Your Young Men Shall See Visions
by Sheila Paulson
Summary: Jim is exposed to visual and auditory overload and as a result can see the 'other side.' This story is set in the same universe as Legends and is a crossover with The Real Ghostbusters.
Author's Notes: Originally published in Of Dreams and Schemes 15.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, I just borrow them.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. -- Joel ch.2 v. 28
"Come on, Jim, wake up. You can do it. Concentrate. Listen to the sound of my voice. Look at me. It's okay. You're gonna be fine."
The combination of encouragement and concern in the voice flowed over Jim Ellison like water to penetrate the fog in his aching head, and he moaned. Lost in a blur of confusion, he forced his eyes open. "Sandburg?" The young grad student loomed over him, hair falling around his face, framed by turbulent, churning clouds. Jim squinted up at him. What was going on?
"Jim!" cried Blair. He called over his shoulder, "He's coming around, Simon."
"The paramedics'll be here any minute." Captain Banks appeared at Blair's shoulder, gazing down at him as from a great height.
"Paramedics?" Ellison was totally at a loss. "Wh-what happened?"
"God, Jim, that was so weird." Panic lurking in the edges of his voice. "Do you remember what we were doing?"
The fog parted a little. "Going after Danoff." They had been pursuing the demented bomber who had been leaving explosive little presents in city busses for the last week. Damn it, his head ached. "We got the word he was holed up in a warehouse..." He wasn't sure what had happened next. "I don't... I can't..."
"Don't try to sit up," Blair fussed. "You took a nasty bop on the head."
"Danoff?" Jim asked. "I let him get the drop on me?"
"No way, Jim," Simon said. "When we got here, we deployed the SWAT team and blocked off the place. You could hear him in there; you said he was raving, totally out of it. But you said he didn't seem to have a bomb."
"You mean he had one after all?" Jim groaned. He touched his aching head and encountered a folded up handkerchief pressed over the place that hurt the most. Blair detached his hand from it and settled the bandage in place, clucking at him fussily.
"The bomb squad checked out the warehouse and didn't find one," Simon said.
"So what happened to me?" He was starting to feel idiotic, sprawled flat while the SWAT guys and other officers from Major Crimes milled around. He spotted Brown and Rafe not too far away. "I'm okay. I'm gonna sit up."
Blair's hand instantly pressed flat against his chest. "No, don't, Jim. Stay down. We'll move you if it starts to rain, but otherwise stay put, okay?" The blue eyes were full of memories, none of them pleasant. "From where I was standing, it looked like it took your head off."
Simon shook his head. "Danoff started taking potshots at the guys surrounding the warehouse. You focused on him and had a clear shot, and I told you to go for it."
"His gun went off when you hit him, Jim." Blair gestured extravagantly. "And he hit this big hook thing on a rope. It came swinging down right for your head."
Jim vaguely remembered Sandburg and Banks yelling in urgent chorus for him to duck. He must have moved. Something that heavy would have killed him if he'd taken a direct hit.
"It just grazed you, Jim," said Simon . He looked as worried as Sandburg. "We couldn't tell how bad it was but it bled like crazy."
"How long was I out?" Jim asked.
"Probably a minute, minute and a half."
"It felt like a year," blurted Sandburg, his eyes huge in a whiter- than-normal face. "There was blood all over the place when we got to you. Jim, are you alert? Do you know what day it is?"
"Yes, Mommy. March 12th. I remember that health cereal you tried to make me eat for breakfast, too. Tasted like sawdust and wood chips with weevils in it." He grimaced. "Come on, Chief, let me up. It's gonna pour any minute, and there's not much point of me lying here and drowning."
"Not yet, Jim. Let's run a little test." He glanced around to be sure none of the milling cops were within earshot. Brown was closest but he was talking to a couple of the SWAT team. "Try to focus. Concentrate. Open up your senses just for a minute. We're going to try that self- diagnosis thing we've been practicing. Focus your sight first. Concentrate on those clouds." He glanced skyward. "Man, I don't like the look of them. Simon, maybe he's right, maybe we should move him."
"The paramedics'll be here any minute."
"I can hear the siren now," Jim confirmed. He looked past Blair's worried face to the troubled sky, opening his sight and hearing to his surroundings, prepared to let Blair guide him through the process they had developed over the past few weeks. Once he was ready, he nodded. "Okay. Go for it, Chief."
"Jim, I want you to..."
The sky split open with a blaze of stark white brilliance that seared him to the core. The thunder that followed was an explosion of agonizing, pummeling sound to his unprepared ears. Blinded and deafened, he threw up his hands to grab his head. It felt as if his brain had been ripped open. He could dimly feel Blair's fingers digging into his shoulders but he could hear nothing but fading echoes, and he could see nothing but whiteness...
The paramedics arrived; unfamiliar hands straightening him out, a blood pressure cuff around his arm, an examination. Voices came back, a faint and muted mumble that didn't quite resolve into distinct sounds. Through it he could make out one sound that was familiar, Blair's voice, coaxinng him back. He focused on it, listening with all his strength to that one sound and blocking out all else.
"Jim, it's okay, Jim, I know you can hear me. Jim, listen to my voice. I know you got an overload there, but it's fading. You can hear me. Listen to me. It's all right." The unfamiliar hands went away, and Blair's hand gripped his shoulder. "Jim, you've gotta hear me."
He groaned. "H-hear you."
"God, Jim, I'm so sorry," Blair cried. "I never thought of a thunderstorm. You were so open to all of that. Can you hear me now?"
"Y-yeah. It's kind of muted, though; my ears are ringing."
"I bet they are. Jim, open your eyes. Look at me."
Someone nearby laughed. It was a strange, eerie sound, unlike anything Jim had ever heard before, as if it didn't come from a human throat.
"What the heck was that?" he blurted.
"What was what, Jim?" Sandburg demanded anxiously, hovering.
"That weird laugh."
"I didn't hear any laugh, Jim," Blair said. "It's just your ears ringing. Come on, open your eyes." His fingers tightened their grip. "You can do it."
Ellison forced open his tightly squeezed eyelids. At first, there was only a blaze of brightness, white nothingness that went on and on and on, as bad as when he'd been affected by the golden. Desperately, he blinked, and shapes came out of the mist, Blair's face sharpened into clearer resolution, pale and anxious. When he realized Jim could see him, the tension went out of him in a rush and he sagged back on his heels. "I am so sorry, man," he breathed, sneaking a glance at the paramedics. They seemed caught up in their work, ignoring to the conversation.
"Wasn't your fault, Sandburg. Just bad timing." He stomped down an inward shudder. For a second there, he'd believed himself blind and deaf, and the stark fear he'd felt during his golden-imposed blindness had begun to settle in his heart. But his vision was clearing quickly. It was all right.
That was when he saw the creature that lurked at Blair's shoulder.
It was slightly bigger than a man, and it possessed two arms and two legs, but the resemblance to a human being ended there. It was black, not like Simon but an ebony black that glinted as it moved. It wore no clothing beyond a loincloth as black as its scaly skin. The planes of its face were sharp and distinctive, angular and strange. Its glowing eyes, cold, intelligent and evil, were fixed on Jim in open hunger and a certain recognition.
"What the hell is that?" he blurted, sitting up abruptly, grabbing Sandburg's arm and pulling him away from the thing.
"Hey, easy, guy," one of the paramedics said. "We didn't tell you you could sit up. Your buddy says you got bopped on the head and the thunder and lightning made your headache worse."
"They cannot see me," the black being said for Jim alone. "Neither can they hear me, though your precious Blair might hear me if he listened very hard. I am not for the sight of normal mortals, but you are not normal, Sentinel, and your barriers have been ripped away." It laughed again, in sardonic amusement. "Open to a light beyond all others, you now can see through the veil that divides my world from your own."
"Sandburg..." Jim began uneasily, unable to tear his eyes away from the looming menace.
"Lie down, Jim," Blair urged. He didn't notice the being who hovered over him, and neither did the paramedics.
"But don't you see it?" he persisted.
"Concussion," one of the EMT's muttered and the second one nodded. "Yeah, looks like it, though his vitals aren't too bad. But if he's seeing things that aren't here we'd better transport."
"Wait a minute," Jim objected, eyeing the black being nervously. It folded its arms across its chest, amusement sparkling in the glowing eyes. "I'm okay. I was only out a minute."
"Jim, what are you seeing?" Blair asked softly, his hand tight on Jim's shoulder in an attempt at comfort.
"Don't humor me, Sandburg," he snapped. "It's right there." He pointed at the... the whatever it was. "I'm not delusional."
Everybody stared blankly in the direction of the creature. The beast chuckled. "I told you so. Better shut up or they'll stick you in a padded room."
That was a good point. He eased down again, and rubbed his eyes. "I'm seeing afterimages from the lightning," he covered hastily. "My eyes ache."
"I don't wonder, on top of a blow to the head," the younger paramedic said soothingly. "We'd better take x-rays."
"Yeah, Jim, go with them." Blair exchanged a worried glance with Simon, who nodded firmly. "I'll come with you. I bet your eyes are sore. You were staring right at that lightning." He turned to the paramedics. "I was trying to get him to focus to see how alert he was. You know, like biofeedback. I've been doing research on it at the university and he lets me practice on him. He was staring right up at the sky, when the lightning hit. I think he just overloaded with the lightning. That make any sense?"
"He'd probably be sensitive to bright light after a blow to the head. What kind of afterimages?" he asked Jim.
"Just shadows and spots," Jim said quickly. "They looked real for a minute. It's clearing up now."
Blair's eyes narrowed. He knew Jim too well not to tell when he was lying through his teeth. The demon-thing chuckled. "It won't make me go away," it said. "I'm here for the duration. I probably won't be the only one."
"I'll ride with you in the ambulance," Blair said, worried. He muttered something to Simon that Jim didn't try to hear. The Captain nodded.
"Yeah, you go with him, Sandburg. Report to me if the hospital finds any problems. I've still got spots in my eyes from that lightning myself." Banks must suspect that Jim was reacting to another weird Sentinel process but he wouldn't risk his health.
Jim insisted he could walk, but the paramedics put him on a gurney and loaded him up in spite of his protests. Blair scrambled into the back of the ambulance with him while a frowning Simon watched them go. The demon slid in after Blair, made a great show of sitting down on a piece of equipment and lifted an 'eyebrow' at Jim in amusement.
"Don't mind me. This is fun."
Go away, Jim thought furiously. Go away. I don't believe in you. You're not really here.
"Ah, but I am. I know of you, Sentinel. Think you there are only five senses?" It laughed. "I am not the only thing you will see, this side of the veil."
