Have You Never Been Lonely, Have You Never Been Lied To?

The rain masked the sound of the door opening, and of sneakers squishing inside the firehouse. The entire structure was dark, with the lone exception of the lamp on Janine's desk. It was left on as a nightlight when the Ghostbusters were out late -- whether for work or play. The light barely reached the door; soaked footprints made their way through the outlay of light towards the stairs, leaving tiny pools of water with each step. At the foot of the stairs the figure stopped, then turned quickly towards the desk. The light was switched off, and the squishing footsteps headed back to the stairs.

No one upstairs heard a thing as the figure crept with assurance into the bathroom and began stripping. Sodden clothes were discarded in a heap; two towels were wrapped around a now drier body. The clothes were then scooped up and carried in a third towel; first to the dresser where the two towels were exchanged for sweats, and then downstairs to the basement. Everything was chucked into the washer, towels on top. More towels followed, hiding the clothes beneath and then the warm, dry, and drowsy figure made its way back upstairs.

A quick glance at the clock revealed the time: 3 AM. Not bad for a Thursday morning. The figure crawled into bed, grateful to have completed its homecoming in silence.

Across the room, one eye opened and watched as the figure settled. It continued to watch until the movements stilled and the sound of regular, deep breathing emanated from beneath the blankets. All seemed well this time, so the eye closed again and went back to sleep.

~~~~~

The alarm went off at 6 AM. Peter was able to realise this only because he had been in the middle of a dream involving large grey toads chasing him with pretzel packs -- they had been chasing him down a long bartop, tossing pretzels at him and yelling 'tarp him! tarp him!' One toad had carried a large green tarpaulin, swinging it expertly over its bulbous head. The relief of being awakened by the alarm was soon replaced by dismay as he focused on the clock and saw the time. Adrenaline forbade turning over and returning to sleep, as did the echoes in his head of 'Get the tarp! He's hopping away!'

He looked around the room, seeing his fellow Ghostbusters beginning to move. No one was out of bed, yet, so he took advantage of the toads' effects and leapt out of his own bed, fully awake, and headed for the bathroom. Dibs on the shower were a rarity for him, and not to be squandered. One of the few drawbacks was the impatient glares awaiting him after he finished his long showers. Peter decided not to worry about that this morning, and ducked under the hot stream of water.

One other drawback was discovering that the others had left it to you to make the coffee -- first one downstairs, regardless of whether you wanted a cup. Peter noticed that this morning no one else had ventured out of the bunkroom, much less anywhere near the kitchen. For a brief moment he considered making his Venkman's Specialty Coffee to ensure they'd be awake for their 8 AM appointment. Self-preservation won out, and he prepared a pot with much less caffeine and much more water than the VSC recipe required. No one but he would drink it anymore, although he took great delight in reminding Ray and Egon how much they'd consumed during their years of taking final exams.

With the coffee on its way, Peter headed for the fridge. He was halfway there when he realised the floor was cold; he debated going upstairs for his slippers, or fixing his breakfast now. Breakfast won the toss, and he continued to the fridge.

As always, he had a moment of trepidation when he grabbed the handle. A small part of his psyche expected to see stairs and hear someone calling for 'Zool,' even after all this time. Better than Peoplebusting toads, he told himself, and he opened the fridge. Nothing. He sighed and began cataloguing the contents, searching for suitable breakfast foods. Behind him Slimer came popping into the middle of the table, loud and enthusiastic for his own breakfast.

The first things he saw were the blue tupperware containers which he had never persuaded Egon to mark 'experiment in progress/do not eat.' Other than that, there were bags and containers and boxes of food all waiting to be thrown out. Or cooked. The pizza was the only remotely suitable breakfast food, but the thought of eating it made Peter realise he probably wasn't as hungry as he had previously believed. "Hey, Slimer, catch." He pulled two pieces out of the cardboard box and tossed them, one-handed, in the ghost's direction. Anyone counting slices would assume he'd eaten and the sooner the pizza vanished, the sooner Winston might stop threatening to make someone -- Peter, this month -- clean out the fridge. Slimer caught the slices in mid-air, chomping noisily.

Peter decided to stick with coffee this morning, and, accepting Slimer's thanks off-handedly, poured himself a mug and added half a cup of milk. Maybe slippers would be a good idea, he told himself as he closed the fridge again. His toes would be numb soon if he didn't put them in something warm. Shivering, he realised that winter had snuck up on them about a week early. He distinctly remembered the weather forecaster promising, just two days ago, sunny, warm days for another fortnight before 'ole man winter' descended. He carried his steaming mug upstairs, wincing at the sound of Slimer eating more -- probably the rest of -- the pizza. Apparently no one else would be having breakfast today.

~~~~~

Bernie's Deli was only too glad to sell them a bag of fresh bagels, mitta shmeer for Peter and Winston. Just down the block from Ghostbuster Central, Bernie often provided last-minute breakfast for the Ghostbusters on their way home from a bust. Bernie had even trained them not to bring their gear inside -- especially the full traps. Peter had once spent an evening commiserating with an EMT about the difficulties of simply parking someplace and grabbing a bite to eat while on duty. Said EMT then invited Peter home for some more commiseration, complete with dinner, backrubs, and flannel sheets. That had been during his 'anything in a uniform' season.

He was currently in a 'brunettes with no jealous dogs' phase. He'd begun the month with a simple 'brunettes' focus, but his first date had left him with a confirmed dislike for people who let their dogs up on the furniture... and on guests already sitting on said furniture. He did not, despite his friends' assertions, deliberately select a type to date every month or so in order to achieve the world's record in variety. He wasn't about to explain why he seldom dated the same person more then four or five times; it wasn't for something so capricious. The variety in names and faces helped him hide those partners he wanted to keep a secret from his friends and, as importantly, from the media.

Peter was not enthused about being outed by a slip of the tongue -- no pun intended. He had no faith in his friends' acceptance of what his father had eventually brushed off as an aberrant quirk -- which he had damn well better grow out of. Charlie Venkman had come home one time when Peter was 14 and had decided to grace his son with "The Talk". Peter had listened to his father's attempts to discuss kissing girls in terms appropriate for a young teenager, then when prompted, had asked his questions. The elder Venkman had slapped his son, warning him harshly not to say such things. Peter learned quickly that even if you couldn't bring yourself to be ashamed of what you felt, you had better not let anyone know about it. The next time his father had come home, Peter was dating a girl and the other was apparently forgotten.

Luckily for him he liked women well enough -- one of his cohorts was not so lucky, and had to break off 'cover' dates with much more frequency, and often in rather embarrassing moments. Peter was able to keep up his front without encouraging revealing questions. All he had to do was withstand the opinions of his friends that he was afraid to commit, spent too much time partying, and dumped perfectly nice girls for no good reason. And, of course, occasionally dodge the inevitable "why won't you bring your date home so we can meet her?" His friends always seemed to ask when he was seeing a guy.

This particular morning he was left alone -- they had an appointment with a building contractor to 'de-ghost' a new apartment building and Ray and Egon were going over the plan one more time. The ghosts had been present throughout the construction, but had never bothered anything until the building was completed. Then they moved in, supernatural furniture and all. The contract had called for a building of empty apartments, so the Ghostbusters were called in. They had thirty floors to cover, and while they had rigged a series of traps that would be triggered remotely, all at the same time, they still had to split up to set them all out. Each Ghostbuster had a bag of eight traps, enough for the first seventeen floors. Egon had surmised that, once all thirty two traps were full either the remaining ghosts would get the hint and leave, or turn on them.

Peter didn't say anything about the 'turn on them' portion of Egon's plan. He didn't want to think about being chased by dozens of angry ghosts. He didn't, actually, want to be awake despite a second mug of Bernie's coffee. Last night's date with Mark had been a doozy -- even by his usual standards. Being kicked out of bed at 12 AM hadn't helped matters, nor did the walk from the subway station home. He tried to cover a yawn, glad his companions were all focused on the building in front of them. It looked large. He saw Egon hold out his PKE meter, and glanced over at its readings. Great. It was nearly full.

