DREAM SHADOW - Part 2

by Neetz



For quite a while, Peter believed he wouldn't be able to fall asleep, his mind was still whirling with unorganized thoughts, but finally, the pressures of the day caught up with him and he slipped into an uneasy slumber. He didn't know how long he had been asleep when something awakened him with a start. It took a few moments for him to realize it was screaming... a child screaming. Instantly, he was out of bed and running toward Emma's room.

"Emma!" he cried as he threw open the door and rushed inside. The little girl was sitting up in bed, but it was obvious the nightmare hadn't released its grip, for she was still screaming. A sudden chill engulfed Peter's heart as he realized the one word she was screaming over and over again-Mom.

Sitting on the bed next to her, he grabbed her shoulders firmly. "Emma!" he cried. "Emma, wake up. Emma!"

Suddenly her eyes flew open wide and for a moment, everything froze. Then she focused on him and immediately began to struggle.

"Let me go!" she cried. "Let me go!"

"Emma, it's okay. Calm down."

"No! Let go!" She wrenched free of his grasp and scrambled across the bed away from him.

"Please, Em," he struggled to keep his voice quiet and calm. "Don't be afraid of me. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to help you."

She shook her head violently. "I don't want your help. You were never there before and I don't need you now."

"You don't mean that, sweetheart," he denied.

"I don't want you!" she cried.

Feeling utterly helpless, Peter turned around to find Ray standing in the doorway with Egon and Winston behind him. He turned back to his daughter.

"Em?" he whispered, but she covered her head and wouldn't look at him. Peter jumped to his feet and turned toward his friends. "Ray, please take care of her," he breathed, then he pushed past the three men and disappeared down the stairs.

Ray hesitated for a moment as he reached for Peter, then he turned his attention toward the still shaking child huddled on the far side of the bed.

"Emma?" he called as he approached. "Emma, it's Ray. You want to talk about it?"

She shook her head.

"Come on, sweetie," he said softly as he reached for her arm. He didn't grasp it, but gently rubbed it until Emma looked up at him. Without warning, she launched herself at him, pressing against his chest. Ray wrapped his arms around her shivering body and began to murmur words of comfort.

Egon watched as Ray whispered to Emma, gently stroking her hair as he held her. Then, with a quick exchange of worried expressions with Winston, he headed after Peter.

He didn't have to go far. He found Venkman sitting on the floor of the garage, leaning against the driver's door of Ecto-1. Slimer hovered nearby silently crying as he watched over Peter. As Egon approached, he turned to Spengler wringing his hands. "Peter hurt. Egon help."

Egon nodded at the little ghost, then sank down on the floor next to his friend. Peter's face was turned away, but when Egon rested a hand on his arm, he turned toward him. His eyes were red and puffy and tears trailed down his face.

"Oh, Peter," Egon said softly, then wordlessly pulled the younger man into his arms. Peter cried softly, his face buried in Egon's shoulder as the older man rubbed his back. It hurt Egon to see Peter like this, and it brought back dark memories of the year before. He had held Peter like this then in the aftermath of a nightmare, but that nightmare had been Peter's own. In some ways, this was even worse, and Egon felt just as powerless. If all he could do was offer comfort, he would do that, even if he had to sit on the garage floor all night.

***

Sitting alone in the darkness of her asylum room, a feral smile spread across her lips. Her contact with the child was fleeting, barely enough to influence her even in sleep, but enough that she could sense the child's emotions and reinforce the ones that suited her. She had indeed been lucky to have stumbled upon such an effective method to exact her revenge. She only wished she could risk focusing on Venkman's thoughts. To feel his pain would be exquisite, but she dared not take the risk he would realize her presence in his mind. Still, she knew from what she read from the girl that all was proceeding according to plan, a plan without any set timetable to keep. Soon enough things would progress. She had already set other parts of her scheme into motion, directing the actions of one who's mind now belonged to her, one who could go where she could not.

Soon enough Peter Venkman would truly begin to pay for what he had done.

***

Janine sat down at her desk and took the cover off her computer. There were the books to work on, accounts to bring up to date, the daily mail to go through and bills that would require her to make out checks for Peter's signature. But none of this seemed important right now. She looked up toward the stairs and wondered how Emma's first night in her new home had gone. She was so lost in thought that she didn't even hear the sound of footsteps coming down from above until Egon appeared on the staircase. As he got closer and she got a better look at his face, she knew the answer to her question, and it wasn't good.

"Oh, Egon," she said as he sank down on the corner of her desk. "You look awful."

"I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, but then, neither did anyone else."

"What happened?" she asked taking his hand in hers.

He told her about Emma's nightmare and its aftermath. "I finally got Peter to come back upstairs and go to bed, but I know he didn't go back to sleep. He finally got up about daybreak and left. He said he needed to go for a walk."

"Egon, we've got to do something," she said firmly.

"I agree, but I'm at a loss to know what." He closed his eyes and hung his head. "This is tearing Peter apart. Emma's rejection of him would be a bad situation in any case, but it's the reason for her rejection that hurts him the worst. She believes he didn't care enough to be there for her before and she won't allow him to explain. Peter knows all too well how she feels."

"Oh, my God," Janine suddenly realized what Egon was saying. "It's like Peter and his father! But it's not the same, Egon. Peter couldn't be there for her because he never knew about her. Hasn't he told her that?"

Egon shook his head.

"But he's got to tell her and right away."

"He wants to, but she hasn't let him near enough to do so."

"Then one of us will have to tell her," she reasoned.

"I suggested that to Peter last night, but he feels strongly it should be him and he has to handle it carefully. He can't appear to be blaming her mother for not telling him about Emma before now, but he has to convince her that he is being totally honest with her."

"Where's Emma now?"

"She's with Ray in the lab. He's been showing her around the firehall and now he's letting her help him with an experiment." Egon raised his hand at Janine's look of alarm. "It's okay. It isn't anything dangerous. Just something to entertain her and to get her more comfortable around us. She seems to have warmed to Raymond."

"It isn't hard to warm to Ray," Janine smiled, but the expression faded. "What can I do to help?"

Egon sighed. "Truthfully, I'm at a loss. I think for now we must be as supportive as we can to both of them and hope they can find a way to begin to communicate."

She stood up and leaned over to gently kiss his cheek. "You're a good man, Egon, to care so much."

"We all care, Janine. That's what's so frustrating." His gaze moved from her up toward the upper floors of the building, then toward the front door. "I wish I knew where Peter was right now."

"I don't think you should worry so much about Peter. He's always been a very strong person when he had to be."

"That was before his encounter with Jillian Lester," Egon replied. "Despite appearances, he still hasn't completely recovered from that emotional trauma. His walls aren't as strong as they were before and he hasn't gotten over his doubts of his own value, in spite of all our efforts to reassure him."

Janine wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned her head against his shoulder. "He'll be all right, Egon."

Egon sighed deeply and wished with all he was worth that Janine would prove to be right.

***

It had been some time since Peter Venkman had climbed the steps of Weaver Hall on the campus of Columbia University. It was early and only the few unlucky students who had been forced to schedule 7:00 a.m. classes were stirring, and they paid him little attention as they made their way bleary-eyed to their lecture halls and classrooms. Peter climbed to the third floor and turned down the corridor that led to the faculty offices. Had he attained tenure, perhaps he would have had an office here instead of being consigned to the basement lab he had shared with Egon and Ray in those days before the Ghostbusters were born. But his life had taken a different turn then. He had no regrets about that change. It had been one of the best days in his life when he and his friends had been tossed out of Columbia, although he hadn't known it at the time. Now he couldn't imagine his life being any different.

The hallway was dimly lit and the offices he passed were silent. It was too early for most of the psychology faculty to arrive, but Peter was pretty sure the office at the end of the hall would be occupied. Professor Clayton had had a habit of arriving early for more than thirty years and Peter would have been surprised not to find his door open, the light from inside illuminating the dark end of the corridor.

Sure enough, just as he was about to reach the door, a cloud of aromatic smoke wafted out into the hall. Peter chuckled as he recognized the familiar odor. The old man still smoked the same brand of pipe tobacco.

"Professor?" he queried as he leaned around the door jamb. A white haired, bearded gentleman in a perpetually rumpled suit looked up from the journal he had been reading and removed the pipe from his mouth as he looked up to see who his visitor was.

"Peter, my boy! Come in, come in," he responded with cheer. "What brings you back to the ivy covered halls? And at such an early hour?"

Peter made his way to the only unoccupied chair in the small office, hesitating slightly at the question. "I have a problem, Professor," he replied.

The older man took off his glasses and laid them and his journal aside. "As I recall, you were always pretty good at solving problems."

"Other people's, maybe," Peter replied, "but I've always had more than a little trouble solving my own."

