By Enola Jones and Madame
Isabel opened the door and poked her head in, scoping out the scene to see what she was about to walk in on—she knew from past experience that anything was possible with these guys. She still wasn't completely recovered from the time she'd walked in to see a party in full swing...with Micky acting as chaperone...in drag.
She'd just stood there, frozen, staring at him wide-eyed and slack-jawed until Mike grabbed her arm and hustled her into the downstairs bedroom to explain what was going on. After that, it was simply a matter of trying to keep a straight face every time she looked at "Mrs. Arcadian"—of course, Mike hadn't helped any when he invited Micky and Vandenberg to settle on the loveseat while he fetched them some punch.
Or when Micky announced that Vandenberg was getting fresh. She'd just about lost it completely when she overheard that conversation, and Mike had later admitted he'd been hard pressed to keep cool himself at that point.
Seeing that all was quiet—for the moment—she waved a sheaf of letters in her hand. "Morning, guys! Guess who I ran into on the way over!"
"Mail call!" Mike yelled, catching Isabel around the waist and deftly removing the letters with his free hand. "Thanks."
"Cheater," she whispered softly, testing his hearing.
The grin he shot her confirmed that the sensitivity was still intact. She shook her head. Almost seven months now, but that heightened sense of touch did have its advantages...
"And thank you!" Micky echoed with a cocky grin, snatching the letters while Mike's head was turned.
"Hey!" Mike exclaimed, abandoning Isabel so abruptly she nearly lost her balance as he made a counter-grab for the mail.
But Micky danced out of the way, and with one last disgruntled look at his room-mate, Mike turned back to Isabel, caught her hand and led her behind the stairwell to greet her properly—and with slightly more privacy than the middle of the living room afforded.
"Bill..." Micky said, sifting through the pile. "Davy...AIRMAIL FROM ENGLAND, DAVY!" he shouted.
Peter wiped one hand on the front of his apron, grimacing as he wiggled his finger in his ear to give Micky a hint that he was being just a little too loud, but as usual, Micky was oblivious.
Davy came out of the bedroom, in his robe, yawning. He grabbed the letter.
"Hey, it's from me sister." He opened it and scanned it, grinning. "Hey, fellas! And Isabel! I'm an uncle! Susan had twins!" He went back into the bedroom, and Mike heard him mutter, "Twins...who would have guessed..."
Behind the stairs, Mike came up for air long enough to ask, "Anything else, Mick?"
"Bill...another bill..." He flung the letters onto the table.
And the phone rang. With a wince and an automatic raising of his hand to his ear, Mike reached over and picked it up. "Hello...? Just a minute...Pete, it's for you!"
Peter quickly dried his hands—he was washing the breakfast dishes—and hurried over to take the receiver.
"Hello?" His face broke into a wide grin. "Mama! Hi! So what's going on at—" Suddenly Peter's face drained of all color, and his eyes went blank. "Oh no..." he whispered. "Oh, please—no—" His eyes widened and he dropped the phone, staggering away from the steps. "I—I can't handle this...Tell me this isn't happening..."
And Peter pitched forward like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
"Whoa!" Micky dashed forward, catching him.
Davy, dressed now, came out of the bedroom just in time to see the collapse. "What happened?" he gasped.
"Uff—he's heavier than he looks—Davy, grab his legs, wouldja?" Micky gasped.
Davy hastily obliged, and they carried Peter to the couch; Isabel hurried over, perching on the edge by Peter's side, her features etched with concern as Mike picked up the receiver.
"Mrs. Tork? You still there?...He fainted." Mike suddenly sagged against the railing to keep upright. "I—I see...Yeah...thanks..." He hung up the phone and looked at the others, his voice oddly hushed. "Pete's grandmother...sister...and nephew were—were killed in a car accident this morning around nine o'clock their time."
Micky moved to join Mike by the railing. "Poor Peter..."
"He's had so many shocks lately," Isabel said. "First Mike losing his eyes, then Davy losing his ears, then Micky his legs, now this!" She gently brushed a strand of blonde hair off his forehead, smoothing her hand down the side of his face. "He's been through so much lately. No wonder he said he can't handle it."
Peter opened his tawny eyes and moaned, closing them again, a hand going to his head. He shook his head and opened his eyes, fixing them on Isabel with a look she hadn't seen on his face since right after they first met when he was convinced he was in love with her. And there was the dimpled smile.
"Hey, beautiful," he said softly.
Isabel's lips parted slightly as she stared down at him, her eyes growing round with surprise. Since when did Peter call her that? It didn't even sound like him! She glanced uncertainly over her shoulder at Mike, but he appeared to be just as puzzled as she felt, and she looked at Peter again, trying to smile reassuringly.
"Hey yourself," she replied, keeping her voice quiet so she wouldn't make his head hurt any worse than it obviously did. "How are you?"
"M'head hurts," he mumbled, trying to sit up.
She lay her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down, giving him a no-nonsense look. "Hold it," she commanded. "You just lie right back down. You're in no shape to get up yet."
He cooperated, raising an eyebrow at her, one corner of his mouth quirking up in a tiny smile that she recognized, but that somehow didn't look right... "Yes, mother," he teased.
Micky looked at Mike, pointing a finger at his ear—did Mike hear what Micky heard? Davy made the same motion. Mike nodded, eyes wide. Peter's voice was accented now—and the accent sounded familiar...
Mike waved both hands in front of his face to get Isabel's attention; she caught the motion out of corner of her eye and twisted around slightly to look at him. He pointed to his ear, then rotated his hand at the wrist—translation: "keep him talking"—and she nodded slightly to acknowledge his instructions.
"Mother?" She gazed down at Peter with a questioning look. "Don't tell me you're going to start that, too," she joked lightly, trying to keep the concern out of her voice.
He chuckled then and, lifting his hand, he gently caressed her cheek with the back of one finger. She stiffened, barely able to stop herself from jerking violently away from the intimate gesture. What in the world had gotten into him? He hadn't acted that familiar when he had a crush on her!
Peter frowned, a bewildered, almost hurt look in his eyes as if he couldn't understand her reaction at all. "Isa, what's wrong? You never acted like that before when I—"
"When you what, Peter?" she asked.
A horrible suspicion was forming in the back of her mind, but she didn't want to acknowledge it—not yet.
With a look of profound concern, Peter struggled to sit upright, and this time, she didn't try to stop him; she was too unnerved by the emotion she saw lurking in the depths of his tawny eyes. If she didn't know better, if she didn't know how impossible that should be, she would say he was looking at her like a man in love...
"Isabel, are you all right, love?" His voice was infinitely soft and gentle, laced with concern.
Isabel threw a wild look over her shoulder, her eyes briefly meeting Mike's, then Micky's and Davy's—they all had the same shell-shocked expression she knew she probably wore herself—and then Micky gave a little "I don't get it" shrug and spread his hands helplessly.
Isabel turned back to Peter, fighting to keep her voice and expression calm. "Yes, I'm fine. Why did you ask that, Peter?"
He shook his head, reaching out to cup her cheek in the palm of one hand. "Aw, Isa...You did it again. Don't you know who I am?"
She nodded uncertainly. "You're—Peter," she answered, faltering slightly. She wasn't so sure anymore...
His lips curved slightly—so very slightly—the familiar dimples barely showing. "Isabel—honey, it's me. It's Mike."
Isabel was aware of three identical horrified gasps behind her. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she recoiled from Peter, staring at him as if he were some strange creature bent on attacking her.
Mike hurried around the banister, picked up the phone and ensconced himself behind the stairs again, dialing Doctor Peterson's number—which he'd done so often lately he'd memorized it, he thought with a disgusted snort. There was far too much heavy stuff going down with them lately, and he was ready for it to end.
