Originally published in The Yule Tide #2

 

...And a Demon in a Pear Tree

 

"I just donít get it," said the demon.

Peter Venkman looked up at Melchazat. True, the demon wasnít as tall as he had been in his natural state, but when heíd chosen to return from the Netherworld and live in the human realm, he had assumed human form which he could maintain indefinitely. He was taller than Egon, and if he was slim, he was also muscular. The thick blond curls had grown longer since the demonís arrival from the other dimension, but heíd been hanging out with musicians since his arrival on Earth. Maybe shaggy locks went with the territory.

"Donít get what, buddy?" Peter asked. The pair were sitting in front of the television set at Ghostbuster Central, on an afternoon the day before Christmas. Ray and Winston were out shopping, facing the ravening hordes in order to find the perfect last minute gifts and, as usual, Egon was lost in his work upstairs, scarcely aware, it seemed, of the impending holiday. Maybe the physicist had asked Janine to do his shopping for him. Heíd certainly concealed any presents heíd bought for Peter too well to be found. Peter had looked Ė thoroughly. Egon hid his presents every year and Peter always looked. He thought he knew every place there was to hide things in the converted firehouse that had become the Ghostbustersí headquarters, but Spengler managed to conceal things every year without appearing to lift a finger to do so. Maybe Janine had hidden them at her Brooklyn apartment. Without one shred of effort, Egon had managed to wrap the Ghostbustersí secretary around his little finger. Peter shook his head. Women had a tendency to go for the tall, blond physicist.

"This," Mel said, waving at the Christmas tree, and the horde of presents beneath it. "I know I couldnít go with Eddie at Christmas. His father hates demons." He hung his head.

That was probably a simplification. Eddie Plummer, the famous rock star, was Egonís cousin, and his father was Egonís Uncle Cyrus, an extremely conventional man with pronounced ideas, very narrow ideas. Egon had been delighted his cousin had reconciled with Cyrus enough to go to him for Christmas, taking his wife Whitney, and baby Cy. And heíd been understanding when Eddie had shown up the previous day, Melchazat in tow, the demon clutching a bag of presents Eddie had bought for the Ghostbusters under one arm.

"I canít take him back to Ohio with me, Egon," he explained ruefully. "Dadís come a long way since I became a musician but he just doesnít understand it all. Heís barely forgiven me for giving up physics. Marrying Whitney and naming our son after him helped a lot, but I just canít push my luck. Iím going to tell him about Mel, but you know how he gets when anybody even mentions Slimer." Egonís uncle had had a run-in with the Ghostbustersí tame ghost the last time he was here and still complained about the spud, given half a chance. "He wouldnít like it," continued Eddie. "I want to stay on good terms with him; Cy needs to know his grandfather; Whitneyís folks are dead and dad is the only grandparent Cyís got. But Dad will be unhappy if I arrive with a demon in tow. Even if we didnít tell him what Mel is, Melís a roadie and Dad wouldnít understand that either. And Mel just isnít like other people. Heís learned a lot about our world, but he still says and does things that give him away, and I wonít teach him to lie about his background."

"You could, however, teach him discretion," Egon countered, and it was clear from his expression that he knew where the conversation was going. Peter, who had been eyeing the presents as Mel took them out of the bag and laid them neatly under the Ghostbustersí Christmas tree, looked up at that, and studied Egonís expression.

"You want to leave him here, donít you?" he asked.

In the background, Ray murmured, "Wow," in eager delight, and Winston looked up from his current mystery and muttered, "Say what?" They both approached, Ray excited, Winston a bit more doubtful.

"Iíd leave him at Segue, but Ninaís going to Paris for the holiday and Tommyís planning to spend it with his dad. If anyone was going to be there, Mel could stay with them. But I wonít leave him alone at the house. It isnít fair, especially at Christmas."

"Like he celebrates it," Peter muttered under his breath. It wasnít that he disliked Mel, but Mel liked Peter very much. It would be like having a giant puppy following him around for the whole holiday. Bad enough the spud did without encouraging a second paranormal entity to do the same thing.

"No, but we do. I know it isnít fair to ask you guys to pay my debts, but you do know Mel. And he did help us when the demon Astarine tried to get me to go and live with her in the Netherworld. Itís only for three days," he wheedled. "Weíll be back on the twenty-sixth. The band has a New Yearís Eve concert in Philadelphia."

