With thanks to Egon Starcollector, whose short story, 'Goodbye, I Love You', inspired this piece.
His hand steady, he penned the note in his neat, precise script:
'I’m sorry, but I just can’t take the pain anymore. Don’t blame yourself.'
He didn’t sign it. Carefully folding the single sheet, he wrote a certain name on the blank side, his hand trembling a little this time. He propped the note up against the framed photo prominently displayed in the center of the desk, a long finger lightly tracing the features of the woman in it. He’d loved her, though he’d never gotten up the courage to tell her. Now he never could; four months ago she’d died in a senseless auto accident caused by a drunk driver, with only himself surviving. Physically, that is; his soul had died the moment he’d awakened in the hospital and been told the news.
Tears filled his eyes and slipped unheeded down his face, the grief, guilt and regret as fresh now as they’d been then. “It should have been me,” he murmured. Well, he couldn’t bring her back, but he could rectify the other. He removed his glasses, folded them, and placed them atop the desk. Then he picked up the gun there, bringing it up smoothly and putting the barrel into his mouth. He flicked off the safety and, with his eyes fixed on the picture, pulled the trigger, blotting out his pain forever.
Winston had barely brought Ecto-1 to a stop before Ray hopped out. “I’ll go see if Egon’s back,” he said, heading upstairs. Their fourth team member had earlier declared he was going ‘out for a walk’, and Ray had expressed a hope that perhaps he was feeling better; soon after, they were called out on a bust.
“If he is, he’d better be fixing lunch,” Peter grumbled as he got out of the car and went around back to unload their packs.
Winston joined him, reaching inside to get the full traps. “I don’t smell anything,” he said, lifting his nose in the air and taking a sniff. Grinning wickedly, he added, “Unless he’s doing sweat sandwiches again.”
Peter shuddered. “He promised not to, after what happened last time.”
“But you wouldn’t mind if he did, though.” Winston gave the psychologist a knowing look. “Not if it meant he was taking an interest in things again.”
Caught out, Peter let the exasperation on his face fade, revealing the worry beneath. He sighed. “That he’s gone out for the first time in months is a good sign, yeah, but--”
“Peter!” The utter anguish and horror in Ray’s hoarse cry froze Peter in his tracks. But only for an instant; in the next, he dropped the pack he’d been holding and bolted for the stairs, hearing Winston pounding up right behind him.
They reached the third floor in record time. Ray stood in the doorway to the lab, eyes fixed on the floor inside, his face so pale his auburn hair stood out like a beacon. He had to have heard them coming, but he didn’t move, hugging himself tightly in fierce denial of what he was seeing. And whatever it was, Peter knew he didn’t want to see it either; Ray’s body language was quite eloquent on that point. So the first order of business was to get Ray away from there, and then...and then...
Keeping his attention firmly on Ray, Peter deftly maneuvered himself in front of the younger man, his taller form effectively blocking his teammate’s sight. He ignored Winston’s breathed, “Oh, my God,” as he came up beside them, and ruthlessly squashed a surge of nausea as he caught the smell of blood, because none of that mattered now. Only Ray.
He laid his hands on the other’s rigid shoulders; marble had more give. “Ray,” he said softly. The auburn head slowly lifted, hazel eyes glazed with shock, huge in the blanched face.
“Peter.” Tonelessly. “’S Egon... I--I think he’s...”
No! “It’s gonna be all right, Ray,” Peter said quickly, gathering his friend close. Ray shook his head, but leaned readily into the embrace, flinging his arms around Peter and bursting into a storm of harsh weeping, his face buried in Peter’s shoulder. Winston slipped past them into the lab; Peter listened to his footsteps moving about, heard the rustle of cloth, and a few murmured words. Then he was back, laying a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Pete,” he said, voice heavy with sorrow. “He’s gone.”
Peter nodded jerkily; what he couldn’t have borne from Ray, he accepted from Winston. “How...?” That was all he could get out, but Winston knew what he meant.
“Gun,” he said wearily. “In his mouth.”
Ray moaned through his tears, and Peter hugged him tighter, fighting another rush of nausea at the all-too-vivid image Winston’s words conjured up. Not now, he told himself fiercely. He’d get sick, hysterical, and whatever else, later; right now Ray needed him, calm and together. He looked over at Winston, whose bleak expression mirrored his own. Holding his voice steady with an effort, he asked, “Is there a note?”
Winston nodded. “On his desk. Addressed to you.”
Of course. “I guess we should call...” The words stuck in his throat again. Winston gave his shoulder a squeeze.
“I’ll do it.” Peter nodded his thanks, then gently freed himself from Ray’s hold. In unspoken agreement, Winston led the distraught man away, supporting his faltering steps across the hall to their bedroom. Sagging against the doorjamb, Peter watched as Winston got their younger partner out of his jumpsuit and boots, and then into bed.
