[Author's note: Just in case… PK and Phaedra are the same person. Depending on laziness, the name will be used interchangeably.]
Jax couldn't tear his eyes away from the little girl who napped peacefully beside his wife. With a round, full face, her light brown curls bounced around her head like a halo. Watching her, he couldn't help but smile. Noelle had enchanted him instantly.
"Whatever it is you're thinking about, you can forget it," his wife advised him in a dramatic whisper.
He grinned. "What makes you think I'm thinking about anything? You are so suspicious," he chided, teasing her.
"I am," she agreed with a nod. "It makes me good at my job."
"Ah…" He reared his head back for a large nod. "I see."
Noelle shifted, placing her head in a more comfortable position on PK's lap. The dimples in her cheeks deepened as she smiled in her sleep. PK brushed the little girl's curls away from her forehead. Curiosity brightened PK's dark brown eyes when she looked at Jax. "Seriously. What were you thinking about before? Having one of these?" She pointed at Noelle.
"'One of these?'" He laughed softly. "You make it sound like a disease. Maybe the thought crossed my mind for a moment, but then I thought about her parents…and her brother. How does someone so small process what is going on around her? She seems excited about the trip, but you heard her. She thinks her parents and her brother are coming to join her. What happens if… Jerry was and still is so much a part of my life. I couldn't ever imagine what my life would have been like without him."
His mind played reel after reel of memories of growing up with his older brother. The countless scrapes that Jerry had bailed him out of came to mind and brought with it a bittersweet taste. Rubbing his hand across his face, he returned to the present. In the back of his mind, he made a mental note to call his brother. A faint smile crossed his face and then he frowned. Phaedra was never so quiet for so long. He looked across at her to find her staring at him. He smiled again. "I'm okay, love. Just thinking."
He rose from the sofa that faced her and Noelle and took a few steps to reach his wife. Bending forward, he placed a searing kiss upon her lips to set her heart at ease. When he raised his head, he saw that slightly dazed look in her eyes that he loved as much as he loved everything about her. He brushed his finger across her cheek and said, "We'll be landing soon. Buckle up and prepare yourselves."
She smiled at him before he headed towards the cockpit. "Will do."
Ellen felt his stare and turned away from the computer screen. The lines were beginning to blur together and she welcomed the distraction of her husband. She rubbed the base of her neck as she watched him come towards her. When he reached her, Matt brushed her hands aside and used his strong hands to massage her neck and shoulders. Ellen purred like a kitten.
"Did you hear the news?" she murmured almost sleepily as his fingers worked their magic over her.
"What news?" His fingers dove upwards to massage her scalp.
"Dr. Harmon, those hands are magnificent," she complimented. "The news about Carrie's grandbaby. Noelle is on her way here. Jasper Jacks and his new bride is bringing her."
"Jax?" Matt asked. "I never would have thought that the Cassadine kid would trust his daughter with Jax. Interesting. Who's his wife? Is it that model? I thought they were married years ago."
Ellen laughed. "I thought I was bad about the society pages, but baby, you are truly outdated."
"She compliments me one moment and ridicules me the next," he whined good-naturedly. "Dr. Ellen Burgess-Harmon, you are a maddening woman."
"I'm keeping you on your toes," she reminded him. "Ooh, yeah. Right there," she said when his hands drifted to the small of her back. She arched to accommodate him, sighing loudly. "Um…Jax's wife, Phaedra, is the head of Sensitive Issues at Nikolas' privately held companies. She's in-house-"
"I thought Simone's son was over security," Matt said. He ended the massage with a kiss to Ellen's dimpled cheek. He leaned heavily on his cane as he limped across the carpeted floor to sit down on the plush, plum loveseat.
"Matt? Are you okay? Is it your back again?" Ellen gave him a hard stare, daring him to lie to her again. She had known something was wrong for a while. Would he ever learn that admitting pain wasn't a sign of weakness and that pretending never solved anything? "Matt?" she repeated when he didn't answer fast enough to her liking.
"I heard you," he said. He grabbed an extra pillow and stuffed it behind his back. Breaking her stare, he looked down at the floor. "Yes, it's my back. Again."