"Good thing they're mostly class ones and twos. I'd hate to battle it out with something really nasty." Winston said as he donned his proton pack.

"Yes, most of the difficulty will come from their sheer numbers. We won't be able to trap all of them, even with the extra traps we have. Hopefully they won't realise that and they will flee the building on their own." Egon put his meter away.

"What's to stop them from taking up residence someplace else?" Peter asked, fighting another yawn.

"Nothing. But it will be easier to round them up if they are scattered about -- with time to empty the traps between captures."

"Besides," Ray interjected, "They aren't likely to hurt anyone. They're just taking up space, here."

"Like squatters," Winston observed.

"Oh, now I feel better." Peter gave Winston a glare. "Chasing the homeless back onto the streets, one of my favorite things." Winston just shrugged, and then grinned at Peter's continued glare.

"They're not homeless, Peter," Ray slung an arm around Peter's shoulder, having taken his joke at face value -- the value, deep down, that it was. Peter suspected that Ray knew that. "They belong in their own dimension anyway, not here. We're just sending them home."

"Yeah, yeah, okay guys. Let's go serve notice." Peter unholstered his thrower and faced the building.

The four Ghostbusters headed for the occupied apartment building. The day before the workcrew had gone through and removed all the doors, all the Ghostbusters had to do was lay their traps. As they entered, Egon took out his PKE meter again and began making more sweeps, confirming the readings he'd made outside. As they split up, he cautioned them to be careful. Peter watched as his friends headed for the stairwell ahead of him -- Egon had assigned him the bottom five floors. Holding his thrower ready, he waited as the stairwell door closed. An easy job, Peter. Remember that. It's an easy job this time.

He yawned again, and turned to lay the traps out on the first floor. He was glad he hadn't been given the top floors -- the elevators were not in operation. He wouldn't, however, accuse of Egon of making the assignment deliberately. That would imply something Peter didn't want to worry about. Besides, Mark was going to be out of town for the weekend so Peter would probably be home nights for the next four days and thus able to get to sleep at a decent hour.

Except that he would never be able to explain that either. He hadn't spent a entire weekend at home in years -- not counting the times he'd been injured, sick, or recovering from overwork. With a sigh, he thought it over. Couldn't call any of the ladies in his address book -- the only ones interested in a last-minute date with him would be too interested. He didn't want to deal with explaining the difference between 'a weekend' and 'a year' right now. That left one of the other guys in the group -- the group from college, guys interested in men and even more interested in keeping that fact quiet. They'd managed to link up in Peter's Junior year, and had kept in touch -- pun intended -- ever since.

As he laid the first traps out, Peter ran through the group's current status -- every one except himself, Mark, and Davis was paired up. Technically he and Mark were paired right now -- just not for this weekend. He couldn't ask any other the paired guys to surrender a weekend. Breaking up a pairing -- temporary though they were, they switched off every few months -- was considered in bad taste and if he suggested it, he'd get viciously ignored for months. Without anywhere else to turn, he was left with Davis.

Too bad he didn't like Davis. It wasn't just that the man was physically unattractive. He had been in such incredible shape in college that it made his present 'middle age and no exercise' condition even more unappealing. Beyond his appearance, however, was the man's personality. He had no sense of humour and no desire to indulge in other people's humour. When someone tried telling a joke he would frown, and wait impatiently for the nonsense to be over. He also obsessed on what Peter, trained psychologist, felt was inappropriate foci. Sometimes his attention bordered on creepy, like the time he collected all the news articles on kidnapped children in the tri-state area. Davis never explained why he was collecting them, and Peter had never asked. He knew it wasn't for anything illegal or completely psychotic, but it was creepy all the same.

Peter almost wished that Davis would just go ahead and be psycho, or criminal, or stop washing his hair, or something, so he would have an excuse not to consider calling him. But the guy was usually nice enough, generally behaved himself on dates, and worst of all, was incredible in bed. If it was only for a weekend, Peter mused, he could go for it. Better than staying home? Davis, or hanging out at the firehouse dodging questions, but being with his friends?

Maybe not the entire weekend.

Peter finished the bottom two floors, and headed for the third. He could call Davis for Friday and Saturday nights, and spend the other two nights at home. Maybe he'd help Egon de-bug his computerised catalogue of spores, mold, and fungi. Peter laughed at himself -- Davis or spores? What was his world coming to? There shouldn't have been a question about it. Yawning still, he completed the third floor and headed up to the fourth. So far the ghostly residents had done no more than watch him, muttering confusedly amongst themselves.

Peter listened to the guys report over the walkie talkie; thirteen of the seventeen floors were ready. Egon was headed down to the first floor to begin hooking together the main transmitters. He added his 'three down two to go' as he hurried up the stairs. He realised that, with his weekend plans decided upon, he was less distracted. The ghosts were getting no less confused, fortunately, and Peter repeated with more confidence, 'This is an easy job'.

~~~~~

Oddly, it remained an easy job. The traps opened simultaneously and pulled in over half of the ghosts; the remainder took Egon's prediction to heart and vacated the premises. With nothing more than parting jeers and thumb-biting, the ghosts vanished with no further ghostbusting. Peter leaned against Ecto, smiling contentedly. "So, guys... what do we do for an encore?"

"Billing." Egon delivered the reply with his usual aplomb. He and Peter exchanged smiles at the prospect -- Peter because it truly was one of his favorite parts of the job, actually making money, and Egon for reasons Peter never figured out. He suspected Egon merely enjoyed participating in a successful business, but once in a while he would notice that Egon's smile grew deeper when Peter's own delight grew.

Peter ducked into the front seat of Ecto to pull the invoice book from the glove compartment. As he filled out the sheet he heard Egon intercept the building contractor -- their grateful client -- and begin explaining the details of the job. As Peter wrote down 'traps - thirty two used' and began calculating a cost, Egon was calmly informing the man of the sheer number of ghosts dispatched. Ray and Winston were storing said traps in the back of the car and Peter glanced over to see their client staring at the smoking, hissing traps. An easy job, and an easy bill. Peter grinned as he totaled the expenses and signed the invoice. He climbed out of Ecto and headed for Egon, to hand over the bill.

For a moment he just stopped, and watched. Egon was so intent on explaining the intricate and painful details that he didn't notice their client's reaction. Peter realised he could add ten percent to the invoice in his hand and the man wouldn't flinch. Instead he waited, listening as Egon went on, voice deep and measured. Peter loved this part of the job. He waited patiently, twirling the pen in his fingers, until Egon was almost finished. Then he walked over calmly, not interrupting, and handed the invoice and pen to the still-goggling man. The invoice was signed, and each copy appropriately dispatched, before Egon came to the end.

Peter shook the man's hand, patted Egon on the back, "Always a pleasure, come on, Egon, we'd better get those traps emptied."

By the time Peter was able to settle into the front passenger seat for the ride home, he was fighting back more yawns and feeling very good. He wasn't sure why, but instead of wondering about it he leaned against the door and closed his eyes. As he fell asleep he felt a light touch on his head, like a breeze from the open window ruffling his hair.

~~~~~

Late in the afternoon Peter volunteered to make a grocery run. After making a list of all the inedibles already in the kitchen, he let each man, woman, and ghost make his or her additions. This was one chore he was always volunteering for, so no one made more than the usual remarks -- 'Does this mean you're gonna clean the fridge?' being the most prominent. When he had list and petty cash in hand, he left for the market three blocks away.

First thing he did upon arriving was find a working pay phone.

"RGT Consulting, how may I help you?"

Peter smiled; Jenny was always perky and bright, no matter the time of day, attitude of the previous caller, or proximity to payday. "Hi, Jenny. It's Peter." He always felt bad about lying to her and wondered if she would care -- or notice -- if he introduced himself honestly as her boss's occasional boyfriend. He had originally been introduced to her as a 'cousin in a similar line of work' so his calls would be accepted as sometimes personal, sometimes not -- almost always ring through.

"Hello, Peter! It's been a while since we heard from you. How are you doing?"

Why couldn't he ask her out? a voice asked, not for the first time. "I'm fine. How's Justin?"