"Sure weíll do it," Ray volunteered for all of them goodheartedly. "I think itíll be nice. We have a great time at Christmas, Mel. Lots of cookies and candy to eat; youíll like that. Sometimes we sing Christmas carols, and there are some great movies on TV. Gosh, we couldnít let you be alone at Christmas. Itís just not right. But Uncle Cyrus would freak, especially if you forgot and turned blue. Youíll be fine here. We understand demons."

"Speak for yourself, Ray," Peter said under his breath. He didnít entirely like the idea, but he wouldnít say no either, especially when Mel was getting dumped at Christmas. In a way that made him feel a bond with the demon. Peter had been dumped by his dad at Christmas nearly every year he was growing up. It was one of the reasons he always went over to Mrs. Favershamís on Christmas night; their former client had no family, though she was happier these days, ever since Peter had helped her sign up as a volunteer at the Childrenís Hospital. Honorary grandmother to a lot of kids, not to mention Peter himself, she simply thrived, but she had come to depend on Peter for Christmas night. So Peter couldnít turn his back on Mel, even though he wished the guysí Christmas had been as theyíd planned it, the four of them and Janine. He knew that was selfish, and he didnít want to argue too loudly. Egon always called him for things like that.

"If you donít want to, thatís okay," Eddie said quickly, slanting a doubtful look at Peter. He was almost as knowing as Egon. Maybe it was a Spengler trait.

"No, weíll do it," Peter said hastily. "I was just wondering if the turkey was big enough. Iíve seen Mel eat."

"Two turkeys," suggested Ray. "Iíll go and buy another one. Iíll have to start defrosting it now."

"Chef Ray," Peter teased. "Just so long as you donít use one of those old family recipes of yours. I remember once you made us eat haggis. There ought to be a law...."

"Weíre using my family recipe," Winston said firmly. "Nobody makes a turkey and dressing like my mama. Just wait till you taste it, Mel."

Eddie started to turn, then he paused. "Whatever you do, keep him away from the Home Shopping Network," he warned ominously.

So the erstwhile big, blue demon moved into Ghostbuster Central. Ray hoped the guest bed would be big enough, and all of them were slightly disconcerted when Mel said he would shrink enough to fit it, if it wasnít.

Slimer appeared, slimed the departing Eddie, spotted Mel, and lunged for him in rapture. Mel hugged the little ghost with great enthusiasm then turned to the Ghostbusters, dripping in slime, his joyful smile revealing his big, white teeth. Peter always found himself looking for fangs when Mel smiled, though the demon had not given them to his human form.

"Itíll be great, youíll see, Peter," Ray told the psychologist earnestly, dragging him off to one side so the demon wouldnít overhear. "I know you really donít like it, but what else could we do? We couldnít let Mel stay alone at Christmas."

"Itís hardly a demon holiday, Ray."

"No, but lots of people who arenít Christians sort of celebrate Christmas," Ray said. "Maybe not the birth of Christ, but the...cultural holiday."

"You mean the frantic commercialism," Peter countered. He had grown to like Christmas; how could he avoid it with his three buddies all determined for him to have a good time. But he liked it warily, the way someone might like a not-quite-domesticated animal that might be nice most of the time and then turn and spring on the unsuspecting owner and rip out his throat. Peter had come to like Christmas, but he hadnít entirely allowed himself to trust the holiday, and each year, as he entered into the spirit of the occasion more and more, he waited, expecting something to go wrong. Was Mel this yearís chance of a lousy Christmas? Peter wasnít sure.

"Well, Winstonís the only one of us whoís really religious," Ray reminded Peter. "But I love Christmas, and so does Egon, once you pry him away from his research and his molds and fungi." He eyed Peter knowingly. "And I seem to remember you on Christmas last year, acting like a great big kid about your presents and having a great time."

"I wouldnít turn Mel away," Peter said seriously. "Nobody should be alone at Christmas, unless thatís what they want, and even then I donít know. Weíll give it a try."

Ray beamed at Peter as if heíd just gotten a great present, and the psychologist was a little embarrassed at the reaction. He shook himself out of it long enough to say goodbye to Eddie, who was fending off Slimer with wary determination. Slimer was one of Eddieís fans, and Peter suspected the singer meant to escape before Slimer started singing one of his hits at him. Slimerís voice was not musical.