Okay. Winston was looking after Ray, and would make the necessary call. So, between now and the arrival of the police, he could attend to the terrible duty awaiting him. Drawing a shaky breath, he straightened up, slowly turned around, and stepped into the lab.
Winston had covered Egon’s still form with the physicist’s seldom-used lab coat, its pristine white now marred by several blotches of blood that had seeped through the cloth from the head beneath. As Peter knelt down, his imagination insisted on painting in what lay hidden: the horribly damaged mouth, the blond hair dimmed and matted with blood, the hole blown out of the skull--
Oh, God. Swallowing hard, Peter wrenched his eyes away from the ugly stains. They fell on Egon’s left hand, sticking out forlornly from under the makeshift shroud. He caught it up, fingers automatically searching for a pulse he knew he wouldn’t find. Desolate, he settled cross-legged on the floor, folding his hands around Egon’s lax one as carefully as if it were a butterfly.
Peter didn’t know how long he sat there, lost in mourning, before a touch on his shoulder startled him back to awareness. “Police,” Winston said when he looked around. He nodded, noticing two uniformed strangers waiting in the doorway beyond. Gently laying Egon’s hand back down, he got to his feet as the cops came in, one crouching next to Egon, while the other reached for his radio.
Soon a blur of people arrived, swarming over the lab, taking pictures, gathering evidence. Peter and Winston made a forced retreat into the hall in their wake, Winston closing the bedroom door so the commotion wouldn’t disturb Ray, who’d fallen into an exhausted doze. Shortly, the officer in charge, a Detective Monroe, came out and led them singly, Peter first, further down the hall to take their statements.
“Now according to you both,” she said afterward, flipping through her notes, “Dr. Stantz was the one who actually found the bod--” Peter winced “--uh, Dr. Spengler. I’ll need to speak to him...”
But Peter was already shaking his head. “Dr. Stantz is resting; he’s had a terrible shock, as I’m sure you can appreciate. I think tomorrow will be soon enough.” He planted himself firmly in front of the bedroom door, feeling the reassuring press of Winston’s shoulder against his, quite willing to be hauled off to jail, if that’s what it took to protect Ray from this for another day.
Detective Monroe looked from Peter to Winston, and met two equally determined gazes, one emerald, one chocolate. “All right,” she said, putting her notebook away. “Tomorrow, first thing.”
“First thing,” Peter agreed. “If that’s all... He half-turned, reaching for the doorknob; the activity in the lab looked to be winding down, and he didn’t want to see Egon being carried out, zipped up in a body bag.
“Not quite,” she said, stopping him. She went back into the lab, coming out a moment later carrying a clear document holder with a single sheet of paper inside. Peter’s eyes locked onto it. He knew what it had to be, and suddenly felt his hard-won control fray.
“Zed,” he whispered.
“What is it, Pete?” He heard the alarm in Winston’s voice as the other man grasped his arm.
“I...I don’t think I can--” Then Monroe was holding the page out to him, asking whether he recognized the writing as Dr. Spengler’s. Winston hastily intercepted it, but too late, the two short sentences had already seared themselves into Peter’s memory. The last thing he felt were hands grabbing him as his overwhelmed mind shut down, escaping from this new, unwelcome reality in the only way it could.
Consciousness returned reluctantly, with his first awareness that of a warm hand enfolding his. It was so reminiscent of the times he’d awakened in the hospital after a bad bust with someone, usually Egon, giving him that simple reassurance of still being on This Side, that he almost said “Spengs?”, before he remembered...
His hand spasmed tightly around the one in his. “Peter?” came Ray’s worried voice. Peter opened his eyes to find himself lying on his bed, minus his own jumpsuit and boots, with Ray sitting beside him. The occultist’s eyes were puffy, red-rimmed and filled with a profound grief that tore at Peter’s soul. The Ghostbusters’ heart was broken, and the blame could be laid right at his door.
“I’m sorry, Ray,” he blurted, pushing himself up. Puzzlement, then sad comprehension, crossed Ray’s expressive face.
“Don’t, Peter,” he sighed. “You couldn’t have known that Egon would--”
“But I should have,” Peter broke in sharply. “I’m supposed to be a psychologist.” Bitter scorn laced the words. “He’d have gotten better from me as a patient than he obviously did being my friend.”
“I don’t believe that,” Ray said, in automatic protest at Peter’s self-castigating words. “But I don’t know what more you could’ve done, with him pushing you--pushing us all--away.” He bit his lip, eyes filling at the memory of that rejection, his shoulders, already bowed in misery, drooping a little more.
The knife edge of guilt slashing his heart, Peter leaned forward, clutching at Ray’s hand with the desperation of the drowning. “I shouldn’t have let him,” he said. “I should’ve...” He trailed off with a shake of his head. All too late. Egon was beyond their help now; the only thing they could do was hold his funeral.
Flopping back on the bed, a forearm across eyes burning with unshed tears, Peter felt an anger he hadn’t consciously been aware of surge from beneath his pain. Damn you, Egon. How could you do this to us?