To Dream Of Wanting

It wasn’t unusual for two of the beds to be empty. It was past midnight and Winston, Ray and Slimer were all tucked snug in their beds and air spaces. Egon’s bed was empty -- he was tucked snug away in his laboratory as he had been each night for the past ten days. Peter’s bed was empty as well, for much the reason as Egon’s. Peter, however, was tucked snug in the TV room with a copy of Dewey LaMort’s The Brackett Trail.

Egon was attempting to redo the third in a series of experiments designed to test the natural, instead of psychokinetic, electricity and magnetics of a pocket of air which had been recently occupied by a ghost (Slimer, encouraged to hold still for a few seconds by a plate of donuts). After submitting an article draft to three of his respected colleagues, Egon received their comments regarding the veracity of his experimental process. To wit, they weren’t certain his third experiment was showing what he claimed it was showing, and wanted repeated experimentation with suggested new variations. Egon had been delighted -- the suggestions had finally defined a problem which had been bothering him, yet been unable to solve. Now he felt confident that he could solve them, and was as usual eschewing sleep to do so. His friends simply smiled and nodded, and didn’t make any sudden moves in his vicinity. Slimer was loving it, as each new test involved his getting another snack.

Peter was up tonight as he had been for the past ten nights because -- though he was not going to admit it out loud -- Egon wasn’t there. No one said much about it, no more unusual for him to lose sleep than for Egon. They didn’t look at him askance as they did Egon, however. But then, Peter didn’t talk about why he was awake. He pleaded insomnia, offering no other excuses and stayed in the TV room or his office, idly occupying his time until he heard Egon head for the bedroom. Peter knew exactly why he was doing it, why after so many years Egon’s presence was necessary before he could sleep through the night.

Four months ago Egon had almost been killed.

It had not been on a bust -- those brushes with near-death were numerous enough for all the Ghostbusters that Peter and the others had learned to cope. They didn’t talk about it much, but every time one or more of them had a close call they always took time afterwards to recognise it. It didn’t make it easier to anticipate losing someone for good, but it helped. Four months previous, however, Egon had been crossing the street and had come within a hair’s breath of getting hit by an out-of-control car. Egon had not only not been scratched, but had also been mostly unaware of the incident -- focused on a physics problem, barely aware of the world around him. He’d brushed the matter off, and promptly forgotten about it. Peter, who had been waiting for him across the street, had been the only one to see how close the near-accident had been.

Peter hadn’t told anyone else how close it had been, leaving out the exact details when the general idea had upset their friends enough. Janine had scolded Egon for walking around thinking, Winston sternly told him not to do it again, and Ray had simply looked woefully at the other man until Egon had promised to be more careful. By the time a few days had passed, everyone but Peter had put it past.

For the month after Peter had endured silent nightmares, sleeping restlessly and hovering about Egon anxiously. When Egon finally noticed and asked him why, Peter stopped. He told himself to act normally, and soon he was. Soon he’d even put it out of his conscious thoughts, remembering only at night, when the dreams came again.

Then Egon started working late nights in the lab, and Peter couldn’t fall asleep.

He knew he could have talked to the other man about it, gotten reassurance that would soothe his fear and let him sleep. He could have visited one of his friends from grad school, now a practising clinical psychologist of note. He might even have talked to Ray and Winston, sharing his fear and getting support and relief from their companionship. Peter knew he could do any of those things, and maybe
a half a dozen more, to encourage or trick himself into sleeping when Spengler was too far away to observe.

Instead he sat, down the hall from the lab, listening to Egon working and trying to reread a book he already had memorized. He knew it was his only choice. Anything else would have involved focusing on why this man’s death would disturb him so and that was something he was determined to avoid. It wasn’t that Peter didn’t know he was in love; nor was it that he wanted to deny it. There was nothing to be done about it, so dwelling on it was useless. Peter had long accepted his love for Egon, and long accepted it would never be returned in exactly the same way. Egon was his best friend and loved him as much as any man could ask. That situation wasn’t what kept him from examining his reaction; he didn’t even mind so much anymore that he would never get what he really wanted.

Peter refused to face the near-calamity simply because thinking about Egon dying was too painful to bear. When he had to, when Egon nearly died on the job, he bore it because his friends could share his grief and then he stopped thinking about it as soon as he could. He would focus on what it would mean for the group left behind, help the others deal with it and never ask himself how he would survive. For the last four months he had been struggling to avoid that question. Now, if not facing it meant losing a little sleep, then so be it.

Tonight LaMort’s books were a good distraction. Peter hunched himself deeper into the couch; the previous two nights Egon had been awake all night, working, and Peter had never been allowed to fall asleep. He had nearly worked his way through all his westerns, the familiar stories easing his mind as he waited. He hoped Egon would go to bed tonight, he was beginning to feel the effects of too little sleep. Glancing up towards the lab, Peter wondered if he could find a spot near enough to the lab where he could lie down and still hear Egon working. Unfortunately there wasn’t such a spot, except for right in the hallway -- and that would be a bit difficult to explain.

Peter yawned, and leaned his head back. Closing his eyes, he decided to rest for a bit before continuing the book. He thought of Egon, surrounded by testing equipment and papers, scribbling obscure equations and mumbling to himself.

~~~~~

Peter was standing on a sidewalk, surrounded by a flow of people. The street was busy, as any New York street would be in the middle of the day. He was waiting for Egon to come out of the library and meet him here, in front of Bubba’s Cafe where Peter had been sampling some coffee even worse than Ray’s. Peter had finally decided to brave the rush of people rather than risk taking another sip. So he waited outside, keeping a casual eye out for a distinctive blond coif in the crowd.

He stood near the curb so he could check both sides of the street; his friend would no doubt have his head in the clouds, distracted by the physics problem which had finally driven him to the library for more references. He would walk right past Bubba’s, and Peter, noticing neither. As Peter waited, he shook his head. If it weren’t for the stop and go of the people around him, Egon would walk right into traffic.

That thought gave Peter an ominous feeling. He checked the street again -- suddenly almost free of cars. He felt his heart pounding. Where had they gone? Looking up and down the road, he saw the people vanishing as well, then signs, posters, everything except the concrete walls and asphalt road. A huge red stripe down the center of the street replaced the painted white lines.

Peter wanted to scream, wanted to run, but he couldn’t move. Desperately he searched again for Egon. He couldn’t be here, Peter thought wildly. He can’t be here... The roar of a car’s engine flashed without warning and Peter turned, knowing what he would see.

“NO!!!!!!” He held out his hands, hoping to stop it, hoping to make the car turn another way, but it was already veering. Terrified, he looked back and saw Egon, standing beside the street, nose in a book. The other man wasn’t moving, wasn’t even breathing -- as if he were already dead, and merely waiting for the excuse to leave.

Peter tried again to run, reach him before the car did. The horrible screech of brakes filled the street and he fell to his knees, screaming.

Peter sat up, heart pounding and choking back another scream. Looking around, he found himself in the TV room, lying on the couch. Pushing aside the book laying haphazard in his lap, he tried to calm down. He’d fallen asleep, not even aware he was sleeping until the vision of the car carreening into Egon and throwing him into the air, had woken him. Peter rubbed his eyes viciously, cursing himself for falling asleep. Startled, he looked down at his hands. They were wet. He’d been crying; he touched his face and found his cheeks streaked with tears and rubbed them quickly with his sleeve. Damn it all, anyway.

He got off the couch and headed shakily towards the lab -- just needing to see for himself, just needing to erase the images of his dreams. He stopped at the hall bathroom, washing his face and composing himself. He didn’t look up into the mirror, not wanting to see the haunted look in his eyes that he felt still coursing through his body. Feeling it was bad enough; he didn’t want this feeling confirmed by seeing it. Tears washed away, he went to Egon’s lab with a carefully constructed expression of casual interest on his face.

