Author's Note: Not intended as a repost, just *finally* breaking this into chapters, which I should have done ages ago. It was the first multi-chapter story I'd posted to this site and at the time - years and years ago - I just couldn't figure out how to post separate chapters. I agree with some reviewers that it was confusing and hard to follow as it was. Apologies that it took so long for me to fix this.
DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to their corporate parents. I'm just playing with them and I have no money worth going to court over, though the zine collection might be worth something.
SUMMARY: E-J. Are they or aren't they and why should Peter care either way?
"Damn it, Egon." Peter Venkman's wail carried up the spiral staircase into the lab where the object of his pursuit was ensconced. "You did it again, didn't you?"
Spengler didn't raise his eyes from the computer monitor. "If you expect a response, I must insist upon a more precise accusation, Peter."
Winston Zeddemore and Ray Stantz looked up warily from the disemboweled frame of a proton pack, its components scattered around them on one of the larger lab tables.
"She's playing that tape, you know the one." Peter waved his arms, a flurry of motion designed to pull Egon's attention away from his latest data collection. "The 'Egon broke my heart again so I'm going to play sad songs all day and drive that nice Dr. Venkman to drink' tape."
"Uh-oh, I know that one," Winston said, with a sidelong glance at Spengler. "What was she playing that drove you up here?"
"I Can't Make You Love Me," Peter said, with a grimace as he threw himself onto the battered couch. The couch was old and ugly, but it was comfortable and the best place from which to watch or harangue his favorite two scientists.
"Bonnie Raitt." Ray nodded. "That's a great album."
"Hardly the point, Ray. She plays this weepy crap all day and the one person who it's aimed at doesn't even hear it because he's hiding up in his lab. It's the rest of us who suffer."
Winston twirled a screwdriver in one hand as he regarded Spengler with undisguised curiosity and a trace of sympathy. "What did you do this time, man?"
"And don't give me that 'It's a personal matter' crap either," Peter railed. "We have to live with every high and low in your relationship with Janine. When she's happy with you, life is good, she's nice to people who call, she's even almost nice to me. When she's not so happy with you, life sucks. She bitches at me all the time, and snarls at the customers or mopes around like she's ready to burst into tears. It's like having Sybil manning the front lines."
Winston's protest and Ray's overlapped and blended.
"Come on, Pete, you know you're exaggerating…"
"…not true. Janine has feelings but she doesn't take them out on us."
Three pairs of amused eyes regarded Ray and he blushed, muttering, "Not all the time, anyway."
Egon turned away from the computer, rubbing his eyes. "Peter, Janine is a professional and no more or less temperamental than anyone else with an office on the first floor." He waved off Venkman's outraged protest. "In response to your question, Winston, I did not do anything. Janine and I simply conversed on a matter of a personal nature and I reiterated my position. Her disappointment is not entirely unexpected though I had hoped that the consistency of the situation would mitigate her expectations."
"Jeez, Egon, we're talking affairs of the heart, not one of your mold experiments." Venkman shifted positions on the couch and his eyes narrowed. "I think this has gone on long enough. Bottom line, do you love her?"
"Yes," Spengler responded promptly. "I also love my mother, many of my family members and my friends." He shot a steely glare in the direction of the couch. "Most of them."
Peter snorted. "Nice dodge on the love question, Spengs. Please tell me that isn't how you reiterated your position with Janine."
"I did not use that specific phrasing. You might credit me with a little more diplomacy that that." Egon sighed and then ran a hand through his hair in a way that lifted it gently without disheveling it in the least. "There is a significant difference between love and being in love. While you are 'in love' several times a year, Peter, I consider it a more serious matter." His glance slid around the room, winning conciliatory expressions from Winston and Ray.
Peter slid forward on the couch and watched Spengler with an almost unsettling intensity. "She is in love with you, big guy, the real thing. You do know that, don't you?"
"I am aware of that." Egon frowned and shifted uncomfortably on his lab stool. "I had hoped this was a passing interest, an infatuation that would resolve itself. I am quite aware it is far more serious than that."
"So why do you go out with her?" Winston looked genuinely puzzled. "If you're not really interested, it's like you're leading her on or something."
"Why do you go out with Sarah? Are you in love with her?" Egon's challenge drew a thoughtful shrug from Zeddemore. "Or you, Peter, why do you go out with Alison? It is Alison this week, is it not?"
"Yeah, and for the last three weeks but it's not the same and you know…"
"I enjoy Janine's company and she apparently enjoys mine. She initiates many of the outings, though occasionally I invite her to accompany me. I have been completely straightforward and honest in all of my dealings with Janine. From the outset, I have let her know as gently as possible that while I am fond of her, I am not interested in moving this relationship beyond the platonic."
"Ever?" Ray ventured with obvious hesitation.
"Not in the foreseeable future, Ray. Janine is aware of this but has indicated to me that she prefers to continue our outings rather than cease them."