The professor smiled. "Not an uncommon dilemma among practitioners in our field. I assume that is the reason for your visit?"

Peter smiled. "You always were the best psych teacher I ever had."

"Too late for flattery, Peter. I can't change your grades at this late date." Peter chuckled in response. "Talk to me, my friend," the older man prompted.

"I've suddenly become a father, Professor, and I don't know how to be one."

Clayton puffed on his pipe as he listened to Peter's recounting. When the younger man had finished, he sat back and looked at his former teacher expectantly. After several minutes in thought, the professor lowered the pipe and shook his head.

"I can't tell you anything you don't already know," he said. "You must clear up this misunderstanding about when you learned of your daughter's existence immediately and you must be honest with her. If you aren't, she will know it. A child of nine is old enough to understand reason, but will still be ruled by her emotions. But you must also recognize that you are at the mercy of your emotions as much, if not more, than she is."

"You mean my anger at her mother?"

"Yes, in part. Your anger with Mary is completely valid and you must recognize it as such. But there are many more aspects to your own feelings that you must recognize. Your own unresolved anger toward your father and your fear of making the same mistakes he did. As trite as it may sound, there are two children involved here: your daughter and the child you were and in some ways still are."

"Professor, I've come a long way toward understanding my father and resolving what I felt as a child, but I know the old hurts haven't gone away altogether. I've sort of come to a point of acceptance. My dad is what he is. He'll never change, but I still love him."

"Some of the hurt and anger will never go away, Peter. The trick is to recognize those feelings and always remember to factor them into the equation when you analyze your own reactions."

"And what do I do if Emma refuses to accept me?"

"First, off, my boy, you must be patient. A parent-child relationship cannot be forged overnight. The best advice I could give you is the same advice you received from your friend Winston. Be yourself. Children recognize falseness better than adults and no argument you make will penetrate if she perceives you as being untruthful."

He paused and leaned forward, placing his hand over his former student's.

"Trust your feelings, Peter, and trust Emma's. Children have an extraordinary capacity to bypass logic and see directly into the soul. All you have to do is allow her the opportunity to do so."

Peter nodded. "It isn't going to be easy," he concluded.

Clayton grinned. "If life were easy, we psychologists wouldn't have a profession."

"You'll forgive me, Professor, but right now, I think I'd prefer to be unemployed!"

***

It was almost noon when Peter returned to Ghostbuster Central. Janine watched with a combination of irritation and relief as he crossed the vacant garage.

"It's about time you showed up!" she scolded. "You should know better than to just disappear. The guys have been worried sick about you."

"Just the guys?" Peter asked with a tired smile.

Janine crossed her arms and looked at him over her glasses. "I have better things to do than to waste my time worrying about you."

"Yeah, like playing kissy-face with Egon?" Peter returned.

"Egon had been a little too distracted by the problems of a certain friend of his to concentrate much on more pleasant pursuits."

Peter's face suddenly became serious. "I know, Janine, and I'm really sorry to have put you guys in the middle of this."

"Whoa! Time out!" she cried. "You're forgetting the rules of the game. I dig at you, then you dig at me and we see who can come out on top." She held her breath waiting for him to jump at a chance to make a suggestive remark in response to her words, but it didn't come.

"I guess you win today, Janine."

Dropping all pretense, she stood and moved immediately around the desk, wrapping her arms around Peter and giving him a tight hug. Without any hesitation, Peter returned the hug. "Thanks, Janine," he whispered. "I needed that."

"Anytime," she replied. "As long as there are no witnesses."

Peter smiled. "Deal. Where is everybody?" he asked as Janine stepped out of the embrace.

"Winston and Egon went on a call, just a class two. They should be back soon. Ray and Emma are upstairs. Ray's been teaching her all about ghostbusting."

Peter signed. "I'm glad somebody's having some luck making friends with her. She certainly could use one."

"She'll come around, Peter, but you've got to tell her you just found out about her. You can't let her go on thinking you just didn't want her. You've got to do it right away, too."

"I know," he replied. "But I don't think it will be easy."

"Nothing worthwhile is ever easy."

"Enough with the cliches," he waived his arms at her. Janine gave him an unflinching look. "Okay, okay, I'll go up and give it a try."

"Good," she replied.

"But first, Janine, I need to ask you a big favor."

"What kind of a favor?" she asked suspiciously.

"Did you hear about Emma's nightmare last night?"

"Yeah, Egon told me about it. Poor kid."

"Well, part of the problem is that she's grown up with no men in her life, only her mother to depend on. Now, when she needs someone the most, she's surrounded by nothing but men. It's a bit of a rough transition, you know."

"Yeah, I can understand that."

"Okay, here's the deal. Do you think you could stay overnight here for a few days, just to help get her over the worst of it? There's a pretty comfortable roll-away bed that we could put in the room with Emma, that way she wouldn't have to stay all by herself in a strange place." He looked entreatingly at the secretary. "What she needs right now is something familiar, and even if she doesn't know you very well, you've got a step up on us in that you're a woman and she might feel more comfortable with you."

Janine's gaze softened. "Of course I'll stay, you know that, if you think it will help. But what she really needs is to get to know her father."

"I plan to work on that," he promised. "Thanks, Janine. You know, sometimes you do come in handy, despite everything."

"Uh-huh," she tilted her head. "And someday I'll be rewarded for all the things I do around here for you guys."

"That raise is closer than ever," Peter promised.

"Yeah, and someday soon the Statue of Liberty will stand on her head."

"Not impossible," Peter replied as he turned and headed up the stairs.

He heard the voices before he reached the door of the lab, one with an adult masculine timbre, the other the higher tones of a child, but the differences seemed to end there. The air of excitement in both voices was the same. Peter had to suppress a laugh. In his sense of wonder and enthusiasm, Ray remained very much a child inside, and in combination with the intelligence Peter had sensed right from the beginning in Emma, it was no wonder the two of them had hit it off so quickly. The child that never grew up and the child that was having to grow up much too quickly. Standing in the doorway, Peter watched the pair, so engrossed in what they were doing they never noticed him.

"So when the... flux indicator moves into the red range, it indicates the field tension inside has built to a dangerous level." The set on Emma's face indicated her level of concentration.

"Right!" Ray smiled proudly. "But there is a way to reduce the tension safely..." He looked at her expectantly.

"By modulating the frequency?" she asked.

"Yes!" Ray laughed, clapping his hands.

"Memma do good!" praised Slimer, who had been bobbing in the air just over Ray's shoulder.

"You've got it down pat!" Ray confirmed. "Now if there's ever a crisis with the containment unit, you'll know what to do and what not to do, and..."

"And I'll know enough to know when there's nothing I can do. Then I run like crazy!"

"Hey, I know that much!" Peter injected. He watched as the enthusiastic expression on Emma's face instantly melted into rigid tension as her eyes fell upon him.

"We were just going over safety procedures, things Emma needs to know since she's living here now."

"Sounds to me like you're trying to recruit her to the hard science side of the team." He looked at his daughter. "All that technical stuff makes my head hurt."

"Don't let him fool you, Emma. In a pinch, Peter can handle himself around the lab." He smiled at his friend. "Some day you'll have to get him to tell you about the time we fought Nexa."

"Yeah, Ray, Egon and Winston decided to play Jonah and the whale, but I came to the rescue in the nick of time!"

"I think I'll go straighten up my room," was Emma's only response, then she proceeded to walk past Peter without another glance, and out the lab door.

"I think we got ourselves a little red-zone tension right here, old buddy," he said to Ray.

"Peter sad?" Slimer asked.

"Maybe a little, spud."

The occultist moved closer to his friend and placed a supporting hand on his shoulder. "Then maybe you should get busy modulating the frequency."

"You know I've never been really good at that sort of stuff, Ray," he replied. "Even that microwave emitter I invented to defeat Nexa blew up on me."

"Not until you'd saved our lives. Remember that."

Peter nodded. "Keep those positive thoughts in your head, kiddo. I think I'm gonna be needing them." Taking a deep breath, he headed after Emma.

***

There was no answer to Peter's knock at Emma's door. He tried again, calling her name, then he carefully pushed the door open and peered around. She was sitting on the side of her bed, clutching the white teddy bear that had been in her room when she arrived. She appeared to be staring at the wall in front of her, but Peter was sure whatever it was she was seeing, it wasn't the drab gray paint.

"This room certainly needs a little more fixing up, doesn't it?" he asked as he stepped inside. "Maybe we could get Janine to pick up some paint and wallpaper samples and you could pick out what you like and we'll fix 'er up. I can be handy with a paint brush, if I really want to." There was no response.

Peter moved slowly to the bed and sat down beside her. Emma inched away from him.

