Chapter 9

Michael lay his head on the pillow and let out a deep breath. He couldn't remember the last time he was this tired, at least not before he got sick. Who would have known that he, a guy in good shape, would have trouble keeping up with his mother and Virgil? The second they crossed the turnstiles at the Magic Kingdom, it was like a boatload of Tikerbell's pixie dust fell on them and transformed the couple into kids. He and Fiona watched with Sam and Elsa and Jesse as the older couple practically skipped down Main Street.

"Hey Ma, you wanna hold it up there?"

"But Michael, the teacups are waiting!" She grinned so wide, he thought her face would split in two. She swung Virgil's hand in hers and his grin almost matched.

Michael gave Sam a look, and Sam shrugged. He warned Michael about Maddie's love for the teacups. The last time Sam had to get her out of Miami he took her to this magical place and endured three rounds with her. He lost a few pounds that day, just because he was afraid to eat anything and lose it on the ride.

"Hey Mike, I think we need one of those harnesses for your Ma," Jesse teased as he laughed.

"I think it's wonderful that she's so happy," Fiona proclaimed. She released Michael's hand and trotted the few steps to catch up to Maddie.

"I do too. You guys just don't get it." Elsa broke away from Sam and joined the other two women.

"Okay, I need to go back to the car."

Michael asked, concerned. "Why, what's wrong, Sam?"

"Look! That's not the same woman I arrived with."

"I think I just got pushed out to hang with you guys," Virgil said as he fell into step next to Sam. "I'm telling you boys, there's something strange about this place. It just affects some people more than others."

Up ahead, the women formed a line, linked arm in arm, chattering away and having the time of their lives. The men stayed back a few paces and watched the female bonding take shape through most of the day.

But those teacups... Maddie insisted that Michael ride at least once with her. "You remember how much you loved these, don't you, Michael?"

He grimaced, because he didn't remember any such thing. But in order to appease her, he lied. "Yeah, Ma. But things are different now."

"Oh, good heavens, just ride once with your Ma. How hard can it be," Virgil said.

"Fine. But you're going along, and you'll see. Fi?"

Everyone looked at Fiona as she bit the side of her mouth, debating with herself. She locked on Maddie's pleading eyes. For some reason, this meant a lot to her. "Okay, I'll go."

"Oh good!" Maddie's eyes sparkled as she clapped like a little kid. "Let's get in line!"

"Sam?" Michael turned toward his friend.

"We'll take a different cup," Sam answered. He pulled Elsa to his side and glanced at Jesse who nodded in agreement. He heard the stories. Jesse knew how dangerous it was to be in a teacup with Maddie.

Everyone made it on the same round. Maddie apparently had a favorite teacup, because as soon as the gate opened, she rushed for it on the other side of the turntable. She got in and bounced in her seat, waved her arm and yelled, "Over here!"

The cup, if left alone, would spin on its axis, but Maddie took control of the wheel, turning it into a ride only the Mad Hatter would have enjoyed. Just one round and Michael had enough for another lifetime. Fiona looked green and teetered on her wedge sandals as she stumbled out of the giant cup.

To their surprise, Virgil grinned and said, "Hey, I could do that again! That was fun!"

"Maybe later, Virg. There's a lot more to see." Michael took Fiona by the arm and helped her get her bearings as they exited the ride.

The rest of the day they flew with Aladdin, endured a small world, met some pirates who were hardly scary to Michael and the team, and blasted off into space. Some time in the morning Maddie bought pink mouse ears for the girls with their names on the sparkly caps. Elsa gave Sam a look and her cheeks flushed as she put on the ears. She was all for having fun, but walking around looking silly wasn't exactly high on her list of great ideas.

Michael heard Sam whisper something to her. He didn't know what it was, but later when they were seated at a table for lunch and the women flocked to the bathroom together, he asked. "Sam, what'd you say to Elsa to get her to wear those ears?"

"I just said, 'Just pretend like she's your mom. Would you have done this for her?'" He smiled. "It worked. She's still not thrilled with 'em, but I told her she wouldn't have to wear them tomorrow."

"Thanks, Sam. You know that means a lot to my Ma."

"I know. Maddie means a lot to me. She's like my Ma." He paused, took a sip from his iced tea and asked, "Has this trip been everything you hoped for?"

"I wasn't doing it for me. I was doing it for her."

Sam met his eyes, and his own crinkled with his smile. "Yeah, but you're having fun, aren't you. Admit it."

A slow smile creased his face and he nodded. "It's a lot more fun than it was when we went with my dad."

"That's good. I was hoping this would be special for everyone," Virgil said with a contented look on his face and his eyes staring off into the crowd. The men followed his gaze and saw the three women coming back to the table. In an airy tone, Virgil mumbled, "Isn't she just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?"

Sam smiled and looked at Michael. When Michael met his look, Sam mouthed, "Step-dad."

Michael shook his head vigorously.

Sam nodded. He leaned closer and muttered, "Just wait, Mikey."

Michael hated when Sam was right. Virgil must have had it planned before the trip. He just needed the right time and place, and Michael unwittingly aided and abetted his plan. After a full day at the park, the group returned to the villa and changed for dinner. Elsa made reservations at one of the nicer restaurants in the area. It was situated on a river walk, which the couples traversed after a five course meal. Jesse begged out and went back to the villa on his own.