"Of course she does, Spengs," Peter exploded. "She's hoping that she'll grow on you, that you'll gradually fall in love with her if she just hangs in there. And you gotta admit you're giving her awfully mixed signals."
"I admit no such thing. As a psychologist you well know that behaviors or conversation are often interpreted based on expectation, not actuality."
Venkman scowled, green eyes darkening under lowered brows. "Stick to physics, Spengler. That's so obviously a justification that any psych undergrad could tear it apart in a millisecond."
"I do not understand why Janine's affection for me imposes an expectation of a reciprocal affection of equal intensity, simply by its existence."
"That's a fair question," Winston said slowly. "You guys make a nice couple, you complement each other nicely and I just thought things would evolve in that direction, but it does kind of ignore what you want."
"But, Egon, you've kissed her and stuff," Ray said, his discomfort visibly red. "That's not exactly platonic, is it?"
"Did you sleep with her?" Peter demanded abruptly.
"That, Dr. Venkman, is so far beyond the boundaries of decorum that this conversation is now over." Spengler stood up stiffly and glanced at the door, desperately seeking asylum and simultaneously realizing that his normal sanctuary had been breached.
"I'd call that a big yes." Venkman rose from the couch with the lithe grace of a predator on the hunt. "No mixed signals, huh?" He moved between Egon and the door as if daring the other man to try to escape.
"You know, Pete, he's got a point," Winston said, peripherally aware of a startled and grateful gaze from Egon. "It's okay for you or me or Ray to go out, casually date, and maybe even have a physical relationship," he swept his eyes over the defiant Venkman and the embarrassed Stantz, "without anyone judging us. Tell me, Pete, you ever go out with someone who got a lot more serious than you were?"
"Yeah, sure, but I didn't string her along." Peter kept his eyes trained on Egon's face. "You don't casually date someone who's in love with you. You don't sleep with them, you don't get jealous when they date someone else, you don't send them a million goddamn signals that you really are interested and then back off and say you're not."
"And you, none of you, bear any responsibility for using her feelings to our advantage?"
"You saying that we're pimping you, Spengs?" Peter laughed.
"Three months ago when Janine was considering that job offer from the public relations firm in Midtown, who was it that suggested rather insistently that I take her to dinner at Daniel?"
"That was just an employee appreciation program."
Winston folded his arms, made a disgusted snort, and Ray shifted uncomfortably on his lab stool. Venkman's raised eyebrow for support garnered only two frowns.
Egon resettled his glasses with a sigh. "I have no wish to dissect this matter. It is distasteful to me and discourteous to Janine. If it must be discussed," he leveled a gaze at Peter who blocked the door, "let us address it at a macro level. I am faced with a conundrum, gentlemen. According to Peter, I should desist my social activities with Janine, something neither she nor I wish, something which will most likely hurt her and quite possibly have a deleterious effect on daily business activity."
"And the last time you two broke it off, things were so tense we kind of pressured you to take her out again, didn't we?" Ray said quietly.
"Why do you get jealous?" Peter hadn't given an inch. His crossed arms and stubborn glare announced this discussion was far from over.
"I am not jealous so much as irritated that every date is blatantly paraded in an obvious attempt to provoke jealousy. I find it tiresome."
"Truly a response worthy of Aristotle." Egon sighed deeply. "This matter is a private one between Janine and myself; we will be the ones to come to a decision. I do acknowledge its impact upon the business and am willing to discuss that aspect of it, but only that aspect of it."
"This is why getting involved at work sucks." Peter dropped his challenging glare and leaned against the doorjamb. "The way I see it, we have a couple alternatives. Number one, you dump her and she quits, which has its upside."
"I don't want her to quit," Ray said quickly.
"Number two, you dump her and she continues to work here but makes our lives miserable for a long, long time. Number three, you continue going out with her even though you're not in love with her and don't expect to ever be in love with her, and we go through cyclical periods, happy, miserable, happy, miserable, just like we are now. Number four…who's got a number four? Anyone? Come on, I haven't come up with a happy ending yet."
"Any way this goes, Janine's gonna end up getting hurt and I really don't like that," Winston said glumly.
"Number four, one of you falls in love with her and provides the desired happy ending."
Three heads swung in unison towards Spengler.
"Say what?" Winston sputtered.
"Egon!" Ray worked his jaw a few times before he could produce any more words. "Egon, this is Janine. I mean, we all love her but not like that."
"That was pretty slick, Dr. Spengler." Peter swung out of the doorway and patted his friend on the shoulder. "I think you made your point. Just remember none of us are doing the horizontal mambo with Ms. Melnitz. You can't have it both ways."
"Peter Venkman, the voice of dating etiquette. Who'd have thought?"
"Not funny, Zed. I'm trying to be serious here."
Egon gazed pensively into space. "And you've made your point, Dr. Venkman, but as I said, the matter is something Janine and I will decide."
"And we get to live with the fallout."