After a swift conference, he motioned for the others to join him. Isabel slowly got to her feet and backed away from the couch, her eyes never leaving Peter's—it was just too weird seeing Mike's mannerisms, his facial expressions, his words coming from Peter.
Peter watched her go with a somber expression completely unlike his usual open, cheerful countenance—but the serious look would have been right at home on Mike's face. Mike remained hidden behind the staircase so Peter couldn't see him clearly, and she hurried to him, slipping both arms around his waist and holding him tight, needing reassurance that she wasn't freaking out. He glanced down at her quizzically, then put his free arm around her shoulders, squeezing briefly before turning his attention to the others. After a moment, Peter lay down again, holding his aching head.
"What is going on?" Isabel hissed.
"Doc Peterson thinks it's a form of amnesia," Mike said. "It happens when people get such a severe blow to their very sense of self—in Pete's case, he lost three people he loves very much all at once, and he never even got to say goodbye." Mike shook his head and went on, "She said that sometimes when someone feels like he or she can't take anymore, his mind just—kinda—shatters. It reforms itself into a personality that the person thinks can handle the stress of things, usually a stronger personality than he perceives himself to be—"
"Yours," Micky said softly, glancing over at the prone figure on the couch, his almond eyes growing large as the implications sank in. "He thinks he's you!"
Mike sighed. "I know." He smiled a bit. "In a way, I'm kinda flattered—"
"Mike, this is serious!" She fought to keep her voice down, but what she really wanted to do was scream.
"I know, I know! All right—she wants me to come in and talk to her. Isabel, you'd better come too."
"Right," she said. "In his present—state of mind—he's making me a little uncomfortable."
Mike gave her another squeeze. "Well, as long as you remember which one of us is your real boyfriend," he replied, and she barely refrained from punching him, shooting him a forbidding glare instead. Then he addressed Micky and Davy. "She said for you two to treat him like he's the person he thinks he is until we get back with more information. She said any attempt to treat him like Peter would make things worse right now."
Mike pried himself free from Isabel—who was still clinging to him with unusual fervor—and took a step toward the living room before abruptly coming to a halt and retreating back to his hiding place behind the stairs.
"Mick, do me a favor and go get the car keys," he asked, and Micky dashed over and snagged the keys to the Monkeemobile from the coffee table.
He tossed them to Mike, who caught them easily and sidled over to the front door, keeping a wary eye on Peter so he wouldn't get caught.
"I'll meet you in the car," he told Isabel, and she gaped at him.
"What?" she stammered. "Mike—I'm coming with you—"
"You gotta let Peter know why you're leavin first," he said, but she balked, getting that mulish look on her face that he knew all too well. "Look," he explained patiently. "He thinks he's me, right? That means he's gonna act like me—and I would want to know why you're cuttin out. Feed him some cock-and-bull story about having to go into town, and meet me in the car."
"He better not act too much like you," she grumbled under her breath, not intending to be heard, but his quick ears caught the remark nonetheless.
"It's just for a little while," he murmured, stroking her cheek with the back of one finger—a gesture of affection she suddenly realized he used quite often. It was one of the few he would indulge in while in the presence of other people, and it occurred to Isabel just how frequently Peter must have witnessed such a caress, which was why he had used it himself just now. "Just until he gets his head together."
She sighed and squared her shoulders, nodding curtly. Might as well get it over with. Mike slipped out the front door, and Isabel went back to the couch, perching nervously on the very edge of the cushion, appearing ready to jump and run at the slightest provocation.
"Um... Pe—Mike," she said, "the guys just informed me that—that you're all out of eggs."
Davy and Micky looked at each other and grinned. Isabel was right and she didn't even know it!
"So, they asked if I'd go into town and—get some," she concluded lamely.
Peter nodded. "Okay, sure. Hey, where's Peter? I haven't seen him since I woke up."
"Warming up the car," Isabel said quickly, improvising madly. "See, mine is broken and he agreed to drive me—" She broke off, suddenly aware that she'd said the wrong thing.
He sat up quickly. "He's drivin' you? Isabel, I can drive you!"
She gave him a stern look and wagged an admonishing finger at him. "With that headache? You need to lie down and rest. We'll be back soon."
He frowned a bit, unconvinced. "Well, okay," he agreed reluctantly.
Suddenly he leaned forward, and she froze, knowing what he was about to do, but unsure how to react to it; her rational mind knew she was simply humoring Peter, who was temporarily (she hoped) suffering a terrible delusion, but part of her felt as if she were betraying Mike by allowing Peter to treat her like his girlfriend...even though he thought he was Mike...which meant in a weird sort of way, there was nothing wrong with it...And the more she thought about it, the more her head was starting to hurt.
His kiss was soft and lingering, and she kept her own responses as neutral as she could without raising his suspicions again; meanwhile, part of her brain analyzed the whole process, noting the differences. Peter's mouth was wider, his lips thinner—she missed that deliciously full lower lip of Mike's—but Peter's were also rather nicely mobile...
And should she really be thinking about these kinds of things? she chided herself.
"Hurry back, love," he whispered in her ear, brushing a kiss at her temple and smiling as he released her.
Apparently Peter wasn't entirely gone, she thought with some amusement. He was already far more affectionate with her in front of witnesses than Mike had ever been. But she had to say she preferred Mike's taciturn nature—it was ultimately better suited to her own. She smiled back at him, pressing her hand briefly against his cheek as if he were really Mike.
"I will. You rest, all right?"
"All right." He lay back down and she pulled the afghan over him, tucking it around his shoulders. His tawny eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.
The others, Isabel noticed, had fled to the bedroom since the door was now closed. She walked over and knocked on it. "You can come out now. It's over, and he's asleep," she called, not bothering to hide the edge of sarcasm in her voice.
Ever since all the strange mishaps had started occurring around here, Micky and Davy could always be counted on to split the moment something heavy went down. Well, that wasn't entirely fair, she amended, since they'd both been through some pretty traumatic events themselves, but still it seemed that Mike and Peter had become the primary care-givers, each one providing their own form of support to whomever was in need at the time.
Then Isabel practically ran out of the house, hurried to the car, flung open the door and dropped heavily into the passenger's side seat, throwing her head back against the seat and letting out a low groan.
Mike turned to her. "Well?"
She shut the car door and rolled her head to one side so he could see her aggrieved look for himself.
"That good, huh?"
"Better." She turned to stare out the front window, feeling like an emotional tornado on the inside. "He thinks you're Peter. And he—he kissed me."
She felt the raised eyebrow without actually having to see it. "Uh-huh. And it felt—confused and hurt."
"Mirrored how he must feel right now," Mike said. He held out one arm and she scooted into the hollow, then he hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "Well, maybe he'll snap out of it."
"And if he doesn't?" She turned worried eyes on him.
"Then you're gonna have to break up with 'Mike' and start dating 'Peter'," he replied with a blitheness she didn't share.
She'd already been the source of conflict between them once, and she didn't want to have to go through that kind of turmoil again—or to be the cause of it again.
But if Peter didn't regain his own identity, if he kept believing that he was Mike and that she was supposed to be in love with him, how was she supposed to act? How could she possibly carry on such a charade without ultimately hurting him—again?
"Mike—what are we going to do?" she blurted, her nerves frayed to the snapping point. "How are we going to fix this?"
"That's what we're gonna find out," he said, putting the car in gear and driving one-handed. "We're gonna learn just how to deal with this and how to put him to rights."
"It's called identity displacement disorder," Ericka Peterson informed the pair as she closed the medical journal. "It's a recently diagnosed illness."
"Is it temporary?" Isabel asked, her brow furrowing with concern. Her breath caught in her throat as she awaited the doctor's answer, hoping this new development wasn't destined to last.
"Usually, yes. You say he thinks he's you?" That made Ericka smile. "You have a daunting task ahead of you, then."