You don't exist, Jim insisted desperately. You can't exist.
The creature only laughed.
"This is stupid, you know that, don't you, Chief?" said Jim as they returned to the loft several hours later. The clouds were so thick it felt like night. "The doctor said I don't have a concussion or skull fracture, and I feel fine, just a little sore. There's no reason I couldn't have gone back to work." He touched the small dressing on his head, clearly annoyed that hair had been shaved around the slight cut.
"Other than the fact that the doctor said to take the rest of the day off, and Simon made you agree?" Blair asked with a grin. "Come on, Jim." He closed the door behind them, edging Jim toward the couch with near- subliminal body language. "You saw something; it's a new Sentinel ability, isn't it? Tell me about it? Can you still see it?" His words poured out. Something was going on and Jim was covering it up because it was unexplainable except to those who knew he was a Sentinel. Here, alone in the loft, he hoped Jim would tell him about it.
Jim flinched and glanced past Blair as if he had seen a ghost. "It's nothing." His jaw clenched. Blair knew that there were times Jim hated his Sentinel abilities and longed for normalcy. This new Sentinel thing was something Jim didn't consider 'normal', something he had been unable to drive away with his stubborn will.
"Jim, come on, sit down." Blair guided him over to the couch. "The doctor's right, you need to rest. You were knocked out, and that's nothing to mess with."
"Yeah, and you insisted you were fine when you couldn't see because of the golden. You're not fine, Jim. Something's going down here. Remember, I've got tons of documented material on people with one sense or another. Maybe it's something I've picked up on before and I already know how to deal with it. You're not on your own here."
Denial flashed in Jim's eyes before he averted them. "I don't think so, Chief."
"Try me. Come on, give. You know you want to tell me." There was a bit of wistful thinking in his tone. Jim had never been as open as Blair was used to. Naomi had been so good at teaching Blair to 'share' that he was probably more open than most men. No way Jim could be like that, not with the military background, not with his father. But Jim needed to be open with him -- at least about his Sentinel abilities. How could he help if Jim wouldn't tell him about it?
Jim glared at the corner of the room. Blair glanced uneasily over his shoulder. Jim couldn't have looked any more annoyed if an escaped criminal had just popped in from the balcony. Abruptly he got up and turned on the television set to a local talk. The hostess, Jenny March, was gorgeous and funny, and often had guests who appealed to Blair's taste. She was talking to four men in sports jackets; Blair didn't give them more than a passing glance because his attention was focused on his Sentinel.
"You'll think I'm crazy," Jim blurted out. His voice was edged with desperation as if he had come up against something so far outside his world view that he couldn't accept it as real.
"No I won't. You're not crazy, Jim. You've just got these heightened abilities and there's bound to be new bits that throw you for a loop every now and then. I'm your shaman, remember. You have to trust me."
Jim grimaced. "I do trust you, Chief. You know that. It's just..." His voice trailed off unhappily. "It's too weird, that's all." He cocked head, listening, then he cried furiously, "Shut up!"
Stunned and a little hurt by the intensity of his words, Blair took an involuntary step backward. Jim had never used that tone on him before. "I'm sorry, man."
"Not you, Sandburg," Jim said hastily. "Him." He jammed his thumb in the direction of the balcony doors.
"There's nobody there --" Blair started, then a possibility dawned. "You mean the lightning made you see a gho -- uh, somebody I can't see?"
"Ghosts and demons," said the television set. Blair and Jim turned toward it in astonishment. A brown haired man smiled fatuously at Jenny Marsh. "A lot of people don't believe in what we do -- and here, so far from New York, we're used to skeptics."
"Demons, Dr. Venkman?" Jenny asked dubiously, lifting one perfectly shaped eyebrow.
"Venkman?" Blair echoed, recognizing the name and putting it together with the face. It was the Ghostbusters. "Jim, it's Peter Venkman and the other Ghostbusters! They're in town. This is great. We could have them come by..." The previous summer, he and Jim had encountered the Ghostbusters during a combination drug deal/bigfoot investigation, and had shared an adventure with them. Blair had been thrilled to meet the Ghostbusters. With the help of their high tech equipment and Ray Stantz's eclectic knowledge of anything remotely paranormal, they soon realized Jim possessed heightened senses. Ray and Egon Spengler had even known of Burton's Sentinel concept.
"That's crazy," Jim objected. He had never seen the pair of Sasquatch Blair and Peter had encountered, just the crackpot professor in the furry costume who had covered for them, and had continued to profess skepticism at Blair's claim there had actually been two Bigfoot -- Bigfoots? Bigfeet? -- at the campground. "It's all a big hoax. It's a New York thing. They're not bad characters, they didn't handle themselves badly last summer, but I don't buy --"
"Tell me what you see. Maybe the lightning did something to your vision, made you receptive to seeing --"
"That's what he said," Jim replied, his face tight with skepticism. "I don't believe in that stuff."
"Since your senses kicked in, things haven't been exactly run-of-the- mill around here." Blair bounced down on the other end of the couch. "Come on, Jim, tell me what you see. Maybe it's a weird backlash from that visual overload. If it's not, then this is perfect timing. I can call the studio and ask them to come over after the show. They'll probably call us, anyway." He waved a hand at the television set.
Jim glanced over at the balcony doors, then his muscles relaxed. "It's gone."
"Tell me quick what it was, and I'll get the guys to come over. Come on, Jim, you know they're for real."
Ellison frowned. Blair had been to enough strange places and seen enough weird occurrences that his mind was more open to wonder than Jim's. "Come on, Jim, what did you see?"
His partner squirmed. "I don't know what it was," he said. "It might have been a... a demon..."
"Yes, demons," Egon Spengler said on the TV screen. "We've just come from Seattle where we busted a creature --"
"And we have pictures," Peter reminded Jenny Marsh.
"An amateur video," she agreed, trying to regain control of her program. "Ladies and gentlemen, when this film was delivered to me this morning, I was able to contact the Ghostbusters just before they would have returned to New York."
"Well, we weren't quite ready to go," Ray Stantz put in, grinning boyishly at Jenny. "Even after we caught it, we still had weird readings, and once we got to Cascade, they were stronger."
The color drained from Jenny's face. "Do you mean there is something here?"
"Not here in the studio," Peter soothed. "Somewhere out there." He gestured toward the camera.
"This is what happened yesterday afternoon in Seattle," Jenny said, and the tape came up. Like most amateur films, the image was jerky and sometimes pulled away from the action or went out of focus, but the creature the Ghostbusters pinned in their particle streams was clear on two separate occasions. It was tall and broad, glittery black, and scaly, with jagged cheekbones and deep-set eyes. It had horns.
Jim's breath went out in a shaken gasp and Blair turned away from the screen and Peter's blow-by-blow description of the capture and containment of the entity. He surprised a shaken look on Ellison's face as he watched the being dart in and out of the Ghostbusters' energy beams.
"That's what I saw," Jim admitted through gritted teeth. "Something like that. Maybe there are two."
Maybe there were a whole collection of them, but Blair didn't like the idea.
"Did it see you?" Sandburg asked uneasily.
"It talked to me," Jim said. "It said there were more than five senses and I'd activated another of them."
Blair's jaw dropped. "You mean the sixth sense, Jim? ESP and things like that? This is great, man!"
"You've got a weird idea of what's great, Chife. This is not great. How do you know it's even real and not some figment of my imagination? Maybe a backlash of the overload or a result of the head injury"
"Not if the Ghostbusters just busted another of them. Come on, Jim, I'm gonna call them. If it's real, it's dangerous, and even if it isn't dangerous, they might be able to tell it's around." He eyed his friend and saw a combination of warring emotions in his face. "At least you'd know," he argued, and saw reluctant agreement finally appear in the Sentinel's eyes. "I'll go call them now."
"You have a telephone call," Jenny Marsh told the Ghostbusters after the camera had cut away. She took off the earphone she had been wearing. "Someone who says they met you last time you were in Cascade, I'm told."
"Blair," Ray Stantz said enthusiastically. "Or Jim. I bet it is, guys. We were gonna look them up anyway." The auburn-haired man bounced up out of his seat, gung ho to take the call.
"Yes, it's a Blair Sandburg," the talk show host told them. "You can take the call over there." She gestured across the stage to a telephone.
"Hey, maybe he's got something weird again," Winston Zeddemore put in.
"Weird? Like getting shot at by drug dealers?" Peter asked skeptically. As Jenny walked away, he added in a lower voice, "Or like running into Bigfoot out in the woods. That was not a great visit, guys. Ray even got shot."
"Come on, Peter, it was just a scratch," Ray objected. "I didn't even need stitches. And it was so cool, really meeting a Sentinel."
The fourth member of the team, Egon Spengler, nodded, giving his sagging glasses a shove. "The experience was unique, and I would be interested in meeting Blair and Jim again. I've been in touch with Blair via e-mail several times, helping him with translating an ancient manuscript he came up with, and I'd like to see it."
Ray grabbed the receiver. "Blair? Hi, it's Ray. This is great. We were going to call you as soon as we finished the show. How are you doing? How about Jim?" He checked to make sure none of the cameramen were listening. "Any more new sensory abilities?"
"Well, yeah," Blair admitted over the phone. "Something weird is going down here. Can you guys come over and bring your equipment."
"Wow! Weird how?" Ray asked. Peter looked doubtful, but the whole team migrated closer.
"Come on over and I'll explain," Blair said. "I'm not sure I like this, man. Jim could be in trouble." He explained hastily.
When he finished the call, Ray turned to his friends. "They need our help. Blair's worried. Jim's sixth sense is activated and he's been seeing something like what we just busted."
Peter groaned. "You mean there's another of them? That was nasty, and out for blood -- ours. They might even be related, and where would we be?"
"At least we'd be there with our throwers." Winston gestured to the proton pack they'd brought on the show to display to the audience. The entity they had just trapped in Seattle had been tougher than most.
"Come on, guys, we've gotta bust it," Ray encouraged. "Jim and Blair are friends of ours.."
"Yeah, and you said you were getting readings, Egon," Peter reminded the physicist. "This way we've got a head start on where it is. We'd better pack up and head over there fast as we can."
The demon hadn't reappeared when Jim heard the Ghostbusters approaching. Relieved that the demon had departed, he jumped up and went to answer the door before they could knock.
"Wow, he heard us," Ray cried.
"Ray, a hearing-impaired person would have heard us," Peter said. "We weren't exactly tiptoeing. You heard us, too, didn't you, Blair?"
Sandburg nodded. "I wasn't sure if it was you or a herd of stampeding elephants. Come on in, guys."