~~~~~

Egon was bent over the keyboard, typing with two fingers. That was a good sign, scientifically speaking; when experiments were going poorly Egon didn’t have the patience for the computer and made all his notes by hand. Peter stopped in the doorway and watched. This living, breathing, healthy sight went a long way to helping him forget the terror that had woken him moments ago. He wanted to go over and touch him, a friendly gesture to assure himself he was not still dreaming.

That thought made Peter freeze, paranoid thoughts swirling and he told himself it was not true. He was awake. This was real. A tiny scream slammed into his chest, and Peter tried to step forward, prove to his eyes that they were seeing the truth. He couldn’t move, afraid that he’d find a ghost or dream vanishing before him but also afraid that Egon would turn, see his fear, and ask him what was wrong. He should go, he should run before Egon could turn around... he should move closer and discover that his friend was indeed alive and well. Torn, he made no motion either way until a small green ghost floated up towards him, grinning.

“Peter! Donut?” Slimer greeted him loudly.

Peter winced, and waved him away. Swallowing, he spoke softly, hoping he’d sound at least normal. “No, Spud, I haven’t got any donuts. Ask the mad scientist over there.”

Slimer nodded, and sped over to hover above the computer’s monitor. Egon was still typing, entering data into a spreadsheet.

“Egon? Experiment?” Slimer asked hopefully.

Absently, Egon replied, “No, Slimer. We’re all through with the experiments. No more donuts tonight.”

“Awww....” Slimer pouted, then drifted backwards, through the wall.

Peter still hadn’t moved, uncertain if Egon had realised he was there. He wiped at his face again, knowing he should leave. Or say something, let the other man know he was there and have some friendly conversation before going back to his book. It was okay now, because if the experiments were over then it wouldn’t be long before all the data was stored and analysed and soon -- probably by week’s end -- Egon would be sleeping through the night again. Wearily, Peter told himself he could hold out until then.

“I’m almost finished with this series, Peter.”

“Huh?” Peter blinked, wondering if he’d asked a question without realising it.

“I will only need to complete this series and then we can talk.”

Peter leaned against the doorway, feeling his heart pounding again. He felt a little sick, and the little voice of reason in his head noted that it was from a combination of exhaustion, fear, and leftover adrenaline. “About what?” He crossed his arms tight so they wouldn’t shake.

Egon didn’t answer right away, concentrating on his typing.

Peter told himself it meant nothing. They usually got together and talked, when they were both up at all hours for whatever reasons. Peter waited, using the time to think of all the interesting things he’d like to tell Egon -- interesting and totally unrelated to his sleeping habits of late. He was feeling almost completely calm by the time Egon saved his work and shut down the program. When he turned around to face Peter, Peter was smiling and leaning against the wall nonchalantly.

“Find out anything new and unusual about the spud?”

“I can’t be sure yet. In addition to the data I was looking for, I have also managed to identify an interesting trend in the magnetic field readouts following the appearance of a ghost. Until I get corroborating data I can’t know for certain if it is because of the particular ghost itself, or certain of the experimental factors.” Egon stood up and headed over; Peter could tell the scientist was through working for the night. He smiled, hiding relief. “If the readings are unique to Slimer, they should not show up when I test other ghosts. I plan to conduct some tests next time we bust a class four or lower.”

Peter nodded, then asked, “What experimental factors?”

“One of the inert chemical substances may be having an effect on the atmospheric conditions.” Egon frowned in thought. “It should be simple enough to test with Slimer, but I would of course prefer to have additional spectral subjects.” Egon didn’t pause as he passed Peter, leaving the laboratory. Peter followed, and they headed downstairs.

“Inert chemical...?” Peter considered for a moment. Then he laughed. “The donuts? You think the donuts were contaminating your experiment?”

Egon gave him the ‘we are not amused’ look of a serious scientist. Then he smiled. “I noticed a difference between the readings when I was giving Slimer powdered donuts from when I gave him chocolate donuts. I plan to replicate the experiments tomorrow, with various other substances such as pizza and the leftover cornbread to see if there are any changes in the magnetic field.”

Peter held up his finger. “Not so loud. If the spud hears, he’ll come down and expect his snacks now.” He returned Egon’s smile, and added, “Now this I like -- ordering pizza for purely scientific reasons. Tomorrow’s dinner will have to come out of the R&D budget.”

Wryly, Egon replied, “I knew you’d understand.”

“I’ve always been a supporter of the research process, Egon.”

Peter slung an arm over his friend’s shoulders. For a brief second, the contact froze his awareness -- the first moment he believed he was no longer dreaming. Egon continued walking, leaving Peter’s arm on his back as if there were nothing wrong, nothing remarkable. Peter tried to jumpstart his brain -- stuck on the sensation, he knew he ought to do something, remove his arm or continue talking. A thousand times he had done this, and a thousand times he had never let himself fall into the temptation of noticing what he was doing at the time he was doing it. Surely he could do it again.

Instead Peter found himself accompanying Egon to the kitchen, arm still in place and having nothing to say. If he had been able to distract himself, he would have realised how nervous he was. His hand burned; he knew if he considered it he would begin thinking about how good it felt, how much he wanted to rest his hand -- but he couldn’t think, couldn’t get past the shock that here he was, standing beside this man who was alive, and real, and not dead beside burning, twisted metal.

Peter shook his head; the particularly gruesome image had popped up unbidden, he knew it was from a previous dream and not the one he’d just had. He’d woken himself up right before it could get to that part, this time. Glancing over at his companion, he tried once again to discourage his fears from overwhelming him.

He was met by a concerned look. Inwardly Peter grimaced, and tried to think again of some way to distract Egon from pursuing his trouble. The look in Egon’s eyes made him stop. There was no way he could get out of this. Peter had never been able to successfully lie to his best friend; Egon usually just didn’t call him on it. When things were serious, Peter got skewered by that intense, unrelenting, concerned gaze. He hated being forced to give up his secrets, especially when they involved how he felt, but he had never learned how to deny Egon’s questions and avoid -- for long -- answering them. Peter tried to remind himself that he always felt better, sort of... eventually... after talking to his friend.

