CHAPTER 11

"Good morning, Daddy."

"Good morning, sweetheart," Tommy said, smiling at his half-asleep daughters.

Alanna's blond curls framed her face as she struggled to open her eyes. In the bed across from her, Ciarda yawned. Covering her mouth, she stared back at her father. "Are cartoons on already?" the little brunette asked. "Did we sleep too late?"

"No, honey," he said, moving to sit on the edge of Ciarda's bed. He beckoned with his hand and Alanna crawled from underneath her covers to sit on his lap. Both girls looked up into his warm green eyes expectantly. The ache of leaving them, even for such a short while, was heavy in Tommy's heart. He needed a deep breath before he could make his confession.

"Is something wrong, Daddy?" Alanna asked, picking up on his anxiety. "Did we do something wrong?"

"We didn't mean to," Ciarda added with a quivering bottom lip.

"You didn't," Tommy said, reassuring his girls. He moved further back on the bed before gesturing for Ciarda to join her sister on his lap. Once she was settled, he held his daughters close to him. "Neither of you have done a thing wrong. Daddy's sorry for making you think that you had. Will you forgive me?"

"Yes." Both girls nodded vigorously.

"Thank you," he said, pausing to kiss their chubby cheeks. "I have to go for away for a few days. Uncle Nikolas needs me to help him with an investigation."

"Is Uncle Nikolas going to?" Alanna asked.

"And, Dominik, too?" Ciarda added.

Tommy smiled at his children's inquisitiveness. "No, your uncle and your friend are staying here."

"You mean you have to investi...investi... You have to go away all by yourself?" Ciarda asked with a frown forming on her angelic forehead.

"Daddy isn't scared," Alanna told her twin. "Are you, Daddy?"

"No, I'm-"

"I didn't say that Daddy was scared," Ciarda clarified. "Daddy is never scared of anything."

"I wouldn't say that," Tommy admitted. "This trip isn't scary trip. I plan to be back within a few days. I may only be gone overnight. I have something very important to ask the two of you. You will remember to be good little girls for your mother, right?"

The little girls nodded in reply.

"And, that means no more climbing into trees, Ciarda, okay?" Tommy said, giving his daughter a firm but loving look.

"Okay," Ciarda mumbled, her eyes downcast.

Tommy squeezed the little girl closer to his chest. "I'm not upset with you. Remember that if you're scare or upset your Mommy is here for you, and your sister, too."

"That's right!" Alanna said. "You won't climb the big tree anymore, will you, Ciarda?"

"Or any other tree," Tommy said.

"No, Daddy. I'll be good," Ciarda said, her voice soft and barely audible.

Tommy's eyes darkened with concern, but he refrained from voicing his thoughts. In exchange, he promised himself that he would be back in time for the meeting with her teacher. No matter what. He gave the girls a smile and said, "Also, remember that I love you very much and will be thinking about you the entire time I'm away."

"We'll be thinking about you, too," Alanna responded. "I love you, too, Daddy."

"I love you, Daddy," Ciarda murmured.

He kissed their cheeks again and received a strong hug from each of them. He then tucked them both back into bed and kissed them again before making his exit. With his thoughts on Ciarda, his movements were slower than when he usually was in preparation for an overseas trip. By the time he descended the staircase, he had almost convinced himself to postpone the trip for a few days.

"Tommy?" Gina called to him as he stood in the den's doorway. "Is something wrong? Did the twins cry?"

"No, not really," he said, as he entered the den. "They were big girls, but... Maybe I should call PK and tell her that I can't make it."

"Huh?" Gina asked. "What happened just now? I thought Nikolas needed you to investigate the fire in Jakarta. I don't understand."

"I don't either," he admitted, pulling her into his arms as he stood before her. "Alanna seems fine, but Ciarda... She's so sensitive. She almost started to cry. Maybe I shouldn't leave her so soon after what happened with the tree and the party yesterday."

"Oh, sweetheart," Gina said, standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "You are the world's best father. We are gonna miss you something terrible, but we will be just fine while you are gone. Ciarda will be fine."

"I hope so," he said. He lowered his forehead to hers. "I feel bad for leaving her. Do you really think I should go?"