P.K.E. meter in hand, Egon took readings of the apartment and of Jim himself. Ellison remembered the device from the Bigfoot encounter. The physicist had later explained that he'd detected a weird energy spiking every time the Sentinel had focused his abilities. Blair had craved a P.K.E. meter of his own ever since and had bemoaned the lack of one during some of his endless tests.
"Powerful residuals," were the first words out of Egon's mouth. Jim had started out thinking he was a real egghead but he was also a decent guy. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't be the type Jim would buddy up to, but he had helped Jim by coaching him through intense focusing of his senses when Blair was missing, and that had enabled them to reach an understanding.
Peter gave Egon a nudge with his elbow, and Spengler frowned at him, but came out of his 'zone-out' and said, "Oh. Hello, gentlemen. There has definitely been something here, and the readings correlate very closely with the entity we busted in Seattle."
Blair looked over his shoulder uneasily. "I knew it," he cried. "Jim, that lightning burst did open your eyes to something beyond our normal senses -- even beyond your normal senses. This is so cool, man."
"No, this could be very dangerous," said Egon. "The demon we busted did not immediately appear. We were able to see it because years of exposure to psi has heightened our psychic awareness. You may have heightened senses, Jim, but we have a somewhat heightened ability to see invisible ghosts."
"We're Ghost Sentinels," Peter said with a grin. "Now you can do it, too." He eyed Ellison with unexpected sympathy. "And I bet you hate it."
Ellison grimaced. A part of him found Peter Venkman very abrasive, but he was usually right on the money with remarks like that. "I can't say I like it," he admitted. "I have trouble even believing it. Until I saw that video, I was half convinced I was delirious."
Winston gestured at the small dressing on Jim's head. "I noticed you'd been to the wars."
Blair explained quickly about the bomber, Jim's freak accident, and the overload caused by the lightning. "I shouldn't have made him open up his senses. Rain wouldn't have been so bad but that freak thunderstorm was really crummy timing."
"Wow," breathed Ray as Jim gestured for the team to sit down. "You were open and receptive, you got an overload, and it pushed you one step further. I did a lot of research on Sentinels after last summer, but there wasn't anything about the occult. Well, not what we want. Some reports about primitive Sentinels that implied their abilities were psi powers, but we know that it's a genetic enhancement. Still, psychic abilities are often carried on through generations, so it's possible some of the early abilities were enhanced through the sixth sense. Isn't this great?"
Blair grinned in ready agreement. The thought of him and Ray conspiring together, enthusiasm unchecked, made Jim feel slightly unwell. "Just think, Jim, you could learn to channel and have the murder victims tell you who killed them."
"They could hardly testify in court," Jim said.
"Yeah, and imagine Simon's face when you told him who your snitch was?" Blair countered gleefully. "I bet there are lots of things we can do. Ray, can you think of any way to test Jim's new limits?"
Instead of sitting down, Egon had been prowling around the loft taking readings, frowning, adjusting his gizmo. Now he stopped at the balcony doors. "It was here last," he said. "Detective Ellison, can you verify that?"
Ellison nodded. "Yes, that's where I saw it."
"Have you any idea why it departed? Did it explain?"
Jim frowned. "No. We had the TV on and Sandburg had spotted the four of you and was asking me questions about it and when I looked again it was gone."
"Probably because I said I was gonna call you in," Blair said. "It might not want to hang around and get busted."
"Or it could have gone for reinforcements," said Ray, undaunted by the thought.
"Reinforcements?" Jim grimaced. Bad enough to see one spirit. The last thing he wanted was to be surrounded by them.
"Have you noticed anything else?" Peter gestured toward the balcony. "Take a look around, see if there's anything you wouldn't have noticed before?"
"Focus and concentrate on it, just like you would any of your senses," said Sandburg. He bounced up eagerly and opened the balcony door. "Come on, Jim. Let's try it."
Ray stuck out a friendly hand to haul Ellison to his feet. "I think the first one you should do is try to look at things sort of... sideways, out of the corner of your eye. The other side is always here, but most people can't see it -- they just don't have the ability, even if it's right in front of them. Sometimes other worlds overlap with ours. Most people just see what they expect to see, but sometimes there are possibilities that only the gifted can see."
Jim moved reluctantly toward the balcony, trailed by all of the others. Egon had his ever-present meter aimed at him, and Jim felt a growing irritation at being made a lab experiment. He was used to it with Sandburg; at least Sandburg was his buddy and had his best interests at heart. Spengler was much more interested in his weird science.
Of course he'd once thought that about Sandburg, too -- until Blair had stopped him from being hit by that truck...
The city spread out before him, lights glowing against the darkness. Jim gripped the balcony railing, looking down at the street. He didn't want to do this.
Blair edged up beside him, Ray on the other side. Sandburg slid into his coaching patter. "Jim, listen. I want you to focus on the street. Look beyond what you'd normally expect to see. Concentrate on what's in the shadows. Breathe deeply and relax. See what you can see."
Used to Sandburg's encouragement, he relaxed and let his vision sharpen. He had practiced narrowing in on a distant object. But he didn't expect what loomed out at him just within the alley across the street. For a moment, sheer disbelief made him want to look away. That couldn't be an elf. Tall and elegant with pointed ears that would have provoked an envy reaction out of any Vulcan, it was dressed like a character out of an Errol Flynn Robin Hood movie, bow in one hand, a quiver of arrows on his back.
Jim closed his eyes and rubbed them before he tried again, shifting his gaze from the alley before anyone could question him, and staring down at the street. Immediately a near-transparent figure swam into view. Jim could see cars and telephone poles through the body. Normal human beings couldn't walk through mailboxes. Its clothes trailed wetly around it.
"Class three," Egon said quietly so as not to disturb Jim's concentration. "Fixed repeater."
"Right there," Peter agreed, pointing. "Looks like a drowning victim. I bet it walks down this street every night -- well, maybe every rainy night."
"I can't see it," Blair objected, squinting in the direction Peter pointed. "Can you see it, Jim?"
Ellison hesitated, then he nodded reluctantly. "It's walking through things. You guys can really see it?"
Blair gave Jim's arm a quick, reassuring pat. "Wish I could," he said.
"Believe me, Chief, you don't," Jim said wryly. "What about the elf in the alley?"
"Elf in the alley?" Ray and Sandburg stared at the alley mouth in eager expectation. Egon aimed the meter there, frowning when it didn't react.
"Tough luck, big guy," Peter consoled the physicist. "But there's no reason your meter should pick up elves, is there? They're not ectoplasmic."
"The meters are not designed to monitor creatures from the world of faerie," Egon said, disappointed. He twisted the dials on the P.K.E. meter and tried again, but the device didn't help him out.
Jim stared at the alley, wishing the 'elf' would depart. It stood there talking to a creature who looked rather like a troll, at least like the trolls in the fairy tales Jim had read when he was really little. His dad hadn't approved of fantasy books; he was all for the real world, so Jim had read them in secret, passing them on to Stephen when he outgrew them. The living embodiment of creatures from the book stood in the alley, talking together. When he concentrated, Jim could almost see an alternate backdrop overlapping the alley wall, with a grove of trees and a trail that twisted away through the side of the building. He blinked hard. It didn't go away.
Egon pointed the meter at Jim. "Fascinating." he sounded just like Mr. Spock. "I'm detecting the same spiking I got last year, when you were using your heightened senses. It's stronger now, more clearly defined. Your biorhythms are very enhanced."
"See, Jim, it's just a natural use of your senses," Sandburg said. "What do you see now?"
"Another ghost," Jim said, pointing at the window of a building across the street.
"Wow!" Blair exulted. "Can you guys see it?"
Peter peered across the way. "I don't see anything but that blonde one floor down."
"In the nightie?" Blair asked quickly, following Peter's gaze.
Jim frowned at his guide. "You know about the blonde?" he asked.
"Well, I caught you looking at her once. She does her exercises in either a skimpy nightie or in sweats. I like the nightie better."
"You watch her?" Jim asked. "That's not exactly ethical, Chief."
"No, I don't watch her," Blair defended himself. "At least I don't make a point of it. But if I happen to be out here anyway, and she's working out, I don't make a point of looking away." He grinned. "How do you know about her?"
"I see the ghost," Winston cut in quickly. "Looks like another fixed repeater."
"Do we go over and bust it?" Peter asked.
"Not unless it's dangerous," Ray replied. "I don't think it's hurting anything. That's an office, not an apartment." He turned toward Jim. "You can really see all this stuff? This is great. I've got a friend in New York who says she can see into the realm of faerie. She's always talking about elves and dragons and unicorns."
"And does she wear a jacket with sleeves that tie in the back?" Peter asked him in a teasing voice. "She sounds like her skylight leaks a little."
"Thanks, Venkman" Jim muttered wryly.
Peter grinned engagingly. "She's not a Sentinel, just forgot to use her surge protector."
"The two being closely linked?" Jim hated every second of this. He didn't want to go through life watching centaurs vault over taxi cabs or shaking hands with decaying corpses. "I didn't bargain for this kind of lunatic scene when I agreed to the Sentinel deal."
"Think of all the great stuff you can see," Blair exulted. "It's gonna be cool. We can tone it down so you don't feel overpowered. It's like any of your other senses, you can adjust it. Remember how we practiced. Don't let it overwhelm you."
"I see Loony Tunes and you tell me not to let it overwhelm me? You have got to be kidding. It's too bizarre. You can't make me believe there are all these fairy tale things roaming the streets of Cascade."
"But you can see them," objected Ray. "And we can see the ghosts, and can probably see that demon you mentioned. I think it would be so great to look past the edges of conventional reality."
Peter ruffled Stantz's hair, grinning affectionately. "Sort of like you, Ray. I can't remember the last time you stayed within conventional reality."
"He and Sandburg must have taken lessons at the same place." Ellison turned away from the street. This was just nuts. He could imagine Simon's reaction to hearing his best detective was seeing elves in alleys. Banks would be sure to make him report to the department shrink.
"It might be useful," Sandburg said. "Just think, Jim, what you're seeing is so much more than what the rest of us can see. How do you know what primitive Sentinels could see?"
"Look, Chief, this realm of faerie they're talking about doesn't interact with anything I've ever dealt with before. I haven't needed to see it to protect the city, or to watch my back. What good is it? Maybe these worlds overlap, but so what? Those weird things aren't paying the slightest attention to humans. They don't interact, do they?"
"Not very often," Ray replied. "But then, most humans can't see them. My friend says they know she can tell they're there."
"Whoa, heavy duty," Blair burst out. "Does that mean they'll know Jim can see them? Will he be in danger because of it?"