"He's ornery as always. He thinks I'm mistreating him again; wouldn't let him out to prowl the neighborhood."

"Jenny, how cruel! Next thing you know you'll be making him eat cat food."

She laughed, then asked, "Is this a business call, or are you just concerned about my cat's well-being?"

"Nah, I just wanna talk to Dave. Is he in?"

"Sure, hang on." She transferred him, and Peter felt guilty. She was always so nice, and he felt like scum whenever he had to maintain Davis' cover. That was why he could never ask her out -- too many questions about the man they both knew. Questions he couldn't answer. Get real, Venkman, he scolded himself. What are you going to do, say 'hi I'm a Ghostbuster, I'm famous, and I'm a fag'? Bet that would go over really well.

His self-recriminations were interrupted by Davis' picking up the line. Peter tried very hard to keep the discussion brief. Unfortunately, he also tried to keep his offer from sounding like 'I have no one else to ask, so why don't we get together this weekend?' Davis pounced on the idea and ran with it.

"We could head down to Atlantic City, get a hotel room, have some fun!"

"No, Davis, I can't. I have to stay in town -- we've got jobs lined up." That at least was true.

"Oh, well, one night won't matter. We leave early tonight, we'll get back late tomorrow!"

Peter sighed. "No, Davis. Tomorrow night, and Saturday night only. I have to work tomorrow and Saturday morning. I can't get out of it." He could have turned on the charm and convinced the man that the two nights were his own idea, rather than at Peter's insistence. But he didn't feel up to putting forth the effort -- which made him doubt the wisdom of arranging the dates in the first place. Canceling them now would cause more trouble than he needed. Smoothing over this man's hurt feelings usually led to a promise of a date, anyway.

"Well, if it's work then I suppose I can accept that. But we can make plans for next weekend!"

"Mark will be back in town next weekend... he might want to get together. I think I should keep my plans open."

"Sure, sure, naturally. But call me, okay? Mark'll get bored soon and start chasing after Phil. You don't want to be left alone when that happens."

Peter shivered -- Davis' tone was almost creepy. Almost threatening, if he didn't know that what the other man was saying was true. Mark always went back to chasing after Phil. Peter wished Phil would just say 'yes' or 'no' and put an end to it. As it was, the two men kept everyone else in turmoil. Something else he couldn't fix, and couldn't afford worrying over. "I'll meet you at your place, tomorrow night about 7. Want me to bring some take-out?"

"Not a chance, I'll arrange something. Oh, Peter, I've got a call -- been waiting for Smitty to call me back. Gotta run, but I'm glad you called. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, Davis. See you." Davis had sounded genuinely glad, as if he were lonely and grateful for the offer Peter had extended. It made Peter feel guilty for wishing he didn't have to call the man at all -- lying to Davis and Jenny, all in the same phone call. He hung up the receiver and picked up his shopping bags wondering why he had made a date with a man he didn't want to be with. To avoid telling your friends you have sex with men, replied the voice in his head. Yeah, so if I didn't make a date with Davis, I wouldn't be having sex with a man, would I?

Peter shook his head, and went in to buy groceries. There was something wrong with this picture. Maybe he should just pick up the cute young woman behind the oranges display. Maybe he'd just stay home.

Maybe he'd just get the groceries.

~~~~~

Ray helped him put the groceries away while telling him all about the newest tricks he was teaching Slimer. Peter listened to the stories of failed and semi-successful attempts to play air hockey with a floating spectre, letting Ray make him smile, groan, and shake his head in amasement. Once again he realised he had relaxed -- odd, but he never really noticed being tense until he relaxed.

"When are you heading out, Peter?" Ray suddenly asked.

"Huh?"

"Don't you have a date tonight?"

"No, not tonight. Tomorrow night I'm outta here early, but tonight I'm stuck with you guys." Peter grinned at Ray, surprised to see the look of excitement on his friend's face. "Maybe I'll finally clean the fridge," he continued. Why did the thought of staying home and doing chores make him feel better?

"Great! I'll help. Then we'll be done by 9 for sure."

Glad as he was for the offer of help, Peter gave Ray a look of distrust. "Why do we want to be done by 9?"

"Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is on!"

~~~~~

When Peter finally went to bed at midnight, he felt relaxed, exhausted, and scared. Egon and Winston had joined them on the couch for the movie; Peter had found himself comfortably squished beside Egon. Despite the laughter and comments being made, he'd found himself getting closer and closer to falling asleep. At length, only the realisation that he'd fall over onto his friend enabled him to remain awake. It had felt good, though, spending the evening with the guys, enjoying some silliness and knowing there was nothing that needed doing.

He found himself wishing he could do it again, soon... and often. He even seriously considered -- for a few minutes -- canceling with Davis, so he could stay home. His stomach tightened at the questions he'd be faced with, not only from his friends but also from Davis. What was he doing? What did he want?

Questions which he couldn't ask himself, he would be forced to answer at least silently, before making up a honest-sounding lie. As he lay down on his bed, Peter found himself starting to ask those questions anyway. Forcibly he shut those thoughts down, wrenching his mind onto other, more pleasant topics.

He stared at the ceiling trying to find some. After several minutes he could find nothing to distract himself, nothing to relax and lull himself to sleep -- except one thing. Watching the movie this evening, sitting on the couch, excited voices covering over the television... leaning against the solid warmth of one Egon Spengler. Closing his eyes, Peter remembered the scene, recreating each detail as vividly as he could.

Peter slipped into sleep with a smile on his face and a warmer sensation where the disquieting tightness had been.

~~~~~

The next day Peter spent concentrating on his work. The jobs were not very serious; a matter of chasing down and capturing a few class 3s and 4s infesting the garment district. There were a lot of class 3s and 4s though, and it kept the Ghostbusters busy all day. Peter was glad, when 6 pm rolled around, that he had not had the chance to worry over his date that night. He couldn't figure out what, exactly, the problem was -- he was doing just what he had decided would be the best way to deal with... everything.

He realised that he had never felt this way before, not to this extent at least. As he headed to the bunkroom to get his shower and decent clothes, he tried to remember if dating Davis had ever been a bad choice. That was how he felt, that there was something really wrong, and that going out tonight would be a mistake.

But why? As he showered he listed each possible problem, and the only thing he could come up with was that tomorrow morning he would regret having made the date, that he would have not enjoyed himself at all and would find himself wishing he could avoid both the man, and his friends' inevitable questions. A small voice asked him what questions, what would be so difficult that he couldn't lie his way past them and get himself out of this. Couldn't he not go out, and still not tell his friends why?

Resting his head against the slick tile, Peter knew he couldn't do that. He hated lying to his friends, even when he had to. But if they asked him direct questions, he couldn't lie. Egon at least would see through whatever he tried to pass off as true, and if the matter was serious, he'd call Peter on it. He always did. Usually waiting until they could get away, where Peter wouldn't feel as if he were being asked to reveal his secrets to anyone. Then Egon would calmly and tenaciously demand the truth.

A seemingly harmless question about Peter's dating habits -- especially now that he had admitted to having plans this weekend, would eventually lead to an admission he would give anything not to make. Somehow he'd end up telling Egon the truth -- the real, entire truth -- and the reaction to that was worth anything to avoid.

So spending two nights with Davis was really not that bad. Peter finished his shower, feeling a lump in his stomach that told him any other time, if there had been anything else at stake, he would have rethought his decision and chosen to stay home. But trepidation or no, with these circumstances this was the right choice. He didn't, however, have to pretend to like it.

Not until he saw Davis, that is. No point in hurting the other man's feelings.

~~~~~

His smile was on by the time he met Davis at the other man's apartment. Pushing his doubts away, Peter focused on the reasons he was here -- a take out dinner from one of the better Greek restaurants in the city, predictable and therefore safe conversation, and lots of energetic sex. As dates went, he could have asked for a lot worse.