When Eddie headed down the stairs, pausing to call out a ĎMerry Christmasí to Janine, Mel turned and gazed at the Ghostbusters, his eyes wide and sad. A lone tear heíd held back until Eddie was out of sight spilled over and ran down his cheek. He put up a big fist and knuckled it away like a child.

"Aw," said Ray with ready sympathy, grabbing the demonís wrist quickly. "Come on, Mel, Iíll show you where you can sleep, and then we can make fudge. Peter insists on fudge at Christmas, and heís the only one who doesnít like nuts in it, so I have to make him a special batch every time. Youíre now my official back-up chef."

Mel brightened. He clearly knew Ray was trying to distract him, because he said in his rumbling bass voice, "Itís just that I miss Eddie." He looked around at them a little defiantly. "He wonít let me call him Ďmasterí. He says Iím his friend, not his slave, and he wonít let me. But heís still the master whatever I call him. I know I canít go to his dadís house, but I miss him." He paused then added with determined brightness, "I like fudge. Nina lets me lick the spoon and the pan afterwards."

"Then I will, too," promised Ray, though it was one of the occultistís treats when he made fudge. "Come on," he urged again, and snatched up the demonís suitcase, leading him toward the spare room.

** *** **

That had been yesterday. Now it was Christmas Eve, and in a few hours the Ghostbusters would exchange their presents. Peter had hauled out his carefully wrapped gifts an hour earlier and stowed them under the tree, since none of the guys was around to sneak a peek at them. Mel had helped him with the heavier ones, and had been thrilled to death to find a present for him from Peter. Okay, so heíd rushed out last night and picked something out. It wouldnít be fair to Mel to watch the guys exchanging gifts and then get none of his own. Even when Peter had actively hated Christmas, heíd still bought gifts for Egon and Ray, though he usually hadnít bothered wrapping them. It had been on Winstonís first Christmas with the team that they had encountered Ebenezer Scrooge and the three Ghosts of Christmas and Peterís attitude had started to change toward the holiday when he realized how close heíd come to losing Christmas altogether. Now he liked it, most of the time. He even admitted it if the guys pushed him hard enough. But explaining it was something else again.

"It isnít that Uncle Cyrus hates demons," Peter tried to rationalize. "He just doesnít understand them. He didnít believe in ghosts until he showed up here and then it took a long time. Youíve been around long enough to know that some humans have closed minds."

Mel nodded. "Eddie wonít let me tell promoters and agents and people like that Iím a demon. The other roadies know and think itís a kick." Clearly Mel was making great inroads on American colloquialisms. "They say if we get any more obnoxious groupies, I get to chase them away Ė in my natural form."

"Iíd kinda like to watch," Peter said with a grin, imagining the reaction to persistent females if one of the roadies suddenly mutated into a giant blue demon before their eyes. "So you like living in our world, huh?" he asked.

Mel nodded emphatically. "Itís cool. Eddie fixed everything up, even got me a Social Security card, and Iíve got a learnerís permit. Iím gonna get a driverís license."

Peter shuddered at the idea of Mel behind the wheel. Heíd heard of road hogs. A road demon didnít bear thinking about. On the other hand, he couldnít be any worse than Rayís reckless abandon behind the wheel, could he?

"I bet it still seems weird, though," Peter offered.

Mel nodded. "I watch TV a lot. Eddie says I can learn a lot there, but not to believe it all. I wish some of it could have been real Ė Klingons, and Wookiees, and E.T."

"Youíve seen weirder stuff in the Netherworld."

Mel nodded. "But itís cold there." He shivered, but Peter didnít think he was referring to the temperature. "Demons donít have families." That made him sad; his emotions appeared to be very close to the surface all the time, like a childís. Emotionally he was probably very childlike, Peter realized. He didnít have the experience not to be. Eddie must be really good with him.

"I know you miss Eddie," Peter said. "But youíre not always with him, after all."

"No. Not when he and Whitney mate."

Peterís jaw dropped. "Uh, yeah," he replied. "Thatís probably a really good idea."