Mike gave her a somber look, frowning a little as he turned his full attention on the doctor and her prognosis. "How so?"
"Because, according to this book, you are going to have to become him."
Mike and Isabel exchanged identical astonished looks, then Isabel reached over and clutched Mike's hand as he demanded, "I'm gonna have to what?"
A thunderstorm formed in his eyes, clouding his features as he considered the ramifications of this new development.
"You're going to have to dress like him, talk like him, do his chores and in your case, play his instrument and sing the songs he sings. He will need to dress like you, do your chores, play your instrument and sing your songs. He will need to do as many things that you do as possible. Once he finds he can't do them like you, the conflict will re-shatter his mind and give his true personality a chance to reassert itself. Also, he will see you as Peter, and the dichotomy of seeing you do the things he knows inside himself he should do will aid the process."
"I don't exactly look like him," Mike reminded her.
Doctor Peterson smiled. "Don't worry about that. His mind will come up with an explanation for that." She chuckled softly. "One patient claimed he had been kidnapped by aliens and their faces and voices had been switched."
That made them laugh despite the gravity of the situation. Then Doctor Peterson suddenly sobered.
"Michael," she said. "Tell me exactly what his mother said."
"She told him—and then me—about the wreck. Then she said for Peter to come home for the funeral in four days."
Doctor Peterson shook her head. "You can't take him. In his mind, he is you now. To attend such a traumatic event in Peter's life would only be detrimental to his mental health."
"But Ericka," Isabel protested, "it's his family—"
She shook her head again. "In his present state of mind, there's no way of telling what kind of damage it would do to his psyche. Better for him to wait till he comes back to himself. And Isabel," she continued, voice carefully measured. "Your life will become very complicated for awhile. You now have a friend who thinks he is your boyfriend, and he will act accordingly."
Isabel felt her cheeks burn, and she ducked her head as she admitted, "I know—he's already kissed me."
"The privilege," Mike exclaimed abruptly, giving Isabel an alarmed look. "He'll think he has the privilege!"
Doctor Peterson frowned. "The what?"
"I've got a key to Isabel's place and carte blanche to come over any time," Mike explained. "He'll think he can—" He broke off, his lips pressed into a thin line of displeasure. This was getting more complicated than he really cared to think about.
"Doctor Peterson," Isabel asked slowly, considering the options, "he only knows things about Mike that Peter would know, doesn't he?" At her nod, Isabel smiled, visibly relieved as she turned to Mike. "Well, that's all right. Just hide the key or keep it with you all the time."
"But, Isabel," he reminded her, "he's smarter than we thought. He can figure out ways around keys—"
She smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry. I won't let him get too close."
"It ain't you I'm worried about—I trust you," he replied, his accent revealing the extent of his agitation. "I don't trust him. He knows how I feel about you, and now he's gonna act on it."
Isabel grinned at him then, unable to resist the opportunity to tease.
"Am not." He crossed his arms, glancing off to one side with an irritated scowl.
She rested her chin on his shoulder, momentarily ignoring Ericka's presence. "Don't fret, love," she said quietly. "I can take care of myself. And of him." She pinched his arm and pitched her voice even softer. "And of you."
Mike's storm-cloud look cleared slightly, and he gave her a tiny side-long smile. But his emotions hadn't calmed in the least.
Just to make sure they didn't blow Isabel's cover, they got some eggs on the way back to the Pad, but they needn't have worried; when they returned, they walked in to find Peter still under the afghan asleep on the couch. Micky and Davy were playing checkers on the card table.
"Well?" Mike asked, dreading the answer.
Micky glanced up and shrugged. "Well—he's slept the whole time."
"Sleeping off the headache," Isabel guessed. "That at least, is still Peter."
"Yeah," Mike said, "He always goes to bed when his headaches hit."
They gathered around the kitchen table, pulling their chairs into a close huddle, and Mike put on a pot of coffee. The pair then filled Micky and Davy in on what Doctor Peterson had said.
Micky whistled softly, hands twitching in nervous tension. "So...when he wakes up..." he repeated slowly, still trying to digest this new turn of events.
"He'll still think he's me," Mike concluded with a firm nod. "And that means I've—" He glanced at Isabel, barely concealing his annoyance as he thought about all the implications of the arrangement. "I've gotta be him."
"You must be joking!" Davy gasped—and the others immediately hushed him. He glanced over to make sure he hadn't woken Peter, then leaned closer to Mike and asked in a much more subdued voice, "Did Ericka really say that?"
"Yes," Isabel answered, her voice and expression somber. "She was very specific in her instructions. He has to dress like Pete, play bass, let Pete sing lead on his songs—" A wicked thought hit her and she looked at Mike with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. "And cook breakfast."
Mike groaned and covered his face with both hands, dismayed at the mere thought—if anything convinced Peter that he'd mistaken their identities, it would be his first taste of Mike's cooking.
"You would bring that up," he grumbled.
The others grinned. Of the four now, since Peter had learned how while Mike was blinded, only Davy cooked worse than Mike.
Then Micky reached across the table and lay a gentle hand on Isabel's. "Izzy—what about you?"
"Hey, yeah," Davy exclaimed, "he's gonna think she's his girlfriend!"
Isabel patted Micky's hand and smiled at them. "I'll deal with that when the time comes." She shot Mike a threatening glare. "And so will you—I don't care what he does, you will not punch him the first time he lays a hand on me, dig?" she ordered.
Mike didn't answer, but the disgruntled look on his face made the others laugh out loud.
Which woke Peter. He moaned and sat up.
Mike froze—it was too late for him to move—
But Peter just looked toward the kitchen, still too sleepy to even realise who was there, and mumbled, "I'm goin' to bed." He hauled himself off the couch with all the grace and agility of a zombie and shuffled toward the downstairs bedroom—
Then he abruptly stopped, shook his head and mumbled, "Why'd I do that?"
He shambled over to the stairs, took the railing in his hand and staggered up to Mike and Micky's bedroom.
Mike sighed. "Well, he's down for another couple of hours, till that headache goes away—"
A scream of shock came from upstairs.
"Or not," Mike corrected himself—and then all four of them scrambled to their feet, knocking their chairs over in the process, and raced for the staircase.
Micky, as usual, dashed past everyone and bounded up the stairs two at a time. He held up a hand, stopping everyone else. "Let me," he whispered to Mike. Mike nodded, and Micky stepped into the bathroom. Peter was staring in the mirror, tawny eyes huge, face pale, mouth hanging open. He realised someone else was there, and turned those huge eyes to Micky.
"M-Micky—" he stammered, jabbing a finger at the mirror, "the—my—my reflection—"
"I know," Micky said simply, his usually cheerful face drawn in serious lines for once. He poked his head back out into the hall and asked, "You ready?"
Mike understood the unspoken part of the question. He squared his shoulders, bracing himself for what was to come. He nodded once and stepped into the bedroom from the hallway.
Micky turned to Peter. "See... we knew about—this—before you woke up."
"How?" Peter demanded in a no-nonsense tone.
Micky stepped slightly aside, and Mike walked into the bathroom doorway. He darted one tentative glance at Peter, then lowered his gaze to the floor, wringing his hands the way he'd seen Peter do a thousand times before when he was upset about something.
"Hi," he said softly, trying to mimic Peter's shy smile.
Peter's eyes shot to the mirror, then to Mike, then back again. He took a step forward and reached out a hand as if to touch Mike's cheek—then dropped it to his side.
"Peter?" he whispered—far too softly for anybody but Mike's ears to pick up.
Mike smiled slightly—another acknowledgment by Peter's subconscious of who was really inside the blonde form.
But Peter misunderstood the smile to mean he was right. He took a deep breath and rolled his eyes heavenward. "What happened?" he demanded in a very good imitation of Mike's patented tell-me-now-or-else tone.
