In the ring, a barrel-chested man in a spangled unitard tried to make a chihuahua jump through tiny flaming hoops. Egon and Ray were the only ones actually observing this travesty; Winston was leafing through Newsweek, and Peter preferred to watch the crowd, or when that palled, annoy Egon.
"I'm not having fun, Egon. And I'm hungry." Peter leaned a little to his left, giving Egon the 'poor pitiful me' look in full-color closeup. "You know not having fun is bad for me."
"Not as bad as another hotdog," Egon said, folding his arms primly across his chest.
Peter rolled his eyes. Egon's mom had visited them recently and shaken her head over the amount of junk food in their fridge, and as a result, Egon had gone on a health food kick which made all of their lives a misery. Ray was leaving out strategic Twinkies to snap him out of it, but so far Egon had fed them all to the ectoplasmic waste disposal unit, aka Slimer.
Oh, there was a thought. "Hey, I didn't eat the last hotdog, that was Slimer!"
Peter ignored the poorly muffled snort from his right, where Winston lounged against the bleachers, his legs propped up on his proton pack.
"Quite a feat, given that Slimer hasn't been near the big top for the last hour or so," Egon said, thoughtfully tapping the dormant PKE meter in his left hand. "Also, I do believe that is mustard on your breath. And, hmm, onions."
"Busted," Winston said. "You losing your touch, Pete?"
Peter sighed and moved back a bit, out of Egon's direct line of sight. And smell. "I hate the circus. If you can call this a circus."
"Aw, Peter, how can you say that!" Ray leaned over Egon to wave his hand in Peter's face. "Okay, so their dog act is kind of a snooze, but look at the next act - "The Flying Petrovski Brothers and Their Death-Defying Trapeze Triumphs". That's got to be good."
Peter tugged his baseball cap down over his eyes and slumped further into his seat. "Sure, Ray. Wake me when things start to happen, okay? And I don't mean one of the Petrovskis discovering that they forgot to buy a trapeze. Or a net."
It was that kind of circus: small, scruffy, one step away from a sideshow. Peter had seen several during his days working a carnival, though usually from a safe distance, since carnies and cirkies appreciated each other about as much as the Hatfields and the McCoys.
This wasn't the kind of job Peter particularly wanted the Ghostbusters to take on, but right now, they didn't have much choice. After the bust in Russia last week, they only had two backup proton packs left, which meant they couldn't deal with anything really big. Egon had used their original four proton packs to build a doomsday device, and Peter had heroically taken out the ancient Class Eight manifestation with it, very nearly blowing himself up as well. So far, they hadn't gotten paid one red ruble for it.
The call from The Great Gabaldini had come as a relief. Amazingly, the guy had ponied up the standard capture and containment fee in advance; either he was desperate, or he just wanted some publicity for his struggling circus by having the Ghostbusters visit the matinee. Peter didn't care too much if Gabaldini had pulled the whole 'ghost at the circus' story out of his top hat, now that the roll of cash was safely in his pocket.
Around him, the crowd drew in a breath and then went "Oooooh". Peter didn't bother to look; it was probably the trapeze guys doing their 'I'm going to drop him, no, really,' shtick. When Egon started spouting readings and valences, then he'd worry. Probably not even then.
"Whoa, is she really hanging by her hair?" Winston said.
Peter blinked, then looked up to the trapeze swinging high above the ring, where a woman dressed in what looked like two sequins and a handkerchief sailed through the air, arms wide. A dark, twisted rope stretched between the trapeze and the back of her head. Looked like Winston was right, in which case, ouch. What a way to make a living.
"You could've mentioned that the Petrovski Brothers had a sister," he drawled, leaning back a bit more to appreciate the view. "Hey, I think she's smiling at me."
"More likely a grimace of pain," Egon said, dry as toast. "Perhaps, if you were to borrow my glasses--"
"I don't need glasses!" Yep, definitely smiling at him as she swung to and fro. Peter ignored Egon's muttering about delusions increasing with age, and applauded as she took her bow.