Davis was all smiles, although Peter suspected his were genuine. Davis didn't have it in him to fake pleasure -- it would have never occured to him. What Peter didn't know was whether Davis would be truly offended if he realised the extent of Peter's feelings. He'd be hurt, naturally, hence Peter's pasted smile. Would he, however, care if he knew Peter was lying when he said he was glad to be there? Peter put it out of his mind as Davis reached for him; the first kiss was deep and spoke of hundreds of previous affairs. Each knew what the other enjoyed; Davis pressed his tongue in all the usual places, Peter pressed his hips against the other man's groin. The actions were so familiar Peter felt as if they'd been handed a script.

He knew when Davis would break of the embrace and begin to undress them -- he knew he would just stand still, letting the other man do all the work. Davis would lead them to the couch for the first session, later they would be in his bed. As Davis' hands ran up his body, naked and lying on the soft, plush couch, Peter looked around. The room didn't seem to have changed at all in the last few months.

His attention went back to the man positioned above him in a classic -- typical -- sixty-nine. He wondered briefly if they shouldn't be reversed, Peter on top as he weighed nearly fifty pounds less. No point in suggesting it, though, Davis' desire for assertion made him an unrelenting top no matter what he and his lover were doing. Peter felt Davis' mouth closing on him, and reached for Davis' own already firm erection. Unconcerned about his own current lack -- Davis was used to Peter being slow to arouse and would simply continue to suck at him until he was hard.

Peter moved his own tongue slowly, giving Davis the pleasure he enjoyed without rushing him. They would come together the first time, sucking each other off in varied rhythms and then collapse, sweaty and panting, Davis sliding thoughtfully onto his side on the carpet. It required no finesse, no more than a series of touches; Peter alternated between hard swipes with his tongue and gentle sucking until had him ready. As his body was prepared he found it easier to focus on the man with him. It became easier to lose himself in the arousal building inside, tremors throughout his body allowing him to shut of parts of his mind still concerned with important matters.

He heard Davis' breath shuddering deep in the man's chest; the weight of his body pressing down on him suddenly as he lost, briefly, his balance. Peter grinned and poked him in the ribs.

"Get off!"

"I'm trying, Peter, if you wouldn't quit on me halfway." Davis glanced down, smiling, eyes twinkling. Peter paused, uncertain at seeing the other man's enjoyment drawn so clearly. Davis was really into this, he realised. It was unfortunate Peter was not. He waited until Davis turned, returning to Peter's half-erection, and determined that he would, at least, give Davis everything he could. He'd done this often enough, with Davis and others, that he knew all the tricks of a successful blowjob. He wriggled one hand free, and began again with more concentrated attention. Soon he had Davis threatening to lose his balance again, and Peter felt better about his evening.

~~~~~

The next morning Peter dragged himself to his own bed. Davis had invited him to stay through till breakfast -- though Peter insisted on being gone by 5 a.m. Just after 1 a.m. Davis had wrapped himself around Peter and snuggled in to sleep. It had been a long time since anyone with whom Peter shared a bed wanted to share it for the entire night. It made Peter feel worse; for a brief moment, when he'd realised what Davis was asking him to do, he'd felt warm, and happy. He'd closed his eyes and relaxed into the other man's embrace, wanting to say 'thank you' and 'do you mean it?' and even 'why?' When he realised where he was and who was making him feel this way -- content and cared for -- then his stomach had knotted and he'd wanted to run.

Now home, pulling the blankets over his head, Peter settled in for a short nap before getting back up for work. He was nicely tired and appreciated the dreamless sleep Davis had given him, but now he feeling confused. Nothing had changed, so why was it suddenly hard to do this? Why was dating someone safe, someone who wouldn't tell and wouldn't make unreasonable demands, suddenly making him feel scared and disgusted? Why was the thought of spending the night with a man who was -- as he freely admitted -- great in bed, and now apparently also romantic and affectionate, bothering him so much? Davis had been full of gentle touches and kisses afterwards, feeding him dinner and offering promises of more splendid things for the second night. He had even stopped pushing the idea of their going away for a day or two for a "romantic" interlude, when he saw how bothered Peter was by the suggestion.

Shouldn't that be making it easier? Shouldn't he be glad to be with someone like this? Forgetting the personality traits that made Peter glad he would never fall in love with the man; as someone to spend time with when necessary -- shouldn't he be happy? Satisfied? Anything but dreading seeing him again? Anything but wishing Davis was someone else?

Didn't need to go there. Peter dug his head further into his pillow. He'd accepted that problem a long time ago and it wasn't part of his problem now. It wasn't anything new, anyway, so it wasn't -- couldn't be -- why he was reacting so badly now. With a groan, he found a recalcitrant part of his mind wandering away, wishing that there was someone else, heading towards those forbidden thoughts of 'what if he loved me too'. So little point in daydreaming about it now, so little help in finding out how to make tonight easier. Why did this have to be so difficult?

Maybe he should just talk to-- Peter stopped. Talk to? Talk to whom? he chided himself. Who would be able to listen to his problems without finding out what he or she shouldn't? None of the other Ghostbusters could hear about this -- that was the whole point. But the men who knew his secret, who might have even been expected to understand, were not friends he could trust. It seemed ironic, that the ones who were trusted with this part of his life could not be trusted with any other. Peter had no doubts that it was mutual fear that led the men to trust each other -- fear of being outed made them depend on each other not to tell. That trust and fear led to a limited sort friendship, strengthened somewhat by years spent getting together as pairs and, nearly every month, as a group. But none were real friends, like Egon, Ray, or Winston. Peter couldn't tell any of them anything more serious than "work was rough today" and "don't you hate dealing with idiots?" They debated serious issues frequently, from politics to gay rights to traffic snarls; however, the debates never touched on personal details, never ventured too far into the realm of how it affected the men debating.

He needed someone like Egon to talk to, someone who would not believe his bullshit but understand Peter's need to hide the truth -- someone who would see through his lies but accept them anyway. Someone who cared about him enough to help him deal with his problems without making a big deal out of them.

Peter sighed. Maybe this nap wasn't such a good idea. Maybe he should just get up and go make coffee again -- the alarm wouldn't go off for another half hour, no one else was even stirring. If he were in bed asleep when the alarm went off, his friends would assume he'd come home late... rather than early. They wouldn't ask where he'd been all night and Peter wouldn't have to think about Davis holding him in, offering to make the weekend a holiday when all Peter wanted to do was run back to work. All he needed to do was lay here and not think about anything.

He squeezed his eyes closed and gripped the blankets tightly. He couldn't do this anymore. Figuring out the consequences of each and every action, wondering what was safe to say and what he had to hide... his stomach churned and he knew breakfast this morning had been a very bad idea. He wanted to jump up and run screaming from the room, throw himself into his work -- or the path of a moving truck -- so he wouldn't have to think anymore. It wasn't fair, he told himself, trying to lie still while his body yelled 'run away.' He had everything going for him, everything he'd ever asked for. Why should his life feel as if it were falling completely apart?

He could tell he was too close to losing control. As if it were his body shaking, he could feel each second tick by, taking another thread of control with it. His body felt as if it were unraveling, one more loose thread slipping free until soon there would be nothing to hold it together and he'd be left with a pile of threads and no way to reweave them. Trying to take a deep breath to stave it off, Peter held the pillow tighter, waiting until the feeling passed. It would, it had to, he couldn't afford a nervous breakdown here. Peaking out, he saw the dim light of morning sun lightening the room. No one was moving, his friends still silent against the building trauma inside him.

He couldn't even spare a thought to review the options -- could he run outside, could he slip into the shower, where could he go and let some of this free? All he could do was try to wait it out. Moving would trigger something, he could tell, and even opening his eye like this and looking around was risking too much. Maybe he should close his eye, pretend to sleep, wait for something to pick him up and make everything normal again. Don't even breathe, he heard himself say, don't even move an inch. Don't think, don't look, don't do a single thing.

Incredibly, after several moments of complete silence, he felt something relax. Peter kept himself very still, watching himself, not certain he trusted the feeling to be real. He didn't dare move too soon -- he could still feel the overwhelming need to fall completely apart. It was fading, though not entirely. Enough that he could move. He could probably even open his eyes.

The room was lighter; the alarm would be about ready to go off. For a second he anticipated his friends getting up, swirling about in their morning preparations -- he froze, not knowing if he could maintain in the face of it. Deep breath, then, gave himself another moment of motionlessness. Think about the job scheduled for this morning. Family ghost gone psycho, loving family forced to have it put away.

It didn't make him feel better. Then his mind grabbed onto the problem, and soon he found himself going back over every detail they'd been given. Maybe it wouldn't have to be trapped. There ought to be a way to get through to a ghost who had been peaceful and mostly supportive for the last two hundred years. No one simply snaps like that, with no reason. Not even ghosts. Surely it could be reached -- maybe all it needed was a psychologist willing to believe in ghosts and their problems.

Peter's mind was now whirling with the possibilities -- how to reach it, if it wasn't willing? What to say to encourage it, what could go so wrong for a ghost that he would go nuts? Not the proper psychological term, Peter scolded himself with a smile. He got out of bed and headed for the shower -- once again up first, dibs on the hot water.

Nothing like a chance to solve someone's problems to take your mind of your own life, Peter mused. He tried not to whistle as he contemplated the ghost's possible difficulties and reactions to the Ghostbusters' appearance.

