Chapter 19

Heads turned and people made sure to move away from the man who was obviously on a mission. Stefan walked briskly through the hospital. He was careful of patients and ignored the hospital personnel. A single thought guided him and fueled his pace. Carrie needed him and nothing else mattered.

Gracefully and purposefully, he rounded the corner that led to Dara's private room. Standing outside the room and looking impossibly beautiful even as she appeared too weary from worry, the object of his greatest desire stood. In his determined stride, Stefan reached her in seconds. A look of surprise and relief was the first thing Stefan noticed as he pulled her within the circle of his arms.

"Oh, my darling Carlotta," he murmured against her forehead. His hands slid across her back, molding her to him. Her arms tightened around him and she burrowed closer to him. "I'm here now. You can lean on me. I will be your strength."

"Stefan, I've missed you so much. I'm so thankful that you're here. My strength is nearly gone," Carrie said hoarsely. "I'm so afraid that Dara..."

"Ssh," he whispered. He shifted within her arms so that he could tenderly cup her face within his lean, strong hands. His emerald eyes twinkled with love as he looked down at her. "We'll find a cure for her-"

"Please, don't," she said, shaking her head. "Don't tell me that because we may not. I've been standing here thinking about how I lit into Alex. I was so unfair...becoming angry with him for trying to find a way to deal with the worst that could happen. I don't want to face it, but we may never find out what's hurting her. And she may die."

"No," he said firmly. "You don't accept that. Not yet. Hope is a remarkable thing. It can create a miracle, my love."

"But I've been praying for a miracle," she said as tears began to flow from her eyes. "Nothing's happened! She's becoming sicker every day. Her body can't take much more. I'm afraid that I don't know how to hope anymore..."

She felt into his arms again. Stefan held her as she wept, soaking up her fears and sorrows with every tear that fell from her eyes. When she was spent and couldn't cry anymore, he wrapped his arms around her and took her from the hospital.

During the ride from the hospital to their chalet, Carrie fell asleep. After their driver parked the Benz, Stefan lovingly pulled Carrie into his arms and carried her inside. She was exhausted and didn't stir even as he undressed her and placed her on the bed. Once he was done tending to her comfort, he stood over her. Even slumber, a worried frown was etched on her brow. A lump comprised of helplessness lodged in his throat. Silently, he prayed for a miracle that would save Dara's life.

~*~

Loud and powerful, the waves crashed onto the beach. The little girl shrieked in delight as the warm water lapped at her feet. Her father laughed at her antics before he swung her away from the water. When he set her down again, he reached for her hand. Together, they walked away from the beach and towards their home.

Smiling, Simone rested her hands on the wooden railing that fenced in the back terrace of Casa Corinthos. An island breeze brushed her hair back from her face as she called down to her husband and daughter. "Hey, you two!"

"Mommy!" Shana called. She released Sonny's hands and raced up the wooden steps that led to the terrace. "You're back early," she announced as she threw herself into Simone's waiting arms.

"Amen," Sonny murmured in a low voice as he joined them on the terrace. He had raced to greet his waiting wife, too. His black eyes darkened as he fixated Simone with a stare that curled her toes. His dimples deepened as he smiled at the blush that colored her honey-golden cheeks. "It's about time you came back."

Simone held onto Shana's hand even as she reached for Sonny. Greeting him with a kiss that held many promises, she said, "I've only been gone since this morning."

"Yeah," Sonny said with a shrug, "but it seems like forever."

"Daddy's right," Shana agreed. "You were gone for an awfully long time."

Sonny slipped his arm around Simone's waist and Shana tugged her on hand. The trio left the warmth of the island sun and went inside their cool hacienda. As they moved, Simone rested her head on Sonny's shoulder. "What am I gonna do with you two?"

"I can think of a few things," Sonny suggested before he kissed her temple. "Tell us. How was your day at the hospital? Do they really need you as much as we do?"

"Yes, Mommy," Shana piped up, "do they really?"

"Shame on you, Sonny," Simone mumbled, giving him a hard stare that only caused him to laugh.

As the family entered the den, they fell into their usual routine. Shana grabbed a story from her bookshelf and brought it back to her parents who sat cuddled together on the loveseat. The little girl took her usual spot on Sonny's lap and rested her head against his chest, waiting for him to read to her and her mother.