He let Egon lead him into the kitchen and sit at the table, waiting patiently for him to begin.

“You haven’t been sleeping.” BAM. No punches pulled, no beating around the bush.

Peter winced. “Yeah, well....”

“Do you want to tell me why, or would you like to talk about something else first?” Less subtly than usual, Egon offered him a chance to delay things, but they both knew he’d say it eventually. Sometimes Peter took him up on the offer. Tonight, he just wanted to go upstairs and get some sleep.

Peter scooted his chair back from the table, resting his chin on his fists on the tabletop; he could look at Egon without seeing his face. “I keep thinking about that accident.” It was a lot harder to say than it came out sounding.

“I wasn’t hurt, Peter. Not even a scratch.” It sounded as though Egon understood, despite his words of protest.

“I know.” Peter didn’t look up.

“Is it because it was not while we were on a job? Because you had no opportunity to affect the event?”

Peter shrugged; he should have known Egon would have a handle on the possible reasons for Peter’s reaction. They’d had these conversations too many times before, when Egon thought Peter was not dealing sufficiently with his own reaction to one of his friend’s near-death. He knew all of Peter’s usual guilts and fears when it came to losing one of his friends on the job. Peter wasn’t sure how to explain this one. “I thought about that. But there was nothing I could have done. I don’t think--” He stopped, and considered his next words again. Realising they were true, he said them. “I don’t think that part of it is really bothering me.”

“Then why is it still upsetting you?” Egon asked encouragingly.

This time Peter looked away from even the non-expressive shirt he’d been staring at. His voice dropped. “I guess it just scared me.”

Egon didn’t say anything. He reached across the table and squeezed Peter’s arm; the contact made Peter shiver. Egon must have noticed, for in the next moment he was moving around the table to sit beside Peter, taking him into a hard embrace. Peter let Egon hold him, thinking this would help him get out of this conversation, one true feeling and one reassuring hug and Egon would let him go. Everything else would be safely still tucked away.

He found himself grabbing onto Egon, pulling him tighter into the hug. He dropped his head against the other man’s shoulder, closing his eyes and losing his mind. Egon was alive. He was here, holding him, being a friend and being so incredibly not killed that Peter realised he couldn’t quite face it. Facing it, and facing what had almost been... facing, as well, what would never be. Peter began crying, and Egon simply held him tighter.

~~~~~

Eventually Egon went with him upstairs, going to bed without saying anything more. Peter lay in his own bed gratefully, barely able to keep his eyes open. The last thing he saw was Egon, setting his glasses on the nighttable, and then he was fast asleep.Egon made it to bed at a decent hour every night for the next two weeks. Peter didn’t call him on it, although he knew it was to let him get to sleep. He wanted to feel guilty about it, knowing Egon would have liked to stay up and work on his paper, analysing the data and organising new experiments. But it felt too good to finally get some sleep -- especially since the nightmares had dropped off to merely the occasional vision of a car and a red splatter of paint.

Soon, he told himself, he would let Egon know he was sleeping fine and let the other man get back to his usual routine. Soon. For now it felt so good to sleep through the night and when not, know he would see Egon’s form underneath the blankets only two feet away.

It felt good, too, to know Egon wasn’t waiting to ask more difficult questions. Peter suspected Egon knew he hadn’t been told the whole truth, but he hadn’t asked for more. Peter knew he wouldn’t ask unless Peter showed no signs of complete recovery. He figured he had a month -- four weeks to keep having nightmares and sleepless nights should Egon be absent, and then he would be expected to have dealt with his fear. For if not, Egon would step in again and offer to help. Peter intended to be behaving completely back to normal before then.

It helped that business was picking up again. They were getting two or three jobs daily, running mostly to smaller classes of spectres and things going bump in the middle of the afternoon. The work kept them all busy, and tired by evening. Egon was showing no proclivity to remain awake past eleven, and Peter was able to drop off to sleep quickly when he finally made it to bed. No one said much of anything about Peter’s reaction to the accident, and Peter was able to act as if everything were going back to normal.

~~~~~

Almost a fortnight later, after another routine and exhausting day chasing class 3s, Peter found himself honestly making his deadline. It took him rather by surprise when he noticed that he hadn’t had a nightmare in five nights. That led to the realisation that he’d fallen asleep the night before not knowing exactly where Egon was. The other man had been in the firehouse, Peter knew, but he hadn’t been in the bunkroom. Peter grinned at himself. Despite his best efforts to pretend he was doing so, it seemed he was putting the accident behind him. He got ready for bed that night with a feeling of relaxation that he hadn’t felt in months.

The alarm woke him at three am. Peter gave Winston’s empty bed a fierce glare. He knew who’d hit the alarm as soon as his eyes opened and was not above refraining from vetting his annoyance on the furniture. Winston had been out on what Peter had referred to as a ‘melt your eyebrows’ date and wasn’t expected back home until late. After a moment to indulge his displeasure, Peter jumped out of bed and followed the others downstairs, throwing his jumpsuit on over his striped pajamas. He grabbed his proton pack and boots, dragging them behind him into Ecto-I. He gave Winston another glare, toned down for the severity of the situation. Any alarm at this hour had to be a bad one.

“What’s the call, Winston?” Ray asked from the back seat, sounding entirely too awake and eager for Peter’s tastes.

Winston had the car backing out of the firehouse. “Trouble, from the sound of things. A woman reported the presence of a class 6 -- said it looks like a big green floating lizard with fangs and it’s
melting walls and scaring cars.”

Egon glanced up from his PKE meter, which he’d been tweaking in preparation. “Perhaps you mean scaring cats?”

Winston looked over his shoulder, holding the steering wheel steady. “Nah, man, she said cars. I asked her to repeat it twice.”

“I’ve changed my mind. I wanna sleep in.” Peter was keeping an eye on the delivery truck ahead of them. They weren’t about it hit it. He thought.

“Peter,” Ray chastised. “This is a great opportunity! It doesn’t sound like anything we’ve been up against before!”

“So why break a record? Let’s go two thousand, four hundred and sixty six days without seeing one!”

“I’ll have to check Tobin’s Guide to be certain, but it sounds as if it might be a free-ranging lizardgeist.” Egon was scrolling through his handheld electronic Tobin’s. Ray leaned over and read the screen with him, a huge grin on his face.

“Wouldn’t that be something? It’d be the first recorded appearance in the last six centuries!” Ray grinned up at Peter, who was still giving his friends a discouraging frown. “According to legend, the lizardgeist can only survive in this world for five days before it has to return to its own dimension and it can only be brought over by a magician or demon class 8 or higher. They’re hard to control, apparently a someone tried to summon one once in 1264 AD and the lizardgeist escaped easily. The poor guy wasn’t strong enough to hold it.” Ray’s grin faded somewhat as he thought of the poor guy in question.

