What Else are Friends For?
Peter carried the newspaper into the living room, carefully balancing it in the crook of one arm as though the paper were fragile as glass. He tried to appear casual, as though he weren't sneaking through the firehouse -- he didn't think anyone was around, but he didn't want to take any chances.
He'd overheard Ray and Winston earlier, talking about heading down to the basement to do some creative thinking with practical matters of engineering. He hadn't listened long enough to puzzle out exactly *what* they were doing, only noticed that the undercurrent of their conversation lacked the urgent tone that meant something was about to explode, implode, or turn into a giant demonic marshmallow, and Winston had been carrying the green tool box which meant tinkering, not damage control.
Slimer was with them, Janine was downstairs at her desk reading, and Egon was out of the building entirely. Bertrand's Bookstore got its weekly shipment of new stuff on Wednesdays, and when the Ghostbusters were free Egon liked to go down and look through the new arrivals. He insisted that he was merely looking for books for his own library, but when Peter had accompanied him on those trips, he'd seen that Egon spent more time deriding the books he didn't wish to buy, than selecting ones to purchase.
Egon hadn't invited him along since he'd found out what Peter was. Maybe coincidence, since he didn't invite Peter every time anyhow.
But Peter was fairly sure it wasn't entirely coincidence.
Peter shook his head and made his way over to the long couch facing the television. He'd had his long talk with Egon, and Egon had professed to feel neither fear nor anger anymore about Peter's deception, and his true nature. Egon had even showed a burgeoning scientific interest in Peter -- wanting to help Ray subject him to an array of tests similar to the ones they'd first put Slimer through.
Peter remembered how long those tests had taken, and exactly what form they'd taken and had quickly pointed out that any such tests would be useless unless he dropped his shields. If he did that, every level 3 and above would home in on him, not to mention possibly attracting a few old demons from home. Egon had conceded the point, but now they were just trying to design tests which would not require Peter to lower his shields.
Other than those tests and during busts, however, Peter had noticed that Egon spent almost none of his time in Peter's vicinity. Peter hadn't asked anyone about it, telling himself that it was only to be expected. Winston tried to act the same, but he was nervous and didn't try to disguise it. Janine was only a little bit better, but she was trying too hard to act as though nothing had changed. However, he knew they both meant well, so he tried not to do or say anything to make them more nervous.
Ray was his usual enthusiastic self, treating Peter no differently than he had before. Well, there was one difference: Ray continually encouraged Peter to talk about himself -- old lives, his powers that he couldn't use, the Netherworld he'd escaped from. Ray seemed to treat the whole thing as an epic tale, exciting and adventurous. Peter tried hard not to dissuade him of that impression, while still answering his questions honestly as he could.
Putting his feet up, Peter unrolled the newspaper and spread it on his lap. It didn't matter if Egon was still having problems accepting him. At least -- it mattered, but there was nothing Peter could do to change it. He wasn't sure he had the right to try. Egon had accepted him as much as he could, when he had every reason to lock him back up in the containment grid.
Peter picked up the front section of the paper and scanned the headlines and tried not to think about Egon. The front page was all politics, world events, economics. Huge events that impacted the world as a whole, and the country or city in general.
Not what he needed.
He flipped through the pages of the front section, but only found more of the same. Politicians visiting, UN debates, a docker's strike in Hong Kong affecting the price of toys in Minnesota. Peter set the section aside, not surprised. He never found much on the front news section, but he liked to be thorough. Didn't want to miss anything that might turn out to be what he was looking for.
The Metro section was more often useful than the front, so he set it aside while he ruled out the sections less likely to be what he needed. The sports section, classifieds, culture and entertainment sections all quickly ended up in the pile beside the front news. Finally he'd weeded the newspaper down to three sections, and he settled himself in to read.
He scanned the stories, judging their content with a practised eye. Good news, filler news, stories of wide-ranging impact that meant little unless it was your street or local park that was being debated by the city council. The usual spate of 'how to' columns, and feel-good columns he ignored as well; finally finding, buried in the back few pages, the stories he wanted. Human interest, they called them. Investigative reporters who wanted to wring your heart in compassion for the victims being cruelly set upon by whichever big bad guy happened to have found them.
There was an old man who couldn't convince the hospital to visit his dying wife, because of his own dubious health. A family being turned out of their home because of a dead-beat dad who had run off with their savings. The daughters killed in tragic accidents and the sons being arrested for drugs and beating their girlfriends.
Those stories Peter read closely. Alone, with no one to stumble upon him, he sat and read. Buried himself in the details, in the journalist's graphic words and photographs showing how desolate and desperate the grieving mothers and starving children could be.
He knew how the journalists would stand there and say 'ok, one more picture, and try to look *really* sad'. He knew how the articles would be skewed in the victims' favor, skipping over whatever they might have done to get them into their situations in the first place. Peter knew he was being played for sympathy -- but that was the point. That was exactly why he was reading them.
When he'd nearly lost his best friends, when they'd discovered what he was and turned away from him -- and accepted him back -- he'd begun to feel something. *Something*. He didn't know what, even now. He knew what Ray had called it, and he knew that those tears he'd shed were the first he'd ever cried for real, rather than deliberate effect. But the... thing that he'd felt with them, he had never experienced before.
Nor had he experienced it again. Now he was trying. Scientific method at its finest -- replicate, duplicate, verify. He subjected himself to the pitiful and heart-wrenching and all those things that made Ray and Winston and Janine and Egon feel the things he didn't. He stared at the pictures of people clutching their hands together, fearful and hopeless for their future. He read and reread the articles describing how horribly things were going and what awful things were in store if something wasn't done.
So far all he'd noticed was that some of the journalists were more competent writers than others. He'd also noticed that one of the photographers believed himself to be an artist, always managing to take photos with a weird angle, or odd lighting, or garish splash of contrast that, in Peter's opinion, did exactly the opposite of whatever the journalist was trying to achieve.
But he'd never *felt* anything. He'd never noticed his breath catch, never noticed his stomach tighten, never found himself even wanting to know how it all turned out and hoping it had turned out for the best. Certainly never noticed tears on his face, no matter how wrenching the news was intended to be.
When he'd exhausted the supply of human interest stories, he would turn to the obituaries, reading the memorials and eulogies with the same care. He would look through the listing for those who died young, pausing over the children who'd died at the youngest of ages, and he would think about the parents and family left behind. He would read the memorials of those who died of AIDS and whose listed survivors included no partners or spouses and imagine that the grieving lover had been spurned in that final moment.
