Peter Venkman sat straight up in bed, his eyes flying open to be seared by the sunlight pouring through the open window. The covers slumped off of his sweat-soaked body and he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, simultaneously trying to block the light and push away the images that had ravaged his mind only a few moments before. He pulled in breath after breath, unsure if he was trying to get his heart rate to slow down or simply get rid of the lingering scent in his nose. The smell was psychosomatic; he knew he was in Dana's apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and he knew that the room around him smelled like her, that soft, warm, sweet smell comprised of skin and lotion and makeup. But the thick, cloying stench of a ground soaked by rain and the greasy odor of the funnel cakes intruded on his nose, a smell created only by his mind and the powerful nightmare he had just torn himself from.
After a few moments, little fireworks of light began to explode against his eyelids from the pressure of his hands. He groaned softly and lowered his hands, the world swimming around him as he forced his eyes back open. His gaze landed on the single square of sunlight on the blanket heating up his legs, and he cringed away from it, moving to the edge of the bed and putting his feet on the cooler, man-made floor. He hunched over, pressing his elbows onto his knees and shoving his hands through his thinning hair, exhaling slower, letting the rest of his senses start to wake up and focus on the room around him.
The scents from his dream finally evaporated and the roar of his heart subsided into the low hum of the fan Dana always turned on for him when she left for work. It had been a bit of a joke between them: that Peter, who had spent his summers in the hot, humid climate of the Corn Belt, could barely function when temperatures in New York City soared above 80. Peter had commented that New York's high, close buildings, and heavy foot traffic contributed to a claustrophobic and therefore warmer atmosphere. Dana's solution was to buy him a fan and tell him to sit in Central Park for a little while every day. At first, Peter had scoffed at the idea, but he soon discovered he liked sitting in the Park. It gave him moments to think, clear his head, and dream up new scenarios and plots. For a man who had grown up feeding off of the energy of people, Peter Venkman enjoyed the moments of solitude.
Right now, however, he didn't want solitude. He wanted people. He wanted noise and static and bright lights and colors. He wanted anything that could remove the images of his dead parents from his mind. From the silence in the apartment, he figured Oscar was in daycare, which removed the 14-month old boy as a distraction. He was going to have to go someplace else.
As his body continued to wake up, his bladder informed him that it needed attention, and he could feel the coating of last night's dinner still on his teeth. His pajamas were stuck to him, clinging furiously to his skin, and the bedsheets were damp as well. I'll be doing laundry today.
Peter stood up slowly, his body moving into a stretch that almost knocked him back onto the bed, and the dull pain of cramped muscles rolled through him. Ugh! Not how I wanted to wake up this morning...or any morning! With a low grunt, he moved to the bathroom.
About an hour later, Peter trotted out into the morning bustle of New York City. It was nine-thirty and well past the first “official” rush hour of the day, but the second wave was already gearing up. The rumbling of vehicles and the whooshing sound of the wind filled his ears, overwriting the memory of the sounds from the nightmare. The air was cool but already wet: within a few hours it would be another scorching summer day. The gritty concrete crunched under Peter's feet as he started walking towards the subway, absently and almost automatically heading for his home-away-from-home: the Firehouse and Ghostbusters Headquarters. He could feel the pull towards the place, the promise of further forgetting his nightmare, and the hope of friends who might listen to him if he needed to talk. Well, at least one friend. Ray would be the best of his small circle to confide in. Energetic, optimistic, and as much of a dreamer as Peter himself, Ray would be able to empathize and care without getting too emotional about the whole thing. But he also would try to interpret the dream, analyze it, and that would force Peter into going into details he didn't want to go into.
No, he didn't want to talk to Ray.
Egon Spengler was another option, but Peter was almost dismissing the thought as it occurred to him. Practical and brilliant, Egon would also ask for details, go for analysis, and completely miss the fact that Peter actually needed someone to talk to about the emotional side of it as well.
No, Egon was out too.
That left Winston. Peter just wasn't as close with Winston as with the others. Winston was a smart guy, good head on his shoulders, honest, hardworking, and probably the most socially 'normal' of the Ghostbusters. Which also meant that the quirks of Egon, Peter, and Ray usually went right over his head. Winston had made a point of distancing himself from the group for a while when they'd all been sued after the Gozer incident, and only Ray was really comfortable around him. Peter was no stranger to flighty attitudes, but he didn't care much for someone who would turn away from them when things went bad. Winston had tried to do that twice.