Ellen breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, he opened up. She left her perch behind her workstation and moved to sit beside him. Pressing two fingers underneath his chin, she lifted gently so that he would look at her. "Is it worse?"
He shrugged. "It's not like before with the other surgeries, but it is throbbing. I don't know what I'm doing wrong."
"You're not doing anything wrong," she quickly reassured him. "You just need to rest."
"Do you really think that's all there is?" He took her hand and closed his eyes. "What if the outcome is the same? What if this surgery fails, too?"
"What if it does?" she asked him. She moved to rest on her knees. Her arms closed around him and Matt rested his head against her breast. His arms wrapped around her waist. "Whether you walk or not, I still love you. You are still a wonderful man. Nothing can change that. Not even your stubbornness."
"I want it to work, Ellen. I just want it to work."
"I know," she whispered. "I know, but you can't force it. You have to let come what may. Forcing it may make it worse, so if you need to rest, do so!"
"Yes, ma'am!" he said. He raised his head and looked at her. "Kiss me, my beautiful drill sergeant."
Willing to oblige, Ellen lowered her mouth to his. The kiss was sweet, slow and held promises for later. After Ellen had sat down beside him again, Matt said, "Okay, while I'm resting, could you fill me in on the Cassadine infrastructure. I wanna be up to date, you know."
"More like just plain nosy," Ellen teased, but once again, she willingly obliged.
"Rise and shine," Vincent greeted his wife. He pulled the comforter from her reclining form and then went to the window, pulling open the curtains in one movement.
"Stop," Carly mumbled. She reached for his pillow and tried to pull it over her head. He took it from her and tossed it behind him. "Too early to get up," she moaned, rolling herself into the fetal position.
"It's never too early to get up," he advised. He stood over her. With his hands planted firmly on his hips, he glared down at her. Her uncanny ability to annoy him so early in the morning never ceased to amaze him. "Get up!" he said, ripping the sheet from her.
"My head hurts. I'll get up later," she murmured. "Have a heart, Vincent."
"Why should I have a heart when I have a lush for a wife?" he mused aloud.
Carly bristled noticeably. Her eyelids fluttered open to reveal bloodshot eyes. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the sunshine that streamed into their bedroom. "You know what happened yesterday."
"Yes," he said, nodding his head. "Instead of being patient and following the plan, you approached your son while in a drunken stupor. His reaction to you was kind-"
"Kind?!" she screeched. Outrage showed clearly on her face as she stared up at him. She tried to sit up, but slid back down against her remaining pillow. Absently, she brushed strands of blonde hair from her face. "He was far from kind!" she ground out.
"He did not spit on you," Vincent said quietly, "even as you tottered towards him. You don't consider that kind?"
"He refused to talk to me," she said, scrunching up her mouth into a pout. "AJ and Eve have turned him against me. The whole damn Quartermaine clan hates me, and that K-Keesha… With her house full of screaming brats, that bitch thinks she can have everything. Even my son."
Vincent yawned. He had heard it all before and the story never changed. The role of victim that she portrayed herself had gotten old years ago. If he didn't love her, he would have tired of her and dumped her a long time ago. But he did love her. And he couldn't rid himself of her. Well, he hadn't reached that point, yet.
He turned away and went to the chaise lounge where his clothing lay. He pulled on a pair of black jeans and as he pulled a matching black sweater over his head, he said, "Are you done, yet? The morning is still young and we have someplace to be."
"You don't listen!" she cried out suddenly. She threw her pillow at him and fell back onto the bed. "They turned my son against me. We don't have a chance. The plan won't work now."
"If the plan fails, it will be your doing." He sat down on the lounge and pulled on his socks. "Besides, you make turning Michael against you easy for them."
"Your support is as always appreciated," she said sarcastically.
"You are very welcome. I am more than happy to oblige." He slid his feet into his Sketcher boots and tied the strings. "Caroline, I will not tell you again."
"I can't go," she said, rolling over onto her stomach. "I feel horrible and I know that I look worse. You'll have to go without me."
"Tough!" she muffled against the mattress. "My head is pounding. I wouldn't last five minutes with you today. All of that shooting…it would kill me."