He read, and reread, and spun fanciful stories about each person represented, making up worse and worse circumstances until Peter thought -- surely that would be enough. Surely *anyone* would feel something for them.
Never even a twinge.
He always followed the obits by reading the advice columns. He had no idea why he read in that order -- often as not the advice columns were no better nor worse than anything else he'd read. But he'd caught Ray, once, sniffling over the newspaper and Peter had asked him why. Ray had explained that he'd been reading 'Dear Maggie' about some mother wondering how to comfort her son who'd lost his dog. Peter had privately -- then and now -- thought Ray just a soft-heart. But, given that Peter was trying to soften his own, he figured it would do no harm to subject himself to the inanities of advice columns as well.
As a psychologist, albeit not human, Peter had always found advice columns pointless. Now, after reading them regularly for weeks, he found them merely absurd.
Today was no different. Sighing, he closed the newspaper and began to gather it back up. The others would want to read their preferred sections, and Peter never wanted to leave the sections he'd pulled, on top. He didn't want to explain what he found interesting -- didn't want them to know about his experiments which had so far failed.
In his entire existence, Peter had been hit by thousands of things. Some hurt, most didn't, and very occasionally he got hit by a brick. Twice, that brick had been a very large metaphorical one.
His feet hit the floor and he stared at the newspaper in amazement. After a moment, he screamed and threw the paper into the air, spinning around to run downstairs. He stopped as he found Egon standing in the doorway.
"Winning lotto numbers, Peter?" Egon asked, regarding him calmly.
Peter grinned. "Hey, Egon, wanna hear about the brick that just fell on my head?" He ignored the confused look on Egon's face, and grabbed his hand, dragging him out of the room. Egon followed willingly, and when he glanced back Peter noticed the very slight smile on his face.
Maybe it was just coincidence, after all.
Ten minutes later, Peter sat at the kitchen table, trying to wait patiently. Ray was handing out bowls, and Winston had two boxes of cereal in his hands. One was the sugary, neon-coloured stuff Ray always ate and which Egon only ate when no one was in the kitchen to see him. The other was a sugary, non-neon-coloured cereal which turned the milk into a thick chocolate. They usually had two or three bowls of cereal in the mornings; then all four of them would be wound up, hyper, and ready to tackle ghosts.
Right now they were eating it because no one felt like cooking anything for lunch and they were too hungry to wait for pizza. Peter had dragged Egon downstairs, calling for everyone, and got everyone rounded up into the kitchen to hear his news. Before he'd been able to say a word, though, Ray had started in about dinner and before Peter could say 'brick', they'd all got distracted trying to feed themselves.
He knew he could go ahead and explain what had happened, but he wanted to wait until he didn't have to repeat himself between the "where's the milk" and "did you finish off the box already" conversation going on. His left leg was bouncing, and he stilled it, then poured entirely too much Cocoa Crunch into his bowl and had room to sprinkle just the barest amount of Fruity Circles on the top.
Peter was trying to wait patiently, and Egon kept looking at him thoughtfully. The thoughtful looks were making him want to just go ahead and blurt it out -- or possibly say he'd changed his mind and run out for a hamburger. Finally everyone was sitting down and the milk was making everyone's cereal nicely soggy. Peter quickly ate the top mound of cereal off his bowl, then put his spoon down.
Everyone was suddenly looking at him.
Peter stared back. "I haven't said anything yet."
"Yeah, but you've got that 'I have an annoucenment' look on your face," Winston said. "Not to mention you're nearly as hyper as Ray, and you haven't had enough cereal to justify it."
"You did mention being hit by a brick," Egon reminded him.
"What?" Winston looked surprised.
"Are you OK?" Ray asked.
"I'm fine; I've got an announcement." He started to explain, then stopped again, mouth half-open. This was unexpectedly a lot harder than he'd realised.
"Peter?" Ray sounded concerned. Peter wanted to tell him it was all right.
"This *is* about why you threw the newspaper all over the floor?" Egon asked in his usual dry tone, but with that undercurrent of support which only Egon's closest friends ever seemed able to detect. Peter found himself trying to think of the first time he'd heard it, and reined his thoughts back in.
"Sorry, guys. I didn't expect this to be difficult." He saw their faces freeze, varying expressions of concern and, on Ray's face, a little fear. "Not anything bad! It's just... embarassing."
Their expressions changed to looks of confusion. Peter didn't blame them. On the other hand, he realised that his revelation was true -- and when he burst into a wide grin his friends looked even more confused. He opened his mouth to say it again, when Ray suddenly shouted.
"Peter!" He leapt up, dropping his spoon and flinging cereal across the table. Winston glared at him and grabbed a napkin, and wiped milk off the back of his hand. Ray didn't even notice. "Peter, you're embarrassed!"
"So what?" Winston asked, then he stopped. "Wait, is that--"
"Are you certain, Peter?" Egon asked.
Peter shrugged. "I don't know -- it isn't like I have anything to compare it to. But I have all the symptoms." He couldn't stop grinning. Ray ran around the table and pounded him on the back.
"This is great! We should record this; Egon, do we have the data log set up yet? Peter, can you describe exactly what you feel?"
"The log is on the computer in the lab, Ray. Although I think--"
"Data log?" Peter asked. "What data log?"
Egon looked slightly... quieter, which on him meant he really didn't want to answer the question. Ray just said, "We're keeping records! What you do, what you feel. So we can track your progress! It'll be great! Peter, just think -- it's only been a month since your first emotion and now you've got another one! I wonder if you'll start learning them faster as you progress?"
Peter squelched the urge to run. Then he wondered why he was squelching it. "You're not gonna hook me up to anything, are you? 'Cause I'm not crazy about having my head explode." He ignored Winston's chuckle.
"Well, not right away," Ray said, sounding disappointed. "We don't have the calibrator working yet. Then we have to get some control data -- getting data from humans will be easy enough, but I wish we could get some readings from demons as a baseline for lack of emotions. Peter... I don't suppose you know anyone who would come in for an afternoon?"
Peter blinked. He stared at Ray, and reminded himself that yes, in fact, there was every reason to think Ray was totally serious. He turned to Egon who was trying to act like all he wanted was to eat his cereal. Winston was openly laughing, now, and of absolutely no help.