"Please don't be afraid of me, Peaches," Peter pleaded, not able to keep the desperate hurt out of his voice. "This is all new to me too. I'm sure I've already made mistakes, but you have to be patient with me. And you have to be willing to help."

Still, the silence.

"Last night, you asked me if I was your father and I told you I was. I can only guess that your mother told you in the letter I gave you. I said last night that we needed to talk. We still do."

"I don't want to talk," she replied.

"We have to get this all out in the open, Em. If we don't, it will just go on hurting both of us." When she didn't reply, Peter nodded. "Okay, maybe you aren't ready to talk to me. Fine, then, I'll do the talking." He half smiled. "It's something I'm usually good at, but I'll tell you something, Emma. I'm scared."

Her head turned almost imperceptibly as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

"Yeah, the famous Ghostbuster Peter Venkman terrified by a nine-year-old child. You want to know why I'm so scared?" She didn't reply, but Peter knew she was listening. "Because if I mess this up, you could end up hating me, and, believe it or not, that matters to me... a lot more than I would have thought before yesterday."

"Didn't I ever matter before?" she returned, her own pain shining through.

"I didn't know about you before," Peter replied. "I only found out you existed yesterday morning."

She frowned at him. "You had to know. Mom said..."

"What did she say?" Peter asked.

Emma looked away. "She said in the letter that marrying her wasn't right for you."

"It wasn't right for her either. According to the message the lawyer brought me yesterday, she had already married the man you thought was your father before she knew she was going to have a baby, so she never told me about you."

"Did you love my mother?" she asked.

Peter knew all too well what she desperately wanted to hear, but he also heard the echoes of Winston's voice and Dr. Clayton's. He had to be straight with her.

"I cared very much about your mother, Emma. We met at a time when I needed to feel that I was important to someone and she helped me a lot. But I was never in love with her. Maybe if we'd been together longer..." He shook his head. "But I don't think so. We were both a little vulnerable at the time and we grabbed onto each other, but it wasn't the kind of relationship that could have lasted." He looked at her. "I know that's not what you wanted to hear, honey, but I'm not going to lie to you. If there's a chance for us to be friends, I won't destroy it by lying."

"Why didn't she tell you?" she asked.

"I think, because she realized the same thing I did, that we weren't meant to be together. She was already married to Dr. Marshall and she thought it would be worse for everyone if she told me."

"Did he know?"

Peter nodded. "She said he asked her not to tell anyone he wasn't your father. She also said he was a very good father to you."

Emma shrugged. "I don't really remember him, not much, anyway."

"Emma, there's something I very much need to make you understand. I know we're practically strangers, but that will change. If your mother had told me about you long ago, I promise you, we wouldn't be strangers now. I know what it's like to not have your father around. It's rotten. We may not know each other yet, but there's already a connection between us, just because you're my daughter. I want to know you and I want to be a father to you. That may be kinda hard. I'm not exactly sure how to be a father, but I want to try. At least let me be your friend. And let me promise you something right now. As long as I live, you'll have a home and be taken care of and have people who love you. You've already won over Ray, and I think you and Janine will be really good friends, too."

He stood up. "I think that's probably enough for me to lay on you at one time. Just think about it. That's all I ask." He turned and started to leave, then, looked back at her.

"Oh, I almost forgot. I asked Janine to stay over for a few nights. We're going to bring a roll-away bed in here so she can room with you. That way, if you have any more bad dreams, you won't be alone."

He was almost out the door, when her voice stopped him. "What do I call you?" she asked.

He froze, then with a tentative smile on his face he looked at her. "Why don't we stick with 'Peter' for now?"

She nodded, then set about straightening the covers on the bed. Peter smiled to himself as he closed the door behind him. Maybe there was hope after all.

***

Nighttime. The child was asleep. A little concentration, a little reinforcement of the fears that already existed, that was all it would take. Oh, how delicious it really was!

***

"Mom! MOMMEEEEE!" Emma sat bolt upright in bed screaming the name over and over again. Janine, who had fallen asleep quickly after a busy and exhausting day, was jolted from her pleasant dreams to a full and panicked state of wakefulness. It took her a couple of seconds to get her bearings, remember where she was and why she was there, and to fly into action.

"Emma!" she cried, shaking the child as she called her name. "Emma, wake up, sweetie, it's just a bad dream."

All at once, Emma caught her breath, her eyes frantically searching the room, then settling on Janine. The secretary reached out and stroked the child's forehead, pushing the matted hair back out of her eyes. "Just calm down, Emma. It's all right. You've just had a bad dream. It's okay."

At that moment, the door flew open, causing them both to jump. Emma took one look at the pajama-clad man standing in the doorway and threw herself into Janine's arms.

"Peter!" Janine cried. "For heaven's sake! You scared us to death!"

"I-I'm sorry," he mumbled, taking a step forward and reaching out his hand toward Emma.

"No!" she screamed, burrowing further into Janine's embrace. "Get away! Get AWAY!"

Peter froze, all color draining from his face. Janine bit her lip against the harsh words she herself had uttered as she saw the pain in Peter's expression.

"Peter, I'm sorry, I..." she began, but he turned and fled the room. Janine turned back to the child sobbing in her arms and tried to comfort her. A sound drew her attention back to the doorway and her eyes locked with Egon's. No words passed between them, but they both knew where they were needed now. Janine nodded, then focused her attention on Emma. Egon watched for a moment, before he left on his own mission.

***

Lights came on in the old converted firehouse, and the figure on the street below in trenchcoat and dark hat saw them. The images observed by the watcher's eyes were drawn into the mind of another, miles away. The watcher's master smiled and sent a silent "well done" to her subordinate who stepped back into the darkness and disappeared.

Unnoticed by either was another figure parked in a car just down the block from the firehouse. Tapping his Marlboro out the cracked car window, he reached for his pen and notebook, checking his watch as he jotted down the time. What it all meant, he didn't know, but later, it could be important. He took another drag on the cigarette and settled in for the rest of the night's watch.

***

Egon hadn't gone directly to look for Peter. He realized all that would accomplish would have been a replay of the night before. Peter needed some time to himself. But Egon intended to be there for him when he was ready to talk, so he'd reassured Ray and Winston, insisting they get some sleep, and headed for the kitchen.

It was an old and familiar ritual between him and Peter. The kitchen table had been the site of many a night's conversation, reflection and support over the years since they had formed the business. They had found a formula that seemed to work for them, opening up to each other, usually over a cup of Egon's homemade hot chocolate. Knowing if Peter needed to talk, this is where he'd likely come, Egon went ahead and set himself to gathering the ingredients he needed. He didn't have to wait long.

"You should franchise your recipe, Spengs," Peter said softly as he sank down into a chair at the table.

Egon smiled and shook his head. "I'd much rather keep it an old family secret," he replied. "It will be ready in a minute."

"Fine," Peter replied, then lapsed into silence. Egon didn't push. It was Peter's call. He would continue his cooking and perhaps by the time the cocoa was done, Peter would have gathered his thoughts and be ready to open up to him. The problem was, Egon wasn't sure he'd know what to say. All he could do was trust his own instincts and pray that he could find some way to help his friend.

***

It had taken a few minutes for Janine to get Emma to stop crying. She'd tried to talk to the girl, but Emma just turned away from her on the bed and pretended to go back to sleep. Janine knew better, but she also was aware that she wasn't there to push the child, but to offer comfort. But, then, Janine was Janine and keeping quiet when something was on her mind had never been one of her strong suits.

"Emma," she whispered. "I know you miss your mother and I want you to know I'm here if you need me. If you want to talk... fine. If you don't, I'll just be here with you. But you have to know that Peter only wants to help you. Don't keep pushing him away. I think you both really need each other."

When there was no response, she climbed back into her own bed and closed her eyes. Despite the excitement, it wasn't long before she was asleep again.

Emma waited until she could tell Janine was asleep and quietly climbed out from under her covers. Tiptoeing across the room, she slipped silently out the door. She didn't know where she was going, but she needed to get away to herself. Maybe she would go get a soda.

***

In the kitchen, Egon had just placed a cup of steaming liquid in front of Peter and sat down in the chair opposite him.

"I really thought we'd made some progress this afternoon," Peter said.

"You told her that you'd just found out about her?"

Peter nodded. "She asked me if I'd loved her mother." He shook his head. "What was I going to say? I know how important it must be to her to feel that I at least cared about her mother, even though I'd never been around to show any affection for her. Do you know how much it hurt to have to sit there and tell her I wasn't in love with Mary? I wanted to lie to her and tell her I did love her mother, but then those little voices kept telling me that lies were what got us into this mess in the first place."

"So you told her the truth," Egon concluded.