Sonny kissed his daughter's mop of curly dark brown hair as he flipped open the Nancy Drew mystery. He opened his mouth just as the telephone rang. Somewhere Natalie, the housekeeper answered the phone and Sonny began to read aloud. A few minutes into the mystery, Natalie came to the door and said, "Dr. Corinthos."

Sonny frowned as Simone moved away to pick up the nearby telephone. "Tell whoever it is to go away. Tell them that I'm reading Nancy Drew and that you don't wish to be disturbed."

Shaking her head at him, Simone smiled. "I'll see what I can do." She raised the receiver to her lips and said, "Hello. Dr. Corinthos here."

"Greetings, Simone. I trust that I am not intruding upon your time."

"Stefan?" she asked. Crinkling up her nose at Sonny who stared at her, Simone was strongly affected by the urgency she sensed in Stefan. "Is everything okay? Carrie is fine, right?"

"Everything is amiss," he said quietly. "Carlotta is worried almost to the point of sickness. I would not have intruded upon you, but..."

"You're not intruding," Simone reassured him. She rose from the sofa and moved to stand in the window. She stared sightlessly at the roaring surf as behind her, Sonny instructed Natalie to take Shana to her room. As the door closed behind the two females, Sonny moved silently to stand behind his wife. Simone breathed a sigh of relief when Sonny wrapped his arms around her. Leaning against him, she spoke to Stefan again. "Tell me what's going on. Why is Carrie worried? Is it because of Nikolas and Dawn? I know that she was concerned about Noelle's birthday party this weekend and that Dawn's return may not be well received. Did something happen with them?"

"No. Nothing untoward happened with them," he said. He paused as if he inhaled deeply. When he spoke again, his voice was gravelly and filled with emotion. "It's Dara. She's ill and she has been for quite some time-"

"What's wrong with her?" Simone interrupted. "How long has she been sick?"

"We don't know what's wrong. She became ill a couple of weeks ago. With each day that passes, her condition worsens. Carlotta and Alejandro brought her to Paris at my urgings and now, I fear that not even France can save her."

"What are her symptoms?" she asked, hoping that she could help.

Stefan coughed and in choked voice, replied, "A better question would be what aren't her symptoms. She's been tested for every ailment known to man and although she has the symptom, she doesn't have the disease. Carlotta and Alejandro are beside themselves with fear and dread. And Dara is slipping away from us. She didn't wish for anyone to know of her illness, but... Simone, I'm calling you with the hopes that you can help us in some way. Perhaps, you know of a facility...a physician..."

"Stefan, could you hold on for a moment, please?"

"Of course."

Simone covered the mouthpiece with her hand and turned to face Sonny. Concern shone in his black eyes. He took her hand and asked, "Who's sick?"

"Dara. She, Alex and Carrie are in Paris. That's why Carrie didn't call about the baby's party. She wasn't there for it. Stefan is... Baby, I've never heard him sound so helpless before. I'm afraid to think of what could be wrong with Dara. He wants me to suggest a clinic or a doctor, but I'd feel better if I went to them."

"Of course you would," Sonny said with understanding. He brushed her hair off her cheeks as he looked at her. "I can book a flight for us and we can leave tonight."

"You'd come, too?" she asked.

"Carrie's your best friend. Of course, I'll be there for both of you," he told her.

"And what about Shana? She's only seven. She likes Dara a lot. I'm not sure if I'm ready for her to learn about the possibilities of life and death in such a hands-on situation. Do you think she'll be okay with both of us gone? Maybe..."

Sonny placed a finger to her lips. "You're right about Shana. She's too young for this. But still, I don't want you to go through this alone. While you're talking to Stefan, I'll talk to her and see how she feels about staying here without us. If she's hesitant, I'll suggest a visit to her big brother. She always seems to like throwing her weight around with her nieces." He kissed Simone's cheek. "Give Cassadine my regards and tell him that I'm sorry about Dara."

Sonny closed the door behind him as he left and Simone redirected her attention to Stefan. "I'm sorry about that. Sonny and I are coming to Paris-"

"Simone, no. You have your hospital and Shana to think about-"

"You can let us worry about Shana. The hospital can stand on its own without me. Stefan, I can imagine the pain and fear that's going through Carrie right now. There's no greater concern for a parent than to not know whether or not your child is..." Simone drew in a harsh breath. "Stefan, I can't offer any guarantees that I'll be any more helpful than the doctor's you've had, but I want to try. I've done a lot of research lately and my abilities aren't limited to children. I want to try to help Dara."