~~~~~

It turned out to be loneliness. Peter still couldn't believe it -- the ghost had lived in the family home for two centuries, watching over and often interacting with its descendants and friends. Though some generations had rebuffed its existence, someone always believed in it again, made it feel at home and a part of the family once more. The current family had done just that, calling the ghost 'grandpa' as their own grandparents had done. No one could understand why a ghost who occasionally baby-sat its great-great-great-great-great grandkids would become hostile and unruly; when the ghost had threatened the youngest girl, the family had called the Ghostbusters.

Peter had managed to get the ghost to appear alone, after asking the others to wait in the family room while he headed for the ghost's sitting room. He'd left his pack on but thrower holstered, and knocked on the door. He'd been ignored, but he called for permission to enter before pushing open the door. The room had been clean, but otherwise untouched -- by human hands -- in a very long time. Books and paintings and antique furniture filled the room. It had felt almost comforting. The icy blast of rage that met him as he stepped inside kept it from so being.

It had taken some smooth talking, and a genuinely friendly ear, before the ghost settled down long enough to start talking. Peter had never done much clinical psychology before becoming a Ghostbuster but he'd since put in enough fieldwork to feel justified in trying it. It usually worked, and in this case it had only taken a half hour to get the ghost to reveal its problem. The family had cleaned the attic in preparation for a yard sale, and uncovered some photos of ancestors. Seeing them had stirred memories of deceased loved ones for the ghost and it had been unable to deal with them. Faced with having lost every relative it befriended -- none other had remained behind as a ghost -- the ghost had realised its tragic lot in death.

Peter had told the ghost about the traditional "things left undone" which caused most ghosts to remain on earth. The ghost's family had eagerly offered to help it find its undone task, so it could move on and rejoin its own wife and children. Peter left a friend's card, a clinical psychologist willing to counsel spirits, and the Ghostbusters declared the job complete. They'd been thrilled to solve the problem without busting the troubled ghost, offering their grateful congratulations to Peter. He brushed them off modestly, until they got in the car.

"Good thing you brought me along. Who knew you'd need a brilliant psychological insight into the trials and tribulations of being a ghost?" He leaned back, grinning broadly.

Winston gave him an amused glare. "Don't push it, Peter."

Peter only chuckled. As he watched the city draw nearer, his thoughts turned away from the ghost. It was just after lunchtime (lunch provided by a chinese takeout ten minutes into their ride home). He had all afternoon before... He felt the tension in his stomach again. "Hey Egon, you still working on your moldy program?"

Egon looked at him over the top of his glasses. "My molds, spores, and fungi program is nearly completed. I plan to begin de-bugging it today, after entering the last few pages of data."

"You want any help?" Peter asked it casually, and was surprised by the strange twist he felt inside. Last time he'd distracted himself from his problems by working around the firehouse, he'd felt better. This didn't feel better

Egon had the decency to only look surprised for a moment. "Certainly, Peter. I would be most appreciative."

Peter smiled craftily. "How appreciative?"

"Not that appreciative, Peter. I am not taking over any of your chores."

"Oh, well," he sighed dramatically, hands behind his head. "I suppose you can owe me one." Egon didn't reply, merely giving him a friendly 'don't count on it' look. Peter smiled in return, then went back to watching the scenery and trying very hard not to think. Almost without decision, he began talking about the job they'd just left. "Imagine that guy being a part of the family for so many generations and no one ever asking if there was a reason for it. Two hundred years of walking the earth just from lack of curiousity."

"I surmise there was more to it than that," Egon said. "Curiousity might have been irrelevant, if the ghost had no reason to be displeased with its circumstances."

"Yeah, sounds like he'd been happy so far, being with his relatives and keeping an eye on them," Winston added. "I know a lot of folks who'd consider that time well spent."

"So maybe they'll discover that's his reason for being left here," Peter shrugged, not voicing his thought that he couldn't buy that as motivation for himself. "Maybe he'll forget about the previous generations and be happy with whoever he's got right now. Maybe it's finally his time and he just needed a kick in the seat to realise it."

"Well, Mrs. Roczkowski said she'd call and let us know." Ray turned around briefly, from the driver's seat.

It wasn't working. Peter absently banged his knee against the door. Talking about this wasn't helping not think about anything else. He could still hear Davis' voice from that morning, eagerly looking forward to tonight. Peter closed his eyes, trying to find something else to say, something interesting about this last job or Egon's program or anything at all besides Davis or what he represented. Running through the conversation he'd had with the troubled ghost, he looked for anything intriguing or unusual -- he'd need to call Brad and warn him about the potential new client anyway. Brad had a regular list of clients from the supernatural planes, usually referred by the Ghostbusters or other clients. He was the only one Peter knew of performing this service and it wasn't one he talked about among others of his profession.

Been there, done that, Peter mused, then stopped himself. Why did everything come back to this? How could everything remind him of the things he didn't want to worry about? He thought about Brad and forced himself to wonder if he'd ever convinced the Ghost of Marshy Gulch that he inhabited a parking lot.

"Peter," a soft voice interrupted his thoughts. Peter opened his eyes and found Ecto parked in the firehouse.

"Huh?" He looked around; the guys were getting out of the car, they must have just arrived home. He'd fallen asleep. He looked over his shoulder to find Egon leaning forward, hand resting where it had just lightly shaken him.

"We're home," Egon added, as if unsure Peter was truly awake.

"Thought I recognised the place." He climbed out of the car and asked himself if he wanted a longer nap instead of helping Egon; the sight of his friend heading for his locker decided him. Except for jobs, he hadn't spent time with the other man in quite a while. Stripping off his own jumpsuit, he then followed Egon upstairs.

Twice he found himself almost saying something, giving Egon the opening he'd need to encourage Peter to spill everything that was bothering him. Forcing himself to remember not to say anything leading distracted him the entire afternoon. Fortunately Egon didn't need very competent help -- drudgery and proofreading formed the bulk of the work. From the tone of the conversation, Peter judged that Egon either didn't notice or was carefully not mentioning Peter's less than full attention. Maybe he thought it was lack of sleep. When time came to get himself ready for his second date, Peter found himself regretting having missed the enjoyment of a quiet afternoon with his best friend. Although they might have more work to do on the program tomorrow, Peter hated losing the hoped-for chance to relax and let the presence of a friend calm his tension. Davis had best make tonight worth it.

Peter nearly stopped in mid-keystroke when he realised what he'd thought. Keeping himself from shaking his head, he reminded himself that this was supposed to be fun. The original purpose of sex, and all. Well, one of them, he amended. He didn't have to respond to any of Davis' encouragements for more time, and he didn't have to socialise with anyone he didn't want to. Except when he needed to hide... He jumped out of his chair. "Whoa! I gotta get ready!" He'd glanced at the clock to pretend he'd just noticed the time. "Fun's fun, Egon, but I have to take a shower and change."

