DREAM WEAVER

(PART 1)

By Neetz

London, England - December, 1960

She sat at the window and watched the snow drift down into the yard below. It was another lonely night in a life of lonely nights. She had dreamed so long of escape from this intolerable existence that she was running out of dreams. There was no one, no one at all, who cared that she even existed. The matrons of this sanitarium probably even wished she didn't exist. One less loony for them to watch after.

And yet she waited. For years, she'd dreamed of someone to come and take her away from this prison her life had become. A tall, dark and handsome man with kind eyes and gentle voice who would love her more than life itself, just like in the books she loved so well. Someone to whom she would matter more than anything else in the universe. After so many years, her dreams had just about run out, floating down like the fluffy wisps of snow that would soon touch the warm earth and melt away, to be forgotten forever.

"Amanda." The voice was so quiet, she wasn't sure she'd heard it.

"What?" she ventured in a small voice.

"Amanda, I have come to you."

She turned and gasped at the sight before her. It was him! The man of her dreams, just as she had always pictured him: tall with dark brown hair the spilled across his forehead, an open, handsome face, and the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen.

"Are you real?" she whispered, very much afraid of the answer he might give. He did not speak, but stepped slowly forward, reached out and took her hand. His touch was warm and so gentle that it was almost painful. A moan escaped her lips.

"I thought you would never come," she sobbed, tears filling her eyes and beginning to roll down her cheeks. He stepped closer and drew her into his arms.

"I am here for you, my love."

She looked up into the clearest blue eyes she had ever seen. "Do you really love me? Will you stay with me forever? Will we always be together?"

A sadness crossed his features. "There is no mortal on earth that I love more, Amanda," he swore with such depth of feeling that she could not question his sincerity. "I have given up everything to be here for you tonight. Am I what you wished for?"

"Oh, yes!" she replied. "So much more than I ever dreamed."

He smiled. "I am made of your dreams, Amanda. But I cannot stay forever. This night is all we have. Can it be enough for you, my love?"

She did not feel fear or panic, or even great sadness. Instead, she smiled up at him. "I've waited all my life for someone to tell me they loved me. To have one night with someone who really cares about me is enough to last me a lifetime."

"You deserve so much more," he replied. "But this is all I have to give. Tonight, I am here for you. Tomorrow I will be gone, but my heart will be yours forever, my love."

"Then be with me tonight," she replied as she laid her head against his shoulder and took comfort in the warmth of his arms. She did not question whether this was indeed happening in the plane of reality or only in her mind. In the end, it really didn't matter. Tomorrow, like the snowflakes, he would melt away, but for tonight, she drifted on the wind of her lover's arms. For this one night out of her life, Amanda was happy.

***

New York, September 1995

"Ray! Watch out on the left!" Peter Venkman called in warning as he struggled with his own containment stream to hold onto a very squirmy Class Five, one of a pair of orange slimers. It's partner had thus far eluded all their efforts at capture, but it had been making strafing runs at Peter in an effort to get him to release its fellow nether entity.

Ray Stantz expertly ducked the swooping ghost, taking aim at it as soon as it had passed over his head. With practiced ease, he activated his particle thrower and sent a beam of energy at the retreating form. His aim was true.

"Got him!" Ray cried.

"Good shootin', Tex!" Peter replied with the familiar plaudit. "Egon! Winston! We need a little help over here!"

"Looks to me like you guys are doin' just fine!" Winston Zeddemore responded as he ran toward them, whipping the trap off his pack and deploying it in one swift motion. "Just move them around and we can get them in one trap!"

"What's the matter, we running low on traps?" Peter asked sarcastically, the effort of holding onto his target evident in his voice.

"No, but I can't get to yours' and you guys seem a little too busy to throw them yourselves. Come on, Pete. A little to the left. That's it!" he encouraged.

"Just what we need, stage direction," quipped Venkman, but he worked his way as Winston had indicated.

"Ray! Just a little closer."

"He's struggling awfully hard, Winston!" Ray informed him, but he managed his maneuver as well.

"Now!" Winston cried, triggering the trap with his foot as the other two Ghostbusters cut their streams. A wedge of white light cut into the sky enveloping both entities before they could take advantage of the absence of the confining proton streams. With shrieks of anger they suddenly elongated, losing their form as streaks of orange were inevitably sucked into the trap. The doors slammed shut on the small containment box and the red light flashed reassuringly.

"Got 'em!" cried Ray. "Gee, that was great!"

"Yeah," Peter's tone didn't hold an ounce of the enthusiasm in his friend's voice. "Let's let 'em loose and do it again!"

Winston chuckled. "Careful, Pete, or he'll take you up on it!" he warned.

"And I'll just let you two catch them again, while I go home and start a nice fire with all those Captain Steel comics in Ray's locker."

"Peter! You wouldn't do that," Ray smiled.

"Open the trap and find out!" Venkman replied, but at the same time, he reached down a picked up the object in question, just to make sure Ray didn't make any attempts to call his bluff. "Hey, where's Egon? We sure could of used some help with these two."

Winston looked around. "He was going to check out behind that old warehouse the last time I saw him."

"Egon!" Ray shouted.

Peter whipped out his walkie-talkie. "Spengler, where are you?" There was no response.

Without a word, all three men turned quickly in the direction of the warehouse and took off in a run. Before they got within sight, they heard a woman's scream and the all too familiar sound of a proton accelerator firing.

"Egon!" Peter cried, unshipping his own thrower as he led the charge into the back alley. As he rounded the corner, it was all too obvious the fourth member of the team was in deep trouble.

Egon lay on his back, his thrower firing into the sky above him where two more Class Fives circled, trying for an opening to strike. Pressed against the wall behind him, a dark-haired woman stared at their attackers in horror.

"Toast 'em!" Peter called to his teammates and all three men opened fire. Peter moved as he fired, to position himself between the specters and the terrified woman. These adversaries proved as elusive as their companions had been, but after a few moments of firing and dodging, Winston caught one in his stream. Ray quickly tossed out his trap.

"Ready? Now!" he cried, and the entrapment beam caught the struggling ghost and pulled it in.

"One left!" Winston cried.

"Got him!" cried Peter as his beam made contact. The ghost, however, was not ready to go down without a fight and pulled against the stream with one mighty thrust of energy. Peter's balance was lost and he fell forward into a pile of old crates and boxes.

"Oh, no you don't!" Egon cried. He had gotten to his feet as the others had continued the battle and had managed to get his beam on the ghost just as Peter lost his.

"And just for good measure," Peter cried as he rolled and brought his own beam back on target. Ray moved quickly to Peter's side and grabbed the trap off his colleague's pack. He tossed it clear of the debris, where it slid under the very angry orange ghost.

"Say 'bye-bye', binkie!" Peter yelled as Ray stomped on the trigger and the last of the pack of Class Fives disappeared into the trap.

"Whew!" Peter breathed as he replaced his thrower and struggled to his feet. "Four at a time is not fair."

"Are you alright?" Ray asked.

"Just a little bruised dignity," Peter replied, brushing the dust off his jumpsuit. Then he turned to the young woman behind him. "Are you okay, miss?"

She looked up at him and even in the shadows of the alley Peter was looking at the most piercing blue eyes he had ever seen. It took him a moment to draw his gaze from them and take in the rest of her. She was strikingly beautiful with pale skin and delicate features all framed by a cloud of long dark brown hair.

"You saved my life," she whispered.

Peter nodded mutely, not able to find his voice.

"All part of our job, miss," Egon answered when it became obvious Peter could not. Yet, even when he spoke, she didn't look at him. Her gaze was still locked with Peter's.

"You are very brave," she said, addressing only Peter. Ray and Winston exchanged glances as Egon looked on with a rather perturbed expression.

"It-it was our pleasure," Peter finally managed to sputter. He blinked a couple of times, almost like coming out of a trance, and cleared his throat. "I'm Doctor Peter Venkman," he said.

"My name is Jillian Lester," she replied. "How can I ever repay you?"

"Have dinner with me?" Peter asked abruptly.

"Peter!" Egon whispered fiercely with disapproval.

But the young woman smiled in reply, "I'd love to."

The other three stared open-mouthed for a moment, then Egon cleared his throat. "Peter, we have to get these traps back to the containment unit."

"Tonight?" Peter's question was not directed toward his partner, but to the attractive young woman who still commanded his attention.

"Tonight would be perfect," she replied. "I'll meet you at Chez Andre on West 57th at... seven?"

"At seven," Peter confirmed.