"You remember how demons are the bad guys, right?" he asked, carefully.
Ray nodded. "Oh, sure--"
"And you remember how 'bad guys' means that they'd like to eat New York City, or possibly just the firehouse?"
"Not all demons eat buildings, Peter," was Ray's response.
"Because those that don't eat buildings just blow them up, or tear them down; yes, Ray, I know. Being one myself I'm familiar with their habits." He gave Ray a very stern look, as stern as he could without actually showing his horns, red eyes, or glancing away from Ray who was starting to give him the whipped puppy look. "We're not inviting other demons into the lab to take measurements off them. OK?"
"I only meant, if you knew any *nice* ones."
"Ray, as far as I know, I'm the only thing that even remotely resembles a nice demon. And if you try to hook *me* up to one of your gadgets, I'll start munching on part of the firehouse myself."
"We could take readings someone where else," Ray suggested, thoroughly undaunted. "A large empty backlot? That way the firehouse wouldn't be in any danger."
Peter blinked again. He looked at Winston, who shook his head. He glanced at Egon who was still pretending he liked cereal much more than scientific endeavours, which probably meant he'd come up with this idea in the first place. "If I let you take readings of my emotions or lack thereof, will you promise me not to go raising other demons?"
"Of course! I mean -- I still think we need complete data," Ray frowned. "But I suppose it isn't strictly necessary." He started to look cheerful again, then gave Peter a look. "You were going to let us take the measurements, anyhow, weren't you?"
Peter sighed, knowing when it was best to just admit defeat. "Yes, Ray."
Besides, if they did melt his head, he could put it back later.
Three days later, Peter was standing on the rooftop of an office building, aiming his nuclear accelerator towards the herd of Grobiian demons. Tiny, annoying, class 2 creatures who were more noisy than anything else, the Ghostbusters had been called in to get rid of them by humans who thought *anything* supernatural was better got rid of. In this case Peter didn't really blame them, and he hadn't bothered making the suggestion that feeding the Grobiians twice monthly would keep the swarm under control. When well-fed, they hid in dark corners and slept for two weeks at a time.
It was just as well, he knew, since Grobiian demons prefered bird entails and detested feathers -- which meant someone else would have to gut the birds for them. Peter didn't think the building's maintenance crew would want to take charge of providing bird guts every two weeks. It was hard enough getting windows repaired and leaking faucets fixed.
Peter could hear the other Ghostbusters scrambling up the stairway to the rooftop access door. He'd got up here first, and held off firing until the others could join him. Anything less than three streams would just stir the herd up and chase them away. Three or four streams centered on the group would capture them with no trouble at all.
He glanced away from the demons, out towards the edge of the roof. Egon was still scared of heights, he knew, and he wondered for a moment what that felt like. To walk to the edge and look over the parapet and see the street so many floors below, and be afraid.
He'd seen the fear in Egon's eyes, heard it in the nearly-hidden tremble in his voice. Despite the fact Egon never talked about it, Peter knew he still felt it every time they had a job that took them so high up. But he had no idea what that *felt* like.
The thought occurred to him -- should he go over now, and try it? See if the sight of the concrete below made him tense the way it always did Egon? There wasn't time, of course, with the others coming onto the roof and spreading out, already moving their throwers into position. Peter glanced towards the edge again as he moved aside, making room for Winston on his left. He thought about what it would feel like to fall and know you could not catch yourself, as he aimed his own thrower at the center of the demon herd, and when everyone was ready he yelled 'fire!'.
Part of his mind stayed on the roof's edge. Even as they wrestled the collected demons down into traps that Ray and Egon had thrown out, Peter was thinking more about it than the job he was doing. He tried to imagine what it felt like to plummet towards the ground. He knew, from centuries of human observation, that Egon's fear lay in part in the knowledge that a fall would kill him. Peter had no such knowledge -- his present body might be smashed into bits, but it wouldn't destroy *him*. He'd create a new body and infest it like a parasite, living on without even a scratch. But would the sensation of it create a fear in him, as well?
If he dropped the shields that disguised his true nature then his own powers would reflexively protect him from being hurt. He'd simply fly away, or slow his fall, or bounce like a giant rubber ball -- his brain calculated a dozen ways in which such a thing like falling from the roof wouldn't hurt him. It threatened to go on for a dozen more, but Peter wrenched his thoughts away, concentrating harder on the job as the traps slammed shut on the Grobiians.
But a second later Peter switched off his thrower and stood there, testing the smell of the air for any sign of escaped demons. There were none, so his slipped the thrower into its holster on his back.
The edge wasn't so very far away. Ray and Egon were grabbing up the traps, checking them to see that they'd hold. Winston was talking -- Peter tuned him out, and he took a step closer. He could see the city spread out for miles, and he could tell that for every hundred living heartbeats out there, there was something else. Ghost, or demon, or simply a spot of pulsing supernatural energy, the city was brimming with life and death and everything inbetween.
Peter found himself at the roof's edge and he looked down. It was a long, long way down -- twenty stories, but that number didn't quite translate into what he was seeing. A very long distance, though not so far compared to the distance to the horizon he'd known in the Nether Regions. Not even far compared to the distance of the horizon of the various countrysides he'd wandered when he'd first come to Earth. But still, he knew, this was long enough to strike fear into someone who knew he would die if he fell.
Peter felt nothing.
"Coming, Peter?" Egon's calm voice penetrated his thoughts and he looked over his shoulder. Egon was holding a trap, dangling from its cable and letting off a thin blue smoke. Pissed off Grobiians.
"Yeah." Peter stepped away from the edge to rejoin his friends. Ray and Winston were already heading for the stairs, chatting loudly about similarities between demons and flocks of insects.
"Are you all right?" Egon asked quietly, and Peter stopped when he would have walked past, and looked at Egon.
"Just wondering something," he said, and he saw something change in Egon's eyes. Worry, and the same tense fear that he saw in Egon when it was Egon who had to go too near the edge of a roof. Peter said quickly, "I was thinking how you have a fear of heights and wondering what it felt like. But I don't think I find heights frightening."
"I see." In a blink Egon looked and sounded once again like himself -- the scientist observing something interesting, cataloging it and saving it for later comparison to something else.
As Peter realised that the tension had gone, he tried to put two and two together. "Did you think I was gonna jump?" he joked.