“So if it can only stick around for five days, why not let it scare a few cars and go home?” Peter knew what the answer would be, but felt compelled to ask. You never knew when a job only sounded serious but wasn’t, and if he didn’t call his friends on it, they’d drag him into an unnecessary bust just for the experience. It was a slim possibility, but he asked anyway.

Egon gave him a serious look -- the one Peter didn’t like because it usually presaged something like -- “The last lizardgeist to spend five days on earth demolished a mountain range. Imagine what it could do to New York City.”

“Well, we’d save a lot on urban renewal projects.” Peter shrugged, not letting his friends see how Egon’s words had affected him. How had he ever gotten himself into a job like this? He gave himself a moment to make sure he sounded calm, and asked, “So what does Tobin say about getting rid of this thing? Pull its tail off?”

“Actually, there is reason to believe that will create a second lizardgeist.” Egon was back to reading the guide. Peter just stared at the distracted scientist in shock.

“You’re kidding. Right, Spengler? Just a little morbid humour to scare Uncle Peter?”

“Unfortunately, no. We should take great care not to physically dismember the creature. It may even be more than just a severed tail which can create a new lizardgeist.”

Ray was still wide-eyed and grinning. “Wow! I wonder if the Hydra in Greek myth was a lizardgeist?”

“Well why don’t we go fetch Hercules before tackling this monster?” Winston spoke up.

“No time,” Ray pointed out, as the car came to a stop. “Look!”

Ray and Winston had already been staring at it; Egon and Peter looked over. The street ahead of them was littered with tumbled vehicles and semi-liquid steel and concrete. Pieces of torn canvas and broken fiberglass signs covered the sidewalks, and all around there was an eerie howling, heard dimly over the blaring of the Ghostbusters’ siren. Winston shut off the engine and siren, and the howl grew only slightly louder. The street was deserted of any living -- or at least moving -- creature.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Peter observed, shivering at the sensation that had just gone down his back -- like icy claws, scratching his skin.

The others appeared to agree, even Ray’s enthusiasm dampened a bit. Egon held the PKE meter up, checking the area before anyone made a move to get out of Ecto-I. The steady blips sounded omnious; Peter recalled the scene from Aliens where the Marines had checked the motion detectors, hearing an identical steady ‘blip’. He gripped his thrower tighter. Egon’s voice came, somewhat reassuringly, “I’m detecting the passage of a powerful entity -- definitely class 6. It is not currently in the area.”

“Will our proton beams be able to handle it?” Winston asked, sounding composed and ready for battle.

“There is every reason to believe we will be able to dispatch the creature with our beams on maximum.”

Peter gave his best friend a hopeful look. “Quickly and painlessly?”

“Well...” Egon began, apologetically.

Peter interrupted. “I say we take off, nuke the street from orbit.”

Ray gave him a half-grin. “It would be the only way to be sure.” He opened his door, and grabbed his proton pack. “Come on, guys, let’s go find him.”

Peter sighed, wishing again he was in another line of business that included the fame, fortune, and friends, but didn’t include the slime and heavy packs and the almost getting killed. He should have gone into accounting, he told himself, as he got out of the car. Lewis did pretty well, fame and fortune-wise, as their accountant. As he pulled the straps on, he recalled that Lewis didn’t entirely escape the slime and danger parts, either. With a resigned shake of the head, Peter turned to face the empty street. He stifled a desire to call out a ‘hello?’

Egon and Ray walked ahead, tracking the creature’s progress with the meter. Winston and Peter walked behind and to each side, watching the buildings and holding throwers ready. The sudden crash of metal made them all spin to their right; Peter was closest, and took a step towards the noise. He saw a metal can lying on its side, and realised it had fallen from the pile of crates beside it. Keeping his thrower trained, he glanced over at Egon. “Any sign of it?”

“Negative. It was definitely here, but it has gone now.”

“But gone where?” Winston asked. Peter could not hear the nervousness in the other man’s voice and was glad -- as always -- that he was there. Winston made protecting Egon and Ray an easier task.

“The readings head west. It appears to be traveling rather quickly -- we may need to--”

“Ghostbusters!” A woman’s scream interrupted Egon’s response.

They all looked over to see her standing in the stoop of the building across the street. She was not-quite old, long dark hair and wearing a red wrap-around. Peter guessed her to be the one who’d called in. As they headed over to her, he noticed that she wasn’t hysterical. Either she had missed the bulk of the creature’s rampage, or she extraordinarily brave.

She met them on the sidewalk, casting worried glances up and down the street. Egon reassured her, “The creature has moved on, approximately one mile in that direction.” He pointed.

“I know! I saw it go. Can you capture it? Send it back where it came from?”

“Not to worry, ma’am.” Peter stepped forward, radiating confidence and charm. “The Ghostbusters can handle him.” He thought it odd that she had asked if it could be captured, not destroyed.

“Did you see it?” Ray bounced forward, excited all-over again. “Are you the one who called us?”

She nodded, and Peter saw a bit of reluctance in her reply. He felt the beginning of a bad feeling; it made him want to distrust her. She sounded basically calm, if worried, when she said, “I did. It appeared in the alley back there, and began tearing everything apart. That’s when I called. When I looked back out at the street, it was moving away.” She indicated the direction Egon had, earlier.

“We’d better get moving, gentlemen, if we are going to stop this creature before it does too much damage.” Egon said.

“Ghosts wait for no man,” Peter nodded to the woman, maintaining his cowboy image for her benefit. “Let’s go, fellas.” He let the others precede him to the car. He looked over his shoulder to see the woman still on the sidewalk, gazing down the street where the creature had gone. She definitely looked worried -- but not scared. Peter frowned, and told himself this was something to check into, afterwards. Assuming they survived. Peter stuck his tongue out at the little voice in his head which insisted on adding that last bit, and got back in the car.

Egon directed them down the streets, although Winston was having no trouble following the creatures’ trail of carnage. He and Ray discussed possible methods of capturing the lizardgeist as they drove; Peter noted that each option was overlain with a definite ‘might work, maybe, you never really know til you try’. He decided not to complain next time he got slimed by a measly class three.

They pulled to a stop when they found the burning cars. The cars were arranged almost tastefully in a semi-sphere, insde of which stood a large, upset lizardgeist. Peter decided that he really, really wanted to be somewhere else before he gripped his thrower and stepped out of Ecto. Egon stepped out behind him, holding the PKE meter.

“It is a class 8 lizardgeist. As I suspected.” Egon’s quiet voice strangely reassured him. Peter kept his thrower trained on the creature, waiting for their next move.

“Can we blast him?” Winston asked from the other side of the car. Peter glanced over and saw Ray standing behind him, eyes wide and fixed on the lizardgeist. Peter knew that Stantz was thinking to himself -- ‘wow!’

“I believe we can stop its progress with beams at maximum. I do not yet know whether we can trap it. The traps may hold it and they may not. We’ll simply have to try one and find out.”

“Well then let’s stop it and argue technicalities later.” Peter moved forward as the lizardgeist turned its attention to the last remaining untrashed car on the block -- Ecto-I.