She stepped forward, leaning in and placing a kiss on his cheek. "Until tonight, then," she whispered, then with a smile she walked away, glancing once over her shoulder provocatively at the psychologist.

Ray scratched his head as he watched her disappear out the end of the alley. "Well, she certainly got over that scare in a hurry."

"Hmmm," Egon rubbed his chin. "She most certainly did."

"Isn't she the most beautiful woman you ever saw?" Peter asked, his inflection dreamlike.

"She's quite attractive, Peter," Egon replied, a disapproving timbre still coloring his voice. "Perhaps it would have been prudent to have learned a bit more about her before asking her out on a date."

"Egon!" Peter cried. "She's gorgeous and she thinks I'm her hero. What more do I need to know?" He cast a sidelong glance at his friend. "You're just jealous because she didn't fall for your hero act."

"I was simply attempting to protect her from those Class Fives when you showed up," Egon replied.

"You were on your butt when we showed up!" Peter returned.

Egon offered him a look that said a reply was beneath his dignity and turned away.

"Come on, Pete. Let's get back," Winston patted the younger man on the shoulder.

"Yeah, I gotta get ready for my date," Peter raised his voice to make sure the retreating Egon wouldn't miss the barb.

As the four men took off their proton packs and loaded them in the back of Ecto-1, Jillian Lester watched them from the shadows across the street.

"Yes," she whispered to herself. "He may be the one." Her eyes sparkled as she watched Peter climb into the shotgun position in the front seat beside Winston. As the car began to pull away, her lips curved into a feral smile. "Perhaps tonight will be the night."

***

Peter was out of the car even before Winston brought it to a complete halt and bounded up the stairs.

"What's his hurry?" Janine asked as the other three headed toward her carrying the three full traps.

"He's got a hot date," Winston told her.

"Yes," Egon said thoughtfully, looking in the direction Peter had disappeared.

"She really was beautiful, wasn't she?" Ray asked. "And she certainly seemed to like Peter."

"Strange," Egon said, almost to himself.

Winston shook his head. "Egon, if I didn't know you better, I'd swear Pete was right, that you're jealous!"

"Really, Winston," Egon grumbled.

"Jealous?" Janine asked, that particular emotion beginning to cloud her own eyes. "Just who is this goddess?"

"Her name is Jillian Lester," Ray replied. "She was sort of caught in the middle when we went after these guys." He held up the trap in his hand. "Egon was struggling against two of them when we got there."

"Yeah, and Pete played knight in shining armor and she didn't even notice Egon after that. So you don't have anything to worry about, Janine," Winston replied with a grin.

"I hope you're right, Winston," Egon looked at him seriously.

"What's wrong, Egon?" Ray asked.

"There's something about this whole situation I don't like. Something about the girl. I don't think Peter should have acted so precipitously."

"Come on, Egon," Winston replied. "You know Pete and pretty girls and this one was definitely pretty."

"I just hope he isn't getting into any trouble."

"Trouble? Pete? Egon, Peter can certainly handle himself with a beautiful woman."

"Perhaps." He turned and headed for the basement.

"I don't get it," Ray shook his head. "Why does this girl bother Egon so much?"

"You got me, homeboy," Zeddemore replied. "Let's get these bad boys into containment." Ray nodded and they headed off after Egon.

***

Peter was impeccably dressed in his best dark blue suit as he stepped into Chez Andre. He paused for a moment to run his hand over his perfectly groomed hair before he stepped up to the maitre'd. "Hi, I'm Peter Venkman, I'm meeting a young lady here for dinner, a Ms. Lester."

"Ah, yes, Monsieur Venkman," the man returned with a well practiced French accent that Peter would have bet money was phoney. "Mademoiselle Lester has already arrived. If you will follow me?"

As they neared the table, she looked up and once more Peter felt himself transfixed by her eyes. There was something absolutely mesmerizing about them.

"Peter," she smiled as he sat down. "I'm so very glad you came."

"Did you think I wouldn't?" he asked in disbelief. "I don't rescue fair maidens and then desert them. That wouldn't be chivalrous, now would it?"

The waiter approached to take their drink orders, then Peter leaned his chin on his hand and stared at her shaking his head. "You are so beautiful," he whispered.

"I am the girl of your dreams," she laughed.

Peter's eyes got big. "You're right!" His mouth dropped open in amazement. "I really think you're right. I think I've actually dreamed about you."

"Of course you have, my love," she replied.

Peter's eyes narrowed. "Hey, but that's just my imagination. We just met."

"Perhaps in this life," she replied. "Do you believe in reincarnation?"

Peter frowned. "Well, I've never really thought about it seriously. In the line of work I'm in, you don't discount things like that out of hand, though. I suppose it's possible."

She leaned provocatively toward him, her tone dripping with sensuality. "Perhaps we were lovers in another life."

Peter's finger reached under his collar and tugged. "Lady, you certainly know how to cut to the chase."

"Don't you like aggressive women, Peter?" The way she said his name was almost musical and Peter caught himself staring into her eyes again.

"Are you ready to order, sir?" the waiter asked. Peter shook his head to clear the cobwebs.

"Uh, yes, I guess so. How about you, Jillian?"

"Anything you want, darling," she replied in a seductive voice that almost made the waiter drop his pad and pencil.

"Um," Peter pulled his gaze away from her long enough to focus on the menu. He quickly ordered the first thing his eyes fell upon. The waiter stuttered a "thank you" and left, casting glances back at Jillian as he made his way toward the kitchen.

"Jillian, I know this may sound a little strange, and I hardly believe I'm saying it, but... do you think you could maybe slow down a little? I mean..."

"Yes, I suppose we will have to wait until after dinner to get to the more enjoyable part of the evening," she purred, her hand reaching across the table to rest on his.

"Yeah," Peter replied nervously. This wasn't exactly what he had in mind.

All through dinner, Peter felt a nagging uneasiness. And he felt a little silly for it. After all, Jillian was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and she obviously (an understatement) was interested in him. He should be ecstatically happy about the situation. But he just wasn't used to being the seducee, at least not quite so blatantly. Yeah, he liked women... a lot, but he also liked to be the one to do the romancing. That was the problem. So far, this date with Jillian hadn't been romantic. He felt like Jillian had an insatiable sweet tooth he was about to be...

"Dessert?" The waiter's question drew him out of his musing.

"Huh?"

"No, I don't think so," Jillian smiled. "Why don't we just go up to my suite and we can get to know each other more... intimately?" Her deep, breathy tone and the way she drew out the last word made Peter exchanged a quick glance with the waiter. He heartened to know that he wasn't the only male being made uncomfortable at the moment.

"Um, maybe we should make it another time," he started.

"Are you crazy?!" the waiter gasped, then suddenly realized what he'd said. "I mean. I'll bring your check immediately, sir." As he stumbled away from the table, Jillian once more took hold of Peter's hand, pulling it to her lips and kissing his palm.

"What's wrong, darling? Don't you want me?"

"Uh, well, sure, but.."

"Then, let's go," she smiled as she stood up. The waiter reappeared and Peter quickly took care of the bill and followed Jillian outside.

"My hotel is just a block away. It's such a lovely night, why don't we walk?"

"Okay," Peter replied. Maybe the night air would clear his mind. He certainly hadn't been thinking straight all evening.

"I wish we could see the stars," Jillian whispered, wrapping her hands around his arm and resting her head on his shoulder as they walked. "I love the stars."

"City lights are too bright," Peter explained. Of course, she knew that, he thought. What was wrong with him? He couldn't even make conversation any more.

"I enjoy the vitality of the city, but I enjoy the darkness too. There's magic in the night. That's when we dream. Dreams are pure, Peter. The mirrors of the soul."

"I thought that was the eyes," he replied.

As if on cue, she turned toward him, the light from a movie theater marquee they were passing reflecting sparkles off her eyes in a strange but hypnotic way.

"Perhaps," she replied. "But our eyes cannot see within ourselves. There lies the truth in all of us. It is in our dreams we see our truth, our desires, our passions, our fears. Nothing can hide in dreams. We cannot escape from them."

"That's a very interesting point of view," he replied. "Do you dream a lot?"

"Only of you, my love," she whispered as she moved against him and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his head down into a passionate kiss. Peter reached for her arms and pulled them away. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

Peter shook his head. "Jillian, I know you're gonna think I'm nuts... I even think I'm nuts... but there's something wrong about this. You're a very beautiful woman, but we hardly know each other."