"We—don't really know," Mike said, trying to keep his voice low and make it shake as if he were on the verge of tears—as well as erase as much of his accent as possible. This was gettin too complicated, he thought for the hundredth time.
"Where's Isabel?" Peter asked suddenly, taking another step forward as if he were coming out of the bathroom.
Micky and Mike instantly closed ranks, preventing him from leaving, both of them going into protective mode for entirely different reasons.
A small hand suddenly closed on Mike's shoulder, and he glanced down at her, releasing a brief, aggravated snort when he caught a glimpse of the determined look on her face. He'd already learned the hard way that there was no rationalizing with her when that appeared.
"It's all right," Isabel said quietly but firmly. "I'm right here."
She nudged Mike in the small of his back, then nudged harder when he didn't move immediately, and he acknowledged the implied order and stepped aside—reluctantly. Micky retreated as well, watching the unfolding tableau with uncharacteristic solemnity.
Peter stepped out and stood in front of her, just gazing at her for a long moment, his jaw working as if he wanted to speak, but he was silent for a long time, and then—
"I-I'm sorry," he stammered. "Now I know why you acted like that earlier. I—" and he smiled slightly. "I—don't look right at all, do I? No wonder you thought I was—I was Peter." He turned to the others. "Leave us alone for a minute, will you? We—we gotta talk."
Micky and Mike shot each other alarmed looks, and then Mike stepped forward. "Um...I don't—really think that's such a good—"
"It's all right—Peter," Isabel said pointedly. "We do need to talk." She grabbed Mike's arm with a surprisingly strong grip and steered him into the hall.
"Ow—" But his protests fell on deaf ears as she hustled him out of the bedroom, and for once he had to hurry to keep up with her.
Once they were out of sight, she rounded on him, hissing for his ears only, "You wait right outside the door and eavesdrop if you like, but don't worry. I can take care of myself and him."
"Yeah, well, I don't have to like it," he whispered to her as she ushered Micky out as well, holding up a pair of crossed fingers and release a short, exasperated breath to relive some frustration as she closed the door behind them. Outside in the hall, Mike shut his eyes and waved the others to silence. He couldn't see what was happening in there—but he was sure going to hear it!
Isabel stood facing the door for a long moment, taking in deep breaths as she gathered her courage and fought to steady her nerves. Peter was in a very delicate emotional state, and a wrong word from her could do even more damage. She had to be very very careful, she reminded herself. Treat him like you would Mike—no matter what.
But that didn't stop her from nearly jumping out of her skin when a gentle hand rested on her shoulder and a soft baritone asked, "Isabel?"
She spun around on her heel to see Peter standing there, sorrow tinged with fear filling the tawny eyes. He may have thought he was Mike, but his emotions were just as naked as they always were.
"Sit down," he said.
She crossed over and perched on the edge of Micky's bed, and he sat on Mike's.
They regarded each other silently for a long moment, their expressions grave, then he blurted, "Where do we stand now? You stuck by me through my blindness, through all of Davy and Micky's problems, but now..."
"Now?" she prompted softly.
Peter laughed mirthlessly. "Look at me! I don't even look like me anymore!"
He stood and moved to sit beside her, nestling just as close as Mike would have, and she had to resist the urge to scoot away.
"But I'm still Mike Nesmith inside, Isabel. I'm still me in here. I gotta know—is it just my looks you love? Or is it me? Will you stick with me through this, too?"
An icy hand clutched the base of her spine, spreading its freezing tendrils up and out until she felt as if her entire body had gone numb. Gazing into Peter's eyes, seeing the wounded soul trapped within, she had no idea how to reply. What could she possibly say that would satisfy him—and not send Mike's security in their relationship into a tailspin? Impulsively, she cupped his cheek in her palm, pouring every ounce of compassion she felt for him into that touch, and he closed his eyes, leaning against her hand, but not in the manner of a lover—no, the nuances of this reaction was of someone who was hurt and desperately needed comfort.
At long last, she spoke, choosing her words careful, deliberately speaking to both Mike and Peter. "I love Mike Nesmith," she began simply. "I don't care what he looks like or what happens to him—I love him mind, body and soul."
And you aren't him, she thought as she fought back the tears pricking her eyelids. "I'll stand by you, I promise," she assured him softly, and those words were meant for Peter alone.
He would need all the support he could get while he waged his own inner battle to reintegrate his personality; to feel strong enough, safe enough to become "Peter" again instead of "Mike."
"But things are going to be very different till I get used to—this," she warned in a lighter tone. "You'll have to give me some time to adjust. I know you don't want to hear this, but I still see Peter when I look at you, and it's going to take some time for me to stop seeing you as just a friend."
He smiled, and there were the gorgeous dimples again. "I'll do whatever it takes. Just tell me what you want."
She closed her eyes, guilt digging into her heart with razor-sharp claws. This was hard! She felt as if she were only twisting the knife deeper, but it was best for all of them if she could convince him to back off.
"I—I need you to—" she hesitated, hating to issue demands like this when he was so vulnerable, but she had no choice. "You have to stop—kissing me," she said in a rush, stumbling over the words. "You have to stop touching me like—well, like—you know..." she trailed off lamely. "I can't shake the feeling that it's Peter who's doing it." Because it is, she added to herself. "And it makes me uncomfortable right now."
The tears she had struggled so valiantly to contain overflowed then, and as much as she hated it, she had no choice; her own emotions were running too strongly for her to exert total control.
"I understand," he said quietly, shifting to sit facing her. "I'll move as slow as you need me to. I do love you, Isabel. Very much." He reached up and brushed away her tears with his thumb, and the gesture was almost her undoing.
"I know," she replied with a watery sniff, scrubbing the rest away with the heels of her hands.
"Can I—Can I hug you?" he asked hesitantly.
She stared at him, wondering if she should allow him to or not—but one look at those vulnerable, puppy-dog Peter eyes, and she relented. Even when he was being someone else, she couldn't say "no" to those eyes.
By way of answering, she stood up, holding out one hand to him; he took it as he rose gracefully to his feet, and she pulled him close, slipping her arms around his waist. He wrapped his arms around her, squeezing tight for the briefest of moments as if he was badly in need of the contact, the reassurance that he was going to be okay. She rubbed his back soothingly, trying to keep the embrace as platonic as possible—but he didn't put up with that for long. He rested his cheek on the top of her head, nuzzling her hair lightly—another patented Mike move. Great, she thought. Just how much has Peter watched us over the past few months?!
Without warning, he broke away from her, strode across the room and flung the door open, glaring sternly at the three figures hunched near the keyhole. "All right, eavesdroppers!" he snapped. "Break it up! Show's over!"
Mike gave his best disingenuous smile a la Peter. "Eavesdrop? Us?"
"Yeah, yeah!" Peter growled.
He returned to Isabel's side and draped his arm across her shoulders, letting his hand dangle in front of her—just like...This is getting too freaky, she groaned silently.
"We'll just deal with this like we've dealt with everything else—try to live as normally as possible. Right, Isabel?"
"Um...right...Mike..." She looked up and met Mike's gaze, reading the frustration she saw there loud and clear. "I've gotta go," she announced, deftly slipping out of Peter's grasp. "I've—um— got a deadline breathing down my neck—Gregory's really after me—"
"I'll walk you home," Peter offered, but she threw up her hands in a warding-off gesture and shook her head violently.
"No, no, that's okay" she said quickly. "I want Peter to... We have to talk, too."
Anger flared in Peter's features, but then he paused, obviously realizing that she and "Peter" had issues to work out as well. He sighed with resignation. "Yeah. I guess you do, don't you? He's gotta adjust just like—we do—"
He walked Isabel downstairs and to the front door, but before they could leave, he clasped Mike's arm, holding him back for a moment as he leaned forward and whispered in Mike's ear, "Watch yourself, shotgun—Don't forget whose girl she is."
