DREAM SHADOW - Part 4

by Neetz



Emma had been brooding ever since the guys left. Janine had tried to talk to her, to get her to understand that Peter wouldn't have disappointed her for anything less than an emergency, but she wasn't in the mood to listen.

"I know you're upset, Emma, but try to remember that lives are at stake. Peter will do everything he can to make it up to you. You mean the world to him and he's trying so hard to show you how much he cares."

"Yeah, sure," was her only response before the secretary gave up and told her she was going downstairs to work on the accounts.

She had spent a while in her room, trying to read, but she couldn't get interested in the book, so she wandered out to the family room and turned on the television. There was an old movie on, and she tried to get interested in it, but after a few minutes, she started flipping the channels.

She had just stopped on one of the local affiliates when they interrupted with a news bulletin. A young woman reporter was broadcasting live from the waterfront district and Emma realized it was about the ghost the guys had been called to bust. She sat up on the edge of the sofa to watch and suddenly, the camera got a picture of the creature itself as it broke out through the wall of a building. Out in front of the path of the creature were two men that she instantly recognized.

"Janine!" she cried. "They're on television! It's Ray and Winston!" Almost immediately she heard the secretary's footsteps on the stairs. She looked back at the screen in time to see Egon rush around a corner and take up position behind the ghost.

"Look!" she cried, pointing at the image as Janine ran into the room.

"There's Egon!" Janine cried, sinking down on the couch next to the girl.

"Where's Peter?" Emma asked.

"I'm sure he's there somewhere," Janine replied, but Venkman's absence had already set off alarm bells in her brain.

They watched as the ghost was snared in the triangulated fire of the three men. The glare of the opened trap blocked out their view for a moment, but when the light disappeared, the ghost was gone.

"Wow!" Emma cried. "They got it!"

"You bet they got it," Janine smiled at the child's excitement. "Thank God it didn't get near the mall."

"Where are they running to?" Emma asked.

Janine shook her head as she concentrated on the picture. The three Ghostbusters disappeared through the hole the creature had made in the wall and for several minutes, there was no sign of them. The camera pulled back to focus on the reporter who was describing once again the capture and reporting that several people had been injured, but there were no reports of anything life-threatening.

"So it looks like the Ghostbusters have once again averted what appeared to be an unavoidable catastrophe," she said. "We're going to stay here for a few minutes and see if we can get a word with one of them." She looked back toward the building. "Wait! I see them now. Ernie, get that shot," she instructed the cameraman and he complied, swinging around and focusing the picture once more on the building. Ray had emerged, then Egon, and now it looked like they were reaching back inside for something.

"Oh, my God!" Janine exclaimed, her hand flying to her mouth as she recognized Peter's limp form being extracted from the ruins.

"P-Peter?" Emma breathed, her eyes growing large as she stared at the screen. Both of them watched, their eyes frozen to the television in horror, as Ray and Egon lowered Peter to the ground and huddled around him. The men's fear and concern was clearly evident even at the distance of the camera. Winston waived toward someone out of view and very quickly paramedics rushed into frame.

"No." The shaky whisper from the little girl shook Janine out of her trance.

"Emma, I think maybe we shouldn't watch..."

"Don't!" she cried blocking Janine's hand as she reached for the remote.

"Emma..."

"Look!" she suddenly cried. "He moved! I saw his hand move!"

Janine dropped to the floor in front of the sofa to get nearer to the screen. Then, as they placed Peter on the stretcher, she saw it too. He was alive, thank God, but from the looks on the other men's faces, he was seriously injured. As they watched, Egon climbed into the ambulance and it sped away. Ray watched it leave, then dropped his face into his hands. Winston wrapped an arm around the younger man's shoulders and appeared to be talking to him. Ray nodded, then they turned and ran across the parking lot out of frame.

The reporter seemed to know nothing more than they did and quickly ended the broadcast with a promise to break into programming with any further news.

"What do we do?" Emma asked.

"We wait," Janine replied, trying to keep her voice calm.

"No!" Emma cried. "We have to go! We have to get to Peter!"

"Emma," Janine caught the near hysterical girl by the shoulders. "We don't even know where they've taken him. We'll wait a few minutes and if we don't hear anything, I'll start making some phone calls. Right now, we just have to stay calm and not panic."

The station had returned to its regular programming, a rerun of an old sitcom. Despite her determination to remain composed for Emma's sake, Janine couldn't keep herself from pacing.

"Janine?"

"Yes?"

"What if he's hurt bad? What if he's..."

"Shhhhh." Moving quickly back to the sofa, Janine gathered the little girl into her arms. "We can't think that way. Trust me, Em, I've been through this before. We just have to keep telling ourselves that Peter is tough. He'll be just fine."

All at once, the phone rang, causing them both to jump. Janine snatched it up immediately. "Ghostbusters. Ray! I know, we saw it on the television. What happened?" She listened for a minute, biting her lower lip as Ray gave her the details. "How bad is it?" she asked. "Yes, she's right here with me. She already knows about it, Ray, we saw you guys pulling Peter out of the building. Which hospital?" She looked at Emma. "Just a minute." She turned back to the girl. "Ray thinks we should wait here. He'll call us as soon as..."

"No! I want to go to the hospital. Please, Janine, I have to see Peter. Please!"

Janine reached out and brushed back the hair from Emma's eyes, then spoke softly into the phone. "Ray, we're coming to the hospital. I know, but I'm not going to tell her she can't go see her father, especially if..." she stopped. "We're coming, okay?" She listened for a minute, then nodded. "Right, we're outta here." Hanging up the phone, she turned to Emma. "Get your jacket and meet me downstairs. I have to turn on the answering machine."

Emma nodded and rushed out of the room. Janine watched her go.

"Please, God, don't let her lose Peter, too," she sighed, closing her eyes for a moment before she turned and headed down the stairs.

***

Peter hadn't regained consciousness on the way to the hospital and, as soon as they arrived, he was whisked away into one of the emergency treatment rooms while Egon was directed to the business office. After all the times one or more of them had been in the hospital, the process had almost become routine. As a result, even the tedium of filling out forms didn't distract him from his worry over Peter's condition.

He couldn't get the image out of his mind of Peter's face, his lips tinged blue, struggling painfully to draw air into his lungs as he asked Egon to take care of Emma. The physicist's hand shook as he signed the papers before him and his mind flashed back to the last time Peter had been brought to emergency. It had been over a year ago, when, after hours of not knowing if their friend was alive or dead, they finally located the abandoned building where Jillian Lester had held Peter hostage. Peter had been unconscious then too, but although he had not been physically injured, the psychological trauma to which he had been subjected had left him lost deep within his own subconscious and for two days, no one knew if he would ever find his way back. Egon had wrestled with many of his own demons during that long hospital wait. It hadn't been the first time Peter or one of his other friends' survival had been in doubt in the years since they had formed Ghostbusters, but each time, the waiting seemed harder, the fear that finally their luck would run out seemed to weigh more heavily.

Now, once again, Peter was fighting for his life, and all his friends-his family-could do was wait. Ray's emotions would, as always, be very close to the surface and he would turn to Egon for assurance and strength. Somehow, Spengler had always managed to find enough within himself to sustain them, but each time, it was more of a struggle. This time would be the hardest of all, because this time, there was Emma.

Peter's voice echoed in his mind. "Emma... take care..." With those words, Peter had placed the care of his daughter squarely into Egon's hands. It would be for him to see the child through this crisis until (he dared not think "if") Peter recovered. In his own mind, Egon did not believe he was capable of living up to that charge. And yet, he could not fail Peter's trust in him.

Vainly attempting to still his trembling, he returned to the emergency waiting room to find Winston and Ray already there.

"Any news?" Ray asked, then slumped his shoulders when Egon shook his head.

"Did you get in touch with Janine?" Egon asked.

"She and Emma were watching television and saw the whole thing," Ray told him unhappily. "I tried to get them to stay at the firehouse, but I could hear Emma in the background begging Janine to bring her to the hospital, so they're on their way."

Egon clasped his hands behind him and struggled for control. "I'd rather she not be here, it could be very... difficult."

"Egon, she just lost her mother and has just started to accept Peter as her father. I'm sure she's terrified that she'll lose him too. She didn't get a chance to see her mother before she lost her and..."

"She isn't going to lose Peter," Egon said determinedly, cutting Ray off. "He isn't going to give up," he assured the younger man. "He's always been a fighter and he has even more to fight for now."

Ray nodded, but he didn't look reassured as he took a step away to gaze down the hall toward the treatment rooms. Winston stepped up and, putting his arm around Spengler's shoulder, whispered, "Hang in there, man."

Egon looked at Zeddemore with gratitude and amazement. Winston was always there in an emergency lending a quiet strength that the entire team had come to depend upon. The ex-soldier's dark eyes spoke eloquently of his understanding and compassion. Winston could read him, particularly in moments like this one, almost as well as Peter could.

"I will need your help, my friend," he whispered in return.

"We'll face this just like we always do," Winston said, this time loud enough for Ray to hear also, "together."

