Out of Heaven

~ Originally published in Cohorts 6

Peter Venkman was walking home, disregarding the possibility of hailing a taxi or finding a subway entrance. Both were everywhere of course and it wasn't as though he couldn't have got either for the asking. But he was almost home, hadn't been all that far away, and as bad as the neighborhood might or might not be, there was nothing in it he was really concerned about.

It wasn't a bad neighborhood -- nothing like the streets where everyone you saw was looking at you wondering what they could get from you. Nothing like the streets where nobody looked at you, because somebody else had already marked you down for their taking. Peter only ever went into those neighborhoods if he had a nuclear accelerator on his back, and three similarly-armed friends telling him to get back in the car, because this has got to be the wrong address.

In short, there was no reason he shouldn't walk home, from as close by as he'd been, other than sheer laziness. Lazy as Peter freely admitted to being -- he wasn't, and he had very good reasons for staying in shape. A brisk walk home was just the thing to stretch the legs and make up for not actually having worked out that day.

Mostly it gave him time to get himself back into the right mental frame for being back home.

Since it was a Friday night with no emergency ghost-busting calls to interfere, he'd been out on a date. A nice girl, name of Cindy, and one he'd been seeing off and on over the last few months. He liked her a lot -- they enjoyed the same sort of movies, same taste in restaurants, same taste in bedroom acrobatics. She liked him a lot, too, without crossing over that very important line.

Peter whistled as he thought of her, how she smiled whenever they met and how she kissed him when he took off. She was nice, a lot of fun, and she didn't say things like 'commitment'.

The firehouse-turned-Ghostbusters' headquarters loomed in the night, one block down. Peter caught sight of the sign, dangling from its pole. The cartoonish image of the ghost had been amusing when they'd ordered it made. Laughing at each other, he and Ray had agreed on the picture, telling the signmaker what it was for even as they'd pretended it was probably just one big joke. Afraid to admit they wanted to be taken seriously, maybe, though Peter had explained it to Egon and Ray in terms of softening the fears of would-be clients. Come talk to the nice, funny man about cartoon ghosts, and we won't make you say that it's real until the gooper is bagged and the fee is on the table.

That attitude had lasted up until their second job, but they hadn't changed the sign. What did he think they should change it to, anyhow? A class five roaming spirit? Something fierce and dangerous that would scare off all their customers, not to mention the neighborhood?

Peter shrugged. It made for good marketing, at least, with the toys and clothes and dolls and stickers and -- someone had contacted them about a comic book deal just a few weeks ago, and Peter was still
arguing with the guys about licensing their likenesses as well as their logo. If he felt a bit silly to walk into the building beneath that silly sign, it was a mild concern in the greater scheme of things.

Thinking about the sign, and a mental reminder to give their lawyer a call on Monday kept Peter fully distracted for the rest of the walk home. By the time he walked into the building, the sign was no longer a concern.

Neither was Cindy.

He pushed the door open and looked around, not surprised when he didn't see any indication of movement. It was nearly midnight, and anyone in their right mind would be upstairs, far away from the work-level of the firehouse. Upstairs, or out -- Peter remembered that Ray was gone this evening, some geek gathering at a friends' house. Ray'd tried to explain it, but all Peter had figured out was that a bunch of grown men were getting together to eat pizza, drink beer, and show each other their comic books. Ray wouldn't be back til later, unless he crashed on the friend's couch and came home in the morning.

Peter headed for the stairs, listening for signs of Winston or Egon still being up and about. Halfway up the stairs he heard the sound of the television, and as he reached the landing to the second floor, he saw light creeping down the hallway from the laboratory door.

The door was open, which meant Egon had actually come out of the lab -- and he could be anywhere, now. Grinning, Peter headed for the tv room, and found Winston sprawled on the sofa, watching the tv. Behind him, at one of the bookcases, was Egon, rifling through a book and frowning sternly, like the book was deliberately refusing to tell him what he wanted to know.