"Oh, I won't," Mike assured him, calling on every measure of self-control he had to keep a straight face on that one. "Don't worry."
Mike and Isabel walked the two doors down in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. Just when they reached her doorway, Isabel suddenly stopped and turned to face him. "You heard."
It wasn't a question, but he answered anyway. "Yeah, I heard."
"He even talks like you now." She stared at the grass for a moment, her eyes unfocused, unseeing as she replayed the conversation in her head. He was so very vulnerable, and she had so much power in her hands right now. And she didn't want it at all... "Mike, this is too hard," she whispered. "I can't do this—I can't risk hurting him like this."
"I know," Mike glanced over his shoulder at the Pad. "I can feel eyes on us—I think he's watching," he warned her.
She grimaced, then rummaged in her purse until she found her key. "Well, we're supposed to be talking, so let's go talk."
But as soon as she had the door open and they stepped inside the entrance hall, she slammed the door shut, releasing all the pent-up energy and frustration she'd been dealing with since Peter's trauma began.
"Whoa—" Mike's eyebrows lifted with surprise at her unexpected vehemence—but her next move caught him even more off-guard when she launched herself at him, causing him to stumble backwards until he hit the wall. Instinctively, he put his arms around her to help her keep balanced as she raised up on her toes and captured his face in both hands, pulling him down into a kiss meant to give him no room to doubt the depth of her feelings for him.
"Wow..." His eyes widened momentarily—and then he wasted no time going back for seconds.
"You just keep that in mind the next time you see me with Peter, okay?"
"Oh, I'll remember that for a long time," he assured her, and she smiled—finally.
"I suppose you'd better get back," she sighed, reluctantly leaving the protective circle of his arms. "We don't want 'Mike' barging in here demanding to know what's keeping you so long."
"Oh, come on," he scoffed. "I'm not that bad."
"No," she conceded. "But your reactions are being filtered through Peter's emotions right now—and he's latched onto me as his support system. That makes things much worse."
"Yeah..." he said slowly, realizing the truth of her words. "I guess you're right. I'll see you later."
He hated leaving her, knowing she was feeling vulnerable herself at the moment, but he knew it was the safest thing to do—and sure enough, Peter was waiting for him on the front steps when he walked up.
"This is really hard for her," Peter blurted, and Mike had to wonder if he really had no more tact—or timing—than that.
Mike sat down beside him. "Yeah...I know."
Peter fiddled with a piece of string he had found on the step for a second, then threw it down the stairs, sighing. "It doesn't help, y'know...you lookin' like me."
"No...I guess it doesn't."
Peter sighed again, looking over the street. "Peter—what happened? How did I get stuck in here?"
"I don't know," Mike said. "I don't—remember," he replied, unable to concoct a believable story at a moment's notice. There was refuge in vagueness, and he took it gladly.
"Yeah, I don't either," Peter said. For the first time in the conversation, he met Mike's eyes. "And that's what bugs me. If I can't remember, I can't reverse it."
"Reverse it?" Mike asked. He didn't have to pretend to be confused by that statement.
"Yeah, reverse it," Peter replied irritably, laying a hand on his chest. "Peter Tork belongs in this body, not Mike Nesmith. Mike belongs there." He briefly touched Mike's chest, then dropped his hand again, drawing his knees up under his chin and wrapping his arms around his legs. "But I'm the one stuck in here for right now," he continued. "And I don't mind tellin' ya—I don't like it. I mean, who is gonna take me seriously lookin' like this?"
Mike clapped a hand over his mouth to cover the grin. Then he just gave up and replied, "Well, just think of what you can get away with now, though! You look like Peter, right? So if you act like Peter..."
Peter scowled at him. "Not funny, shotgun. I'm in no mood for this." He jumped to his feet, his gentle features contorted with a sudden burst of rage as he snapped, "You're Peter Tork, not me! I don't care what we look like—I know who's really who!"
He stalked into the Pad and slammed the door. Mike stared after him, feeling a rush of sympathy for his suffering friend.
"Don't be so sure," he said quietly. "Ah, well—I tried. He even has my temper..." He gave a little grimace. "I'm not that testy...am I?"
Shaking his head, Mike walked into the Pad and locked the door behind him.
They did not practice that night. Peter pleaded off due to a headache and went to bed early.
Mike groaned, rolled onto his stomach and buried deeper under the covers, pulling the pillow partially over his head, trying to drown out the annoying summons.
"Mike!" This was accompanied by a rough shaking of Mike's mattress, and he grabbed his pillow, swinging it at Micky, hoping he'd shut up and go away.
"Mike, wake up! C'mon, get up, man!"
"Wow, Micky—your voices are gettin' better. You sound just like Davy..." he mumbled, not so much as cracking one eye open.
"It is Davy, man! Wake up!"
Mike rolled over and squinted up at the diminutive figure leaning over his bed. Yeah, it was Davy looking down at him. "Aw, man...what d'you want...?" He threw one arm across his eyes, still not ready to face the morning yet.
"You've gotta get up, man! You've gotta make breakfast!"
Mike rolled his head back and forth on his pillow in his lying-down version of a head shake. "No, I don't...that's Peter's bag..."
"Yeah, well, to him you are Peter, remember?"
Mike sat bolt upright, fully awake now. He had forgotten!
Mike took a very quick shower, and Davy pulled an outfit from Peter's closet so Mike could get dressed faster. Mike walked into the bedroom and regarded the clothes with a baleful eye.
"Thanks for not choosin one of the loud ones," he said grudgingly.
Davy laughed, heading for the shower himself. "Hey, I know you. You're gonna feel ridiculous as it is!"
"You're darn right," Mike retorted. "I just hope they fit. He's a few inches shorter'n me..."
Mike reluctantly tugged on the beige pants; they were a bit too short, but if he wore the moccasin boots, no one would notice. He never thought he'd be in the position of being glad he was skinnier and had less of a behind on him than Peter, but right now, it was a very good thing indeed. Davy had also chosen Peter's blue-on-blue long sleeved tee-shirt, and Mike pulled it over his head, yanking ineffectually at the hem as he gazed down at himself—and the patch of stomach that was showing between the bottom of the shirt and the top of the pants.
On the other hand, he did have a longer torso, and that plus the height difference was going to cause some problems...
He went back and rummaged through the closet until he found a shirt that he remembered hung long on Peter—down to his hips—and that one worked fine. Now he would either have to wear the same shirt every day until Peter got well, or he'd have to sneak some of his own clothes from the upstairs bedroom.
He went back into the bathroom and pulled the brush from the medicine cabinet, dragging it through his black hair. He paused, debating whether he should go so far as to try to copy Peter's hairstyle, but his own hair was so much thicker and wavier, he decided it would just look stupid—and he felt like conspicuous enough as it was. He settled for parting it on the left as Peter did, but combing it in the familiar flip over his eye. To his surprise, it didn't look all that strange.
Finally he was ready to head out. Once he was in the living room, Mike looked up the stairs—nobody there. He dropped his head, closed his eyes and listened—there was some stirring. Somebody was up. But who?
He heard soft footsteps, then a gasp of astonishment and a groaned, "Oh, man..."
Mike grinned, thankful for once his ears were the way they were. Peter was up. He opened his eyes and headed for the kitchen. He grimaced as he reached for Peter's apron and hung it around his neck, tying it in front the way Peter did. Mike was not the greatest cook in the world—Peter was much better at it.
But now Peter wasn't Peter anymore...
Mike opened the refrigerator, searching for inspiration; when he did cook, it was always lunch or dinner. He had limited experience with breakfast food. He searched the shelves, then suddenly his eye fell on a foil-wrapped package labeled with a note in Isabel's distinctive handwriting:
"Thought you'd be the one cooking this morning. Here's some sausage biscuits. All you have to do is scramble some eggs and heat these up.—Isabel."