"And theyíre a family. They need to be together without me there all the time. I do what Nina says; she knows when itís okay for me to be there and when I should back off."

"Iíll bet." The redoubtable Nina Corey was Eddieís secretary, and managed them all up at Segue, Eddieís estate on the Hudson.

"Tommy teaches me martial arts," Mel continued. Tommy Graves was the butler at Segue, a friend of Eddieís and sometime bodyguard. "He says I canít just storm in and stomp people to death, and Iím too big to be in a fair fight. But anybody can use martial arts. He says it will teach me control. He says I really need control."

Peter slanted a sideways look at the demon. "I bet."

"I miss Eddie," Mel proclaimed. He heaved a great sigh. "I donít know why itís so important," he continued. "Christmas, I mean."

"Youíre not the only one."Lots of people get confused at Christmas."

"You donít," Mel said with certainty.

"What makes you think that?"

"Because you know everything."

"Tell that to Egon. Heís always telling me I donít work hard enough and study enough about ghosts and spooks." Peter grinned. "But nobody knows everything, not even old Spengs. And lots of people donít know how to have a good Christmas. I didnít used to."

"Why not?" Mel asked bluntly. He might be sensitive himself, but he hadnít learned to respect other peopleís sensitivities yet.

"Because when I was a kid, I had lousy Christmases. My dad was never there, and I wanted him to be." He shrugged. "I thought Christmas was just another day."

"But itís a special day," insisted Mel. "Eddie says so. Even Jackie says so."

"Jackie?" Peter didnít know that name; to the best of his knowledge there was no Jackie in the Segue mťnage. "Hey, Mel, you got a girlfriend?"

"No," said Mel sadly. "I wish I did. Jackieís nice to me. Sheís Malcolmís secretary."

Malcolm Wyatt was the groupís manager. Peter had never met him or his secretary, but from the wistful look on Melís face, taking human form was making him long for human relationships. "Does she know youíre big and blue in your natural state?"

Mel shook his head. "Iím scared to tell her," he admitted.

"Oh well, the time may come. Maybe you can come to me for lessons when youíre ready. After all, Iím an expert in women."

"So why is Christmas special?" Mel persisted, not the least bit skeptical about Peterís Ė slightly exaggerated Ė claim. The other Ghostbusters would have ribbed him unmercifully about it. Maybe there was something to be said for hanging out with a demon who didnít know his way around.

"Well, basically itís an important religious holiday," Peter explained. "The start of the Christian religion, the birth of Christ. Have you heard about all that?"

Mel nodded. "I understand all that. Gods make sense to me. You have only one, here. Maybe heís the main one everywhere. I donít know. But if this is the godís birthday, what is all the rest of it?"

"Tradition," Peter told him. "A time for families to be together. Thatís why Eddie had to go see Uncle Cyrus. People think itís the most important day of the year. Didnít you have holidays in the Netherworld?"

"No," said Mel regretfully. "No TV, either. No Itís a Wonderful Life. No Christmas Carol. No Tiny Tim. No carols. I like it better here. All the lights, singing. But I miss Eddie."

"Well, then weíre even, because I miss my dad." Peter probably wouldnít have admitted that out loud to any of the guys; they knew without him saying it that Christmas would mean more to Peter, even now, if his father would even take the time to send a card or call. Charlie never did, although often a card or even a gift would wander in sometime in January. This year there had been nothing, but the guys knew, and they made up for it as best they could by involving Peter in every step of the holidays, making sure he knew there were a lot of presents for him, even Egonís secret ones.

Mel startled Peter by hugging him fiercely. "Donít be sad," he encouraged.

"Iím not sad," Peter denied, squirming free, though he was a little. "Iím resigned to it. Hey. Letís take a look at the tube. Maybe we can find a good movie."

"Home Shopping Network?" Mel asked hopefully. "I like to buy presents."

"You got a credit card?" Peter asked suspiciously, remembering Eddieís warning.

Mel nodded. "Visa."

"And how close are you to your credit limit?" the Ghostbuster asked sternly.

Mel hung his head, avoiding Peterís eyes. "Maxed out."

"Then no Home Shopping Network for you. Maybe we can find a football game."

"Aw." Mel looked disappointed but he surrendered control of the remote to Peter. "I still donít understand Christmas," he complained. "Even though I watched all those movies, and tried to read books."

