DREAM WEAVER

(PART 2)

By Neetz

"Thank you for coming so quickly, Ms. Phelps," Egon said as they all gathered in the TV room with their visitor. Janine poured the coffee as he continued. "We understand this is not easy for you, but we desperately need your help."

"I'm not sure what I can do for you, Doctor Spengler, but if it's true that woman is trying to hurt Doctor Venkman like she did my brother, I'll do anything I can to help." Veronica Phelps was a petite blond woman in her mid-thirties. She twisted her hands nervously as she spoke. "Frankly, it's good to finally find someone who will listen to me and might just believe me."

"Your brother knew Jillian Lester?"

She nodded. "Yes. They met at a party my brother's law firm was throwing for one of its major clients. She passed herself off as a sales representative for the client, but it was all a lie. Unfortunately, we didn't find that out until it was far too late."

"Go ahead, Ms. Phelps," Ray patted her hand. "Take your time. It's okay."

She tried to smile, but didn't quite succeed. "Bradley fell head over heels in love with her on the spot. He told me she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and was amazed that she could fall in love with him. They got engaged after only three days. It wasn't long after that, though, that I realized something was terribly wrong."

"Bradley called me one night, terrified out of his mind. He told me he had broken up with Jillian, that she had started acting really strange and possessive and demanding he spend all his time with her. He had tried to reason with her, but she flew into a rage and threatened him. He hadn't really taken her seriously, but that night after he got home, he had this awful nightmare." She paused again and took a sip of her coffee.

"You see, when Bradley was just a kid, he got choked on some food and almost died. He has always had a fear of choking or suffocating. In the dream he had, he couldn't breathe. He was scared to death when I first talked to him. But later, he got mad. He said he knew it was Jillian who had caused him to dream. She has this power to control dreams."

Egon shot a quick look toward Ray, then they both turned toward Peter who seemed to have gone deathly pale at the woman's words. Winston, who was standing behind Peter, noticed too, and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"What kind of power?" Ray asked.

"Bradley said she talked as if she were somehow superior, called him 'human' as if that term didn't include her. With what she did to him, I can believe she wasn't human." She paused to take a deep breath. "Anyway, Bradley said she told him there were only certain people to whom she was sensitive. He was one of them. After she'd spent just a little time with him, she could read his emotions, pick up on his thoughts and learn exactly what he cared about and what he feared and use what she learned to direct his dreams."

"She said in our dreams we see our truth, our desires, our passions, and our fears," Peter recalled. "She said we couldn't escape from them." His smile held a touch of irony. "I guess I'm one of the chosen few." He turned to Janine who sat next to him and quipped, "Told you I was a sensitive guy!" then the smile on his face faded. "Okay, so what do we do?"

Egon shook his head. "We can do very little unless we find her."

"She won't be far away," Veronica told them. "Bradley said she was always hanging around. Maybe her powers were stronger when she was close. And she doesn't seem to be able to do anything to you when you're awake. Problem is, you can't stay awake all the time." There was a catch in her voice on her last few words that made Peter look at her closely.

"Veronica, what happened to your brother?" he asked gently. "I really need to know or I wouldn't ask."

"I understand," she told him. "He kept having the dreams. He tried to stay awake, but eventually he was so exhausted he had to sleep and every time he did, he would have those terrible nightmares. He was terrified all the time and so very tired. He fought her as long as he could, but he finally was just too tired. He gave up." Tears began to overflow from her eyes and her voice caught in a sob. "Doctor Venkman, my brother committed suicide."

Peter hadn't even realized he had been holding his breath until Veronica Phelps' words drove the air out of him as if he had been punched in the stomach. He sagged. Winston's hand, still resting on his shoulder, gave a gentle squeeze and Janine slipped her hand over his. Ray had moved to sit next to Veronica, handing her his handkerchief, but his eyes were on Peter. Egon rose and moved quickly to Peter's side, kneeling beside the sofa to bring his eyes level with the psychologist's.

"Peter," he said quietly, placing his hand over Peter's free hand. "We're not about to lose you. We will stop her, whatever it takes. I swear it."

The intensity in his tone brought Peter's gaze up to meet him. Egon could read a mixture of fear and gratitude in the familiar green eyes.

"You said it, Egon!" Winston agreed.

"Nobody hurts one of my friends and gets away with it," Janine announced.

With only one quarter left to be heard from, Peter lifted expectant eyes toward Ray and he wasn't disappointed. The young occultist's own eyes were too bright as he smiled at Peter. "We all love you, Peter," Ray said so simply and yet so powerfully.

"Then it doesn't matter what I dream. As long as I know when I wake up, you guys will be here."

"Count on it!" Egon assured him. "And now we have a better idea of what we're up against." He turned to Veronica Phelps. "Thank you so much for coming here and telling us what you know. I know it was painful for you."

She shook her head. "It doesn't matter. She killed my brother as surely as if she'd held the gun and pulled the trigger." Peter flinched at the description. "I want her stopped and I want her to pay." She stood up and crossed to Peter. "If I can be of any further help, Doctor Venkman, please let me know."

"Thank you," he replied. Winston went with her to see her out.

"So, you boy geniuses, what are we gonna do?" Peter asked.

"I have an idea," Ray said. "It's possible Jillian's power is based on an ability to broadcast alpha waves. If so, we might be able to block out or jam whatever frequency she uses."

"Alpha waves?" Winston asked. "Hey, Egon, what about that alpha wave generator you invented that time? Would it allow Peter to take control of the dream?"

Egon considered for a moment, then shook his head. "I'm afraid not. In its current configuration, it would probably even boost Jillian's power, making it easier for her to control Peter's nightmares."

"By all means, let's not make it easier for her," Peter responded.

Egon put his hand to his chin in thought. "We might, however, utilize parts of the machine in the construction of the jammer Ray suggested. To successfully jam the dream frequency, it would require isolating that frequency in order to narrow the range. A broad band jamming of alpha wave frequencies at an intensity high enough to block Jillian could be dangerous to anyone with in the effective scope of the device. It will have to be calibrated very precisely. We will have to obtain detailed readings before we can even attempt the design."

Peter looked from one of his friends to the other. "How are you going to get these readings?" he asked apprehensively.

Egon exchanged a look with Ray before turning to Peter. "The only way is to monitor with the PKE meters the next time you dream. It will require us at least a few minutes to get enough detail from the readings."

"In other words, you can't wake me up right away. I'll have to go through with the dream."

Egon's face was taut with worry. "I'm afraid so."

Peter nodded, then stood up and walked across the room, his back to his friends. "I can't say that prospect appeals to me much," he admitted. His shoulders sagged and he hung his head for a minute, then turned to face them again. "But I'm willing to try anything at this point. As long as I know you guys are here.

"I just wish you could hold onto that thought when you're asleep," Janine sighed.

Egon's head came up instantly. "Maybe you could," he said thoughtfully.

"What have you got in mind, Spengs?" Peter asked hopefully.

"Peter, you've used self-hypnosis before." The psychologist nodded. "Do you think you could plant a trigger to help you control your feelings in the dream?"

Peter's eyes grew larger and the first genuine smile he'd had in days spread across his face. "It's possible. At least it's a way to fight back. I'm so tired of not being able to do anything to protect myself." He considered for a moment. "Yes, I think it might work. It all depends on how much power over my subconscious she can maintain."

"It's definitely worth a try," Ray nodded, happy to finally see some life come back to Peter's face.

"What can we do to help?" Janine asked.

Peter smiled at his friends all standing before him eager to help him. "You've already done it," he replied. "Just keep it up, okay? I can hang on just as long as I know you guys are here."

Ray was across the space that separated them in less than a second, crushing Peter in his arms. "We're always gonna be here for you, Peter. Hang on to that thought. There's nothing stronger than love."

Peter's eyes met Janine's and she nodded. "Yeah, someone told me that just recently," he replied. Then he looked at Egon. So many emotions were pouring out of his oldest friend's expression that it was almost impossible to separate them. Determination, yes, that was there. Raw pain at what his friend was suffering, that was there, too. But beneath it all was the calm, ever abiding strength that had come from the bond these three men had first forged so long ago and had gotten only stronger with time. Peter stared at that expression, memorized it. And he smiled at Egon. "It's gonna be okay, Spengs," he said, his voice a little shaky with the emotion he felt. That was all the physicist needed. Peter had barely moved out of Ray's embrace before Egon had him in his arms.

"I won't lose you, Peter," he whispered. "I won't."

"Keep that thought, ol' buddy," Peter replied. Taking a deep breath, he pulled back enough to look at his friend's face. "Okay, give me a few minutes alone and then we'll take on the dream bitch from hell!"

"She ain't got a chance!" Janine assured him.

"I hope you're right," Peter breathed.

***

Jillian watched as the black Ghostbuster, Zeddemore, escorted the Phelps woman to her car and watched her drive away. Then he seemed to be looking around. He was looking for her, but he couldn't see her. She was well concealed in the darkness of the alley. After a moment, he went back inside and she turned her attention once again to Peter Venkman.