He smiled slightly, reminding himself to thank her later. Scrambling eggs he could manage.
The eggs were almost finished when Mike heard someone barreling down the stairs.
"Mornin', Pete!" Peter's cheery baritone sang out.
Mike glanced over his shoulder, then returned his attention to the eggs he was stirring briskly with his spatula.
"Morning," he replied, remembering to smile cheerfully as Peter always did. He knew there was a reason he hated morning people...
Peter was dressed in Mike's "Halloween" outfit—orange shirt and black jeans. He ran a hand through the blonde hair—parted on the right side, Mike noticed—a disgusted expression crossing his features.
"Micky's been at it again," he said gruffly. "Couldn't find the hat."
Thank goodness for small favors, Mike thought, spooning the eggs into a bowl. The sight of his hat on Peter's sandy blonde hair was not an image he was prepared for.
"You know," Peter said, coming into the kitchen and starting a pot of coffee, "the strangest thing happened this morning."
"What?" Mike forced himself to up his pace as he served the eggs and biscuits and set the table; Mike's natural pace was an easy-going amble, but Peter always bustled when he was in the kitchen. It was like he suddenly turned into a harassed little housewife or something.
"Well, I went to get dressed—and my fingers wouldn't behave! They kept trying to pull my belt to the side!" Peter smiled. "The way you wear yours!"
Mike's eyes widened, and he abruptly spun around with his back to Peter, his fingers smoothing the apron along his waist as he surreptitiously checked his belt—which was fastened in front. Where it should be, he silently grumbled. Well, the apron would hide it for now; he'd just have to remember to shift it later.
Davy strolled out of the bedroom then, smirking as he took in the details of Mike's appearance; Mike raised the spatula he still clutched in one hand in a silent but eloquent threat: "One word, little man, and you're gonna get it!"
Peter sniffed the air and opened the oven. "Mmm... sausage biscuits!" He shut the door and moved out of the kitchen, dropping with lanky grace into Mike's chair at the table. "Where's the paper?"
"I haven't seen it," Mike replied, trading the spatula for an oven mitt as he pulled the biscuits out. "Breakfast is ready."
And then he nearly dropped the tray of biscuits, his heart racing as Peter bellowed, "MICKY! GET DOWN HERE! BREAKFAST!"
"Am I that loud?" Mike whispered to Davy, who was still hovering in the kitchen, barely suppressed glee on his face as he watched the unfolding scene.
"No," Davy whispered back. "You're louder."
"Oh, thanks a lot," Mike retorted. He shot Davy one last piqued glare—then remembered he hadn't poured the orange juice.
With a harried sigh, he wrenched open the fridge door again and grabbed the juice, all but slamming it on the counter as he opened the cabinets and reached for four glasses.
Temper,he reminded himself. You're supposed to be Peter.
He took a deep breath, then calmly poured the juice and set it at each place two glasses at a time, smiling at both Peter and Davy—who had finally gotten out from under his feet and sat down—as he did. It was, after all, what Peter would have done.
Micky came down the steps two at a time, robe flying. "Was havin' a good dream..." he mumbled, wiping sleep from his almond eyes. "Pete woke me up..."
"Yeah, I don't think I'll ever get used to Mike sounding like Peter," Davy agreed, stressing the names.
Micky glanced back and forth between Mike and Peter, his eyes wide. Mike tilted his head slightly and tried to smile winningly. It wouldn't be the same without the dimples, but—
"Morning, Micky," he called. "I made those biscuits you like for breakfast."
Micky shut his jaw with a snap as memories of the day before came flooding back. "Yeah...right," he said, sitting down slowly and staring at Mike with a gleam in his eyes that said he was mere seconds away from bursting into hysterical laughter.
"This is getting ridiculous," Peter said, thumping his fist on the table hard enough to make the place settings rattle. "Pete, can you remember any better this morning?"
"Remember what?" Mike asked, screwing up his face in a puzzled frown, only partially trying to play the dummy for a change. He really didn't know what Peter was talking about.
"Remember how this happened?" Peter reminded him, irritation creeping into his voice as he gestured to himself and Mike.
Mike widened his eyes in a look of (slowly) dawning comprehension. "I'm sorry, Michael," he said, trying to sound as mournful as he could. "It's still all a blur." He served the biscuits, then sat down at Peter's place as Peter sighed with obvious annoyance. Breakfast was eaten in uncharacteristic silence.
Finally, Peter could stand it no longer. "Listen," he snapped. "We're all tiptoein' around the situation, and I'm sick of it! Let's get things straight, here! I may look and sound like Peter, but I'm Mike! He may look and sound like Mike, but he's Peter! Somehow we've been switched around, but I'm still me in here! It's time to stop pretendin' otherwise and start livin' best we can!"
Davy and Micky could not restrain the urge to look at Mike, who was sitting frozen, eyes wide, forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth. He had never been on the receiving end of one of his own lectures before, and he wasn't quite sure how to handle it.
Dang, he thought, how much of me has he been observin?
Mike sat at the kitchen table, hunched over a cookbook; he flipped through the pages slowly, poring over the breakfast food section, his brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to find easy recipes that even he couldn't mess up and thus blow his cover.
The waffles were probably beyond him until he got a little more experience under his belt, and besides, there was some "secret Tork ingredient" that Peter had always refused to share, so they wouldn't turn out right...
Oo–hey! Omelettes! He marked two recipes with a little asterisk, then dog-eared the page so he wouldn't forget where they were.
Davy stood directly behind him and shouted right in his ear, and Mike jumped, startled into the realization that Davy had been talking to him. His first impulse was to whirl around and snap, "What?" but that's not how Peter would have reacted. Oh, no. He had to reign in his impatience now.
He had to be nice.
All the time.
"Oh, sorry—" Mike turned around and looked at Davy, resting his arm on the back of his chair, smiling cheerfully.
More niceness. And his cheeks were beginning to hurt after all that stupid grinning.
"Boy, you're a little more out of it than usual today, arentcha, ol' buddy?" Peter flipped down the corner of the newspaper he was reading and raised a sardonic eyebrow at Mike.
Mike never realized before that it was actually possible to feel steam rising from the top of one's head when one was on the verge of exploding.
"Ah, Peter—" Davy said hastily, noticing that Mike was staring at Peter, his fingers flexing as if in his mind, they were already fastened around Peter's neck. "How's that new song coming?"
"What new song, man—?"
Davy suddenly moved so that his back was to Peter, who was stretched out on the couch, engrossed in the paper, and when he spoke again, he'd pitched his voice so that Mike's sensitive ears could hear him fine, but it wouldn't carry across the room to Peter.
"Are we gonna be able to practice tonight?" he asked. "We've got that gig at the Vincent Van Go-Go this weekend—" Then aloud, he added, "I thought you said you were working on something new."
Mike glanced around Davy at Peter, his features etched with worry. "I don't know, man. D'you realize how much this is gonna change things?" Then louder, "It's not ready yet. I still haven't got the chorus harmony right."
"If we can't get it together, we'll have to cancel!" Davy hissed, his dark brown eyes wide and concerned. "We can't afford to do that!"
"Look," Mike said at last, making the best call he could under the circumstances. "We'll try rehearsin tonight and see how it goes. Maybe it won't be so bad," he added hopefully.
Davy shot him a dubious look, but he nodded and walked off, apparently satisfied for the moment. Mike wished he could feel some measure of peace, but the truth was, his insides were tied up in knots.
And it wasn't easy playing the dummy!
