Chapter 41

Sitting on the old, discarded wooden bench, Dawn held Noelle on her lap. Beside them, Nikolas squatted down to the little girl's eye level. She smiled at him and then looked up at her mother. The child's smile faltered and her bottom lip trembled. Dawn guessed that their daughter felt something was amiss. To ease the sadness that was sure to follow, she rocked Noelle closer to her.

"Sunshine, your mother and I have something to tell you," Nikolas began when no words came from Dawn's parted lips. "Are you ready to hear the good news?" He brushed his knuckles against her cheek and gave her an encouraging smile.

Noelle shied away from his touch. She buried her head against her mother's breast. "No, Papa," she mumbled, shaking her head.

"Sweetie," Dawn said upon clearing her voice to rid it of the hoarseness. "Everything will be f-fine."

Noelle remained silent. To Dawn's ears the words seemed hollow. She could only imagine how empty they seemed to such a young child. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. She closed her eyes to blink them back and her hand instinctively reached for Nikolas. He closed his fingers over hers and squeezed.

Her eyes fluttered open and looked at him. His brown eyes were filled with compassion and love. Silently, he told her that he could tell Noelle if she could not. Dawn shook her head. I can do it, she mouthed the words to him. Just don't leave me. He shook his head. Never.

Dawn coughed and tried again. This time, her voice was firm, lively and optimistic. "Look at me," she said, bouncing Noelle on her knee. Slowly, the little girl complied. Dawn gave her a bright smile and cupped the child's cheeks between her two hands. "Can you smile for Mommy?"

Noelle nodded. A dimpled smile parted her lips and then a giggle followed. Nikolas kissed her cheek as he moved to sit beside Dawn. Another giggle escaped from her and both parents sighed with relief.

"There's my ray of Sunshine," Nikolas murmured. His arm curved around Dawn's waist, his hand squeezing gently. "It won't be as bad as you think," he whispered against Dawn's ear. She responded with a faint smile.

"Remember Auntie Simone and Uncle Sonny?" Dawn asked. Noelle nodded. Dawn continued. "They've been telling us how sorry they are that they missed your birthday party."

"They sent me a saddle for my pony," Noelle chirped. "Papa said I can go riding with him and Dommie when it's warm."

"Yeah," Nikolas replied. "I did."

Dawn glanced at him. The mention of their son's name brought sadness to his eyes. He attempted to hide the pain with a smile for Noelle, but Dawn saw it. With Noelle present, she didn't know what to say so she turned her attention back to their daughter. "I can hardly wait to see that!" Dawn exclaimed. "My three favorite people on horseback. I'll have to remember to bring my camera."

"You can ride, too, Mommy!"

Dawn shook her head and Nikolas laughed softly. "Mommy doesn't ride."

Noelle frowned. "Oh, yeah. I forgot. You don't have to be scared. You can ride with me. I'm not scared."

Nikolas looked at Dawn and grinned. "From the mouth of babes…you don't have to be scared."

"Thank you," she said, "I'll take your words under consideration."

"That's better than what you've done before when I've mentioned it…"

Nikolas let his words trail into silence as Dawn gave him a playful glare. He shrugged and when Noelle giggled, he chuckled softly.

"Okay, you two," Dawn warned them. "Anyway, as I was saying about your Auntie Simone and Uncle Sonny, they want to see what a big girl you are now. The last time they saw you in person, you were just barely out of diapers."

Noelle nodded as if she remembered. "I was a baby."

"Just about," Nikolas said. "Your Uncle Tommy has sent them pictures, but they say it's nothing like being around the real you." Nikolas lightly poked his daughter's tummy and she giggled again. "See. Pictures can't giggle like that."

"No, they can't." Dawn shook her head. "Uncle Tommy tells them that you are such a happy little girl and so much fun, but they are still sad. They wish that they could see you in person."

"They can!" Noelle said. "I don't want them to be sad. They can see me, too."

"That's wonderful, Sunshine," Nikolas said, his voice filled with pride and love. "They will be so happy to see you. I'll go call them right now and let them know that a beautiful ray of Sunshine is coming their way."

Nikolas stood up and moved a short distance away from them. He raised his cell phone to his ear and kept his gaze on them, smiling at his wife and daughter as he spoke into the phone. Dawn smiled back at him, relieved that so far everything was going okay.

"Do they have a pony?" Noelle asked, interrupting her mother's train of thought.

Frowning, Dawn strained to remember. "I think they have some horses."

"Yay!" Noelle clapped her hands. "We can go riding!"

"No riding," Nikolas said upon his return. He pulled Noelle into his lap. "We can do that later, okay?"

She frowned for a moment and then shrugged. "Okay, Papa."

"I just made all of the arrangements. They are expecting you and they are so excited to see you." Noelle blushed and smiled with happiness. "Your Mommy and I have to see to a few things here, so we won't be able to go with you right now. Miss Kelley will take you for your visit. Remember, PK?"