The occultist turned around and it suddenly seemed that he, also, could see through Egon's mask of control. Drawing upon the inner well of strength they so often forgot he possessed, Ray seemed to transform before their eyes as he stepped closer to Egon once again.

"We've been here before," he reminded them. "Emma hasn't. We have to be strong for her."

Egon felt his own control waiver as his gratitude toward his friends welled up inside him.

Winston reached out to Ray with his free hand and squeezed his shoulder. "From past experience, I imagine we're in for a long wait. We might as well sit down."

Fifteen minutes later, Janine and Emma appeared at the waiting room entrance. Containing her natural urge to rush into Egon's arms for mutual support and comfort, the secretary tried to appear calm as she greeted the three men. In Emma's face, however, there was no pretense of composure. Her eyes were red and swollen and wide with fear. She looked to be on the verge of panic. While Egon's mind frantically sought out the right words with which to comfort his friend's daughter, Ray instinctively found them as he stepped forward and sank to one knee in front of the child and held out his arms to her.

"Come here, sweetie," he said softly. Emma fell into his embrace, her arms squeezing tight around his neck. "I know you're scared," Ray told her, his voice incredibly steady. "So are we," he admitted. "But you aren't alone. We're all here together, and we all love you, and we'll be here for you, and soon, so will Peter."

"Has there been any word?" Janine asked, unable to hold back the question any longer.

Egon shook his head, then he bent down next to Ray and stroked Emma's dark hair. "Raymond is correct," he smiled at her. "We are all your family now. And this family always takes care of each other."

Emma's eyes turned toward him and, suddenly Egon realized they were the exact same shade of green as Peter's. The look of fear and desperate need for comfort was also too familiar, and he felt his own eyes burning in response.

Tears running down her face, Emma broke free of Ray's embrace and threw her arms around the physicist's neck. As he wrapped his arms around the small, shaking figure, he could hear Janine sobbing softly. His eyes sought her out and he found her leaning against Winston as Zeddemore gently ran his hand up and down her back. Then, he looked at Ray, who still crouched just behind Emma. The younger man was also crying as he watched Egon and Emma, but there was a satisfaction in his face also that told Egon he had done the right thing.

Egon's hand absently stroked Emma's hair as she cried, and he whispered words of comfort and support. Finally, when she seemed to have calmed a bit, he took hold of her arms and gently held her away from his so that he could look at her directly.

"I know this isn't fair to you, Emma," he told her. "But you have to be strong. This isn't easy for any of us because we all love Peter so much, but we have to wait and let the doctors help him. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," she replied. "But I'm still so scared."

"I know you are, and you have every right to be." A memory struck him and he smiled at her. "Remember when we first met?" he asked. "Peter has warned you that I might be a little frightening, your mother had told you that if you were afraid of someone, you should march right up to them and look them in the eye and never let them know you were afraid. Do you remember?" She nodded. "And do you remember what I told you?"

She thought for a minute, then replied, "You said when you trust someone, you don't have to hide what you feel from them, because a true friend will understand."

"That's right, Emma," he smiled at her. "And I remember saying it was my hope that someday we could be friends. I'd like to think that day has arrived and that you know that you can always trust me and Ray and Winston and Janine as true friends. If you want to talk about your fears or just hold on to someone, we're all here and we'll all understand."

Emma wrapped her arms around his neck again and squeezed him tight. "I love you, Egon," she whispered.

The words brought a fresh spring of tears to the physicist's eyes that he couldn't hold back. As he leaned his cheek against Emma's he felt someone's hand gently cradling the back of his head. He turned slightly to see Janine's damp but smiling eyes locking with his own. He reached an arm around her and pulled her in his embrace with Emma. It wasn't long before he felt Ray and Winston place their hands on his shoulders.

"See how much love there is here, Emma?" Janine asked. "I told you you were lucky."

"We're all lucky," Winston added. "It's times like this that it's most important to remember that."

"Excuse me?"

Their attention was immediately drawn to the man in the white coat who stood in the doorway of the waiting room.

"I'm Dr. Chandler. I assume you are all waiting for news of Mr. Venkman?"

"Yes!" Ray said immediately as Egon and Janine got to their feet, the physicist's hand clinging to Emma's as they faced the physician.

"Well, I'm happy to report there's been some improvement and he's out of immediate danger."

"Thank God," Winston breathed as there was a collective sigh of relief among the group.

"We've managed to flush his lungs with oxygen and he's breathing more easily now."

"Doctor, did they figure out what the gas was he was exposed to?" Ray asked.

Chandler nodded. "The police located the director of Shibata Chemicals and he called us directly. From the lot number you gentlemen provided, he was able to identify it immediately and gave us a complete run down. Unfortunately, it's an experimental formula that was just beginning testing. He was reluctant to discuss its potential uses, but other than that, Dr. Sharp was very cooperative." He glanced down at Emma, then looked back at the adults in the room with hesitation.

"It's all right, doctor," Egon told him. "You can speak freely here."

Chandler nodded. "As I said, he's breathing easier now, and although there is considerable inflammation of the throat, the lungs and bronchial wall linings, we don't foresee any permanent damage. Basically, right now, Mr. Venkman is suffering from bronchitis due to chemical irritation. Our main concerns in this area are the possible complications of this condition. You see, the obstruction of his airway is caused mainly by greatly increased mucous secretion because of the irritation and thickened bronchial wall linings. I have noted in his medical history that he has been susceptible in the past to respiratory infections."

"He's had pneumonia three times in the past ten years," Egon replied.

The doctor nodded. "A patient with bronchitis is especially vulnerable to infection because the overabundant secretions are fertile soil for bacterial growth. He is running a bit of a fever right now so we will be monitoring him very closely for the next few days. Providing we can stave off the infections, he should recover from the bronchitis in one to two weeks. However, due to the severe irritation caused by the high concentration of the gas, breathing will be very painful for him for several days."

"What about his eyes?" Ray asked.

"Temporary impairment of vision seems to be one of the side effect of the gas, according to the Shibata people. I don't foresee any problems in that area."

Egon frowned. "Doctor, you said that area. What other areas are causing you concern?"

Once again, Chandler hesitated before he proceeded. "Due to the high concentration of the gas and the period of his exposure, some of the toxins have made their way into his bloodstream. We can't be sure of what his body's reactions will be since this is an untested chemical, but Dr. Sharp has warned us of possible effects on major organs. We are concerned that he has not regained consciousness, but that is not necessarily a sign of damage. We are currently running tests to make certain heart, liver and kidney functions have not been impaired. We should have the results of those tests by morning. In the meantime, we're keeping him in intensive care where he can be closely monitored."

Egon swallowed and took a deep breath, squeezing Emma's hand encouragingly. "Can we see him?" he asked.

The doctor shook his head. "I'm afraid not. Only family is allowed in intensive care."

"We are his family," Ray objected.

"I can appreciate that, but..."

"He's my father," Emma interrupted the doctor. "Please, let me see him."

Chandler looked to Egon, but found no help there, so he looked back at Emma. "I'm sorry, Miss Venkman, but children are not allowed either and..."

"I have to see him!" she cried. "You don't understand." She turned to Egon and pleaded. "Please, Egon, I have to see him!"

Egon placed a hand on her shoulder. "Dr. Chandler, I'm afraid Emma's right, you don't understand. Emma's mother was killed in an automobile accident just over two weeks ago and she is quite naturally terrified over the possibility of losing Peter too." The look of sympathy that came over the physician's face encouraged him to press on. "More than that, the recent tragedy has made his daughter the most important thing in Peter's life. Even if he is unconscious, having her there with him could help remind him of what he has to live for."

Chandler shook his head. "If it were up to me..." he began.

"Dr. Chandler," Winston stepped forward. "This child needs to see her father. Surely you can see that. If hospital rules are more important than compassion, then something is terribly wrong here."

"I am not indifferent to the situation," he replied. "What's best for my patient is my primary concern."

"What's best for Peter would be to know that the people who love him are there with him," Ray told him. "If you knew Peter, you'd understand that. His greatest fear is being alone. You won't find that in your medical history or in your test results, but we know it because we are his family. If you truly are concerned for what's best for Peter, then you have to allow one of us to take Emma in to see him, to sit with him a while and talk to him so he'll know we're there."

Chandler looked from Ray to Egon to Winston and Janine and finally to Emma. "I'll see what I can arrange," he finally conceded, "but I can't promise anything just yet."

"Anything you can do would be appreciated, doctor," Egon told him.

"All right. Wait here. This may take a little time." With that, he left.

Winston sighed. "I guess we put him in a bad spot."

"I think we provided an effective argument for our case," Egon countered.

"It's hard to ignore love when it's this determined," Janine said, moving in next to Egon and slipping her arm around his back.

"We need to concentrate on the positive here, guys," Winston reminded them. "Peter's out of immediate danger and there's every chance he's gonna be just fine."

Ray stepped up to Emma and took her hands in his. "Come on, Em, let's sit down over here while we wait for the doctor to come back." He caught Egon's eye as he and Winston led the little girl over to a sofa and sat down with her between them.