It was getting easier all the time to read his thoughts. They were formulating a plan against her. She almost laughed out loud. There was nothing they could do against her. The world of dreams was her realm. No one had power over her. Her father had left her that. She could easily defeat these puny humans. She was a master of dreams. And Peter Venkman, who even now thought he could fight her, would soon feel her full wrath. The anticipation was so thrilling to her that she shivered. "Come to me, little man," she whispered, "and I will show you the darkest corners of your soul."

If Winston had still been outside, he would most likely have heard the laughter that filled the silent street.

***

Peter lay still on his bed. He had just drifted off into an uneasy sleep. Egon, PKE meter in hand, watched him closely from his position near the window and exchanged a concerned look with Janine who sat next to the sleeping man, his hand in hers. Egon tapped the button on his walkie-talkie to silently signal Ray and Winston that Peter was asleep and to be ready. They were monitoring with PKE meters and a wave-emitter detector Ray had adapted for their current purposes. Because of the precision needed in the readings, they had sent Slimer away for a day or two to visit with a young friend he had made at the Children's Hospital.

Suddenly, Peter's breathing quickened and Egon had to fight the impulse to rush to his side. With great effort, he turned his back on the scene in the bedroom and focussed on the meter as he directed it outside. It took more concentration that he thought he had to keep his attention on his readings and not on what his friend was suffering because of this experiment. If this didn't work...

***

"We're lost," Winston announced with frustration. "I told you guys we shouldn't come in here."

"It wasn't my idea," Ray protested, playing the light from his flashlight around the bare walls of the dark cave in which they were standing.

"No, it was Peter's," Egon supplied, not raising his head from the meter he was examining. "And I can detect no sign of the entity that you brought us here to find."

"It was here," Peter protested. "I swear it was."

"You're probably lying," Ray said coldly. "I don't know why we always fall for your con games."

"Ray!" he cried. "I wouldn't con you guys, you know that."

"Save it, Venkman," Winston replied. "Right now, I just want out of here. Look for a passageway."

Peter stood and watched for a moment as his friends fanned out to examine the walls, then he turned to join in the search, all the while feeling their anger at him radiating within the close confines of the cave.

Suddenly, a rock shifted at his touch. "Hey, guys!" he called, "I think I've found something." There was no response. "Guys?" he called as he turned and played his own flashlight around the space.

It was empty.

"Guys!" he cried, fear at what might have happened to his friends filling his stomach. "Don't do this, guys," he said nervously. "You're scaring Doctor Venkman."

There was no response. And there didn't seem to be any other way out of the cave either. Had the entity they had been seeking attacked them? How could it have done so without making a sound? Why hadn't he heard something? No cries, no struggling. They couldn't have just disappeared, could they?

All at once the cave echoed with laughter.

"They deserted you, Peter," came the voice from everywhere around him. "They left you alone."

Alone. Something clicked in his mind like a switch. Alone. No, that wasn't right. He wasn't alone. His friends wouldn't desert him.

"Don't try and fight me, weakling. You know what I say is the truth! They hate you. They left you alone to die here in the darkness."

As if in response to her words, his flashlight suddenly went out and he was plunged into a total absence of light.

"You are a liar, Jillian!" he shouted. "This is a dream, but it's my dream. You can't make me believe what I know isn't true."

"You only try to hide from the truth," she replied. "You think you can defeat me? You are doomed to fail, my love."

So far, so good, Peter thought. Now, if he could get her talking and keep her talking maybe he could learn something he could use. "Why, Jillian?" he asked. "Why do you hate me so much?"

"You are a contemptible human. You rejected the greatest gift in the universe and you wonder why you must suffer?"

"What are you, Jillian?"

She laughed. "I'm the girl of your dreams, lover," she replied with the same seductive tone she had used at their dinner, her voice seeming to whisper in his ear. "Don't you remember how you wanted me from the moment you first saw me?"

"You caused that, didn't you?" he asked.

There was a soft laugh before she answered. "I am my father's daughter."

"Your father?" he asked.

"I'm going to tell you a story, Peter. Are you listening? It may be enlightening to you. Then you may realize that you cannot fight me."

"I'm listening," he replied, hopefully.

"Many years ago a young girl was sentenced to a life of imprisonment for the crime of being a victim of her so-called parents. They did things to her, things that were hideous and horrible and they tore her sanity from her until at last there was nothing left of her mind but her dreams. She was placed in an asylum because no one could reach her and no one wanted to try. All she had was her dreams, Peter. They were her world. Oh, she was aware of where she was and what those that had put her there and kept her there thought of her, but she didn't let them imprison her imagination and she created someone. Someone who would at last love her and care for her and protect her from the cruelties she had knows too well all her life."

"That's a very sad story," he remarked.

"Yes, it is," she agreed. "But what those in the real world did not know, what even she did not know, was that someone was watching her dream world. Someone with the power to see what she saw at night as she slept or in the daytime when she couldn't face the world around her. And that someone fell in love with her. He loved her so much he would do anything to help her, even break the rules that governed his realm."

"His realm?" Peter asked. "Are we talking about something in my line of work here, sweetheart?"

"Yes, I believe you once encountered one of his kind," she replied. "He was a Sandman. One of hundreds whose responsibility it is to help people get the sleep they need, to bring people dreams. They are the weavers of dreams, Peter. A thread here, a stick there. Just enough to help the dreamer."

"A Sandman? Like that ugly little dude with the dark robes and the weird glowing eyes?"

"Silence!" she cried. "You humans put so much stock in appearance. You care nothing for what a person is inside. Would you have wanted to take me to dinner had I been repulsive to you?"

"Okay, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lesson for the day," he quipped.

"My mother was beautiful, but no one saw it but him," she replied.

"Your mother?"

"Yes. My mother was Amanda Lester who lived most of her life a world that was uglier than anything you can imagine. Until the night he came." She paused and Peter remained silent hoping she would continue. She did. "He loved her so much that he became what she had so long dreamed of. He took the form of the man she fantasized would one day come and rescue her like a prince charming in a fairy tale. He used all his powers to transform himself into her vision of that prince and he appeared to her for one night. It was all the power he had, and he paid for his love with his existence. Just to give her one night with the love that she had dreamed of, he broke all the rules and suffered his own form of death."

"He gave his life to be with her for just one night?" Peter asked. "He really must have loved her."

"You do not know the meaning of the word, human!" she raged.

"And..." Peter's mind was working nonstop. "And you are her daughter and his?"

"She awoke the next morning to find him gone and although she knew it would come, her mind could not accept it. She closed off completely. Soon, however, it was discovered that she had conceived a child, although no one at the institution where she was confined could understand how. The birth was not an easy one and she died."

"If she died when you were born, how do you know all this?" Peter asked.

"I am the daughter of a Sandman. I have the memories of all Sandmen and the powers that my father passed on to me. Now, perhaps you understand, my love, why you cannot defeat me. I am more than you. You cannot deny me in my realm and I will take from you what I wish."

"You've tried to take my friends away from me, Jillian, and you've failed. I know the truth and it isn't what you've been feeding me in these nightmares. I can fight you now."

"Can you, little man?" she asked with a cruel laugh. "We shall see!"

A ghostly manifestation appeared before him, it's face resolving into that of Egon's.

"How can you believe I could care about you, Peter?" the ghost asked. "I despise you. I always have. I laugh at your naivete behind your back."

"No!" Peter shook his head. "It's not true. You're not real. I deny you!"

Jillian's voice echoed again. "Deny all you want. Your friends aren't with you here. They can't help you here. Perhaps they don't really want to help you. It would be so easy to convince you that you needed to sleep and dream one more time so they could help you, but in reality, they only wanted to send you to me. They won't be helping you anymore."

"We never loved you, Peter," Egon's face said before it faded into darkness, then the voice sounded again. "We hate you. We despise and detest you. You are only worthy of our disdain."

"We left you here to die alone, Peter." The voice was Ray's. "We just wanted to be rid of you." He shook his head in denial, trying with all his will to concentrate on the image of his friends as he had seen them just before he fell asleep.

"We won't save you this time, Peter," Winston's voice whispered. "We're rid of you at last."

"He thought we actually cared about him!" Egon's voice laughed and the other two joined in, the sound of the laughter echoing endlessly in the hollow cave. He threw his hands over his ears to shut out the sound but it didn't help. The voices continued to echo inside his head.

"You aren't my friends. You're not real. I'm not alone. They are right here with me. They care about me!"

"We care about him," Egon's voice mimicked, then the laughter soared again.

"Die, you stupid idiot!" cried Ray.

"Go on, die!" Winston added.

"No!" he shouted. "Please, let me wake up!"

"Please, let him wake up!" Egon's laugh held even more cruelty. "You can't wake up from reality, Peter. Your life as you knew it was the dream. Now you see what is the truth!"

"No!"

"Now DIE!"

Suddenly, the ground was no longer under his feet and once more he was falling in darkness, only this time, the echoes of the voices of those people he loved most dear were taunting him, spewing venomous hatred at him. He couldn't stand it any longer and he screamed. Over and over he screamed, but he could no longer hear his own voice. Only the laughter. The laughter and the pain.

***

As Peter's bone chilling scream cut through the room, Egon dropped his PKE meter and flew across to the bed. Janine had already been trying to awaken Peter, but she couldn't get through to him.

"Peter!" Egon cried, holding the struggling man's face between his hands. "Peter. Wake up!" But Peter still could not hear him as he continued to scream.