"Of course not." Egon frowned at him.
He didn't understand the reason for the frown, but instead of asking, he said, "We'd better catch up, or they're gonna think the wind got us." Peter gestured towards the door, and the surreal tinge in his day hadn't left yet, and it seemed like it wasn't going to. Perhaps he'd just stay away from tall buildings until the day passed. But Egon fell into step beside him and they headed for the stairwell as though nothing more unusual than swarms of small demons had occurred.
They were nearly at the door when Egon said, "Perhaps Ray will assist you in finding something you are afraid of. If that's the next emotion you wish to explore. I'm sure he will find it fascinating to expose you to bugs, spiders, and IRS forms."
"Ugh!" Peter shivered, forcing a more normal tone to his voice even if didn't quite come naturally. "He'll cover me with snakes, or tie me up and throw me in a closet. No thanks!"
Egon smiled. "A fear of being experimented on, perhaps?"
There was a look in Egon's eye that made Peter's world suddenly click back into place. Something -- whatever it had been -- fell away. He felt like himself suddenly; whatever that self was, which he still didn't quite have any good idea about. But he smiled and didn't have to force it this time. "Yeah! Hey -- we can't tell him, though, because he'll want to test it to verify."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Peter."
Peter gave him a suspicious look. "That goes for you too, you know."
The look of innocence that appeared didn't fool him a bit. But it did, however, make him laugh and clap Egon on the shoulder, and wish that whatever it was that was happening, would keep doing so. He hurried down the stairs with Egon following.
"You do know I'd bounce, right?" he called back. Technique number eight, in the list his brain had given him.
There was a pause, then Egon's voice drifted back. "I know."
Demons do not dream.
He'd always known that, and when he had first arrived on Earth, and overcame his reluctance to be anywhere near humans at all, he would sometimes creep into campsites and villages and peer through windows and tent flaps to watch. Sleeping mortals, sometimes tossing and turning, sometimes lying still as the dead. In those early years he was incautious enough to extend a sliver of his power and look into those sleeping minds and read the dreams as they unfolded.
He learned a lot about humans that way, not only how to speak their various languages but to make himself appear as something no more unusual than themselves. He had to learn to differentiate between realistic dreams and surreal ones -- how was he supposed to know that humans created things in their sleep which were never real? He'd never dreamt, never known anything that dreamt, well enough to have a conversation about it. Luckily there had been only two disastrous attempts at fashioning himself after the contents of human dreams before he'd figured it out.
Soon enough he was able to learn how to appear human from interacting with waking humans and he stopped peering so often into their dreams. He never forgot what they looked like, though, and once or twice as he re-invented himself, he would find himself overcome with curiosity. It was dangerous to let his shields slip, so when the science presented itself he flung himself into the study of psychology and psychiatry, examining dreams again from a more distant perspective. For the longest time that satisfied him, and he found himself, for nearly a hundred years, content to learn as he could and live his lives the best he could manage.
Then he found himself surrounded by four humans who knew his true name and still called him friend.
More than that, he slept beside three of them in a large, comfortable room and listened to them sleep.
He wanted to reach out again. He told himself he could even justify it, for these humans had, themselves, built a machine to look into each others' dreams. All it would take was a word of explanation and Ray would leap at the opportunity to help Peter explore. He'd ask a million questions in the morning, and his eyes would light up as he scribbled down notes as though there were journals which published papers on the psychology of demons' opinions on human dreams.
Peter wasn't even completely sure why he didn't just ask. Even if Ray had the sort of dreams he'd be embarrassed by, he'd never deny Peter anything in the name of research -- in the name of helping Peter learn everything he could about being human.
Maybe he would end up asking. Later, when he needed to distract Ray from some weird and uncomfortable-sounding experiment. He didn't quite blame Ray for his enthusiasm -- and he found he rather liked the way that his friend spent so much effort on his behalf.
But that wasn't why he lay in bed at night while the others were asleep. It wasn't why he stared at the ceiling, watching the tiny cracks in the plaster play with the light to create shadow dioramas. He didn't even know if he could explain why it was -- because for all he knew exactly *what* he was thinking while he laid there not sleeping, he had no idea why he was thinking it.
He poked at the sensations he felt in his stomach, in his legs. He'd listed a variety of physical feelings he knew about from human study and let Ray help him catalogue things which corresponded to the names he had. Fear, joy, relief, anger -- things he still didn't know if he could feel, though he'd finally touched the lesser ones like relief and embarrassment.
But the things he was thinking of at night didn't match up with anything of those sensations. They didn't match with anything he'd read, nor anything he remembered from those long ago dreams he'd seen.
He turned his head, looking across the room where Ray lay, sleeping. Clutching his stuffed dog, he resembled a twelve year old boy, lost from the world in a land of his own making. His dreams would be gentle and accepting, and if he knew Peter would be watching he might even tell himself as he fell asleep to dream of things which would help or amuse his friend.
Beyond him, Peter could see Winston moving restlessly on his bed, and Peter knew without asking or looking that any dreams he found there would be tinged with violence. Perhaps a more familiar territory for a demon, but he knew that neither he nor Winston would feel right for his asking to share those dreams. Privacy was a human concept Peter had grasped eagerly upon his arrival.
It was when he turned his head the other way, and saw where Egon lay, that he had to fight the urge to invade. The urge itched his skin to drop his shields that tiny bit necessary to allow himself to sneak in, settle himself into the corner of Egon's mind, and watch. He didn't think Egon would deny him the chance for study -- if Peter approached him with the idea, couched carefully in terms of experiment. Egon might hesitate at first, or try to yield the opportunity to Ray. Peter knew all this, had been telling himself variations of it for the last several nights. If the point was just to learn from dreams, then Ray's would do just as well as anyone.
So Peter didn't understand why he never broached the subject without knowing how to explain why he wanted it to be Egon's dreams he watched. He didn't understand why he turned his head towards Egon's bed at night and wondered what *he* was dreaming, or wondered what it would be like to reach out and touch them, and whether Egon would welcome him or slide away to rebuff him. Why did he think so much about whether Egon would agree if Peter asked him, or if his eyes would shutter at the request.
For the rest of the night Peter lay in bed and watched Egon sleep, and asked himself for the four hundred and twenty seventh time, why in the Hell he cared.
"OK, Peter, are you ready?" Ray had finished looking over the apparatus and gave him a wide, eager smile.