Noelle nodded. She looked at Nikolas before settling her gaze on Dawn. "When are you coming?"

Dawn patted Noelle's curls. "As soon as we can."

"Promise?" the little girl asked, giving her mother a hard stare.

Nikolas took his daughter's hand. "We promise."

She accepted his vow. "Is Dommie coming, too?"

Dawn drew in a harsh breath. Her vision blurred for a moment. She already felt guilty for manipulating Noelle. She didn't want to add lying to it, too. Clearing her throat and giving her daughter an overly bright smile, she whispered, "Later. We'll all join you later."

Obviously satisfied, Noelle hopped from Nikolas' lap and began to play quietly by herself. Lost in her own world, she sung 'Old McDonald Had a Farm" and acted out the animal parts. Her parents held hands as they watched her. Later, when PK and Jax arrived, they bid their daughter a happy farewell, telling her that they would all be together as soon as possible. After the trio piled into Nikolas' Jaguar and sped off into the early morning, Dawn found herself wrapped tightly within Nikolas' strong arms. He trembled as he held her. She gently stroked his back to soothe him.

"I am so sorry-"

"Ssh," Nikolas murmured. "Don't apologize. Just don't. You don't have to."

"But I don't…know…" she faltered, unsure of what she wanted to say or what even could be said at this point.

"You don't have to keep apologizing," he told her. Taking her hand, he led her to Jax' Range Rover. They had switched cars to make their getaway a little easier. When they got closer to Port Charles' city limits, he and Dawn would find another vehicle waiting for them. One that was ratty on the outside, but with a souped engine on the inside. Tommy would have seen to it.

"I'll try not to," she replied. She sat in the passenger seat and strapped on her seatbelt as Nikolas strode around the front of the sports utility vehicle. After he had closed the door settled behind the wheel, she spoke again. "You handled Phaedra's unexpected guest very well. Did you know that Jax was coming with her?"

Nikolas pulled off onto the road. He rested his hand on Dawn's thigh, smiling when she covered his hand with hers. "I had no idea PK was bringing him with her. I called Tommy and he made the arrangements." He glanced down at their entwined hands then at her face before looking at the road again. When he spoke, his voice was husky. "Initially, I was upset when I saw him behind the wheel. I know you sensed it, so I don't deny it."

"Yep. Sure did," she murmured. Resting her head against the headrest, she closed her eyes. The warm tones of his voice lulled away the dreary misery of placing Noelle's safety in someone else's care. As he fell silent, she urged him on. "I'm not asleep. Go on."

"When you gasped, I noticed it, too... The rings on their fingers…and despite the mess we're in and how bad they both feel about it, I also saw the glow…of happiness and love. Besides, Jacks and I have had some words about PK before. Now, that they're married there wasn't anything I could say without being a hypocrite." He squeezed her thigh. Her eyes opened and their eyes locked. In a deep voice, he said, "Some men have a problem with becoming medieval when they're in love. You know?"

Her eyes brimmed with sudden tears. "I know," she replied. Leaning towards him, she quickly brushed his lips in a whispery soft kiss. "Some women like it," she told him, placing her head on his shoulder. When his chest puffed out, she quickly added, "To some degree."

Nikolas smiled. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and guided the Rover to Port Charles and to the beginning of doing whatever necessary to make their family whole again.


"Poppy!" Shana squealed loudly as her father entered the boisterous dining room of the Ward House.

"Buenos dias, mija." Sonny swept his daughter into his arms. Love and pride overwhelmed his senses for a moment. He hugged her to him and only released her when she began to squirm. As she led him to the crowded dining room table, he asked, "Have you behaved yourself?"

"Yes, Poppy!" she told him, the expression on her face, indignant.

At the head of the table, Jason's cough sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. Sonny's eyes narrowed at him in warning, but his dimple deepened when he couldn't hold back his smile. Shana giggled softly and Sonny began to greet the other people seated around the table. He had just finished speaking to Ben when he was accosted again.

"Abuelo!" Ciarda and Alanna raced towards him at top speed. Sonny squatted just in time to receive his two step-granddaughters hugs. He kissed both of them, telling them how much they had grown. While they chattered happily at seeing him again, he glanced over their heads at their mother. Gina set the platter of pancakes she carried on the table and then joined them. Sonny hugged her and asked, "You okay?"

"About as well as can be expected." A thoughtful expression crossed her face as she watched her daughters scramble to sit on either side of their Aunt Shana. When she raised her eyes to look at Sonny again, they were filled with frustration. "I talked to Tommy this morning. He's exhausted, but he can't stop. And then what happened with Dawn and Nikolas yesterday… Noelle is practically a baby. How could anyone…"

Gina's voice trailed off into silence. On immediate alert, Sonny stiffened and discreetly pulled her into the hallway with him. He was aware that Jason, Keesha and the older twins, Grace and George, eyes were glued to their backs as they left the room. Considering a discussion he, Tommy and Nikolas had had years ago, he needed to know exactly what had transpired while he was busy with his investigation of Dr. Graham.