"You can read?" Peter asked, raising an eyebrow in surprise.

"Ninaís teaching me."

And she probably did it well, too. Peter grinned as he punched the channel changing button on the remote, pausing to grin. "Hey. Hereís A Christmas Carol. Letís sit back and watch. Course this isnít really how it was, you know."

"No?"

"Heck no. I was there. I even got to be the Ghost of Christmas Past. Not that it was great, mind you. The guys made me wear a skirt and blond curls. Not my usual style." He leaned back in the chair, prepared to enjoy the modified version of the story and throw out tidbits of inside knowledge to Mel as he went along.

** *** **

Ray and Winston returned with shopping bags full of wrapped gifts. Some of Winstonís were for his folks, but Ray had bought presents for his Aunt Lois and his cousin Sam already. Most of his new ones were for Mel, though Peter drifted over automatically when Ray started putting them under the tree, tickled to notice there was one for him as well as one for Egon.

"Itís The History of Mold," Ray explained, depositing the book-shaped gift with Egonís name on it under the tree. "I was hoping it would come in time for Christmas. They just got it in this morning. Isnít that great!"

"Only Egon would like something like that," Peter said and he and Ray exchanged a fond and tolerant grin, casting their eyes up toward the third floor lab.

As if heíd heard the arrivals, Egon came downstairs himself, balancing a giant armload of presents. Ray raced to meet him and grabbed some to keep Egon from dropping them. Peter stayed back. He knew Egon wouldnít want him to peek. Ray and Winston didnít mind if Peter looked at the gifts they got him, and Peter would have peeked immediately if Egon hadnít been here, but he wasnít about to do it in front of Spengs. It was a question of dignity here.

Mel jumped up and offered to help. Heíd grown comfortable enough in his new form that he wasnít as clumsy as heíd been at first, and Egon entrusted him with a couple of packages, which he carried over proudly and placed under the tree.

"Thereís a lot of presents," he observed rather wistfully.

"Eddie gave you presents, didnít he?" Ray asked.

Mel nodded emphatically. "And Whitney and Nina and Tommy, and Jackie gave me a CD for my CD player."

"Jackieís Melís girlfriend," Peter said in an exaggerated aside.

"I just wish she was," Mel said.

"More power to you, míman," encouraged Winston.

"I noticed it was nearly time for our get-together," Egon said. "Why donít we close for the day, and bring Janine up now. Is the punch ready?"

Peter had been sneaking out to the kitchen during the commercials, mixing the punch. He nodded. "Itís just right, Egon. Potent as ever. But let me warn you, you donít get more than two glasses this year."

"Be assured, Peter, I donít want to repeat he debacle of several years ago," Egon replied. "And that was unfair. You didnít warn us of the punchís liquor content."

"Come on, Spengs, thatís an old family recipe. Handed down to me by my dad. What did you think it was, just fruit juice?"

Egon looked a little embarrassed.

"Well, itís not like you did anything so terrible," Ray comforted the abashed physicist. "Lots of people sing Christmas carols at Christmas."

"Yeah, but not with a wreath around their necks," Winston reminded them.

"And I know who to blame for the mistletoe that got tangled in my hair," Egon said with a stern look at Peter.

"Come on, Egon, Janine had to kiss you when she saw the mistletoe. Itís the law. Any person of the opposite sex is required by federal mandate to kiss someone under the mistletoe." Peter wondered how he could sneak another little bunch of it into Egonís elaborate hairdo this year. Janine would never forgive him if he didnít. On the other hand, it might be more fun to sneak it into Janineís hair instead.

When Janine came up, she was wearing a Christmas corsage and, to Peterís delighted eye, it did seem to hold some of the white berries and yellowish leaves backed by a sprig of holly. She hadnít been wearing that downstairs.

Peter advanced on the secretary, removed the stack of presents from her hands, passed them to Ray, and proceeded to plant a big smacker full on the secretaryís lips.

She pushed him away, though not as strenuously as usual. "And just what was that in aid of, Dr. V?"

"Mistletoe," Mel justified Peterís actions, pointing to her corsage. "He had to, Janine. Itís the law." He proved himself a law abiding Ďcitizení by kissing her next, though very chastely. Janine didnít push him away.