"I'm the wrong person to ask," Gina admitted. "I don't want you to go, but I do know that Nikolas depends on you. I also know that he wouldn't have asked you if he didn't think the investigation needed your expertise. Our baby is surrounded by love. She's growing up and I guess she needs a little more reassurance than Alanna. I'm prepared to give her my share and yours too while you're away. She'll be fine. If I thought otherwise, there's no way I'd let you go."

"Thank you." He brushed his lips across hers for a kiss that soon deepened. When it was over, he hugged her to him and told her that he loved her and would miss her. She responded in kind. After he released her, he shrugged into his black calf-length wool coat and grabbed his overnight bag and laptop. With one arm around her waist, they slowly walked to the back door that led to their carport.

"I won't be gone more than a couple of days. If you need me, call me and I'll come right back," Tommy said, pausing to hold her in his arms one more time before he moved behind the wheel of his car.

"I know," she said, smiling back at him.

"You know that you call on Nikolas, too," Tommy added.

"I know. Don't worry. We'll be okay. Perform your investigation and don't worry about us. We'll be just fine until you come back. And, don't under any circumstances forget that I love you."

"I love you, too." He kissed her again.

After the kiss was over, he gave her a fierce hug and then he disappeared inside the car. Gina stood on the sidewalk, waving and watching as he drove away. Tommy kept one eye on the road and the other on her reflection in the rearview mirror until she disappeared from his sight.

Tommy's black Mustang whispered softly as it took Tommy from his home to the Cassadine landing strip. He parked the car in his space and was in the process of removing his bags when a surprise visitor greeted him.

"Lynn?" he said, looking at her with confusion. "Good morning and what are you doing here?"

"Good morning, Tommy," she said, somewhat breathlessly as she stared back at him. "I'm here because I have something for you. I tried to stop by your place before you left, but I woke up late."

Familiar with Lynn's sleeping habits, Tommy could only laugh softly.

A faint blush colored Lynn's cheeks, but she continued on with her explanation. "Remember the research I did a while back? Well, I looked it over again, and I found something that seemed a little strange to me. I decided that you'd better look at it just in case."

"Thanks, Lynn," Tommy said, taking the manila folder from her. They began to walk towards the hangar as Tommy perused the papers. "This is incredible, but there may be something missing. Do you have anything else?"

She shook her head. "That was all I had on my hard drive. I'm sorry..."

He stopped her apology with a warm smile. "There's no need for an apology. I appreciate your extra work on this. Believe me, I do. There's a brief mention of Harrison's stepson, Ford Jones. Is there any more data on him?"

"I don't have anything else. I could go home and see what I could dig up," Lynn offered as they now stood a few feet from the jet. She pulled her coat close around her as a chilly breeze blew.

"Do you have to go home?"

"Excuse me?" she responded with confusion.

"This is something that I need before I step off the plane in Jakarta. I have my laptop here and there's a desktop in the plane. How would you like to join me in Jakarta? If you want, you could turn right back around or you could stay and participate more fully in the investigation. With you, PK and me, the pyromaniac won't stand a chance," he said with a coaxing tone..

"Are you sure? I don't even have my passport."

"Lynn," he said, giving her a gentle smile. "You don't exactly need a passport. Well, you do, but I can call Nikolas and we'll work it out. Do you want to come? I would definitely appreciate your presence, but you if you don't want to..."

"No!" she said, excitedly. "I'll go. Thanks, Tommy."

"No, thank you."

~*~

The beauty of the rising sun as its rays streamed through the lace curtains and into the bedroom was lost on Jason. The beauty of his sleeping wife held his full attention. Gently, his fingertips skimmed across her full cheeks and soft lips and eventually to her thick, dark hair. He was careful not to wake her as he indulged his need to touch her. He only wanted to look at her, to protect her and most of all to love her.

He slid lower in the bed, sighing contentedly as her body molded to his. His arm wrapped around her. Her head rested on his bare chest and he closed his eyes. His lips moved as he silently whispered a prayer for her and their unborn child.

"Relax," she murmured sleepily.

"Excuse me?" he asked, twisting his neck so that he could look down into her chestnut brown eyes. "I'm relaxed."