“I’m with you!” Winston was ready to defend their precious car. Behind them Egon and Ray came forward and the four men walked abreast until they reached the very edge of the vehicular perimeter.

“Ready proton packs,” Egon intoned, sounding much like the captain of a familiar starship. “Fire!”

Four beams flew out and struck the creature head-on. It roared, halting its move to add Ecto to its pile of toys. The proton charges danced over it, surrounding it with a burning glow. The Ghostbusters had to dig in their heels to hold their beams steady as the lizardgeist fought them, but the beams continued to hold. Peter had a nasty feeling it couldn’t be this easy and he called out to Egon. “What now?”

“Throw your traps out!” Egon ordered, and each man in turn reached for the trap at his belt. One-handed, the beams were difficult to aim but the Ghostbusters worked quickly and tossed the traps out before losing their hold on the screaming lizardgeist. When Ray tossed the fourth trap out and regained his grip on the thrower, Egon counted down.

They stepped on the four releases simultaneously. The trap doors opened, right at the lizardgeist’s feet. While it continued to fight the proton beams, the Ghostbusters watched and waited. The traps were obviously trying to pull it in, but nothing was happening.

“Why aren’t the traps working?” Winston hollered.

“I was afraid of this,” came Egon’s reply. “The lizardgeist is sufficiently discorporeal that the beams can hold it here, but not for the traps to affect it.”

“We need to banish it with the same spell that brought it here!” Ray cried.

Peter fought the bucking thrower in his hands, knowing they wouldn’t be able to hold the thing much longer before their packs ran out of energy. He didn’t want to see the lizardgeist’s reaction, however, to sudden freedom. “Why didn’t you say so before?” Peter grumbled.

“Didn’t think of it,” Ray shrugged apologetically.

Peter started to ask what they should do -- risk letting the creature go while they regrouped, or trying something else, fast, like blowing it up with overloaded packs. He didn’t have a chance to say anything before a woman’s voice rose above the noise.

“Creature of the Other Plain, hear me!”

The four men looked over, and saw the woman they’d spoken to only minutes before. She was wrapped in a orange cloak, and stood not too far away, arms raised overhead.

“You mean she’s the one who called it here?” Ray sounded amazed.

“Let’s ask her later! Keep this goolie in line while she sends it home!” Peter called back. The four men held their proton beams on the lizardgeist as the woman spoke on. They did not hear her next words, until she waved her hands and called,

“Held fast in your tracks, follow your only door!”

Above the lizardgeist a portal opened. Beyond it the Ghostbusters could see dim yellow light, but nothing more. The lizardgeist did not seem happy, but as it fought the beams and remained trapped by them, it appeared to accept its only choice. With one final roar and thrash of its tail, it leapt up through the portal and vanished. They switched off their throwers and the portal closed with a huge whoosh --unnoticed in the crashing of the piled cars, knocked down by the final flick of the lizardgeist’s tail.

The Ghostbusters leapt for cover; Peter ran a few steps and knocked the woman down. He covered her with his body as the debris fell around them. For a moment it seemed like there existed only sound -- horrible cries, metal on concrete, breaking glass and the dim roar of flames. When the sound died, he raised his head and saw the wreckage scattered throughout the street, including the truck lying sideways a few inches away. He stared at it for a few long seconds.

“Thank you...” a voice came from beneath him, grateful but querying.

“Oh!” Peter scrambled off the woman, discovering to his surprise that he felt nothing more than bruises as he moved. He stood and held out his hand. She took it and let him help her up; he watched as she checked herself over for damage. Her cloak was torn, and her hair cascaded over one side of her face. She pushed it back, and then caught sight of the truck. She stopped, and stared at it. Peter began to reassure her when he realised he’d heard his friends behind them. Whirling, he did not have time to wonder what he’d see before he saw all three standing, gazing around at the carnage. None were holding themselves as if in pain, although he suspected they’d be bruised as he was. He gave thanks to whomever it was who’d decided to keep an eye out for the Ghostbusters, and returned his attention to the woman.

He didn’t want to think whether he’d come close to finding one of his companions killed. He gave the woman a charming smile. “We appreciate your help in getting rid of that goober. I’m Dr.--”

“I know.” She gave him a smile which made Peter feel as if he’d wandered into a gypsy’s fortune telling tent at a carnival. “You’re Peter Venkman.” She met his gaze squarely, and said, “You saved my life.”

“You’re welcome.” Peter grinned. “But you saved ours, so it looks like we’re even.”

“How did you know what spell to use?” Ray asked. The others had joined them.

At that the woman looked uncomfortable, and guilty. Peter’s suspicions were confirmed when she said, “I called it here. It was a mistake -- I was told that the creature I was calling was not so large, nor so powerful. The one who gave me the spell tricked me. Fortunately I researched the banishments before I called it. I could not have banished it, however, if you men had not held it as you did. Thank you.” She was giving them each a look that spoke of sincerity, and something else which made Peter refrain from asking about the one who’d tricked her. This was something, he told himself, which he did not want to get involved in. The lizardgeist was gone, and that was enough.

“You’re welcome, ma’am. We’d better get our stuff picked up and get out of here before the mayor decides to charge us for clean-up.” Peter nudged his friends away, towards the car.

“Peter, I--” Ray began to protest.

“Later, Ray.” Peter gave his friend a quelling glare. The other man subsided, trusting his friend’s judgement even when it confused him.

Egon and Winston remained silent, trading wary glances. Peter didn’t waste time trying to explain, just herded them back to gather the traps and load the car. Winston sighed, and jogged over to check Ecto, to make sure she was drivable. The woman continued to stand where she was, watching, making no move to stop them or explain. Peter was grateful -- the eerie feeling pushing at him was growing stronger and he wanted to be gone before he found out he was right.

He looked up, startled, as he retrieved one of the traps to find the woman standing beside him. He started to grin, distract her with a bit of friendly Venkman charm.

“You saved my life, Peter Venkman. I wish to reward you.”

“Hey, that’s not necessary.” He stood easily, looking and sounding confident. “I’m just doing my job.”

“Nonetheless, I will reward you. Tell me -- what do you desire?”

The expression in her eyes made him think that she was offering him the one gift a woman always had to give -- and that he’d be dead the next morning if he accepted. Nervously, he glanced over at his friends who were changing the pierced front tire that was Ecto’s only major damage. “I don’t really--”

“What is in your heart, and tell me is it what you most desire?”

The odd wording made him look back at her, look into stark black eyes that held him. He thought of her question and he knew there was nothing she could give him that was hers to give, and nothing safe to ask for that was. Wealth? Fame? Whoever this woman was, if she could give him those things he wanted no part of it. He smiled. “I really want a nap. And a hot shower.”

She returned the smile, and Peter was not reassured. “You have your desire. I thank you, and now I must go deal with... other things.”

He was glad she didn’t go into detail on those ‘other things’.