"Oh, God!" Janine cried, feeling utterly helpless as she fought to hold down his flailing arms.

"Peter!" Egon cried again, transferring his grasp to Peter's shoulders and shaking him hard. Still there was no effect. Steeling himself to what he had to do, Egon drew back and slapped the psychologist hard across the face.

"Egon!" Ray Stantz' horrified voice came from the door as he and Winston rushed in. They had been just spotted the hooded figure on the street below when they had heard Peter's screams. "Egon, stop it!" Ray pulled on Egon's arm.

"No, Ray, he has to," Winston cried as he pulled Ray back away from Egon. The physicist struck Peter again and still there was no response.

"She's not letting go this time," Janine cried.

Ray broke out of Winston's grasp and rushed to the window. "Stop it!" he cried. "You let him go!"

Laughter rose from the figure below, cold and unfeeling laughter. Ray turned from the window and ran from the room. The other three had no time to worry about what Ray was doing. It was taking all of them to hold Peter down as Egon tried to break through to him.

"Ray, what...?"

Janine's half-formed question made Egon look up in time to see the occultist rushing back into the room, a proton pack strapped to his back. Without hesitation, he moved to the window and aimed it at the street below.

"Ray! No!" Egon cried, knowing even as he started to rise that he would never reach him in time to stop what Ray planned. Ray squeezed the trigger and Egon knew immediately that the stream it emitted was set at full power. The crackle of the beam was followed immediately by a scream and an explosion as it struck it's target below. Ray cut the flow and lowered the thrower. Egon spared him one quick glance before turning to look out the window.

On the pavement below, just a few feet in front of the sidewalk opposite, there was a large smoking hole. Debris was scattered several feet around it and lying on the sidewalk was a black-robed form. Before he could say a word, the form moved. A hand pushed back the hood revealing the face of Jillian Lester, a look of shock on her face which quickly turned to anger.

"NO!" she cried, getting to her feet. "You'll pay! You'll all pay for this!" she screeched at them, then turned and stumbled away into the darkness of the alley behind her.

"Peter!" Winston's cry turned Egon and Ray's attention back into the room. Peter was sitting bolt upright in bed, his eyes huge. He had stopped screaming, but the terror of the nightmare was still imprinted in his chalky features.

Egon leaped to the bed, gripping Peter's shoulders. "Peter, can you hear me?"

After one eternal moment, Peter's eyes turned from their blank stare to focus on the face before him.

"E-Egon?" His voice was almost nonexistent. Egon wrapped the stiffened man in his arms and held on for dear life.

"It's all right, Peter. You're back with us now. We got you back! Thank God, we got you back."

Suddenly sucking in his breath, Peter's body went limp in Egon's embrace, his head falling forward onto the blond man's shoulder. Relief reverted back to concern as Egon pulled his hand from Peter's back and pressed it against his neck. The pulse he found was strong and pounding furiously.

"Peter?" he said softly, lifting his friend's head carefully to get a look at his face. Peter's eyes fluttered open and seemed to drink in Egon like a starving man.

"Egon," he whispered, the corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly.

"Thank God, it worked," Ray breathed in relief as he released the pack and dropped it to the floor, then leaned against the wall and slid down beside it, dropping his face into his hands with a sob.

"Ray?"

Peter's voice brought his head up again, tears streaming down his face as he looked at his friend. With great effort, Peter lifted a trembling hand and stretched it out toward the younger man. Slowly, Ray moved toward him and grasped the hand, collapsing into Peter and Egon's arms. It was only a moment later when Winston and Janine reached their arms around the huddled group on the bed. Tears flowed freely from five pairs of eyes as they all held on, all taking comfort in the touch of the others. It was Winston who finally broke the silence.

"It's not over," he announced. "She'll come back and we'd better be ready for her."

Peter looked up at him and his body began to tremble. He shook his head. "I can't, guys," he sobbed. "I can't do this again. She almost had me this time."

"If it hadn't been for Ray," Janine squeezed the auburn-haired man's shoulder.

Winston looked intently at the younger man. "I thought for a minute you were going to blast Jillian."

"I thought about it," Ray admitted. "I was ready to do anything to make her stop hurting Peter."

"She's human, Raymond," Egon said. "That blast would have destroyed her utterly."

Ray met his gaze. "I know. We saw the readings before we heard Peter scream."

"She's human?" Janine asked in confusion. "Then how is she doing this?"

Egon shook his head. "There were anomalous readings among the human ones I got. There is something paranormal about her, but the basic readings are human."

"Like she's possessed by a demon or something?" Winston asked.

"No," Ray replied. "There would have been a kind of overlay of a demon's readings over the human ones. These were completely intermingled into almost a mutation of human readings."

"Then what is she?" Janine asked.

"She's half human, half Sandman," Peter replied, catching his breath.

"What?" Ray stared at him.

Peter nodded and closed his eyes for a moment to gather his strength. "She told me all about it."

"Take a few minutes to rest, Peter," Egon advised. "The explanation can wait."

Peter shook his head. "No, it can't. Winston's right. She'll be back. Got to find a way to stop her."

"If she's part Sandman, can't we just trap her? We trapped that other Sandman we encountered," Winston reminded them.

"No," Egon told him. "Her basic existence is human, merged with certain characteristics and abilities of a Sandman. It's genetic. The combination exists on the molecular level. There would be no way to separate the two because they don't exist separately. She's a hybrid of the two species. Using the trap on her would either have no effect at all, or it would kill her."

"She's trying to kill Peter," Janine reminded them.

Peter squeezed the secretary's hand. "Yes, but if we knowingly destroy another human being, are we any better than she is?"

"It's self defense," Janine insisted.

"Maybe it is," he replied. "But I don't think any of us could live with the consequences of that act. There has to be another way."

Ray looked down at his shaking hands. "I would have killed her, Peter, if there had been no other way. I thought about it."

Peter reached out and hugged his young friend close. "I know you would've, Tex," he told him. "And even if it saved my life, it would have destroyed you. I don't want that to happen. But knowing that you care for me that much means everything to me." He pushed Ray back and wiped the tears from the occultist's cheeks. "Hey, we're getting entirely too serious here. Time we get over all these emotions and get to work. Whadda ya say, kid?"

Ray nodded and visibly pulled himself together with great effort. "We have the readings. We can start to work building the jamming device."

"First, I think you need to hear the whole story," Peter grimaced.

"Are you sure you're up to this, Peter?" Egon asked.

"Have to be," he tried to grin. "We need every advantage we can get." He launched into a description of the dream and as he did, it was more than evident to his friends that while recalling the images of the nightmare, Peter was partially reliving it. His voice would break and tremble at times, but he pressed on. As he related the story of Jillian's parents, he seemed to steady a bit, then as he reached the end of the dream, he stopped abruptly. "That's really all there is that would be of any help. The rest is just... The rest is bad," he finished inadequately.

"But you were able to control the dream to a point," Egon reminded him.

"Yeah, but I think it just made her madder. I wasn't really controlling the dream. I was just able to make myself remember that it was a dream, at least most of the time. But she may be right when she said I'm no match for her powers, especially in the dreams themselves."

"Then we'll just have to stop her in the real world," Winston declared.

"Winston's right," Egon squeezed Peter's shoulder. "You try to relax. I know you don't want to go to sleep, but you need to get some rest. Janine and Winston will stay with you while Ray and I go to work on the jammer."

Peter smiled. "Thanks guys. Thanks for everything."

***

Three hours later, Ray and Egon were still at work. One complication they hadn't expected came when the police pounded at their door demanding to know why they had blasted a hole in the street. Winston and Egon did some fancy footwork to come up with an explanation about a threatening entity they had been trying to trap. Although they weren't happy about it, the police seemed to accept the explanation for the moment. They were used to a certain amount of destruction where the Ghostbusters were concerned, but that wouldn't stop the city from demanding a full explanation and possibly restitution for the damage. Egon agreed to contact the public works director and make any necessary arrangements and the officers had left.

Peter was exhausted. It was all he could do not to fall asleep again and he could never have managed it without Janine and Winston constant attention. Winston had put on a pot of coffee and the three of them had drank all of it while the hard scientists worked in the lab.

To pass the time, Winston told stories about growing up in a large family, stories about his Dad and the time he himself had spent in the construction business. Janine would gently needle Peter every now and then, just to keep him alert enough to respond, although nothing like at his usual level of banter. After so long, the topic of conversation inevitably came back to their current problem.

"Egon and Ray will come up with the jammer and then you can get some sleep," Winston assured him.

"I know," Peter replied. "I know you're all doing everything you can to help. You shouldn't have to go through all this for something that's my fault."

"Hold it, buddy," Winston responded. "Where did you come up with a stupid idea like that?"

"Egon was right. I never should have made that date with Jillian. Maybe if I'd walked away from her right from the beginning, none of this would have happened. Maybe I'm being paid back for all the womanizing I've done in the past."

"That's about the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say," Janine told him flatly, "and I've heard an awful lot of stupid things come out of your mouth!"

"She's right, Pete. And I was there, remember? Jillian had you picked right from the beginning. There was no way for you to know what she was or what she had in mind. She set out to trap you right from the get go."