"Yes," he replied. "I told her I cared about Mary, that I was grateful to her for being there for me during a rough time in my life, but that a relationship between us just wasn't meant to be." He rubbed his hands over his face. "You know, even as I was saying those words, I knew I'd heard them before."

Egon looked at him questioningly.

"When Mom told to me why she and Dad couldn't stay together," Peter explained. "She said that sometimes, even if you want it with all your heart, things just don't work out and it's better to go your separate ways. I asked her if she was sorry she'd ever married Dad."

"What did she say?"

"She didn't hesitate for a minute. No, she wasn't sorry, because for all the trouble and heartache he'd caused her, he had given her the most important gift in the world." He looked up at Egon, his eyes beginning to fill. "Me."

Egon reached out and grasped Peter's arm. "She loved you with all her heart, Peter."

"I wish she were here now. She'd know how to reach Emma. God, Egon, she would have made the best grandmother!"

"I know she would have. But even that wouldn't solve the current problem. This is between you and Emma. You have to find your own way to each other."

"I don't think she wants to," the psychologist sighed.

"Deep down, I think she does," Egon replied. "But, Peter, you have to be patient and give her time. Her mother just died and she has to adjust not only to that loss, but to a whole new home and people that she's never known."

"But every minute that passes, she seems to grow further away and I don't know how to reach her."

Egon considered a moment. "Peter, I asked you before, but I think you need to consider it again. I know that Emma reminds you of yourself as a child. How much of your pain and frustration comes from your memories of those times?"

"It's impossible to separate them," he admitted. "Every time I look into her eyes, I see my own soul. I know how much it hurt to feel abandoned, to worry what was going to happen to you from one day to the next. But even through the worst of it, I always had Mom. And there was always the hope that Dad might come back. Even after the divorce, I always hoped he'd come home and tell us he'd changed and he would never leave us again. For Emma, there's no hope that her mother will come back. And how can she turn for support to someone she only met yesterday? I know I can't be an instant father to her, and I don't know how to help her."

"Peter, what about your feelings toward her? What is it you're feeling? Guilt? Responsibility?"

"Yes," he admitted. "Both. I can't help but feel there must have been something I could have done all those years ago to try and clear up things with Mary. She broke off our relationship so abruptly. I should have seen that as a signal that something was wrong. I should have stayed in touch with her."

"Peter, she left you to marry another man. It would hardly have been easy for an ex-boyfriend to remain in contact. She made it clear to you she didn't want to see you again."

"But there had never been a good reason. If I had known about her past, about her insecurity about money, maybe we could have dealt with it."

"If you had known, if you had even known about Emma, and if Mary hadn't already been married when you found out, would you have married her?"

"Yes," he replied, then dropped his head. "No, that's not true. I should know better than most people that love of a child, no matter how strong, isn't enough to hold two people together. We would have both been miserable. But the one thing I do know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that if I had known I had a daughter, nothing on earth would have kept me from knowing her and making sure she knew I would always be there for her, even if it was only as a friend."

"That time has passed and you didn't have the opportunity to be a friend to her then."

"And now? How do I get her to let me be a friend to her now?"

"You can't force it, Peter. You know that. Step back, my friend, and look at this as the instinctive psychologist you are. It will take time. You know that, and yet you're letting it tear you apart."

"Believe me, Egon, I know you're right. I went to see Professor Clayton this morning and he said basically the same thing. I know I can't force her to like me. But how can I help her if she... hates me."

"Peter," Egon's voice held carried gentle chiding. "She doesn't hate you and she won't hate you."

"She doesn't even know me. 'I need to let her see me for who I am,'" Peter quoted by rote, "but suppose that isn't good enough."

"It is," Egon assured him. "She doesn't know you, but you don't really know her either. Remember that. What you feel about her is all tied up in how you felt about yourself as a child. Try and separate those feelings. Just what do you think of Emma as a person?"

Peter looked up at him in surprise. "I-I don't know."

"You've been reacting out of guilt and a sense of responsibility toward a child you didn't know you had. It's time you took a step back and looked at this child as a person."

"She likes peach," Peter replied. "It was the color of her dress. She's a really smart kid, too. You should have seen how quickly she picked up what Ray was teaching her. She has a real desire to learn, I can feel it."

"That's a beginning. Concentrate on learning more about Emma as a person and letting her know more about you. Maybe you both have to step back from emotions to do that."

"Egon, that's easier said than done. Even for me, an adult. Even when I see you're right. How can she not react emotionally at a time like this?"

"All you can do is take it one day at a time and try to be patient. If she's not reacting well to you right now, then let the rest of us take up some of the slack. She likes Ray and she seems to like Janine. I know how hard it is to accept, but for right now, you just have to stand back and let her resolve some of this on her own."

"Egon, she's a nine-year-old child who's just lost her mother and feels totally alone."

"Exactly. Let us all show her she isn't alone. We can be a pretty good support group when we put our minds to it. We're your family, too, Peter, and as your daughter, that makes Emma a part of us. We've always been stronger together. Don't take it all on yourself."

"I've caused you guys enough grief and worry," he replied.

"That you have," Egon smiled, "but it's only because you're so important to us. And we want so badly to be able to help you. You haven't had enough time to recover emotionally from what happened last year. You said it was our support that gave you the strength to survive Jillian. Don't stop leaning on us when you need us."

Peter wiped at his eyes. "I don't know what I'd do without you guys."

"You'd certainly never have another decent cup of hot chocolate," Egon remarked. "Come on, drink it before it gets cold."

Peter simply smiled and did as he was told.

***

"Huh? What? Emma? Where have you been?" Janine's sleepy voice caught Emma by surprise.

"I had to go to the bathroom," the nine-year old replied, moving away from the roll-away bed she had accidently bumped as she'd tried to sneak back into her room.

"Are you all right, sweetie?" the secretary asked as she turned on the lamp beside her.

"Sure," the girl replied.

"Okay, then you'd better get back in bed and get some sleep."

Emma crawled under the covers, but just as Janine was reaching for the lamp, she stopped her.

"Wait!"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I..." She shifted uncomfortably on the mattress. "Janine? You said we could... talk?"

Janine's eyes came suddenly open and she turned her complete attention to her young companion. She wasn't about to miss an opening like that.

"Sure. Anything in particular you want to talk about."

"Well..." Having started this, Emma wasn't at all sure she was ready to proceed. "What's Peter like?"

"Peter?" Janine smiled. "He can be the biggest jerk on the planet. He's lazy and vain and conceited. He has this need to be the center of attention whatever he does. He's obstinate and irritating..." She laughed at the surprised expression on the child's face. "But that's only a part of what Peter Venkman is. Yeah, he can be a lazy good for nothing, but when the chips are down, no one works harder. He puts on a lot of show, but his need for attention really comes from the fact that deep down, he can be very insecure. He's strong-willed and he doesn't back down from a fight, especially if he believes he's right. Peter and I argue all the time. But most of it is a game and we both know it. Neither of us would admit it, except in a pinch, but we're really pretty close. In fact-and I trust you will not tell anyone I said this-Peter and I are a lot alike. For all his self-centered attitude, Peter cares more about other people than anyone I've ever met. And he knows people. He can read them and see what they need and when they need it. Only problem is, he doesn't do all that well for himself. That's where the guys come in."

"The guys?"

"Yeah," Janine considered the child for a moment, then lowered her legs to the floor and leaned forward as she talked. "Peter and Egon first met in college and from all I've heard, they weren't instant friends. But they somehow saw something in each other than made them stick around. Most people would think they are as different and night and day, but there's a lot underneath the surface with both of them that just clicked. Then, Ray came along and added something else to the friendship. Ray's as smart as they come, but he's just an overgrown kid. Don't get me wrong. Nobody around here would have it any other way.

"Anyway, they all got to be really close friends, all through college and into teaching. They were all on the faculty at Columbia. Then, when they got kicked out..."

"Kicked out?" Emma asked in surprise.

"The dean, that's the head honcho at the school, well, he was a big jerk! But as it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened, not just for them, but for the rest of us New Yorkers, too. You see, Egon and Ray had come up with this method of trapping and containing ghosts. It was Peter's idea to turn it into a business. That's when Winston and I came on board. No one took them seriously at first, but then Gozer came and if it hadn't been for the Ghostbusters, New York would just be a pile of rubble, and I don't mean just Manhattan. Gozer was big. Brooklyn woulda been history, Long Island, probably even New Jersey, too!"

"Wow!" Emma seemed enthralled.

"Wow is right! But here's the point. It never woulda turned out this way if it hadn't been for the guys, and what makes them special is the way they all feel about each other. Ya see, none of 'em, except Winston, had what you'd call normal families. Ray's folks died when he was real young." She paused as she realized how that hit home with Emma. Quickly, she moved on. "And Egon's dad always thought brains were more important than friendship and love. Peter's dad, well, that's a whole story unto itself. Let's just say Peter had a lot of disappointments when he was a kid that made it hard for him to trust anyone. So none of them really had ever known a normal family life. So they made their own family. They're closer than any bunch of brothers I've ever seen. And the job just makes that bond stronger.