Janine leaned her head against Egon's chest as he closed his arms around her. "I'm very proud of you, Egon, and Peter would be too. You were wonderful with Emma."

"I had no idea what to say to her until I looked into her eyes," he admitted. "I've never been good with children."

"You've never had the opportunity," Janine told him. "But you're good with people. Better than most people would suspect if they didn't know you so well." She snuggled closer. "You know, some day you'll make a wonderful father yourself." Egon looked down at her in surprise and she laughed. "Don't worry, it wasn't a hint. There's no pressure here. I'm a patient woman."

"That you are," he replied, "although people who didn't know you well would never suspect it."

She slapped at his chest playfully. "Watch it, buster!"

Egon chuckled, but the smile faded quickly as his gaze drifted across the room to where Ray and Winston were deep in conversation with Emma. "He just has to be all right, Janine. I know Winston said we should be encouraged, but there are still so many things that could go wrong."

"Shhhhh." She put her fingers against his lips. "Have faith in Peter. He's not gonna let Emma down or you guys either."

"If he has a choice," Egon added, pulling her close to him once again as he sought comfort against the fears that still filled his mind.

***

When Chandler returned a half hour later, he told them he had arranged for one of them to accompany Emma in to see Peter for a short visit. He emphasized the word "short." Then he knelt in front of Emma and talked to her quietly.

"Now, I don't want you to be afraid when you go in there. There are a lot of machines that your dad is hooked up to so we can monitor his heart rate and his breathing. He's gonna look pretty pale and even if you talk to him, the chances are he won't respond. Now, that doesn't mean he won't hear you, just that his body isn't strong enough just yet for him to let you know." He looked up at Egon. "Will you be coming in with her?"

Egon looked back at his friends. Winston nodded without hesitation as did Janine. Ray's face was a picture of conflict and Egon knew their emotional young friend was struggling against his desire to be with Peter. With only a slight pause, however, he seemed to relax. "Yes, it should be you, Egon," he told him. "You'll be the best one for Peter. Just make sure he knows we all love him and want to be there too."

Egon felt humbled by Ray's confidence in him and he recognized the courage it took for the younger man to put aside his feelings for what he felt was best for their friend. "He already knows that, Raymond," Egon told him, "but in case he's a bit fuzzy, I'll make sure to remind him."

Chandler led them down the hall to the intensive care unit. There was one large circular room with a nurses station at the center equipped with an immense array of monitoring equipment. All around this hub were curtained rooms. Emma clutched tightly at Egon's hand as the doctor directed them toward one room in particular. The door was open and as soon as they reached it, they got their first look at Peter.

Egon was grateful to Chandler for his words of preparation. Peter was indeed surrounded by machines with wires and tubes all leading to the unconscious patient. Egon recognized the heart monitor and was reassured by the steady beat indicated on the green readout screen. A glance showed him that his pulse rate and blood pressure were both being monitored by wires attached to his finger and a cuff around his upper arm. A tube passed across the psychologist's face feeding oxygen to his nose.

At the center of all this activity was Peter himself. The doctor had been right when he said Peter was pale. Something Egon often forgot until one of them was injured was just how fragile a sick and unconscious person could look. He had to assure himself and something told him that if he needed assurance, then Emma needed it even more.

He leaned closer to the child and whispered. "People can look so small and helpless when they're unconscious, Emma, but don't be frightened. I've seen Peter look this way before and he recovered completely then."

"Was he this way after that woman hurt him?" she asked.

Egon flinched at the memories her words recalled. "Yes," he admitted. Closing his free hand over the one that grasped his, he gave her a moment to get used to the idea before stepping closer to the side of the bed away from the pulse and blood pressure equipment. Chandler pulled a chair up for them and Egon sat in it pulling Emma up to sit on his lap.

"Can-can I touch him?" she asked the doctor.

"Yes," he replied. "Just be careful of the wires and tubes."

She nodded and reached out for Peter's free hand. As soon as she touched it, Egon felt her tense.

"It's so cold!" she exclaimed.

"Trust me, Emma," he said in as calm a voice as he could muster, "you're always cold when you're in a hospital." Having said the words, he looked to Chandler for confirmation and the doctor offered a reassuring nod.

"I'll leave you alone with him," he told them. "If there's any problem, we'll be monitoring and we'll know about it, probably before you do."

As soon as he'd left, Emma turned to Egon.

"What kind of a problem?" she asked.

He took a deep breath before he replied. "They have to make sure his breathing and heart rate stay steady," he replied. "See that monitor there?" He pointed and she nodded. "That's Peter's pulse. Looks pretty strong and steady to me."

She watched the monitor for a few seconds then seemed to relax a little.

"Do you think he knows we're here?" she asked.

"I think he knows," he replied. "Why don't you talk to him, honey?"

She swallowed hard as she turned back to look at him. "P-Peter?" When there was no response, she looked back at Egon who nodded for her to keep trying. "Peter, it's me, Emma. Egon's here too." She reached back and caught the physicist's hand bringing it forward until it touched Peter's arm. Egon leaned forward a bit placing his own hand over the smaller one that lay in Peter's outstretched palm.

"We're both right here, Peter," Egon said. "Ray and Winston and Janine are down the hall in the waiting room. They'd be here to, but the doctor wouldn't permit it."

"He didn't want us to come in," Emma added, "but we told him we had to. I had to." The last words were whispered so softly Egon almost didn't hear them. He felt her begin to tremble as she spoke again. "I'm so sorry. I said awful things to you and I didn't mean it. Don't be mad at me. Please don't go away like Mommy did, please!" The tremulous tears broke into sobs as she buried her face in the edge of the mattress.

"Peter knows you didn't mean it, Emma," Egon told her. "He's not mad at you. He understood you were disappointed and he was determined to make it up to you."

"I don't need to go to the stupid circus," she cried. "I just want Peter back! I want him to be my dad!"

"That's what Peter wants too." Egon tightened his hand over hers. "You're his daughter, Emma. That fact alone was enough for him to care about you. But Peter doesn't just care, he loves you, Emma."

"Are you sure?" she asked.

"Yes, I'm sure," Egon replied. "I know you got off to a rocky start, but this past week, I've never seen him so happy." Instinct told him she needed more proof. "Remember when the Marshalls came to visit?" he asked. "I came up to the family room after they left and Peter was crying."

"Crying? Why?"

"Because he was so happy. People cry when they're happy too, you know?" She nodded. "He was happy because when you were talking to the Marshalls, you called him your dad. It meant everything to him to know you had accepted him."

"Egon?"

"Yes?"

"I never told him I love him."

Egon smiled and leaned his cheek against her hair, bringing his lips next to her ear.

"Tell him now," he prompted.

She hesitated just a moment and Egon could feel her trying to steady herself before she spoke.

"I love you, Peter," she said. "I really do and I want you to wake up so I can tell you. Ray says you can hear us, but I need to be sure. I need you to be okay. Please, wake up." She was crying again as she continued. "I love you... D-Daddy."

Suddenly, Peter's finger moved under their hands. Egon felt it and he knew by the way she jumped that Emma had felt it too.

"Peter?" he called softly. "It's all right, Peter. We're here."

"He heard me!" Emma cried.

"I think so," Egon replied, feeling the tears he'd been struggling against roll down his cheeks.

"Daddy? Can you hear me?"

The fingers moved again, this time folding back over the hands lying in his.

Emma giggled. "You did hear me!" she cried. "I love you, Daddy," she repeated, not hesitating on the name this time. She looked back at Egon. "Will he wake up now?" she asked.

"Maybe not right now. Remember what Dr. Chandler said about his body being too tired, but he will wake up Emma. He will wake up."

"And when you wake up," she said, turning back to Peter, "we'll all go to the circus, won't we?" The fingers flexed ever so slightly.

"What's all the excitement in here?" asked Dr. Chandler as he stepped into the room.

"He heard me!" Emma cried. "He moved his fingers."

Chandler looked doubtfully at Egon who nodded his agreement. "He moved them three times, doctor," he reported, "in response, I'm certain."

Chandler smiled. "That's a very good sign. That means he's trying to wake up. But he needs more time. I think you should go now for a while. You can come back later."

"But..." Emma started to protest and Egon could certainly empathize with her desire to stay.

"He needs to rest, Emma. He's very tired. The doctor's right, we'll come back a little later. Right now, we have to go tell the others the good news."

Emma jumped out of Egon's lap and leaned over the bed, stretching until her feet came off the floor, and kissed Peter's cheek. "I love you, Dad," she said again. "We'll come back later."

Egon lifted her off the bed, then leaned over enough to reach out and brush his fingers across Peter's forehead. "We'll be here, Peter, just down the hall waiting. Don't take too long, we're an impatient group."

Glancing back at the hand Emma had once again captured, he saw the finger move once more.

"He heard you, Egon," Emma reported with a smile.

Egon smiled back at her. "You bet he did!" he replied, a feeling of calm beginning to descend on him to replace the fear that had knotted his stomach since the moment they'd found Peter lying in the closet. For the first time, he allowed himself the luxury of believing everything was going to be just fine.