Stefan released a long sigh. "Thank you."

"Sonny sends his regards and he's sorry about Dara. He wanted me to tell you that. I'll see you all tomorrow. I know that it's hard, but try to keep the faith for a little while longer. Just try, okay?"

"Okay."

~*~

The flames had been extinguished days ago, but the acrid smell of fire still lingered. Tommy ignored the oppressive aroma of smoke. With deliberate meticulousness, he picked through the remains of the Jakarta warehouse. Being extra careful, he had pulled on a pair of surgical gloves. Every few feet or so, he'd find something that caught his attention. He would put the object in a small plastic bag, hand it to Lynn and then keep going. The first time he'd set something aside for later, the officials had balked. He had countered their disapproval with steely determination that caused his eyes to flash and his voice to deepen. He hadn't backed down, but they had. After a few hours, the Indonesian officials had left them alone. Tommy, Lynn and PK couldn't have been more pleased.

"So, what do you think?" PK asked. She stepped carefully over the rubble to reach her colleagues. "I've read their reports and looked over as much of the warehouse as I can. I can't tell if it was set or if it was an accident. What am I missing?"

Tommy frowned. "I'm not sure if you're missing anything," he answered.

"I'm no expert when it comes to fires," Lynn acknowledged, "but I looked at their reports, too. Where they say the fire started doesn't look right to me."

"It's not right," Tommy said. "There would be more damage there. But the fire did start in that area." He pointed towards his right. "We should be able to pinpoint exactly where. We shouldn't really begrudge them for their inaccuracy."

PK laughed. "Even if we know they're lying to us."

"Well, in that case..."Tommy said with a smile. "Actually, I think it's a mixture of lies and ignorance. They feel that their hands are tied. If it really was arson, the warehouse is gone and so is work for the natives. And if it was an accident, they should have been better prepared to squelch the flames before it brought down the place. Either way, they're just lucky that no one was killed."

"I think we all are," Lynn said softly. She looked around the charred remains. "Look at this. A week ago, this place was filled with people working. Machines were running to manufacture medical products. I'd hate to think that someone would deliberately set fire to a factory that produced the digital chips that help repair spinal cord injuries."

"People are cruel," PK said quietly. "It's a horrible thing. I try not to think about the patients who are waiting on the shipments, you know. It's sad."

"Yes, it is," Tommy concurred. "Sad and senseless." He was about to say more when movement caught his eye. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the intruder and upon recognition, a teasing smile came to his lips. He whispered loudly to PK. "Don't look now, but I think you're in trouble."

"Huh?" she asked, turning her head. Her brown eyes locked on a pair of green eyes that were blazing with anger. A frown creased her brow as she stared back at the man who towered over her. "What are you doing here?"

"I could say the same for you!" Jasper Jacks nearly shouted. He nodded his head in greeting to Tommy and Lynn before turning his gaze back to the woman who was the cause of his ire. "You have no business out here, Pamela!"

Rolling her eyes, she tried to brush past him. He grabbed her upper arms, forcing her stay put. Beside him, Tommy stiffened and moved to step in. PK stopped him with the wave of her hand. "Let go of me, Jax."

He shook his head. "I let go of you once and you came roaring after a fire. Do you realize how dangerous this is?"

"Do you realize that you'll be in a lot of danger if you don't let go of me," she said pointedly. Upon her glare, Jax released her arms to hold onto her hands. He gently stroked the backs of her hands with his thumbs. Soon, both forgot their earlier anger and frustration. Looking into each other's eyes, the outside world was forgotten. Tommy and Lynn moved away from them to continue their investigation.

"Do you think they'll ever get married?" Lynn asked, watching Tommy as he squatted beside what used to be a desk.

As he looked up at her and smiled, Lynn's cheeks turned a dark crimson. Tommy's eyes twinkled with kindness. "I think one day when they're both tired of fighting, they'll settle down. What do you think?"

"I think you're right," Lynn answered, turning away from Tommy.

Tommy was silent. Rising to his full height, he watched Lynn as she sifted through the debris. He wondered if he had said or done something that bothered her. Mindful of the private reconciliation that was taking place a few yards away, he called to her. "Lynn, is something wrong? If you don't want to stay in Jakarta, you don't have to. I can have the jet take you back-"

"No!" she said, turning around quickly to face him again. "I don't want to leave. I feel like I'm learning so much out here. I don't want to leave unless you'd rather I left."