"You see, Emma, what they do may sound glamorous, but it's really pretty hairy and they have to depend on each other. They have to be able to trust each other with their lives, and they do."

"You really care about them, don't you, Janine?"

"Yeah, I do," she admitted. "Ya see, they let me in. They accepted me as a part of their family and that's something pretty special." She paused and when she spoke again, her voice was gentler. "I can't really know how hard it is for you to lose your mom, but I know it's got to be awful. But you gotta know how lucky you are to have Peter for a father." Emma looked away, but Janine reached out and caught her chin, gently turning the child's face back toward her. "You gotta cut him some slack, Em. He's trying so hard and, I know, he's made some mistakes, but you're not the only one who's hurting here, kiddo. And all he wants to do is help, if you'll let him. Don't keep turning away from him. You know, he's not all that thick skinned, especially now."

Emma's attention seemed suddenly rekindled. "What happened to Peter last year?"

"What do you know about last year?" Janine asked suspiciously.

"I... just heard Ray and Winston say something about something happening to Peter and I wondered what it was."

Janine looked at her thoughtfully. "Uh-huh. Okay, well, I think that's a story for another time."

"Oh, come on, Janine, please?"

"No," Janine said flatly. "You need your beauty sleep and, boy, so do I. Just get some sleep and try to digest what I've already told you. Maybe we'll talk about what happened last year tomorrow."

"Promise?"

"I said maybe!" Janine replied. "Geez! I'm a working girl. I gotta get up and file tomorrow!"

"All right," Emma finally relented. "Thanks, Janine."

"Sure, kiddo," she smiled as she reached for the lamp, then paused. "You just keep this in mind. There are kids who grow up in what looks like normal families that will never see the kind of love you'll find right here in this firehouse. But you can't see it if you don't look." With a stern nod of her head to punctuate the point, Janine turned out the light. "Goodnight, Emma."

"Goodnight, Janine."

For a long time, Emma lay in bed staring up at the ceiling before finally falling to sleep.

***

The next morning, breakfast found Peter uncharacteristically already up and wide awake. He was helping Winston with the eggs when Janine and Emma stepped into the kitchen. Emma took her place at the table without a word. Janine made her way over to the guys. She slipped her hand under Peter's arm and leaned close.

"Don't worry. It's gonna be all right," she whispered. When he turned to give her a tired smile, she could see his eyes were red and his entire expression wistful. She gave his arm a squeeze before she let go. "Go sit down," she said in a louder voice. "I'll help Winston finish the eggs."

Peter's smile grew a little wider. "I know I must look awful if you're offering to cook!"

"Oh, sit down and shut up!" she ordered.

He turned toward the table and pulled out the chair opposite where Emma sat. "Good morning, Em," he greeted.

"Morning," she replied very quietly, her eyes glued to the table in front of her.

Peter sighed and watched her, wondering if he should try to make conversation. He was saved from the choice by the arrival of Egon and Ray. Ray dropped into the chair next to Emma and started talking to her. She wasn't much more responsive with him than she had been with Peter.

"Did you get any sleep at all?" Egon asked quietly as he sat next to Peter.

"Some," Peter replied, then was somewhat surprised to catch Emma watching him. As soon as she saw him notice, she turned back to Ray.

Winston and Janine brought the platters with eggs, bacon, waffles and toast to the table and took their seats. Winston sitting at the head of the table next to Peter while Janine made her way to the other end to sit beside Egon.

"Better dig in before Slimer gets back from his morning rounds of the neighborhood garbage cans," Janine told them.

"So," Winston said as he passed the platter of eggs to Emma. "What's on the schedule for today?"

"There's that class two at the Dunkin' Donuts shop that's scheduled for nine," Janine told him.

"That's the second one this month!" Winston replied. "Guess the other one must have told his friends about the place before we got him."

"Shouldn't take all of us," Ray pointed out. "Winston and I could handle it. I know Egon has that fungus experiment that he has to keep a close eye on today. Whaddaya say, Winston?"

"Fine by me," Zeddemore replied.

"Hey, what about me?" Peter piped up. "Today's the day the new comics arrive at the shop, isn't it? I'll tag along with Zed. Why don't you go pick up the latest Captain Steel?" He shifted his gaze toward Emma. "Maybe Em would like to go along with you."

She looked up at him in surprise.

"Great!" Ray said with enthusiasm. "How about it Emma?"

"I don't think so," she replied.

"Aw, come on. It'll be fun."

She smiled at Ray. "No, I just want to stick around here with Janine."

"Oh," Janine said in surprise. "Well, I guess if that's what you want, honey, it's okay by me." She looked toward Venkman. "Peter?"

"Sure. Whatever you want, Peaches." He quickly pulled his napkin off his lap and dropped it on his half-finished plate. "I'll go get the equipment ready. I'll meet you downstairs, Zed."

"Peter, you haven't finished your..." Before Winston could complete the sentence, Peter was already out of the room. He shot a quick glance toward Egon who shook his head almost imperceptibly. Winston made quick work of the rest of his meal, just the same, and rose to leave the table.

"Winston?" Egon called as he started for the door.

"Yeah?"

"Watch Peter's back."

Winston frowned. "Don't I always?"

"Especially today," the physicist replied. Winston glanced quickly at Emma, then back to Egon and nodded before continuing out the door.

"Maybe I should go with them," Stantz offered.

Egon shook his head. "Peter would never stand for it," he told him. "He'd accuse us of playing mother hen again."

"And he'd be right," Ray replied, obviously unhappy. "You sure you won't come with me?" he asked Emma as he wiped his mouth with his napkin.

"No, thanks. Maybe next time," she replied.

"Okay, then I'm off."

"And I have to get back to my experiment," Egon said, following suit.

"And just who do you expect to do the dishes?" Janine asked.

"I will," Emma offered, to the surprise of the three adults. "I used to do them at home... all the time. I don't mind, really."

"Word of warning, kiddo," Janine said conspiratorially to her. "I wouldn't offer too much. These guys are liable to take you up on it far too often!"

"Nonsense," Egon said huffily. "Emma shows a remarkable sense of responsibility for a child her age."

Janine grimaced. "See?"

Emma laughed, a new sound for Egon and Janine, and Egon actually smiled at her and offered her a wink. That made her giggle.

As they followed Ray out of the kitchen, Egon and Janine both looked back as the girl began gathering the dishes and headed for the sink.

"Progress?" Egon asked.

"I hope," Janine replied, then followed him out of earshot of the kitchen. "She wanted to know more about Peter last night after her nightmare and she listened."

"That's good," Egon said encouragingly.

"I hope so, but she certainly wasn't too friendly with him at breakfast."

"It takes time."

"But it hurts Peter so much," Janine replied.

Egon pulled her into his arms and bent to kiss her forehead. "I love you for caring so much."

"I love Peter as much as you do," she replied, "in my own way."

"I know," he smiled, "and so does Peter. Thanks for helping out with Emma."

"Oh, I don't mind. She's a really sweet kid, I think. But she hasn't let go of her grief yet. That's gonna be a problem. It should be Peter who helps her through this, not just because he's her father, but because he's the best equipped to handle it. But if she won't accept him soon, it's going to catch up with her."

"She's already learning to bottle up her emotions, to put up those walls. So much like Peter."

Janine nodded. "Yes, I think so too, and it worries me, Egon."

He gave her one more squeeze before setting her free and heading upstairs to his lab. Janine watched him disappear, then glanced back toward the kitchen before heading downstairs to her morning filing.

***

"Janine?"

"Hi, sweetie," the secretary greeted. "You get the kitchen in ship shape?"

"All washed, dried and put away," she confirmed. "Slimer helped by telling me where things went."

"Yeah, yeah! Slimer do good!" the little ghost nodded happily.

Janine narrowed her eyes at him. "Did you leave the refrigerator alone, Slimer?"

"Aw, Janine. Slimer hungry!"

"And you'll be hungrier if Peter takes your kitchen privileges away again!"

"Don't scold him," Emma pleaded. "He's been good company to me this morning."

"Well, okay, but don't you start spoiling him, Emma. He's worse than the guys. If you let him, he'll get away with murder, or at least the last of the fried chicken."

"Fried chicken?" Slimer's eyes got big.

"No, Slimer. No fried chicken."

Emma laughed at the downcast look on the spud's face.

"So," Janine began, "what did you have in mind to do around here today?"

"Well, I was hoping you'd tell me about what happened to Peter last year," Emma said hopefully.