The aerial act vanished down the long swaying ladders and out of the ring, and Peter slumped back into his seat again as the ringmaster announced Gogol the Clown, who rode in on a unicycle, chased by a whole bunch of other clowns hanging off a miniature fire truck with sirens wailing. As soon as a grateful populace made Peter king of the world, he decided, clowns would be first against the wall.
Gogol was climbing the extending ladder of the fire truck, his big shoes flopping about grotesquely, and the other clowns aimed their firehoses at him, shooting out long streamers of colored ribbon that danced and crackled in the spotlight.
"Is it me, or is there something very familiar about this?" Winston said thoughtfully.
Atop the wildly swinging ladder, Gogol gibbered, huge red mouth stretched in an 'O' of surprise and fear whenever the long streaming ribbons came close enough to touch him. The clowns below ran around madly, tripping over each other and hitting each other in the back of the head, all the while trying to keep their firehoses aimed on Gogol. The crowd loved it, and the laughter rolled down the bleachers in a wave.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Peter drawled. "I wouldn't wear those shoes if you paid me."
A lot of people were craning their necks to see the Ghostbusters' reaction; they weren't exactly inconspicuous, decked out in full busting gear. Clearly, Gabaldini was hoping to make the Ghostbusters a part of the act.
"I'm going back to my nap," Peter declared. "Move over, Winston." He stretched out on the bleachers, his boots nearly on Winston's lap, his head resting comfortably against Egon's thigh, and closed his eyes. If people were staring, then let 'em stare at the physical perfection that was Venkman.
"Hmm," said Egon's voice above his head, and at the same moment the PKE meter went off, its high tinny warble hardly audible over the noise of the crowd. "Ah, yes, I thought so."
Peter groaned under his breath, and resolutely pretended to be asleep. Maybe whatever it was would take the hint and go away.
"I take it our ghost showed up?" Winston asked.
"Its emanations are on an unusual frequency," Egon said, "but I would say we're dealing with a Class Three free-roaming specter."
Peter sighed and opened his eyes, looking up at Egon. "Just point the way, and we'll bag it and blow this popstand. Where to?"
Egon gave him a caustic look over the top of his glasses. "Where do you think?"
Peter blinked, then sat up and stared down into the ring, where Gogol still perched atop the ladder. The other clowns were now throwing buckets of confetti and water at him. Well, not so much at him as right through him. "Oh. Well, isn't that wonderful."
Sighing, he stood up, shouldering into his pack. Winston did the same, while Ray and Egon went for the ghost traps.
The crowd noticed. A cheer went up as they walked down the stairs, and as soon as they entered the ring, the orchestra started an enthusiastic, wildly uptempo version of "Send In The Clowns".
"Hey guys, how did it go? Did ya have fun at the circus?" Janine perched on top of her desk, snapping her gum at them with a cheery air.
Peter slithered out of Ecto-1, slammed the door and glared at her as she went into peals of laughter. "No, the circus had fun with us, and I'm going to take a shower and forget this ever happened."
"C'mon, it wasn't that bad," Ray said, smiling broadly as he dropped the smoking trap to the floor. "I think it's kind of special, the way ghosts always seem to like you best."
"Special, huh? You wouldn't even let me get into Ecto. You made Winston put a tarp over the backseat!"
"Perhaps we should put a tarp in the shower, as well," Egon said thoughtfully. "This amount of slime could clog the drains."
"Thanks so much for your concern, Egon," Peter said with as much sarcasm as he could manage, which was a lot. "Just for that, you get to do the laundry tonight."
He stripped off his sodden uniform and walked toward the stairs in boxers and undershirt, trying to maintain his dignity despite the squelching noises, the way his feet slipped with every step, and the globs of slime that slid down his spine to splatter on the floor.
Yet another fact for his mental list of Things To Avoid In Future Busts: ghost clowns threw slime pies, and buckets of slime, and just when you thought it was all over, there was slime spraying out of the goddamn flower on their goddamn jacket. And for some unholy, obscure and completely unfair reason, all of it had landed on the best-looking, bravest, and humblest of the Ghostbusters, while the rest of the guys had gotten away spotless.