"I've frightened you," she pouted. "And I thought you were such a brave man, my hero." She insinuated herself against him again, her hands moving over him.

"Hey!" he cried as he pushed her away again. "We're on the street for heaven sakes."

"Am I embarrassing you, Peter?" she asked with a wicked grin.

"Well, as a matter of fact, yeah!" he replied.

"Don't fight me, Peter. You want me, I can feel it. All you have to do is come with me."

"Said the spider to the fly," he remarked, his wariness growing.

Her eyebrows rose in an amused expression. "So, you think I am a spider and you're afraid of being caught in my web? Perhaps you aren't man enough to take me." Her fingers began tracing their way down the buttons of his shirt, pausing at his belt.

Peter pushed her away more roughly this time. "Listen, lady, I'm not exactly sure what your game is, but I'm losing interest in playing real fast."

"You want me, Peter. Don't deny it. Look inside yourself. Look for your truth. You said I was the girl of your dreams."

"And some dreams turn into nightmares," he replied. "Look, I'll see you to your hotel, but that's it. If you're so insatiable, I'm sure there are a lot of guys who would be glad to oblige you, but Mama Venkman's little boy isn't interested in being anybody's sex toy!"

"You dare to refuse me?" Her eyes flashed with anger.

"Yeah, I dare." He grabbed her wrist roughly. "Come on. I'm taking you home."

She pulled away. "I do not need your protection," she practically hissed at him. "I offered you the fulfillment of your dreams and you spurn me. You will pay dearly for this."

"Lady, you'd better call the Otis man because you've got a real serious problem with your elevator!"

"You will pay," she repeated, then spun away from him, storming across the street and down the sidewalk.

Peter stood for a moment just watching her, then he started after her. Not that he intended to stop her, but he did feel a certain responsibility to see that she got to her hotel safely. This was New York, after all.

As soon as he saw her stomp through the lobby doors of the Ashbrook Plaza, he signalled for a cab and headed back to the firehouse. This had been the weirdest date he had ever had. Jillian Lester was one sick puppy. And she was right, she had scared him.

It wasn't until he paid off the cab in front of Ghostbuster Central that he realized how early it was. Oh, boy, this was going to be hell to explain to the guys. He wasn't about to admit that he had been frightened by an overly aggressive female. He'd never live it down. They'd have a real field day ribbing him from now until next century! He toyed with the idea of heading up the street to find a bar to park it in for a few hours, but decided against it. He really just wanted to go take a nice hot shower. Somehow, he could still feel her hands on him and it made his skin crawl. Was he overreacting? Maybe, he admitted to himself, but he couldn't shake the feeling. Running several possible excuses for the early evening over in his head, he opened the door and stepped into the building.

As he climbed the stairs, he heard the television playing and paused in the doorway to find all three of his partners relaxing on the couch, with Slimer bobbing up and down over Ray's shoulder. He, Ray and Winston were obviously engrossed in some old movie while Egon kept them company but had his nose buried in a dry physics text.

"Peter!" Ray cried as soon as he saw him. "What are you doing home so early?"

Egon looked up, glanced down at his watch, then looked back at Peter over the top of his glasses. The psychologist could hear the questions forming in the physicist's mind, so he figured he'd beat him to the punch.

"Beautiful Jillian turned out not to have brain one in her head," he laughed. "I was bored silly halfway through the appetizer. Guess you were right, old buddy," he looked at Egon. "There's more to look for than beauty."

"I'm sorry you didn't have an enjoyable evening, Peter," Egon replied sincerely.

"Yeah, so am I," he nodded in complete agreement. He faked a yawn. "Well, I think I'm gonna take a shower and turn in."

"Already?" Winston frowned. "Pete, it's only nine o'clock."

"Yeah, but it's been a long day. See you guys in the morning." With that he disappeared up the spiral staircase toward the third floor bedroom.

"Long day?" Winston turned to Egon. "He didn't get out of bed until twelve thirty."

"You think there's something wrong?" Ray asked with concern.

Egon pushed his glasses up from where they had slid to the end of his nose. "I think there's something Peter isn't telling us, but we'll just have to wait until he decides to talk about it."

"If he decides to talk about it," Winston returned.

"Well, we can't just butt in on his personal life, I suppose," Ray said thoughtfully.

"We'll just have to trust that Peter will come to us if he needs to talk," Egon advised. "Until then, there's very little we can do."

They all turned and looked at the stairs unhappily, contemplating their equally unhappy friend.

***

He was all alone, surrounded by darkness so profound he could see absolutely nothing. There was no noise except the sound of his own rapid breathing and the pounding of his heart. He called out; he could not hear his own voice. He tried again, certain he had made the sound, but still he could hear nothing.

There was no solid ground beneath his feet; he seemed to be floating within the nothingness. Suddenly, he was falling, although there was no wind, nothing to indicate his passage through whatever space this was, he still could feel himself falling faster and faster. He flailed his arms and legs about wildly, but came into contact with nothing. He tried to scream, but still he could make no sound. He knew it would only be a matter of time before he hit bottom, but after what seemed forever, that collision had not occurred.

All at once he knew he was trapped. Alone. In an eternity of nothingness. Deprived of all his senses, he was smothered by fear. At that moment, an abrupt crash into the ground no longer frighten him so much as the fear that this would never end. Darkness. Silence. Alone.

For eternity.

With a gasp, Peter awoke to find himself sitting up in his bed drenched in a cold sweat. Although it was relatively warm in the room, he shivered uncontrollably. It took him a few minutes to steady his breathing and to begin to get his trembling under control. It had just been a nightmare, he told himself, but it had been a nightmare unlike he had ever experienced.

He glanced around the bedroom to assure himself that he hadn't awakened any of the others. Thankfully, they were all snoring away in the familiar atonal harmony that regularly echoed in the middle of the night in the firehall. He sat still for a few more minutes, drawing comfort from the familiar surroundings and trying to understand what could have caused such a dream. Could it be the lack of control he had felt in the situation with Jillian earlier had led to this dream world where no control was possible? He knew the encounter had been unnerving, but he hadn't really believed it could affected him to such a degree.

He laid back on the bed and tried to distance himself from the dream. To approach it from a professional viewpoint. He was a psychologist, after all. He knew anxieties could bring out unpleasant dreams. Perhaps that was all it was.

And yet...

There was something very different about this particular dream. Something about the clarity and the feel of the dream. And unlike most dreams, this one had not begun to fade. If he closed his eyes, he could see it all too clearly. He spent several minutes trying to reason himself out of the unreasonable fear that seemed to grip him. Finally, he gave up. There was no point in trying, he wasn't going to get back to sleep until he had distanced himself from these feelings, and lying alone in the darkness was not going to accomplish that. Quietly he climbed out of bed and made his way downstairs to his office. He'd spend a few hours going over the accounts. Perhaps something so practically grounded would help distract his mind.

It took a long time of staring at the ledgers and bills before him before he could really begin to concentrate on the work. Finally, he made some headway and before he realized it, the sun was beginning to come up. He closed the ledger, and tiptoed back upstairs, careful not to awaken his friends, and climbed back into bed. Exhaustion combined with the lessening of his anxiety that came with the morning light finally brought him to an uneasy sleep.

***

"Isn't Peter up yet?" asked Egon as he came into the kitchen where Winston was preparing lunch. He had just spent a productive morning in his lab and had worked up a substantial hunger.

"It's not quite noon yet, Egon," the other man replied.

"Yes, I know we normally don't expect him up before now if he can help it, but he went to bed very early last night. I didn't expect him to sleep quite this late this morning."

"Pete can sleep anywhere, anytime, as long as he's left alone," Winston laughed. "I sometimes envy him that." He looked up and noticed a preoccupied frown on Egon's face. "You're still worried about him?"

Egon nodded. "I just can't shake the feeling something is wrong."

"You said it yourself, Egon. He has to come to us. If you asked him, he'd just deny anything was bothering him."

"Yes, I know, and that's the most frustrating aspect of the situation." He glanced around. "Where's Ray?"

"Running routine maintenance checks on the containment unit," Winston replied. "They were scheduled for two days ago, but we've had so many calls that..."

The sound of the alarm cut off the remainder of his sentence. Quickly removing the pots from the stove and turning off the burners, he turned to follow Egon out the door. They reached the first floor just as Ray was emerging from the basement.

"What is it, Janine?" Egon asked, reaching for the work order she held out to him.

"Poltergeist in the West Avenue Pawn Shop. The owner says all the musical instruments are playing by themselves."

"Lovely," sighed Winston. "Hope they can carry a tune."