Janine's gaze moved past the girl and Emma turned to find Egon standing behind her, having just come down the stairs.

"Emma, I'm not sure this is a good time..." Janine began.

"But you promised," the girl insisted.

Janine looked up at Egon as if asking for help.

"Emma, what do you know about what happened to Peter?" he asked.

"Nothing, except what I overheard, but it sounded like it was really bad."

"Why do you want to know?"

"I don't know," she replied, looking away. "Is it a secret?"

Egon took a deep breath. "No, I don't suppose it's a secret." With another glance at Janine, Egon moved to pull two chairs up in front of the secretary's desk. "Come sit down and we'll tell you about it," he told her. "Maybe it will help you understand why we may seem to worry a lot about Peter."

Emma took a seat in one of the chairs as Egon sat in the other and Janine reclaimed her chair behind the desk, leaning across toward the other two.

Egon took a few moments to gather his thoughts before he began. "It was over a year ago when we first encountered Jillian Lester. She sort of wound up in the middle of one of our busts. She was very beautiful and Peter was instantly attracted to her. He went on a date with her, but she acted... rather strange and made Peter uncomfortable, so he broke off the evening and returned home. That night, he had a terrible nightmare, but he didn't tell anyone about it. We knew something was wrong, but we didn't know what, until the next night when he had another nightmare, even more terrifying than the one before. We began to suspect Jillian had something to do with these nightmares. At first, we suspected she had cast some sort of spell on Peter, but later, we learned that she had the power to control certain people's dreams. She wasn't completely human, her father had been a sandman, one of a group of entities whose powers reside in the realm of dreams. Most sandmen are benevolent, but Jillian, by her very nature, had been driven mad by these abilities."

"Gosh, that's scary," Emma cried. "And she was after Peter?"

"She was angry at him for spurning her... for breaking off the date," Egon replied. "She was out to get revenge and the method she chose hurt Peter very much."

"How?"

Egon looked at Janine, who nodded. "Peter has always been a bit insecure about his own self-worth. A lot of it comes from his father's actions when Peter was a boy. Mr. Venkman was gone a lot and often failed to keep his promises to come home, particularly on very important days like Christmas and birthdays. Peter adored his father, therefore he couldn't assign any blame to him, so he began to feel he wasn't worth his father's trouble. It's taken many years for those of us who have come to know and care about Peter to prove that image wrong, but despite our efforts, the scars are still there. That's what Jillian used to terrorize Peter. She made him dream that everyone abandoned him, his parents, even us. She tried to take away all his security and leave him all alone."

"Peter doesn't like being alone," Janine said. "He's always had a need to have people around him. So what she did hurt him very much." She looked at Egon and he could see in her eyes the memory of her holding Peter after a particularly bad nightmare. He had completely broken down before her eyes and she would never forget how much it hurt her to see him in so much pain.

"We did our best to be supportive, but before we could find a way to stop Jillian, she managed to kidnap Peter, injuring Janine in the process."

"Oh, no!" Emma exclaimed.

"It was just a bump on the head, but it scared Egon a bit, I'm afraid. I got over it pretty quickly."

"What happened to Peter?" Emma asked, and Egon noted the obvious concern in her voice.

"By the time we found him, he had defeated Jillian in the only way he could, in the realm of his own dreams. He had turned the mirrors back on her and revealed to her the true ugliness of her hatred and madness. It drove her completely over the edge, but it almost cost Peter his life. He was unconscious for two days and when he did awaken, he was terribly weak for some time after that."

"But he got better," Emma reasoned.

"Yes, but the emotional wounds took much longer than the physical ones to heal. All the walls he had built up over the years to block away those feelings from his childhood had been broken down. Emotionally, he remained very fragile for months. And the scars aren't covered that well even now. That's why we're so concerned for him. We've been through a long period of time when any careless word could cause him pain. We're still very sensitive to his reactions."

"What Egon is trying to say, Emma, is that we can't help worrying about him because it's so easy to really hurt him. Can you understand that?"

"I think so," she replied thoughtfully, then when she looked up at Egon, her distress was clearly written on her features. "I've hurt him, haven't I?" she asked.

Egon frowned. "Not intentionally, we know that, but in a way, yes, it has hurt him. He wants very much to be able to help you and you haven't seemed willing to allow him to."

"Maybe if you talked to him..." Janine began.

"No!" Emma shook her head violently. "I couldn't."

"Why not?" Egon asked.

"I don't want to hurt him any more," she replied.

Egon narrowed his eyes. "Why would it hurt him for you to discuss your feeling with him?"

"Because..." she started, on the verge of tears. "I just can't!" she cried and ran up the stairs away from them. Egon jumped to his feet to go after her but Janine stopped him.

"Give her some time, Egon. It won't do to push her."

Egon shook his head. "Janine, have I made a terrible mistake? Should I not have told her?"

"She had a right to know. In fact, she had a need to know. The more she knows about Peter and about the rest of us, the more clearly she can understand where we're all coming from."

"But she's just a child."

"My mother always said the worst mistake you can make with a child is to think of her as just a child. She's old enough, Egon, and smart enough to think things through." She looked up toward the second floor. "I just wish I knew why she's so afraid of talking to Peter."

"I think that's one thing only Peter will be able to find out. But whatever the answer is, it frightens me."

"I know," she replied, wrapping her arms around his neck. He, in turn, pulled her closer and took what comfort he could in her nearness, knowing the storm wasn't even close to being over.

***

Peter and Winston drove back to the firehouse exhausted and covered with both slime and various remains of donuts-all varieties. It hadn't been a particularly dangerous bust, but it had turned out not to be the class two they had expected. This ghost was a particularly impish class five and had proved to be quite elusive.

"It's gonna take a week to get the slime and gook off these seats," Winston complained.

"It's gonna take a week to get it off me!" Peter replied. "How is it Egon always misses these kinds of busts?"

"Just lucky that way," Winston replied. As they turned down the street leading to the firehouse, Winston leaned over slightly to look past Peter toward the sidewalk about a block before they reached their building.

"What is it?" Peter asked.

"Huh? Oh, nothing," Winston replied.

Peter started to call him on it, but stopped as they pulled into the garage to see a glum looking Egon waiting for them. Peter knew right away something was wrong and the question was out of his mouth almost before he could get out of the car.

"I'm sorry, Peter, I think I managed to upset Emma this morning. She's upstairs in her room."

"You what?" Peter asked. "How?"

"She had overheard us talking and wanted to know what happened to you last year."

"What did you tell her?" Peter asked warily.

"The truth. I didn't go into any detail, but basically I explained how Jillian had attacked you with nightmares and how it had caused you a great deal of emotional pain."

"What are you trying to do, Egon? Lay a guilt trip on the kid? Hasn't she had enough to deal with?"

"I'm sorry, Peter," Egon replied. "But Janine and I both took it as a good sign that she wanted to know more about you."

"Did you ever think that maybe I should be the one to tell her?" he replied hotly.

"Perhaps you're right, but she asked and we felt it was important to be honest with her."

"Gee, thanks, Egon!"

"Stop it!" came a command from the direction of the stairs. Janine marched directly up to Peter and scowled at him. "Don't you get mad at Egon. He was only trying to help. And what he did was right. It wasn't going to help to make it look like we were hiding things from her. She really seemed to want to understand."

"So what went wrong?" Peter asked.

"I was trying to encourage her to talk to you and... she got upset."

Peter turned away from them. "Isn't it clear by now, Egon? She doesn't want to talk to me. She doesn't want to have anything to do with me!" With that, he ran for the garage door.

"Peter wait!" Egon cried.

"Pete!" Winston shouted. "Stop running away!"

The words froze him in his tracks and he turned to look at Zeddemore. The expression on his face made Winston catch his breath, but he firmed his resolve and stepped closer to the younger man.

"This isn't Egon's fault or Janine's or even yours. But it will be if you don't do something soon. You've got to have this out with Emma. Until you do, nothing is gonna go right."

"I tried, Winston."

"I know you have, but you've got to try harder. I know she's a little girl and I know she's hurting real bad inside. So are you, and as hard as it's gonna be to have this out, it'll be even harder if you don't. You're the psychologist, Pete. Sometimes therapy hurts, but you have to go through the pain to get past it. You're not helping Emma by letting her put you off."

"What do you want me to do? Make her talk to me?"

Winston shook his head. "I'm not asking you to be intentionally cruel to her, but you've got to be firm. Give yourself a little time and give her that time, too, but set a time and make sure she knows you intend to stick to it. If you don't do it, Pete, by God, I'll lock you both in a room together until you do talk this through!"

Peter seemed about ready to mount a verbal retaliation, but he stopped, taking a deep breath, then his shoulders slumped in defeat. "Someday, Zed, I'm gonna punch you right in the teeth."