Shaking his head at the injustice of it all, Peter turned up the shower to near-boiling point, and sighed with bliss as the hot water sluiced over him and the bathroom filled with steam. He arched his head back under the spray to rinse the slime from his hair, and the shower curtain suddenly billowed inward on a draft of cool air, clinging to his thighs unpleasantly and then wrapping itself around his neck.
"Ugh - damn it, Spengler, close the door!" he called, untangling himself from the clammy curtain. In general, Egon was the most polite of the four of them, but Peter had discovered long ago that he had no sense of privacy or prudery whatsoever, and would happily barge into the bathroom to talk to Peter about his latest theory, or pace around the bunk room in his underwear to debate the details of some deathtrap he and Ray were building in the lab.
Egon didn't answer, so Peter stuck his dripping head around the curtain. Huh. No Egon, and the door was still closed, as far as he could tell through the clouds of steam. Never mind; probably just Slimer making a nuisance of himself.
He stepped back under the hot water - ahh, that was so good - and soaped himself vigorously, trying to get rid of every last drop of slime. At least there hadn't been any press at the circus, to snap pictures of him in all his disgusting glory.
The Ghostbusters had enough trouble with their image already; a lot of the time, they got treated like exterminators, the guys you'd call for a messy, undignified job nobody else wanted to do. Even Egon had noticed it in Russia, where the resident scientists had treated him like a quack or a poseur, someone who pandered to other people's superstition. Idiots. The mere memory was enough to get him angry.
Soap was running into his eyes, and just as he reached blindly to adjust the spray, something cold and scratchy scraped over his back.
"Hey, quit it!" He whipped round, frantically wiping his eyes, but there was nothing in the shower with him but steam. "Okay, this is getting peculiar."
Then the spray turned ice cold. "Aaaagh!" He nearly wrenched a muscle in his back shutting it off, then stood there, dripping and shivering.
The bathroom door squeaked open. Peter threw back the curtain and grabbed a loofah with his free hand, ready to do battle with whoever was pulling this prank.
Egon stood there, the steam fogging up his glasses. He looked mildly startled. "Am I interrupting some form of aquatic ballet?"
Peter glared at him and dropped the loofah back into the tub. "Where's Slimer?"
"Assisting Ray with making repairs to the washing machine, I believe." He raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
Peter stomped out of the tub and threw open the wicker cabinet in the corner. It was empty. "Someone's playing tricks," he said over his shoulder. It sounded stupid, he had to admit.
"Of what kind?" Egon asked, frowning.
Peter shook his head. "Never mind, it was probably just a draft. Hey, how come we're always out of clean towels when I want one?" He paused and turned back to face Egon, shaking his head to get rid of some of the water. "Wait a minute, what repairs to the washing machine? It wasn't broken this morning."
A flush was rising on Egon's cheekbones. "Well. It may have been a mistake to put your uniform in with the rest of the load."
Peter blinked. He hadn't expected Egon to actually try and do the laundry; usually any such domestic suggestions, orders, hints, or threats sailed right past him. Probably a good thing, too, given the destruction that resulted. "So, summing up, we now have one dead washing machine and one giant pile of wet, slimy laundry."
Peter sighed. "How about we just rewind this day and start over?"
He padded past Egon and out to the bunkroom in all his naked glory, dripping water all over the place and not giving a damn, then started rummaging through the old magician's cabinet they kept their clothes in, shoving aside Ray's bulky sweaters, Winston's jeans, and Egon's pressed and starched Oxford shirts without finding anything of his own, except an old and ratty pair of sweatpants, some socks and a too-large t-shirt with the 'no ghost' logo.
Egon followed him and sat down on his bed, cleaning his foggy glasses with the tail end of his shirt. "You are about to remind me that we do not have room in the budget for a new washing machine."
"We don't have room in the budget for new detergent," Peter said, and began to dry himself off with the t-shirt. "But we'll have to hit the laundromat tonight, or I won't have anything to wear tomorrow, and I have a very important--"
"Date?" Egon said, looking up at him with a wry twist to his mouth that Peter couldn't quite decipher.
