Chapter 18

It is a very mixed blessing to be brought back from the dead.

- Kurt Vonnegut

Peter screamed.

Frantic hands scrabbled at his shoulders. He shrugged them away, too caught up in the agony coursing through his body to open his eyes and see who (or what) was trying to manhandle him.

Distorted images flashed through his head. Janine's desk, cluttered with papers. A manicured hand - candy apple nails and bangle bracelets - moving to turn the pages of a fashion magazine. A flicker of movement, of shadow and shape, something as red as the nails on that feminine hand flying up through the top of the desk, and then PAIN. Pain such as he/she/they had never felt before, tearing through his/her/their body. Ripping through their soul...

Something slammed into him from the side, knocking Peter clear of the desk and its psychic taint. He hit the floor hard and rolled instinctively to come up on top of his attacker. Drawn to the surface by his exposure to the dark memory trapped in Janine's desk, the Crow was already out and in charge of Peter's body by the time he looked down, one arm pulled back to strike, to see who had tackled him.

At the last second, his thoughts cleared enough that he recognized the round, shocked face beneath him. Peter froze. Slowly, deliberately, he lowered his arm. For a long moment, neither man moved. When Peter had regained sufficient control, he sucked in a deep breath and said, "Shit, Ray. Don't do that to me. I nearly-"

"You didn't." Ray's smile was shaky, but reassuring. "I knew you wouldn't hurt me, not on purpose."

"Yeah, well, 'by accident' is gonna hurt just as much as 'on purpose', buddy." Peter let himself slump bonelessly to one side, and then lay there, the cold of the brick floor seeping through his shirt and somehow grounding him. Turning his head, he saw that Ray had managed to throw them both well clear of the danger zone. "Nice tackle, though."

"Thanks. Let's never do it again. Okay?"

"Sounds like a plan to me." Reluctantly, Peter shoved himself upright. "Come on. You and I have a lot to talk about before the guys get back..."

-o0o-

After Peter had explained about the psychometry, Ray sat back in his chair with a look of utter horror on his face. "So, when people touch you, you get psychic impression from them?"

"Actually, I haven't gotten any images, or whatever you want to call it, from you." And what a relief that was, knowing there was at least one person with whom he didn't have to be on constant guard against a casual touch. "It's not just people. Sometimes, I get impressions from inanimate objects, too."

"You mean, like Janine's desk?"

Peter nodded. "There are a couple of hot spots downstairs, not just the desk. I've been avoiding them as much as possible."

"What made you change your mind?"

"I wanted to know if that Skull Cowboy guy was telling the truth about what happened to Janine." His hard gaze met Ray's. "He was."

Ray sucked in a sharp breath. "At least now that we know what happened, we can help her. We have to find the wraith that attacked her and force it to return the piece of her soul that it stole from her."

"Any thoughts on how we go about that?"

"A few." Determination hardened Ray's friendly features. He pushed himself up from his chair. "I'll need to check the readings we took at the hospital..."

Seeing that Ray was in research mode, Peter trailed him into the lab. "Anything I can do to help?"

"You're volunteering to work in the lab?" Ray shot a fleeting grin at him. "Too bad Egon's not here. He'll never believe me when I tell him."

"I'll deny everything!"

-o0o-

When the others returned from the hospital, they found Ray and Peter still in the lab, poring over print-outs of PKE readings. After hearing that Janine's condition remained unchanged, Peter explained what he knew about the wraith and what it had done. He left out the inconsequential details - like the fact that using his psychometric parlor trick had hurt like hell. Unfortunately for him, Ray was only too willing to fill in the blanks in his narrative, which earned him twin glares from Egon and Winston, who were not amused by the omission.

"So, what do we do now?" Winston wondered when they were through.

"We've been going over the recordings of the PKE readings, and I've got a global search running for information on wraiths," Ray said. "But the next thing we need to do is give the firehouse a thorough cleansing."

"Now's not really the time for spring cleaning-" Egon began, only to be interrupted by Peter's drawled, "Especially since it's autumn." Egon shot him a look and continued, "-So I assume you have something else in mind, Ray."