"That was very sweet, Mel. But itís not really the law. Itís just a custom. Peterís misleading you. Anything he tells you, you ask one of the other guys to make sure itís right." She cast a very suspicious look at Peter, as if to demand what other misinformation he had been feeding the hapless demon. Peter spread his hands in a display of innocence that convinced no one of his sincerity.

"Hey, guys, itís Christmas. Youíre always telling me to get into the spirit of things. When I make my special punch, you get on my case. When I kiss Janine when sheís clearly ready for a little action or she wouldnít be wearing that, you get on my case. Guess Christmas just doesnít cut it for me, thatís what youíre trying to say." He managed to produce just the right hangdog look.

Egon, of course, lifted one eyebrow at Peter, to prove heíd made his point but that the physicist didnít buy it, but Ray was instantly sympathetic. "Aw, Pete, weíre not trying to be Scrooge."

"Good. Then thereís a beautiful redhead here waiting for more kisses."

Rayís face went nearly as bright as Janineís hair but, never one to fly in the face of holiday tradition, he went to Janine and kissed her cheek. She put her arms around him and gave him a hug.

Winston kissed her next, then stood back, leaving the field open to Egon. Janine didnít wait in a predatory way but rather as a woman who knows what is rightfully hers, and Egon didnít hesitate. Without even a boost from Peterís lethal punch, he gathered Janine into his arms rather more expertly than Peter had expected, and proceeded to kiss her thoroughly and with some expertise. Peterís eyes nearly fell out. What had he been missing? When Egon lifted his mouth from hers, he kept an arm around her shoulders for a moment before turning toward the tree, shooting Peter a very stern warning look not to make any smart remarks.

"Mel," the physicist said. "We usually open our gifts early on Christmas Eve; thatís to allow Janine to be here before she has to go home, and because she and Winston spend Christmas day with their families, and sometimes Ray goes to his Aunt Lois for Christmas evening dinner, and Peter goes over to Mrs. Favershamís. So Christmas Eve is when weíre usually all here together. Sometimes I spend the holidays with my mother, but sheís in California this year with her cousin Cecelia."

"See, Mel," Peter said instructively to the demon. "People canít always be with their families every year." Then he brightened with a sudden grin as a truth came home to him. "I am, though." And he looked around at the guys for a moment with a warm and happy grin. Before anyone could say anything about his moment of sentimental vulnerability, he cried, "The punch!" and bolted for the kitchen.

Egon followed him and began to get out the cups. "That was very nice, Peter," he said.

"Well, itís true," Peter said defensively.

"Iím not faulting you for stating the truth, Peter," Egon replied. "We are a family, and I, for one, am grateful to be here with the rest of you, at Christmas and all year, too."

"Well, if weíre gonna get sappy," Peter began, disconcerted but gratified too.

"What better time of year is there?" Egon asked.

"Even with a demon in the rec room?" Peter countered.

"Come on, Peter, I know you. You were hesitant at first about having Mel here, but now youíre glad he is. Arenít you?"

Peter considered it as he gathered up the ladle. "Yeah, I guess so. Knowing you, youíre about to tell me why."

"Perhaps," Egon replied. "After weíve exchanged gifts. Can you carry that or shall I send in one of the others to help?"

Peter lifted the punchbowl. "Itís only to the dining table. But you better send in Ray and Winston to get the cookies. And do it quick before Slimer remembers its goodie time and eats them all." He deposited the punchbowl on the table as the others gathered around. "Remember, everybody, no punch for Slimer. A plastered Spud is a terrible sight, and Christmas is going great so far. Letís not wreck it."

Ray shuddered at the thought as he passed Peter on the way after cookies. "I made him a whole batch of cookies, Peter. Maybe that will keep him good."

"If anything can," Winston muttered, setting out plates of fudge and penuche while Egon got the tray of cocktail sandwiches out of the refrigerator.

"Okay, everybody," Ray proclaimed, snatching up the ladle and filling the first cup. "I officially declare this Christmas feast under way."