***

"He's awake!" Dr. Chandler announced as he stepped into the waiting room several hours later. Winston jumped to his feet with a whoop of delight, then turned to find the rest of his companions arousing from various stages of sleep. Emma had been curled up on the couch, her head in Egon's lap, Janine had been sitting beside the physicist, her head cradled against his shoulder and Egon had dropped off with his head resting on top of her head. Ray had been slumped in a chair, leaning back against the wall behind him, but they all came awake at the sound of Zeddemore's cry.

"What is it?" Ray asked.

"He's awake!" Winston repeated.

"Can we see him?" Egon asked.

"Considering the fact that he sent me for you, I think that might be a good idea," Chandler smiled. "But only one at a time, except for Miss Venkman here. She gets to stay a little longer than the rest of you."

Emma was so excited she jumped up and hugged the doctor who almost tumbled over in surprise before he steadied himself. "Thank you!" she cried, then just as quickly she grabbed Egon by the hand. "Come on, Egon," she demanded as she pulled him toward the hallway. Egon looked back at his friends and shrugged.

"I won't stay long," he promised them. "I know he'll want to see you all."

"If you stay too long, I'll have to sit on Ray," Winston laughed, wrapping his arm around the shorter man's shoulders.

"Go on, before Emma pulls your arm off!" the occultist grinned.

Needing no further encouragement, Egon allowed Emma to pull him down the hall and into the ICU. She slowed as she approached the door, a little of her earlier apprehension reasserting itself. But when she looked in the door, she saw Peter turn his head in her direction.

"Come 'ere, Peaches," he said in a voice that was hoarse and weak, but wonderfully reassuring as he held out a shaky hand. Emma broke free of Egon's grip and ran across the room to take the hand. Egon was only a step behind her and lifted her onto the bed and Peter pulled her into a careful embrace.

"Not too much activity there," Chandler warned.

"Leave her alone," Peter told him. "She's not gonna hurt me."

As if to refute his words, Peter began to cough and his body stiffened against the pain it caused him.

"Peter?" Egon's voice was full of concern, but Peter shook his head as he squeezed his eyes closed for a moment, willing himself to relax again.

"I know it's an old joke, but it only hurts when I breathe... or cough." Threading his fingers in Emma's hair, he gently massaged the back of her neck as he kissed her on the forehead. "I'm okay, Peaches," he whispered. "Don't cry."

"D-Did you know we were here before?" she asked.

Peter's eyes lifted to meet Egon's questioningly. The physicist nodded.

"Of course I knew you were here," he replied. When Egon gave him a doubtful look, he continued, "I knew there was a really important reason why I had to wake up real soon."

"Did you hear what I said to you?" Emma asked.

"I know I did, sweetheart, but I'm a little fuzzy right now, so you might have to remind me."

She pulled away a little so she could see his face. "I wanted you to know I was sorry about how I acted this morning." Peter frowned trying to remember, then Egon mouthed the word "circus."

"About the circus?" Peter asked. "I know you were disappointed, but I knew we'd get over that."

"I said you didn't care about me, but I was wrong," she told him.

"Yes," he agreed, "you were wrong, because I love you very much."

"I love you, too, Dad," she replied. Peter caught his breath, and Egon watched as his friend struggled to hold his own emotions in check. "That's what I tried to tell you when we were here earlier."

"That's why I knew I had to wake up," Peter replied. "I knew I had to tell you I love you too."

"I was so scared," she cried as she snuggled against him again.

"You had us all scared," Egon admitted.

Peter looked at his friend more closely this time. "I'm sorry I put you through all this, Spengs," he said as he nodded toward Emma. "Thanks for taking care of her."

"We managed to do a pretty good job of taking care of each other," Egon replied. "Don't try to talk too much," he interrupted as Peter started to say something else. "I know it must be painful, and besides, we've never really needed words, have we?"

Peter smiled and shook his head, reaching out his free hand toward Spengler.

"It feels so good to hear you call me 'Peaches'," Emma told him. "Nobody but you calls me that. That's all I needed to hear."

"Funny how special a name can be," Peter whispered. "You called me 'Dad'." His face seemed to glow as he said the word.

"Is it all right if I call you that?" Emma asked.

"It's great!" Peter replied excitedly, which proved to be a mistake because it set off another coughing spasm. Finally getting it under control, he caught his breath, then released it slowly, his whole body trembling and his face growing even paler.

"Peter?" Egon's hand flew to the injured man's shoulder as he looked back at Chandler.

"I think Mr. Venkman needs more rest. Perhaps we should postpone the rest of the visits until later."

"No," Peter shook his head. "Just let the others come in for a couple of minutes. Then I promise I'll sleep for 24 hours."

"I don't think..."

"Doctor," Egon broke in. "Peter is in no shape to argue this point, so I think I should explain to you. Ray and Winston and Janine need to see for themselves that Peter is okay, and Peter needs to know that they aren't just sitting out there worrying about him. Give us all just a few minutes together and I assure you, it will be easier for Peter to rest."

Chandler looked from Spengler to his patient. Peter nodded, and the doctor rolled his eyes. "Just promise me the next time one of you is injured you chose another hospital, or at least wait until I'm off duty!" He turned and started for the door. "I'll get your friends."

"You know, he's a very good doctor," Egon deadpanned.

Peter chuckled and caught himself, his hand pressing against his chest as he squeezed his eyes closed.

"Dad?" Emma looked at him in concern.

"Take it easy, Peter," Egon advised.

After a moment, the pain seemed to ease and he let out another shaky breath.

"S'okay," he whispered to his daughter. "Don't worry."

"Stop trying to talk," Egon commanded.

"Peter!" Their attention was turned to the doorway as Ray, followed by Winston and Janine, stepped inside the room.

"Hey, pal!" Peter smiled at the occultist and reached out his hand to him. Ray was instantly at his side.

"We were so worried about you," Ray told him, his red and swollen eyes starting to fill once more.

"Ray, don't make him talk," Egon advised. "It's still somewhat painful for him, but he's going to be just fine."

Ray's eyes grew larger for a second, then he pulled the mask of control back over his face as he turned back to Peter.

"I know you're going to be just fine," he told him.

"The doctor said we could only stay a moment," Winston said as he stepped up on the other side of the bed. He reached out and grasped Peter's shoulder. "You get some rest and we'll be back when you're feeling more like your old self." He paused as he seemed to drink in the psychologist's face. "You gotta stop scarin' us like that, homeboy. I'm gettin' too old for these long hospital waits."

Peter started to say something, but immediately felt Emma's small hand on his mouth. He looked back at Winston and shrugged. A hand appeared on Winston's sleeve and as the Ghostbuster stepped back, the last member of the waiting group appeared.

"Peter?" Janine's voice sounded very small and as she looked at him, the fear was still haunting her eyes. Immediately, Peter reached out his hand and when she took it, he gave her a little pull. It was all that was necessary. Carefully, she moved into his embrace.

"I'm okay," he whispered close to her ear.

"You'd better be," she replied automatically, causing Peter to smile up at Egon. After a moment, the secretary pulled back, her face damp with tears.

"Don't cry," Peter mouthed.

"Don't talk," she responded, then leaned over and gave him a kiss on the forehead before standing up and walking around the bed to move into Egon's embrace.

"Peter?" Ray's voice reminded him that one hand was still in the possession of the occultist. "We're just so glad you're all right," he explained. "We all love you."

"I know," Peter replied a cocky smile on his face as he waited to see if the Star Wars fan in Ray made the connection. He did.

"Thank you, Han Solo!" Stantz replied, a grin breaking across his face. "Just don't expect us to come to your rescue if you get encased in carbonite!"

"You would," Peter replied, his eyes moving from face to face.

"Yeah," Ray replied with a shake of his head and a squeeze of Peter's hand. "We would."

"We'd better get out of here and let this boy get some sleep," Winston prompted, noticing how rapidly Peter was blinking and knowing an emotional scene wouldn't be the best thing for him right now. Egon had noticed it too.

"Yes, I think we all could use a little sleep, and I'm certainly not acting as a responsible guardian by allowing Emma to stay up so late past her bedtime.

Emma looked from Egon back to Peter, her reluctance to go evident on her face.

"He's right," Peter whispered. "Gotta sleep. Both of us."

"I'll come see you tomorrow," she promised and Peter nodded with a smile. Wrapping her arms around his neck once more, she clung to him for a few more seconds. "Love you, Dad," she whispered.

"Love you back, Peaches," he replied, giving her a kiss before nodding to Egon.

"Come on, Emma," the physicist coaxed. "It's time to go home."

Peter smiled as his eye lids drooped again, this time staying shut.

"He's asleep," Janine whispered. "He always looks so innocent when he sleeps." The three men and Emma all seemed to pause to enjoy the sight for a moment. Then, at a motion from Egon, they quietly withdrew. Lingering until the last, Ray gave one last look back at his friend and smiled at the peaceful face before following the others.