Grinning, Peter headed over, glancing at Winston as the program switched to commercial and Winston looked over and waved. Peter nodded, gave him a "Hey, Winston," and stepped up beside Egon. He leaned over Egon's arm, peering at the book and incidentally getting his head in Egon's way.

"Peter," Egon said, quellingly, moving the book to one side.

"Hey, Egon. Having fun? No, I take that back. You're looking at 'Mysteries of Electric Batteries Through The Ages'," he read off the chapter title from the top of the page. He shook his head. "You can't be having fun."

"For your information, Peter, I am finding this to be very illuminating. Not, however, helpful to my current problem."

"Which is?" Peter asked, deliberately ignoring Egon's electrical puns. He knew they'd been intentional, but so cheaply done that they weren't worth his effort to whap Egon for.

Egon almost smiled, but answered seriously, "I'm conducting an experiment on the use of smaller, more compact accelerators. While conventional batteries naturally are too weak to be of any practical use, I was hoping that refreshing my knowledge of the applications of batteries would inspire me to a new idea for something we can use."

Peter waited. Egon merely looked at him. Peter shook his head. "That's it? You talk for three sentences, and only one more pun? Geez, why do I even bother?"

Egon just raised an eyebrow, in silent challenge that Peter hadn't actually been doing anything to encourage -- or discourage -- him. Peter shrugged. "So, this battery thing gonna keep you up all night and we'll have to drag you out for breakfast?"

Egon shook his head. "In fact, the course of my research has proved uninspiring, for the last several hours. I believe I will finish this book, then give the experiment a rest, until Ray has returned."

"You could talk about it with me," Peter said, giving Egon a slight pout. Egon merely looked at him again, and Peter added, "And I'd smile and nod and say 'sounds good, Egon, can we stop now?' But you have to admit that gave you at least one good idea. Once."

Peter stammered to a halt as he saw Egon's expression change. Surprise, which, yeah, Peter admitted was reasonable, as his brain pointed out to him what his words sounded like.

"I actually meant...the toaster cooker thing. In college. The--" He stammered to a halt again, face feeling very hot. Feeling suddenly miserable, he looked down and muttered, "I wasn't...."

Because they'd agreed they wouldn't ever talk about it. Agreed silently, by mutual consent, and it had never bothered either of them and they'd never even alluded to it since. Even if it was why Peter was very careful not to date girls once they said the 'c' word, and very careful not to come home whistling and bragging about his dates. Why he came home instead of accepting invitations to breakfast, and why he'd told Janine, one day, very seriously and very carefully, that as much as she loved Egon, he would never love her back the way she wanted him to. She hadn't taken it well, as he'd expected, but despite never mentioning it again she seemed to have at least believed him. At least she never mentioned it to Egon, either.

The room suddenly seemed very quiet, for all the noise of the television and the thudding of Peter's heart. He looked up, ready to make the promise again out loud, and go back to pretending it hadn't ever happened -- and found Egon just looking at him with a patient, understanding expression.

Another moment, and Egon said, "The magnetic, portable toaster was in fact an excellent idea. It was unfortunate that Professor Halloway deemed it a disruption when you took it to class, to provide, as it was intended, a snack in the middle of the afternoon. In retrospect I believe he was correct, and the loud clanking noises and black smoke would be detrimental to providing an atmosphere conducive for eating."

"You made a toaster that clanked and made black smoke?" Winston asked, disbelievingly.

"That was not its purpose," Egon began. "Merely unintended side-effects."

"Yeah -- otherwise we wouldn't have called it a toaster. It'd have been the Spengler 2000 Black Smoke Maker, Clanking Model with optional toast attachment." Peter grinned at Winston; grateful, and very relieved. Silent promises made all around once more, and the world settled back into place. "Actually I think we did have one of those, but it was the Stanz 2000."

Winston laughed. "You mean that whatever it was, he built last year?"

"It was a device intended to be used for detecting fine elements of historical supernatural activity," Egon said, in Ray's defense.