No, no Winston either. And no Dana. She knew about his nightmares and he didn't like sharing them with her. He didn't like sharing anything negative with her, really. The fact that she had taken him back after Vigo tried to destroy the world had reshuffled Peter's priorities in life. He'd been miserable without her, and the moment he had walked back into her life he'd known he wasn't leaving it again unless she kicked him out. And so, he wasn't troubling her with his nightmares unless she was in the room when they happened.
Which means you've got no one.
That left work. That'll do.
The subway entrance was just ahead. Peter began to file towards it, seeing the people streaming in towards the stairs. He had to sidestep quickly as a woman with a buggy suddenly materialized in his field of vision. His shoulder met something and he staggered, instinctively reaching out to brace himself.
Peter looked over at a young woman with a pale and vaguely familiar face. Her large, dark eyes were wide with apology, and her teased brown hair floated around her head like a cloud. She tugged at the bottom of her dark blue suit jacket, seemingly trying to straighten an invisible wrinkle, and repeated: “Sorry,” in a smaller voice. Peter stared for a moment, trying to figure out why she looked so familiar, and realized belatedly that he should probably answer her.
“Naw, it's all right! Walking's an occupational hazard in New York, anyway. Even for the unemployed.”
Her smile turned from awkward to genuine and she shifted position, her high heels clicking on the pavement. “Right.” There was a little laugh in her voice.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded, her eyes returning to his face but focusing, he noticed, on his lips. Hello. “Yeah. I'm used to not being seen, so a few bumps are just another day in the city.”
Peter thought that was a rather dramatic answer, but at the same time it reinforced the strange sense that he knew this woman, had even talked to her before. The shy way she pushed her hair behind her ear, the odd but interesting focus on his lips, the purse with the fraying handle hanging off of her thin shoulder. He'd seen that purse before, sometime...on Dana's couch.
The name burst from his lips before his brain had even matched it to her face. As it came out, however, he knew he had it right. She laughed quietly, a light sound that he almost didn't hear over the roar of the cars. “I wondered if you remembered me, Peter.”
Peter nodded, the memories coming back quickly. “You're the space archivist at the Museum of Natural History.”
She nodded. “And you're a Ghostbuster.”
Peter puffed up a little. “Yes, I am!”
He didn't know Erica very well. Dana often spent time with her friends, but few of them actually came to her apartment. Erica, however, was relatively new to New York City, lived down the hall, and spent very little time bothering anyone. Peter occasionally heard her practicing music in the evenings, but he had never really talked to her directly and the few times he had come home when she was visiting Dana, she had left shortly after. Now, however, he found himself wondering if she might be another layer of distraction. She knew almost nothing about him, and could talk to him, keep him focused on anything but funnel cakes and carousels.
“Hey, are you getting into this rat race down here?” He gestured at the line of people funneling into the subway.
“Yeah. I've...got an errand on Bleecker Street before I head to work.”
Some errand. Bleecker Street was several blocks downtown in the opposite direction of the Museum of Natural History. Maybe she doesn't know how far it is? But the detour fit into the plan forming in Peter's head, so he went with it. “Wanna catch some breakfast on the way?”
Erica blinked and redness colored her pale skin. “Um...” She looked uncertain, her eyes darting around, and started to smile awkwardly again. “I really don't have time..."
“We'll eat on the way,” Peter repeated. “Come on, it'll be fun. You're still new to the city, right? What's more New York than walking to work while eating bagels and drinking coffee?”
It worked; Erica's smile shifted again. “Probably riding the subway, eating bagels, and drinking coffee.”
“We can do that too!” As far as Peter was concerned, his whole day was open. They had a few ghosts on the worksheet, but he had nothing to do at the TV studio, and Oscar was in daycare. It would have been a dark, quiet day, home alone. “C'moooonnnnn!” He stretched the word, making a silly growl out of it. Please?