He watched her go, heading down the ruined sidewalk like someone completely, utterly normal and he shivered. He hurried over to Ecto, and rested a hand on Egon’s shoulder. “How’s it going?”

Egon looked over; Ray and Winston were kneeling by the car, replacing the tire. “Ecto sustained only superficial damage, as have we all. That is, if you’re all right.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Peter didn’t miss the concerned note in Egon’s voice. He wanted, suddenly, to take the man in his arms and reassure them both. He didn’t, however, and just looked down to gauge the others’ progress. He felt a sudden chill, though there was no breeze. The sirens of the emergency vehicles were growing closer. “I want my hot shower.”

“You’re not the only one,” Winston told him. “That does it! She’s all ready. Let’s go home, fellas.”

~~~~~

Back at Ghostbuster Central, Peter got dibs on the hot showers. He wondered -- briefly -- if it was the mysterious woman’s doing, taking him at his word. As the hot water washed the dirt and grime away and soothed his bruises, he decided he didn’t want to know. If it was, great, if not... he wouldn’t worry about it. The shower felt too good to let anything else bother him and it reminded him that he was, in fact, awake at five a.m. and really didn’t want to be.

He wrapped a towel around his waist and left the bathroom for the next man in line. His pajamas were in desperate need of washing, so he dug out a tshirt and sweat pants, and crawled into them. That was immediately followed by crawling into bed. Before he could ask someone to shut off the light, he fell asleep.

He awoke at 8 a.m. when the phone rang. For a second he didn’t realise what the noise was; it was only when he heard Winston’s sleepy voice answering the upstairs phone that he figured it out. Peter groaned, exhausted and annoyed -- his sleep had been distinctly uneasy, dreams filled with scattered images of Egon, burning cars, and red paint. He suddenly thought to ask himself why he dreamt of paint, than the blood he knew it stood for. It made the dreams seem a bit unreal, although every other detail was horrifying in its clarity. Maybe that was it, he reasoned, and he rolled onto his side. A little bit of unreality to ease the blow of his fears. Peter opened his eyes, knowing he was facing his friend’s bed. Egon was still asleep, blankets covering all but the top of his head as he curled up. He looked so calm, so unaware of any danger that might have befallen him.

Peter wanted to cry but he didn’t. He loved this man so much, and all he could do was lie here and watch him, not even reach out and touch, only watch and occasionally whisper when no one could hear. Egon was fast asleep, motionless and breathing steadily; the morning light was reflecting on his hair, highlighting the softest spots. Peter could see the side of his nose, where his glasses rested and thought of rubbing it gently -- the massage would make Egon limp, head tipped back, slowly relaxing. Then he’d smile up at Peter and say thank you, eyes slightly bleary but oh, so blue...

Biting his lip, Peter took two more moments to watch his friend sleep, and thought the words he could not say. Then he closed his eyes, and tried to return to sleep. Maybe he could dream of Egon as he’d used to, before the near-accident when his dreams of loving had been replaced by dreaming of dying. A wet dream would be potentially more embarrassing, but it had been so long since he had been able to dream that his best friend would love him that way. His missed that feeling which, though frustrating, was easy and familiar and left him with nothing more than regret and love. Yesterday he’d almost left the dreams of dying behind, and now he suspected it would be another long battle to defeat them again.

~~~~~

They had no calls that day, and the four men took advantage of the quiet to do some work around the firehouse. It was, they each knew, a chance to reassure themselves they had survived another nasty encounter. Peter kept an eye on each of his friends, and noted with satisfaction that they were all dealing well with that morning’s events. Ray stayed a bit closer to each of the others, neither saying nor doing anything about it as he used the proximity to comfort himself. Winston kept up a nearly constant dialogue, using his questions and comments to reassure himself his buddies were all right. Egon merely watched, knowing where each man was no matter where or what he was doing. Peter was doing much the same, though he would have claimed it was for professional reasons as the ‘official’ team psychologist.

More than once his and Egon’s watchful gaze would settle on each other, and they’d exchange silent looks. Sometimes they’d share a smile, understanding what the other was doing; sometimes they’d merely watch, trying to gauge by the expression in the other man’s eyes how he truly felt. Peter would always look away from the contact with an uneasy feeling that maybe this time Egon had seen more than he should have. But nothing ever came of it, Egon never approached him and asked why he felt as he did and why he’d never said so. Peter told himself, after the initial worry faded, that if Egon had said nothing for all these years he likely never would. Then he would look up to find Egon watching him, and wonder again what his friend could see.

That night Peter didn’t fall asleep until Egon was settled in his bed. He lay awake for several minutes, looking at the man grow quiet, getting closer to sleep, then as soon as his breathing deepened and his body totally relaxed Peter found his eyes closing. He was asleep within moments, and woke only when the crash of a car echoed throughout his dreams.

~~~~~

The following morning Peter was sitting at his desk, working his way through the previous week’s paperwork. Janine had tried to threaten him by telling him there was a month’s worth undone. He’d known better, but discovered in the unpaid bills stack the reason for her blustering. He quickly wrote the check for the Ghostbusters’ medical insurance before it lapsed -- two days before Janine’s yearly check-up. Two years ago he’d let it lapse just long enough for the secretary to spend three months arguing with her doctor’s office, insurance agent, and anyone else who got in her way, about just why she was not going to pay her doctor’s bill. Since then she had taken it to heart not to let Peter get behind in his paperwork again.

She’d done it so well that by now, when she wanted to scare him, she only had to mention that there might be unpaid bills lying on his desk.

Peter dealt with the short stack of bills, and left them for Janine to mail. He was about to start in on the accounts receivables when Janine walked around the partition. “Here are your messages, Dr. V.” She handed him a few pieces of pink ‘while you were out’ papers.

He took them, wondering why she hadn’t simply left them on his desk as usual. She stood beside his desk, as if waiting for him to say something. He stopped glancing through the messages and looked at her. “Yes, Janine?” He gave her his best cheerful smile.

“Is there anything you’d like for me to take care of, Dr. V?” She said it casually, as if that was all she wanted. Step two in the paperwork game.

Peter wasn’t fooled. “Oh, I don’t think so, Janine. I haven’t had a chance to go through any of the important stuff yet... I think I’ll return these calls, and then head upstairs for lunch.”

She gave him a stern look. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want me to do?”

He started to answer, but realised he didn’t want to walk into agreeing to give her the day off because there was no work for her to do. He looked around, “Well... other than the filing...” There was a stack of files, papers, and whatnots about a foot high, sitting on top of the filing cabinet. Peter kept it there for just such occasions -- when there was no other work to be done.

“Fine,” Janine snapped, and walked over to the stack. She didn’t quite sound annoyed, but Peter knew she was. Whether because she thought he hadn’t paid the insurance, or because he wouldn’t admit it, Peter wasn’t certain. He went back to his phone messages as Janine began filing, ignoring her rather pointed slamming open and closed of the filing drawers.

The third phone message made him forget her all together. The call was from someone named Anna, who, according to Janine’s note, ‘sounded as if she knows you/classy lady, not your style’. She wanted to meet with Peter this afternoon at the Chedwick Hotel for a drink, and to catch up on old times. There was no return number. Peter could only remember knowing three ladies named Anna and two of them would definitely not fit Janine’s description. One was an old friend of his mother’s who never did care for Charlie Venkman or his son. One was a lady who, though definitely more his style, would not be speaking to him again in this lifetime. The third... Peter mentally cleared his schedule for the day. He checked the time, and realised he had just enough of it to shower, pick out decent clothes, and head over to the hotel.

He scanned the other messages to make sure they weren’t urgent -- more urgent than Anna’s -- and left them on his desk. As he headed out of his office, he called over his shoulder, “I’ll be out the rest of the day, Janine... clean up my desk for me, will ya?” No point in letting the insurance lapse because he didn’t tell Janine to mail the bills. Janine would be upset, he knew, at his cavalier request, but eventually she’d stomp over and start pushing things around a bit and discover the bills ready to mail. Peter ran upstairs and reviewed what he should wear. Anna, if it were the lady he remembered, was a wonderful, fun lady. Maybe he’d wear the light blue shirt...