Peter tried not to shift in his chair. "Ready as I'll ever be, I guess." Without moving his head, he glanced down at the wires attached to his chest and arms.
"Now, Peter." Ray frowned. "This is a very simple procedure. I told you -- all it's going to do is register changes in surface temperature, heartrate, and other very basic physical reactions."
"I know, Ray. I know -- I'm the psychologist who told you which journals to get the experiment out of, remember?" Peter started to raise his hand, realised he'd pull himself free of at least four wires, and held still. Not that it wouldn't take more than a minute to replace them, but they'd already had to do that twice, now, and Ray was going to start looking at him like he was doing it intentionally.
"So you know there's nothing to worry about. Not that the radial-electrometer is anything to worry about, either." Ray paused, and gave him a beseeching look. "I wish you'd change your mind about that, Peter. It doesn't hurt, it doesn't have any lasting effects--"
"Lasting, that's the trick word. Ray, last time you used that thing on yourself you walked into walls for an hour."
"But I'm human! You're a demon, it shouldn't effect you the same way."
"But I've got a human body at the moment, which is why we're doing *this* at all. If I didn't have human responses then measuring my heart-rate wouldn't work. I wouldn't have a heart."
"That would explain why you're in charge of billing." Ray grinned, and ducked away as Peter growled at him.
"Let's just get this over with," Peter complained, though it occurred to him that there was every reason why he should be encouraging this, and very few -- if any -- reasons he should be complaining and refusing. Although Egon and Ray's past record with new experiments meant that Peter stood a 50% chance of being turned into a demon-chicken, he also stood a 50% chance of actually finding out something useful.
Anything which told him more about how to feel emotions was a good thing, right? Even if it meant being a chicken for awhile? Peter turned his gaze on the monitor Ray was fiddling with, tweaking for the proper read-out rate. Sitting beside it were a stack of cards, face-down. Ray had been preparing them over the last two days, with Winston's help.
For a moment, Peter thought about the hundred potential emergencies that could conceivably happen which would require his and Ray's presence downstairs. He knew he was just thinking of excuses -- what was so bad about being a chicken, after all? Egon always found a way to reverse whatever they'd done. It might even be fun, Peter told himself. He could study chicken emotions.
As Ray looked up and grinned again, Peter decided that he wasn't sure he believed it.
"OK!" I'm going to show you the first card and you--"
"I know, Ray," he interrupted. "We're not going to skew the results if we skip the introduction."
With a mild frown, Ray nodded, but said, "Just be sure you *don't* skew the results. Just because you know what should happen, don't try to *make* it happen. We need accurate readings if we're to determine any real changes in your emotional behavior."
"I know. Let's just get on with it, Ray."
This time Ray nodded and picked up the first card. He showed it to Peter.
"It's a puppy."
"You don't have to identify what's on the picture," Ray said with a laugh. "Just look at it."
"Can I say it's an ugly puppy?"
"Peter! It is not!" Ray scooted forward and looked around the edge of the card in Peter's hands. They both stared at the card of a small, black and brown mutt. It had lop-sided ears and its muzzle looked as though it had been squashed. "Huh," Ray said at last. "OK, it's an ugly puppy. Winston must have put that one in there..."
"Trying to see if I recoil in horror?" Peter teased.
"Just turn over the next card," Ray said patiently, but with a smile.
Peter decided not to give him a hard time, and turned over the second card. It was a picture of a ball -- obviously one of the 'control' cards, designed to elicit no emotional response from the human subjects. Ideally, as Peter went through the cards, he would react in various, subtle ways to different pictures. Pictures of happy things would cause certain reactions, pictures of unhappy things would cause other reactions.
As a Ghostbuster, not to mention a demon, they knew that Peter's definition of an unhappy thing might be a lot different than what the creators of the experiment expected. A picture of a fire or monster might cause a normal human to react in fear -- but no one expected Peter to react the same way. Ray insisted he and Winston had taken that into account when they'd made the cards.
Suddenly Peter was curious to find out what they *had* put on the cards.
He flipped through the next four cards, all of ordinary objects. Even though he couldn't see the readout, he could tell there was no reaction. He turned over the fifth and looked at a picture of a large pizza.
Peter noticed Ray glance up at him, trying to disguise a look of interest. Well, he could have told Ray that a large, extra cheese, pepperoni, and green pepper pizza would make him recoil in disgust.
He tried not to grin at Ray as he proceeded through the next few cards. Pictures of a class one ghost, a vintage car, and a mother and child all elicited no response. Then there was a picture of the four Ghostbusters, all in uniform and smiling for the camera -- a publicity shot from their early days in the business. Peter paused there, and could tell Ray was taking notes.
Ray didn't tell him what the machine's readings were, and Peter didn't notice anything that, well, felt like anything. He proceeded to the next card and found himself looking at a picture of a kitten. It was what any person would call an exceedingly adorable kitten. He set the card in the used stack, and turned over the next.
He knew he wasn't supposed to be examining his reactions, just having them as unconsciously as possible. But he was beginning to think there was something wrong with either himself, or the test. He could pick out half a dozen cards he'd had no reaction to which were clearly intended to have a reaction -- any reaction. His friends knew him well; if he'd been human he would have had clear reactions to half a dozen cards or more. But so far, all he felt was pretty much what he always felt.
Turning over another card, he resisted telling Ray that there was no point in continuing. They'd gone this far, there were only a couple dozen more cards to go through. Then he could wander downstairs and distract himself by pretending to do the piled up paperwork on his desk, or by harassing Janine until she threatened to throw something large at him.
He turned over another card, and saw a picture of Winston, dressed in military fatigues and looking into the distance. There was something in his expression -- the same something that Peter knew was in his dreams at night, and why he never intended to look inside them. He set the picture aside slowly, and in doing so, saw Ray making another notation.
It was harder to resist making a remark about a blind test, if he could see Ray's reactions to *his* reactions. Maybe when Ray made him do this test again for the third or fourth time, he'd toy with the results by watching Ray instead of looking at the cards. But for now he'd play it straight. He set the card down and went through he rest, one at a time, not being terribly surprised to find individual pictures of Ray, Egon, and Janine in the pile.
When they were all done, Ray set his pencil down and looked at Peter with the widest grin Peter had seen yet.