"Actually, an appointment at the Russian Consulate," Peter said loftily, stepping into a pair of boxer shorts with smiley faces on them - probably Ray's, but hey, they were clean. "They invited me to discuss our recent bust in Nepowhatsit--"
"Nepopotrovsk." How did Egon manage to produce that deep, rolling 'R'?
"--whatever. Probably want to give us a medal or something." He smiled wickedly. "In return, I'm going to present them with our bill for services rendered. After all, it's not every day we bust a gooper big enough to take out Moscow, and then there's the loss of our proton packs, psychological trauma, damage to the hyperdrive--"
Egon frowned, as Peter knew he would. "We don't have a hyperdrive."
"Yeah, but they don't know that. And trust me, it's very expensive to repair."
Egon's lips curved up. "I see. Well, that should take care of our cashflow problem."
Peter grinned back. "You bet. Just don't blame it on me if someone decides to stick the Cold War back into the oven."
The laundromat was two blocks away from the firehouse, a small, empty place with a black-and-white tile floor, two benches for customers to sit on, and a row of industrial-sized washing and drying machines.
Peter stuffed the last damp t-shirt into the bottomless maw of his machine and dropped a handful of quarters into the slot, then sat down on one of the benches and watched it roar into its first cycle.
It should be Egon doing this, of course, but then the laundromat might not survive the Spengler touch. Plus, this way Peter could demand Chinese food as compensation; he had left Winston with a selection of menus and strict instructions not to let Egon pick anything that had tofu in it.
"Hello. You are alone here, too?" someone said in a soft, accented voice.
Peter looked up, startled. A girl was staring at him from the other bench, dressed kind of like a hippie, in a long skirt that covered her feet and a white peasant blouse. She was gorgeous: blonde hair curling damply around her forehead, delicate hands, big sea-green eyes. His radar must be on the fritz tonight, he hadn't even seen her come in.
"I could always use some company," he said, smiled at her, and leaned back on the bench invitingly, putting his arms behind his head. The old Venkman magnetism was still working overtime, obviously. Here he was, dressed in faded sweatpants and one of Winston's polo shirts, and still the babes were falling all over him.
"It is pleasure to meet you," the girl was saying as she walked over to him, hips swaying hypnotically. "Perhaps you know how to work these machines?"
Peter was tempted to tell her her lines needed some work. "Sure. I have the magic touch," he told her. "Also quarters. You need some?"
She flinched back at the coins glinting in his palm, then smiled at him, just when he started to wonder if he'd insulted her somehow. "Yes, please. You show me?"
Peter let her lead him to the machine at the end of the row, which stood open, quiet. He put some quarters in, started to explain how the machines worked, then stopped when her wide, limpid gaze caught his.
It felt like he was dreaming. He could do anything he wanted, anything at all, but all he wanted to do was look at her forever. Her hair smelled like freshly mowed grass, and her skin was so very pale--
The door of the laundromat banged open, loud and sudden as a thunderclap, and he jumped.
"Peter!" Egon strode into the room, beeping PKE meter in hand.
"What, are you just following me around for fun, now?" His heart was beating like a triphammer. Something was wrong; this was not where this dream was supposed to go.
"I went over the bathroom, and there were some residuals--" Egon kept talking, but Peter lost the thread; he wasn't even sure Egon was speaking English anymore. The only thing he recognized was Egon's expression, that intensely focused look, like a foxhound scenting a trail.
"Peter," the girl repeated in her soft, soothing voice.
He turned back to her, smiled at her. "Hey, don't listen to that madman. I never do."
She reached out and took hold of his hand. "Peter, please come--" She tugged him back toward the open washing machine. That was weird, she didn't even have any laundry in there; just water. Cold water, and dark.
"He is not available," Egon said to the girl. His voice sounded harsh, deeper even than normal, and very slow, like a tape that was winding down.
"Actually, I'm very available," Peter said. "Ask anybody. And would it kill you to stop spoiling my evening, Spengler?"
"Yes," Egon said, right in his ear. It was like the dream had suddenly jumped forward a minute; Peter hadn't even seen him move.
"Egon, what the--" Now Egon was actually pushing him back, stepping between him and the girl, who was still holding on to his hand, her nails digging into his wrist.