The only good thing was that he could use his new identity as a built-in excuse for any mistakes he made—like that morning when he started to go upstairs to get a clean shirt after spilling orange juice on the one he wore. Micky had been quick to say, "No, Peter," and point in the direction of Peter and Davy's bedroom—in fact, Micky had been throwing out that "No, Peter" line in his most condescending tone quite a bit. Mike was beginning to suspect he was enjoying this charade a little more than necessary.
If Mike had to hear one more smart-mouth remark, he was going to be forced to inflict damage on something or someone. Like when he'd gone over to the bandstand to practice by himself for a while. He'd simply wanted to relax and unwind for a few minutes, and music had always been the best way for him to forget about his problems; if he hadn't been able to play while he'd suffered through blindness, he didn't know if he could have survived the ordeal.
This situation wasn't quite as traumatic, but sustaining his new role was tougher than he thought it would be, and he needed a break. So he'd gone over, picked up his guitar—
And immediately, Peter had glanced over and given him a patronizing look that Mike had itched to slap off his face.
"You tryin' to take over again, shotgun?" he drawled, one corner of his mouth lifting in an irritating smirk. "I thought we settled all that months ago."
"No, Peter," Micky looked at him disapprovingly, his eyes glinting with mischief even though he was managing a straight face. "Over there," he added, pointing at Peter's bass.
Even Davy got in on the act, shaking his head slowly and making a tsking noise. "Peter, Peter, Peter..."
I'm gonna kill them, he thought. And no jury in the world would convict me for it. Not under THESE circumstances.
And so it went all day, Mike bristling under Peter's casual, "lead Peter around by the hand" attitude. Did he really treat Peter like that? Act as if he were no more capable of handling things for himself than a child? He would have to be more careful about that in the future...
No such luck—he was sprawled on the couch reading, and as soon as he noticed the movement of the door, he glanced up, smiling slightly.
"Hey there," he called, hauling himself upright. "C'mon in."
She suppressed a frustrated sigh and stepped inside the Pad, closing the door behind her and leaning against it. A quick glance around the room told her that Davy was on the phone, and Mike and Micky were playing cards with Mr. Schneider, both of them trying to sneak glances at the dummy's hand.
Mike looked at her and winked, then returned to the game; she almost opened her mouth to protest, but then she realized that he couldn't pay any attention to her now—no more than Peter would have done.
Her shoulders slumped a little, and she reluctantly crossed over to the couch where Peter waited for her, curling up on one end of the couch with her feet tucked under her as she usually did. Peter reclined at the other end, facing her.
"How was your day?" he asked, his features softening with affection as he looked at her.
"Fine." She smiled shakily.
At least he was acting in character and adopting Mike's hands-off policy, she thought with a silent sigh of relief. Now she just had to make sure they weren't ever left alone...
"How are you doing?" she asked, her voice laced with compassion. Despite the discomfort the situation was causing her, she felt nothing but sympathy for the mental anguish Peter must be going through somewhere deep inside himself.
"Okay," he replied slowly, irritation playing across his face. "This is really startin' to bug me, though. Everyone treats me like Peter," he said, and she heard the unspoken "including you."
"Well, hopefully it's temporary," she answered soothingly.
"How?" he demanded, raking his fingers through his hair in one of Mike's typical gestures of frustration. The only difference was that Peter didn't have the same thick wave falling across his forehead. "I can't remember how this happened in the first place, and Peter's been no help at all."
Isabel dared to sneak a glance over Peter's shoulder—and had to bite her lip to keep from laughing when she saw Mike with his arms out-stretched, miming a throttling action as he glared daggers at Peter's back.
"Hey, are we gonna practice tonight, or what?" Davy's sudden interruption distracted all of them, and they turned to look at him where he sat at the kitchen table.
"We were waitin' for youto get your ear unglued from the phone," Peter drawled as he rose to his feet and ambled over to the bandstand. "You guys ready now?"
"Ready as we'll ever be," Micky replied, a dubious note in his voice as he tossed his cards on the table and stood up.
Mike threw his cards down, but instead of approaching the bandstand where the rest of them were gathering, he moved over to stand near Isabel for a moment. "Please tell me I haven't got that much of a mouth on me," he muttered, pretending to watch the other set up; as usual, Davy couldn't find one of his maracas, and Micky's drumsticks had rolled under the kit.
Isabel hastily brought her fingers to her lips, trying to hide the smile that bloomed there. "Sorry," she murmured, incapable of resisting the opportunity to tease him. "Can't do it."
"With my paranoia, I need this abuse."
With that, he went over to the bandstand, saved from snagging the wrong instrument this time because Peter had already grabbed the 12-string. Mike grimaced with distaste as he picked up "his" bass, sliding it over his head; it didn't feel right, and he resented being forced into playing an instrument he didn't feel entirely comfortable with. He retrieved the three finger picks from the neck and slid them on—and promptly dropped the thumb pick when it slid off because his fingers were thinner than Peter's. He grumbled under his breath as he bent to retrieve it, adjusting it so it wouldn't fall again.
"You ready?" Peter asked, taking his place at the left side of the stage, the 12-string looking a little too large for him.
"Ready," the other three sang out, and Isabel settled into her listening position on the couch; that at least was normal.
"Okay," Peter said, smiling. "Let's start with 'You May Just be the One'!"
Peter got the title wrong, Mike thought idly, unaware that he consistently did the very same thing.
And then he froze as the tune played in his memory and he realized exactly how bass-heavy that particular song was. He gulped hard, a litany of curses running through his head. Peter would pick one of the toughest numbers—! How was he supposed to get through it when he had minimal experience with the simplest of bass lines, much less the complicated measures this song required?
His brain raced feverishly, trying to come up with some excuse—any excuse to avoid that song—
"Um, Mike—" he began, trying to imitate Peter's hesitant tone. "Could we play something a little easier? I cut my finger making breakfast this morning, and it still hurts."
Peter shot him a concerned look, then nodded. "Okay, sure," he agreed readily. "You up to 'Valleri'?"
Mike nodded, fairly sure he could manage that one, and Davy stepped up to the front, ready to begin. He struck a few wrong notes the first time through, earning an exasperated glare and an admonishing, "Pete, c'mon, get it together, man," from Peter—which nearly earned Peter a black eye. But he swallowed the impulse, shrugged and gave Peter a smile that managed to be both apologetic and vacuous at the same time. The unmistakable sound of a giggle being hastily turned into a cough issued from the couch, and he resisted the urge to glance over at her, afraid it would set him off as well. It would be funny—if it weren't so annoying.
They ran through "Clarksville" and "Saturday's Child" next, and Mike managed rather well if he did say so himself. He was feeling the tiniest bit smug at how well he'd adapted by the end of "Saturday's Child"—so trust his "friends" to burst his bubble.
Micky wailed out his last "Saturday's Child is mine", the music faded, and Mike fiddled with the tuning knobs as he waited for the next song to be announced when suddenly Micky spoke up.
"Hey, you feeling okay, big Peter?" he asked.
Instinctively, Mike glanced up at Peter, then belatedly realized Micky was talking to him.
"Huh? Oh—I'm fine," he replied, injecting a jovial note in his voice. He would be so glad when this was over and he didn't have to pull the Happy Mary Sunshine act—it was really getting on his nerves.
"Really? 'Cause you're not acting like yourself," Micky added.
Mike narrowed his eyes as he slanted a suspicious look at the drummer, who was looking far too innocent to be innocent.
"What do you mean?" he asked, knowing he was walking into a trap, but unable to avoid it.
"Well, you're acting kinda—reserved tonight," Micky explained, the corners of his mouth twitching as he fought to keep a straight face. "You're usually more into the music. Y'know, dancing and stuff—"
Mike completely broke character for a moment and gave Micky his best "you are dead when I get hold of you" look. Luckily, Peter's back was turned, so he didn't catch it.