"What?" Peter demanded. Ray ignored him and reached for the stack of cards, counting them out. When he reached the twenty-eighth card, he checked his readings, then turned the card over. "What is it?" Peter took the card out of Ray's hands.
"The card you had the strongest reaction to," Ray said proudly.
Peter wondered why he wasn't actually surprised when it was the picture of Egon.
"Winston, can I ask you a question?" Peter stood near the lockers, watching as Winston finished rubbing Ecto's rear fender with a rag. The bust the day before had involved a short car chase -- if 'car chase' was the proper term for one converted ambulance and one flying class 4 apparition racing among dockside warehouses. They'd all returned covered in greasy water and debris which no one had wanted to identify too closely.
Winston had spent the day cleaning Ecto and giving her engine and wheels the once-over. Peter had spent the day upstairs, trying to build up the courage to come down here and ask Winston his question.
For his part, Winston didn't act like he was aware of the difficulty Peter was having. He gave Peter a glance, said, "Sure," and moved on to rub down the rear side panel. Peter could have told him there was no more gunk on that part of Ecto, but he knew Winston would polish anyway, regardless. It was easier than having Winston looking at him.
Peter took a deep breath and began, "How does it feel when you like somebody?"
He'd told himself he'd work his way up to what was bothering him, planned out a series of questions leading up to it. Bbut Winston stopped what he was doing and grinned. "This about Egon?"
Peter gaped. "What? No -- I'm just asking for... comparison. So when Ray keeps asking me 'what do I feel' I have--" He stopped, because Winston didn't seem to be listening to his psycho-babble.
"You like Egon?" Winston was still grinning.
"I like all you guys -- as far as I know," Peter retorted. "That's why I'm asking." It occurred to him that he might drop the subject and go back upstairs. Pretend he'd never mentioned it, and that Winston had never seen right through him and asked *him* exactly the question Peter had been wrestling with.
"Uh-huh." Winston leaned against Ecto, and looked at him. "If I asked you where you wanted to be right now -- down here helping me with Ecto, in the basement helping Ray check old traps, or upstairs watching Egon stare into a microscope--"
"That's not the same thing," Peter interrupted. "That last one is the only one where I'd be avoiding doing any work."
The look on Winston's face said it all, though. He didn't believe it,and he knew Peter didn't believe it either. Peter sighed, and sat down on the floor.
"But -- how does it feel? How do you know -- how do I know what's going on?" For all Ray's talks, and research, and everything he'd learned about humans, Peter felt completely in the dark.
With an expression of sympathy, Winston shook his head and walked over, sitting down to lean back against Ecto's front wheel. "You know, humans don't have all this figured out, either, most of the time," he began.
Peter waved a hand. "I'm not asking about that part. I've been watching humans for six hundred years. I've read books, seen more romantic movies than one brain should have to deal with. All it tells me is how people act, and... what they're thinking, sometimes. None of it tells me what it *feels* like." He looked over at Winston, and confessed the part that had made it so hard to ask. "What I don't know is if I *feel* anything. If I feel something that... matches what I see in the movies."
"What do you feel?" Winston asked.
"I don't know. I... keep thinking about him. I keep wondering where he is and what he's doing and I wanna go hang out wherever that is. I... think I feel pathetic." Peter hung his head, dramatically.
Winston laughed. "Sounds right so far."
"But -- what if it's... just like, he's a friend. And it's the first time I'm finding out what that feels like? What if--" He didn't know how to explain it. He knew a thousand or more words that applied, but somehow he had no idea what to say.
"I get it." Winston nodded, seriously. "What if this is just the first time you feel friendship -- and you don't know if you're over-reacting. Mistaking it for something else."
"Because so far there hasn't *been* anything else," Peter finished. "At all. Exactly." He glanced upstairs as though their voices might have carried up the stairs and into the lab. "What if I do something and it turns out I'm wrong?"
"Man, normally this kinda conversation is about 'what if they don't like me back'. I gotta hand it to you for being original." Winston smiled, but Peter knew he wasn't really laughing at him.
Then Peter realised what Winston had just said. "Oh, god! What if he *doesn't*--" He snapped his jaw shut, again. All he needed right now was to make things more complicated.
Now Winston was laughing at him. Before Peter could threaten to turn him into something small and amphibious, Winston said, "Nah, don't worry about that. He does, as much as you do. That is, if you *do*. I guess we should figure that one out." He moved forward, propping his elbows on his knees and resting his chin in his hands. "I have to admit, I don't have any idea how to figure it out."
Peter was still processing what he'd heard. "He what?" Peter heard his voice squeak.
Winston blinked at him. "Huh?"
"You said he does? Like me? Like -- what I think and not like what I don't think is like..." Maybe it would be easier if he tried his native language. English seemed to be failing him, miserably.
"Yeah, I mean Egon likes you. Likes, like. If you were eight years old he'd be stealing your books and knocking you down at recess. You didn't know?" Winston sounded like he was asking if Peter hadn't realised there were two baseball teams in New York.
Peter frowned at him. "How do you know?"
Winston raised an eyebrow. "A little focus?"
"Huh? Focus -- oh. Right -- I guess it doesn't matter if I-- if he likes me if I only like... um, arg." He dropped his head again. "Ok, trying this again without the euphemistic language. If Egon's in love with me, it won't matter if I don't love him back. That way. OK, one euphemism." That part hadn't even occurred to him yet. He'd been trying so hard to discover what *he* felt, if indeed he was feeling anything and not being afflicted with some form of cancer that stole his appetite and made him seek out the company of air-headed scientists.
What if Egon loved him back? What if Egon loved him? It was something he'd honestly never considered before, because until now he'd been more concerned with Egon not hating him.
Peter gave Winston a close look. "Wait a minute. Are you sure? I mean -- it hasn't been that long since he locked me up in the portable containment unit."
But instead of answering, Winston asked, "Pete, do you ever think about leaving the Ghostbusters? Changing careers or maybe opening up a new Ghostbustering company in another city?"
Peter raised his head to stare at Winston. The change in conversation made no sense, but he answered, "Not really."
"Think about it for a minute, then. Think about packing it up and heading to LA, or Atlanta, or Chicago."
Frowning, Peter tried to do just that. He'd lived in Chicago before, about three hundred years ago, and they'd been to Atlanta a couple years back for a small business convention. He thought about being in a new city, starting over, trying to establish a business all over again. "OK. Now what?"