Vincent released an exasperated breath. He went to the bed and swept her into his arms. She put up a struggle, but she was no match for him. With her arms flapping about, he carried her into the bathroom. He set her down inside the shower stall, turned the valve and closed the door.
Predictably, she screamed expletives. He ignored them. Over the rushing water, he called out, "I'm leaving, but the car will return to pick you up in an hour. You will be presentable and you will be ready. The plan has been set into action and you will not ruin it."
He slammed the bathroom door shut behind him.
"How did you get here so quickly?" Gina wrapped her arms around Tommy's neck as soon as he entered the kitchen. "I only just called you."
"That's all it took," he said, hugging her tightly. "Alexis can handle Stefan on her own. When my family needs me, I'm here." He released her and cupped her face between his palms. "Now, what is it that you couldn't tell me over the phone?"
Gina frowned. "I feel bad for pulling you away. I know that you're busy, but…"
"Don't feel bad," he said. They moved to sit down at the kitchen table. The sounds of childish excitement filled the Ward house and a smile touched his lips. He looked to Gina for clarification. "What's going on up there?"
"Everyone's packing up to go to the Casa," she explained.
"Everyone?" he asked. "Jason, Keesha and their kids, too?"
"Keesha and their kids are going and of course, Shana. Jason and Sonny are staying here. Sonny thinks that the girls and I should go, too. That's why I called you." She looked down at their linked hands before she looked up at him. "What do you think?"
"I think you would be safer there," he said without hesitation. "I would have suggested it, but the thought didn't cross my mind. I'm glad it crossed Sonny's."
"So, you want us to go?" she asked. "To just leave you here?"
"I could focus better knowing you're all safe, sweetheart. I don't like being separated from you, but worrying what could happen next… I need to know that you're okay."
She digested his words slowly. She couldn't help but feel that there was something missing. "Has someone threatened the girls and me?"
Tommy scooted his chair closer to hers. His voice was low as he spoke to her. "No, but I'm not about to take that chance. The media hasn't been informed, yet, but Dr. Graham…Keesha's doctor…well, she was found murdered in her office last night."
"How do you know?" she asked.
"My connections," he explained. "It could mean anything, and it could not be related…"
He drew in a long breath. "She is Keesha's doctor. It's common knowledge that the Cassadines are one of the Ward House's strongest backers. Carrie has spent a lot of time here, helping out. DJLS donates a percentage of their profits to this house and the one that Justus founded in Philadelphia.
"When the police arrived at the crime scene, they discovered that some medical records were missing. Those records belonged to Keesha. What if this isn't a coincidence? What if it is all tied together? If it is, Gina, you know we're on that list somewhere. I will not risk losing you or our girls. I want you, Ciarda and Alanna on that plane when it takes off."
Tommy's emerald eyes gleamed with fierce determination. His stubborn streak was set into full motion, and everything he said made sense. Yet, something nagged at her. "I don't want to leave you. I could stay here and help you with this."
He shook his head. "I would worry about you. Even if you were beside me, I would still worry. I would be no help to anyone like that and that would put us at risk. Please, Gina, don't fight me on this-"
"I'm not fighting," she whispered. She didn't know how to explain what she was feeling to him. Anxiety at being separated from him put her on edge. It didn't feel right. "I guess I'm scared. This whole thing scares me. Dominik being abducted from Wyndemere…Dawn and Noelle being shot at in a crowded park…and now, Keesha's doctor is dead. What if the Casa isn't as safe as we want to believe it is?"
Rising from the chair, he pulled her to her feet and circled his arms around her again. His chin rested on the top of her head and he whispered to her, "I know you're scared. These are scary times. And before you say a word, I want you to know that I heard every word you said. Secure barriers were broken down and that's terrifying, but there is one major thing to consider. Everything has happened here in Port Charles. Nothing will happen at Mama and Sonny's place. All of you will be much safer there."
"How do you know?" she asked, needing reassurance. "And if we're safe there, what about you?"
"I will be okay," he told her. "I can't explain what happened at Wyndemere, but I do know that every attempt to invade the Casa has been exposed. The air space and the surrounding waters are closely monitored. There is no safer place for you to be."