"Made you that mad, did I?" Winston asked, not standing down a bit.

"You bet you made me mad. You always make me mad when you're right and you have to use a sledge hammer on me to make me see it."

Winston put his hands on his friend's shoulders and gave him a good shake. "Well, sometimes it takes a sledge hammer to get through that thick skull of yours."

"You haven't used it for some time," Peter remarked.

"I kinda got out of the habit for a while. Figured maybe it was time to haul it out again."

Peter couldn't hold back a smile. "There are times I wonder how I survived all those years before I met you."

"Me too," the older man returned with a laugh, then he pulled Peter into a bone crushing hug. When he let go, Peter turned back to Egon and Janine.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you, Spengs," he said. "You too, Melnitz."

"Hey, I'm used to it," Janine replied.

He looked at his oldest friend. "Egon?"

"You should know that by now I've grown accustomed to your displays of temper and have learned to give them the consideration they deserve, which is practically none!" He held his arms out and Peter stepped into the second embrace in a row. "Peter," he said after a moment, "you are covered in slime and... goo."

Peter chuckled against the taller man's shoulder. "Glad you noticed, cause now, so are you."

"I think all three of us need to get cleaned up," Winston suggested. "I definitely think you need a shower before you talk to Emma, Pete."

"Okay, okay, I get the message. Stop hitting me on the head."

"I forgot how much I enjoyed it," Winston replied.

Peter laughed as all three of them headed for the stairs. Peter suddenly jumped into the lead and bounded up the steps with a cry of "first dibs!" and the other two men raced after him.

Janine shook her head as she wiped at a stray tear on her cheek. Even that small note of normalcy was something to be cherished after the last few days.

***

Peter knocked lightly on the closed door to Emma's bedroom and a small voice answered hesitantly, "Come in." He opened the door and leaned in.

"Hey, there, Peaches," he said softly. Instead of turning away from him and seeming to ignore him as she had done the last two days, this time, she looked right at him, and Peter almost lost his resolve when he saw a trace of fear in her eyes. Steeling himself, he stepped inside, leaving the door ajar. He moved to Janine's roll-away and sat down on it, leveling himself with his daughter without infringing on her personal space.

"We have to talk, Emma," he said, maintaining the eye contact she had thus far not broken. "Not right this moment, but tonight, after dinner, we're going to sit down and have a long talk. I don't want you to be afraid to talk to me. I haven't had much experience at being a father, but I'm a professional listener. What I want you to do this afternoon is take some time and think about the things that have happened to all of us these past few days. Think about how you feel and about what you want and what you expect from me. I promise you, whatever you have to say, I'll listen, and all I ask you to do is listen to me, too." He looked away for a moment, then met her eyes once more. "I know neither of us expected things to work out this way, but I want very much to make things right for you. I would never hurt you, Em, and I would never let anyone else hurt you, not as long as I live and that's a promise. But we have to start somewhere, and the best place I can think of to start is by being honest with each other."

He smiled sadly at her for a moment, then got up and walked to the door.

"Just give me a chance, Peaches," he said before leaving. "That's all I'm asking for."

For several minutes after he closed the door, Emma sat unmoving on the bed. Then, she reached once more for the large white teddy bear and hugged it close.

"Go all right?" Winston asked as Peter came down the stairs to rejoin the others on the first floor.

"I don't know," Peter shrugged. "I guess we'll see tonight."

The ringing of the phone brought an end to the discussion.

"Ghostbusters," Janine answered. "Yeah, he's here. Just a minute." A wary look crossing her face, he held the phone out to Peter. "It's Mr. Parsons, the lawyer," she told him.

With a frown of apprehension, he took the receiver.

"Hello, Mr. Parsons. Peter Venkman here."

"Dr. Venkman, I thought you should know, in fulfillment of the instructions left by our client, since you have accepted guardianship of the child, the Marshalls were informed late yesterday of their daughter-in-law's death and were apprized of the facts concerning young Emma's paternity and her mother's wishes regarding her future."

Peter instantly tensed. "What was their reaction?" he asked.

"I would characterize it as shock and disbelief. They asked for copies of all the papers involved which I provided for them and their attorneys to study. I received a phone call from them this morning asking that I contact you to set up a meeting with them as soon as possible. They are willing to fly to New York as early as day after tomorrow if you are amenable."

"Parsons, what do you think they want?" Peter asked.

"Frankly, I think they want to size you up!" the lawyer replied. "They still feel a certain bond with the child they believed was their grandchild and I think they want to make sure you're a fit guardian for her. They may also be harboring thoughts of contesting Mrs. Marshall's will, but I can assure you, there is little chance that they could succeed and I'm sure after discussions with their attorneys, they will realize that."

"But they could cause trouble for us?"

"That they could. I think it would be in your best interests to meet with them and reassure them that Emma is in good hands and that her best interests would be served by them allowing her the freedom to adjust to her new situation. If possible, I would advise you to offer them future opportunities to visit with the child."

"They seemed genuinely interested in her welfare?"

"In my opinion, yes, they did."

Peter considered for a moment. "All right, Mr. Parsons, I'll meet with them, but let's make it this weekend."

"As you wish, Dr. Venkman."

"Parsons?"

"Yes?"

"It seems to me you're going to an awful lot of trouble and mostly in my behalf and I'm not your client."

"No, but Mrs. Marshall was, and I take quite seriously the trust she placed in me to see to it that her instructions were followed to the letter. It was her wish that Emma be with you. If, however, the Marshalls should choose to pursue any legal course of action, it would be advisable for you to retain your own counsel."

"I want to apologize to you, Mr. Parsons," Peter replied. "I don't think I was exactly cordial to you when we met."

"There were... extenuating circumstances at the time," Parsons replied. Peter smiled.

"Thank you," he said with sincerity, "for everything you've done for Emma and for me."

"I'll have my secretary call you as soon as we get a response from the Marshalls. Goodbye, Dr. Venkman."

"Goodbye."

Peter turned to the expectant and concerned looks of his friends and recounted Parsons' end of the conversation.

"Do you think they're gonna cause trouble?" Janine asked.

"Mr. Parsons is inclined to believe they only want to be sure Emma is in a good home." He laughed. "Not exactly a conventional home, though, are we?"

"Maybe not," Winston replied, "but she won't find a better one. We'll all see to that."

Egon nodded.

"Well, that gives us three days to get things settled before they show up."

"We'll need to do some more work on the spare... on Emma's room," Janine said. "And we can unpack some of those boxes that were brought over from her mother's apartment."

"We'd probably better do a little spiffing up of the whole firehouse," Winston added. "We want to make a good impression."

Peter sighed. "That's all well and good, but the first thing we have to do-I have to do," he corrected, "is clear up the problems with Emma." He sank down on the edge of the desk, a frown clouding his features. "What if she decides she'd rather be with the Marshalls?"

Egon shook his head. "We don't know that they'll even want custody after they've had time to accept the fact that she isn't their grandchild. And, legally, they wouldn't have any right to custody in the first place."

"Just the same, I'd rather Emma not know anything about this upcoming visit until we have a chance to settle things."

"When?" Winston pressed.

"Tonight," Peter replied. "I've already told her we have to talk after dinner tonight. I wanted her to have some time to think about it and get a little more comfortable with the idea."

"Are you comfortable with the idea?" Egon asked.

Peter chuckled. "Nope, but I've accepted it."

"Hey, guys!" called Ray, coming across the garage area toward them, a stack of comics in his arm. "What's going on?"

"Peter's going to have that talk with Emma tonight," Winston told him.

"That's great!" Ray replied. "Anything I can do to help?"

"You already have," Peter told him. "All you guys have been great."

"That's what we're here for," Egon said. "To be great!"

The others laughed, then Peter suddenly looked back at Ray. "Maybe there is something you can do, Ray, but it's a lot to ask."

"Name it!"

Peter hesitated, then continued. "I've been identifying Emma's situation so strongly with myself as a child. The truth is, you're the one person here who really knows what she's going through." He faltered once more when he saw a shadow pass over his friend's features. "I'm sorry, Ray, I know how this might dredge up some bad memories for you."

Ray shook his head. "It was a long time ago, Peter, and so many good things have happened to me since then, it's made it easier. And I've learned to concentrate on the good times instead of the bad. If you think it would help for me to talk to Emma..."

Peter shook his head. "No, what I need is for you to talk to me. If you can give me a better idea of what she's feeling, of what helped you get through those first days after you lost your parents... Ray, I don't want to hurt you, but..."

"It will help Emma. And it's never done anything but helped me to talk to you about things that bothered me. Besides, if remembering the pain will help you help Emma, then it would be like something good coming from something so terrible."