***

"A city spokesman reports that had the creature not been stopped by the Ghostbusters, it would have continued its destructive path into the Waterfront Mall where untold numbers of people would certainly have been injured and killed. The Ghostbusters' heroic battle with the bear-like ghost was witnessed live by Linda Torres and the Channel 2 news crew. As seen in this footage, the victory was marred by the injury of one of the team, Dr. Peter Venkman, but we are happy to report that sources at the Eastside Medical Center reported this afternoon that Dr. Venkman is out of danger and is said to be well on the road to complete recovery. Investigations into the chemical gas that caused Dr. Venkman's injury are proceeding..."

Her eyes glued to the screen, she seethed with hate. Out of danger, the reporter had said. Little did any of them know the danger had just begun. She was, in fact, glad he had survived his little incident. It would be such a waste for him to die so quickly when she had such torture planned for him. Her lips curled into a smile as she thought of what would happen. Everything was in place. Now was the time, while they were most vulnerable after the injury. Now, when they thought things were going to be just fine.

"Jillian?" She suddenly realized one of the ward nurses had moved between her and the television set. From the expression on the woman's face, she knew the woman had seen her reactions. "You can hear me, can't you?" the dark-haired woman asked.

Jillian Lester allowed herself for the first time in months to focus on a face that was looking at her. Her lips turned up once more into a predatory smile and her blue eyes sparkled with pure evil. "Yes," she replied to the dumbstruck woman. "I see you." But you're too late, she said to herself.

As she squeezed her eyes shut, her mind screamed out at those in the lounge around her. All those fragile minds that were so open to her and that she had disdained for so long as useless because of their insanity. Now was the time to put insanity to use. The scream cut into their minds and with it, flashes of images so terrifying as to frighten even the balanced mind.

In mere seconds, the television lounge erupted into pure anarchy. The inmates began to scream, to tear around the room, hitting and breaking anything in their path.

"Oh, God!" cried one of the nurses. "What's happening?"

Jillian smiled at her. "Madness," she informed her. "Splendid madness."

Before the woman could react, one of the patients hit her across the back with a chair from the gaming table. Jillian's maniacal laugh echoed through the room. She allowed herself a few moments to savor the chaos before she reached down and grabbed the unconscious woman under the arms and dragged her into the small alcove that led to the restrooms. It took no time at all to strip the white uniform off the woman and put it on herself, then, grabbing the woman's keys, she slipped back into the room.

By this time, reinforcements had been dispatched to deal with the panicking patients. They were trying to get in the door. Moving quickly and keeping close to the wall, she made her way to the door and unlocked it.

"Thank God, you're here!" she cried, shielding her face from them by pretending to be clutching an injury to her head. "They've all gone berserk.

"What happened?" asked one of the attendants.

"I don't know," she replied. "Quick, you've got to stop them. I'll go for more help."

Moving past the man, she slipped down the hallway. Her seeking mind kept her alert and able to avoid others as they rushed around frantically. All through the hospital, she could hear the screams, the hysterical laughter, the cries of terror as each sweep of her thoughts touched more and more other minds. The distraction was perfect. With almost no problems, she made her way to the main entrance. She was almost out.

"Wait a minute!" cried the main gate guard. "I don't know you. Where's your ID?"

She sighed. It figured. There had to be one person who would be able to keep his wits about him in all the mayhem she had created.

"I lost it," she replied, feigning panic. "There's something terrible going on. I just want to get out!"

"Nobody's going anywhere," he replied. "The police are on their way so just sit tight. If you're really a nurse, you'll be allowed to leave soon enough."

"Oh, I think it will be sooner than you think," she told him with a smile.

He looked at her in puzzlement, but before he could respond, something hard and heavy made contact with the back of his head and he collapsed against the console in front of him. Suddenly, the entire hospital was plunged into darkness.

"He must have hit the main power switches," she reasoned. "How delicious!" She cast one last look back at the darkened building and chuckled, then she turned back to the trenchcoated figure still holding the bloodstained baseball bat. "You have done well. Is everything in order?"

"Just as you instructed," came the reply. "The car is just past those bushes and the location you indicated has been prepared."

"And the child?"

"I have observed her schedule. It will not be difficult."

"Excellent," she replied. "Go ahead. I shall meet you at the car in a moment."

Immediately her minion turned and left her alone.

Once more she turned back toward the hospital. She closed her eyes and sent one last broadcast filled with images of invisible horrors hiding in the darkness. She was rewarded immediately by the shrieks and screams of hundreds of voices as the panic worsened. In the distance she could hear the sirens that signaled it was time for her to leave.

"Welcome to hell," she cried back at the building, then she turned and looked off into the night sky. "But this is nothing compared to what awaits you, my darling Peter."

Her own diabolic laughter almost lost amidst the screams of the insane, Jillian Lester disappeared into the night.

***

"Emma! Come on or we're gonna be late," Winston called, then walked back into the family room and sank down on the sofa with his second cup of coffee to watch the morning news. He had just taken a sip when Emma walked in.

"What's the rush?" she asked. "We're still early and you haven't finished your coffee."

Winston smiled and shook his head at her. "Okay, but I never know how long it's gonna take you to get ready. Is that something females are born with or do you learn it in some class we guys don't know about?"

"Janine says taking our time is a woman's purrocative."

"That's prerogative," he corrected, "and heaven help us if you're learning feminine wiles from Janine."

"What's feminine wiles?" she asked.

"Never mind," Winston replied, draining his coffee cup. "Okay, let's..."

"Hey!" Emma pointed at the television. "That's the hospital where my mom worked!"

Winston's attention turned to the screen and he grabbed the remote to turn up the volume.

"...unknown what caused the inmates to panic, but quiet seems to finally have returned. It was just after 11 o'clock last evening, authority tell us, when the disturbance started in the television lounge on the second floor in the women's area. Witnesses reported a scene of complete bedlam reigned over the hospital for the criminally insane, with patients screaming, rioting and causing harm to themselves and others. Several of the staff and patients were injured and there is one reported death, although the names of these have not been released. There are also unconfirmed reports that some of the inmates escaped in the confusion, but authorities refuse to comment. On the lighter side..."

Winston turned off the television. "Whoa!" he shook his head. "I wonder what caused that?"

"Mom used to say it was a very quiet place. Winston, she worked on the second floor in the women's unit."

"Really?" he asked.

"Yeah," she replied. "She never used to like to talk about it, though. She was looking for another job. They paid good money, but she said it was too depressing. She wanted to get back into real medicine where she could feel like she was really helping people."

"I can dig that," Winston replied.

"Gosh, I hope none of the really violent patients escaped. Mom used to say there were some there that really scared her."

"Well, we'll just have to count on the police to round them up before they can blend in with the normal citizens of New York. It might be hard to tell the difference."

Emma laughed.

"Let's go, kiddo," he prompted.

"Where's Ray and Egon?" she asked.

"They had a meeting with that Shibata Chemicals guy. I think he's afraid we're gonna try to sue him because of the gas Peter got exposed to."

"Will we?"

Winston shrugged. "I doubt it, but that's up to Pete. I don't know if you could call it negligence since the accident was really caused by a ghost!"

"Are you guys gonna go to see Dad today?" she asked, and Winston smiled. He still wasn't used to her calling Peter "Dad," but from the look on his friend's face when he heard her use the word, it was the best medicine he could possibly get.

"Yeah," he replied to her question. "Egon and Ray are gonna swing by there this morning, then we'll all go back tonight after you get home from school." He smiled. "We're not gonna leave you out, little one."

"I know," she replied. "You guys are the greatest."

"And so are you, but you're gonna be the late greatest if we don't get a move on!" Emma giggled as he shooed her out of the room. Pausing at the doorway, Winston looked back at the television, his mind turning back to the story of the strange occurrences at the mental hospital. Something about it bothered him, but he couldn't put it together. Whatever it was, it would have to wait until later. He headed down the stairs to catch up with Emma.

***

"So you think we shouldn't sue Shibata?" Peter asked, his voice still just a whisper.

"No," Egon replied. "The gas canisters were in a secure area. No one can blame them for what happened when a rampaging ghost tears through the place. Besides, we're somewhat in Dr. Sharp's debt. He was very prompt in responding to our inquiry about the nature of the gas when you were exposed. It was of great help to the doctors in treating you."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," the psychologist replied. "I'm just not crazy about the idea of chemical gas on general principles."

"So how are you feeling this morning, Peter?" Ray asked.

"Better," he replied. "Dr. Chandler was in here a little while ago. The last of the tests came back negative, so there isn't any damage to my organs. They wouldn't have moved me outta ICU if I hadn't been doing better."

"We spoke to Dr. Chandler," Egon told him. "He is optimistic, but he warned us that the chemical toxins are still in your bloodstream and you have to be careful for a while longer. He wants to keep you in the hospital for at least a week."

"A week!" Peter cried, and instantly regretted it as he grabbed for his throat and tried to stifle his urge to cough. Ray quickly jumped up, poured a glass of water and offered it to him. Peter accepted it gratefully and drank deeply, but he couldn't keep from grimacing when he swallowed.