The two detoured away from the subway, heading to a bakery just opening its doors. The fresh scent of newly baked bread and sweet glaze permeated the air, and Peter found his mouth watering. He was suddenly ravenous, and scurried for the door, cutting off a would-be customer. He pulled the door open quickly, nearly nailing the man he had just cut off. “Ladies first!” He gestured to Erica. To his delight, Erica was smiling widely, her eyes dancing. The man gave him a poisonous glare. Peter made an exaggerated bow after Erica went into the bakery, but the man shook his head and walked away. Peter entered the bakery, feeling just a little better.
The selection was almost overwhelming to someone not from New York. Peter didn't need to look twice. He still waited for Erica to order first, and blinked as he heard her ask for a hot chocolate and a bagel with lox and schmear. It was a classically tourist thing to order, especially given the oncoming heat of the day, and yet it was oddly charming. The real surprise, however, was when she turned around and held the hot chocolate out to him. “Here.”
Peter blinked. “Why do I want this?”
“Coffee is what you drink when you want to start your day,” Erica replied. “Hot chocolate is what you drink when you want to recover from the previous night.”
Peter stared. “What, like a hangover?”
“Or anything. Insomnia. A fight. A nightmare.”
Peter felt his eyebrows drawing together without his permission. He fought to keep his expression neutral. Damn it! How did she know? “Well, I don't need that,” he tried to laugh off the discomfort. “I slept great last night.” Did I make a sound? Did she hear me? No, the soundproofing in the building was almost supernatural...in fact, he was pretty sure Ray had said something about Dana's new apartment also having a history of supernatural activity, but nothing near the kind of action they had seen in 1984. So in short, no, Erica couldn't have heard him.
Erica looked at him closely, closely enough that he began to wonder about the intelligence of walking with her to work. Something about her gaze made him feel like she could see right into the nightmare, see all of playing out in slow motion. He didn't like it, and stepped around her, immediately ordering a coffee and onion bagel. When he looked back, he was surprised to find Erica gone, replaced by a gaggle of people, all of whom looked like they had no idea what a bagel was and wouldn't even be able to spell the word until they got coffee. He felt a cross between disappointment and relief. He was alone again...but he also wasn't with someone who seemed like they could read his mind.
He considered sitting in the shop and eating, but the adrenaline from his conversation with Erica nullified the idea. He had to keep moving. Holding the bagel with his teeth, he threw obscene amounts of sugar into the coffee, and stirred so viciously it splashed on the counter. He threw some napkins on the spill and shoved a few more into his pocket. With a sigh, he turned and walked out of the shop, ignoring the glare of the cashier and the giggles of the children who thought the huge bagel sticking out of his mouth was the funniest thing they'd ever seen.
Peter flattened himself against the wall outside, pulling himself back together, putting the lid back on the coffee, and taking a bite of the bagel in his mouth. It was fresh and onion-y, oddly satisfying, and he felt a little smile pull at his lips. Eating was definitely improving his mood.
He glanced around, starting to look for the next place to walk, and jerked violently in surprise, his hand squeezing the bagel dangerously tight. Erica was standing almost five feet away from him, a somewhat guilty and amused smile on her face. Peter toyed with the idea of turning and walking away from her, but after a moment he realized he couldn't do it. She was still Dana's friend and he didn't want to hurt Dana by treating her friend rudely. Plus, treating her rudely would prove that she'd been right about the nightmare. And he didn't want her to know that.
So he pasted a smile on his face and took a step towards her. “Aw honey, you waited for me.”
Her smile was uncertain. Good. “I'm sorry, Peter. I should have known better than to offer you something so personal.”
Peter blinked. “It's hot chocolate. What's so personal about that?”
“Whether or not you had a bad night is none of my business. I just...” Erica paused, turning very red, and stared at the ground. She spoke quickly. “I can tell sometimes when people are having rough days. Body language, you know. Or acting weird. But I don't know you. You could be acting completely normal. I just felt like maybe you needed something...nice. Hot chocolate is nice.”
Peter saw an opportunity. It was a long shot. “These feelings...they're something you get often?” If he could get her off of the subject, things would be more comfortable.
Erica shrugged. “It's not so much a feeling as it is intuition. I'm good at body language. For example, I say 'nightmare' and your eyes widen a little, or you look away. It's the same kind of tricks supposed psychics use. They take a look at you, you know, you're thirty or something, they assume you have a dead grandmother, and start asking you roundabout questions and read your body and your voice for their answers.”
Peter shrugged. That was nothing new. He was well aware of how fake psychics manipulated people. “Yeah, so? You're just dangling a dead family member over my head and seeing if I'll bite?”