"Where's Peter?" Ray asked.

"Right here," came the reply as the man in question came sliding down the fire pole.

"Sorry to interrupt your dreams, Doctor V," Janine needled.

Instead of the expected comeback, Peter seemed to pale slightly at the remark. "Oh, uh, no problem, Janine," he replied lamely and turned away. Janine shot a quick frown at Egon. The physicist opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind and followed the others to the car.

"Let's roll, guys," called Winston as he climbed into the driver's seat of Ecto-1.

***

"Peter? What are you doing out of bed so early?" came the quietly inquiring female voice.

"I wanted to see what Santa brought me, Mom," replied the small boy, looking forlornly at the bare Christmas tree in the corner of the room.

His mother looked at him sadly. "Why, Peter, you know Santa isn't going to bring you any presents."

"No presents! Why not?" he asked in confusion.

"Because Santa only brings presents to little boys and girls who deserve them. You don't deserve any presents, Peter. You aren't worth his time."

Tears came to the young boy's eyes and began to roll down his face. "I'm not worth it?" he asked, hoping she would tell him he had heard her wrong. "He isn't coming?"

"Of course he isn't coming. If you were the kind of little boy someone could love, he would come, but you aren't."

"But, Mom," he cried, "did I do something wrong? What did I do? Tell me."

"If you don't know, I can't tell you."

"But he's just got to come," Peter insisted.

"I won't come!" came another voice from the doorway.

"Dad!" Peter cried. "I knew you'd come!"

Charlie Venkman shook his head. "I won't come!" he repeated. "You're just not worth my time, son. I've tried, but you just don't appreciate what I've done for you. Nobody could love you."

"Dad! No! Don't say that! Please!" Peter sobbed reaching for his father only to have him fade away before his eyes. "Please, come back!"

"No one could love you," his mother echoed.

"Mom?" As soon as he turned for her, she, too, disappeared.

"You aren't worthy of being loved, Peter. You never have been and you never will be."

"No!" He clamped his hands over his ears as the voices of his parents kept repeating those horrible words in chorus.

"No one will ever love you."

"NO!" Peter sprang up in bed with the sound of the denial still echoing through the room.

"Peter?" came Egon's voice at the same time as a light came on. Peter looked around frantically, realizing he was once again in the bedroom of the firehall. He wrapped his arms around himself as he shook with the same chill he had experienced following the nightmare of the previous evening.

"Peter, are you alright?" Egon's voice was closer, and Peter looked up to find him standing beside his bed. Movement on the other side drew his attention and he found his other two friends also standing nearby offering him worried expressions.

"I-I think I could use a glass of water," he murmured.

"I'll get it," Ray offered, moving immediately to the task.

Egon sank down beside him on the bed. "Do you want to talk about it?" he said gently, resting his hand on Peter's shoulder, his concerned frown deepening as he sensed the trembling in his friend's body.

"I... don't know." He shook his head in confusion. "I just don't understand why I'm having these dreams."

"Dreams?" Winston asked. "You mean you've had more than this one?"

With a sigh, he nodded. "Yeah, I had a humdinger of one last night, then this one tonight. I mean, I know we've been busy, but there hasn't been anything out of the ordinary. I just can't understand where this is coming from."

"Were the dreams the same?" Egon asked.

"No," he replied. "But they were both bad, and... I don't know, they both had a strange feeling about them. It's... hard to explain."

Egon put his hand on Peter's forehead, the naturalness of his reaction causing Peter to relax a bit and smile. "No, Mother, I'm not sick."

"Do I look like anybody's mother, Peter," Egon quipped in an effort to draw his friend further into the normalcy of their usual banter. From the sudden shiver his words elicited from the younger man, however, Egon realized he had failed miserably. "What is it?" he asked.

"My mom," Peter replied. "She was... in the dream. And my dad." Egon let his hand slip to Peter's shoulder again to offer moral support. At that moment, Ray arrived with the glass of water. "Thanks," Peter gave him a weak smile as he took the glass and drank deeply. He took a minute to pull himself together before he spoke again.

"It was Christmas morning and there were no presents under the tree. I asked my mom why Santa hadn't come and she said I didn't deserve him to come. Somehow I had the feeling she was really talking about... Dad. Then he was there and he said no one could ever love me. And then they both just faded away." He forced a nervous laugh. "Guess it's a little early for my Christmas phobia to start up. It isn't even October yet." He looked at each of his friends in turn. "I'm sorry I woke you guys."

"Nonsense," Ray replied as he sat down on the bed on the opposite side from Egon and put his hand over Peter's. "We're your friends, Peter, your family. We love you and we're concerned when something is disturbing you."

Peter took a deep shaky breath and smiled with relief at the younger man. "Thanks, Ray. I think I needed to hear that."

"We're here for you, man," Winston agreed.

"You aren't alone, Peter. We want to help." Egon squeezed the shoulder his hand still rested on.

"You guys are the best."

"Think you could try and get some more sleep?" Ray asked. "Or would you like to go downstairs and watch a little television? I could pop some popcorn."

Peter chuckled. "No, that's okay. We're all pretty wiped out." He recalled the hectic day they had had. After the first job, four more calls had come in for their services bringing the Ghostbusters home late in the evening and the four exhausted men had fallen immediately into bed. Glancing at the clock, he realized that had only been an hour and a half ago. "I think I'm tired enough maybe I could get some sleep."

"We're right here if you need us, Peter," Egon assured him.

"That means a lot to me, Spengs," he nodded, then slid back down into bed. Egon pulled the covers up over him. "Tucking me in?" he quirked a smile.

"Shut up and go to sleep," Egon replied, but his tone was gentle. The other men drifted back to their own beds as Egon reached to turn out the light.

***

Across the street from the firehall, a dark-cloaked figure watched as the light went out in the third floor room. A low throaty chuckle broke the silence of the deserted street. "Pleasant dreams, my love." The observer showed no inclination to leave. Waiting wasn't difficult if one had something worth waiting for, and vengeance could be very sweet. Soon he would be asleep again. Soon the revenge would begin... again.

***

With a loud cry, Peter jolted awake again, once more drenched with sweat and shaking like a leaf. Immediately, Egon was at his side. This time he didn't have to ask if Peter was alright; it was obvious he wasn't.

"Take it easy, Peter," he said calmly, running his hand up and down the distressed man's back. "It was just another dream."

"No," Peter shook his head, then dropped his face into his hands. "It was the same dream, only worse."

Egon exchanged a worried look with Ray and Winston who were both sitting up in their beds. "Why don't you come with me to the kitchen and I'll make us some hot chocolate," he suggested as he motioned the other two men to go back to bed. It wasn't that he didn't think Peter needed all the support he could get, but he was sure it would upset him even more to know he had once more awakened the whole firehouse. On top of that, it was sometimes easier for Peter to open up when it was just him and Egon. Both Ray and Winston knew this and understood what Egon was trying to do.

"Okay," Peter replied weakly, offering no resistance when Egon put his hand under his friend's arm and helped him to his feet. As soon as he sank down into the kitchen chair, Peter resumed his previous position, resting his head on the heels of his hands. Egon went to the stove, pulled out a pan and all the ingredients to make his homemade hot chocolate, giving Peter a chance to pull himself together. He cast a furtive look toward the younger man.

"Just relax for a few minutes, Peter," he said as gently as he could. There was no response. With a sigh, he turned back to his task, glancing at Peter as he stirred the mixture in the pan. As soon as he'd finished, he filled two cups brought them to the table and set one in front of Peter. "You want to talk about it?" he asked.

"I don't know what to say, Spengs," Peter replied, finally raising his face to look at his friend. His eyes were red and the dark circles beneath them pronounced. "I don't understand why this is happening to me."

"Have you spoken with your father recently?" Egon asked.

"Not since last month when he called from France. Egon, there's no reason for me to have these dreams. Nothing has changed between me and my Dad. I know how he is and I've come to a sort of understanding with my own feelings about it. You know that." He shook his head. "This is crazy. I'm a psychologist, for goodness sakes. I just can't understand what could be causing me to have nightmares like this." He took a sip of his chocolate.

"You can't think of anything usually stressful that has occurred to you recently?"

Peter shook his head. "Not a thing. Not a blessed thing."

Egon considered a moment. "Peter, what about your date with Ms. Lester?" Peter's head shot up instantly, then quickly he looked down into his mug again. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't help but feel there was more to it than you implied."