"We need to spiritually cleanse the firehouse." Ray slanted a look at Peter, who raised a querulous eyebrow at him. "I think we can significantly reduce the number of psychic 'hot spots' that Peter would need to look out for, if we do this right."

"I'm game," Winston said, giving his hands a brisk clap. "Just tell me what needs doing."

Ray beamed. "I'll get the buckets of salt water and some incense."

-o0o-

The firehouse had never been cleaner. Not only had the three living Ghostbusters scrubbed down with a salt water solution every location that might present a psychic land mine for Peter, but they had also censed the entire building. On top of that, Peter's new nightly routine meant even mundane chores were not only done, but done in spades. With nothing else to occupy his time, he'd taken to housekeeping in the wee hours, though he did try to keep the noise down for the sake of his slumbering buddies. That meant that every dish shone, every stitch of clothing had been fluffed-and-folded and tucked neatly away, and every wooden surface had been polished to within an inch of its life.

When Peter found himself (bored and teetering on the precipice of the dark emotions which lurked just beneath the surface of his thoughts) giving serious consideration to reorganizing the contents of the filing cabinets, he forced himself to stop and slumped into the executive leather chair behind his now unnaturally uncluttered desk.

Thoughts of the filing cabinets reminded him of what he had stashed in one of the drawers in his office, and he pulled out the new clothing he had acquired on his night-time excursion to Frump's apartment. He stared at the black shirt and trousers for a long moment before relenting to the spirit within and changing out of his sweats and into what he had begun to think of as his 'commando gear'. After further deliberation, he retrieved the collapsed Asp and stuck it into a pocket in the charcoal-gray long-coat he'd thrown on over the rest – and then he stood there, not sure what he should do next. In this outfit, he felt a bit like a pulp vigilante. All he needed was a wide-brimmed hat to hide his face and he could pass for the Shadow.

Now that he thought of it, that wasn't a bad idea. If he was really going to do this, maybe a fedora was just the thing to help conceal his identity. Telling himself he was only testing the idea, he retrieved a black felt hat (relic from a long-ago costume party) tucked away in the back of his closet. He set the hat on his head and took a long look in the mirror on the back of the closet door. With the brim pulled low, the shadow it cast disguised his features well enough. Add in the darkness of night and the element of surprise... Yeah, it could work. At the very least, Edgar would approve of it as a fashion statement.

Still smirking over that thought, he made his way up to the roof. Cool air and the familiar smells of the neighborhood surrounded him. The sounds of traffic and distant voices and a barking dog drifted up to him. Things that had once comforted him now seemed to mock him, reminding him that he was no longer a part of that mundane world. It made him angry. A part of him wanted to repeat his scrap with the would-be muggers; just go out and find some deserving punks to beat the crap out of, release some of the pent-up fury sitting like a lead weight in his chest. Of course, the guys would kick his ass for being a risk-taking idiot if he allowed himself a repeat performance. He knew that, even counted on it, but the temptation still nagged at him.

Perched on a plastic crate someone had left at the edge of the roof, he stared out at the lights of the city and pondered his dilemma. He itched to be useful for something besides housekeeping, for something to take his mind off the guilt and sadness dragging at him, but he couldn't justify going looking for trouble just because he was bored out of his mind and feeling antsy.

As if in response to his thoughts, the atmosphere on the roof changed. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and tried to migrate toward his forehead to get away from whatever was behind him. Trying to act as if nothing had disturbed him, he stood up from the crate and casually turned to look behind him.

Standing next to the skylight, a young girl - in pink denim overalls and a floral shirt that looked as if it could've come from Ray's closet (if Ray were many sizes smaller and female) - waved at him. She had short red pigtails that clashed with her outfit, and twin dimples that appeared when she smiled at him. "Hi!"

Peter found himself automatically returning the smile before it morphed into a bemused frown. "Who are you?"

"Katelyn."

Uh-huh. "Okay, Katelyn, honey, you want to tell Dr. Venkman what you're doing on my roof in the middle of the night?"

"I came to see you, silly." The well, duh was heavily implied.

"Yes, I can see that." Peter sank slowly back onto his crate and motioned for her to come closer. "That was very nice of you, I'm sure. Any special reason you wanted to see me?"