** *** **

Peter sat on the end of the couch, feeling happy and contented. Heíd been thrilled at his presents, including Egonís gift of a complete bound set of the Dewey LaMort westerns, each one autographed by the author, and a couple of new cars for his model train set. Egon was thrilled with the attachments Peter had got him for several of his more esoteric gizmos and had been unable to put down the book about mold. Ray was delighted at the multitude of goodies heíd raked in: the Captain Steel action figure complete with all the attachments, the new Nintendo games. Winston was delighted at the music tapes, the new books, the sweater Janine had knitted for him. Sheíd done one for each of the guys. Peterís was green to match his eyes, Winstonís was a dark burgundy, Rayís was blue and Egonís was a dusty rose. Egon had given Janine a necklace with a tiny gold heart, and the secretary was in raptures over it.

But somehow, Peter had gotten the biggest kick out of Mel. The demon sat on the floor, his gifts around him, almost concealed in a jagged sea of torn wrapping paper, one red ribbon trailing over his shoulder. Ray had bought him Treasure Island, saying Nina could help him learn to read it, and a stack of comic books, Egon had bought him a microscope Ė "So you can learn more about life in our world." Mel was fascinated by the instrument. Peter had conferred with Winston and theyíd bought the demon a Game Boy and several cartridges. Mel had played a few of them already and proven he had great dexterity and a real eye for them. Janine had given him a huge box of goodies; little smoked hams, packages of cheese, various other delights. Mel sat awed and astonished amid all the gifts, delighted to have them, but suddenly his face crumpled up and he looked sad.

"I donít have gifts for you," he said. "Eddie and Whitney bought the presents for you. I shouldnít take your gifts without giving you something back."

"Thatís because your credit card is maxed out, remember," Peter reassured him hastily. "Eddieís gifts are from the whole family, and that includes you. Itís not the money, itís the thought that counts."

"Take a note of that, Janine," Egon instructed her, eyes twinkling. "Itís the first time since Iíve known him that Peter said it wasnít the money that counted."

Janine pretended to reach for a steno pad, then dimpled at the physicist. "I donít need to. Because none of you will ever let him live it down."

"Besides, you did give us a present," Ray said quickly. "You let us be there at your very first Christmas. Weíre all old hands at this, and even Peterís getting so he accepts it and is pretty good at it. This year, we got to see it a little through your eyes. And thatís really nice."

"Rayís right, Mel," Janine told the demon, patting him on the shoulder and detaching the ribbon in the process. "Weíre really glad youíre here."

An ear-piercing shriek split the air, and Peter ducked and winced, recognizing the cry of Slimer as the little ghost dove through the wall and swooped down on them. "Presents," he moaned. "Open presents without Slimer." Huge tears filled his eyes.

"Oh, gosh, we forgot Slimer," Ray cried in horror, and jumped up to get Slimerís presents from under the tree. "Here you go, Slimer. And I made a whole batch of cookies just for you."

The word Ďcookiesí made Slimer forget any grievances, and he proceeded to hug and kiss each of the guys and Janine, including Mel in his demonstration of affection. Mel liked the attention but not the slime.

While Ray and Janine gave Slimer his presents and Winston flipped open one of the mysteries the guys had given him, Egon sat down beside Peter, gesturing around the room. Mel was still on the floor, reaching out to touch one present after the other, then pausing to sip his punch. Peter hoped with sudden horror that he had enough resistance to the liquor not to get drunk. A tipsy demon would not be a pretty sight. But Mel didnít look intoxicated, simply happy. He probably still missed Eddie, but the celebration had excited and pleased him. Hard to believe heíd once worked for a really nasty demon in the Netherworld. Here he sat, almost childlike in his enthusiasm, loving every moment of Christmas. Peter couldnít help wondering if he retained his form long enough, heíd simply become human. His attitudes were turning human fast, though he had a lot to learn. Maybe he could ask Egon about it later.

After Janine had gone home, driven by Egon in Ecto, Peter couldnít help grinning, wondering if theyíd see Spengler back at any reasonable hour. Egon was a lot less secretive and embarrassed about dating Janine these days, and he was out awfully late sometimes when he was with her. More power to him, thought Peter affectionately.

Egon did stay out late. Giving Janine a really special private present, thought Peter wickedly, but he didnít say so out loud. Finally even Ray decided heíd go to bed, and Winston went up with him, one of his new books tucked under his arm. Peter plopped down on the couch beside Mel, prepared to channel surf for awhile, too wound up from the events and emotions of the day to sleep. Mel was wound up too, but not so much that he didnít watch the programs. In the end, Peter put on a program with a huge male choir singing Christmas carols. For awhile the experience was rendered hideous by Slimer singing along but eventually the Spud grew sleepy and drifted away upstairs.