~~~~~

Peter entered the lobby of the Chedwick Hotel, scanning briefly for the bar/restaurant where Anna said she would be waiting. He found it off the to left, and headed over. He didn’t yet see anyone he recongised, but he could only see partway in the seating area. When he reached the hostess’ stand, he casually gave the area a more careful look.

“May I help you, sir?” A charming young blonde girl was smiling up at him.

He returned the smile. “I certainly hope so. I’m meeting a friend here, she may have already arrived.”

“What is your name, sir?” She was giving him a close look beneath her formal friendliness. It was inappropriate for her to stare, but Peter had seen the look enough times to recognise it. She thought she knew him, recognised his face from the newscasts. Peter gave her one of his better charming smiles. He loved this part. “I’m Dr. Peter Venkman.”

“Oh! I knew... I mean, yes, Ms. Freedman left this for you.”

She grinned as she handed over a piece of paper -- wrapped around a hotel key.

Peter accepted it graciously. It was unexpected, but -- if it was the Anna he remembered, not unwelcome. The note read simply, “Peter, please join me for the afternoon. -- A.” He headed for the elevators, giving the young hostess a cheerful thanks.

Upstairs he found the key opened a door to an elegant suite -- the living area was almost luxurious, and the bar near the far wall looked moderately well-stocked. Luxury for the cost-conscious, he realised. Very nice for an afternoon. He stepped inside, not seeing anyone. “Anna?” Maybe she was waiting for him...

“Peter.” A familiar voice -- a very familiar, very un-Anna voice said his name. Peter froze in shock, as Egon stepped into the living room.

“Egon? What’s going on?” For a moment he wondered if he were asleep, or maybe hallucinating. More likely he’d fallen into an alternate dimension and would have to be rescued by his friends before being killed by demons. He watched warily as Egon walked over. As he neared Peter realised this wasn’t his friend. This creature’s eyes were glowing softly black. As he watched, they snapped suddenly to Egon’s more familiar blue. Peter stepped back. “What are you? What have you done with Egon?” He suddenly wished he’d brought his proton pack. Hard to explain to the real Anna, of course, had she been here.

“I am your heart’s desire, Peter. To be more accurate, I am a simulacrum of your heart’s desire.” The care tones were so much like Egon's, Peter felt goosebumps rise on his arms.

“A simulacrum, huh?” Peter continued edging backwards. The simulacrum stood still, watching Peter with a decidedly Egon-like expression. It was unnerving. “Well that’s great for you, buddy. But I’m outta here.”

“Peter, please let me explain.” He gave Peter a very subtle beseeching look -- one which had always gotten the real Egon anything he wanted. Peter frowned, preparing to run out of the room the second he got his hand on the doorknob. He’d call the guys and they’d come blast this thing. “I am not here to harm you in anyway. I will swear so, by anything you request.”

“Uh-huh.” Peter felt behind him.

“Peter. Don’t you want me?” The not-Egon looked him square in the eye. For a second, he looked and sounded so much like Peter’s dreams that he hesitated. Egon’s face was looking at him with an expression he knew he’d never see. Love, desire, and acceptance.

“You’re not Egon. I don’t want you.”

“But for one afternoon, I can be. Peter,” the simulacrum stepped closer. Peter fumbled for the doorknob, and found he was still too far away. He tried to turn, and the simulacrum was suddenly standing beside him. “Peter, this is your reward. For one afternoon, you may have what you most want. The real Egon will never need to know. After today,” the simulacrum was suddenly leaning in, and Peter found himself staring at those clear blue eyes, feeling the heat of the body almost pressed up against him. He shivered and reminded himself this was not Egon. He continued, “you will not see me again. One afternoon to indulge yourself in all of your dreams, Peter. This is your reward.”

“Yeah, right,” Peter managed, still staring at those eyes. If it was true, then what an opportunity -- he shook his head. “How do I know you won’t be whisking me away to some demon’s hell as soon as I say yes?”

“What would you have me swear by?”

Peter thought it over, knowing that only something the simulacrum valued would hold him to his sworn word. Startled, he realised what he was thinking. To find something to have him swear by, prove he was telling the truth... so he could accept? Peter shook his head. He’d lived this long without ever kissing those lips. He could live a while longer. He opened his mouth to give the guy the brush-off.

The simulacrum moved forward, quickly catching Peter off-guard with a kiss. Intense, sudden, and tasting like nothing he had ever touched. Peter found himself shaking, wanting to push himself away but finding himself drowning in everything that was ever ‘Egon’. The smell was Egon’s, the feel of the hands now on his back was Egon’s, the press of his lips was more than what he had ever thought; the sensation running up and down his body, the heat and touch of Egon, pressing against him, holding him, kissing him... Peter moaned and pushed himself away.

His body was reacting as if it were a dream. It was telling him Egon was here, ready to hold and kiss him again. “I don’t trust you,” he managed. It was difficult, when his hands wanted to grab him and pull him close again. But this was dangerous, if it were a trap, it was a particularly insidious one.

“I swear,” the simulacrum's breath was hot against Peter’s neck, raising goosebumps. “by my very existence, by the one who created me, by the love you feel for the one I am to be today, that I tell you the truth. Your reward, Peter, and nothing else. One afternoon of loving and then I shall be no more.”

“If...” Peter was trying to think clearly, as one hand on the small of his back pulled him in, while the other held his arm. “you’re going to be no more,” now the hand on his arm was trailing lightly, rubbing the smooth fabric of his shirt against his skin. Peter swallowed. “Then how can you swear by--” a mouth kissed ever so softly along his neck, down towards the collarbone. “your existence?” Peter finished, body on fire and wanting him to shut up and enjoy.