"They're not even paying attention to him," Ray said. "They're just going about their business. If other-dimensional beings wander through here all the time, one human seeing them won't matter. But that demon worries me."
"Because it talked to me?"
Ray nodded. "And because the one we busted was dangerous."
"You think this one might be dangerous, too?" Blair glanced uneasily over his shoulder.
Jim scanned the loft for anything that didn't belong there. "You think it knows that we knew you and it wants revenge?"
"We thought of that," said Peter. "We busted that other one yesterday and you say they look alike. This one could be plotting revenge."
"And it just happened on me because I knew you?" Jim frowned. "Too much coincidence for me."
Ray scrunched up his face in thought. "It might have sensed the breakout of your sixth sense and thought it might be fun to torment you, but then when it came face to face with you, it could probably tell you knew us. Otherwise it might have just done a number and gone on."
"Done a number?" Blair edged closer to Jim as if he could protect him from things that went bump in the night.
"You know, haunted you for awhile?" Winston said. "Demons like to freak people out. They might have locked you away in a rubber room if you started telling people about it."
"Yeah, but if it sensed that you knew us, it might have decided it could have more fun than ever -- and get revenge on us at the same time," Peter said. He was the most suspicious of the Ghostbusters, Jim remembered. "When did it take off?"
"When Sandburg called the studio," Jim said. "If it wasn't afraid of you, then it's probably plotting revenge." Vengeance he could understand.
"Figures," Winston muttered. "Can you see it out there now?"
Jim turned and stared. If the demon had a purpose, one he could do something about, he might be able to live with it -- but those weird things down there on the street... Sure they were going about their business, but it was a business he wasn't interested in learning more about. There was enough of the mystical in being a Sentinel already, what with his jaguar spirit guide. He didn't want elves dropping in for tea and dragons swooping through the skies of Cascade.
If the demon were out there, he couldn't see it. He shook his head.
Peter nodded. "Okay, come on, let's go inside." He gestured Jim toward the doors. Blair stuck at Jim's side and they all sat down, Egon in the chair nearest the balcony doors, his meter still active. The other three Ghostbusters shucked their proton packs and crowded onto the couch, leaving Jim and Blair the loveseat.
"So what do we do now?" Blair asked.
"We wait," Jim said. "What else is there to do, Chief?"
"Run some tests?" Blair suggested. "This is a whole new thing for you, Jim. If you can see mystical stuff, who's to say you can't do other things -- like ESP and precognition."
"And talking to little green men," Jim scoffed. "Give me a break here."
"No, he's right," Peter put in quickly. "I've got it." He dug a hand into his jacket pocket and produced a large deck of cards. "These are the Zener cards, sometimes called ESP cards. Let me test you on them. I'll hold one up and you tell me what you see."
"Hey, yeah, Jim, this is great," enthused Blair. "I've seen these before."
"Tarot cards, Chief?" Jim asked skeptically.
"No, these aren't anything like Tarot," Peter explained. "There are designs on them. You just look at the back of the card and tell me what you see -- and no using your 'X-ray vision' to look right through the cards, either." He shook a chiding finger at Jim.
"'X-ray vision," Jim groaned. "Get serious, Venkman. I don't have X-ray vision. I see things far away or in greater detail, not through things."
"Okay. Concentrate. What do you see?" He displayed a card, its back to Jim. Blair went around behind Peter so he could watch, leaning against the back of the couch.
Jim stared at the back of the card. How was he supposed to tell what it was? This was just plain stupid. Was this how the Ghostbusters got their jollies? "It's a star," he heard himself say, the image of a five- pointed star drifting into focus in his mind.
"He shoots, he scores!" cried Venkman triumphantly.
"That is so cool, man," Blair said. "Jim, you don't know anything about the Zener cards, do you?"
"I never heard of them before."
"I deliberately didn't tell you what shapes you'd see," Peter explained. "I used to run a lot of tests with the cards when I was teaching at Columbia. Never got consistent results, mostly because so many things affect the test. People get tired, they're distracted, they wanted to admire the Venkman physique. So sometimes you change the conditions of the test, and then the readings change, too. Once in a blue moon I'd get somebody who was almost always right, but not that often. Even genuine psychics aren't always consistent. What's this one?" He held up a second card.
Jim frowned, staring at the card's unrevealing back. "It's some wavy lines," he muttered. "That's all I get from it. Do we have to do this?"
"Right again, Jim," Blair praised him. "Whatever happened did trigger your sixth sense."
"Is it permanent?" Jim could see a use for his other senses, and had used them to save lives and make good busts, even if it was tricky when testifying about it in court. This was different.
"Your other senses have proven to be permanently affected," Egon replied. "However, there is no guarantee this one will be. Everyone has five normal senses; in your case, five enhanced senses. But few people consistently display psi powers and many of those are sporadic. It may be that once the effects of the overload fade, you will return to normal, or else you will learn to control and use it."
He didn't want to control it and use it. Weird as it was, he couldn't even imagine police applications. Reading suspects' minds during interrogation might prompt a different line of questions. Finding missing persons. But other than that? It was just too weird. Jim craved normalcy. This was simply too abnormal for him.
He felt the uneasy sensation even before Egon's meter beeped, an advancing threat that made the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He jumped to his feet, just as the demon burst through the balcony doors to the accompaniment of the P.K.E. meter going berserk. The huge, black being Jim had seen before zipped into the room and hovered in midair.
Blair looked around wildly, unable to see it. Venkman flung down the Zener cards and grabbed for his particle thrower, and Ray cried, "There it is!"
Winston and Peter tried to aim their throwers at the moving entity, but it was fast and the first burst of power took out the poster on the inside of the front door, sizzling it to a crisp. "Get it, get it," Peter cried. "Look out, it's circling around." The Ghostbusters scrambled into their proton packs.
"Get down, Jim," cried Ray while Egon lowered the meter and drew his weapon. Stantz tried to chivvy Blair toward Jim to make it easier to protect them both, but the demon had other ideas. With a ringing laugh, it grabbed Ray up under one arm and Blair under the other and bounded for the balcony. It sprang into the night sky as if its passengers were weightless.
"Don't shoot, you'll hit Ray and Blair." Winston knocked aside Peter's weapon, but Venkman had already pulled his shot.
"SANDBURG!" Jim beat the Ghostbusters to the balcony doors by a hair. "Go after it," he yelled. "You've got to get them back."
"Damn right we're going after it," Peter cried as the demon vanished behind a building. "Egon, you can track them, can't you?"
"I can if it doesn't take them out of range." Egon holstered his weapon and grabbed up the meter again.
"Why would he do that?" Peter asked, not yet thinking clearly. "Why take hostages?"
"Looked to me a lot like that demon we busted yesterday," Winston muttered. "Betcha anything it wants to use them to trade to get its buddy back."
Egon frowned. "We can't release a demon of that power. It's completely unethical, not to mention dangerous. We also have no guarantee the two of them, together, wouldn't turn on us. Capturing two class-sevens at the same time would prove difficult, if not impossible, especially with only three throwers."
"It's got Ray," Peter cried. "We have to get him back, and the kid, too. We can't leave them in the hands of the demon."
"Of course we can't, Peter. But we will need a plan," Egon said.
"You better come up with a plan," Jim snarled at them. "If it's after you guys, it didn't need Sandburg. He couldn't even see it."
"That is an interesting factor," Egon replied, a frown wrinkling his brow. "When we were called to the Seattle site, no one could see the demon but us. As we fought it, it became visible enough for someone to take a film of it."
"Sure, Egon. It can be seen if it wants to be seen," Peter said. "Maybe it was too busy fighting us to stay invisible. We can see it because of all our exposure to ectoplasm. Jim can see it because he's got a temporary heightened sixth sense. But Blair couldn't see it unless it let him see it."
"So he was grabbed by something he couldn't even see." Ellison stared up into the night sky. Sandburg was a brave man, but how could anybody handle being yanked aloft by an invisible demon? The demon had it in for the Ghostbusters. Why not other humans? Damn it, Sandburg...
He steered the remaining three Ghostbusters toward the door. "Come on, we're going after it. Why did it even bother with me?"
They didn't hesitate, not with Ray missing too. Egon pondered as they headed for the door. "It might have been able to sense that you knew us once it got close to you. Why it was there in the first place we may never know, but we have to assume it hoped you would draw us to it."
"You mean it hung around so it could get revenge on you?" Ellison gestured them into the elevator. "It took Sandburg because it wanted revenge on the four of you?"
As if he could sense Jim's rising anger, Peter said quickly, "It took Ray, too, and it has reason to be mad at him. Maybe it considered you as a threat -- if it's mostly invisible, anyone who could see it would be a danger."
"That doesn't do Sandburg any good."
"No, but who's to say someone you arrested might not get out and come after Sandburg for revenge. Would that be your fault?" Peter asked. "It'd be the crook's fault, just like this is the demon's. I want Ray back as much as you want Blair." Peter's eyes were dark with worry and it came out in anger.
Winston interrupted before Venkman could get too carried away. "Take it easy, Pete. You too, Ellison. Right now it's more important to get our buddies back. If either of you want to blame somebody, blame the demon -- or wait until Ray and Blair are safe, okay? Just remember, Ray's a Ghostbuster, and he's got his pack with him. From what I remember of Sandburg, he's smart, he's inventive, and he knows how to go with the flow."
"And our meters are still picking up the demon," Egon assured him. The beeping had faded but it was still there. "We can track them."
All of that was true, but it didn't reassure Jim Ellison one little bit. As they raced to his truck, he imagined Blair in the demon's grip, and he didn't like that picture at all.
Blair didn't like it either. He hadn't seen the demon but could tell from the others' reactions that it was back, and he'd heard the doors crash open. His first thought had been Jim -- the demon had come for Jim. He hadn't fought when Ray had tried to wave him out of the way because he'd been waving him toward Jim.
When he'd been grabbed, he hadn't been able to see his captor, even when they crashed into the night sky and took off. He could see Ray writhing in an invisible grip and he could see the streets of Cascade far below him, but he couldn't see anything holding him up. Heights and Blair Sandburg didn't get along, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
Ray let out a sudden, strangled yelp, and Blair could feel him go limp in the demon's hold. "Ray?" he squawked, forcing his eyes open as the other man sagged against an arm that gradually became visible. The demon chuckled with amusement as it let Blair see him, and the anthropologist shivered at the malice in its inhuman face.
"Fight me and I will render you unconscious as well," it said. "I did not want you, but you will serve a purpose, luring your companion to me. He can see me readily, and I do not like that. When he and the other Ghostbusters come, I will destroy you all."
"It won't be that easy." Blair knew his defiance was whistling in the dark.