"Yeah, we know. We were there. We helped clean up the lab afterwards, too," Peter replied. "I'm telling ya, Winston, we should have gone into business making gadgets for We Sell magazine. We'd have made a bundle off people wanting to make black smoke, and blowing up unnecessary garages and kids' rooms."

Winston laughed, and Egon gave him that stern frown that said he was amused and not going to show it. Peter stuck out his tongue, and went over to the sofa to figure out what Winston was watching. It didn't take long to realise it was a mystery movie, and one starring nobody he felt like watching anyway. He left his two friends to their amusements and headed upstairs to the bunkroom and a shower, then bed.

It was a couple hours later when Peter woke up. The room was dark, and he'd stirred twice already -- once when Ray had come tip-toeing in, and once when Winston had done the same. This time it had been Egon who'd woken him, but what had roused him wasn't the usual light step of someone heading for bed and trying not to wake anybody. Peter didn't tend to wake up when Egon came into the bunkroom; but he always woke up, because Egon never just went directly to bed.

Peter never stirred, and didn't this time either. For all he knew Egon still believed Peter didn't wake up when he leaned over and kissed him, feather-light on the temple, before going to bed. Another silent
promise, that Peter never let him know it woke him, that he always felt it just as Egon was moving away. He waited, listening as Egon set his glasses on the night-table, then he heard the sheets being pulled back and Egon climbing into bed.

He waited until there was no sound of Egon settling in, no tossing and turning like he did sometimes before falling asleep. Then Peter opened his eyes and looked, his nightvision long adjusted to the darkened room. There was enough light to see Egon lying in bed, eyes closed and chest rising and falling slowly as he breathed.

There was no risk, here, for even if Egon opened his eyes his eyesight wouldn't let him see Peter looking, from so far away. At best he'd see that Peter was turned towards him, but in the darkness he wouldn't be able to tell Peter's eyes were open. Peter had tested it, very, very surreptitiously, years ago. Teasing over breakfast, things which meant nothing except for now, when he could lie there at night and look his fill.

Peter smiled, and watched Egon sleep. The touch on his forehead was fading from sense-memory, and for a moment he wished he could reach up and rub the skin, renew the tingling sensation. It was silly, he knew, and he never actually did it. Just as he never actually got out of bed and went over and returned the kiss, or moved closer so he could see better, or whispered things in his best friend's ear that they had promised each other they would never say.

He lay there for a while, content to watch Egon sleep, until he felt his own eyes growing heavy again. He watched for another few minutes, and Egon never stirred. Peter mouthed his goodnight, the unspoken I
love you which always meant more than the ones he was allowed to say when they were awake, then he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Peter sat on the roof, waiting for it to get hot enough to justify going back inside. Not quite yet, another ten degrees and another hour, maybe, then he'd go down and see about lunch.

He wasn't thinking about much at the moment, though he'd come up here because he'd been tripping over his tongue all morning. No one had seemed to notice, and given how freely his friends teased him, he suspected they hadn't just been pretending not to notice. Last night had shaken him up, and he'd been somehow convinced he was going to blurt out things he wasn't supposed to say. He knew he was over-reacting, but his brain had felt like it was going to explode if he didn't do -- say -- something.

So he'd come up here and watched the city and thought things loudly and long, furiously, in as many ways as he could think of, until now he wasn't thinking much of anything at all. He heard the scuff of the
door opening, and didn't actually mind the interruption, no matter who it might have been.

"Hey, Pete?" Winston asked cautiously; he turned around and grinned.

"Hey. Come on over and pull up some asphalt."

Winston nodded, returning the smile and looking much more relaxed, but still concerned. Peter waited as he found a spot and sat down nearby.

He didn't have to prompt Winston, who said, "I didn't know who it would be better to ask. I thought...I don't mean to pry, but I figured -- you make more sense whenever I try to talk about things I don't get. I figured I'd try you."

Peter nodded. There were any number of things that could have brought Winston up here, he knew.

"So, you wanna tell me what's up?" Winston sounded hesitant, but he looked at Peter like neither of them was going anywhere until everything got spilled.

Peter shrugged. "You gotta give me at least one vowel or a consonant, to work with, here. What's up about what?"