"You're wound up as tight as a drum," she said, lifting her head to meet his gaze. "Relax, Jason. We'll be okay this time."

"What makes you think I..." He released a long breath. "Okay, I give. I just can't help thinking about...before. Baby, I don't ever want you to have go through something like that again."

"I won't," she said with confidence. She took his hand and placed it over her still flat abdomen. "Faith, Jason. You have to have it. You have to believe. We've been given a second chance. We have to remember how special this second chance is."

"I do," he said, slightly exasperated. "I also remember finding you crumpled over at the bottom of the staircase. I remember the tears in your eyes and the fear. I remember Bobbie telling me that our baby was gone. I remember telling you even when in my heart, I knew that you already knew. I'm sorry, Keesha, but as long as I live, I'll never forget."

She moved again to gently cup his face. Her thumb wiped away the tear that fell down his cheek. "I wouldn't ask you to forget. I can't. I just think that for you, me and this baby, it would be better if we focused on the positive. I don't want to live the next seven months in fear, Jason. I don't want you live that way either."

"I won't be living in fear," he said, averting his eyes from hers.

"You're a terrible liar," she said, a smile in her voice. She kissed him hard on the mouth and then crawled out of bed. Her bare feet took her to the large windows and she pulled the curtains apart. The sunlight streamed inside in all its glory. Smiling, she looked outside at the morning. "Look at how beautiful that is, Jason."

"I am looking," he said. His eyes never left her as he left the bed to join her. His arms wrapped around her and he held her. "I want to be positive and think happy thoughts, too. I'll try to. Just promise me that you won't try to do everything and if you're tired, you'll rest. You'll let us take care of you for a change. Promise me."

"I promise," she said, serious.

~*~

"NO! He's my son! And, you had better tell me where he is and you had better tell me now!"

In her drunken slumber, Carly's words were slurred and her dreams took her back to an afternoon where her fondness for alcohol had gotten the better of her. Tossing violently, she rolled over in her bed as more words tumbled from her mouth.

"Damn you, you jealous-hearted bitch!" she screamed just as she had screamed into the telephone five years earlier. "You're too much of a saint to admit it, but I know that's what your problem is. You're jealous because I gave him something you can't give him. A son."

Stupid, fool! You're the one who's jealous. I'm the woman he loves, the woman he married, and the woman who's carrying his real child! You're the one who's jealous, Caroline Benson. Not me. I have Jason. You never will.

Vicious expletives spewed from Carly's mouth as Keesha's words came back to haunt her. Their argument had ripped into her heart. The truth had hurt and in turn, Carly had worked hard to hurt Keesha. She would never remember everything she had said, and she would always regret that Vincent had wrenched the telephone from her hands before she could say more. In her sleep, she cursed him, too.

"Good morning to you, too," Vincent said to his wife. He pulled the covers from her and then strode to the window to open the curtains. Behind him, she curled into the fetal position to cover her eyes. He wasn't sympathetic. "Rise and shine, Caroline! Pay homage to the brilliant morn."

"No," she mumbled. "Make it go away. My head hurts."

"As it should," he commented. He left the window to go to her again. He grabbed her wrists and pulled her from the bed. "Get up."

"Vincent," she said, whining.

"Stop it," he said, warning her with a soft voice. "Stop being a spoiled brat and pull yourself together. You do want your son back, don't you?"

"You know that I do," she said, pouting as she rubbed her eyes. "I just don't feel good this morning. Can't we begin tomo-"

"No," he said, heading for the door. "Your mother expects to meet you for brunch at the Grille in ninety minutes."

"But I didn't..."

"Call her?" he finished for her. "Yes, I know. I called her myself this morning." He opened the door and stood in the doorway, looking back at her. "I'll have a pot of coffee brought up and when you get out of the shower, you'll find your outfit on the bed. The time has come, Caroline. If you screw it up this time, you'll only have yourself to blame."

He closed the door shut behind him, leaving Carly to stumble into the bathroom without pausing once to contemplate his words.

Chapter 12

General Hospital İABC
Alanna & Ciarda Hardy, Vincent İ1998 niklovr
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