"You're throat is still obviously very sore," Egon observed. "How about the pain in your chest when you breathe?"

"It's better," Peter replied, too quickly. Seeing the skepticism in Egon's expression, he added, "better than it was the first night."

"Peter, we know it's still painful for you to breathe. Dr. Chandler also warned us that any physical exertion should be avoided. It could prompt another coughing attack which could do damage to your lungs."

"What else did the good doctor tell you?" Peter asked, afraid he already knew the answer.

"That the presence of the toxin hasn't damaged any of your organs, but it has weakened them. He's worried that your heart might be weakened and if you put too much strain on it..."

"I could have a heart attack," Peter completed the unfinished sentence. "Yeah, he told me that too. Hey, guys, I'm too young for a heart attack and I'm in great shape."

"Which is why the prognosis is good," Egon told him, "so long as you give your body time to heal." Egon looked at him seriously. "You've already caused us quite a bit of concern. For our sakes, and your daughter's, if not for your own, please heed the doctor's warnings. This is important, Peter."

"I know," he replied. "And I'm not planning on entering a marathon in the next few weeks. And I also know I've already put you guys through hell." He looked away for a minute. "Not to mention scaring Emma to death." He turned back to his friends. "So I'll behave, Egon. I promise." Suddenly, a grin broke across his face. "Besides, I can do plenty from right here with my trusty telephone."

"What have you been up to?" asked Ray, frowning.

"I had a long talk with Emma yesterday," he told them.

"Yes, Peter, we know," Egon replied.

"But what you don't know is that we've decided to make it official."

"Official?" Ray asked.

"I talked to Mr. Parsons this afternoon and he's getting all the paperwork started and they've already taken the blood sample to be analyzed."

"Peter, what are you talking about?"

Venkman smiled. "Right now, I'm officially Emma's guardian, not her father. Once we get the results of the blood test to prove paternity and we file the affidavit Mary left, we can petition the court to have me recognized as her natural father."

"This is very important to you?" Egon asked.

"Sure it is, Spengs," he replied. He smiled to himself. "It seems Dr. Chandler called her 'Miss Venkman' while I was out of it and she asked me if that was her real name. So yesterday after you guys left, I called Mr. Parsons. He says since the name on the birth certificate says 'Marshall', that we'd have to go through this petition thing to change her name. Best thing of all is, it's what Emma wants. She really wants to be my daughter!"

Egon smiled. "That's obvious. She's grown to love you, Peter."

"That's good, because I've grown to love her," he replied, a look of contentment crossing his face. "Funny," he shrugged. "I was so terrified of becoming an instant father. It's still a little scary and I'm still afraid I'll make a lot of mistakes, but somehow, now that I really feel she's mine..."

"It isn't quite so daunting?" Egon asked.

"More than that," he replied. "I really think it's gonna be great!"

Ray clapped him on the arm. "We're so happy for you, Peter."

"Yeah, I know you are, Ray. You guys have been the best through this whole thing. And I know this is gonna mean a lot of changes for everyone."

"We're all willing to adjust our lifestyles a bit to accommodate Emma," Egon replied. "I think the rewards will far outweigh any minor inconveniences we encounter."

"She's got to you too, hasn't she, Spengs?" Peter asked, his eyes twinkling.

"Yes, Peter," Egon smiled. "As you pointed out, she not only has a new father, but three uncles and an aunt."

"She won't have to be alone again," Ray assured his friend.

"That's really good to know, Ray," Peter replied. "Thanks, guys."

Egon shrugged. "You're welcome," he replied, "but now I think we'd better let you get some more sleep. We want you to be well rested for your visit tonight. Emma will doubtless be excited over your news."

"Okay," Peter replied, and Egon suspected he was more tired than he had wanted to let on. "But don't you guys be late." Suddenly something seemed to occur to him. "Wait a minute! Who's taking Em to school this morning?"

"Winston," Ray replied, "and Janine will pick her up this afternoon. Don't worry, we can be responsible uncles."

Peter seemed to relax. "I'm not worried," he protested. "I'll see you guys tonight," he added, then promptly closed his eyes and was almost immediately asleep.

"Do you think he's really okay?" Ray asked as they paused at the door to look back at the sleeping man.

"I think he'll be just fine," Egon replied with satisfaction, then he directed his younger companion down the hallway.

***

//Hello, darling?//

Peter opened his eyes to find he was no longer in his hospital room, no longer lying on his bed. He stood on a small disk of rock, no more than three feet in diameter, high in the air. All around him, the rock dropped away sharply. Several feet below him, the needle of stone upon which he stood was surrounded by white, fluffy clouds that swirled around, but never blew away. Through the occasional thinning of those clouds he could see the rock sides of his perch continue down and down, so far down, that he could not even see the bottom.

He looked up and saw the sky, filled with thousands of twinkling stars that almost seemed close enough to reach out and touch. They stood out against a velvet cloth of black sky. Only an occasional wisp of white cloud obscured his view.

//Beautiful, isn't it?// the voice asked. //The stars are all visible here, not obscured by the bright lights of the city. Here, everything is clear, nothing can be hidden away. This is truth, Peter. The truth only found within the soul.//

Something about the voice was familiar, and the familiarity terrified him, although he couldn't remember why.

//Who are you?// he cried.

//Oh, my darling, you cut me to the depths of my being. I truly believed you could never forget me, your beloved. I, who offered you the world, who would have given you anything you asked for. We could have had everything, Peter. All the love and beauty you could imagine. In dreams, there are no boundaries, no walls to block the way. We could have gone anywhere, done anything.//

//Who are you!// he demanded.

//Why, Peter, darling, I'm the girl of your dreams... remember?//

A coldness like ice filled his entire body and he began to tremble. Before him, one floating cloud began to consolidate into an opaque mass, it's wispy qualities transforming, solidifying, until it was no longer a cloud, but silky cloth of purest white, floating on a breeze he could not feel. It began to take shape-human shape. A face began to form and as it did, the memories all came rushing back.

He felt as if all the breath had been forced from his lungs, his legs felt suddenly almost too weak to support his weight. He tried to turn away, but he found he couldn't move, as if his feet had melted into the rock upon which he stood. When he raised his eyes once more, the face was fully formed and recognizable.

//Jillian!// he cried.

//Yes, my love,// she replied, her voice soft and caressing. Her long dark hair floating on the wind around her face and the incredible blue of her eyes were just as he remembered. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.

And the most terrifying.

//You thought me gone forever, didn't you, my love? But how could I leave you? I owe you so much for all you gave me. All those dark nights alone with no sound, no conscious thought. Alone in darkness upon darkness. A darkness that lived and breathed and devoured my soul until there was nothing left. But the darkness.//

//You chose the path there when you set out to destroy me,// he told her.

//No,// she shook her head. //You spurned the love I offered you. You scorned me and rejected me. You treated me with cold, unfeeling disdain. And then, you imprisoned me in the pit of hell. This was a path of your making. You thought you were rid of me, didn't you, love? But you were wrong. I was stronger than you believed me to be. I found my way back. I fought and I struggled until I emerged into the light once more. And do you know what sustained me? Why, the thought of you, my darling. The image of your face when you saw me once more and realized I was once again alive and real as the nightmares I visited upon you. Only this time, Peter, dearest... this time, I will not be defeated.//

//You didn't think I could beat you last time, Jillian, but I did, with the help of my friends.//

//Your friends will be of no help to you this time. This is, as it has always been, between you and me. Except, perhaps, for one other. She is an important part of my revenge, my dearest, and she is the reason I will win. She is an innocent, but her destruction would not displease me if it brings you pain. That destruction is inevitable unless you come to me, alone and willingly.// She turned her head and touched her fingers to her ear. //Listen. Do you hear that? I think that's her now, calling out for you.//

Peter sensed a sound and strained to hear it over the pounding of his heart. It was another voice, weaker, frightened. An all too familiar voice.

//Dad! Help me! I'm scared! Where are you?//

//Emma!// Peter screamed. //NOOOOO!//

Jillian laughed as he screamed and struggled to break free. //She is mine, Peter. This is not a dream, this is reality. If you wish to save her, you will leave as soon as you awaken and come to me. If you do not, I will not only possess her life, but her soul as well. And you cannot hope to stop me this time, Peter. I have seen the bottom of the pit. It no longer has a hold over me. I only want to share it with you, my love.//

//Jillian!//

//Come to me, Peter. Come to me... now.//



Peter sat bolt upright in his bed, his chest heaving and his heart pounding. Gasping at the pain that burned his lungs and throat and struggling against the need to cough, he fell back against the pillows as the room spun around him. He was too weak to even lift his head.

But he knew he had to. He knew the nightmare he thought he had escaped over a year ago had returned seeking its full measure of vengeance. And he knew his daughter was in the hands of an insane woman whose sole purpose was his destruction.

His hand clutched at his chest as he felt his heart beat painfully. The doctor's warning against exertion flashed in his mind, but he pushed it away as he willed himself to calm down. The only way he was going to do Emma any good was to get hold of himself, to fight down the panic Jillian's reappearance in his dreams had engendered. Whatever happened to him, Emma came first.