There was a strangled noise from the sofa, and when he glanced over, he saw Isabel doubled over, clutching a pillow against her face, her shoulders shaking. Even Davy was snickering quietly.
"Yeah, man—" he piped up. "I missed seein' your moves, Peter. Let's really shake it up on this next one, all right?"
"You go right ahead," Mike replied curtly.
He would dress like Peter—obnoxiously loud shirts, belt buckle gouging him in the side and all—and he would sleep in Peter's bed and cook breakfast and he would stand idly by and do nothing while Peter treated Isabel like his girl, and he would smile more in the course of a single hour than he had previously in his entire life, but—
Especially not like Peter, who gyrated around the stage like a spastic puppet.
Peter whirled around and, fixing Micky and Davy with a gimlet eye, he ordered, "Guys, lay off. If he don't feel like dancin', he don't have to!" Then he turned back to Mike. "You sure you're all right?"
Mike nodded, scrunching up his face as if he were about to burst into tears. "If they'll leave me alone," he whimpered, feeling a rush of pure malicious delight. Not only was he getting those two in trouble with "Mike," but he was doing it perfectly in character!
His plaintive act set off another round of smothered laughter from Isabel, and Peter rounded on her as well.
"You too, lady," Peter mock-threatened. "If you can't behave, I'm gonna have to send you home!"
She grinned wickedly at Mike, then at Peter. "I'd like to see you try," she taunted.
Mike shook his head, her words causing memories of similar situations—and their rather enjoyable conclusions—to rise up unbidden, and he picked out a few notes of "Clarksville," trying to distract himself from that particular train of thought.
A mischievous grin spread slowly over Peter's face, dimples winking. "Oh, really?" he teased. "Seems I know of someone's backside that might get warmed if this keeps up."
TWANG! went the bass string as Mike jerked around, staring wide-eyed at Peter. He hadn't just heard what he thought he'd heard...
There were certain things that he and Isabel only said to each other, not where anyone else could possible hear them, and Mike had never used that particular phrase in front of anybody...
Wait—yes, he had—one time when he was blind...
And he'd said it in front of Peter, not realizing he was in the room at the time.
The expression on Davy and Micky's faces mirrored Mike's—total shock. Isabel's face had drained pale as milk, and she barely managed to hold onto her grin. "All right," she said faintly, "I'll behave."
"See that you do," Peter said, chuckling as he stepped back, suddenly noticing all eyes were on him. "Well? We gonna practice or are you three gonna stare at me all night?"
Mike suddenly became aware that Davy was waving a hand in front of his eyes. He blinked and focused on Davy, forcing himself to react like Peter would.
"Huh? Oh—sorry. Just—took me by surprise..."
"You feel up to it, man?" Peter asked, concern on his face.
Mike smiled slightly. Peter wasn't completely gone, obviously. His emotions were still very visible.
"Yeah, I'm all right."
"You feel up to keyboards?" Peter asked.
Mike struggled to maintain his composure at that one. He could play bass, but he was weak on keyboards. He could do it if he had to— but right now he had neither the inclination nor the temper to even try!
"No," he replied honestly. "Let's stick to bass, all right?"
Peter gave a one-shouldered shrug and let his fingers dance over the strings of "his" guitar again, idly running through the chorus of "Sweet Young Thing."
And that gave Mike an idea...
"Hey, Mike—" he began slowly, turning the new scheme over in his mind.
Dr. Peterson had said that he had to act like Peter, and that maybe seeing such incongruous actions would help spark Peter's recovery, but dancing like Peter was completely out of the question as far as Mike was concerned. On the flip side of that, Mike thought, if Peter were forced to act like "Mike" in a way that he couldn't possibly manage, then maybe that would trigger a reaction as well!
"Yeah?" Peter glanced over at him, registering curiosity.
An inner demon prompted him to give back some of the grief he'd been on the receiving end of all day, and he pulled one of Peter's little tricks.
"What is it?" Peter asked, turning to face him.
One more time, Mike thought with silent glee. This could be fun...
" What , Peter?" Peter demanded testily, and finally Mike continued, pleased that he'd finally gotten a little of his own back.
"Why don't you try your new song?" he suggested. "Maybe we could add it to the list this weekend. You know—the Mimosa one."
" Magnolia, Peter," came the aggrieved reply. "It's 'Magnolia Simms'."
Mike nodded, hoping Peter would take the bait. He'd been experimenting when he wrote that one, trying out a new style for himself just because he liked the vaudevillian feel of turn-of-the-century music, and he wanted to see if he could capture that sound. The others had liked the tune when they heard it, but they agreed that Mike would have to be the one to sing it—they didn't care to try it themselves. Especially not the falsetto part at the end!
Which made sense given their dynamic, he mused. Micky could emote, the best at pouring his heart into the music; Davy had the most energy and enthusiasm; Peter was the most technically proficient of them, and Mike was the one with the most flexibility of style. And if he gave Peter one of the more difficult pieces, one that was totally foreign to Peter's own natural style, maybe that would snap him back to reality!
"Okay, yeah," Peter nodded. "Let's try it."
"Here—" Davy sidled over to Mike and whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "What are you up to? Peter's range—"
"Exactly," Mike replied smugly. "If he realizes he can't do it, maybe it'll make him remember who he really is."
"Ohh!" Davy nodded and gave an exaggerated wink, then stepped back out of the way.
Micky placed his sticks on top of a drum and leaned back on his stool, arms crossed as he watched Peter exchange the 12-string for a regular guitar, and Mike unslung the bass from around his neck and moved to stand near the back with Davy; so far, the song was a solo. He hadn't gotten around to including any instruments other than a single guitar or any background vocals, and Micky had gone so far as to say that maybe he shouldn't, letting that be one of his solo numbers if they ever decided to perform it live.
Feeling confident that Peter's personality amnesia was soon to be a thing of the past, Mike couldn't suppress a self-satisfied smile as he waited for Peter to begin singing—and begin messing up royally.
He experienced a slight pang of anxiety when Peter began the opening chords flawlessly—he didn't think Peter had heard the tune often enough to know it so well, but then, he reminded himself, when it came to music, Peter was almost preternaturally quick.
"Love to me is blue-eyed and blonde," Peter sang, capturing the stagy tone of the music perfectly.
Mike glanced over at Isabel just in time to see her stick out her tongue at him; the first time she had heard the tune, she had demanded to know why he couldn't have said "brown-eyed and brunette" instead. The fact that "brunette" messed up the rhythm of lines did little to assuage her.
But all trace of complacency vanished from Mike's expression as Peter continued to sing without a single mistake—right on through the warbling falsetto that concluded the tune.
To say he was disappointed would be an understatement at best, but as the practice session progressed, he had to admit one thing: even with one of them thinking he was another one, and another one forced into an instrument he hated,
The Monkees could still play—and Peter could handle Mike's part with annoying ease. Did that mean he wasn't as necessary as he thought...?
To wrap things up, they ran through "Papa Gene's Blues." Peter sang lead—again—his eyes never leaving Isabel, the Texas accent he'd adopted shining through strong.
"I have no more than I did before, but now I've got all that I need," Peter sang, and Mike had to look away, focusing on the wall, the floor—anywhere but at Peter...or Isabel. That song had gained significance for him—for them—after their near-break-up when it became clear that Isabel would love him whether he was a success or a failure, rich or poor. These days, he sang it for her, a private message that she alone would understand—or so he thought. And seeing Peter mooning over her like that set his teeth on edge, making it hard for him to keep his temper in check.
But after the song was over and the practice officially concluded, Davy set down his maracas and leaned close to Mike. "He did it," Davy whispered, too low for anybody but Mike to hear.
"I know," Mike nodded, watching Peter with a look bordering on admiration despite the emotional turmoil he was going through at the moment. "Guess we won't have to cancel at the Vincent Van after all..."
Continue On to part two