"It will be simple. Your friend's senses may be keener than those of most humans, but he is still human. He will not fight when I pull his still-beating heart from his chest."
Blair shivered. That image nauseated him -- and scared him. Maybe the demon could actually do that. He had to stop the demon. But how? If he fought, the entity might drop him, and the thought of plummeting down to splat against the pavement made him quake with fear. He fought his acrophobia and tried to think. Ray's proton pack! Even if Ray was down for the count, the pack would still work. He could get it, use it on the demon...
Was one pack enough to fight it off? Hadn't the Ghostbusters said that more powerful ghosts and spirits needed all four packs to stop them?
They began to descend toward the warehouse district. Blair forced himself to watch, determined to get a handle on his location, even if his stomach roiled uneasily at the sight of the drop. As they sailed lower, the fear-of-heights knot in his stomach eased, but it didn't go away even when they zipped through a broken skylight into a dark, abandoned warehouse. The only light came from streetlights shining in through the broken windows, creating an eerie, shadowy atmosphere. Out of the dark loomed abandoned crates and cardboard boxes, some spilling over on their sides, the contents only dust.
The entity held Blair up against the wall with one hand while it stripped the pack from Stantz with the other. When Ray tried to wiggle loose and retrieve the pack, the demon backhanded him hard and sent him reeling to the ground, where he lay, groggy but conscious.
Using its moment of freedom, the entity grabbed a piece of metal, curled it in a loop around Blair's wrist, and secured the other end of it around a narrow pipe that ran up along the side of the wall. Then, just as Ray found his feet again, the demon did the same to him, trapping them just out of range of each other. Blair struggled futilely against the makeshift shackle but he had no give. He could feel how rough the metal was; if he wasn't careful, he could slice himself up badly. He saw the Ray leaning against the wall, eyes slightly glazed. At least he wasn't unconscious.
"Now we wait," the demon announced ominously, and sprang aloft to the catwalks overhead where he vanished into the darkness.
"Ray, you okay, man?" Blair asked anxiously. "Talk to me."
"I'm okay." Ray's voice was thinner than normal. "I whacked my head on the floor pretty good, but I didn't pass out." He shook his head to clear it, then gasped and leaned against the wall, eyes squeezed tightly shut. "Dizzy," he said. "But it's okay now." Full of determination, he straightened up and touched the metal bar that held him. "Wow, did you see it bend this?"
"It left the proton pack," Blair waved his free hand at the abandoned weapon. "If we could get it, we could melt the metal and free ourselves."
Ray worked the metal loop down his pipe so he could kneel down. If he could stretch out on the floor, he might be able to hook his foot through one of the straps and draw the pack to him. "We hafta get out of here," Stantz said. "We're the bait. It wants us here, on its own turf, where it can trash us. It's too dark for the guys to see it, and who knows what powers it has. The other one could cast fire."
"Let's pass on that." Blair slid down his own pipe, very carefully because his metal bar had a jagged protrusion on the inside that wanted to dig into his wrist. He had a bad feeling the pack was out of range of either of them; the demon wouldn't have made that kind of mistake. If there was even a remote chance they could get it, they had to try.
Stretched out full length on the floor, Ray barely brushed the edge of the proton pack with his toe. If he pushed it, it would slide further away. Shorter than Ray and at an angle, Blair missed it by a good six inches. Disgusted, he sat back against the wall.
"Can you work that board loose behind you?" Ray pointed. "If I could hold it between my feet, I might be able to snag one of the shoulder straps."
Blair worked himself around and looked at the board. It was long and thin, and it jutted out of the wall at an angle just over his head. It might be the only means of keeping Jim and the other Ghostbusters from following the bait into a trap. Blair knew it was a trap. "It's setting us up, isn't it?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah. I know it wants to trash us." He grinned faintly. "The guys'll come, but I want to be able to help them when they do."
"You called that, man. I don't like being the bait to get Jim in trouble."
"But we've gotta get the demon." Ray watched Blair work on the loose board. "That's what we do. We can't leave it loose to hurt somebody especially since most people can't see it. Now that Jim can see all those neat things, he's a danger to it, too."
Blair grimaced. "Yeah, I figured that. Only -- I couldn't see it until we were coming here."
"It wanted to intimidate you," Ray said. He moved sideways jerkily as if to encourage Blair with body language. "Tug it harder."
"I am tugging it harder," Blair defended his ineffectual actions. "And if it wanted to intimidate me, it sure did a good job. This really sucks, man." He worked his fingers into the gap between board and wall and put one foot against the wall below it, using his whole body for leverage.
"Not what you bargained for when you signed up to be a Sentinel's guide?" Ray prompted sympathetically.
"I just don't know how I'm gonna coach Jim if he can see unicorns and fairies and elves -- and I can't. I've gotta say, Ray -- I've got it. I've got... No, wait, I don't have it after all." He braced his foot all the higher on the wall and yanked again. "Jim is gonna hate this."
"I bet. I'd love being able to see things like that." He grinned fondly and wistfully. "Peter teases me that I already do, but I can't, really."
"But you believe in it." Blair's words weren't even a question. The board slipped abruptly, pinching his fingers. "Ow, ow, ow!"
"Yeah, so who needs skin on his fingers?"
"I think you've nearly got it. Just a little more," Stantz encouraged, casting a doubtful glance up at the near-invisible series of catwalks. "Think he's still up there?"
"Can't you tell? You're the expert."
Ray grinned. "No, I don't have a meter, and it's too dark to see."
"I think it's com --" As Blair yanked mightily the board came loose in a tearing rush, pitching him backwards so abruptly he fell, yanked up short by the metal bar that twisted around his wrist. The jagged edge dug deeply into his unprotected flesh and he felt the start of blood -- oh, god, an artery. It spurted... Blair dropped the board and grabbed for his wrist, struggling desperately to find the pressure point. It was up to him. Ray couldn't reach him...
"Oh, gosh!" The horror in Ray's voice cut through the dark warehouse, breathless from his frantic tugging at the bond that prevented him from helping. "Can you get it?"
"I have to," Blair gasped, his fingers slippery from the blood as he struggled to halt the bleeding. He didn't have anything he could use as a tourniquet, even assuming he could do it one-handed. His heart thudded in his throat, and he felt coldness steal over him that could have been from fear -- or from blood-loss. If he passed out he would die. Ray couldn't get to him. He had to do this himself. And he didn't know if he could.
"You're getting it," Ray encouraged. "Don't stop now. You have to get it under control." Writhing against the twisted bar that restrained him, he struggled for freedom. Blair could see blood on his lacerated wrist, not from a cut artery but from flesh he'd torn in his urgent need to come to Blair's rescue.
There. He had it. The bleeding slowed, stopped. Shaky and spent, Blair sagged very carefully to the floor and leaned his forehead against the worn and dusty boards. He was cold all over. He'd stopped it quick. He couldn't be going into shock, could he?
"You did it," Ray lauded. "I've got a little first-aid kit in my pocket. I'm gonna toss it over to you." He worked it out, the kit clearly too small to possess everything Blair needed. He felt it bounce against his leg and let it lay. Afraid to let go for fear of seeing his blood spurt up again, he shivered, his teeth chattering.
"Give it a minute, you'll be fine," Ray encouraged. "Make sure it's stopped first, then you can wrap it up. What happened?"
"There's a sharp edge on this." Blair nodded at his bond. "Can you reach the board, man? I'm not sure I'm up for warehouse Olympics right now."
Ray stretched out his foot and neatly corralled the narrow board. "I've got it." he worked it closer and closer until he could grab it. "It's nice and long. Let me see if I can do this."
Blair turned his head so he could watch. Ray lay spread eagled on the floor, reaching with the arm that was free of the metal loop, trying to get the narrow lath through the pack's shoulder strap. He muttered impatiently then laid it down long enough to remove a small flashlight from his belt.
"Won't the demon see it?" Blair said before he could switch it on.
"If it's still up there watching us," Ray replied. "Just for a second then off again. I need to see how the strap is lying." He thumbed the button, shone the light on the abandoned pack, then turned the flashlight off. "I think I can do it," he said. "I don't hear anything up there, and I can't see any movement."
"Jim could," Blair said wistfully. He didn't want his Sentinel tangling with the demon but, if Jim were here, he could see well enough in this dim light to call a warning.
"If I had a meter, I could tell," Ray said. "But Egon will have one when the guys come." He heaved a sigh as he worked the long slat under the edge of the shoulder strap. "It's different when I'm not with the guys," he said. "We'll get out of here. I know we will. But..." His voice trailed off and he took a deep, steadying breath. "There! I've got --"
The strap slid off the edge of the board and flopped against the floor.
"I don't have it," Ray said in disappointment. "Let me try again."
"You can do it." Cautiously Blair eased the pressure of his fingers a fraction. Blood oozed up around them.
Hastily he resumed pressure. Not yet. He hated the sight of his own blood, sticky against his fingertips and wrist, and he struggled to squelch the bubbling tide in his stomach.
Teeth closed over his bottom lip, Ray tried again. This time, he pushed the edge of the board further into place, tugging hard against his restraint to gain an extra inch or two. Then, as delicately as possible, he angled the board so the tip that held the strap began to lift. The effort made his hand tremble, but the board held.
"Go for it, man," Blair said under his breath, careful not to disturb Ray's concentration. His eyes never left that bit of strap as he watched Ray struggle for a better grip, then gradually slide the pack fractionally closer. Blair had lifted one before and he knew it was heavy; he wasn't sure the angle Ray had to work with could give him enough leverage. If it slipped free now...
"Steady... Steady..." Ray's face was taut with concentration. The pack slid and inch closer, another inch, then three more. Ray shifted his hold on the board, gripping it with his whole hand and not just his fingertips.
"Yes!" Blair exulted as the pack eased toward them an inch at a time. In spite of his cold lethargy, he couldn't help being revitalized at the sight. "Way to go!"
Then Ray angled the board nearly upright and hauled the pack to him in a rush. He couldn't put it on with his wrist confined, but he worked the thrower free and powered up. A hasty glance up at the darkened rafters overhead revealed no movement.
Bracing the thrower under one arm he blasted not the metallic bond but the pipe it also encircled, just above the loop. One quick sizzle of sound, one flare of jagged golden light and that section melted into nothing. Ray lifted his hand free to give himself a steadier shot. "Okay, quick now," Ray said. "Lean as far away from it as you can get," and zapped Blair's pipe in turn.
A stream of icy water shot out of it and caught Sandburg full in the face. He sagged backward, his fingers came loose, and sputtered for breath, remembering in the nick of time to retain his grip. Water cascaded down his arm. He hoped it wasn't as dirty and rusty as it felt.