"Yeah, remember what Veronica said. There are some people who are more sensitive to her powers, more susceptible. She probably sensed you would be easier to get to than the other guys."

"But I walked right into it, Janine," Peter replied.

Janine smiled. "Peter, it wouldn't be you if you didn't go after every pretty girl you met."

"And Jillian was certainly beautiful."

"'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'," Peter mumbled. "She told me I wanted her and she was right."

"She played you, Pete," Winston argued. "It isn't your fault. Hell, as soon as you realized she was playing games, you cut and ran."

"A little late," he sighed.

"Listen to me, homeboy," Winston said sternly. "If you start blaming yourself for this, you're playing right into her hands all over again. She can use that against you and we don't need to be giving her any more weapons to use." He paused but his tone remained impassioned. "And as for you getting us involved, that comes with the package. Whatever anyone does to one of us, they do to us all. We're not here because we have to be, buddy, we're here because we wouldn't be anywhere else. You need us, you got us. Period. End of sentence. And if Jillian thinks she can just waltz into your dreams and take you away from us without a fight, she's dead wrong. Maybe Ray was right, only it shoulda been me not him. If it came down to taking her out, I could live with the guilt, but I don't think the rest of us could live with losing you and knowing we could have stopped her and we didn't."

Peter was speechless as he looked at Winston. Not for the first time, he marvelled at the strength of Winston's friendship. Winston was the one member of the team uniquely qualified to know what it was like to be forced to take another human life. Although he rarely talked about his experiences in Vietnam, Peter had spent a few nights with the ex-soldier when his memories of the war had come back to haunt him. Peter knew what those memories cost his friend, and here he sat, willing to take on another slice of guilt, another memory of death, for the sake of Peter Venkman.

He looked at Janine and recalled her outburst just after the nightmare that she had first witnessed. She had expressed the same sentiments then as Winston had just expressed. Although Janine was far less able to handle it than Winston, Peter had no doubt in her determination should the need arise.

And Ray, sweet, gentle, childlike Ray, who had come so close earlier to actually committing murder to rescue him from the terror of his nightmare. Such a thing would have utterly destroyed the vulnerable younger man and yet he would have done it if it had been the only way to help his friend.

Finally, he remembered the look in Egon's face when Veronica Phelps had told them how her brother died. The pain and the resolve all mixed together, and his emphatic assertion that they would not lose Peter, erased any doubts Peter could have had that he, too, would be willing to accept any consequences to keep his friend safe.

"I don't deserve you guys," Peter whispered, unable to meet their eyes. "I'm not worthy of what you've done for me."

"If you really believe that, then she's won."

Peter's head came up at the voice from the doorway. Egon took another step into the room. "You are a part of us, Peter. You shouldn't be surprised that we would all gladly lay down our lives for you because you have taken that stand for us a hundred times before. Have faith in us, Peter. And if you do, you must have faith in yourself. You are worthy of all the care and concern we can give. You deserve all that we can give to you and more, because you thought we deserved that same thing. None of us would be here if it weren't for you, Peter. You're of the greatest value to each one of us because you're a part of us. All of us. Together."

"We're a team," Winston added. "That's not just what we are, it's who we are."

Ray, who had been behind Egon, stepped up and nodded at Peter. "That's what love is."

"Yeah, and don't you forget it, you big jerk!" Janine gave him a hug.

Peter's smile was watery as he turned to her. "I thought you weren't gonna admit that it public."

"Admit what? That I know what love is?" she returned. "I'm not stupid, Doctor V. You can't be around this much of the stuff without learning a lot about it."

"Okay, so I'm a big jerk," he shrugged. "I guess that makes me the luckiest jerk in the world."

"One of 'em," Winston told him, putting his arm around the psychologist's shoulder. "You're lookin' at the rest."

Peter laughed. "Okay, so when do we jam this lady so I can catch some z's?"

"That's what we were coming to tell you, Peter. The device is finished. In theory, it should work, but..."

"We won't know until we test it, right?"

"Unfortunately," Egon admitted.

Peter took a deep breath. "So you want me to go to sleep again, right?"

Egon shook his head. "No, Peter I don't want you to, but I don't think there's any way to avoid it. You have to sleep. Hopefully, the jammer will block out her ability to influence your dreams, but if it should fail, you could be trapped once again."

Winston stood up. "I'm going to get my pack," he announced. "If she gets hold of him again, I'll jar her lose like Ray did before."

"You can't kill her, Winston," Peter told him. "I don't want you to do that for me. I know you're willing to accept the consequences, but I could never accept that you put yourself through that for me." He looked around the room. "Any of you."

"We'll do what we have to do, Pete," Winston replied.

"Promise me you won't kill her, Winston," Peter said sternly. "Promise me."

"I'm not sure I can promise that," Winston admitted.

"I can't be responsible for taking a life to save my own. Don't you understand that? Jillian is sick, mentally. And she's a live human being and I couldn't live with what it would cost any of you. I need your promise, Zed."

Winston stared at Peter for several more seconds before nodding reluctantly. "Okay, Pete. If that's the way you want it, I promise."

Peter relaxed. "Thanks, buddy."

"Okay, that's settled," Janine announced as she got to her feet. "I'm going to go get some food together because I think we all need to eat something before things get hairy again, okay?" She looked at Egon and winked, then headed for the stairs.

"Janine, I can't believe you're offering to cook for us," Peter said in surprise. "Isn't that out of the scope of your job description?"

"What job description?" she replied.

"It's alright, Peter," Egon smiled. "If she had to, she wouldn't, but since she doesn't, it's okay."

Three heads whipped around toward Egon in surprise. "What did you just say?" Ray asked, but Janine actually giggled in delight, bounded back across the floor to Egon and planted a kiss on his lips, then left on her self-appointed mission.

"Egon, I think when this is all over, we're gonna need to sit down and talk about a few things," Peter told him.

"Fine," the blond smiled. "Now, let's hook up the jammer." Ray fell in step and they headed for the lab to get their newly created device.

***

Jillian Lester was seething with fury. She had almost had him. He was in her power and he couldn't escape. The others had interfered yet again. This time, one of them had actually taken a shot at her! And now, they thought they could stop her with some piece of stupid equipment. Well, she wouldn't be stopped. She was more powerful than they could ever be. But perhaps it was time for a slight change in strategy. Something they would never expect. Let them form their useless little plans. She had a plan of her own. Reaching in her pocket, she felt the cold metal of the weapon. She hadn't thought she'd need to resort to such crude methods, but they had tried to kill her. She had no mercy for them now. Carefully she made her way toward the rear of the firehall.

She reached the door and turned the knob. Locked, but she had expected that. A quick examination proved what she had expected. The lock was not that formidable and she had acquired many skills in her young life. Orphan children of friendless mental patients didn't exactly get all the benefits of polite society. Her resourcefulness had served her well in the past and it would again.

It only took a few minutes to gain entrance. Quietly, she made her way toward the front of the building. The ground floor was empty as she expected. Closing her eyes, she once again tapped into Peter Venkman's thoughts. He was in the third floor bedroom and the other three men were with him. Fine. But wait, there was another. The woman. She concentrated again. Food, the secretary had gone to prepare food. That meant the kitchen. She would have to be dealt with first.

Carefully easing up the stairs, she crept to the kitchen door and looked inside. She was there alright, standing at the refrigerator with the door open, leaning down and peering inside. Perfect. Jillian moved closer, ever so quietly. She was just behind her when Janine seemed to sense her presence and started to straighten up and turn. In one swift movement, Jillian brought the butt of the revolver down on the back of the secretary's head, then caught her as she collapsed and eased her down to the floor noiselessly. She turned out the kitchen light and proceeded up the spiral stairs toward the bedroom.

She was about halfway up when she heard their voices.

"Egon, Peter's fallen asleep." That was the red-haired one, Stantz, she realized.

"He was too exhausted to wait for the food." Zeddemore.

"Just as well," the third man, Spengler, replied. "We'd better go ahead and activate the jammer. Then if there are any problems, we can wake Peter up. If it seems to be working, we can let him sleep. Ray?"

She could hear them moving and flipping switches. Playing with their little toy, she reasoned. It would do them no good. She'd wait a few minutes then she could get the drop on them and then...

Suddenly a high pitched whine broke into her thoughts and sent a painful stab through her head. She gasped. It must be their device. It was affecting her after all. Steeling herself against the pain behind her eyes, she probed for Venkman's subconscious concentrating to break through the barrier she was encountering.

"Egon!" Ray cried as the hum of the jammer began to accelerate into an ear-splitting range.

"What is it?" Winston shouted.

"Feedback!" Egon cried. "Source of the signal is too close!"

"That means she's... ahhhh!" Ray cried, clutching his head as his two companions did the same. One more moment and they all three collapsed unconscious to the floor.

Jillian stopped her probe and staggered up the remaining stairs and into the dormitory, gun in hand, surprised to find her would-be adversaries incapacitated. She aimed her gun at the piece of machinery that sat on the floor at the foot of Peter's bed and fired. Sparks flew and the machine sputtered for a few seconds before it died.