Erica shook her head. “I didn't say that. I'm...not trying to trick you.” She took a step back, beginning to play with the strap of her purse. Her voice grew quiet and she began to stutter. “I'm...I'm sorry. You're getting the wrong idea and I don't...know how to explain it. I'll leave you alone. Have a good day, Peter.”
Before Peter could say anything, she turned and began to walk away quickly. He stood there for a moment, completely indecisive. Once again, he had a free shot to continue his day uninterrupted, and Erica was thinking she had offended him, which meant it wasn't likely he would get in trouble with Dana later for upsetting her.
But at the same time, he knew he could have handled the situation differently. The nightmare had put him on edge. It was deeply personal and not something he wanted to share with everyone and somehow she had, through intuition or whatever, at least figured out that he wasn't himself today. Dana held that ability over him. Even Ray did, to some extent. They could tell when Peter Venkman wasn't himself. But a complete stranger figuring it out bothered him. He shouldn't be so easy to read. It wasn't Erica's fault that she had caught him on an off day.
And, frankly, he didn't want to be responsible for making her upset.
He called her name and quickly began moving through the crowd. Some who saw him coming got out of the way quickly and he began to grin a little. He didn't need to be in uniform and have a proton pack on his back for people to get out of his way. That boosted his ego a little more, and he called a second time. “Erica!”
A woman stopped walking and Peter hurried to catch up to her. Erica turned to face him as he came up and he noticed, for the first time, that under the makeup she wore she had bags under her eyes. Her lips were full and light red, as though she'd just been chewing on them, and her jaw was tense. For a moment, just one, Peter thought my God, she's beautiful, and then he was talking again. “You're right.” The two of them stood there, rocks in a stream, the traffic of New York breaking and flowing around them. “You're right. I'm sorry. I had a nightmare last night. I'm not myself today.”
She smiled a little and shrugged. “You don't have to apologize. Or talk about it. Unless you want to.”
“Naw, no, no, I...I didn't need to treat you like that.” I'm not talking about it.
She shrugged. “If you had a bad night and you aren't yourself, then it's easy to forgive. Everyone has off days and bad nights make for really off days.” She popped the lid off of the hot chocolate and held it out. “Sure you don't want this?”
Peter cringed inside. You were drinking out of it. “I'm sure. Thanks. Really. I'll be fine with coffee.” He shook the cup and took a gulp. “Mmmmmm.” I put way too much sugar in this. “Now come on. We have to get you to Bleecker Street.”
The two descended into the subway and found two seats in the last car. The seats weren't together, so Peter took the one shoved into the corner, leaving Erica settled near the door. People filled up the space between them. It was far too crowded to talk, and both of them wound up eating their breakfasts, occasionally smiling at the other through the sea of legs and briefcases. Peter occasionally caught Erica laughing as she tried to look at him, and more than once he pulled a face when she was about to look away, nearly making her spit out her hot chocolate. The distraction was working; he had almost completely forgotten about the nightmare when Erica abruptly stood up and nodded to the door. Peter looked at the stop number and frowned. This wasn't the stop for Bleecker Street. But there went Erica out the door and Peter was on his feet, shoving his way out after her. He didn't catch up with her until she was on the street, striding purposefully down St. Mark's. “Hey! This isn't Bleecker Street." Where’s she going, really? This whole thing hasn't seemed right.
“I know,” Erica answered. “It was....too close in the subway there. Too many people.”
Peter scoffed. “It's New York.”
Erica frowned. “That doesn't mean I'm used to it. Why do you think I work in archives?” Her voice was suddenly thinner, tighter.
Peter tilted his head. “Not a people person, huh?” What's happening?
Erica stared at him for a few moments, something like frustration and guilt crossing her face, then kept walking. Intrigued, Peter nodded to himself and followed. “So you're walking the last few...dozen...blocks?” Even as he asked the question, however, his mind pieced together where they were. “You know, I've got a friend that owns a bookshop around here. You work in archival stuff, that means you're into books and history, right? Let's stop by and say hello.”
Erica didn't respond. She increased her walking speed. Peter narrowed his eyes and picked up his speed too, keeping up with her. He started to take in a breath, about to ask her why she was clamming up when she'd been nearly spitting hot chocolate out of her nose not five minutes before.