He also realized he had no chance of freeing Emma on his own and there was no way he was going to trust that Jillian would let the child go once she had him. More likely, she would continue to use threats against the child to make him do as she commanded. He didn't have a lot of time. She was expecting him to walk out of the hospital immediately.

He reached for the phone, lifting the receiver and dialing the number to Central. As the phone started to ring, a chill ran down his spine. She would know. If he called and warned the guys, she would know. Even now, he could feel her in his mind. There was no thought he could hide from her when she sought it out. That had been his vulnerability to her before and it certainly had not changed. The only advantage he had gained was that now he could recognize that touch.

"Ghostbusters," Janine answered the phone.

Peter hesitated. If he said anything to alert his friends, would Jillian follow through with her threat to kill Emma? A voice in his mind, one that wasn't his own, said, "yes." But would she really throw away that advantage so quickly? Maybe not, but he couldn't take the chance.

"Hello?" Janine's voice called over the line.

"No," he breathed softly, but it was enough to launch another coughing fit. Quickly he replaced the receiver and reached for the glass of water that sat on the bedside table. Downing it, he gave himself another minute to marshal his strength.

"You'd better be ready to pick me up as soon as I walk out, Jillian," he said aloud. "I'm not sure how far I can get on my own."

Taking a deep breath, he climbed to his feet and slowly headed for the closet to retrieve his clothes.

***

"Hello?" Janine called into the phone, her irritation rising. One thing she really hated was people who didn't have the decency to respond when you answered the phone. Even if you dialed a wrong number, the least you could do is acknowledge the person who answered the phone and apologize for your mistake.

She was just about to hang up the receiver when she thought she heard something, a word she couldn't quite make out.

"What was that?" she asked, but the only response she got was the sound of someone coughing and then a click as the receiver was replaced. She sat there for a few seconds, still holding her own receiver as she tried to make some sense of what had just happened. Finally, she hung up the phone, but her brow was still creased with concentration.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang again.

"Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?" she asked in annoyance.

"Ah, could I speak to Dr. Venkman? This is Mrs. Mulroney at his daughter's school and this is rather urgent."

Janine's eyes grew large as she sat up at attention at the serious tone in the woman's voice. "What's wrong?" she demanded. "Has something happened to Emma?"

"I'm sorry, but I really need to speak to Dr. Venkman," the woman repeated.

"Dr. Venkman is in the hospital, Mrs. Mulroney," Janine told her, trying to stay calm. "We're taking care of Emma while he's ill. Please, tell me what's wrong."

"Well, we don't know that anything is really wrong. It's just that Emma failed to return to class after the lunch recess. I wanted to see if her father-or one of his friends-picked her up and neglected to tell us."

Janine felt her heart start to race. "No one picked her up," Janine replied. "She wouldn't have just left, not by herself. She knows better than that."

"Well, that was my opinion. She seems like a very conscientious child and..."

"Excuse me, just a minute," Janine interrupted and her hand flashed out and hit the alarm button. Almost immediately she heard the sound of footsteps racing down the stairs.

"Egon!" she cried as the three men came into view. "It's Emma's teacher! Emma's disappeared from school!"

"What!?" he cried as he reached the bottom of the stairs and rushed to Janine's desk. He grabbed the phone and spoke to the teacher himself while Janine filled in Winston and Ray on what she had learned.

"Thank you, Mrs. Mulroney," Egon said into the phone. "Please notify us if there is any sign of her returning to school. Yes, I assure you we will keep you informed." He hung up the phone.

"My God, Egon, what's going on?"

Instead of answering, he immediately picked up the phone again and dialed a number. "Room 415 please," he requested.

"Egon, you're going to tell Peter?" Ray questioned. "But he'll be frantic and he mustn't get excited. It could be dangerous."

Egon's frown deepened as the phone rang and rang with no answer. Somehow he had known he wouldn't have to deal with telling Peter about Emma's disappearance. A feeling had come over him that Peter also was in grave danger and he was desperate for the psychologist to pick up the phone. After ten rings, he hung up and dialed the hospital again, this time asking for the nurses station.

"This is Egon Spengler. I've been trying to reach Peter Venkman in Room 415 but there is no answer, could you tell me if... What?" The physicist visibly paled. "How long ago? Did he give any indication as to where he was going? I see. Yes, thank you."

Slowly he replaced the receiver.

"Egon, for God's sake, what is it?" Winston demanded.

"Peter left the hospital not more than five minutes ago."

"Left the hospital?" Ray asked in surprise. "But why? He's in no condition to be up, let alone leave the hospital!"

"The nurse said Dr. Chandler tried to stop him, but Peter was quite determined and seemed to be in a agitated state."

"Could the school have called him about Emma?" Ray asked.

Janine shook her head. "No, her teacher asked for Peter here. She didn't know he was in the hospital until I told her."

Ray was beside himself. "Egon, we have to do something. The least exertion could cause Peter to have another coughing spell and they leave him so weak."

"Oh, my God!" Janine cried, her hand flying to her mouth. "It was Peter!"

"What was Peter?" Egon asked.

"On the phone just a few minutes before the school called. I answered and I could tell there was someone there, but they wouldn't reply. Then just before he hung up, I heard a man cough. It was Peter, I'm sure of it!"

"Why wouldn't he talk to Janine?" Winston wondered aloud.

"I don't know, but something is very, very wrong here."

"What do we do?" Ray asked.

"Ray and I will head to the hospital," Egon replied. "Winston, you go to the school and see if you can learn anything more there. Janine..."

"I know, stay by the phone."

Egon put his hands on her shoulders. "We need you here to coordinate and in case either Peter or Emma try to contact us here."

"I understand, but I just hate having to sit and wait."

"I know," he said, his voice full of sympathy.

"It's okay, just go and find them," she replied. As she watched them leave, Janine stood in front of her desk, her arms wrapped around her against the sudden chill that had nothing to do with the temperature of the firehall.

***

Peter leaned heavily against the wall just outside the main entrance to the hospital and closed his eyes as he tried to catch his breath. This was definitely not going to be easy. It had taken every bit of strength he had just to get outside after bulling his way past his concerned nurses and doctor. He had the distinct feeling Dr. Chandler had probably reconsidered and was even now notifying hospital security to have him hauled back against his will. He needed to get away from the hospital as soon as possible, but he didn't know where to go.

Suddenly, a taxi pulled up in front of him, and the driver called out, "Dr. Venkman? You're to come with me."

Peter considered the man for a moment. "Who sent you?" he asked.

The driver smiled. "The girl of your dreams," he replied. "She's waiting for you."

Peter shivered at the words, but managed to push himself away from the wall and climb into the back seat of the cab.

"Just relax," the driver instructed. "The lady will take care of you when we get where we're going."

"And where's that?" Venkman asked.

The driver chuckled. "You'll see." He pulled away from the curb and merged the cab expertly into traffic.

"Damn!" cried the tall black man who had been approaching Venkman when he'd seen the cab driver pull up. He'd paused, thinking perhaps he'd learn more if he just watched and listened. Now it was possible it was too late. Even as he dodged cars and their irate drivers across the busy street, the cab was disappearing. How in hell was he supposed to keep from losing one particular yellow cab in heavy traffic in a city that was full of cabs just like it? Muttering another oath, he yanked the door of the dark sedan open and threw himself inside. Seconds later, amid more honking horns and the screech of brakes, he pulled the car into traffic.

***

Winston Zeddemore's eyes scanned the playground looking for one little girl in particular. He had already talked to Principal Hastings and Mrs. Mulroney and had learned nothing more than he already knew. He had started asking some of the children and one boy remembered seeing Emma with another little girl named Sheila, who was most likely at afternoon recess and was somewhere on the playgrounds. Armed with a description of the child in question, he started across the green yard to search.

"Mr. Zeddemore!"

He turned to find the boy he'd spoken to earlier, a gawky red-headed, freckled boy named Stevie, running toward him. The boy had been thrilled at the idea of helping one of the Ghostbusters, and as he approached, Winston could see the enthusiasm in his face.

"There she is, Mr. Zeddemore!" Stevie cried, pointing toward the bank of cloth-seat swings. Winston zeroed in on the little blond girl in the red corduroy slacks and stared toward her even before Stevie reached him.

"Sheila?" he called to the child. She stopped swinging and offered him a wary look. Immediately he held out his hands before him, hoping to prove he was no threat. "Don't be afraid. I'm Winston Zeddemore, one of the Ghostbusters. I'm a friend of Emma's father."

"It's okay, Sheila," Stevie cried, out of breath as he bounded to a halt. "He really is a Ghostbuster! Isn't it neat?"

Winston smiled at the boy and when he looked back at Sheila, she seemed to have relaxed just a little.

"Sheila, Stevie tells me you were with Emma during last recess. Do you know where she went?"

The child nodded. "Yeah, she went with the lady."

Winston frowned as he knelt down in front of Sheila. "What lady, sweetheart?"