The relief was instantaneous. The pain in her head was gone. Taking a deep breath, she looked down at the three Ghostbusters and smiled. So much the better. They were in no condition to stop her now and by the time they recovered, she would be long gone with her prize. She really hadn't wanted to kill them. Not that she had any qualms about such an action. She simply reasoned they would suffer much more by never knowing what had happened to the friend they had tried so hard to protect... and failed.

She moved to the bed and concentrated on the sleeping man before her. With a jerk, he came awake.

"Hello, lover," she smiled at him.

"You! What are you doing here?" he demanded, then looked around him. "This is another dream, isn't it?"

"Is it?" she asked. "Perhaps we could find out if I put a bullet in the head of one of your sleeping friends here." She pointed the gun threateningly at Egon's head as Peter saw the three men for the first time.

"What have you done to them?" he cried.

"The beauty of it is they did it to themselves," she laughed. "They thought they could stop me with this miserable little machine here, but they underestimated my power. They're just asleep for now, at least I think that's all. And by the time they wake up, we'll be gone."

"I'm not going anywhere with you," he replied.

"Oh, I think you will," she pointed the gun at him. "I do know how to use this, Peter, and I will if you give me any trouble. Of course, if you force me to kill you, it will make me very unhappy and I'll just have to return here and kill your friends."

Peter swallowed hard as he judged her sincerity and realized she would follow through with her threat. He wasn't sure this wasn't another dream, but he couldn't take the chance, and at the moment, his best chance was to get her somewhere he could try and talk to her. That wasn't going to happen her with his friends so vulnerable to her angry whims.

But going with her meant leaving his support. He would be alone. The one thing he feared, the thing she had used against him from the beginning. In a split second he weighed his options and found he had none. Even if it meant she won, he couldn't jeopardize his friends any further. Slowly, he rose from the bed.

"Very good, darling. I knew you'd see it my way," she crooned.

***

He heard a moan. It seemed far away at first, but then it grew louder, closer, and with a start, he realized it emanated from his own throat.

Egon Spengler sat up quickly and just as quickly regretted it as the sudden movement set off a jack hammer in his head. He closed his eyes against the pain until it subsided a bit, then he risked opening them again.

He was on the floor in the middle of the bedroom and Ray and Winston were lying near. His eyes flew to the empty bed and his stomach lurched. Quickly he turned to Ray and started shaking him.

"Ray, Ray, wake up!" The younger man moaned and began to stir, so Egon moved to Winston and repeated the process.

"What happened?" the ex-soldier asked.

"We got massive feedback from the jammer. The circuits were overloaded and it broadcast back high intensity wave patterns that caused us to lose consciousness," Egon explained.

"Egon, we allowed for that," Ray protested. "The only thing that could have caused the malfunction was close proximity to the wave-generator. Jillian had to be right here in the firehall when we turned on the machine!"

"And she took out the machine from the looks of it," Winston said, pointing to the remains of the jammer.

"It also appears she took Peter," Egon said somberly.

Ray jumped suddenly to his feet and rushed to the empty bed, his hands reaching out and grasping the cold sheets. "Oh, God, she's got him!" He turned stricken eyes toward Egon. "What are we gonna do?"

"Egon, where's Janine?" Winston asked.

"She was in the kitchen..." Egon didn't bother to finish the sentence as he all but ran down the spiral staircase and into the kitchen.

"Janine!" he cried, falling to his knees beside her still form as Ray and Winston arrived behind him. Carefully, Egon put his hand beneath her head and was surprised to feel something wet and sticky. "Blood," he breathed in surprise. "Ray, call the paramedics!" he cried as his fingers moved to the side of Janine's neck to check the pulse point.

"Egon?" Winston had knelt down beside him as Ray ran for the phone.

"She's alive, but she has apparently suffered a blow to the head."

"Jillian," Winston concluded. "She must have knocked Janine out and was on her way to take care of us when you guys turned on the jammer."

Egon shook his head. "I should have realized. I should have anticipated..." He looked up at Winston with anguish-filled eyes. "If Janine dies, if we've lost Peter..."

"Don't!" Winston replied sharply. "Don't take us down that road. We just went through that with Pete. You are not responsible for this. You couldn't have known what she would do. The woman is insane."

"And she has Peter," Egon replied.

"We'll get him back, Egon."

Egon's eyes went back to Janine. Very carefully he pulled her close, cradling her against his chest, holding on like his life depended on it. He may have already lost Peter and now he could lose Janine. He had to fight down the despair that threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn't give in. Not now. Janine still needed him, and they had to try and find Peter. He couldn't give up now. He had to maintain control.

But control was an elusive thing when you faced a loss this great. His oldest and dearest friend, closer than a brother could be to him, someone he had sworn to protect and promised not to let go, was gone. And the young woman that he truly cared for, despite protestations to the contrary, was injured, possibly severely.

"The ambulance is on its way," Ray announced as he ran back into the room. "Egon?"

The physicist looked up at his young friend. Ray's openly despairing expression tugged even further at Egon's heart. Ray wanted him to tell him it would be alright. But how could he? Would it ever be alright again?

***

The first thing Janine was aware of was the pain in her head. It wasn't pleasant, but she concentrated on it anyway because it was there. It was bringing her back. From where, she didn't know. Slowly, other things began to enter her consciousness. She was lying down and she was cold. There was a strange smell, like antiseptic, yes, that was it. Okay, pain in her head, lying down, antiseptic smell. Must be a hospital. She'd spent a lot of time in hospitals, but rarely as the patient. Okay, why was she in a hospital? The memory wasn't ready to return yet, so she concentrated on the other things. Her hand was warm. Odd. No, someone was holding it. Someone was with her who could tell her what was going on. Now she concentrated on opening her eyes.

The room was relatively dark, for which her pounding head was grateful. It was a hospital all right. Equipment. Standard light fixtures. Carefully she tilted her head in the direction of the hand that was warm.

Familiar features capped by blond hair swam into focus. Egon. He hadn't noticed yet that she was awake. His eyes were closed, but he was not asleep. It was as if they were squeezed shut against some pain he was fighting to control. She spent a few seconds trying to reason it out and finally gave up in favor of the easier solution.

"Egon?" Her voice was weak and hoarse, which surprised her. She was afraid for a moment he hadn't heard her. But his eyes flew open and looked down on her and at least some of the lines of worry seemed to relax a bit.

"Janine?" he whispered. "It's all right. I'm here."

"Egon, what-what happened?"

"In a minute," he told her. "First, how do you feel?"

"Head hurts," she admitted. "Feel real tired and a little dizzy." She started to try to rise, but a restraining hand on her shoulder prevented it.

"Don't try to get up. You have a concussion. You need to just lie still."

"Egon, what happened?" she asked more strongly this time.

"Jillian broke into the firehall."

Janine's eyes grew larger. "She hit me!" she realized, her hand going toward the back of her head and encountering a bandage. "Oh, shit, they didn't shave my head did they?" she asked.

For the first time, Egon almost smiled. "No, they didn't. You had a nasty cut and to required a few stitches and it bled like crazy, of course, but the doctor says you'll be fine. You just need to rest."

Her mind was working frantically with the new information. There was something else, something Egon wasn't saying. Jillian had attacked her in the firehall. Suddenly, it clicked.

"Peter?"

Egon caught his breath. "She has him."

"Oh, God, Egon, no!" She reached her hand up to touch his cheek. He caught it in his own hand, pressing her palm against his lips for a moment, then grasping the hand tightly in his. "Tell me what happened," she whispered.

Hesitantly, he complied, explaining about the jamming device feedback and how they had awakened to find Peter gone and her unconscious.

"We notified the police and they have an APB out for both Jillian and Peter, but so far no luck. The doctors think she probably hit you with the butt of a gun, so we can assume she took Peter at gunpoint."

"You don't think she would shoot him, do you?" Janine asked in alarm.

Egon shook his head. "I think she has far a more elaborate plan in mind."

"Oh, Egon. She's going to trap him in those nightmares! And he won't have us to..." She stopped as she saw the effects her words were having on Egon. It wasn't as if he wasn't already aware of what she was saying. But to be reminded was coming close to breaking that control. "Where's Ray and Winston?" she asked.

"They're in Ecto-2 searching the city with PKE meters. We have the settings that will indicate Jillian is actively influencing Peter's dreams. The signals we recorded were fairly strong. They should be able to pick them up from several miles away. But that only works if Peter is dreaming. Without the psychic energy to boost the wave signal, neither Peter nor Jillian's own biorhythmic signatures are strong enough to register at any distance."

"You should be out there searching with them," Janine told him.

He tried to smile. "I needed to be with you."

Suddenly, she felt tears filling her eyes.

"Janine, are you alright?" Egon asked, the worry lines returning as he bent closer to her.

"Yes," she said softly. "I just know how hard this must be on you, Egon. To be stuck here with me while Peter is missing. I..." She swallowed and took a deep breath. "Thank you for caring."

Egon's eyes grew sad. "Oh, Janine. You shouldn't have to be surprised to learn I care about you. I'm not very good at showing it sometimes, but you must know that you are... special to me."

She smiled. "I do know that. And I know it's harder for you to admit it than it is for me. You know I've been in love with you for a long time, Egon. And I've always known you cared, I'm just not sure... how much."