Winston narrowed his eyes. "You know what I'm talking about, Pete. You and Egon. That little dance, last night. The little dance you two are always doing, only you never say anything and -- well, I always figured you just didn't... that you didn't. But last night it sounded like you had."

For a moment, Peter thought about making Winston explain what the heck he was talking about. See if he'd actually say the words. But Winston got his own back as well as Peter ever did, and Peter didn't actually feel up to sparking off a prank war. Instead he considered the question carefully, even though he already knew everything there was to be told.

He decided to start with one of the things he'd been thinking to himself all morning. "You know... I love Egon."

Winston nodded. "You're best friends, I always knew that. Didn't take me long to figure out the rest of it, either." There was only confusion in his voice, no accusation or recrimination. Peter hadn't expected there would be. "You two love each other, but you're not...together. I always figured there was a reason for it. Asked Ray, once, and he said he didn't know why, only that neither of you were unhappy with it being this way. I figured you were just into girls, and loved Egon, and that was all there was to it. Kinda felt bad for Egon, loving a straight boy," Winston added, giving Peter a brief grin. "But -- last night I got the impression there was something else going on. You wanna tell me what it is?"

There really was no reason not to, Peter knew. No reason not to tell Winston everything. "We made love, once. Back in college. We'd been friends for a while, and I knew I liked him, thought he might like me, and we finally just...did it. Middle of the day hanging at my frat house, and nobody was around. Figured what the hell?" Peter shrugged.

"And it didn't work?" Winston sounded confused.

"Nah, it worked great. Had the time of my life, and wish to god I'd been doing it with him ever since." Peter looked at Winston, who nodded, thinking he'd figured it out. "He was pretty happy with it, too," Peter said.

Winston's expression froze, then he frowned. "OK, now you've lost me again. You wanna just tell me already, or do I need to keep asking what's going on?"

"He doesn't remember what happened, afterwards," Peter said, quietly. He watched Winston's expression freeze again. "He blanked it mostly by himself, but I helped him, I'd done some hypnosis and he went under pretty easily. Came out of it remembering only that we'd had sex, liked it, and had decided not to do it again. I told him I liked girls, and loved him, but that guys just didn't do it for me. He felt bad, but he understood, and we agreed to be friends and... we are. And I miss him." The words slipped out unexpectedly, and Peter lowered his head.

He felt Winston's hand on his shoulder, a hard squeeze and a quiet, "What happened, Pete?"

"I don't know. I mean, I know but not -- a lot of the details. He'd started screaming and--" he stopped, and took a deep breath. "We had sex. We had pretty good sex, given that we were both nervous and scared about looking good and impressing each other and all those stupid things you think about when you have sex at that age. I knew what I was doing -- I'd had sex with guys, before, though I don't anymore. Can't, because... So we had sex, and we both liked it, and we were lying in my bed afterwards, kinda dozing a little, and I remember thinking I should get up and get us dressed before any of my frat brothers came around and found us.

"And Egon starts having this dream. I can tell it's a bad one, but I just go to wake him up, and he starts saying things. Yelling and begging and... he was screaming and I got him calmed down, but he wasn't... awake, or... he started saying it wasn't real, over and over again, and I -- hell, Winston, I was a third year grad student and all I knew were books and papers. All the classic signs of repressed trauma, and I didn't have a single fucking clue how to handle it. When he started calming himself down, I realised he was making himself forget it -- and I figured I could help, I could calm him down, and I just... kinda went with it. Talked him down til he was calm, then when he was, and he was sitting there all curled up in the corner, he asked me if I could hypnotise him. That he wanted to forget, again, and he knew I could because I'd been telling him about it. Worked carnys and stuff, hypnotising my friends and stuff, for cheap laughs.

"So I did, and he let me help him push it all away again. I still don't even know what it was -- what hurt him so bad that he couldn't even... Afterwards, I tried kinda joke-flirting with him, and he just acted like he was amused, but totally not interested. Sex was just nothing to him, anymore."