"She said she was a friend of Emma's father's and that she was supposed to take her to the hospital to see him. Emma seemed scared of her at first, but then the lady told her her father wanted to see his Peaches. Then Emma said it was all right."

Winston's heart started pounding in his chest as he carefully reached his hands out and rested them on Sheila's shoulders.

"This is important, Sheila, can you remember what this lady looked like?"

Sheila nodded. "Yeah. She was sort of scary looking. I mean she was wearing this long cape that went all the way to the ground and it had a hood, so we couldn't see her face at first. She pushed it back when she was talking to Emma, though, so I saw her. She had really long dark brown hair and she was real pale and she had these strange eyes."

"Strange how?" the Ghostbuster asked.

"They were real clear blue and they seemed to almost sparkle. They made me feel kind of strange and I think Emma did too, but when the lady looked at Emma, she seemed to relax. That's when they left." Sheila frowned and shifted in his grasp. "Mister, stop, you're hurting me!"

Winston released his grasp immediately when he realized his hand had tightened on the child's shoulders painfully. "I'm sorry, Sheila," he apologized immediately, then stood up and started walking away. "Oh, thank you," he called absently over his shoulder, "both of you." The two children watched him walk away, one with apprehension, the other with admiration, but Winston saw neither.

His mind was spinning as it tried to sort out the information he had just received. It all connected, but he had to force himself to concentrate. His mind played back the scene at the firehouse that morning, the television broadcast, the psychiatric hospital where Emma's mother used to work, a hospital for the criminally insane. Some patients may have escaped. Criminally insane patients.

A long cape with a hood, Sheila had said. Dark hair and sparkling blue eyes.

Winston's blood seemed to freeze in his veins as his mind made the connection. A figure in a cloak, a hood covering her head, standing on the street across from Central laughing as Peter lay on the bed screaming in the throws of a dream from which he could not escape.

Criminally insane.

"Dear God!" he exclaimed, as he took off running toward the schoolhouse as fast as he could move. He had to get to a phone. He had to confirm his suspicion, but something inside him was already certain he was right. It all seemed to make sense in a terrifying way. The ordeal of last year wasn't over. She was back.

Jillian Lester was back, and she had Emma.

***

Peter knew the old abandoned warehouse where the cab driver dropped him off. The team had once busted a class six here. The resulting damage had been too much for the old building and it had been condemned, but it still stood, a monument to decay and ruin. Now, as he stepped through the wreckage of what remained of the door, he longed for the advantages he had had that day. Facing a murderous nether entity with his partners at his side and a proton accelerator on his back seemed like a romp on the beach compared to what he faced this time alone and unarmed and with the life of the daughter he had just learned to love hanging in the balance.

He had tried talking to the cab driver, to recruit him to go for help or at least reveal something about what was about to happen, but the man didn't seem to hear him. He seemed to be under the impression that Peter was off to see the woman he loved for a wonderful, romantic date and anything Peter said to the contrary, he simply laughed at like some absurd joke.

"He was under my control, love," a voice said to him and he spun around so quickly he almost lost his precarious balance. "He only heard what I wished him to hear. You see, I have learned much in the time we have been apart. There are some minds who I can influence without requiring sleep. They are weak and lonely and very willing to accept my instructions in return for the feeling of peace I can offer them." The voice echoed in the near empty warehouse, coming out of the darkness with the same coldness that had filled his nightmares the last time he had faced her.

"What you offer, Jillian, is still just as unreal," Peter replied. "One thing you've not learned is how to live life in the real world."

"Why should I?" she asked. "I have the power to transcend reality. I chose not to accept the limitations of mere mortals such as yourself."

"You're just as mortal as I am, Jillian," the psychologist replied. "Your father may have been from another dimension, but you're trapped here just like the rest of us."

"You thought I was trapped. You were wrong. Now, my beloved, you are the one in the trap and you chose to step into it of your own free will, alone, without your friends to help you. Here is reality. Do you enjoy the ugliness and the pain of this existence? This is what you have championed. How can you believe that this real world of yours is somehow better than what I could have offered you?"

"Life may not be perfect, but it's better than the alternative," he told her as he fought to keep his knees from buckling.

"There are many alternatives. Death is only one doorway. I do not simply seek your death, Peter. That would be too easy. No, I want to introduce you to the same world you introduced me to."

"Cut the high drama, Jillian. I didn't come here to talk about old times and you never did make it as a dream girl. I'm here because you threatened an innocent child. What more proof do you need that you know nothing about love?"

"I know everything about love," she contradicted, her voice seeming to circle around him. He kept turning trying to keep her in front of him. He could sense movement in the darkness beyond him and hear the soft fall of her feet against the concrete floor. "I knew you'd love the child before you even knew she existed and I knew that a threat to that love would bring you to me."

Peter frowned. "What do you mean before I knew she existed?"

"I knew the moment my mind touched Mary Marshall's thoughts. Memories of you, the love she had never completely forgotten. I felt it in her mind along with the loneliness and pain of her life that she was so willing to exchange for the memories and the desires I offered."

Peter's heart started beating painfully faster. Without even realizing it, his hand moved to his chest.

"Yes, I found her very easy to control. It took months, Peter, but little by little her will became mine until she would do anything for me, even the ultimate sacrifice."

"My God!" he breathed. "You caused her to take her own life!" Her only response was laughter. "Why?" he demanded.

"Because it would bring you together with your child, your delicious little girl whom you fondly call 'Peaches'. I knew you could never turn her away. It would be too much like your own father's neglect of you. You would take her in, but you would never be able to win her love. That would be a pain that would strike to the very core of your being."

"Emma's nightmares!" he realized. "You were causing her to have those feelings."

"No, my dear. The feelings were her own, I merely supported them, helped them to grow. But, alas, my influence over her was not strong. Despite what you might think, children are almost impossible to control. They do not have the weight of life's fears and disappointments their adult counterparts do. Their very innocence and willingness to trust are powerful barriers against my influence."

"You tried to use her fear and you failed."

"I knew her mind would not be the ultimate tool for my revenge from the very beginning, but I will admit I had hoped to make the estrangement between you last longer. In the end, I always knew you'd win her love and trust and that, my darling, was the instrument of your destruction."

"Where is she?"

"She is safe... for now. But she will only remain that way if you cooperate."

"What is it you want of me, Jillian?" he asked.

"Not much," she replied. "I merely wish to introduce you to someone I met when I was... away."

"You're insane," he told her. "And punishing me by harming a child isn't going to bring you the love you've always sought."

"Oh, but it will satisfy another appetite I have acquired since our last encounter. It is the other side of love; the bastard child of affection. Something you managed to teach me very well, Peter, darling. It is hate, and it can be just as satisfying as its opposite. You will be mine, my love."

"All right," he replied, raising his hands in a sign of surrender. "If you hate me that much, I'm here and I'm not exactly able to defend myself. You can have me. But there is no reason for you to harm Emma. Let her go."

"Oh, no," she replied. "That would be too easy for you. I want you to know I have her and think about all the terrible things I could be doing to her. In fact, I think I'll pay her a visit right now. You will wait here while I fetch her, won't you?"

Before he could answer, a creaking sound called his attention above him. There was a flash as something metallic dropped from the rafters above through the light that filtered between the boards of the dilapidated ceiling and walls. Peter instinctively dropped to the ground just before the ear-splitting noise of metal striking concrete sounded all around him. Dust disturbed from the floor rose as a cloud around him, and his already damaged throat and lungs reacted with violent coughing, which in turn renewed the pain in his chest and the weakness that threatened to pull him into the darkness of unconsciousness. He struggled against the pain and the weakness and managed with considerable effort to hold onto reality. Remaining awake was one of the only weapons he had against her and he wasn't ready to surrender it so early in the game.

When finally he had subdued the racking cough and was able to raise his head once more, he found himself inside four walls of metal bars and realized he had allowed Jillian to maneuver him to this spot beneath the cage that had fallen upon him. He quite literally had stepped into her trap.

"I realize you are hardly strong enough to escape me without such precautions," she told him, "but you'll forgive me for making quite certain you do not chose to leave while I fetch your offspring." The footsteps, instead of circling, now were moving closer until at last she moved into a patch of light that poured through a hole in the ceiling. It gave the illusion she was standing in a spotlight, and from the expression on her face, Jillian was enjoying the theatricality of the whole thing.

"Think about it, Peter," she whispered as she stood just beyond reach of the bars. "Meditate on what we've been through together and what is to come. Think about your friends whom you will never see again and about your little girl and all the terrors she has yet to be introduced to. Contemplate all these things, Peter, until I return and the time to ponder is over." The smile on her face turned into a grin that distorted her beautiful face into something profane and savage. Her eyes seemed to flash at him in malevolent delight just before she threw back her head and the laughter that had haunted his nightmares rang in his ears once more.

Peter covered his ears to block it out, but even after she was no longer standing before him, the laughter remained. It no longer reverberate in his ears, but echoed in his mind and he was beginning to realize that he no longer had to be asleep to be trapped in a nightmare.

(Continued in Part 5)