Egon looked strangely pale under the fluorescent lighting, his jaw set. "I'm sorry, Peter." He dropped the clamoring PKE meter to the floor, leaned in close, wrapped his long hands around Peter's shoulders, and kissed him.
After a moment of pure shock, Peter kissed him back; he couldn't help himself. Egon's mouth was strong and warm against his, and so hungry, and holy hell, if he'd known that Egon could kiss like this--
Someone was shrieking in his ear. He blinked and broke away from Egon's grasp, his surroundings suddenly coming back into sharp focus.
It was the girl wailing; a high, unearthly noise. Her eyes had turned completely green now, without any visible pupils, and she was pulling at his arm as if she wanted to rip it from the socket. Damn near succeeding, too.
"Okay, this is seriously turning into the date from hell," Peter muttered, trying to yank his arm away from her, without success. "Ouch, would you stop it?"
"Let him go, now," Egon said. He dug in his pocket, bringing out - a lighter?
The lighter gave only a small, wavering flame, shielded by Egon's cupped hand, but the girl dropped Peter's arm to clutch at her hair protectively, shrieking like a car alarm.
Egon thrust the lighter forward as if he was aiming a proton thrower. She hissed at them both, showing two rows of needle-sharp teeth, then dove into the open washing machine and vanished without a splash.
Peter took a long, shaky breath. "Just so you know, I'm not doing laundry again. Ever."
Egon turned to him quickly, flicking the lighter shut and putting it back in his pocket. "Are you all right?"
Peter stared at the ragged gouges in his bare arm, some of them already beginning to bleed. "No, I'm not, and also, ow, and also, what the fuck?"
"I do not believe it would be wise to linger here," Egon said, as if that was any kind of explanation. He fished a white linen handkerchief out of his shirt pocket and folded it into a bandage, his gentle touch raising goosebumps along Peter's arm.
"Dr. Spengler," Peter said slowly, "You tell me - ow! - what's going on right now, or I will tell Slimer you have a doughnut stashed away in your underwear drawer."
Egon carefully tied off the bandage with a knot that looked a lot more complicated than strictly necessary, keeping his eyes on his work. "I would prefer to discuss my actions later, if we must discuss them at all. You are not safe here. Regrettably, the proton packs are still recharging, and should the rusalka return--"
"The rusalka, or Russian river spirit. Its typical modus operandi is to find a handsome young woodsman, enthrall him and then drown him. This one appears to have migrated and adapted to a more rewarding urban environment--"
Peter gave him an exasperated look. "You're been doing those "Increase Your Wordpower" quizzes in Reader's Digest again, haven't you." Had Egon just called him handsome?
On the other end of the room, Peter's washing machine beeped quietly and turned itself off.
Peter held his breath, and Egon picked up his PKE meter from the floor and extended it toward the machine, but this time the meter stayed silent.
Peter exhaled. "Okay, let's mosey back to the firehouse and see if Ray's left us any wontons. Oh, and Egon? You're carrying all the laundry."
Peter walked into the firehouse and stopped to stare up at the mound of soap bubbles slowly sliding down the fireman's pole. "What the - no. I don't want to know. I just don't."
Egon dropped the bag of laundry with a thump. "Ray?" he called up. "Do you and Winston require assistance?"
Ray's head appeared in the opening. He was red with exertion, and more soap bubbles were clinging to his hair. "This is really fascinating, Egon! I called my aunt Lois to see if she had any household remedies, just from her side of the family, you know, and she suggested making offerings of soap and birch rods to make the bannik feel at home. Only we didn't have any birch rods, so I just added a broom handle and some bubble bath, and I'm not sure, but I think he likes it--"
"I don't want to know," Peter repeated desperately, and grabbed Egon by the arm. "Kitchen, Egon, now."
The kitchen looked just as they had left it - small, cramped, and remarkably devoid of Chinese food.
"So if I open the fridge, is anything going to leap out and eat me?" Peter asked, just to be on the safe side. "No? Good, because that whole 'Zuul' thing got kind of old the first time."
