MARIA'S GIFT: MIKE

By Enola Jones



"Morning, Michael!" Peter called cheerily without turning around as he finished pulling the muffins out of the oven.

Mike laughed aloud. "Damn, Pete, that 'radar' is still wonderful to see!"

Peter smiled, indulging Mike this burst of high spirits. Thanks to the gypsy Maria, his 'radar' had been recently strengthened into full-blown empathy. Poor Peter had nearly been driven mad, and they had all feared that the cure would strip the mysterious 'radar' completely.

So Peter could forgive naturally solemn Mike a few moments of giddiness it was borne from gratitude that the cure had left Peter's mysterious gift intact. "So what are your plans for today?"

Mike shrugged. "The usual practice at seven. Figured I'd take the bike out for a spin after I ate. Keep in her good graces, so she doesn't turn to rust in the garage."

Peter laughed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

After breakfast, Mike went back to his room and pulled on a denim jacket over his shirt. Pocketing the keys to his little-ridden motorcycle, he picked up his green wool hat to keep the hair from blowing into his eyes as he rode.

Mike frowned as he studied the hat. It seemed to be covered with a fine layer of dust. "Huh didn't think it'd been that long since I wore this."

With a put-upon sigh, Mike carried the hat into the bathroom and shook off most of the powdery dust into the toilet, flushing it quickly. After he settled the hat onto his dark hair, ever-fastidious Mike washed his hands free of clinging powder.

Looking back, he would wonder if perhaps those two actions were what saved it from being worse than it was.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

When Mike returned from his bike ride, he headed straight to his room.

Peter frowned after him. Something 'felt' wrong about Mike. But he couldn't put his finger on just what it was.

And that bothered him.

The rest of the afternoon, Mike kept pretty much to himself. He only emerged for practice and to eat.

It was Mike's turn to do the dishes after supper. Three hours after the table had been cleared, the dishes still hadn't been done.

This was unusual enough it grabbed Micky's attention. He climbed the tornado staircase and walked into the room he shared with Mike.

He found the taller man sitting in bed, propped up by pillows, playing a tuneless melody on Black Beauty. "It was your turn to do the dishes," Micky announced, knowing Mike hated preamble.

"It is?" Mike looked up, frowning. "Huh." But he kept playing.

"Mike, you're always after us for letting them sit. I don't like you doing things we get yelled at for!"

Mike glared at Micky. But he lay the guitar on the bed and headed out of the room.

Micky followed, shaking his head. It took a stumble for him to look down and find the obstacle.

Mike's shoes.

Left in the middle of the floor, where he'd carelessly kicked them off.

Micky's eyes widened and his jaw set. Something was severely wrong here.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Pete, are you awake?"

Peter rolled over and frowned up at the door where Micky had whispered his question. "How did you know I couldn't sleep?"

"I didn't." Micky smiled gently. "C'mon, walk with me. I gotta talk to you."

Peter rolled swiftly out of bed and got dressed, though he forwent his belt and socks. He headed out to the living room, where Micky me thim. As they headed out to walk on the soft sand, Peter quipped, "I thought for a few minutes you'd grown a 'radar'!"

"Well, I haven't," Micky chuckled, then his demeanour went serious. "But your 'radar' is what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh?"

"Mike."

Peter sighed heavily. He didn't even bother with pretending he didn't understand what Micky was asking. "It's the weirdest thing. He feels -- off. Like something's very wrong, but I just can't tell you exactly what it is."

Micky sighed deeply. "I was afraid of that."

Peter turned to Micky, frowning deeply. "Afraid of what?"

"Afraid your 'radar' was picking it up," Micky sighed. "Afraid I was right and it wasn't all just in my head."

"What's all in your head?" Peter shook his head, waving a hand at Micky. "Sorry, misspoke. I mean, what were you seeing that you thought was in your head?"

"He forgot to do the dishes last night. Blew it off completely. He left his shoes in the middle of the room, and then his clothes tonight!"

Peter gasped, blinking incredulously at Micky. "But -- but that doesn't sound like Michael at all! It's like... it's like he's become irresponsible -- and that, all of a sudden!"

"I know!" Micky sighed. "It's like he's had some sort of spell put on..."

Micky's voice trailed off and he and Peter turned wide, shocked eyes to the house. Then they slowly looked at each other. "Oh, merciful heavens," Peter gasped.

"A spell," Micky gasped. "You ... you don't think--?"

"After what happened to you that Michael got caught in -- and then what happened to me...." Peter sighed, shaking his head.

"Maria," they sighed together.