Egon was looking at him steadily, with a slight frown on his face. Peter shifted uneasily, wondering what was wrong -- rather, what Egon thought was wrong. He waited; Egon finally said, "You've been staying out rather a lot, lately."

"Yeah? So?"

"Forgive me for saying so, Peter, but you do not seem to have been getting enough sleep. I wonder if going out again is such a good idea."

For a moment Peter was so tempted it worried him -- say yes, you're right, and stay home. Forget about Davis and Mark and everyone else, and stay home with Egon and the guys. He smiled. "Well, if it makes you feel better, after tonight I have no more plans until next Friday." He'd have to call Davis if he canceled the date. He didn't want to deal with explaining it to the other man. Apparently he hadn't had to make this second date, though. He wanted to ask Egon why he hadn't mentioned this two days ago. Instead he just gave Egon a smug grin. "Would it help if I promise to get some sleep tonight sometime?"

Egon didn't seem to be buying it. "I worry about you, Peter. Twice you've fallen asleep after we've completed a job. Getting in after midnight four nights this week, and--"

Peter frowned. "And what?"

Uncomfortably, Egon said, "You don't seem to be enjoying yourself. Are you and... your current lady fighting?"

"What? No, we aren't fighting." He realised he'd forgotten to give his friends a name for his current mysterious flame. "Jenny's just going through some rough times -- work, family, the usual. We spend a lot of time talking about it and I guess it's just depressed me some." How easily the lies rolled, not even a hesitation. Peter wanted to kick himself; once, years ago, he'd promised himself never to lie to those closest to him. He'd never been able to hold to the promise completely but he still hated seeing himself break it. Egon wouldn't blame him for it, he treated Peter's lies as a reflex his friend couldn't always control.

He was giving Peter his knowing look even now, Peter saw. "Peter, is there something you would like to discuss?"

Peter looked away, down at the screen full of Latin and numerical designations. "I'm all right, Egon. I'll catch up on my sleep next week. We don't have any jobs tomorrow -- I'll be fine."

For a moment the thought Egon would press him. He felt a hand on his shoulder, a gentle squeeze, then it moved away. Peter waited a minute longer, then without raising his head he turned and left the lab.

He hurried through his shower and dressing, feeling somehow that the sooner he got to Davis' place the sooner he could forget. Not quite 'get the night over with and don't look back' but more of proving to himself that this was what he needed. Concentrating on a physical liaison with someone he knew -- someone he could handle, if he could just stand firm against the constant appeals to extend their dates, get out of town -- ought to be enough to push everything else away.

It felt like a railcar, speeding towards the last stop -- one last chance to put an end to this maelstrom before accelerating into oblivion. Step off now, cancel this date and try something new or let momentum carry him through to something out of control. Peter stared at himself in the mirror, adjusting his tie and wondering why his face didn't show the swarm of confusion and uncertainty inside. He placed one hand on the edge, wondering if that man was truly him, or a stranger painted onto his place in the glass. Who was this man stumbling headlong through choices he couldn't make, living a life that no longer seemed familiar?

Tomorrow, you sleep. Peter shook his head sharply. If you're getting this weird you must be exhausted. He stepped away from the mirror, giving his tie one more tug, and headed off. Plastering a smile on his face, he decided he would have fun tonight, no matter what. He said goodnight to Ray and Winston on his way out, and was pleased to hear them cheerfully return it. No last minute emotional introspections to mar the night.

~~~~~

It should have been raining. A walk from the subway to Davis' building was a walk through Kafka's world. Glances from people he passed urged him to check his forehead for a sign -- doomed? burning cross? return for 5 C deposit? What did they see that made him sidestep even the friendliest drunk intent on finding a curb to rest on? The sky should have been full of lightening; the darkening streets better served by the wrath of god than bitter electric lights.

Peter trudged through, no longer wondering what plans had been made that he should anticipate excuses for rejecting. He hurried inside, using his key to let himself into the building. A short elevator ride -- no strangeness there, a car alone and no sensation at all -- and he was there. Maybe he was sick? He could beg off on that excuse, and he nodded at the idea as he rang the bell. Davis answered and let him inside; he went in, words tumbling back down his throat and he said nothing.

The evening progressed with Peter feeling as if his hands were encased in acrylic; everything he tried to touch seemed to skitter free, he felt nothing when he caressed Davis' face in response to a similar touch. Dinner was, as by custom, to wait until later and Peter made no objections as the other man led him to the living room couch. He said nothing as hands pushed him down, began undressing them both and held him, touching and stroking in places he didn't want them to go.

"Please wait."

Davis looked at him, questions in his eyes but still smiling, willing only to tease and slow down; Peter swallowed and pushed him away, trying to find his feet and place them on the floor. The buzzing in his brain had started again, none of it made sense except he did not want to be here. He could not think beyond that, beyond standing up and walking back out. He tried to button his shirt and Davis stopped him. He tried to fasten his jeans and Davis held his hands.

"Davis, I don't--"

A mouth answered him, fastening tightly and gathering his stalled words with an engulfing kiss. There was nothing unusual in this; Peter saw only Davis as he had always been, taking what they both had always wanted. He tried again to push away.

He found himself lying back on the couch, looking up at the ceiling. Davis was not above him, no longer pressed into his face and whispering horrifying words of tenderness and passion. For a moment he wondered where he was -- was he gone? Then he felt the man on him, down below, teasing him and coaxing him again. In a brief flash he felt his body respond -- not the way Davis intended, not the way Peter feared. Every muscle in his body tensed and he felt the scream begin. Deep inside, crawling up his throat to rattle his mind, it filled him until he panicked. Flinging himself upright, knocking Davis to the floor, he found the edges of his jeans and pulled them closed.

Fingers frantically redressed -- buttons, shirt tails, pulling the tie and shoving it away, dimly he heard his voice telling Davis how sorry he was, it felt like the flu, didn't want to vomit on the man's carpeting and would he mind terribly finding Peter's shoe? He did not see any reaction, barely noticed when he was standing beside the door, fully dressed, assuring Davis he did not need to stay over. Not too sick to go home, too sick to infect a friend. Davis seemed relieved, not the type to play nursemaid. Then he found himself on the sidewalk again, walking through Kafka's little scene again, not even wondering where the drunks had gone.

It should have been raining, the trains should have been delayed -- trapping him underground on a Saturday night, forcing him to see himself in the weirdest and the worst. Instead he made his way home almost unmolested by the words that needed to be screamed. Snarling at a hustler had been the only sound, letting one tiny piece of rage out. He waited for the sky to crash -- something waiting in the wings to explode, crumble, shatter and destroy. Something was just waiting for him. He couldn't push himself to decide what it must be.

~~~~~

He only realised he was home when he found himself standing in the garage. Startled, he wondered what had happened -- had he gone completely nuts? Blacking out and raving like a lunatic while not in control of his faculties? When he saw the figure stepping off the stairway towards him, he realised -- he'd simply come home, not thinking at all. Egon walked over to him; Peter hung his head. Day of reckoning. Maybe he could lie...

"Peter? Is everything all right?"

Peter shook his head.

"Is Jenny all right?" Peter said nothing; his friend sounded as if he believed the story he'd been given. "Peter?"

The tone of concern made Peter look up. He didn't want Egon worrying over a fictitious girl's problems -- he'd offer to help, and then Peter would only feel worse. "It isn't Jenny." He couldn't bring himself to say 'there is no Jenny'.

Egon was standing closer, now, looking Peter over. "What is wrong, Peter?"

He dropped his head again, only to find it rest against Egon's chest. Egon responded by wrapping his arms around him. Peter felt the scream again and knew he could never let it go. "I'm sorry I lied to you."

"I know. It's all right, Peter." There was no pause to show Egon didn't know which lie Peter meant. "Are you able to talk about it now?"

"No," he whispered, feeling his throat close around the word.

The embrace grew tighter. "Is there anything I can do?"

Peter brought his hands up, returning the hug, wishing he could figure out what he could say. "I don't... I'm sorry, Egon."

"If you decide you can, will you come talk to me?"