"I told you, Egon, she was just... boring." He squirmed for a moment in his chair, still staring down at his chocolate, unable to meet Egon's examining gaze. When he finally did look up, he could see the deep concern in his friend's eyes. With a sigh, he relented. "Okay, so that isn't exactly the truth."

"Peter, I don't mean to pry. I am merely trying to help you discover anything that has occurred recently that is out of the ordinary, something that could have precipitated these strange nightmares. If you can honestly tell me that there is nothing in the events of your evening with Ms. Lester that disturbed you, I'll accept that. But if you wish to discuss whatever happened, I assure you it will remain between us."

Peter seemed to relax a bit at the sincerity in the physicist's voice. "Okay," he agreed. "It's just that it's a little embarrassing. You know, I sort of have a reputation as a suave, debonair..."

"...ladies' man?" Egon completed with a tolerant smile.

"Yeah," Peter lips quirked in response, before he turned serious again. "I like to think I'm pretty accomplished with the fair sex."

"In most instances, I'd say you were correct. If on this occasion, Ms. Lester didn't... appreciate your... approach, then..."

Peter laughed tensely. "No, that's not it. I didn't get a chance to do any approaching. She was sort of, well... overt in her approach. She was making all these innuendoes all through dinner. Even the waiter noticed it. Like she had a really bad case of the hots for me, you know? It was sort of embarrassing." He looked at Egon and realized he didn't seem to be buying his story. "Honest, Egon," he pressed. "It wasn't the least bit romantic. I'm a romantic kind of guy, deep down." This was as hard as he thought it would be. "Anyway, I was getting these bad vibes about her all through dinner. It wasn't like she wanted to get to know me, just like she wanted to get me in the sack as quickly as possible. I started to feel like a piece of meat."

He stopped and took a deep breath. "After dinner, she wanted us to go to her hotel suite. By the time we were out of the restaurant, I had decided to see her to the hotel and then bow out. It wasn't far from the restaurant, so we were walking, and that's when it really got weird. She began to get even more... physical. Right out in public. When I tried to tell her I wasn't that kind of guy, she got really angry. It was almost scary. She got mad that I had the nerve to turn her down and she said I would pay for refusing her." He ran his hand through his hair. "It gave me a creepy feeling, you know. Reminded me of that 'Fatal Attraction' movie. I guess I was kind of shook by it all."

"Why didn't you tell us this before?" Egon asked softly.

Peter chuckled. "I figured I'd never hear the end of it. Me, the Great Romancer, God's gift to women, scared shitless by an overaggressive female. And, it sort of made me worry that I might have made some of my dates feel the way I felt. I hope not. I know I didn't like it."

"Peter, the way the lady in question treated you is cheap and contemptible. I've seen you in action, remember? I would never describe your interactions with the women you go out with in that manner." He smiled. "Perhaps you get a little carried away in conversation, but you've always acted like a gentleman."

"Well, I've got my face slapped a couple of times, but I really try to be a nice guy, Egon. I really do."

"I believe you, Peter. Besides, your behavior is not in question at the moment. What concerns me is Ms. Lester's actions. She certainly caused you some anxiety. The question is, could this be a contributing factor in the onset of these nightmares?"

Peter shook his head. "I don't see how, Egon. I mean, we're talking about dreams here and..." Suddenly the color drained from his face.

"Peter, what's wrong?" Egon asked, suddenly alarmed.

"Dreams. Jillian had a thing about dreams. She kept saying she was the girl of my dreams, and when we were walking to her hotel, she was talking about dreams being where we saw the truth and how we couldn't hide from our dreams. She really had a thing about the subject." He stopped and shook his head. "Aw, but that's ridiculous. What could she have to do with my dreams?"

Egon suddenly jumped up and left the kitchen. Peter spun in his chair and watched him disappear out the door. "Was it something I said?" he mumbled in confusion. Before he had a chance to consider his friend's strange behavior further, Egon had returned, a familiar PKE meter in his hands. He trained the device at Peter.

"Whoa, Spengs, what do you think you're doing?" Peter questioned.

"Hmmm," Egon concentrated on the readings for a moment. "The readings are slightly elevated from the norm, but not excessively so. It could be attributable to your exposure to the greater than usual number of ghosts we've encountered of late."

"Egon, what are you looking for?"

"Peter, I think it too much of a coincidence that Ms. Lester's preoccupation with dreams and her threats against you occurred immediately before you began experiencing these nightmares. The possibility exists that she could have cast some kind of spell on you."

"Spell!" Peter jumped to his feet. "You mean, she's some kind of a sorceress or a witch or something?"

"It's only conjecture at this point, but I think the possibilities bear further investigation. I want to discuss this with Ray. He has a stronger background in this area than I do. And I'd like to get some readings of Ms. Lester at our earliest convenience."

Peter glanced at the kitchen clock. "Well, it's three o'clock in the morning. I don't think now would be a good time for a social call. Besides, what are we supposed to say, 'Excuse me for waking you, but we need to find out if you're casting nasty spells on jilting would-be lovers?'"

"I'm sure we could come up with some plausible excuse to visit her in the morning and take some inconspicuous readings. Perhaps a follow-up to her encounter with the ghosts we captured the other evening."

"Just making sure she's suffering no ill effects?" Peter asked. "Yeah, I guess it could work, but if you don't mind. I'd rather not participate in this little house call. If we're barking up the wrong tree and she really is just a loony toon, I don't want her getting any ideas that I've changed my mind and am making excuses to see her."

"I understand that, Peter. I see no reason for your presence."

"Good," he replied.

"Peter, considering what we've theorized, it will most likely be necessary, and I think it would be a good idea, to apprise Ray and even Winston of the details of your encounter with Ms. Lester. I know I said I wouldn't tell anyone, and I won't without your permission, but I know in light of the seriousness of the problem neither Ray nor Winston would ever think of teasing you about the date."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. At this point, Egon, I really wouldn't mind a little teasing if it meant I didn't have to face another one of those dreams."

Egon paused for a moment, stirring the remains of the liquid in his cup. "Peter, you said it was the same dream only worse."

The younger man took an unsteady breath as his mind went back to the nightmare. "Yeah, well, it started out the same, but it got a lot uglier. It was like my mom and my dad... hated me. They couldn't stand the sight of me. I know it's not true, Egon. I know my mom loved me, and Dad does too, in his own unorthodox way. But in the dream, it seemed so real. The rejection really hurt like a physical pain."

Egon placed his hand on Peter's arm. "You said these dreams were unlike any you'd ever had before. Some indescribable quality that made them different."

"You think that could be because they were induced by a spell?"

"I think it's something we can't discount."

"Okay, so tomorrow you check out the possible spell caster. What do I do?"

"You try and get some sleep, Peter."

He shook his head. "I don't know that I even want to try," he admitted. "I can't face those dreams again."

"Peter, you have to sleep. If it will help, I'll sit with you. If you start to have a dream, I can wake you."

Peter smiled with gratitude at his friend's offer. "Thanks, Spengs, but I can't ask you to do that."

"I don't recall you asking," the physicist replied.

"Let me try it again on my own. You need your sleep, too, after all. If I have any more problems, I may take you up on it."

"If you're sure, Peter."

He nodded. "I'm sure." But Egon could sense the hesitation behind the forced positive note. "Thanks for the cocoa, and the sympathetic ear."

"You know I'm always here for you, Peter, as are Winston and Ray."

"Yeah, I know that," he replied. "And it helps more than you'll ever know."

"I'm not so sure about that," Egon contradicted. "I've had occasion to find need of your support more than once in the past and I have a vested interest in keeping you on a level keel in case that circumstance occurs again in the future."

"If it ever does, I'm here," Peter replied.

"Good. Now that that's settled, I suggest we try to get some sleep."

"If you say so," Peter reluctantly agreed.

***

Egon didn't go back to sleep after seeing Peter to his bed. He lay awake and listened to the psychologist's breathing, trying to determine if he had fallen asleep. It was a long time in coming, but he finally did. Egon was just beginning to relax himself when the sounds of movement and harsh breathing came from the bed across from his. Immediately, he moved to his friend's side.

"Peter!" he whispered urgently, grasping the agitated man's shoulders and shaking gently. "Peter, wake up!"

With a gasp, Peter's eyes flew open.

"It's alright," Egon reassured him.

Peter took a few minutes to catch his breath. "Thanks," he nodded. "It was just about to get to the fun part again."

"The Christmas dream again?"