"But how?" Peter asked. "She didn't send him anything."

"She didn't with you, either," Micky pointed out.

Peter groaned as he had to admit Micky was right. He ran both his hands through his straight blond hair and blew the air out of his cheeks, sitting down onto the fine sand. "All right. Let's start with what we know."

Micky blinked at him, then sat down beside him as pride detonated in his chest. Peter had come a long way. "Okay. Your 'radar' pinged on him."

Peter nodded. "Right. He 'felt' absolutely fine this morning, then when he came back, he seemed 'off'."

"Wait a second, Peter. Say that again."

Frowning, Peter repeated, "He 'felt' fine this morning. But when he came back--"

"Back," Micky interrupted. "Mike came back. Back from where?"

"He went motorcycle riding after breakfast." Peter's eyes widened. "You don't think--"

"I don't know." Micky stood up, dusting the seat of his pants off. "But let's find out."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Micky and Peter went back into the house and straight up to Mike and Micky's room.

Peter snapped on the light, making Mike curse and pull the pillow over his face. "Sorry."

"Turn off the damn--"

"Not yet," Micky said. "We're looking for something."

Peter nudged Mike's shoe with his foot, and it rolled into Mike's discarded clothing, tossed carelessly onto the floor. The wool hat was exposed as the clothing moved.

Peter's eyes widened. "Micky -- I think I found it."

"What?" Micky asked.

"Look at his hat -- he wore it when he went riding."

"He is right here, you know," Mike growled. "And I always wear it when I'm ridin'. So what?"

Micky crouched, frowning at the green wool lump. "Powder."

"Powder?" Mike sat up, frowning deeply. "The hat was really dusty when I picked it up--"

"That isn't dust," Micky said. "Mike, go shower and wash your hair really well. Let's get all that off of you and see what happens."

Chocolate brown eyes narrowed. "You do not tell me what to do."

"Michael, we're trying to help you," Peter said.

"If you wanna help me, then leave me alone!" Peter's face crumpled, and Mike's eyes widened. "Aw, hell. Aw, no. No, no -- I'm sorry, Shotgun, I didn't mean it like that. I don't know what's wrong with me today..."

Peter sniffled and drew an arm across his eyes. "Just -- go shower, Michael? Please?" his quavering voice asked.

Stammering apologies, Mike tore into the bathroom.

Micky moved closer to Peter. "Hey -- it'll be okay, Big Peter."

"I know." Peter looked up at him -- dry-eyed. Voice steady. "Let's get these in a bag."

His eyes widening in surprise, Micky took a step back. "You were... faking?"

Peter gave a sunny smile in reply. "Don't tell anyone. About half of my 'meltdowns' are fake. Michael needed a little 'push'. I just gave it to him."

As they loaded the contaminated clothing into a bag -- careful not to touch any of it -- Micky asked, "But if half are fake...."

"Don't worry, Micky. You'll know when it's real -- now that you know some aren't."

With that, Peter hauled the garbage bag over his shoulder and down to the washing machine in the basement, leaving that cryptic statement hanging in the air.

And leaving Micky with a lot to think about.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Peter rejoined Micky just as a scrubbed-red Mike emerged from the bathroom. He turned from where he was getting fresh clothing from Mike's closet, and his face exploded into the brightest grins Micky had seen since this started. "Now, that is more like it!"

"Huh?" Mike asked as he accepted the clothes and pulled them on, using the towel he'd had about his waist on his hair as soon as modesty permitted.

"You 'feel' more like yourself again!" Peter laughed. "That 'other you'--"

"--is still there," Mike sighed. "But I'm able to control the.... impulses....better." As he spoke, he dropped the towel carelessly on the bed. Wincing, he picked it up and tossed it into the hamper.

Peter nodded. "You'll be okay till it wears off, then." He busied himself with stripping Mike's bed, piling the sheets into another bag while Micky remade it with uncontaminated sheets.

With a deep sigh, Mike settled into a chair. "She got Mick -- and me -- then she got you. Now she got me again -- but she wasn't nowhere near!"

Micky sighed. "She must've done it while she was here curing Peter. And it didn't 'take' till now because you'd not put on your hat till now."

"My hat." Mike's eyes widened. "Where is my hat?"

Peter jerked his head toward the bag. "I sealed it in with your sheets. We'll wash them together."

Relaxing, Mike let out a tiny little sigh. "Suppose it'd be hopin' against hope that she'll leave Dave alone?"

As if on cue, there came a scream from downstairs.

TO BE CONTINUED....




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