Mel turned to Peter, yawning cavernously, which instantly made Peter yawn in return. It was nearly midnight, nearly Christmas. "I think I understand now," said the demon sleepily. "Iíve watched all the programs and seen everything. I donít like commercialism. We donít have that in the Netherworld."

"Well, weíve got it here," said Peter, who didnít mind that part of it as much as many people did. "Supply and demand. Conspicuous consumption. It can be overdone."

Mel nodded. "But thatís not the real Christmas," the demon said positively.

"Okay, so youíve got it figured after less than a year?" Peter challenged.

"Easy," Mel said, beaming. "Maybe Iím lucky because I donít have all the knowledge yet. I donít have anyÖ." He paused, pondering the words. "Emotional baggage," he said, obviously quoting from a program or book heíd encountered. "Itís simple for me."

"Then youíre a lucky demon, pal. Okay, if itís so simple, whatís Christmas all about?"

Mel grinned. "Easy." He gestured drowsily around the room as if to encompass the gift exchange and much more, the sense of family he couldnít help but feel in Ghostbuster Central, especially on this one particular night. "Itís about love."

When Egon came in an hour later, looking rather more pleased with himself and contented than Peter was used to, Mel had fallen asleep, leaning into his corner of the couch, his feet up on the coffee table. Peter gestured for silence and joined Egon at the dining table. "Shh. Heís sacked out. A lot of activity for somebody on his very first Christmas. And speaking of activity, Spengs...." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"We wonít do that," Egon replied promptly. "I canít stop you thinking what you think or knowing what you believe you know but...."

"Easy, big guy. Whatís the harm? You love her. She loves you. Itís Christmas. Iím not on your case and Iím not gonna tease you either."

Egonís cheeks were slightly red, but he said, "That will be a first," in far more normal tones.

"Melís got Christmas all figured," Peter informed his friend. He found a couple of pieces of fudge Slimer had missed and nibbled on one, trying not to yawn. To his delight, it was the nut-free kind.

"Interesting when many people are confused at such a time," Egon said.

"Well, he said it himself. He doesnít have all the emotional baggage." He shrugged. "Like I do. I really made Christmas hard for myself over the years, didnít I, Spengs?"

"Rather more than necessary, but you often make things harder for yourself than you need to. Iím accustomed to that. You learned something along the way though that Mel probably hasnít figured out quite yet. That itís more satisfying to give than to receive."

"Come on, Egon, I just love to receive."

"True. All of us do. Who was it who said there was a happy little kid inside all of us?"

"I think it was me," Peter said, casting his memory back. "And I was willing to grant you the exception, except that you seem almost like a happy little kid right now." He frowned thoughtfully. "Well, maybe not so little, not with the kind of presents you and Janine have just been giving each other...."

Egon ignored that, as well he should. "What I mean, Peter, is the way you make sure each year that Mrs. Faversham has a good Christmas, the way you came to terms with Mel being here and spent all that time with him teaching him about Christmas. The way you had a ball getting our presents. Admit it, you did, didnít you?"

Peter hesitated, then suddenly he gave Egon a wide, Ray-like grin. "Yeah, Iíve gotta admit you called that one. I love my presents. You know that. But there was something great about heading out and tracking down just the right things for you guys." His smile brightened. "I got Mrs. Faversham a big teddy bear dressed like Scarlet OíHara. Gone With the Wind is one of her favorite books, and sheís crazy about teddy bears. Sheís gonna be soooo excited."

Egonís smile held warmth and affection, but it also held a deep and quiet pride that made Peter feel better than heíd felt in a long, long time. "So what did Mel decide Christmas was about?" Egon asked, picking up the last piece of fudge and raising it the way he would a drink when about to make a toast.

"Iíve gotta say he was right on the money, Egon," Peter said, raising the last bite of his fudge in turn. "He said it was about love."

Egon smiled as if that said it all. "Merry Christmas, Peter."

"Merry Christmas, Egon."

They finished their fudge and started upstairs for bed.

 

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