He opened the fridge and leaned in, hoping for some cold pizza, or maybe some leftover chili or something. "Eugh, what are those, your breakfast mushrooms, or some kind of alien spore experiment? I'm taking them out, okay? Nobody should have to see this first thing in the morning."
Finding nothing that looked remotely edible, Peter dumped the horrible mushrooms in the sink and turned to see Egon sitting silently at the table, his back very straight. He looked like he was waiting for the firing squad to arrive.
Peter leaned against the fridge and crossed his arms. "So, tell me," he said, in his friendliest voice, and saw Egon wince. "What exactly is going on?"
Egon took a deep breath. "Well, after you left, I discovered some residual readings in the bathroom, and Ray and I established that a Russian bannik, a so-called bath spirit was in residence--"
"Skip that part," Peter advised him.
Egon stuttered for a moment, but went on gamely, "We surmised that the news of the spectral cataclysm we caused in Russia has made its way to the US, via the supernatural grapevine, you might say, since we know that some Russian spirits and supernatural entities have emigrated to New York after the collapse of the Soviet Union, such as the clown, Gogol--"
"Skip that part, too." Peter paused. "No, wait, does this mean we have a whole army of Russian spooks after us?"
Egon nodded and adjusted his suspenders with a thoughtful air. "Quite possibly, yes. Then again, perhaps not."
Peter rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Mr. Magic 8-ball, care to elaborate on that?"
"It is possible they are only after you. Since you were the one to actually destroy the original spectral manifestation--"
"Okay, stop right there." Peter glared at him. "Now you're just trying to distract me. And speaking of distractions--"
"You kissed me," Peter said. He'd meant it as an accusation, but it came out more like a question.
Egon looked up at him, and his jaw set. "Peter, you have been flirting with me for well over a decade. I admit that tonight, my primary aim was to free you from the rusalka's spell, but you cannot possibly accuse me of taking you unawares at this late date."
Peter uncrossed his arms and stared at him. "I have been - you're saying - what?"
Egon sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Of course, I have been under no illusions that your approach is in any way exclusive to me. Within the past few years I have seen you flirt with every female we've come into contact with, including phantasms, animated skeletons, and old Mrs. Faversham. And then there was your come-hither behavior towards Viggo the Carpathian, the prosecutor at our trial, the mayor--"
"My come-hither-- Egon, where are you getting this? Is your dial stuck on Radio Mars again?" Okay, so Peter could dimly remember having batted his eyes at the mayor once or twice, mostly to entertain and/or annoy Egon, but as for the rest of it, what the hell? He schmoozed people, that was his thing, he was good at it. And okay, he liked getting the eye from a pretty girl, but-- "Look, just because some people are attracted to my natural animal magnetism, that doesn't mean that I--"
"Of course not," Egon said, his voice thin. He shoved the chair back, its legs scraping over the kitchen floor, and stood up abruptly. "Let us say no more about it. I think I will go see if Ray and Winston need my advice."
"No, Egon, wait--"
Egon ignored him, was already shoving past him towards the door, his mouth set in a tight, bleak line.
"Egon, goddamnit, don't--" Peter flailed, managing to put his left hand in the sink, on top of the mushrooms. "Oh, holy crap, that is disgusting."
One of the mushrooms moved under his hand. "I could say the same thing," it said, in a high, squeaky voice. "Humans. Ick."
Peter threw himself away from the sink, staring in horror, and Egon caught his shoulders and swung him neatly around, putting himself between Peter and the kitchen counter. "Careful, Peter, I believe this is a leshii. They are known to be shapechangers--"
"I don't care about its reputation! Call me crazy, but I just have this prejudice against talking food. The only thing I want to know is, is it going to kill me in the next ten minutes?"
Egon paused mid-lecture, his hands still on Peter's shoulders. "I don't think so."
"Good," Peter said, and smiled up at him.
Egon caught his breath; the strong line of his jaw softened. "Peter, I--"
"I know," Peter said, and drew him down into a slow, warm kiss, and then another, and then he just didn't see any reason to stop.
Somewhere in the vicinity of the sink, the leshii giggled at them, but they both ignored it utterly, and after a while it said "Hmf!", jumped down onto the kitchen floor, and hopped away.