"Add to that, the fact that Egon stays here in New York."
Peter scowled. "So I'm supposed to imagine my life without him and that tells me if I'm in love?"
"Sounds like someplace to start." Winston shrugged. "You're the psychiatrist, you should be telling me how to figure this stuff out, shouldn't you?"
Peter stuck his tongue out at Winston. Then he tried to consider the question. Did he want to be off somewhere else, living his life, alone? He might even go back to Europe, live in one of the cities he was familiar with from centuries ago. Rome, or Bucharest.
Or did he want to go upstairs and watch Egon stare at things in the microscope?
"I could..." He found himself looking at the stairs again. "I don't think I like it."
"You ever think about kissing him?" Winston asked.
Peter felt himself blush. Why had 'embarrassment' been one of the first emotions he'd learned? How was that fair?
Winston continued, "You ever think about kissing... oh, Ray? Or me? Or Janine?"
"I think Janine would demand a bonus and paid vacation if I asked her to kiss me," Peter answered. "Threaten to file a sexual harassment suit if I didn't pay up. Besides, I've kissed girls. Lots of times. Boys, too." He'd kissed more boys actually, though none so recently as he could remember their names. The last time had been 1890, or maybe 1891. Some farm kid, brown cheeks and sun-streaked hair, and a smile that he suddenly realised reminded him a lot of Ray's.
But it didn't make him think about going downstairs and seeing if Ray would mind if Peter kissed him.
Winston was saying, "So, you want to be with him, and you think about kissing him. That's about as much clue as I ever have when I meet a girl I like."
Peter looked over at him. He realised he had no more an idea
what he was supposed to do, now, than he'd had before. Maybe just
think about it more, until he knew for sure. "But... what
if I just... like him,
and I haven't got around to feeling that way about you and Ray yet? I've known Egon longer, and maybe I just feel *anything* about him because of that or something?"
"You wanna know?" Winston suddenly asked.
The question confused him. Of course he wanted to know -- that's why he'd come down here in the first place. "Huh?"
"You wanna know what you feel? It's a cliche, but it might work." Winston was standing up, and he gestured at Peter to stand as well. Peter did so, still confused.
"What are you talking about?"
"Conducting an experiment. Egon might even approve." Winston grinned at him, then moved forward -- and kissed him.
Peter wasn't completely stunned, as he'd had his share of unexpected kisses. He'd always been born into a fairly well-looking body, because it always seemed to make life easier. It meant that occasionally -- 432 times in six hundred years -- he'd received an unexpected kiss. He didn't know what this was supposed to demonstrate, other than the fact that Winston was a pretty nice kisser, and that Peter didn't feel any response.
When he had his mouth back, he started to explain that, when Winston said, "Now go give Egon one."
"Uh -- what?" Peter stared at him. He wasn't serious?
"Go kiss Egon. Compare the two. Only don't tell me if I'm a lousy kisser, OK? I don't need to know."
"You want me to go *kiss* him? Like that? Just walk up there and kiss him?" Were humans all insane, or was it just Winston?
Winston was looking at him with a strange expression on his face. It was one that said he knew something, and wasn't going to share.
"What?" Peter demanded.
Shaking his head, Winston just chuckled. Peter thought no one would notice if he throttled Winston and hid him in Ecto's trunk. Or there was still the frog option. It would be a lot easier than the alternative.
Winston looked over at him, saw Peter wasn't moving. "You want me to go first? Again?"
"Don't even think about it!" Peter warned. There was no way he was going to let someone *else* go... He reigned his reaction in, and thought about what Winston was doing.
If this were a high school romantic comedy, the ending would be telegraphed from here, he realised. He could probably even think of a few pop songs to be playing in the background.
"But... how do I *know*? Winston -- I've never felt this before. What if I'm feeling... heartburn, or I really hate him and I only think I like him, or what if I'm wrong and he likes me and I lead him on and break his heart or if I feel even more about somebody else later?"
"Then you'd be no better and no worse off than six billions other people on this planet," Winston said. "Just because we're used to feeling things, doesn't mean we know any more about it."
Peter looked at the ground, and rubbed his nose. It was almost lunch time. Maybe food first, then he'd consider it.
Winston said, "Just go kiss him and find out."
"Wouldn't he mind?"
"I doubt it." Winston's voice had gone all soft, suddenly.
"I mean, even if I don't... if it turns out..." He couldn't even explain why he didn't want to. It was a perfectly reasonable suggestion, after all. Only... he didn't want to hurt Egon's feelings by confusing him.
Or something like that.
"Pete, you're not gonna figure out what you feel by staring at your shoes, or by talking to me. If seeing every John Waters flick hasn't taught you enough about it to know how to recognise it, then I don't know what else to tell you."
"He won't like it," Peter said.
"You're not that bad a kisser," Winston teased.
"I mean -- he's busy, right now. I can do it later."
"Do I have to drag you up there?"
"I... No. I..." Peter signed. "OK. But if it turns out bad, I'm blaming you."
"It's a deal. Now--" Winston reached out and grabbed Peter by the shoulders, and spun him around. Peter expected him to march him to the stairs, maybe even all the way to the lab.
He hadn't realised he hadn't even heard Egon coming down the stairs and walking up behind him. But there he was, about two feet away. Staring at him.
"I don't think I would hate it, Peter. Even if it turns out you don't feel anything." Egon took one step closer and took hold of Peter's shoulders as Winston let go. Peter couldn't move, and it was probably just as well, because Egon just pulled him over and kissed him.
Then he realised he hadn't been paying attention at *all*, because he heard Ray saying, "Awww! Hey, Winston, you wanna go grab a pizza?"
He didn't have to pay attention, though. Not to that. Not to Ray and Winston moving off, making plans to do... something. Go somewhere, get pizza, possibly take over the world.
Peter wasn't listening, or watching, or using any sixth, seventh, or eighth sense to track his friends.
Egon's lips were against his. The physical sensation of it was nothing new -- he'd kissed before, tasted many mouths and learned the flavour of dozens of men and women. The touch of warms, dry lips on his own was nothing unfamiliar.
Even the press of a body against his, one slightly taller which required that he tilt his head ever so slightly up, was nothing new. He could feel the warmth from Egon's body at his stomach, and his chest, and his groin, and the light touch of Egon's hand on the small of his back. Even the scent was familiar, because he'd known Egon, worked with him and lived with him for so many years that the fact that he was smashed together with him only made it stronger. There was nothing new to discover there.