“Because I am, now. If I lied, I would lose even this.” The simulacrum’s mouth was pressed against his shoulder, hot breath stirring the shirt. Peter knew he was as hard as his dreams had ever made him, and knew that if he left now he’d have to find a pitcher of ice water before he could walk out of here safely. Better still, his body whispered, to stay, and feel this wondrous thing, revel in the experience of a loving he could otherwise never have.

Peter tried to tell his body to hush, but then he found Egon’s mouth near his and he wanted another taste, one taste to take him home and remember. He captured Egon’s mouth and kissed him, taking all he could. The kiss was returned, pulling him in as well, and the last voice which said this could be a bad idea vanished, leaving only Peter embracing his beloved desire in the tightest clench he had ever known.

Peter placed his hands on Egon’s head, holding him in, entwining his fingers through the soft hair, moving one hand as he continued to kiss him until he was running his fingers through the curl on top. He noticed -- minutes later -- that despite his efforts the shock of hair remained curled. He wondered vaguely if that would hold true for the real Egon, and then thoughts vanished again as hands pulled him gently forward, tugging at the waistband of his jeans. He moaned, and followed.

“I really--”

“Shh,” a finger pressed against his lips, and Peter licked it, wondering what Egon would taste like. He was rewarded with a shiver; he licked again. He began to explore the hand with his tongue. He remembered dreams where he had had only this to show Egon how much he felt, only this simple touch to express his devotion. He moved, in this reality’s dream, expressing all the touches he would never again be able express. Would this simulacrum understand? Peter wanted to stop and ask, but his mind refused to leave the dream. He barely felt the hands moving along his on body, as he concentrated on loving the hand he held.

One hand finally pulled his head up, and he saw Egon’s eyes staring down at him with arousal. An electric spark shook his body, from one fingertip where Peter was touching him, to the tips of his toes. It was impossible to say no, now, and Peter lunged forward. The kiss was impatient, telling him everything he wanted. When the kiss was broken, Peter found himself being led to the bedroom, shirt unbuttoned along the way. He let himself be undressed and eased onto the bed.

Then he watched Egon’s body slowly reveal itself. Each article of clothing was removed with slow care, tormenting and enticing Peter. He waited, though, patiently until the other was standing naked beside the bed, smiling wonderfully down at him. Peter moved, then, reaching up and taking a hand and guided him down to lay with him. Peter began a second exploration, kissing every inch of skin he wanted to hold.

Hands and tongue returned the gestures, rubbing him and arousing him until all he could do was moan continuously. He held still, sucking on skin – where on Egon’s body he didn’t know, he couldn’t open his eyes to see as a finger traced his erection gently. His lover was almost as meticulous as he, in touching every bit of his body as if cataloging him for some piece of intimate research. Peter moved his head away, breathing shallowly as a hand began stroking him. He reached blindly out, finding Egon’s head and pulling him close.

Peter leaned up to kiss him, and he opened his eyes. Egon’s blue eyes shone at him, smiling, aroused and happy. Peter opened his mouth to whisper -– and froze. A huge dark pit formed in his stomach. This was not Egon. This was not the one who should hear those words of love. He shoved himself away, every last vestige of arousal fled in mere moments. Shaking, he curled up in a ball on the corner of the bed. He couldn’t believe he was doing this.

“Peter?” Egon’s concerned voice came at him. A mockery of Egon’s voice. Peter wanted to yell at it, he wanted to yell at himself. This was not Egon. This was not loving Egon. Egon would never love him this way and pretending, even with this... creature who said it was all he had been made for, Peter’s reward, he could not.

Peter leapt off the bed and searched for his clothes. He realised, as he tried focusing on the scraps of cloth strewn around, that he was crying.

“Peter?” The simulacrum spoke again, this time his voice was not so much like Egon’s. Not in pitch, that was still the voice of his best friend. But the doubtful echo, the tone of understanding that this was over, made the creature sound inhuman. Peter looked up at it, not sure if he was beginning to feel anger, and whether it was directed at himself of this thing which wore Egon’s sorrowful face.

“I won’t do this. You can keep your reward… I can’t—“ Peter grabbed his clothes and dressed, not looking over, though he knew the simulacrum was standing there, watching him. Peter was shaking harder now, trying to suppress his tears until he could at least get out of here, away from people who didn’t need to see Dr. Peter Venkman lose control.

“Did I do something wrong?” The creature had not moved, and did not sound upset. Rather it sounded curious, and Peter wanted to scream at it.

Instead he just looked up, now fully dressed and ready to get as far away as he could. “Tell your Mistress that I can’t accept her offer.” Peter kept very tight control of himself as he spoke. It was hard, the second hardest thing he thought he had ever done. “Tell her I’ll take that hot shower, and we’ll call ourselves quits.” The hint of flippancy got him out the door, past the living room and finally to the front door. He grabbed the doorknob, cursing himself for not taking it earlier, leaving before he could ever say yes. His body was still flushed, warmed by the touches and his lips still carried the taste of Egon...

He ran to the fire stairs and headed down; alone in the stairwell he let himself start to cry.

~~~~~

Peter left the subway two stops early. He’d kept his face totally impassive during the ride, ignoring anyone who might have looked his way and said ‘Aren’t you….’ He forced himself not to think about what he was going back to, instead replaying in his mind the look on the mysterious woman’s face when she asked him how he might be rewarded. Would she be the vengeful type? Would she feel slighted, and come after Peter for refusing her gift? She'd looked into his heart and mistaken his desire for loving, for the desire for love. Would she understand the difference? All he could do was hope she did.

Peter sighed, climbing the stairs to the street. She might even now be waiting to blast him into oblivion. He realised that might not be such a bad thing. He had an ache in his heart which he had not felt since the day he’d accepted that the man he loved and would forever love, could not return his affection. Egon loved him as a friend, but would never want him, never hold him in a lover’s embrace, never lean over to kiss him.... Peter stopped walking and closed his eyes against the memory of that very thing. He should not remember the brush of those hands, the smooth lines of that body raised in arousal for him.

Peter shook his head sharply. Egon would never do that. Worse, though, was that Egon would never stop and think of Peter as the one best thing in his life, the person who made life worth living. He would never feel as if his heart would break if he could not get home right now and just see him, maybe even touch him but just to see him would be enough. He would never need to hold Peter through the night, just to make himself certain that somehow, in some small way, the universe was exactly the way it ought. Peter pushed a hand against his eyes. Egon would never feel exactly those things that Peter felt. He would never need what Peter needed -- his heart's desire.

Ever since he’d faced the truth, he had learned to live without it. For years, he had lived without it. It was the hardest thing he had ever had to do, returning day after day. Peter turned towards the firehouse. Egon would be there -- not waiting for him, but there all the same.

Peter touched his hand to his lip, still feeling the delicate pressure of Egon’s mouth against his own, the taste of his mouth still faint on his tongue. The memories of Egon’s hands touching him, the feel of his body, the look in his eyes… he had all those. Peter had been given everything his dreams could not. He had been shown how it would feel to have Egon return his love. Somehow, would live without it again.


Next Story: To Have or To Hold