She nodded, her expression turning solemn. Her bottom lip trembled and her voice dipped to a whisper. "I wanted to warn you about the bad men."

A chill slithered along his spine. "The bad men?"

"The ones who hurt us." Tears sparkled in the little girl's eyes, making them look even bigger and bluer than before. "They hurt Mommy and Daddy and me - and you, too. They're scary. I don't like them. "

"Yeah, me neither."

He studied her for a moment. She didn't look more than seven or eight, maybe younger. That someone could have murdered her in cold blood, and her family with her, sent a surge of black fury pulsing through his body. He felt the Crow stir and forced it back, uncertain how the little class four would react if the darker spirit got free. He had a hunch it would scare her away, and he needed every scrap of information he could get. He barked a mental "back off, it's a kid!" message to his alter ego and was astonished at the speed with which the Crow subsided. It lay, watchful but oddly docile, behind his eyes. Waiting.

In a voice that was as gentle as he could make it, he asked, "What can you tell me about the bad men, honey?"

Katelyn sniffled and rubbed her hand under her nose. "I know where they are."

Not expecting such a straightforward (and useful) answer, it took Peter a moment to react. He leaned closer. "Can you tell me where that is?"

The ghost-girl shook her head. "In the big building. I don't know what it's called." She held out her hand to him. "I can take you there."

A flutter of wings drew his attention to a nearby antenna, where a familiar bird had alighted. Edgar regarded him with what, for once, appeared to be approval and clacked its beak at him.

Hoping he wasn't going to regret his actions, Peter took the ghost's hand and felt only slight surprise when he found it solid enough to grasp despite her see-through appearance. "All right, honey. Show me."

When they departed from the roof, the crow went with them.

-o0o-

The ghost led Peter on a merry chase across the city, flickering in and out of view as she blipped from place to place, and waiting with visible impatience for him to catch up when he got too far behind. He would have had less trouble keeping up if he hadn't had to be on constant alert, ducking into dark alleys and trying his damnedest to avoid catching the eye of the people on the street. For what was probably the first time in his life, he cursed the fact that he lived in a bustling metropolis and not some podunk town that rolled up the sidewalks at ten o'clock. The crow did its part, letting him see through its eyes and warning him when anyone got too close.

Soon enough, the ghost stopped before a tall building that didn't look all that different from its neighbors. Peter tilted his head back and studied the towering façade before turning his gaze on his ectoplasmic guide. "This the place?"

She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself and scrunching up her face as if trying not to cry.

"Hey, it's okay, kid." Peter knelt down beside her. "I can take it from here. Why don't you go back to your mommy and daddy, now?"

The tears spilled over. "They're in there." She pointed at the building. "With the bad men."

"Huh. But aren't your parents...? I mean, I thought they were... like you." How did you ask a kid if her parents were not just dead, but ghosts to boot? Even if the kid was a ghost herself, it was still awkward, especially when the kid in question was openly sobbing now. "Shh. I'm sorry, honey. I had to ask."

"They are," she whispered. "They are like me. But they're trapped. The mean ghost hurt them."

So a 'mean ghost' was working with the bad men? Oh, this was sounding better and better. Peter spared a half-second to wonder if he should call the guys, but the idea of exposing his friends to the people behind this whole stinking plot made his skin crawl. He didn't want these jokers on the same planet as his pals, much less in the same room. Firming his resolve, he straightened.

"Okay, Katelyn. I want you to listen to me very carefully. It's not safe for you to be here right now, so I want you to go back to the firehouse where you found me. Okay? Stay outta sight, but if I'm not back by morning, tell the guys where I went. Can you do that for me?"

Looking uncertain, she gave a slow nod.

"Good girl. Go on, now."

She drifted a few feet away before turning pensive eyes on him again. "What're you gonna do?"

"I'm going to get your mommy and daddy outta there." He gave her a smile that he hoped didn't look half as dark as it felt. The Crow surged beneath the surface, more than ready to take over. He could feel his body changing, assuming the appearance of the vengeful spirit, even as he turned away so she wouldn't see his smile stretch into a black-lined, predatory grin. "And that's a promise from Dr. Venkman."