it is as important for me. Many of the professors here know my father and uncle, or colleagues of theirs. It would take nothing for word to get back to them, if I were careless."

Peter nodded, ignoring the irony. "Not a problem," he said seriously. "I get it."

"Excellent. I... was hoping you would understand. Since your need to keep your own reputation is as important to you. I hoped it would... work out this way."

"Yeah, I do. I-- Spengler?" Peter looked at Spengler in surprise, as the other man walked up to him. He was smiling, and looked completely re-assured.

"Do you mind?" Spengler asked, and Peter had no idea what he was talking about. But he was standing very, very close, and Peter wasn't so sure he could maintain his composure. Closer than he had any right to be, without being distracted by his work and paying Peter no attention.

But Peter shook his head, because he'd lost control of it somehow, and he wanted Egon to stay where he was. Or he could move -- closer.

"Excellent," Spengler said again. Peter found himself looking at Spengler's mouth, half-open as he began to smile again. Peter didn't know if he'd be able to move if Spengler suddenly stepped away. It was rapidly approaching a necessity, though. He was too close, much too close... Peter swallowed, and told himself he was in serious trouble.

"Egon--"

"May I?"

He nodded, no clue what he was being asked, but he was completely out of control, here, and if Spengler were the one in charge then it was all his fault. Whatever happened. Even if it was Spengler leaning close and--

Kissing him. Peter whimpered as he felt Egon's lips press against his. The touch was rapidly followed by a slight touch of Egon's body, a hip, a knee, a hand on Peter's arm. Peter wrapped his arms around him, and opened his mouth.

When he broke away, he found he was pressed up against the counter with Spengler leaning into him, smiling like a mischevious sprite. "Uh?" Peter asked him, trying to clear his head.

"I believe I would be willing to lend you my notes. Perhaps... Sunday afternoon? My apartment?"

Peter blinked, and he very slowly smiled. "I should mention I'm a very slow copier."

"I did tell you my notes are quite thorough. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it took all afternoon." Spengler looked almost smug. Or just very, very happy.

Peter didn't blame him. "Sounds like a study date, to me." He returned the smile, and leaned forward to give Egon a quick peck on the lips. Again, someone other than his own brain took control, because it was at least half an hour before either of them moved again.