Egon leaned closer and gently wrapped his arms around her. "I do love you, Janine," he said. "If I had any doubts before, they all disappeared when I was so afraid I might lose you, too. I take you for granted too much. You deserve so much more than I'm able to give."

"Shhh," Janine whispered. "It's okay. It's always been okay. I don't expect a lot of show. You aren't like Doctor V after all." The reminder of Peter caught them both and Janine pushed Egon back so she could see his face. "Oh, Egon, you've got to find him. I'm alright now. All I really need is sleep, that's what you said. You go on and get out there and help them find Peter."

Clearly torn, Egon hesitated. "I shouldn't leave you alone. Perhaps I should notify your parents. I hadn't done so because I didn't want them to worry needlessly before I had something substantial to tell them."

"No, don't call my folks," she replied. "For the same reason. I'm fine and I'll call them myself after I've rested a bit. They'll be less frantic if they hear it from me instead of you. No, Egon, I'm fine. What I need now is what we all need. To find Peter." She looked toward the window at the bright daylight. "How long has it been?" she asked.

"Seven hours," Egon replied. Seven hours, she thought, that he sat here beside me while Peter was missing.

"Go, Egon. Go find him for all of us, please." He hesitated for a moment longer, then nodded as he started to rise. "Egon?" she caught his hand, "be careful."

He leaned down again and gave her a gentle kiss on the lips. "I will."

"You'd better," she smiled. "A girl could get used to that!"

With one last squeeze of her hand, Egon turned and left the room. Janine's fingers wandered to her lips still tingling from the kiss and smiled. But the smile faded as her thoughts turned to Peter in the hands of Jillian Lester. "Please, be okay, Peter," she whispered. "Please, be okay."

***

He was so tired. It was getting difficult to concentrate on anything as he sat alone in the dark in the small windowless room with no source of light. He had been here for what had to be hours, but could as easily have been days.

Jillian had taken him from the firehall, bound and blindfolded him and driven to God only knew where. He thought from the sounds he had heard as they moved from the car into the building that it was probably an industrial area and there had been the faint smell of water, probably close to the East River. But knowing where he was did little good.

The walls were cinder block. He could tell from the feel. He could find no sign of any light switch and had no idea in the darkness how high the ceiling was. There was one door, very solid and securely locked. She had left him here with the promise that he would die here alone. But he knew he wasn't alone. She was nearby. He had begun to be able to sense her presence in his mind. She was patiently waiting for the inevitable moment when he would fall asleep and would be in her power.

He had tried to delay that moment for as long as he could. He had navigated the confines of his prison several times. The only furnishings were a cot and pillow in the corner. He had avoided them for as long as possible.

It was hard to fight against the fears that the darkness, the aloneness seemed to intensify. He couldn't even allow himself to hope that his friends would find him, although he knew they'd be looking. If they were able.

His mind conjured up the image of the three men who were his family lying unconscious and helpless on the bedroom floor. He had only Jillian's word that they were alive. He pushed that thought out of his mind with great difficulty. But nothing could quash the realization that he was alone here and if he was going to survive, it would be up to him.

He knew he was rapidly losing his battle against exhaustion. And when he fell asleep this time, he would be too weak to resist the nightmare images she would plunge him into. He couldn't give up, but he saw no way to win.

Finally, he came to a decision. The longer he resisted the inevitable, the weaker he would be to fight her. Struggling against his own sense of panic, he forced himself to lie down on the cot, his head resting on the pillow, and focussed his thoughts on memories.

Despite the nightmare Christmas Jillian had shown him, he could remember good Christmas moments. The few times his father had been there. Though rare, the memories were happy. And in recent years, with the family he had built with his friends, his dread of the holiday had lessened. Now, he could enjoy himself, even allow himself to get caught up in Ray's undampenable enthusiasm. His friends had always tried so hard to make Christmas more of a joy for him. And knowing how much they cared had gone a long way to accomplish that goal.

He thought about all the times the four of them had stood together against staggering odds, the prospect of sudden death not nearly as fearful with his friends at his side. The battle with Gozer that had begun the chapter of their lives as Ghostbusters had been a turning point in their relationship. With the addition of Winston, they had become so much more of a complete unit. They were all so different, and yet they complimented each other so well; one strong, where another was weak and always, always there to give the support they each needed.

He remembered the last few days and the overwhelming evidence of their love they had given him. Ray was, well, Ray. He was so unique. A brilliant scientist and a wonder-filled child all in the same person. Ray's love was unrestrained and unconditional. It was all so simple to him. He loved his friends totally. There had never been any question of Ray's devotion to the rest of them. Ray kept them all from getting lost in the sometimes overwhelmingly depressing world that surrounded them. He could always see the good, in situations, in people.

Then there was Winston. He was their strength in the face of danger, and he had come along at exactly the moment they needed that added element. Their lives in academia had not prepared them for the things they had to face as paranormal eliminators. If ever anyone had proven the strength of love, it was Winston. It was almost impossible to believe they had got along without him, or that he hadn't really been with them all along.

Not only the guys, but Janine as well. Peter had never had a little sister, but with Janine, he had found a very different kind of relationship than he had ever had with a woman before, a comfortable companionship that had none of the strain of a romantic liaison. Maybe it was because they understood each other so well, up to and including the need they both had to keep up a light-hearted front even in the darker moments. Perhaps Janine knew him better than anyone, except Egon.

Egon. Peter knew that more than anyone, Egon had made him what he was now. When they had met, he had been bitter and disillusioned. Egon had shown him a part of himself he had thought long dead. And he'd been good for Egon, too. That thought pleased him more than he could have imagined so many years ago. They had both shown each other how to live life, in delightfully different ways. They brought balance to each other's lives. Egon had always been there for him and he had never doubted the love his oldest and dearest friend had offered him.

"So, my love, you've come to me at last."

Peter opened his eyes to find himself no longer in the dark room, but once more in the cave. But he was not alone.

She stood before him clothed in wispy veils that seemed to shine with their own light. Her hair floated in clouds around her face and her eyes, those hypnotic blue eyes, sparkled at him with inner joy. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. And he hated her.

"Yes, I'm here," he said. "But I know where we are and what you are and I know what you have planned for me."

"I'm offering you something quite rare, Peter. A second chance at living your dreams."

"What is it you really want, Jillian?"

"You, my darling," she said as she moved closer.

Peter shook his head. "We've already been through this. You can't make someone love you, Jillian. If you think you can, then you don't have the first idea of what love is all about."

"Take care," her voice held a warning. "My patience is close to an end."

"I can't give you what you want, Jillian. I can't be what you want me to be."

"You are not worthy of my love!" she cried. "So taste my hate!" Once more, he was falling in darkness.

***

"Egon! We've locked onto the signal!" Ray's voice shouted over the radio link in Ecto-1. "He's dreaming again!"

"Give me the coordinates," Egon replied as he pulled the car to a halt. He listened carefully as Ray gave him the directions, checking the map reference they were both using. "That's about five minutes from here!"

"You'll probably beat us there," Ray shouted above the sound of the rotor blades. "We have to find a place to set down."

"Good, we'll meet you there. Out." Egon replaced the radio and pressed his foot to the gas.

"Find Peter?" Slimer, who had been keeping him company during the search, floated above the passenger seat.

"Yes, Slimer," Egon replied. "I only hope we're in time."

***

"I've been here before, Jillian. You can't frighten me with this anymore!" he shouted.

A flash of lightning seemed to crash directly through his body. He gasped at the hot pain.

"Do you want to die, Peter? You will, but not too soon. And you will be alone, no one to love you, no one to care."

"Like your mother?" he asked. "Is that what you want for me?"

"You are not worthy!"

"And you are beginning to sound like a broken record. I don't think it's me we should be talking about here. I think it's you that isn't worthy."

The lightning flashed once more, causing him to cry out at the pain. "Feel my anger, human. You are mine and I can do with you as I wish. Anything I wish." Another bolt cut through him as he continued to tumble ever downward.

"You're wrong, Jillian. You can't possess me. This isn't real and I know that, because I know what love is. I have been loved and I am loved and you can't do anything that will change that."

"No one loves you, Peter. They hate you."

"We're not talking about me, are we, Jillian. Is that what you think? That everyone hates you, that you are not worthy of love? Is that what your mother thought before your father came to her?"

"Silence!" she cried.

"I hate you, Peter!" Ray's face floated past him with a snarl that twisted the familiar face into something almost unrecognizable. "Your selfishness has put us all in danger and you don't care."

Peter mind wanted to scream out to his friend, but he concentrated with all his strength. "You are not Ray. Ray is my brother and he knows how much I care about him." The image faded away to be replaced by another darker one.

"You've always thought you were better than me, Peter. How could you think I'd love you?"

"You aren't Winston. He knows I'm his friend. He knows and he is with me." The face of the ex-soldier evaporated. "Okay," Peter called. "I'm waiting. Show me Egon and have him tell me how much he loathes me. I know better, Jillian. It isn't true. You can't hurt me with these lies anymore. I know the truth."

"You know nothing!" Egon's face cried at him. "You think you are important to me? You are nothing!"

"I am Egon's friend!" Peter shouted back. "You don't know anything about what it is to be a friend, Jillian. You're the one who's all alone! You're the one who's afraid of being left alone in the darkness, afraid of being like your mother!"