"Oh, gosh, I'm sorry," Ray cried, distressed. Snatching up the miniature first aid kit and tucking it into the front of his jumpsuit, he worked Blair's hand free of the pipe, careful not to disturb his injury.
The water stopped as quickly as it had started. It must have been backed up in the pipe. It would probably give Blair a deadly infection. "Shit, shit, shit," he muttered under his breath.
Free of the pipes, Ray supported Blair, an arm around his shoulders, away from the puddles that had spread on the floor. "I wish I could get that off your wrist altogether," he said. "But I'd need a really fine containment stream and I'm not sure it would be safe here, in such a bad light. He grinned abruptly. "But I can wrap duct tape around the rough place that cut you. I've got some in my pocket."
"Thanks, man." Blair offered his still-bound wrist for treatment.
"If the demon is still hanging around, the guys will be here soon. They can track it," Ray reassured him as he did his best with the nasty gouge in Blair's inner wrist. One glance at it had convinced Sandburg he didn't want to look at it a second time. Eyes averted from the gory sight, he squinted up into the darkness, unable to detect the slightest movement.
"You guys do this all the time?" he asked in rampant disbelief.
Ray nodded. "Usually it's a lot more fun than this. I hate it when somebody gets hurt. And I know we're the bait here. Betcha the demon's sitting up on the roof of the warehouse to lure the guys here." He glanced at his wristwatch. "They should be here any minute. I just know it's a trap."
"What kind of trap?" Blair asked uneasily, then he sucked in his breath at the fierce bite of the antiseptic. "Ow! That stings, man."
"I know, but it has to. You got that filthy water all over you and this metal bar isn't exactly sterile. I have to clean it out. You'll need stitches when this is all over."
"More fun," muttered Blair. "What kind of trap?"
"Well, it probably wants one of two things," Ray said. "Either it just wants to kill us or it wants its buddy back, the one we trapped yesterday. Either way it wants revenge."
"It probably wants the buddy back, then." Blair wasn't sure how much of that argument was due to his wish that the first option not be the one. "Because it could have just killed us right there in the Loft, if it only wanted revenge, couldn't it?"
"Not as easily," Ray replied, gently pressing the edges of the wound together. "This is hardly bleeding. I think I can put a bandage on it." He began to unwind a tiny roll of gauze. "We were all firing at it and we could have hit it, even in a confined space like that. He had to do a quick in-and-out to snatch hostages. This place might be -- oh, gosh, he might have triggered it to blow up on us or burn down the minute the guys show up. We've got to warn them." Hastily he wrapped the gauze around Blair's wrist, probably several layers more than was called for. Blair held out the adhesive tape.
"I'll do the duct tape on the cuff once we're outside." Ray jumped up and put his pack on in a fluid movement that spoke of long practice. At once, he offered the younger man a hand up.
Blair came up and would have kept on going over the other side if Ray hadn't hooked an arm around him and steadied him until the wave of dizziness subsided. "Upsy daisy," the anthropologist muttered, giggling faintly. Good, he was probably going into shock. "What about your wrist. It looked nasty too."
"It's superficial. We can fix it later. Come on," Ray urged, one arm around Blair's waist, the thrower in his other hand, the shackle clanging against the weapon with each step.
"Ray!" bellowed a frantic voice from outside. "Are you in there?"
"That's Peter!" Ray's face glowed with relief. "They found us. Isn't that great? Now we can stop that demon!"
"Sandburg!!" Ellison's bellow was every bit as loud as Venkman's.
"You'd better be all right, Ray!" Peter shouted again.
The other four men burst into the warehouse in a rush, Peter in the lead, Jim hot on his heels, with Egon and Winston only a step behind. The Ghostbusters clutched their particle throwers, and Egon's meter, tucked into a pocket, was beeping and blinking out a warning.
"I'm okay," Ray said. "Blair's hurt, but he'll be okay. Is the demon here?"
"Yes, I am here," thundered a menacing voice from overhead. "But soon you will not be here. That is the price all who meddle with me must pay."
Peter thudded up to Ray's side, reassured by one quick glance in his flashlight's beam, then grabbed Stantz around the neck for a brief and fervent hug. "Don't scare us like that, Tex," he said before letting go. Egon edged in beside him and dropped a hand on Ray's shoulder, and Winston clapped him enthusiastically on the back. In spite of the happy reunion, Blair noticed the Ghostbusters were alert, wary, balanced on the balls of their feet, ready to react instantly to an attack. Jim was like that, too, in his cop mode.
Sandburg watched their relieved greetings before Ellison skidded up beside him and caught his arm to frown at the dressing. Blair could see the same look on Jim's face that he'd seen in the Ghostbusters' when they'd fussed over Ray, and he couldn't bite back a quick grin.
"We don't have time, gentlemen," Egon warned. "It's here and it's angry." He touched activated the meter and tightened his grip on his thrower.
"I hate it when they're angry," said Winston. "Can you guys move?"
"Need a hand, Chief?" Jim asked, eyes narrowed at the sight of the metal bar still encircling Sandburg's wrist.
Blair opened his mouth to reassure Jim but his voice was drowned out by an overwhelming 'whoosh' as fire exploded overhead. At once the fire was everywhere, racing down the walls, crashing out in huge gouts of flame as the catwalks collapsed. Thick, black smoke billowed out in an instant to block everyone's vision. Blair's lungs shrieked a protest.
"Down!" Jim flung him to the floor where it was marginally easier to breathe, and the Ghostbusters following suit. "Crawl," Ellison urged. "We have to get out of here."
"Stay together," Peter urged, never budging from Ray's side, though his eyes darted sideways to make sure Egon and Winston were with him. His flashlight beam didn't begin to pierce the churning smoke.
"Which way, man?" Blair wheezed. "I can't see anything!"
"Back the way we came." Winston gestured with his thrower.
"I've got powerful class 7 readings in that direction." The meter inches from his face, Egon coughed as he squinted at the readout screen.
Blair felt a knot twist his stomach. If they didn't move, it wouldn't be the fire that killed them but the roiling, black smoke. "Come on."
"I can't see," Peter sputtered.
"This way." Jim scooped Blair up and slung him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Stooping low, he still move like lightning.
"You can see through the smoke!" Peter exulted. Grabbing Ray with one hand and Egon with the other, he yanked them after Jim, Winston bringing up the rear, one hand on Peter's shoulder for guidance.
The trip across the smoke-filled warehouse felt like an eternity to Sandburg. His lungs ached, his eyes burned, and his head pounded, but they made progress. "Focus, Jim," he urged softly, like a mantra. "Concentrate. You can do it."
Whether or not he needed the coaching of his shaman, Jim brought them to a doorway in seconds. The coughing Ghostbusters bunched at his back as he wrestled with the door. Behind them, flames sprang up where they had stood only moments earlier.
"It's locked!" Jim wrestled unavailingly with the door.
"Stand back and let Lockpick Venkman handle it," Peter rasped. He disintegrated the door with a blast of his thrower and they tumbled out into the slightly better air of a smoky street.
The demon met them there and tried to drive them back into the burning building. "Oh, no, you don't! I mean you to die, and die you shall."
"Wanna bet, bunky," Peter said and hit the entity full in the chest with his proton stream.
It vanished without a trace.
"Yikes!" Peter gritted out as they staggered further from the burning building. "I didn't neutronize it, did I?"
"Unlikely, Peter." Egon paused to clear his throat. "A demon is much to powerful to be neutronized with only one thrower. Move quickly away from the building."
Ray let out a squawk as he started to rise into the air, one arm stretching up as if he'd been grabbed by an invisible threat. The squawk changed abruptly into a bellow of pain.
"Ray!" Peter and Egon yelled in chorus, jumping for him.
"There!" Ellison lowered Blair to the ground and shoved him in the direction of the truck. "I see him."
"I don't see anything," Winston replied. "But I can tell where to shoot." He fired a sizzling stream of energy just above Ray, and the occultist dropped to the pavement with a little cry of surprise and scuttled awkwardly away from the burning building. Peter dropped to his knees at his side. "Hurt, Tex?"
"I'm okay, Peter, just surprised." Ray tried to sit up and lost all color. "No I'm not. I think my shoulder is dislocated."
"Let's get you out of that pack, homeboy." Winston squatted at Ray's side. "No, don't try to move. Let us do it for you. Got it?"
Between him and Peter they removed Ray's pack without causing Ray more than a couple of pained gasps. In the yellow glow of the streetlight, his face looked eerily pale.
"We'd better get that nasty thing off your wrist," Peter said and offered his arm for Ray to grasp, to fight against the pain. The clutching fingers must have dug deep because Peter winced, but made no attempt to free himself. "Winston, my man, can you do a little precision firing?"
"That will have to wait. We have a major problem, gentlemen," Egon said. He allowed Ellison to push him along with the others across the street from the blazing warehouse. Peter and Winston supported the sagging Ray while Jim steadied Blair. Smoke billowed along the street, causing them to hold their breath as they backed off. Blair felt like his lung linings had been rubbed with industrial-strength sandpaper.
"I can detect it," Egon continued. "The demon has made itself invisible to us. I can track it with the meter, but -- egad!"
The device flew from his hand and struck the pavement and shattered into several jagged segments. Egon stared down at the shattered device as if he had been kicked in the face.
"You were saying?" Peter edged up next to him, thrower aimed aloft. "Now what?"
"Anybody else have a meter?" Winston asked hopefully. He and Ray joined Peter and Egon, and he urged Ray into the loose circle around the two men from Cascade. Zeddemore had Ray's pack with him, the strap looped over his arm.
"Or x-ray vision?" Peter asked. "How about it, Jim? Can you still see the guy?"
"Hey, yeah, Jim." Blair gestured at the lowering sky. Thunder muttered there and a faint flicker of lightning shivered through the clouds. Strange weather. It made Blair nervous -- but not as much as the demon did. "You saw it when it grabbed Ray, when none of the rest of us could. I bet you can spot it." He was half-conscious of Ray tugging at his good hand to make him sit down. He didn't want to sit down. They might have to move in a hurry and he was afraid if he sat down he wouldn't be able to get up.
Jim narrowed his eyes. "Come on, Chief, I'll zone out..."
"No you won't. I'll be right here coaching you through it." He coughed. If only he wasn't so shaky on his feet. Ray, balanced carefully beside him, one hand supporting the wrist of the other arm, gave him a sympathetic glance before turning excited eyes upon Jim. He'd feel the pain a lot more after the crisis was over.