And suddenly she stopped walking.
Peter almost ran into her, planting his foot and spinning away at the last second. As his eyes refocused on the scene before him, he felt his lips slowly begin to pull into a huge smile.
Erica was rummaging in her purse, muttering something about looking for a shopping list. But her gaze was fixed across the street on the man opening the front door of Ray's Occult Books. As Peter watched, Ray unlocked the door and walked in, flipping a switch. The lights came on in the bookshop, and Ray moved out of sight towards the back. He gave no indication he'd seen either of them.
Peter, aware that by now his grin was way too big to hide, turned his gaze to Erica, who was staring silently at the door. She looked away when it was obvious Ray wasn't coming back – and she saw the look on Peter's face. Her eyes widened. “No.”
Peter's grin got even bigger. “Come on, I'll introduce you!” This day just got so much better.
Erica shook her head violently and closed her purse. “No!”
“Whaddaya mean, “no”? We're not in high school, come on! You're two consenting adults!”
“Leave me alone!” Her voice was higher, nervous. She immediately started walking back towards the subway, her strides long, and her speed picking up with each step.
Peter had no trouble keeping up with her. Ray hasn't had a date in...ever. He needs this! “You're exactly his type. You're both into books and he thinks you're pretty.” He put on his most convincing face. Erica blinked, the blush spreading into her face again. A little smile started to pull at her lips. I've got her! “Come on,” he pushed. “Let's go back. You can be five minutes late. I bet you've never been late for anything in your life. You're a pretty, shy girl, I bet the boss'll let you be five minutes late because you were getting a date.”
Erica slowed, then turned her head and fixed him with a Look. Peter felt his confidence waver.
“I've never met Doctor Stantz,” she said softly. “He's never seen me before. There's no way he could think I'm pretty. So stop putting me on.
She was right, as far as Peter knew, and he didn't want to lie to her. He could. He knew he could. His mind even knew what to say. But he wasn't going to alienate her just for his own amusement. So he backpedaled. “Fine. No. He doesn't know you. But you're his type, I'm tellin' you. I know he's single. I'm not even sure he's had a date since at least college. How about we just go in for a moment? I won't say anything, scout's honor.”
Erica turned and looked back at the bookshop. Her face colored again, and she shook her head. “Not today. Not now. Maybe later, okay? Maybe. I really need to get to work now.”
Peter was fine with that arrangement. “Want me to call you a taxi? You still need to get to Bleecker Street, right?"
Erica shook her head. “No, I...I do like walking. It's faster than anything in New York City. And no. I don't have time to go to Bleecker Street anymore. I'll do it later.”
“Did you ever actually have to go?” Peter asked, his voice teasing, his eyebrows wagging at her. He couldn't help it – it seemed a little too convenient that she was now out of time after having stood and watched Ray for a few moments.
Erica didn’t respond verbally. She just turned away from him and began to walk back towards the subway. Peter considered calling after her, pointing out that she hadn't answered his question, but he knew he was treading on thin ice at this point. There was only so far you could push someone, and he could tell he'd reached probably the end of this topic. He hurried to catch up with her, mulling over her somewhat whiplash moods.
The rest of the their time together passed in relative silence. Peter tried a few times to strike up a conversation with Erica, gathering information he could tell Ray. She'd moved from Eugene, Oregon, seven months ago, loved history, space, and blues music, lived alone, played the harmonica, and spent most of her free time at the New York Public Library. Finally, he tried to convince her to come on his show based on her intuitions. She seemed to be vaguely interested but Peter couldn't get a straight yes or no out of her. Peter eventually went back to eating his onion bagel and drinking his way-too-sweet coffee, deciding that while the distraction had been a success, he was left just as unsettled as he had been when he'd started.
She thanked him coolly for the company as he dropped her off outside the Museum of Natural History. Peter stared at her for a few moments, trying to figure out exactly where he'd went wrong and how to apologize for it. He settled for a blanket apology, and added that he was glad she'd forgiven him for being so off that day. He knew the words were a little loaded but was still surprised when her cool face warmed into a light smile. Bolstered by the response, he added, scout's honor, that he wouldn't tell Ray about her interest in him. She nodded acceptingly and turned away.
Peter Venkman, however, had never been a Boy Scout.