EPILOGUE – VERSION 2

(a.k.a. the gag reel ending)

AN: Okay, this isn't the ending that I originally had in mind for this saga. It was inspired by one of Kate McKinnon's ad-libs in the gag reel/deleted scenes. It's a more controversial ending. I'll explain at the end. Pick whichever ending you prefer, that's all I'm going to say. This ending will make more sense if you've read "Personal Demon", by the way. Disclaimer: I still don't own "Ghostbusters".

When the light faded, and the now-familiar head rush had passed, Holtzmann was back at her work table in the firehouse.

She opened her eyes warily, afraid to see dust and destruction, which would mean the Cintamani had failed to return her to her own universe. But, no, she was surrounded by her shelves of tools, gadgets, and half-complete experiments. The containment unit hummed, the radio cranked out cheerful Christmas music, and the gear hung pristine in the Ghostbusters individual storage cubbies. Kevin's lighted palm tree and his various decorations still glowed brightly.

Home. She was home. Holtzmann glanced around in shock.

She hadn't wished herself home when she'd had the Cintamani, afraid to leave until she was certain her family was safe from the S.D.A. She'd wished the medallion into the heart of the sun, as her father requested. How the hell was she back in her timeline?

Christmas miracle? Holtzmann tried to process it. She'd carried the Cintamani into the parallel universe, that much she knew. That was the stone that she'd destroyed.

Holtzmann looked down at her worktable.

The Cintamani stone medallion lay there as if nothing had happened.

What the hell?

Was this not her timeline? Holtzmann stood up, running to the staircase, shouting: "Mom?! Mom!"

Her cell phone beeped. Patty's number popped onto the display. Distracted, Holtzmann answered: "Yeah, what?"

Patty's voice was concerned. "Holtz? You two okay?"

What, was she psychic? "I'm-I'm at the firehouse." Yeah, Holtzmann thought, that probably sounded extremely weird to Patty.

"I know that. Holtz, I told you, you got to open a window when you glue. You don't need those fumes making you loopier…" Patty lectured.

"Patty…it's good to talk to you, but I gotta check on something…" Patty would get a bear hug that was sure to baffle her next time Holtzmann saw her, but for now Jillian had to make sure the Cintamani hadn't changed anything.

Holtzmann barreled up the stairs and swept Janine up in a hug. She felt her mom's smile and petite arms wrapped around her, returning the embrace. "You okay, sweetie?" Janine asked.

"I'm just so damn happy you're here," Holtzmann croaked around the sudden lump in her throat.

"Oh." Janine was indeed smiling when she pulled away. "I'm happy you'll let me be here. But, you're acting weird again. What happened? Not another ghost-?"

"No…" Holtzmann was still trying to sort the barrage of images from two different timelines that filled her memory now. As if her grasp on reality wasn't already tenuous on a good day. "I think I got sucked into an alternate timeline by that ghost medallion, so I'm having a George Bailey moment."

Janine didn't so much as blink. "How sad is it that this kind of thing could happen in our lives and we aren't even surprised?"

"You put something in my timeline that wasn't there before…did you think I wouldn't notice?" Holtzmann's own voice from the alternate universe echoed in her memory. Something new…something new…what the hell was it? It had been important, the change the other Janine had made, but what was it?

Janine didn't so much as blink. "How sad is it that this kind of thing could happen in our lives and we aren't even surprised?"

They were interrupted by a knock on the firehouse door before it squealed open and Ray Stantz poked his head in the door, calling a greeting.

"You can tell me the whole story after I say hello to your Uncle Ray." Janine patted Holtz's arm before heading down the staircase.

Holtzmann watched them. Ray hugged Janine hello, then glanced around until he spied the younger woman standing on the staircase. "Jillian! Merry Christmas! Your cab is here, non-stop to the airport." He crossed the room to embrace his goddaughter. "Good to see you, kid. Heard it's been a busy week. Little advice: You might want to check and make sure none of the big ghosts and demigods are planning something with that kind of surge in spectral activity—"

Janine swatted him lightly on the back of the head. "No talking shop on Christmas," she scolded them.

"I still want to hear the story," Ray sulked. "Jillian can tell me on the way to Winston's, right? Oh, and I want to hear about the test of the neutrino net-"

Janine threw up her hands. "I'll get my coat. We're going to miss the plane if we don't leave now. She still won't tell me what this 'surprise' is," she complained to Ray.

As she stomped up the stairs, Ray offered Holtzmann a wink. "Excuse me, kiddo. I'm going to go bribe my way out of the doghouse." He pulled a small, neatly wrapped box from his pocket and followed Janine up the stairs. "I'll see you outside."