"Give me that," Jim said and snatched Ray's proton pack from Winston. Sliding his arms into the straps, he said, "I can direct your fire. You blast where I do." Grabbing the thrower, he obeyed Peter's hasty instruction and the beam shot out. It hit a dumpster and the side of the burning warehouse, then angled up and took out the streetlight before he got control of it.
"Way to go, cowboy," Winston encouraged. "It's got a real kick, different from what you're used to."
"No lie." Jim's jaw bunched, then he steadied the stream. "There!" he hollered and fired. This time the jagged beam of energy was right on target because, overhead, something huge roared in pain.
"You got him, you got him!" Peter angled his shot, striking the same area, but the demon had already moved. Folowing the angle of Jim's fire, the other three Ghostbusters took aim at something they could neither see nor detect -- something that was too fast for them.
"We'll never get it this way," Peter complained. "I'm not hitting anything."
"Wait a minute," Jim muttered under his breath.
"I can wait," said countered. "I'm not sure the demon's gonna wait, though."
But Jim cut his fire and moved slightly off to one side where he looked around for a second, then began to speak in an undertone.
"What's he doing?" Winston angled his thrower to produce a wide beam over their heads like a fountain of energy. It might block the demon from getting too close. "Who's he talking to?"
"I don't know. Is he okay?" Peter asked Blair, his thrower at ready.
Sandburg smiled. "I think I know what he's doing," he said. "Go for it, Jim. You can do it."
Ellison's vision revealed the demon clearly but, as it danced about the sky, he realized seeing it wasn't enough. It was too fast for the Ghostbusters as long as they couldn't see it. They'd seen it before, so it must be concentrating hard on remaining invisible. There had to be another solution.
That was when he remembered the view from the loft's balcony, the strange creatures he had seen when he had focused on seeing beyond the normal. If the demon represented the darkness, was there anything of the light that could stand up against it? Until he'd started seeing the jaguar spirit, Jim had never even considered the possibility of 'the other side', the paranormal. Sandburg was convinced his sixth sense had been activated by the overload. Jim hoped it would wear off quickly -- but not too quickly to beat the demon. He didn't intend to risk Sandburg, or anyone else, because he wouldn't seek the help necessary in a crisis. So he directed the other Ghostbusters to match Winston's covering fire long enough to give him a moment, then he drew in the sense that had allowed him to see the elf in the alley and the unicorn on the street.
The creatures from beyond the veil stood all around him. Invisible to all but Jim, undetectable by the Ghostbusters' equipment, the beings of the world of Faerie had gathered to watch the fight.
"Are you just going to stand there?" Jim challenged. "There are good people in danger. Don't you care?"
"They are mortals," said one of the beings. Sandburg would have unhesitatingly named him an elf, a tall, elegant being with Vulcan ears, clad all in green like the one in the alley across from the loft. He was painfully beautiful and his eyes were implacable, unmoved by Ellison's appeal. "We do not enter into the affairs of mortals."
"That demon isn't mortal," Jim insisted. "Surely it is your enemy."
"It does not harm me," the elf responded without heat. "I do not harm it."
"That's it, then. You're all going to stand there and watch? You don't take any responsibility at all? We're trying to fight something that doesn't belong in this world."
"It is not entirely in this world," another of the invisible audience said, a little being no higher than Jim's midsection. It had a pointy little face, a bulbous nose, and lowering brows, but the eyes held amusement.
"That doesn't matter, if it can harm the living," Jim said. "Okay, I know must humans can't see you and don't believe in you, but you're out there, hanging around the fringes of this world. How can you just stand back and let good men be taken down because you don't want to get involved? You're no better than the demon." He gestured at the diving entity that kept zipping around the mesh of proton energy trying to find a way inside. Blair sat in the middle of the circle, leaning against Ray, who had hunched himself up to protect his dislocated shoulder. Sandburg's face was too white and Ray's was taut with pain. "You get your jollies watching humans suffer, that it?"
"Not entirely, Sentinel." The new speaker was taller than the elf, and wispier. He was not precisely a ghost, but he was less than solid. "We abut the human realm. We are of its fringes, not of its solidity. Once, when humankind was innocent and still believed, there was more interaction but, when the belief began to die, the barriers firmed up. Now we only appear out of the corner of the eye, or at times when the old, atavistic feelings grow near to the surface. What you see before you is a cosmic battle. For us to intervene would be to break rules."
"For the demon to fight is the same thing," Jim snapped. "I'm not asking you to save us, just to offer justice. If you won't help us, you shouldn't harm us either. If your neutrality must be complete, you're all the enemy -- an enemy I can see."
"Now he threatens us," said a hulking shape with glowing red eyes. "I like not this mortal."
"I do like him." The female who spoke slid forward, sleek and seductive, and put her hand against Jim's chest. Her fingers were icy. When she smiled, her lips pulled away from the fangs that turned her beauty into something deadly and threatening. "But I am not like most of you. I walk both worlds. I simply walk the world of the night."
"Vampires are not really of us," the elf who had first spoken reminded her.
"But we are not of them, either." She laughed abruptly. "I would help them, but I cannot. My powers do not run that way. The mortal is right, though. The demon has broken the pact."
"Those of its kind often do," the elf said indifferently.
"Won't you counter it?" Jim challenged. "Isn't there even one among you who will stop him?"
"You care for that human with the long hair?" a voice asked, and a huge, lumbering shape emerged from the darkness. It was more than twice as tall as Jim with mighty shoulders and arms like young trees.
Jim glanced over at Sandburg and spoke without hesitation. "He's the best friend I ever had."
Blair turned glowing eyes on Ellison as if he understood all that had gone before and not simply Jim's declaration.
"And would you die to protect him?" asked the elf.
"Yes," said Jim without hesitation.
"Would the Ghostbusters die to save one of their group?" pointy-ears persisted.
Ellison studied the four men. He didn't really know them that well, but he had seen their protective urges both last summer and when Ray was missing, felt their desperate need to rescue him before anything happened. Their need had been as strong as his to find Blair. "Yes," he replied, hoping he wasn't committing any of them to death. He didn't have the right to make that decision for them.
"Why?" the elf asked.
"Because they're brothers," he said. "Not by blood, but by choice." Peter's face blazed in a smile of agreement.
"Family," Peter corrected, gesturing to his team. "We're family, all of us. What are they asking you?"
"That's what," Jim confirmed.
The demon swooped down at the energy barrier, growing more resistant to the blocking power with each pass. If it wasn't stopped he would break through soon.
"For god's sake," Ellison exploded. "Do something."
"Not for the sake of your god," the giant said. "But for the sake of something we once possessed but have since lost. For the sake of fellowship and the love of brothers. Immortality has its price, Sentinel. We sacrifice what you would call 'humanity' for it. Humans fascinate us because they can still care. Our emotions are faded, weak, compared to the urgency I see in the face of your friend."
"Tonight you have proven your ability to care," the elf said. "We will not allow you to capture that one --" he waved his hand at the threatening demon. "But we can remove the threat to you -- if we should choose to do so."
"If you need a life, take mine," Jim offered.
"No, Jim, don't," Sandburg screeched. "Don't bargain with them that way. They'll hold you to it." He struggled to his feet and took two unsteady steps in Jim's direction before Winston snagged him around the shoulders to keep him from stepping away from the streams' protection. Blair struggled in the grip, but he was too weak from the blood loss to break free.
"He's right," Ray called, his voice full of pain. "They have different rules than we do. If you offer them a life, by their code they have the right to take it."
Jim heard the approaching sound of sirens, fire trucks and police cars coming, summoned to fight the conflagration. He'd scarcely been aware of the blazing fire since they had escaped the building, although it took an effort to breathe easily. "We have to hurry," he said, gesturing Sandburg back, "before this turns into a circus."
"We hear the approach," the dwarf said.
"Time is passing," agreed the vampire. "What must we do?"
"Save my friends," Jim said. "I already made you an offer. I'm not taking it back."
"No, Jim," Blair cried a second time. "You can't... Not for me --"
"The offer has been fairly made," the giant interrupted. He smiled revealing teeth as long as Jim's hand. "Therefore, it is time for us to do our part." He reached up and caught the glittering energy streams in his bare hands, weaving them into a subtle pattern, braiding them. The four Ghostbusters stared, mouths agape.
"Egon, what's happening?" Peter cried, gaping up at the display.
"They shouldn't be able to do that," Egon murmured. "It's scientifically impossible."
"Wow!" Ray forgot his pain in his excitement.
Ellison watched the giant create a loop, toss it across the sky, and hook the demon in it. Binding the energy tighter and tighter around the ferocious being, he compressed it, contracting the golden binding tighter and tighter until the demon began to shrink. From the gasps of the Ghostbusters and Blair, the black being was visible to them. Ray's mouth hung open. Peter stood poised to intervene in case anything went wrong.
"Maintain fire," Egon instructed, and the three Ghostbusters directed their streams at the demon, shocked when the beams took on a life of their own. Smaller and smaller grew the entity as the energy bound it, the frantic struggles ebbing.
Abruptly, without warning, it popped out of existence. All three streams cut out, and Peter blurted an astonished curse as his thrower stopped working.
"Power down, gentlemen," Egon said and they flipped the now-useless switches and holstered their particle throwers. Jim did the same.
Blair erupted from the circle and grabbed Jim by the arms with no thought to his own wound and his weakness. "Omigod, Jim, they're gonna kill you," he wailed. "You made a bargain with them for your life! They have to kill you!" He flung protective arms around Ellison and glared defiantly at the beings he could not even see in an attempt to shield Ellison from a magical attack with his own body.
"Is that right?" Peter asked Egon. "He has to die? Come on, Spengs, there's gotta be a way around it."
"He did make the offer, Peter," Egon explained grimly. "And they did provide a service. Will it stay away?" he asked Jim.
"We drained it of the ability to return to this world and threw it into the Netherworld where it belongs," the elf said to Jim. Ellison translated hastily.
"That's right, demons come from the Netherworld," Ray said. "We've been there." Leaning into the circle of Peter's arm, his face was tight with pain, but his eyes lingered worriedly on Jim and Blair.
"Netherworld," Jim muttered, then frowned at the mythical beings surrounding him. He could hardly deny the existence of such a place when he was surrounded with ghosts, goblins, elves, werewolves, and vampires. At least Sandburg was safe; he was gazing up at Jim with desperate anxiety. He would survive and that was what mattered.
Jim turned to the elf. "What happens now?"
"You can't let them kill you, Jim," Sandburg objected. "You're too valuable to lose. He's a Sentinel." He planted himself full in front of Jim to form a human barricade. "He has to stay alive. Take me instead."