"Noelle?" Sonny prompted when they were alone. "What happened yesterday?"

Gina frowned. The curious look in her eyes was hard for Sonny to ignore, but he listened closely as she told him what had happened at the park. When she was done, her brows drew together in a tighter frown. "You're not here to help with Dominik, are you? What's going on?"

Sonny's heart constricted. On his secluded island, Dara lay at death's door possibly because of a doctor. It was also possible that his best friend's wife was in danger, too because of that same doctor. Here, a boy had been abducted and now his mother and sister had been shot at. The world was spinning out of control. He dreaded to think what would happen next.

Feeling Gina's stare, Sonny turned his attention back to her. He wouldn't placate her. With his love for Simone came an end to lying to women. He would tell Gina the truth.

He shook his head. "No, I'm not. Well, at least, I wasn't. Dara is very sick. Simone, Ellen and Matt are treating her. Carrie's there, too. I'm here to find out anything I can to help her."

"I don't understand."

"Dara was poisoned. Cassadine was looking in to getting the antidote, but when Dominik was abducted he had to switch gears. I'm his replacement."

Gina drew in a long breath and kept her eyes trained to Sonny. "Does Dawn know about Dara? Why weren't any of us told about this?"

Sonny shrugged. "It was Garcia and Dara's decision to remain quiet at first. Carrie was with them and they thought Dara would get better and no one would have to know… Look, Gina, I'm not sure why. It was their decision and no, I don't think Dawn or Nikolas know what's going on. Tommy doesn't either."

Gina ran a hand through her auburn locks, removing the band that held her hair from her face. Childish laughter erupted from the dining room. She paused for a moment to look inside. "What can I do to help?"

"Stay out of harm's way," Sonny advised. He squeezed her forearm and brushed past her, heading for the kitchen. Before he joined his family and friends for breakfast, he needed privacy to make an urgent telephone call.

Pablo Martinez, the island's security chief, answered on the second ring. Sonny wasted no time with pleasantries before he started grilling the man. He had to be sure that with Plan C no doubt in effect, that all was at it should be. That everyone would be protected.

"We're expecting the package and prepared to receive it. Dr. Corinthos is aware of the shipment and is anxious to receive her gift."

Good, Sonny, thought. Simone was playing along nicely and would prepare Carrie for the unexpected arrival of her granddaughter and maybe her daughter, too. Protection would be intensified and he was confident that his men could handle it. Sonny ended the call with orders for his men to always act first and ask questions later. Pablo assured him that he understood and the call was over.

"Sonny," Jason said, appearing suddenly in the kitchen's doorway. "None of this is making sense. I don't want my family in danger."

A slight frown marred Sonny's brow. Unsure of where Jason was going with his statement, he remained silent and waited for the younger man to clarify.

Jason closed the door behind him. He paced for a moment and then decided to rest his backside against the kitchen sink. His hard, blue-eyed gaze shifted from Sonny to the closed door. "I don't believe in coincidences."

Sonny shook his head. "Neither do I."

Jason folded his arms across his chest. "Carly is back in town."

Sonny laughed in spite of the seriousness of the situation. "She doesn't have the brains to orchestrate so much madness."

"No," Jason said softly, "but her husband does. Santiago is a big man these days. He has resources…"

"In the organization?"

"He is the organization," Jason informed his friend. "He inherited it."

"What reason would he have to cause so much damage?" Sonny questioned. "Dara? The Cassadines? And I still can't get over Dara and Keesha having the same doctor? There's something wrong with that." Jason stiffened. His expression was lethal and energy buzzed around him. Sonny felt it and fought the urge to take a step back. He asked, "Did Keesha check out okay?"

"Her records were clean. She promised that she didn't take any drugs or had any injections. I believe her, but now that her doctor is dead," he said in a voice void of emotion, "I won't have problems convincing her to see someone else. Maybe Simone could check her out."

Sonny returned Jason's stare. "Simone's not leaving our island. Shana is going back this afternoon and if I can convince Gina, so will she and the girls."

"Your compound is a big place. Keesha and the kids would enjoy a little rest and relaxation," Jason said. "If they were offered an early vacation, I'm sure they would appreciate it."

"Consider one offered," Sonny said, relaxing only slightly. Jason's quiet demeanor had set him on edge. What was going on behind his friend's bland stare? "They can leave on the plane with Shana."

"Thanks, friend," Jason said. He patted Sonny's shoulder as he strode towards the closed kitchen door. "Soon as the plane lifts off, we can give Carly and her husband a welcome back visit."

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