He shook his head. "Of course not. With the three of us...excuse me, four. Jax is here, he's an investor and now that he's here, he's an investigator, too."

Lynn laughed softly. "I'm sure that PK will like that."

"Yeah, but she'll never admit to it." He stepped closer to her. "Before, you became so quiet. Are you sure that everything is okay? I don't want to intrude upon your privacy, but if one of the fire officials said something offensive, let me know. Or if I said something... Did I say something that offended you?"

Quickly, she shook her head. "No. You'd never do that."

Shrugging, he laughed. "I've been known to have my moments. But seriously, if something is wrong, you can talk to me. In addition to our work relationship, I hope that we're friends, too."

"Friends...yes, of course." Lynn smiled at him. "I'm fine. I'm suffering from jet lag, I think. I'll be okay."

"Would you like to go back to the hotel?" he asked, concerned. "The driver should still be outside."

"Are you going back?" she asked.

"No, I still have more work to do. Lynn," he said gently, "you don't have to stay just because I am. I'm used to working like this. It doesn't bother me."

"It doesn't bother me either. Besides, if I leave that may mean you're out here longer than you need to be. Two heads can work faster and better than one. If we keep going, we can all go back to the hotel."

"Yes, ma'am!" he said with a mock salute. Lynn laughed and then they went back to work. A few feet away, Jax and PK made up and went back to work, too.

The four adults worked methodically through the rubble, leaving no stone or charred object unturned. Their companionable silence was only interrupted from time to time when Tommy, the designated expert, was needed to answer a question. As night darkened the sky, they continued to work. Hunger and fatigue was pushed aside in their determination to find the answers to the truth. When stars littered the sky, they reached a stopping place. They moved as a unit out of what remained of the warehouse and headed for their cars. In the darkness, the shrill ringing of Tommy's cellphone caused him to lag behind the others.

"Hello."

"Hi, babe!" Gina said through the static. "I hope this is a good time."

"It's always a good time to hear your voice," Tommy told her. "How are you? How are my girls?"

"We're fine," she said. "And, you? There have been no accidents since you've been there, right?"

"Not a one," he reassured her. "I'm doing okay. Everything smells like smoke, but other than that, I'm fine. I'm trying not to be too suspicious, but you sound a little upset. Are you sure that you're okay?"

"I'm doing great other than missing you like crazy. I needed to hear your voice," Gina said. "And I wanted to tell you that we're having a little visitor."

"Well, I miss you, too," he said. "We have pictures, videos and samples. I'm leaving for home in a few hours. I'm gonna be very busy when I get back, but I will be there for you and girls. So, um...who's the little visitor? Is it Ben or Marissa?"

"Neither," Gina told him. "Shana's coming to stay with us for a little while. She should be here tomorrow afternoon."

"Just Shana?" Tommy questioned. "What about Mama and Sonny? Why are they dumping my little sister on us? I hope they're not going on another honeymoon. It's not like Casa Corinthos isn't a resort."

"Are you done?" she asked, laughing at his short tirade. "Sonny didn't give me the specifics, but I don't think Simone and he are playing around. He sounded serious when he asked if she could stay. I'm not sure what's going on, but I told him that she could stay for as long as they needed."

"I'm glad that you told him that," he said honestly. "Do you think he and Mama are having problems?"

"No," she said quickly. "I'm not sure what it is. I'm not sure if I should pry, but I'll let him know that we're here if they need us."

"That sounds good to me," Tommy said.

"Oh, love, you sound so tired. I'll say goodnight now. I love you. Have a good rest, okay?"

"Okay," he said. "I love you, too. Tell my girls that I miss them and can't wait to be with you all again."

Gina ended the call with promises to do what Tommy asked. After he heard the hum of the dial tone, he closed the phone and slipped it inside his pants pocket again. Noticing that the others were waiting for him by the cars, he broke into a jog to join them. Lynn was the first to react to the pensive look on his face.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. If you don't mind, I'd rather we head straight to the airport instead of stopping at the hotel for dinner. I want to leave for home as soon as possible."

"That's fine with me," she said.

"Thanks," Tommy said. Looking at Jax and PK, he asked, "Are you riding with us?

Jax placed his arm around PK's waist, bringing her closer to him. "We're taking my jet back. We'll see you there."

"Okay," Tommy said with a nod.

He and Lynn disappeared inside the limousine. Less than an hour later, they were inside the Cassadine jet bound for home once again.
Chapter 20

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