His friend's willingness to wait, and his offer of help made Peter wish this were all over. Egon was making it so easy, when everything inside needed to remain silent. Hesitantly, he agreed, "If I can." He waited for Egon to let go, to step back and give Peter the room he needed. But Egon didn't move. It felt so safe, so comforting, that he didn't want to let go. He moved his head, resting comfortably against Egon's shoulder, and waited for his friend to decide when he'd had enough.

Several minutes later, Egon was still holding onto him. Peter wondered if he should say something, tell him thanks and step away. He felt too good, and nestled in here was... He bit his lip and started to move away.

Egon let him go only far enough to look at him. Peter met his gaze for only a second, then looked down. He tried to figure out what -- if anything -- he could say.

"I'm sorry."

"Huh?" Peter looked up. "Why are you sorry?"

In the darkness he could barely see the colour of the other man's eyes; they seemed to be sparkling. Egon answered with a sad, wistful tone Peter had never heard before. "I wish there were something I could do. I dislike seeing you unhappy; if I could only..."

"Could what?" Peter was intrigued -- he'd never seen Egon like this. It almost took his mind off his problems. He could still hear, in the back of his mind, the screamer laughing at him, waiting. He focused on Egon.

"If only I could-- help you, I would."

Eyes narrowing, Peter was faced with an unusual occurance. Egon had -- more or less -- just lied to him. "Egon... what were you going to say? Could what?"

Incredibly, Egon glanced away. His hold did not loosen, however. Peter waited, then quietly Egon answered, "I merely wished I could give you what you want. I-- want you to be happy, Peter." He turned to face Peter; Peter knew that in another second he would be arguing with himself about the merits of telling his friend how he felt, who he'd been with and spilling all his dirty secrets.

Then he didn't have a chance to think anything. Egon leaned down and kissed him briefly, lightly. A real, actual, not best-friendly kind of kiss. Peter felt his knees shake. One hand slipped; he grabbed onto Egon's waist and held on. "Wha?" It was as eloquent as he could hope to be.

"I will apologise, if you wish me to do so. But I... Peter, I love you and it pains me to see you hurting."

Peter wasn't sure what the other man meant by this -- unless he meant just what he'd said. His friend looked about to say more, in response to Peter's silent confusion. This time Peter shut him up. He leaned in and returned the kiss -- not so brief this time, and not so light. He knew that when his brain switched on again he'd find himself with a thousand questions so for now he let himself go into this. This, defying prediction and reason, this lover's embrace he could have never done more than dreamed of. Had, in fact, dreamed of it and that made him wonder if he had fallen asleep on Davis' couch and replaced his actual lover with this apparition in his arms. 'Please don't let me wake up,' he pleaded.

The apparition was responding remarkably well, if it truly was so. Neither man broke off the kiss, holding each other close and tight. Peter felt the firm touches in his mouth and knew his dreams were getting better -- unless this were real. Real. His mind began to swirl with all that meant. Egon would expect the truth, now, and Peter had no reason to maintain his lies about the men he'd slept with but would his friend accept the reason for the lying? What would he say to all the things Peter had done to protect the secret he'd forced himself to keep?

He was shaking again, this time Egon pulled partly away.

"Are you all right, Peter?" His voice was soft, kind, gentle -- everything Egon had ever been, when Peter needed him the most. What was he going to do?

"I love you, Egon."

Okay, so that had been unplanned. But Egon's reaction made him glad -- exhultant -- that he'd let the sentiment slip by. A quick, deep kiss and a hug that swung Peter nearly off his feet, but most of all a smile that threatened to radiate throughout the entire nighttime city. Then Peter's brain caught up with the actions. "Egon, what's going on here?" No doubt he was still exhausted and that explained the continued unearthly feel to his world right now. But this was beginning to take on the aspects of a twilight zone episode -- the second series, where endings were occasionally good ones.

"We've admited our love and exchanged two very pleasant displays of our feelings. Preferably we would exchanged three or four, but there is yet time." Egon was hiding a grin.

Peter shook his head. "But why?"

Egon was looking at him with a slight frown -- that was no good, Peter wanted him smiling. "Why what?"

Peter took a deep breath. "Why are we telling each other this now? I've been in love with you for a long time, but I didn't think I could ever tell you. My--" He stopped, and gave himself a nudge, ignoring Egon's startled reaction to his words. "My dad made me believe I shouldn't ever talk about those kinds of feelings -- about other guys, I mean. Everyone seemed to agree with him -- don't do it, but if you have to don't talk about it. I figured you didn't want to know. Wouldn't... my dad only ever accepted me because I let him pretend it wasn't true. But I only saw him once or twice a year -- I've seen you practically every day for the last twelve years. How could I expect you to ignore something like this? So I didn't tell you I liked guys, and I didn't tell you when I fell in love and I didn't tell you when I snuck out to see some guy because I couldn't lie about seeing a girl." Peter gave a half shrug -- funny how telling the truth didn't seem so frightening, now. Or perhaps other things were simply more frightening. Egon loved him? "Why is it suddenly okay to say it?" That wasn't exactly his question -- it was okay because Egon had kissed him. But why was it suddenly okay for Egon to have kissed him? Peter had seen every expression on Egon's face as he'd spoken. Anger, amasement, understanding, affection. He'd forced himself to keep talking anyway.

Egon resonded, a touch of regret in his tone but mostly the same soft, tender voice that made Peter want to wrap himself up in this man's arms. "I never believed that you would hide this part of yourself." Egon stroked his face, as Davis had earlier; Peter felt the touch this time, and the shiver that ran down his entire body. Egon continued, "You were always so open about everything you enjoyed. I deduced that, were you inclined towards the male physique, you would accept and pursue your desires much as you did them all -- openly and enthusiastically. When I saw no sign of homosexuality in your activities, I reasoned there were none and said nothing. I was in love, but was content to remain your friend. I can see now that I was in error." He said the last with a hint of a smile. Perhaps, Peter thought, because of the obvious proof now pressed against him. Grinning, Peter rubbed himself a little harder against Egon's groin.

"But why now?" His body was ready to end the conversation and get on to better things, but his confusion hadn't ended and he was afraid that if he didn't ask this now, he would end up worse off than before. Waking up in a hotel room with Davis, perhaps, or on a bench in a park to find this all a dream. Waking up to find he'd misunderstood what Egon had said.

Egon shrugged -- a rare gesture Peter recognised as one of his own, adopted over the years by his less expressive friend. "I'm afraid I couldn't tell you. I don't particularly know. You... looked so lost, and I had no way of reaching you." He gave Peter another brief kiss as if to further explain.

Peter shivered. Words he'd never heard, paired with a touch he knew too well -- it made him think he'd found someone who loved him. This had never happened to him before. Maybe that was why he couldn't understand it. He tilted his head and asked again, "But why?"

"Why what, Peter?" He sounded so patient.

"Why do you love me?" Peter wanted to cringe at the tone in his voice. This was not the confident, loves life kinda guy he'd always let his friends and companions see. It was not the person he let Egon, Ray, or Winston see even when times were at their worst. He wanted to turn away, pretend he hadn't just pleaded with his best friend for some sort of proof his love could be returned.

Fingers traced the curve of his jaw; Peter looked up, and stopped at what he saw. Egon was watching him, fingers continuing their path across his face, along his collarbone, up through his hair. Soft, gentle as a breeze, they ruffled his hair. He shivered, faint memory stirring. It wasn't the action so much that stopped him. It was the look on Egon's face. Expressions he'd seen before on others, a thousand times, that he could identify every particular in Egon's face. Love. Wanting. Affection. Pain.

Egon loved him. He wanted this, holding him and touching him. Needed to comfort him. Needed to chase away his pain and help him heal. Felt, in truth, everything Peter felt and had subsumed into jokes and laughter and misdirected concern, redirected lust. Peter didn't need Egon's words. He could hear them every day of his life for ever, and would if he let Egon believe he might just possibly want them. The touch on his arm, the turn of the mouth, the gaze in his eyes told Peter he was seeing love.

He shuddered, the screamer inside vibrating at fevered pitch, not knowing if it should scream in frustration at wasted precious moments or scream in anger or fear or release of a thousand days' of stress piled one on another. He couldn't just make it go away and kiss his beloved.