It wasn't until Egon backed away, looking at him with a mixture of concern and anticipation, that Peter realised what was new.
He wanted to do it again.
Peter grabbed Egon's shoulders, and pulled him back, kissing Egon again, hard. He felt Egon's mouth opening against his, and he took the invitation. Gripping Egon's shoulders tightly, he hung on, kissing him and not stopping to question the why or wherefore until he heard a soft noise of protest.
Peter let go quickly, and backed away. "Wha--"
Whatever the problem, it hadn't been protest, apparently. Egon stepped forward, taking Peter's arm and pulling him close. He was smiling, faintly, and his eyes were glistening. In a deceptively calm tone, he said, "I merely wished to shift my weight before we fell over backwards."
"Oh. Then I wasn't..." Peter closed his mouth before he said something stupid.
From the sound of muffled laughter coming from the other end of the room, he didn't know if he'd managed that in time. He turned and glared at Ray and Winston, who were still standing by the door.
Ray looked back, innocently. "We were waiting to ask if you two wanted us to bring back a pizza."
Peter wanted to give them a twenty, and orders to stay out for at least three hours. Before he could actually do so, he looked back at Egon. One -- or two -- kisses do not a relationship make, he told himself. Supposed to just be an experiment. He was only supposed to find out how it felt -- if it felt, at all.
"I... Egon, do you wanna get some pizza?" He kept his tone as inflectionless as possible. He had no idea what Egon would be thinking. As well as he knew his friend, he didn't have any idea how to guess what he would be thinking now.
Egon regarded him, seriously. Peter tried not to squirm. "I believe you had a question to answer, Peter."
He knew exactly what Egon was talking about, but he didn't want to face the question. Embarrassment, again? Was he getting his money's worth out of the one new emotion he'd discovered? He could brush it all off and go upstairs to hide, but it was really hard to think about moving.
Egon just looked at him, waiting. Peter knew he wasn't going to get out of this without answering -- not without making Egon think that he really didn't feel anything and was trying to spare Egon's own feelings. But--
"I don't know what to say." He shrugged dismissively, but answered honestly. "I don't know... what I feel."
"It appeared that you preferred the kiss over the one you gave Winston," Egon responded. He sounded amused.
"Who wouldn't?" Peter grinned, giving Winston a quick glance. But he turned back to Egon, serious again, and confessed, "I didn't feel anything different. I don't know what -- I don't think I did feel anything. There's nothing... Egon, I just don't know!" He was trying to pin down something inside him that was anything like what an emotion was supposed to be. But all there were only the physical sensations and a mass of confusion.
There was a long silence, and Peter wondered if Egon was trying to think of a way to say it didn't matter. Or say it wouldn't change anything.
Or if he was going to say he understood but things would never be the same again. He wondered if it was too late to take back what he'd said.
"Would you like to do it again?" Egon asked.
"Yeah." Peter blinked. "Do you?" He was pretty sure Egon wasn't the type to offer to have a casual affair -- but he reminded himself again that two, three, or even a dozen kisses didn't mean anyone was having anything. Scientific curiousity, he told himself. Egon was nothing if not scientifically curious.
There was a twitch of Egon's mouth. "Why?"
Peter stared. It took him a moment to ask, "Huh?" A second later he realised where Egon was going. "I do want to kiss you again. And more. That doesn't mean I... I'm sorry, Egon. It doesn't mean I feel any *emotions*."
But Egon stepped forward, and there was suddenly no space between them. Egon's face only inches away, and his body pressed against Peter's own like they'd done this a hundred times. Knees and hipbones side by side, and Egon's mouth just almost perfectly positioned for kissing.
"Do you wish to kiss me again, Peter?"
"Yes." He was pretty sure he'd meant to say it, but it came out as a whisper. "But maybe it's just a physical thing, Egon." He hated saying it, but knew it had to be repeated. Egon had to understand. "Maybe you're just my type." There was a hand on his hip, and Peter wondered if maybe two kisses were going to mean more.
Peter felt Egon tense and his voice was suddenly curt and determined. "And what if I said you could not ever kiss me again?"
"What?" Peter jerked away, but grabbed onto Egon. "You--" Peter swallowed the word 'can't'. Egon could, and he had every right to. Maybe Peter had been right, and Egon didn't appreciate being toyed with. Peter felt something cold and hard in his throat, and he shook his head. "What did I do wrong?"
It made no sense when Egon slowly smiled. He gave Peter a light kiss, and the tension was gone again. "For the record, Peter, I love you, too."
Peter's brain was whirling. Well, Egon seemed to think it all made sense. He seemed to think Peter *was* feeling things, and feeling all the right things. Just because Peter had no clue was was going on...
"I..." He had no idea if he felt love. But -- he realised, he had no idea if he didn't. He wrapped his arms around Egon and put his head on Egon's shoulder. "This means I can kiss you, right?"
Egon hugged him, hard. "I should be disappointed if you didn't."
"Egon... I don't..." He still didn't think he could feel anything, and he hated to think Egon believed he really did and just couldn't tell. He didn't want to mislead him -- but neither did he want to let go.
And it occurred to him that maybe that was Egon's point, all along.
They didn't move for a moment, and he heard soft whispers from Ray and Winston. They left the room, and Peter stayed where he was. It was comfortable, and he didn't want Egon to leave, and he really didn't like the idea of upsetting Egon again.
"How... do you know?"
Egon sighed, but when he spoke his voice was even. "You might not ever really know. It may take time. But I am willing to... proceed as best we can. I *do* love you, Peter. And if you are interested in doing things which people in love tend to do... I shall be satisfied."
Peter didn't hold back his snicker. Egon gave him a dry look, and Peter thought about kissing him again. There was still something he had to ask, though.
"What if it turns out I don't?"
Egon smiled, but Peter heard the level tone of seriousness in his voice. "Then we'll figure something out."
Peter nodded. "Can I kiss you again?"
"I believe I've already answered that question," Egon said.
"Oh. Right. Hey, Egon?"
Egon raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Peter?"
"You wanna send the kids out for pizza?"
Egon's smile grew wider. "That sounds like an excellent idea."
Then, finally, Peter kissed him again.
When he stopped, he thought that maybe -- even if it wasn't love -- he was definitely feeling *something*.
And it was something good.
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