Sam and Elsa veered off in a different direction and Michael and Fiona walked far behind to let Virgil and Maddie have their space. The two stopped for a coffee at a cafe and watched the people pass by, mostly couples, with few children out at that hour.

"It feels good to get off our feet," Fiona said. "Your mother is something else."

"Virgil too. I never thought he'd be so... so..." He couldn't find the words.

"Childlike," Fiona provided for him with a grin. "It was invigorating to see them having fun and so in love." She rested her elbows on the table and stacked her hands to place her chin on them as she sighed. "It was so sweet." A dark shadow fell across Michael's expression. "I know you don't like him, but your mother does, so you better just get used to it."

"What is so great about Virgil?" Michael lightly slapped the table surface.

"What is so great about Virgil. Let's look at that, shall we?" Fiona unfolded her hands and ticked off each feature on the fingers of one hand. "He's sweet. He's attentive. He wants to do nothing more than make your mother happy. He's..."

Michael held up a hand to stop her. "Okay, okay, he's a romantic, I get it. But I'm afraid when he's with her, Fi. He's been in trouble before, gotten into stuff that he shouldn't have."

"Oh, not like anyone I know at this table has ever done that."

He gave her a sour look. Then his face changed, and he chuckled. "You know how parents are always concerned about the dates their kids bring home?" Fiona nodded. "Now the shoe is on the other foot. It's weird."

"Not at all. You love her, and you only want what's best for her. Like she wants for you." Fiona reached across the small table and took his hand. "Now that she's happy with your choice, maybe it's time for you to be happy with hers. You have to admit, based on what little you've told me about your Dad, Virgil is a lot better for her than he ever was."

"You're right." Michael nodded. His eyes wandered toward the river boardwalk. Two figures stood against the railing, a man and a woman. His mother and Virgil. She faced away from them, but the light in Virgil's eyes told Michael everything he needed to know. Virgil pulled something from his pocket, a small box. Michael closed his eyes for a moment.

"Michael, what is it?" She turned her head and saw the couple. Her breath sucked in. "He's... he's asking her..."

"The big question. Yeah." He opened his eyes. Maddie's hands clutched together at her heart and she held up the left one. As she did so, she knocked into the box that Virgil was ready to open to take out the ring.

Michael and Fiona gasped as the box went flying over the rail and into the water.

"Oh no! Michael!"

Before anyone could move, Virgil climbed over the rail and jumped into the water feet first. Thankfully, it was only waist deep, but he ducked down beneath the dark water. Maddie stood hanging onto the rail, her brow knit, concentrating on the water below to avoid looking anyone in the eye. Fiona got out of her seat to go comfort her. Michael followed, unsure of what to do. The three waited for a couple of minutes, but Virgil had not surfaced.

"Michael, please, do something!" Maddie cried. "What if he's drowning? It's all my fault!"

"It's okay, Ma. Virgil's good at holding his breath a long time."

"Hey Mike, whatcha looking at," Sam asked. He and Elsa stepped up to the railing and looked down at the gentle waves on the surface.

"Virgil tried to propose to me and I knocked the ring into the water," Madeline cried.

Fiona and Elsa, in bonded sisterhood with Madeline, flanked her and each one put an arm around her. At that moment, everyone heard a gasp for air and splashing.

"I found it, darlin!" Virgil had the biggest, silliest grin on his face as water dripped from the hand raised high with the box firmly grasped in his fingers. Rivulets ran from his head down his soaking clothes. "Hey, you fellas wanna give me a hand up?"

Michael and Sam reached for him and helped him over the rail, trying not to get wet themselves.

"Thanks, fellas." Virgil's feet hit the pavement, and then he got down on one knee before Maddie, oblivious to the small crowd that had formed. "Now, where was I?" He pulled open the box and the ring lay in the soggy velvet and sparkled under the old fashioned streetlamps. "I know I already asked this, but it was so fun seeing your reaction the first time, I'll ask again. Madeline Westen, will you marry me?"

Maddie laughed and cried at the same time as she said, "Yes, Virgil, I will!"

"Alright!" He pulled the ring from the box, dropped it on the ground, and worked the ring over her ring finger. It was a little tight, but once he passed the knuckle, it fit perfectly. He got up and his knee cracked. "Good thing I only had to do that part once. I'm getting too old for that sort of thing!"

The couple embraced and kissed while the crowd cheered and clapped, and after things died down, the group went to the ice cream parlor nearby to celebrate.

Now, lying in bed, Michael felt the full effect of the day's events on his body. He apparently had some more recovering to do to get his full strength back. Tomorrow would be better. He couldn't let a couple at least twenty years his senior beat him.

Fiona turned to fit up against him and placed a hand over his heart. In a sleepy voice she said, "It was a beautiful day, wasn't it?"

"It was." In the dark he smiled. "I think tomorrow will be even better."

"So do I. It feels good to enjoy life and not worry about how much time we have left." She fell asleep on that thought.

Michael had to agree. But he would never forget how counting the days felt like living on the edge. He'd done it so many times he was used to it, but this was a new sensation. Knowing he could very well have lost everything he loved caused an ache deep inside. He gained it all back and more, and vowed that with the time he had left, however long that might be, he would appreciate his family, his wife, his friends, and his life. Not having the CIA and the burn notice on his back would help. After they returned to Miami, the team would begin that mission. He almost couldn't wait.