She could easily think up a dozen explanations for why the medallion was back: Her disappearance from the timeline meant that the Ghostbusters never found the stone and it ended up in someone else's hands, someone who had inadvertently corrected the timeline. That was a possibility. Maybe it hadn't been her medallion in the parallel universe, maybe their Jagannath—the nice Jagannath-had found the stone just the same as the naughty Jagannath had found it in this universe. Two medallions, so the one in this universe hadn't been lost at all…

Blah blah, woof woof, it didn't matter why the stone was here. Holtzmann had promised her dad to get rid of it. She stared at the priceless artifact for one last moment. She wished only to remember everything that had happened, to remember her father most of all, because the memories had already started to fade.

Ray and Janine reappeared. His bribe obviously worked. Holtzmann noted both the new pearl earrings that Janine was now sporting and the smile she offered him as they laughed about whatever the hell Ray had just said. Holtzmann also noted Ray was holding Janine's hand.

She arched an eyebrow. She was going to have to have a talk with her godfather about his intentions towards her mother.

They waited for her at the door. "Jillian? You coming or what?" Ray called.

"Yep."

Holtzmann paused just long enough to touch two fingers to her lips and then pressed them to the photo of her father on the worktable. Then she reached for her leather jacket-

A new barrage of memories assailed her, bringing with them a surge of dread…Holtzmann squeezed her eyes shut against the onslaught, but they would not abate. She leaned heavily against the table, riding out the wave. She didn't hear Ray or Janine's cries of alarm or feel them catch hold of her arms before she could fall.

Her eyes snapped open.

There was something new in the timeline.

Something oh so critically new.

"Oh god…oh my god…oh my god…" she repeated, pulling from their grasp. "Got to go…we have to go…"

She fumbled for the keys to Ecto-1 while Ray and Janine exchanged concerned looks. "Jillian, what? What's wrong?"

Holtzmann staggered towards the firehouse's garage and slammed her fist against the remote control to open the massive doors. "We have to get to the airport. Shit!" Her hand shook so badly that she couldn't get the key into the car's lock.

Ray took the keys from her hand. "Yes, we know. I'll drive." He gave her a gentle shove towards the passenger seat.

Janine climbed into the back. "We have plenty of time, sweetie. Don't fret. You said the flight wasn't going to be there for an hour."

"If you say so." Holtzmann fretted all the same. She changed this timeline…I can't believe she changed the timeline. I can't believe she did this…

"We're on our way," Ray answered calmly, flipping on the siren. "JFK or La Guardia?"

She had to fish for the information in the jumble of new memories. "JFK."

He pulled out into traffic, too slow for Holtz. She put her foot over his and floored the gas pedal until he got the point that she meant move it. In the backseat, Janine braced herself and saved her questions until they got to the airport, reaching the gates in record time at the breakneck speed Jillian demanded of Ray. Holtzmann tried to explain the whole story to them along the way.

"I don't understand. How could other me change something. Why would she change something in this timeline?" Janine commented. "What would she possibly want to add?"

Holtzmann all but dove from the car and ran into the terminal. Ray and Janine could barely keep up.

Janine had a fleeting thought and asked: "Jillian…it's not…it's not Egon, is it?"

"No. No." Holtzmann was reading the list of incoming flights until she found the one she needed. "Dad made us promise we wouldn't do that."

Ray frowned. "Why?"

"Apocalyptic consequences," Holtzmann answered.

"Ah." No further explanation was needed as far as the elder Ghostbuster was concerned.

Holtzmann was turned back at the security checkpoint. She could get no closer to the gate no matter how much she pleaded with the guards. Ray and Janine gently pulled her to the waiting area before she got herself arrested.

Her daughter was self-consciously trying to smooth the wrinkles out of the dirty overalls she'd forgotten to change out of before the party. She fussed with the loose strands of her hair until Janine took pity and helped her sweep the unruly blonde curls into place.

"If it's not you or Egon, who else would the other Janine possibly want to add to this timeline? I still don't understand," Janine pressed. "Who-?"

Tiny voices broke into their conversation. "Mum! Mum!"

Holtzmann and Janine both went ashen-faced as they turned. Two tiny blonde figures—one small boy and girl-had spotted Holtzmann and charged down the concourse towards her as fast as their stubby legs would carry them. They plowed into her, squeezing her legs with squeals of joy. I.D. badges pinned to their coats identified them as "Ella and Adam Klein". They were twins, obviously, no more than three years old.

Holtzmann remembered the party the night that her team had finished the upgrades to the Hadron Collider in Switzerland. At least, she remembered the beginning of the party and a lot of drinking. She remembered weeks before that, bickering with Arthur Klein over each and every suggestion that she'd offered for the project. They had driven each other frigging nuts, to the point where they were either going to kill each other or sleep together. In the end, sex had won out. The next thing Holtzmann remembered was sneaking out of his bed in the morning, cursing to herself: "Mistakemistakemistake…" It had been a bad decision for many reasons.

Arthur hadn't lived for them to sort things out. He'd tinkered with the equipment at the collider-against Holtzmann's repeated advice-and there had been an accident. Klein had died after several years in a coma. Jillian had hidden the evidence of his wrong-doing to protect his son, Harry, from the consequences of his father's actions, to make sure that Artie's insurance and hospital bills were paid in full by his employers.