Peter reached out and pulled the younger man into his arms. "You're the best, Ray. Do you know that?"

Ray's eyes met Egon's and the physicist smiled his agreement with Peter's sentiment.

"And you're one of a kind," Winston added, patting Stantz on the back. When Peter let go, Janine leaned in and kissed the embarrassed man on the cheek.

"Aw, it's you guys who are the best," he replied. "Come on," he motioned to Peter. "Let's go upstairs and talk."

***

"You know, it's funny, but for a long time, I didn't remember how I felt when I found out my parents were dead. I guess I sort of closed that off, locked it away, because I didn't want to remember it. It was easier to focus on the good times and try to forget the bad. It wasn't until after I met you guys, not until after we'd formed the business, that I really thought about it again."

Peter listened in silence as Ray talked.

"It was right after Gozer, when I realized how close we all came to getting killed. It wasn't that I was afraid of dying. I was more afraid of losing you guys."

"I know," Peter said with gentle understanding, and Ray smiled at him.

"I started remembering in a different way then. I never forgot the things that happened, when and where I got the news about the accident, what happened right after. But, I don't know, it was sort of like a silent movie, images without sound. Except it was really images without the emotions. After that night on top of that building, I remembered the feelings."

Peter, sitting on the coffee table in front of Ray, reached out and placed his hand over his friend's trembling ones.

"It didn't register at first. I heard the words, but that's all they were. I just sort of closed off, and all I remember feeling was empty and alone and... scared, really scared. People tried to be so nice to me, and I nodded a lot, but they didn't know what to say. There was nothing they could say that would make it better. I didn't want to believe it, and it wasn't until days afterward that I began to feel the real pain of knowing they were gone. I wasn't at home anymore. My mom wasn't there to tuck me in at night. When I thought of something I wanted to know about, my dad wasn't there for me to ask. Those are the times when it hit me.

"And at night. When I went to sleep and had terrible nightmares. I could close off during the day, but not in the dreams." He looked up from the hands Peter held to Venkman's face. "That's why I knew what Emma was going through that first night."

Peter nodded. "Ray, this is too hard for you..."

"No," Ray smiled with tear-filled eyes. "It's not easy, but it's important, because I didn't get what I really needed most back then, but Emma can."

"What did you want and need most?" Peter asked.

"What I wanted was to have my parents back. It's all I wanted. But now I know that what I really needed was to have someone just to be there, who would listen to me. What I needed most was someone to cry with, who would tell me it was all right to cry and feel sad and lost. I didn't have that until I found you guys and I think that's why I never really faced those feelings for so many years."

"Would you have been ready to face them right after it happened?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe not, but I didn't have that option. I didn't have anyone there who I could have turned to when I needed it. That's what you have to get Emma to understand. That however long it takes, however she feels, you'll be there when she needs you. I would have given anything for that back then, and I don't know what I would have done if I had never found it."

Tears began to pour down the younger man's cheeks and Peter came instantly off the table to sit on the sofa next to Ray and pull him into a hug. Ray clung to him as he sobbed.

"I'm so sorry, Ray," Peter whispered. "I wish I could have been there for you back then."

"You're here now," Ray replied, pulling back to look into Peter's eyes, also filled with moisture. "For me, and for your daughter. And you've always been there when I needed to talk about my parents or anything else that was bothering me."

"And I always will be," Peter promised, without hesitation.

Ray swallowed. "If you want to listen to me now, I think I'd like to talk some more."

Squeezing Ray's shoulder, Peter nodded.

Ray took a deep breath and started talking. It seemed that once he'd begun, the words just seemed to flow out of him. Peter didn't interrupt except to lend support and comfort as he watched his friend with awe and admiration, and he recalled once again, as he had countless times before, how lucky he was to have someone like Ray in his life.

***

Hours had passed, as Egon, Winston and Janine waited for their two friends to emerge from the family room. They had spent much of the afternoon in conversation of their own, centering mostly on their concern for their friends. Egon was worried how Ray's recalling his own childhood trauma would affect him, but Winston had reminded him that beneath it all, Ray was stronger than they often gave him credit for, especially when it came to helping his friends.

About mid-afternoon, a call had come in and the two available Ghostbusters had gone to answer it. When they returned, Peter and Ray had still not emerged from their talk. Parsons had called and confirmed the Marshalls' visit on Saturday and Winston suggested they could put their time to good use starting in on the cleanup they needed to do around the firehouse. They began with the garage area, then proceeded upstairs to Egon's lab where Winston and Janine were careful to follow Spengler's instructions on what could be discarded and what couldn't.

"It's always so hard to tell," Janine commented. "Is it experimental mold or just last night's uneaten jelly donut?"

Winston had laughed and Egon had grumbled, but only because he knew they'd expect him to. After a while, it was getting close to time for dinner, so they headed for the kitchen to begin preparing the meal. Egon was making a salad while Janine supervised, and Winston was checking his roast when they heard laughter coming from just outside the door. Moments later, Peter and Ray appeared.

"We smelled something wonderful cooking in here and I bet Ray it was Winston doing the cooking."

"Winston is doing the roast, I'm doing the salad," Egon informed them. "His contribution to tonight's repast may have a more piquant aroma than mine, but I assure you the value of fresh garden vegetables, delicately tossed, is even more important nutritionally."

"Yeah, and sweat sandwiches were nutritionally valuable, but who could stand to eat 'em?" Winston countered and they all laughed, except Egon who fought to stifle a grin.

"We thought maybe the smell of food would bring you two out of hiding," Janine said, stepping over to Ray and putting her arm around his shoulders. "We thought you'd forgotten all about us."

"No, we didn't forget," Ray replied, sharing a knowing look with Peter. "In fact, we've spent the last hour or so remembering a lot of things that involve the rest of you, too."

"Oh?" Egon looked up from the chopping board before him. "Anything in particular?"

Peter shook his head. "Nope, just a lot of things and a lot of times-good times."

"Well, maybe we could get in on the second act," Winston suggested. "You certainly couldn't have covered all the good times we've had together in one hour."

"Not in a lifetime," Ray replied, his voice softening.

Egon caught Peter's eye and nodded his approval. There was still evidence on both men's faces that the emotional weight of their conversation had gotten to them, but Peter always knew how to ease the tensions when things got too much. That was obviously why they had begun to reminisce. And, Egon was sure, it had been as good for Peter as it had been for Ray.

"So," Venkman rubbed his hands together, "are we ready for dinner?"

"Roast's done," Winston replied. "How's that nutritional masterpiece coming?"

"Just needs a few more tomatoes then a gentle tossing and we're ready," Egon replied.

"I'd better go tell Emma dinner's ready," Janine offered. Peter's expression sobered as he remembered the task ahead of him, but he nodded as Janine stepped past him, giving his arm a brief squeeze as she headed for the door.

"I hope what we talked about will help Emma. It helped me just to talk it out," Ray told him.

Peter smiled. "I hope so too, and I'm glad it helped."

"You've always been a remarkably talented listener for a man who likes to do all the talking," Egon remarked, attempting to bring the conversation back to the lighter side.

"Just two sides of a complex personality," Peter replied.

"Boy, is that the truth!" Winston chuckled.

"Peter!" Janine's frantic cry brought them all to attention. Before Peter could turn toward the door, it opened and the secretary flew in.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Emma's not in her room," she replied. "And I called for her, but she didn't answer."

"Let's not panic," Egon advised. "We told her this is her home. She could be anyplace in the building." Or not, they all thought, but no one said.

"I'll check upstairs," Winston offered.

"I'll go with you," Ray added. "You guys check out the ground floor and the basement."

Peter pushed past them to take the lead as Janine and Egon followed him down the stairs. They called her name as they searched, but received no answer. Janine checked Peter's office while the psychologist checked the equipment lockers. As Egon emerged from checking the basement, he shook his head at the anxious look from Peter.

"She's not upstairs," Ray cried as he and Winston came down. "We rechecked the second floor, too, but no luck."

"No sign of her down here either," Janine admitted. "Where could she be?"

Peter stood stone stiff before them. "She's run away," he concluded. "And it's my fault."

"There's no time for misplaced blame," Egon told him.

"We'd better hit the streets," Winston suggested.

"Oh, gosh, it's already dark outside!" Ray cried. "We'd better hurry."

"Come on, Peter," Egon urged as he grabbed Peter's arm and gave it a not-so-gentle shake. "We'll head one direction while Raymond and Winston check the other. Janine, stay here in case Emma comes back."

"Take your radios with you," Janine suggested.

"Good idea," Egon replied.

"Let's go," Peter said very quietly, the tension tightening the words.

Janine watched as they disappeared into the darkness. "Dear God, let them find her," she prayed. "And please let her be okay."

(Continued in Part 3)