"NO!" she screamed. "I can kill you if I wish!"

"Then do it and be damned!" he returned. "But face the truth! You're the one who said you couldn't hide from the truth in dreams. Here's your truth, Jillian. You are terrified of becoming like your mother so you seek out someone to become the man of your dreams. Like your father. Only no one lives up to that image, do they?"

"None of you mortals are worthy! My father was a Sandman - a being of great power."

"And he gave it all up because he loved your mother. He loved her, Jillian. She spent her whole life with no one to care for her until he came to her and gave her all he had to give. And you're afraid you'll never find that kind of love, aren't you Jillian."

"You will be silent!" Once again Egon appeared before him, but this time, in full figure, holding a proton rifle and pointing it at Peter. "How would you like to die at the hands of those who love you best?" Jillian cried.

Peter smiled. "If I die, I die knowing I have been loved. There are much worse things than that. Your father knew that, Jillian. He knew that his sacrifice was worth it because he knew what it meant to love someone."

"Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" she screamed as she suddenly appeared behind Egon, who paused and lowered the rifle.

"I am stronger than you are, Jillian," Peter cried. "I am stronger than you'll ever be. You can destroy me, but you can't destroy the truth!"

"KILL HIM!!" The pseudo-Egon raised the thrower once again.

"Egon," Peter said softly. "This is my dream, my reality, not hers." The image paused. "I know the truth and the truth is that Egon would never hurt me. She has no power over my image of you, Egon." He looked around. "Ray! Winston! I know you're both here with me. She can't hurt me as long as I know I'm not alone!" Two cloudy forms began to coalesce into human form. "We're a team," Peter told them as they became his friends. "That's not just what we are, but who we are, Winston!"

"You got it, Pete!" Winston's voice cried as a smile broke across his countenance.

"That's what love is, Ray!"

"We're with you, Peter!" Ray's doppelganger replied.

Peter turned again to the image between him and Jillian. "Egon?"

"You're a part of us, Peter. All of us. Together."

"NOOOO!" Jillian cried. "You cannot fight me!"

"Yes, we can," Peter replied as the images of his three friends moved closer to him, taking position beside him. Suddenly there was solid ground beneath their feet as they stood as one facing the Sandman's daughter. "This is not about me, Jillian. It's about you."

"You have no power here!"

"Oh, yeah? Nobody hurts one of my friends and gets away with it!"

"Yeah, yeah, nobody hurt Peter!"

Peter glanced over his shoulder to see that Janine and Slimer had joined them. He turned and looked back at Jillian. "You've lost, Jillian. You may still kill me, but you can't win. I have my friends who will always be with me. You have nothing, and in your anger you seek to destroy the very thing that created you. Love. But you can't destroy it. Love is invincible."

"SHUT UP!" she cried.

"No, you will listen to me!" he told her. "You told me you have the memories of the Sandmen, including your father. If that's true, you know what he felt, what he sacrificed for love. Do you think he would want you to try and destroy the very thing he gave up his existence for?"

"NOOOOO!" she screamed, dropping to her knees and throwing her hands over her ears.

Peter looked away from her at his friends, standing shoulder to shoulder with him, then turned back to his tormentor. "You've lost, Jillian. This dream is mine! Get out!"

"NOOOOO!" she screamed again. Jillian's body seemed to shrink in a matter of seconds until it disappeared with one final burst of brilliance and was gone.

"She cannot harm you now, Peter," Egon said to him.

"You beat her!" Ray cried.

"Yeah," Peter replied, "but I'm still stuck in here."

"We'll stay with you until you find you way out," Winston told him.

"We won't leave you alone, Peter," Janine said.

Egon stepped up and put his hand on Peter's shoulder in such a familiar manner it brought tears to Peter's face. "We won't lose you."

***

The signal had stopped just as Egon pulled the refurbished ambulance to a halt in front of an old abandoned factory building. Grabbing his proton pack from the rear compartment, he bounded up the steps, blasting the locked door that barred his way.

"Slimer! Go find them!" he commanded and the little green ghost streaked away through the wall in front of him. Egon broke into one locked room after another with no luck before Slimer returned.

"Down, down!" the little ghost cried. "Basement!"

"Show me the way, Slimer!"

"Okay." Slimer led him to another door that revealed a set of stairs leading downward. Egon took them four at a time as he followed his ectoplasmic guide. The base of the staircase opened into a room, empty of all furnishings save for a sofa that sat against one wall. On the sofa, sat Jillian Lester. Egon immediately aimed his proton rifle at her.

"Where's Peter?" he demanded. "What have you done with him?"

She didn't move. She didn't look up at him. She showed no indication that she even knew he was there.

"Answer me!" he shouted.

"Egon!" Winston's voice called from above.

"Down here!" Egon cried as he cautiously moved closer to the unmoving woman. He lowered the thrower, knelt down before her, and reached out to touch her hand. She didn't react at all. Her eyes were wide open, her mouth had fallen open a fraction and she seemed to be staring at nothing. Egon placed his fingers against her neck and found a steady pulse. He could see she was breathing.

"Egon?" Ray's voice came from behind him as the other two men reached the bottom of the stairs. Egon waved his hand before the woman's eyes and still got no reaction.

"She seems to be catatonic," he reported.

"Where's Peter?" Ray asked.

"Here, here!" cried Slimer, popping back through a door through which he had just moments before disappeared. Egon tried the door, but it, too, was locked. One quick blast from the proton pack later and they were inside.

The room was in total darkness except for the light that flooded in from the now open door. It appeared to have no furnishings except for a cot in one corner and on that cot lay Peter Venkman.

"Peter!" Egon cried as he crossed the intervening space immediately and dropped to his knees beside the cot. "Peter?" he called again. There was no response.

"Oh, God, are we too late?" Ray's anguished tone chilled his heart like ice as he reached to check Peter's pulse.

"No," he sighed. "He's alive." He brushed the hair back from the sweat-drenched brow, leaving his hand on top of Peter's head. "Peter, it's Egon. Can you hear me?"

"I'll call 911," Winston cried as he turned and headed back to the stairs.

"He's got to be alright," Ray whispered. "He's just got to be."

"He's alive, Raymond," Egon reminded him. "We will not lose him now."

***

"Egon, you look terrible. You have to get some rest," Janine's voice brought him back to reality from somewhere deep in his own thoughts. He looked up to see the secretary standing just inside the doorway to Peter's hospital room. "You've been here for two days."

"You're one to talk," he replied. "You were just released yesterday. Aren't you supposed to be in bed resting?"

She smiled as she walked over and stood behind him, placing her hands on his shoulders and starting a gentle massage. "I'm here for the same reason you are," she told him, following his gaze down to the unconscious man lying on the hospital bed. "Where's Winston and Ray?"

"We finally convinced Ray to go back to the firehouse and get some sleep. He's worrying himself sick. Winston will stay with him and hopefully get some rest himself. Then we all agreed to start taking turns sitting with Peter. It looks like it might be some time before he awakens."

If he awakens. She heard the unspoken fear in his voice. "Have you been talking to him?" she asked.

Egon nodded. "The doctor said it might help. There is some evidence to suggest that comatose patients are sometimes able to hear what goes on around them. A familiar voice could be something for them to focus on."

Janine leaned down and wrapped her arms around Egon's neck from behind, resting her cheek against his blond hair. "Don't give up hope, Egon. He's going to come back to us."

"I want to believe that, Janine. If only we knew what happened."

"I take it Jillian has still not come out of her trance?"

"The doctors think she has retreated into a catatonic state that she may never emerge from."

"Don't ask me to feel sorry for her, Egon, I can't," she told him.

"Nor can I," he agreed. He would never be able to bring himself to forgive the woman for what she had done to Peter, even if Peter recovered. When he recovered, he corrected his thought. The woman was obviously mentally ill, but he could find no trace of compassion within himself for her.

"I think Peter won," she whispered. "I think he fought her and beat her on her own turf."

"Perhaps you're right, but at what price?" he asked. "What kind of hell did she put him through this time that he can't seem to find his way back from? Is he still there, suffering? Did she leave him in the darkness alone?" His voice broke on the last word.

"He's not alone and he knows it," Janine tried to sound positive, but a sob caught in her own throat. Egon turned toward her, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her white blouse. She cradled his head against her and held him close.

"He had to face her alone, Janine," he sobbed. "He didn't have us there. For all the promises we made, he was all alone."

"This is not your fault, Egon. Don't do this to yourself. Peter would be the first to tell you that."

"I wish to God he would," Egon replied.

"Sometimes, we do get our wishes."

The unexpected voice momentarily froze them both, then, Egon pulled away from Janine's grasp to face the bed and find the open green eyes of Peter Venkman smiling up at him.

"Peter?" he asked in a voice that was almost to soft to qualify as a whisper.

"Yeah, big guy, it's me."

"Oh, Peter!" Janine threw herself at the unprepared psychologist, but he quickly wrapped his arms around her and returned the hug she gave him.

"Hey, Melnitz, you'll ruin your reputation."

"I don't care," she said as she cried against his shoulder. She indulged for just a moment longer, then pulled out of Peter's hold and stepped back to let Egon in.