Holtzmann had ended up in a mental hospital in upstate New York, sorting through a bought with survivor guilt exacerbated by PTSD from her series of bad foster homes as a child.

That's when she'd found out she was pregnant.

Twins as it turned out. Ella and Adam had been born in the mental hospital, with Holtzmann hurling curses at the hapless staff in the birthing room.

Holtzmann kissed the tops of their blonde heads, returning the hugs but still looking rather terrified. "Hey, babies."

A prim-looking dark-haired woman came to join them, toting two small suitcases that were garishly adorned with an assortment of stickers. "Mirriam," Holtzmann managed to recall the name of Artie's sister. "They didn't break anything on the plane, right?"

The woman huffed. "My niece and nephew were perfect angels. Well, except, they made this for you." She reached into her handbag and produced a small model of Big Ben that was made of airline peanuts and fingernail glue. "That's my watch they dismantled for the clock face, incidentally. It was a Rolex."

"Oh. Sorry, I can't buy you another one," Holtzmann shrugged. She was sure she heard Ray chuckling discreetly behind her.

Ella beamed proudly at Holtzmann. "Do you like it, mum?"

Mum. That was going to take some getting used to…it was weird, in a nice way. Holtzmann smiled down at them. "I'm so stinking proud of you two."

Miriam had custody of the kids. That memory trickled back. It had been the best decision at the time. They Kleins had enough clout and money to hire legal sharks that they simply could have sued Holtzmann for the children. Jillian hadn't argued anyway. She was in a mental hospital at the time. She would be homeless when she was released. As Holtzmann had saved Harry's future and their family's reputation, they had offered to allow her to come stay in England, but Jillian couldn't picture it. She might have saved the Klein's family name, but her own reputation in the scientific community was trashed. Ella and Adam had too much to lose being the children of the insane woman who'd nearly opened a black hole in Switzerland.

Until Holtzmann could get herself sorted out, rebuild her reputation, manage on her own without having to beg Artie's family for financial means, she wouldn't do that to her children.

Holtzmann noticed the dark-haired young man standing at Mirriam's elbow. He was the spitting image of Artie. "Harry! How are you?"

Every bit as proper as his father, Harry had offered a hearty handshake in lieu of a hug. "I'm well, thank you. I wanted to come along because Auntie said the babies are staying with you for an extended holiday."

That was news to Holtzmann. "Eh?"

Mirriam jutted her chin and cocked her head to the side, indicating that she wanted a private word with Jillian. Holtzmann aimed the toddlers in her own mother's direction. "Ella, Adam…this is your Grandma Janine and Ray."

Ray made some quiet joke at the word 'grandma'. Janine elbowed him in the stomach.

The children beelined to give dumbfounded Janine an equally enthusiastic hug. Ray produced a tiny box of chocolates and started entertaining the children with impressions of zoo animals while Holtzmann and MIrriam stepped off to the side.

"How 'extended' is this holiday, not that I'm complaining?" Holtzmann asked the woman.

"Let's put it this way: I persuaded the magistrate that, as you were competent to save the world from spectral apocalypse, it can be argued that you're competent enough to reclaim custody of your own children."

Holtzmann wasn't entirely sure about that.

"It's not that I don't enjoy having the children…despite the many, many items around the flat that they've…shall we call it 'repurposed'. It's just, they're coming to the age where they're understanding that Auntie Mirriam is not Mum." Mirriam folded her arms across her chest, shuffling nervously. "Harry likes to have his siblings at hand, but he's going off to college. I work long hours at the brokerage house. I imagine Ella and Adam will be quite lonely shuffling about the house with the nannies to raise them. Artie always said he regretted relegating Harry to the boarding schools. I'll do that if you don't want them-"

"The hell you will," Holtzmann glared.

Mirriam nodded. "I'd hoped you'd say that." She pulled an envelope from her handbag. "Then, my Christmas gift to you: The custody papers. Please call me any time you want to bring the children for a visit. I'll be happy to pay the fares."

With that, she moved to make her farewells to the toddlers. Janine gave them their privacy, stepping over to her daughter's side. "There aren't any more changes in the timeline that I should know about, right?"

Holtzmann shook her head.

At least, she didn't have to break the news to the other Ghostbusters. She recalled in this timeline telling Abby about the children and their father's accident back when they worked together at the Higgins Institute. Patty had found out the day that Rowan had possessed Abby. As she hung from the second story window, nearly falling to her demise, Holtzmann had let it slip: "Tell my children I love them!"

"You have children?!'" Patty had screamed back.

Erin had come across the pictures when they'd moved their headquarters from the Chinese restaurant to the firehouse. Ella and Adam's picture now stood beside Egon and Janine's on Holtzmann's worktable.

Janine put an arm around her daughter's shoulders. "You ready for this?"

She wondered if she could bribe Janine into moving in with her to help for a while. "I need to babyproof my lab," was all Holtzmann could think to say.

"Good luck with that," Janine answered.

FIN (again)