Peter's hand tightened into a death grip around the soft warm hands of his mother. All the fear, all of the doubt that had plagued Peter's mind since he set foot inside the rotting mansion melted away. The kindness in his mother's face was just as he remembered as a child. In fact his mother looked as she had in his memory before she had fallen ill.
"M... Mom?" Peter repeated his voice holding the faintest lilt of a long suppressed sob. The warm burning in the side of his neck now completely forgotten. "How is this possible? Why are you here?"
"Because you need me to be here." She answered sweetly as she ran a hand through the dark locks of his hair. "Peter you have to get up."
"I can't." Peter struggled to lift his shoulders up from the hardwood floor, but the heavy beams kept him pinned down firmly.
"Yes you can." His mother's hand tightened around his own as she moved her other hand from his hair to his bleeding neck. "Please try. You must get up!"
Taking a deep breath Peter steeled himself as he mustered all his strength into his arms and shoulders. Shifting his weight he managed to turned slightly onto his side and wedge his shoulder upward against the heavy wide beam that pressing painfully against his entire upper body. With a heavy grunt Peter managed to push the beam up from his shoulder and push it to his side, it collided with the hard floor with a heady 'thud'.
"Come on Peter." His mother urged with utmost confidence in her voice. "You must get up."
"I'm... I'm trying." Peter took in another deep breath as he pushed the heavy beams down his legs far enough for him to move again.
"That's it, I knew you could do it."
Sitting upright Peter kept his hand firmly grasped with his mother's. "Mom. Why... No, what are you doing here? You're... You're gone."
"Yes I am, son." She knelt down beside Peter and put her warm hand to the side of his face. She caressed his cheek with her thumb. "But as you know not every spirit leaves this world."
Peter shut his eyes and let a tear roll down his cheek. His mother wiped it away with a smile. "I've missed you."
"I missed you, too. I wish I could've stayed with you longer, but my time was over."
"Mom, why did you show yourself to me now? Why not earlier?"
"Because you didn't need me until now. You were always so strong minded and independent." She explained with a loving tone. "As much as it pained me to leave you behind I knew you'd be okay without me."
"No, I wasn't." Peter denied with the pain of a neglected child heavy in his voice. "Dad was never there for me and no one else ever helped me out. At least not until I met Egon and Ray. Winston too, he's a good guy."
"Yes, I know. I've seen you form a bond with your friends. As an only child you were always so hesitant to make friends, I'm glad you found some brothers to call family."
Peter was about to smile when a searing pain in the side of his neck caused him to flinch violently and pressed the palm of his hand against the bleeding wound.
"Be strong son." His mother put her hand over his. "You can handle this."
"Handle... it?" Peter asked between gritted teeth. "I don't understand."
"Peter, I'm here because you need me. You're dying."
"Dying?!" Peter's green eyes were wide with fear and bright against the tear reddened streaks. "But-"
"Sh..." She soothed gently. "You can still live, you just need to stay strong and fight."
"I... have a choice?"
His mother's smile twitched as she knew what Peter was truly asking her. "Son, you have to go back. You need to go back. You don't want to cross over, not yet." Her smile returned as she put both hands on his face and coaxed him to look her in the eyes. "It's not yet your time and I can't bear to see you haunted by regret."
"But I feel... I feel so tired. So weak."
"Because you're fighting. Don't stop. Your friends need you." She looked at the bleeding wound on Peter's neck. "I know you can't see them or hear them, but right now your friends are calling out to you. They want you to stay with them, they need you to stay with them."
"They need me." Peter repeated quietly.
The faint sound of a heartbeat filled the air as Peter thought of his friends. A low rhythm beeping accompanied every beat of the heart as muffled, familiar voices began speaking to him. Peter couldn't understand what was being said but he knew each word was filled with kindness and urging.
Nodding his mother slid her hand back through his hair approvingly.
"Mom, you said you don't want to see me haunted by regrets." Peter spoke timidly. "But... it's too late."
"What so you mean?"
"I... I'm a coward. I never said 'goodbye' to you when I had the chance because I was afraid of seeing you die!" Tears began to flow freely from Peter's eyes as he confessed his deepest pain. "I should've been there! I should've been there for you! I should've held your hand just like you're doing for me!"
"Peter!" She wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug and held him tight. "My precious son, I know it was hard for you. I know you wanted to stay with me, but I'm glad you didn't."
"How can you say that?!"
"Because you still see me the way I wanted you to see me. Strong, healthy... I didn't want you to see me as a shell of my former self. I didn't want your last memory of me to be in a hospital bed hooked to machines."
"You're... not mad?"
"Of course not!"
Peter's arms slowly lifted as he wrapped his arms around his mother and reciprocated her hug. "Mom, when I graduated from school I knew dad wouldn't show. So I put a picture of you in my pocket so you could be there with me."
"I know son. I saw. I also saw you receive your diploma."
"You were really there?"
"I was. And I always will be." She tightened her hug. "But for now you have to go back."
"But..." Peter pressed his face down into her shoulder and closed eyes. "Okay, I'll go back. But not before I tell you something."
"I love you." He lifted his head away from her shoulder and released his hug, but he kept his green eyes closed. "And... goodbye."
The beeping sound was suddenly louder as if it was right in Peter's ear. His neck was still sore but not the throbbing pain it had been. A warm soft pillow and mattress had replaced the cold hard ground of the attic floor.
Opening his eyes Peter glanced over and saw Egon, Ray and Winston sitting beside his bed with various states of worry plastered on their faces. "Hello."
"Peter!" Ray heard the hoarse voice call out. "Welcome back!"
Egon and Winston looked over at Peter and their expressions softened considerably with relief. Standing up from their chairs they gathered beside the bed.
"How long..." Peter struggled to speak but found his hushed voice. "What happened?"
Ray sat on the edge of Peter's bed as he calmly explained everything that had happened at the mansion. "You... You were caught under a bunch of broken beams. One of the pieces cut into your neck; into your jugular vein, and you... You almost bled out."
"I..." Peter's hand found its way to the side of his neck. His fingertips pressed against the thick bandages covering the life saving sutures. "How'd I get here?"
"Egon and Winston tracked down the ghost and I held pressure on your neck. Fortunately the hospital wasn't too far from the mansion."
"I'll be okay?" Peter already knew the answer but he needed to ask for the sake of his friends.
Egon nodded confidently. "It was close, but you'll make a full recovery. You were unconscious for almost two days."
Peter closed his eyes and picture his mother's face. "And you were will me the whole time."
"Of course we were." Winston answered happily as he leaned over his friend's bed. "Always."
"Yeah, I know. Thanks." Peter opened his eyes and gave his friends a grateful smirk. "Man, I had one hell of a dream..."