Peter nodded. "Guess it's the feature of the evening. Like pay per view, it shows over and over again." He looked up into his friend's eyes. "Egon, I can't face it again tonight. I'm gonna go downstairs and throw in a tape."

"I'll come with you," Egon replied.

"No," Peter grabbed his arm. "There's no point in both of us losing an entire night's sleep."

"Peter, I am not about to let you sit up alone after the disturbing dreams you've been having. You're so exhausted, you could fall asleep down there and have the dream again. I wouldn't get any sleep up here knowing that could be happening to you. So don't argue. Just figure out what movie you want to watch."

Peter smiled. "I guess I know better than to argue with a certified genius. Okay, but it's gonna be a western."

"Fine. I can catch up on that article of Doctor Beckett's on particle acceleration in relation to his string theory of temporal relocation."

"Oh, boy!" Peter grimaced. "I'm sorry I missed that one."

"I could read it aloud to you, if you wish," Egon suggested.

"Egon, I want to stay awake, remember?" He threw his arm around his friend's shoulder as they made their way to the TV room.

***

It was after daylight when Peter decided to try for sleep once more. Egon was prepared to sit up with him, but Ray was waiting for them when they returned to the bedroom and insisted on Egon's getting a few hours sleep while he took up the vigil. Egon didn't think he would be able to sleep, but his body had other ideas. It was almost nine when he awoke to find Peter still sleeping peacefully while Ray read a comic book in the chair beside him.

Noticing Winston was already up, Egon signalled Ray, then silently dressed and went downstairs to find Winston and Janine waiting for him.

"Winston told me about Doctor V's nightmares," the secretary explained. "Is there anything I can do?" she asked with concern.

"Thank you, Janine," Egon replied. "I'd appreciate it if you took over for Ray and sat with Peter for a while. He needs as much sleep as he can get, but I don't want him to be alone. You'll need to awaken him if he starts having another nightmare."

"Where are we gonna be?" Winston asked.

"Checking out Ms. Jillian Lester," Egon replied.

Winston's eyes grew large. "You think she has something to do with Pete's dreams?"

"There is that possibility," Egon admitted. "I'll fill you and Ray both in on the way to the Ashbrook Plaza." He turned back to the secretary. "Just leave the answering machine on, Janine. We won't be taking any calls unless they're dire emergencies until we get this situation resolved."

"You got it, Egon," she nodded.

Egon put his hand on Janine's shoulder. "Janine, Peter's emotional state is very fragile right now because of these nightmares."

"Don't worry," she smiled, patting the hand on her shoulder affectionately. "I'll go easy on him."

"Not too easy or it wouldn't be natural," Winston reminded them both. "Pete doesn't take too well to too much sympathy. He needs to be reassured that everything is as normal as possible."

"You're right," Egon agreed, "but he also may need a little more reassurance than usual that we care about him. Deep down, he knows how much he means to all of us, but these nightmares seem to be aimed at shaking the core of that foundation."

Janine paled a little. "And you think this Lester woman is doing this to him on purpose?"

"It's possible, but it's only conjecture at the moment."

The secretary took a deep breath. "Okay, don't you worry about Peter. I'll take good care of him."

"I know you will," Egon gave her what he hoped was a encouraging smile.

"I'll go up and take over for Ray." She flipped on the answering machine, grabbed a book and a couple of magazines and headed for the stairs.

"You're really worried about Pete, aren't you, Egon?" Winston asked after Janine left.

"Yes, I am," he admitted. "An attack of this kind can be dangerous not only to Peter's emotional well-being, but also to his health. These nightmares are taking a lot out of him and he hasn't been able to get enough sleep to recover from the effects. This can't go on indefinitely."

"You want to fill me in on what's going on?" Ray asked as he came down the stairs.

"On the way," Egon replied.

"Where?" the occultist asked.

Egon's featured took on a determined look. "We're going to pay a call on Jillian Lester."

***

The lady in question watched as the converted ambulance pulled out of the firehouse and roared up the street. A predatory smile crossed her face. His protectors were gone. They thought the coming of the daylight would shield him from her vengeance, but they were wrong. She'd allowed them to believe that and now he was all hers.

***

"No, we don't have anyone registered here by that name," the desk clerk replied to their query. Egon described the woman in question, but the clerk still didn't recognize her.

"It was night before last," Ray told him. "About eight or eight-thirty when she came in."

"I wasn't here then. That would have been Henderson's shift. I'm afraid he left for two weeks vacation this morning."

Egon nodded resignedly. "Alright. Thank you for your time." The three men turned away from the desk.

"Now what?" Winston asked. "This was just about our only lead to finding her."

Ray considered for a moment. "Now we take it from another angle. I have a friend who's very connected with the sorcery community in New York and he lives not far from here. He can at least give us an opinion on whether or not this could be a spell and maybe who might be able to cast it."

"Then let's go," Winston replied.

Egon exchanged a worried look with Ray. "I hope your friend can help us, Ray."

"I'm sure he can," the younger man was working hard to sound confident. "Don't worry, Egon, we'll find a way to help Peter."

Egon smiled and patted his friend's shoulder as they followed Winston back to Ecto-1.

***

It was very quiet. The kind of quiet that made you know that you were the only one inhabiting the place you were in. Peter rose slowly from the bed and looked around the deserted dormitory. "Egon? Ray?" he called, then he climbed to his feet. "Winston?" Still no answer, and deep inside, he knew there would be none. His heart pounded as he walked out of the bedroom and headed for Egon's lab.

He opened the door to discover a completely empty room. No equipment, no furnishings, nothing to indicate anything had ever occupied the space. "Egon!" he cried louder, but there was still no answer.

His heart pounding, he raced down the stairs to check out first the kitchen then the television room. They too were empty, save for the barest of furnishings and those were covered with dusty white sheets. "No!" he cried as he lunged for the pole and slid down to the ground floor. It, too, was virtually empty. There was a pile of rubble in the middle of the garage where Ecto-1 should have been parked. There were no filing cabinets to separate his office from Janine's, indeed, no desk for the secretary/receptionist.

"Janine!" he cried. "Come on, guys, this isn't funny. Where are you?"

A terrible cold fear crept over him as he the truth sunk in that he was absolutely alone.

"Slimer? Come on, spud, where are you?" he called desperately. "Somebody, anybody!"

"They're all gone, Peter."

He spun at the sound of the voice.

"Who..." he started to ask. Then he saw her. Standing in the middle of the pile of rubble, dressed in a long black cloak, the hood draped over her head. The penetrating blue eyes seeming to cut right through him. "Jillian?"

"Yes, Peter. I told you that you would pay. How do you like it?"

"What have you done with the guys?" he demanded.

"I have done nothing. They have all left you, Peter. You weren't worth their bother. They had been putting up with you for years and they finally realized they would be much better off if you weren't around."

"No! That isn't true!" he cried. "They wouldn't leave me."

"Then where are they, Peter? Where are all the people who have passed through your life? Where are they now? No one wants you, Peter. Face facts. They all despise you."

"You're a liar!" He started toward her, but she raised her hand against him and suddenly he couldn't move.

"You had a chance to have your dreams come true and you refused. Now you live with the consequences. You will know all the pain you have caused doubled back on you, Peter. You will die alone and in torment and I shall be here laughing!"

"No!"

"You're alone, Peter. You will always be alone. No one loves you." Suddenly her image became vaporous and when it resolved again, the form had changed.

"No one loves you, Peter." It was his mother.

"Mom?" he cried, even as the image shifted again.

"You will die alone."

"No, Dad," he tried to move, but he was still frozen to the spot as the tormenter once more changed form, split and became three.

"We can't stand to put up with you anymore, Peter," the image of Ray Stantz said coldly.

"No, Ray, don't!" Peter begged.

"Get out of our sight!" Winston turned his back with a sneer.

"No, please, Zed, you can't mean..."

"Peter! I will be rid of you. Don't ever look for me to come and comfort you in the night. I'm sick and tired of your whining."

"Oh, God, Egon, don't do this!" He fell to his knees, covering his ears against what he was hearing.

"How could you think we could care about you, Peter. We hate you! You deserve to die alone!"

"No!" he screamed, sobbing as he heard the echoes of the three so familiar voices fading away in laughter at his pain.

Suddenly, he felt arms grabbing him, pinning him like a vice. He struck out and felt his flailing arm come into contact with skin.

"Peter! OOOF!"

The sound of something hitting the floor followed by a gasp of pain brought him to full wakefulness. It was broad daylight and he was in his bed in the firehall. His heart was pounding so hard it was painful. The room was empty.