Could he?

Peter leaned forward to see. He opened his mouth and let his lips touch Egon's, felt Egon's hands holding him close, one hand on his back and one wrapped around his neck. He gripped the fabric of Egon's shirt, at the waist, holding on as he gave himself up to this dream, unsure if it would become fantasy or delusion, to test the theory that love could conquer all -- would the pain simply disappear as the wildly pounding heart he could feel seemed to be suggesting?

You're an idiot, Peter told himself, even as the kiss continued and Egon seemed satisfied to do nothing but hold him, kiss him... devour him. The tongue pressing against his teeth and body against his own shocked his thoughts out of their circle. Peter found himself more turned on than he remembered feeling in a very, very long time. A kiss to ease emotional trauma was one thing. This... this wildfire of a single embrace was another altogether.

Forget solving your problems, Peter. Seduce this man! He grabbed Egon's head, holding him tight, rubbing his fingers through soft hair. The groomed flip of hair quickly became tangled in Peter's hands. He pulled back long enough to laugh. "I have so much wanted to do that." He tousled the hair again, seeing Egon's amused and tolerant smile, watching as the strands of hair cascaded around his head. Suddenly he wanted this touch as much as he'd needed the kiss; he brushed his fingers lightly through, then dug them in and rubbed the skull beneath. One way, then back, he alternated the touches until he was sure he'd memorised the feel of Egon's hair.

From the way the other man was bumping against him, he figured Egon enjoyed it as much as he. He wove his fingers through again, and was struck by a frightening -- glorious -- realisation. He could do this all night. He grinned at himself, and gave Egon another quick, hard kiss. "Let's get a room before I embarrass myself."

Egon pulled him close, staring deeply into his eyes. "You should never feel embarrassed. Not with me."

"Yeah, well, if I don't get you alone and naked I just might anyway."

"Indeed?" Egon gave him a direct look. Peter felt his knees get weaker -- was that even possible?

"Yeah, uh-huh." Peter looked around, knowing the guest room on the second floor was empty but was rather far away. His office was closer, but no real door -- not a problem if no one came downstairs. Besides the intended, that is, Peter amended. Store room, just thirty feet away? Might be a cot, or blanket in there...

Egon seemed to be reading his mind, or more likely, body language. "Let's go upstairs. The guest room--"

"You don't want to get amourous with the mops and brooms?"

"Not when I have you." Egon was pulling him towards the stairs.

Oh. Peter swallowed. This was really happening. 'Shouldn't I be, you know, taking the lead? As the more experienced partner?' He looked at his hand, held firmly in Egon's, as he followed his lover up the stairs. Lover. He stopped; Egon felt the tug and turned, concern on his face.

Peter smiled at him, hoping that, for once, what he felt was clear on his face. "I love you. I... are you... do you know what you're doing?" he finished.

"Of course, Peter." Egon gave him his usual response, sounding for all the world as if he were in the middle of a 20bust, being questioned about his plan. "I've read a great deal on the subject--"

"Read!" Peter exclaimed. "You've only read?! Hold on, now, I'm not--" He stopped. Egon was giving him that look. Slight, satisfied smile, eyes twinkling, mischeif written all over him. Peter glared at him. "I'm gonna get you for that, Spengler."

"I am looking forward to it. Now, may we proceed?"

"Oh sure, Egon. Lead on. Right behind you." Enjoying the scenery. Peter grinned at the piece of anatomy closest to his eye-level. Uh-huh. Definitely going to enjoy this.

"Thank you," Egon continued up the stairs, dragging Peter behind him. They went in the guest room, shut the door firmly, and faced each other. Peter wondered if he should be nervous. Instead he pounced. Kissing Egon was a wonder. His mouth was warmer than his own, tasted of spices -- thai for dinner? But it was the way he wrapped his arms around you, held you against him as if you'd melt into a perfect fit, that made Peter want to do nothing but kiss the man for an enternity. Soon his head began to swim, and he leaned away. Buttons. There were entirely too many buttons buttoned.

He began to rectify that. Starting at the top, he worked his way down, imitating Davis' actions of a dozen different nights -- Peter stopped every once in a while as he undressed Egon, and looked into his face. Egon loved him. He wanted to be here, wanted nothing more than to get his clothes off and get into bed, or near it, or just stand for as long as humanly possible. He was watching Peter closely, each time Peter looked up, and Peter felt the stab of... of something, he'd never felt before. Something he knew Davis had never seen, as he'd performed the same tasks.

He felt sorry for the other man. Cheated him, although Peter could not have feined the look for Davis that he was now receiving. As he undressed Egon, he whispered 'I love you', reminding himself of best reason he was here. When he finished, rolling back on his heels as he stripped the last sock off, he stared. A body he'd seen before -- sneaking peeks and otherwise -- but never before had nerve or permission to touch. He reached out, slid one finger down a leg. The skin quivered, and he grinned. He moved to do the same to the other leg, when hands pulled him up by the arms.

"Excuse me, Peter," Egon held him still for a moment, then released him. Began undressing him; each piece of skin revealed was touched, the process was slow, intoxicating, and made Peter forget there was ever another man who'd stripped off his clothing. Soon he was swaying, wondering if he could find the bed or if Egon would just have to catch him. His skin ached for the return of each touch as the hands never retraced their route. Every nerve was singing, vibrating like taut wire. Suddenly his body shook; he grabbed onto Egon as the man rose to his feet.

He had to kiss him. Had to feel him. Had to make a move now or his body would rebel and find another way to combust. Pulling Egon around, he aimed the man at the bed, pushing him somewhat gently onto the mattress. Peter followed, crawling onto the man's body, feeling his weight press them both down, feeling Egon's body moving beneath his...

It was too much. He closed his eyes and all he could feel was the warm skin, firm body, stiff erection underneath him, moving. Writhing, back and forth, teasing his own body until he knew he could stand it no longer. He should move away, calm down, let this last. Peter thrust against Egon, legs opening to accept his motion, hands pulling at him, hips moving in identical angles, up, down, three times before he felt it begin to explode.

Everything froze. The sensations, the motions, the feelings, all eclipsed in one single exquisite moment; he could discern each one as it stood still. Body locked in place, emotions swirling, freedom coarsing through, out, bending the universe around him. He only existed as a heated, trembling, vibrating touch. Time collapsed, with a howl.

Peter opened his eyes, and the sound of Egon's voice died away. Harsh panting filled his ears instead, and Peter found his arms bending, casting him down onto his lover's body. He felt heat, slickness, breath, stomach muscles pushing against his own, legs collapsing alongside his own. Peter blinked; Egon opened his eyes.

They kissed. Egon pulled Peter close, until they lay partly together, partly beside each other. When Peter broke away he gave Egon a grin. "Next time..." Egon raised an eyebrow in invitation. "I wanna be awake for the whole thing." Then he shifted, uncomfortable at the comment he'd made. He didn't have to make jokes, not with Egon. He shouldn't have to. He looked up. "Egon?"

Hands caressed his face, and he was kissed again. He saw Egon watching him, not quite focusing. He waited for Egon to say something, tell him it was all right or answer his joke in kind to show him he was understood. He started to tell Egon he didn't have to say it, when Egon hugged him hard. For a moment Peter thought his ribs might break. Then a soft touch on the top of his head, and Egon whispered, "Let's go to sleep, Peter. I want to hold you tonight."

As Peter wriggled into better position, he found himself asking, "Tonight?"

"Every night, Peter." Egon sounded... content. Happy. Loving.

Peter closed his eyes. "Thank you." A squeeze was Egon's reply. Peter smiled, feeling himself relaxing, held firm by his lover's embrace, held firmer by his lover's words. Maybe love couldn't make the pain go away -- he could feel the screamer lurking, waiting for its turn. But it had been staved, and Peter thought that maybe when he was ready to let his fears and frustrations out, Egon would be there to hold him. And that would make it go away. He gave Egon a squeeze of his own.

"Egon?"

"Yes, Peter?"

"We gonna turn the light out?"