Peter took another deep breath, and looked squarely at Winston. "He asked me to leave a suggestion, when I hypnotised him. That when he could deal with it, he'd remember. And he hasn't, yet. We don't talk about what happened, because if he starts trying to remember, he will, before he's ready. I don't know what happened, and if I ever find out who it was I'll kill them so thoroughly no one will even remember they were born. But Egon doesn't know, and so it doesn't hurt him, and I'm not going to let anything happen to him ever again. Especially not forcing him to remember, just so I can sleep with him again."

He expected questions, or a nod and a 'yeah, so that explains...' Instead, Winston reached over and hugged him. Peter leaned into it, startled for a moment before he wrapped his arm around Winston's waist. Peter had to fight back everything he'd finally stopped thinking, again, else he say more out loud and get into the dangerous practice of it. He wanted to scream, himself, or cry, but it didn't take him long to get himself back under control.

It was nice, though, to have finally told someone. To finally be held again.

"What can I do?"

The question, when it came, didn't surprise him at all. "Just don't ask him about it, ok? I mean -- I don't know that just a couple questions would freak him out. He seems OK thinking it's all just me not...being interested that way. It isn't gonna make him remember. But if you asked, and kept asking, or kept saying things that made him wonder...." Peter shook his head. "Knowing Egon, he wouldn't rest until he figured it all out. And I don't want him too, until he's ready. If he's ever gonna be."

"How can you be sure he will? That he isn't ready?"

Peter had asked himself that same thing, a million times. A million nights spent lying in bed watching Egon sleep, or mornings spent watching him over breakfast, or days spent watching him do one kooky mad scientist thing after another and never showing any sign of half-forgotten horror.

He gave Winston the answer he gave himself, most often. "He'll know," he said simply. "I didn't brain wash him, when I hypnotised him. I just helped him do what he wanted done. When he wants to remember...he will."

The answer sounded as flat and un-reassuring as it did in his head. But it was the only answer he had, and he told himself he had to have faith. If Egon didn't want to remember, it was no business of Peter's
to force him.

"And what if he does?" Winston asked, quietly.

Peter actually grinned. "I've got twenty professional therapists on my rolodex who are willing to give me or any of my friends a discount on long-term therapy." The smiled died. "And maybe if he thinks I screwed up, he'll also forgive me."

"You think you screwed up?"

"How do I know?" Peter asked, trying to control the volume of his question. He wanted to fling it out, it and a hundred other things. "How can I tell if I made things worse? All I know is right now, he's happy. Content, at least, and I love him. I'd rather never touch him again, than make him go through hurting so bad."

"But--" Winston stopped, and shook his head, sighing. "I don't understand all of this, you know. But I can understand not wanting to remember bad shit. I can understand not wanting to make someone remember stuff they don't want to. But I don't get you thinking Egon can't handle it." Carefully, as though not wanting to upset Peter by accusing him, Winston said, "Don't you think he's strong enough to handle it?"

But that was a question Peter had already asked, and already found the answer for. "It doesn't matter what I think. Egon's the one who has to decide. It's his mind, his memories. Subconsciously, consciously, whatever -- he's the one who gets to decide. I love him, so all I get to do is be there to support whichever decision he chooses to make."

"Even if it means you never get to touch him?"

Peter shrugged. "Sex is over-rated anyway. And... I touch him all the time. Like friends. Like I do with all you guys."

"And that's enough?" Winston sounded like he didn't believe it.

But Peter nodded. He knew. "It's enough."

Winston looked at him for a long moment, still half-holding him in a hug. Peter knew he didn't buy it, not completely, but when he nodded, Peter knew he was willing to accept it. Peter relaxed, and rested against him, and Winston responded by holding him tighter.

He stared at the roof in front of him, realising that while they'd talked the sun had risen more and was nearly directly overhead. Hot enough to warrant going inside, but he didn't want to just yet. Wasn't ready to put it all back inside his head where he pretended he didn't know, pretended he had nothing to say that couldn't be said.

Face turned away where no one could see, he mouthed the words again.