"What's the matter, Spengs?" Peter asked when Egon still stood unmoving beside the bed. "Aren't you glad to see me?" He stretched out his arms toward the older man and that was all the impetus Egon needed. The next second, Peter found himself in a bone-crushing embrace as Egon sobbed openly against his friend's shoulder. Janine's hand flew over her mouth to stifle her own sobs as the tears continued to run unchecked down her face.

"It's about time you came back to take care of him," she scolded Peter gently. "I'm gonna go call Ray and Winston." She started toward the door, then turned back to catch Peter's eye. "He needs you now, Peter," she smiled, then walked out the door.

Peter was still in a state of shock at the reaction of his friend. He hadn't realized how upset Egon really was and how fragile his friend's emotions would be upon his sudden "resurrection."

"It's alright, Egon," he said gently as he stroked his friend's back. "I'm alright." He continued to hold the trembling man while Egon cried, constantly whispering reassurances. Finally, when he had cried himself out, Egon started to reassert himself and drew back from the embrace, but maintaining his hold on his friend. "Better?"

Egon shook his head. "I'm sorry, Peter. I never should have lost control like that."

"Hey, you have every right."

"No I don't. You're the one who's been in a coma for two days."

"Coma?" Peter asked. "Is that what it was?"

"Are you really alright?" Egon asked, still needing the assurance.

"I am now," Peter replied. "I'm still pretty wiped out," he admitted. "And I think I'm going to sleep for a week."

"Then lie back and go to sleep," Egon instructed. "Everything else can wait."

"No, there's one thing that I don't think can," Peter replied. "I'm afraid I was eavesdropping on you and Janine as I was waking up there a moment ago. For some reason, I think you're blaming yourself for what happened."

Egon started to turn away, but Peter held him firm. "Peter, I promised you we'd be there for you and you had to fight her all alone."

"I wasn't alone," Peter replied. "It was the only way to beat her, on her own ground. I finally figured that out. But I never could have done it alone."

"Peter, she took you away. We didn't know where you were. We could do nothing to help you. Even when we tried, with the jammer..."

"It kinda backfired, huh?" Peter asked. "Yeah, I figured that out. Hey, you can't think of everything, can you? Besides, it wasn't a solution. The only solution was to face her and I was the only one who could do that."

"But we weren't there for you, Peter," Egon insisted, then his voice dropped lower. "I wasn't there for you."

"Oh, but you were. And so was Ray and Winston and Janine and even Slimer. You were all right there with me."

Egon looked at him in confusion. "I don't understand."

"Remember when we fought that Sandman before. Ray had come up with the solution but it took us a while before we realized it. He said, 'Take control of the dream.' That's what I did. She had a lot of power, but I figured out her weakness and with a little help, turned the dream against her."

"How?" Egon asked, beginning to be caught up in what Peter was telling him.

"She tried to use you guys against me. She did that from the beginning. But this time, we stood up to her."

"We, Peter?"

"Yes, we. You think you didn't help me fight her, but you're wrong. Everything you ever said to me, you and Ray and Winston, even Janine and Slimer, those were my weapons, Egon. She could conjure up all the floating heads she wanted to, but she couldn't make me believe you guys would ever say those things to me, not when I filled my mind with all the memories. Those memories were the real thing and the illusions just couldn't stand up to them. Every time she said I was unloved, you guys were there proving she was wrong. Every time she tried to convince me I was alone, I could hear your voices. I took all those words you said to me that proved to me how much you cared and I turned them back on her and I showed her it wasn't me she hated, but herself."

"You did that, Peter," Egon insisted.

"We did that, my friend," he replied firmly. "If I hadn't had you guys around for all these years and especially these last few days I could have fallen for what she was feeding me. But you were right. There isn't anything stronger than love. You guys gave me that and that's what defeated Jillian. She can't hurt me anymore."

"She can't hurt anyone anymore," Egon replied. At Peter's expression, he explained.

"So," Peter sighed when Egon finished. "She ends up in the one place she's always feared she'd be. Alone, locked away like her mother was."

"Do you know what caused her to go insane, Peter?" Egon asked.

"Who can ever say for sure," he replied. "I think the fact that she had all those Sandman memories in her mind could have been a contributing factor. The human mind can overload with too much data bombarding it. The studies I've read on people who possess telepathic abilities have shown there is a tendency toward losing themselves in the jumble of thoughts of all those people they receive. Then, I think a big part of it was the identification with her mother and the idealizing of her father. She was looking for her own prince charming, but she was doomed to failure. She thought she could make someone love her like her father loved her mother. In the end, she couldn't separate love from hate."

Egon shook his head. "This was destined to be your bust all along," he smiled. "You, my friend, are the only one who possessed the intuitive ability to root out the true source of the problem and find a way to deal with it."

"Hey, what can I say," Peter grinned. "I'm a psychologist!"

"Very few psychologists are called upon to diagnose and treat a patient who is trying her best to drive them insane," Egon replied, "and doing it in a totally alien dimension."

"So, I'm brilliant!" He laughed. "Maybe I'll even write a paper on it. Think of the acclaim I could get for that! This could be the Nobel Prize, Egon!"

Egon laughed with him. "Why don't we just concentrate on getting you back on your feet for the time being? We need to get back out there and bust a few ghosts to pay for these two hospital bills."

"Two?" Peter's smile faded. "Someone else was hurt? Ray? Winston? Egon, are they alright?" he was suddenly frantic.

"Everyone's fine, Peter. And it was Janine who was released yesterday. She's recovering nicely, you saw her for yourself."

"Recovering from what?" Peter demanded.

Egon grimaced, regretting the slip of the tongue that forced him to tell Peter something that would no doubt upset him further. "When Jillian broke into the firehouse, she knocked Janine unconscious before coming after the rest of us."

"Unconscious? Is she okay? Egon, is she really okay?"

"She's fine, Peter. We're all fine now that we don't have to worry about your recovery."

"It's my fault."

"Now, wait just a minute. Didn't we just go over this from the other way around? Do we all have to go over it all again and explain it to you one more time? If you insist on blaming yourself, you deny us the right to choose to stand by you of our own free will. There is nothing that could have made Janine leave when it was obvious you needed all the support you could get. She made that abundantly clear to me the one time I suggested it. We stand by you, Peter, because that's where we want to be, where we all belong. The only control you have over the situation is in being who you are, a person who deserves our love and our loyalty."

Peter smiled. "Okay, so sit back, shut up and realize how lucky I am, right?"

"Right!"

"Thanks, Spengs."

"Now, you go to sleep."

"Only if you promise to wake me when Ray and Winston get here," he retorted.

Egon frowned, then acceded. "Alright, it's a deal."

Peter laid back and closed his eyes, the smile on his face fading only slightly as his breathing almost immediately evened out into peaceful sleep. The smile on Egon's face didn't fade at all as he sat down to continue being right where he wanted to be.

***

The strength Peter had displayed upon first awakening did not stand him in good stead as he spent the next few days in the hospital mostly sleeping. His strength was coming back very slowly, causing the others some concern, but finally after four days in the hospital, it was time for Peter to come home.

Peter rode in the back seat of Ecto-1 his head leaning against Ray's shoulder. From the moment the occultist had appeared at the hospital, he had taken on the role of mother-hen and the others had all allowed it since it was so obvious he badly needed it to reassure himself Peter was okay.

Egon watched them as Winston drove them home. Ray smiled up at him as he gently cradled the sleeping man's head and leaned his cheek against the brown hair. Winston, he noted, was continuously glancing in the rear view mirror, as if he, too was still in need of visual proof that Peter was back with them and safe. Egon reflected on the last few days. It was strange. Every time he thought their chosen family couldn't get any closer, something happened that proved him wrong. These three men and Janine were so much a part of his life now that he didn't think he existed anymore apart from them.

As they pulled into the garage of the firehouse, Janine and Slimer were waiting for them. Janine had insisted on cooking a huge homecoming dinner for all of them, once again asserting that because it was her own idea, it was okay. Egon smiled at the red-headed woman as they came to a halt. This crisis had indeed brought the two of them closer and for that he was grateful. Janine deserved more than he had been able to give her in the past. Now, he intended to make an effort to see that she didn't feel taken for granted again, especially by him.

"Welcome home, Doctor V!" Janine called as the sleepy psychologist roused from his nap and followed Ray out of the vehicle. Suddenly he noticed the office area was filled with balloons and a huge banner hung from the ceiling emblazened "Welome Home, Peter!"

"What's this, Janine? A party?" Peter asked. "I'm not sure I'm up to a swinging time."

"Don't worry," she replied. "It's just family. If you get tired, we'll put you to bed." The sparkle in her eyes for just a moment made him recall Jillian's clear blue eyes and he realized, to his surprise, that the emotions reflected in Janine's eyes were more beautiful than the mesmerizing gaze of the self-proclaimed "dream girl" could ever be. He looked around him, from one smiling face to another and felt the absurd sting of tears in his eyes.

"Peter, are you okay?" Egon asked, a look of concern clouding the pleasure in his expression.

"I'm fine, Egon," Peter replied, a catch in his voice. "I'm home." Before he knew it, Peter was enveloped in an octopus of arms. Closing his eyes, he soaked in all the love that flowed through that group hug and sighed once again. "I'm home.

** Finis **