"No!" he cried out in torment. "Don't leave me alone! Please!"

"Peter?" The voice came from so near him he jumped. His eyes flew in its direction and he saw Janine, climbing to her feet from the floor beside his bed.

"J-Janine?" he asked, desperate for assurance that the secretary really was there.

At first glance, her expression seemed angry, but as soon as she took a good look at his face, the anger melted away and she reached immediately to pull him into her arms.

"It's alright, Peter," she murmured. "It was just another dream. It's over now. You're safe."

"Dream?" he asked. "Where..." The shivering of his body stopped the words in his throat.

"You're home, here in the firehouse," Janine tried to assure him.

"No, where... where are the guys?" he asked with obvious fear at the answer.

"They've gone to find that Lester woman, remember? They're gonna see if she put some kind of spell on you to make you have these awful dreams." Janine pushed back so she could see his face, and caught her breath at the agony she could see reflected there. She used both hands to wipe the tears from his cheeks, even as her own began to flow from her eyes, then she continued the motion, brushing his hair back from his face and leaving them to rest on his shoulders. "They haven't left you alone."

"How did you know?" he asked.

"You were crying out in your sleep. I tried to wake you, but I couldn't. I'm sorry, Peter. I really tried." She smiled. "But you were very determined not to let me get hold of you!"

The memory came back and his eyes widened. "I-I hit you!" he realized.

She laughed as she rubbed her jaw. "You got a pretty good left upper cut there, champ!"

His horrified expression dissolved into stark fear. "Oh, God, Janine, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to."

"Of course you didn't," she agreed.

"Please, Janine, don't hate me."

Janine's mouth dropped open. "Doctor V, Peter, I don't hate you. You know that. I could never hate you."

"Please don't leave me alone," he whispered as he squeezed his eyes shut.

"Oh, gosh, Peter, don't." She pulled him into her arms again, rocking him gently back and forth as he cried. "I'm not going anywhere and neither are the guys. They'll be back before you know it and everything will be alright. Come on, Peter, you know we all love you. There's nothing anyone can do that will change that."

"Peter?" came a new voice, and Janine looked up to see Slimer floating hesitantly a few feet away from them. "Peter hurt?"

"No, Slimer. Peter is going to be alright. Someone is trying to hurt him, but we won't let them, will we?"

"No!" Slimer cried. "Nobody hurt Peter. Slimer help!" And with that pronouncement, he dived at Peter wrapping his arms around the psychologist's neck.

"Slimer!" Janine cried, but to her amazement, and from his expression, Slimer's, Peter hugged the little ghost back fervently.

"Peter be okay. Peter not cry anymore."

"Thanks, spud," Peter whispered, starting to try and get some control over his runaway emotions. He looked up at Janine's tear-stained face. "You too, Melnitz."

"Are you okay, now?" she asked gently, running her hand up and down his arm.

"Getting there," he replied, but there was no strength in his voice.

"I'll get you a glass of water," Janine said as she started to rise.

"No!" he cried, grabbing her hand. He closed his eyes, fighting down the panic that once more tried to envelop him. "Don't leave just yet, please?"

"Okay," she replied. "I won't leave if you don't want me to. Slimer, would you get Peter a glass of water, and try not to get any slime in it?" she asked.

"Okey dokey!" Slimer acknowledged and streaked off in the direction of the kitchen.

Janine sat in silence as Peter struggled to pull himself together, offering the support of her presence, maintaining contact with her hand on his arm, his back, and occasionally brushing at the tears on his cheek again. Slimer returned very carefully carrying a glass of water sitting on a saucer. He had apparently not even touched the outside of the glass.

"No slime," he announced, pleased with himself. "Slimer careful."

"Thanks, buddy." Peter's reply made the little ghost beam. The psychologist drank the water and Janine took the glass from him and sat it on the table.

"You want to talk about it?" she asked gently.

He shivered again. "I think you got the gist of it. I woke up here in the bedroom, but nobody was here. All the rooms were deserted, there was nothing in Egon's lab and there were covers over all the furniture, just like everyone had left a long time ago. But nobody took me." He took a deep breath to try and resteady his voice. "When I got downstairs, I called everybody's name, but nobody answered. Then Jillian was there."

"Jillian? So she does have something to do with this!"

"Maybe," he replied. "I'm so mixed up now, I don't know. Anyway, she was telling me all this stuff about how nobody wanted me around and everybody had left me. Then she wasn't Jillian anymore. She changed to my mom then my dad, then it was the guys standing there telling me how much they hated me and wanted to be rid of me."

"Doctor V, you know that isn't true."

"Yeah, I know, but somehow in the dreams, I don't know. I'm just so scared it's all true." He ran a shaky hand through his hair then looked up at her. "Janine, I guess deep down, I really am afraid that all that I have is just too good to be true. That someday reality is gonna come crashing down and I'll... be alone."

"That isn't gonna happen!" She said forcefully. "Not in your lifetime! There have never been a bunch of guys in this world that cared about each other, that loved each other, as much as you and Egon and Ray and Winston. That is the reality. This fear is just a nightmare. You wake up from a nightmare and we're all still here. I promise you, the guys will be back soon and they'll tell you just what I'm telling you right now. They love you and they'd go through hell itself for you. Don't lose your faith in that love. It's your strength and it's more precious than anything else in the world."

Peter's lips curved up in a tentative smile. "And here I thought you didn't like me, Melnitz!"

Janine narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't like you, you big lug. I love you. But if you expect me to say that in front of witnesses, I'll deny it until you're blue in the face!"

Peter broke out in a laugh. "I love you, too," he admitted. "But I make the same disclaimer. After all, we both got reputations to maintain."

"Damned straight!" Janine agreed. Her expression became serious again as she reached out and rubbed his back. "Think you could get some more rest now?"

"Don't know," Peter admitted. "God, I'm so tired, Janine, but I'm so scared of having those dreams again."

"Damn that woman to hell!" Janine's sudden outburst of anger made Peter jump. "If I had her here, I'd cheerfully take a proton pack to her and march off to prison with a smile on my face."

Peter reached up and touched her cheek. "Thank you for caring that much, Janine. It means a lot."

She gave him a crooked smile. "Well, I'm used to you. You know what they say about the devil you know."

"Yeah," Peter replied, not fooled a bit.

"Now," Janine shifted to where she was leaning against the headboard, then gathered Peter once again in her arms, pushing his head down on her shoulder. "You just try and get a little rest. If you don't go to sleep, okay, but if you do, this time I'll slug you first to wake you up!"

"Thanks," Peter replied, beginning to allow himself to relax a little as Janine stroked his hair.

***

"Damn her!"

The sudden outburst from the woman in the black cloak startled several passers-by on the street across from Ghostbuster Central. Hissing between her teeth, she pulled back further into the alley behind her.

"It would have been perfect if that woman hadn't interfered!" She had underestimated the secretary, thinking she was only an employee, and she had proved instead to care for the man. It would have been so glorious for him to awaken from that dream and find he was really and truly alone! Well, perhaps she would find a way to make the woman pay too, but that would have to wait. Right now, she intended to concentrate all her efforts on Peter Venkman. No one refused her. He would suffer. She would see to that.

***

"A dream spell?" The wiry little bald man rubbed at the sparse whiskers on his chin as he sat behind the counter of his herb shop and considered the question. "Well, Ray, there are lots of different spells to make people dream. Some of them aren't very complicated and don't require much experience for the caster."

"These are nightmares, Ruben," Ray explained. "Not just ordinary nightmares either, from what Peter has described."

Egon nodded. "He told me they had exceptional clarity, even after he awakened. And they all seem to be striking at his fear of being alone and uncared for."

Ray swallowed hard. To hear Egon describe it again was painful. "We've just gotta stop whatever this is."

"You're sure this isn't just a psychological problem you friend has?" Ruben asked.

"We can't be sure of anything," Egon admitted. "But there seems to be no other discernable reason for these fears to suddenly manifest themselves in Peter's nightmares. And the encounter with this woman and her preoccupation with dreams made it all seem too much to be coincidence."

"I understand," Ruben replied. "But it doesn't sound like any spell I've ever encountered. Most of the dream or nightmare spells are one time shots, or, if they're a curse, they usually consist of the exact same dream over and over. You said your friend has had at least two different dreams."

"Can you find out anything for us, Ruben?" Ray asked, his desperation evident.

"What was this woman's name?" the bald man asked.

"Jillian Lester," Ray replied.