"Damn it, Chief --"
The elf materialized in front of the astonished Blair. He let out a startled yelp and the Ghostbusters drew closer, staring. Egon reached automatically for the meter he'd lost and muttered, "Rats," when he remembered he didn't have it.
"The offer has been made and accepted," the elf told Sandburg. "Take comfort in the knowledge that your friend loves you enough to die for you. He has offered to stand your friend 'to the gallows-foot -- and after.'"
"I want him to stand my friend here, and alive," Blair insisted fiercely, grabbing Jim tighter. "This is crazy. You can't do this."
"The bargain has been made. We will take from him what we will," the elf said. He reached out, easily evading Blair's batting hand, and put his palm flat against Ellison's forehead.
"Blair," Jim said. "Don't..." And then the world went away, leaving only darkness.
"Jim!" Sandburg's anguished wail shredded the sky. Peter edged up behind the kid he'd befriended the previous summer and helped him ease the limp body to the ground. Blair followed him down and Peter assisted in positioning him so he sat with Ellison's head in his lap. Blair cried, "This isn't fair. It's not fair! It sucks, man."
"Yeah, I know it does," Peter tried to console him, although he knew no words to make it better. "But he cared enough to die for you. He saved a lot of people who might have died if the demon had broken free."
Blair's eyes blurred with tears. "He can't be dead. It's not fair." His fingers trailed across Ellison's forehead in a futile attempt to force life back into the Sentinel.
The elf stepped forward. "It is not meet for your kind to see ours," he said, his voice curiously gentle. "Some things are not permitted -- even to the Sentinel of the Great City."
"You killed him because he could see you?" Ray challenged. "And not because it was what he offered? That's not part of the bargain. You don't have the right to kill him for a reason like that. I know the rules, and that's not fair. You have to give him back, if that's why you did it."
"He made the offer. We took what we would."
Blair pulled Jim up against his chest, gently rocking him. "Bring him back," he spat at the elf. "You have to."
"Humans. So hasty. So ignorant. They are not yet ready to see us," the elf said and vanished, popping out as if he'd been teleported away.
"And that's it?" Winston shouting at the uncaring sky. "Get back here and fix this, you bastards!"
Egon knelt beside the broken-hearted Sandburg and put his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I think we forgot one very important fact." Under the stunned eyes of the other Ghostbusters and Blair, he pressed his fingers against Jim's neck and felt for a pulse. "We do not even know if he is dead."
The corpse groaned at the touch.
"Jim?" Blair jerked, then froze in astonishment. "Jim, are you alive? Oh, man, you're alive!" Tears traced paths down his soot-stained face.
"I feel a distinct pulse," Egon replied and pulled back when Sandburg enveloped Ellison in a massive hug.
"Jim, wake up," Blair demanded. "Wake up!"
"How can he be alive, Egon?" Peter demanded, grinning a mile wide. "See, Ray's he's breathing. He's okay."
"The offer was sufficient, I think," Ray breathed, eyes huge.
"No, I believe they took something," Egon replied. "If I had a meter, I could check --"
"What the hell, Sandburg?" Jim blurted with an ineffectual gesture to free himself from his friend's embrace. Stunned, Blair hugged him tightly once more then let go. The metal bond on his wrist whacked Jim on the shoulder and he let out a yelp.
"I'm sorry, man. We thought you were dead, that they'd traded getting rid of the demon for your life. Don't do things like that, Jim."
"Is it gone?" Jim squinted up at the smoke-filled sky and coughed painfully just as the blare of the sirens grew deafening. Frantically he clapped his hands over his ears.
"Jim, quick, turn down the pain dial, lower the volume," Blair coached, as he recognized the symptoms of an attack on the Sentinel's hearing.
Police and firemen exploded onto the scene, creating organized chaos. Paramedics ran at the group of men, and Jim struggled up out of Blair's embrace. "Now what?" he demanded.
"Show him your badge, Jim," said his guide.
Jim held it out, waving away the paramedics. "Take care of Sandburg -- and Stantz," he ordered, gesturing to the two injured men. I'm okay." A cough and the way he staggered as he gained his feet belied his words, but Egon and Winston steadied him as the paramedics bore Blair and Ray over to the EMT unit. Peter drifted after them to make sure they treated Ray right, pestering the paramedics with reminders of all Ray's injuries.
"I'm Detective Ellison," Jim said. "A suspect led me and my partner here." He gestured at Blair. "He got grabbed -- we don't know who did it. He didn't see them."
"Those are the Ghostbusters, aren't they?" the cop demanded. "I saw them on TV last night. What are they doing here?"
"They were in town following a bust. We met them last summer and they'd stopped by and were visiting when I got the tip."
"You brought civilians on a bust?" The cop's eyebrows shot up in disbelief.
"Hey, Jack, we came anyway," Peter said. "We've been running tests and our readings pointed us in the same direction. There was a ghost in there but it got away. Then somebody grabbed Ray and Blair -- and set fire to the warehouse. We nearly didn't make it out."
"Yeah, and you all ate a lot more smoke than is good for you," one of the paramedics said. "We're gonna transport the lot of you. I'm getting the oxygen set up now. This way, gentlemen." He grinned wryly at the cop. "You can find out more later. From the way that place went up, maybe it was a meth lab."
"I think it was just a trap," Jim said. "No explosion but it burned all at once."
"Later," the paramedic insisted sternly and steered them away.
"Twice in one day," Jim grumbled as he joined Peter, Egon, and Winston in the waiting room. "I hate hospitals."
"Yeah, I can't say I'm keen on this stuff either." Peter's face was clean but his jumpsuit had clearly seen better days. His breathing sounded a lot better to Ellison's sensitive ears. "I just love lying around breathing oxygen. Makes my whole day." He stretched comfortably on the Naugahyde sofa and let himself lean against Egon's shoulder, fatigue written in his posture. Equally tired, Egon leaned back so the pair of them held each other up.
"Are you all right, Jim?" Winston asked. "Did they find out why you passed out?"
"No, but I know." Blair appeared behind him. Jim, who had just started to sit down, surged up again. "They're letting you go?" He guided his guide to the nearest chair.
"Well, they would have liked to keep me, but I wasn't up for it," Blair said. "They said I was lucky. I lost some blood but it wasn't quite enough for them to give me a transfusion. They want me to drink plenty of fluids and kind of lay around tomorrow, and it took six stitches, man." He cradled his bandaged wrist against his chest. "Oh, and they pumped me full of antibiotics. They weren't happy about that metal thing on my wrist and said I had to go on taking the antibiotics pills for ten more days. But I'm okay, Jim. What about you?"
"They said I had a little too much smoke, but I'm okay," Jim said. "We've all been lying down breathing oxygen until just a few minutes ago."
"They put his shoulder back," Peter said with a wry grin. "He nearly passed out when they did it, but he'll be okay. His wrist is messed up too from that stupid shackle thingy so he gets to play the antibiotic game too. They said we could come and get him in a little while and take him home."
"That's great," Sandburg exulted. "Wow, guys, I never thought we'd get through this night. You really scared me, Jim."
"I scared you? You're the one with a cut artery."
"You're the one who could have died," Blair said, all the buoyancy deserting his face. "You told them to take you instead of me." It was a desperate accusation.
"Hey," said Peter gently before Jim could defend himself. "It was the only thing he could do. That's how it works, y'know?"
"How what works?" Blair sounded frustrated. He'd been badly scared and he hadn't gotten over it yet.
"Friendship," Peter said without hesitation, grinning at Egon and Winston.
"Yeah, man, being brothers," Winston confirmed.
"That elf guy said something about standing at the gallows-foot and after," Peter cut in reminiscently. "It sounded like a quote."
"It was," Egon explained. "From a poem by Rudyard Kipling called The Thousandth Man. 'But the thousandth man will stand your friend with the whole round world agin you.'" He shared a quiet moment with Peter and Winston.
"Hey, I like that poem," Peter admitted, winning the surprised looks of his teammates. "It's about... about..."He struggled for an explanation, then his face cleared and he beamed beatifically. "Us," he concluded.
Egon's eyes warmed. "Indeed, Peter."
"You called that, homeboy," said Winston.
"It's a great poem, Jim." Blair produced a thousand-watt grin. "I remember it now. 'But if he finds you and you find him, the rest of the world won't matter; For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim With you in any water.'" His eyes rounded with awe. "You were gonna die for me."
"Oh, for god's sake, Sandburg," Jim blurted, terminally embarrassed. "There wasn't anything else to do."
"But they didn't take your life, Jim," Egon reminded him.
"No, and that part is so great." Blair jumped to his feet, gesturing grandly and trying to mask the wince of pain when he swung his injured arm. "They didn't take your life and they didn't take your Sentinel senses. You heard those sirens way too loud, and I could tell you were listening when the doctor was talking to me, and I saw you sneaking a peek at my chart from across the room. You're still alive, and you're still a Sentinel, Jim. But -- Hey, Peter?"
"What is it, Sandburg?" Venkman's grin suggested he was in the know, too.
"Do you have the Zener cards with you?"
Peter dug them out of his pocket, pulled them out of their case, and held one of them up to Jim. "So what do you see, big guy?"
Jim stared at the card for a long time. He didn't have a clue what it said. "I don't know."
"Bingo," Peter said. "That elf guy said human beings weren't ready yet. He didn't take your life, Jim. He didn't need it." He returned the ESP deck to his pocket.
"He just took away that extra sense," Blair concluded. "He said, 'some things are not permitted -- even for the Sentinel of the great city.' He knew, Jim. He knew you were a Sentinel. He didn't take that away, just the new bit."
"Then I cleaned up on the deal." Jim smiled. "I got to save your hide, Chief, and didn't have to bite the big one in the process." Something inside him relaxed. He had never wanted to see demons and unicorns. Being a Sentinel was tough enough, but this new ability had pushed him further than he ever wanted to go. He wasn't sure if it would ever activate again. He hoped not.
"But it would have been so neat, Jim," Blair said. "Though I've gotta say, having you alive and still a Sentinel and doing this Thousandth Man number for me really ranks right up there..."
"Yeah," Jim said. "Only now we've gotta get our act together."
"What do you mean?"
"I've gotta figure how I'm gonna explain to Simon why I took you four clowns on a case with me," Jim admitted with a grimace at the Ghostbusters. "And it's not gonna be easy."
A nurse poked her head in the doorway then. "Dr. Stantz is ready to go."
Peter leaped to his feet before she could finish speaking. "Let's get Ray."
"I concur." Egon fell into step with him, and Winston was only half a step behind.
Blair beamed at them as they rushed to retrieve their friend, then he fell into step at Jim's side, his own Thousandth Man, as they left the waiting room together.