Ruben's eyebrows went up. "I've heard that name!" he said, concentrating. "Wait!" He quickly turned and pressed some keys on the computer behind him. "There was an inquiry made to an associate of mine several months ago and I'm almost certain that was the name. Let me see." He hit another button, then clicked his mouse and brought up a file. "Here it is! Yes, that was the name: Jillian Lester. Seems a woman came to him several months ago saying this Lester woman had done something to cause her brother to go crazy, but no one believed her."

"Can you give us the woman's name?"

"Don't have it, but I think I can get it. Let me make a couple of phone calls. I'll be right back. Ray, watch the merchandise for me will you?" And with that, he disappeared into the back of the shop.

"I hope this lead pans out," Winston sighed.

"It will," Ray said, ever the optimist, then he looked at Egon. "Come on, Egon, this is good news. We might be able to get a line on Jillian."

"Yes, Ray," Egon replied. "But if this is the same person..."

"Ruben said she made this woman's brother go crazy." Winston realized what had caught the physicist's attention.

"Well, she isn't gonna do that to Peter," Ray said firmly. "We won't let her."

Egon nodded, wishing he felt has confident as Ray.***

Winston pulled the converted ambulance into the garage slowly and as they got out, all three men were careful not to slam their doors. They immediately headed up the stairs toward the third floor bedroom. Egon, who was in the lead, came to an abrupt halt at the doorway. The scene before him causing his heart to suddenly jump to his throat.

Janine was sitting on Peter's bed, leaning against the headboard, with Peter in her arms. The psychologist's head was on her shoulder and Janine's cheek rested against Peter's dark hair. They were both fast asleep. Slimer was asleep too, his arms wrapped around Peter's leg with his head resting on the man's thigh. What shook Egon the most was the noticeable protectiveness in Janine's posture and the desperation in the way Peter seemed to cling to her.

"He's had another dream," Ray whispered. "From the looks of it, a really bad one."

Despite the quiet of his voice, the sound awoke Slimer. Before any of them could warn him not to, the little ghost launched himself in the air with a squeal.

"Guys home!"

"Slimer!" Ray whispered urgently, putting his finger to his mouth.

Slimer's hands flew over his own mouth as he realized he'd done something wrong.

Janine stirred, her eyes coming open to see the three men standing in front of them. Before she could react, Peter's eyes fluttered open.

"You're back!" he sighed with extreme relief, then, seeming to notice his position, quickly, but carefully, moved out of Janine's embrace. "Egon, it's not what you think!" he said nervously.

"Oh, Doctor Venkman, he knows that!" Janine chastised him, her eyes locking with Egon's and wordlessly communicating her apprehension, not at Egon's jumping to the wrong conclusion, but over Peter's obvious distress.

"I have complete faith that Janine has far better taste than to fall for the likes of you," Egon returned with a smile. To his dismay, Peter almost seemed to flinch at the words. This was worse than he thought. Quickly he moved over to the bed and sat down on the other side of Peter from Janine. "It's alright, Peter. I was only joking. I didn't mean to be so insensitive."

Peter tried to smile. "It's not you, good buddy. I'm just a little overly sensitive these days."

"You had another nightmare?" Ray asked, moving up behind Egon, with Winston right behind him.

"Yeah, you could say that." He took a deep breath, then met Egon's gaze. "Did you check out my dream girl?"

"She wasn't at the hotel and according to the desk clerk, she was never registered there."

"What? But I saw her go in there and she was definitely planning on me going up to her room with her."

"Perhaps she was registered under a fictitious name," Egon reasoned. "We didn't get to talk to the night desk clerk; he's on vacation."

"Swell," Peter sighed.

"But we do have a very solid lead," Ray told him. "We found out through a friend of mine that someone else has had an encounter with your lady friend. A guy named Bradley Phelps. His sister has agreed to come by and talk to us. She should be here in about an hour."

"That's great!" Janine said excitedly. "I told you the guys would take care of this," she said to Peter. "Now, why don't you try to rest until she gets here. You still look awfully tired."

"I'll stay here with you, Peter," Ray offered immediately. Egon was about to say he'd stay as well when Janine caught his eyes again and nodded subtly toward the doorway.

"Good," she said to Ray. "I was beginning to get a crick in my back. If I'm gonna have to do this again, we've got to get you a padded headboard." She quirked a smile at Peter and gave him an affectionate pat on the head.

"Thanks, Janine," he said sincerely. "I'll give serious consideration to your next raise."

"I won't hold my breath," she returned as she walked out.

"Get some rest, Peter. We'll call you when Ms. Phelps arrives." Egon squeezed his shoulder, then arose and left also.

Winston paused for a moment to reach in and ruffle Peter's hair. "We're gonna see you through this, buddy," he assured his friend.

Peter merely smiled and nodded.

Egon headed down the stairs and didn't catch up with Janine until he reached the ground floor. She was standing in front of her desk facing away from him.

"Janine?" he called as he approached her and was surprised when she turned round and her eyes were full of tears. He immediately held out his arms and she fell into them, sobbing against his chest.

"I've never seen him like this, Egon, so terribly hurt deep down inside. He looked like he could crumble any second into a million pieces."

"I know," Egon replied as he pulled her tighter against him.

"How could anybody want to do something like this to Peter. I mean, he plays the jerk sometimes and God knows he gets on my nerves most of the time, but he doesn't deserve this. Way deep down under all that bluster, he really cares about people. With all he's had to go through in his life, now that he finally has a family that loves him, he doesn't deserve to have all that security pulled out from under him."

"We won't be pulled out so easily, Janine," Egon said firmly. "Did he talk about this latest dream?" She nodded against his chest. "Was it the same one? About Christmas and his parents?" Egon asked as he handed her his handkerchief.

"No," she shook her head and pulled back far enough to look him in the eye. "This time it was you guys who rejected him in the dream."

Egon closed his eyes for a moment, realizing just how much that would have affected Peter. "There's more," Janine said, wiping her nose and eyes on the handkerchief. "Jillian was in this one too!"

Egon stared at her in surprise. "She was actually in the dream?" Janine nodded and proceeded to describe the dream as Peter had described it to her. As she talked, Egon sank down on her desk and a few minutes later, Janine sat down next to him, leaning against him as he raised his arm for her.

"You were right," Janine told him as she concluded. "He needed reassurance. He's far too strung out right now to be able to handle the usual joking around. Egon, this dream nearly broke him apart. I'm not sure he can handle much more." She paused for a moment, and when she spoke again, her tone had changed. "I'd like to get my hands around that bitch's throat and squeeze the life out of her."

Unlike Peter, Egon was not at all surprised at Janine's anger. He understood it very well. On the surface, Janine's relationship with Peter would seem to be one of controlled combat, but it had never fooled any of their friends. Behind the acid wit the two shared, there was a great deal of respect for each other based in no small part on how much alike the two really were. Peter could always read people better than anyone Egon had ever met, but Janine was a very good judge of character too. They enjoyed their playful bickering too much to ever give it up, but when the chips were down, there wasn't much either of them wouldn't do for the other. There had always been a sort of sibling rivalry between the two, but family members who seem to constantly squabble will band together stronger than steel to face a threat from outside that bond.

"You must be very tired, Janine. Maybe you should go home and..."

She pushed away from him, shaking her head as she stood her ground before him. "Let's get one thing straight, Egon Spengler. I'm not leaving. If there's even the slightest chance I might be needed, I'm going to be here. I'll sleep in the spare bedroom, but I won't for a minute let it cross Peter's mind that I'm deserting him."

Egon smiled as he reached up and touched her face. "You know, that headstrong determination of yours is one of the things I love about you, Janine."

She stared at him open-mouthed, any reply caught in her throat as he stood up and opened his arms to her again. She didn't hesitate but for a second before wrapping her arms around his waist. "Thank you, Egon," she whispered. "The way you care so much for your friends is one of the things I love the most about you."

"Yes, I care, Janine," he admitted. "And maybe Peter isn't the only one who needs and deserves a little reassurance right now. Maybe in this case, it's long overdue." They stood there just holding each other in silence for several minutes. Then Janine sniffed loudly and tilted her head up to face Egon.

"I think I'm hungry and I bet you guys are too. Why don't I go see if I can come up with something in the kitchen?"

"You don't have to do that, Janine."

"I know," she replied. "If I had to, I wouldn't, but I want to, so it's okay."

Egon laughed out loud. "Now I know I'm in trouble, because that made perfect sense." Janine gave him one more quick hug, then trotted off up the stairs.

(Contined in Part 2)