"You've won," she murmured. "I'll go, too. What about your grandmother and cousins? Are they in danger, too?"
"I called Steven Lars. Grandmother will continue to stay with him until this thing is settled. Lizabeth and Sarah have been assigned guards. If it heats up, they will be evacuated, too."
Gina chuckled despite the seriousness of the situation. Leaning back to look at him, she smiled. "Do you have any idea how sexy you sound right now?"
Tommy grinned. "Yes. I practiced on the drive over."
"She didn't talk you out of it, right?" Sonny asked after he and Jason entered the kitchen as soon as Gina left. "Going to my place is the only alternative."
"She understands," Tommy told his stepfather, "and she's going."
"Good," Jason said. "The vans will be here soon to get them."
"How soon?" Tommy asked. "I need to talk to my girls before it's too late."
"In about half an hour," Sonny said. He went to the counter and poured himself a mug of coffee. "Before you go up, we need to touch base. Got any leads, yet?"
"A few," Tommy said. "The weapon that was used in the park was manufactured south of the border in a restricted area. I'm running a few programs on my laptop to see what comes up. Do you?"
Sonny looked at Jason. Jason quickly closed the kitchen door and then went back to the circle that the three men had subconsciously formed. "We think we have one."
"Does it have anything to do with Dr. Graham's murder?" Tommy asked.
Jason frowned. "That hasn't been on the news."
"No, but the police are investigating it. I don't know if you've heard this, but Keesha's medical records are missing."
"I know," Jason said. "I took them."
Tommy's eyes widened. "So you were at the scene before the cops? What gives, Jason?"
Jason rolled his eyes. "I didn't kill my wife's obstetrician even though she might have given me reason to."
Tommy looked from one man to the other. "Explain."
"The doc was dirty," Sonny said. "Dara went to Graham for help with having a child and now she's fighting for her life. Simone, Ellen and Harmon are doing everything they can for her, but they're not sure what they are up against. They just know that what she has was created to attack her immune system-"
"Graham gave Dara AIDS?" Tommy asked.
"It's not AIDS, but it is a virus."
"How can they be sure that this doctor gave it to her?" Tommy asked. He looked at his silent friend. "Has Keesha been examined for it, too?"
"Keesha doesn't know anything about Graham and what's going on with Dara. I plan for it to stay that way unless absolutely necessary," Jason said. "Simone knows that Graham was her doctor, so she's agreed to examine Keesha without revealing why."
Sonny nodded, confirming that Simone was up to speed with everything. "We're positive the doctor knew something. Stefan got that much out of her and then Dominik was taken. He had to switch gears and I came to see what I could do."
"Everything's tied in together," Tommy said quietly. "I don't know how or why, but it is. It's gotta be."
"We don't know the whys either," Sonny said, patting Tommy on the shoulder, "but that will change soon."
Tommy frowned. "Why? What's your lead?"
"Carly," Jason bit out.
"Carly?" Tommy repeated. "I know she hates Keesha, but Dara is the one who's sick. And what would she want with Dominik? Why would she want to hurt Dawn or Noelle?"
Sonny shoved his hands into the front pockets of his pants. Frowning, he said, "We haven't tied it all together, yet…"
"Did you forget who she's married to?" Jason asked. "Santiago cleared out Sorel and took over the territory."
"So?" Tommy asked. "You ran the docks once upon a time. You both did. Did you ever have to stake your claim like this? Tearing a family apart? These things are too personal to be mob related."
"The mob is personal," Sonny said quietly.
"And no one holds a grudge like Carly," Jason added.
Tommy wasn't entirely convinced, but a small lead was better than no lead at all. He shrugged. "Let me know what happens," he said, heading for the kitchen door.
Sonny called out to him before he stepped into the hallway. "We thought you'd want in on this."
Tommy shook his head. "I can't. I have to touch base with some friends."
Jason and Sonny both nodding, understanding him immediately. "Tell them they're not alone and if they need anything…"
"Anything at all," Jason continued with Sonny's offer, "we're here."
"Thanks," Tommy said. "I'll let them know. Be careful at Santiago's."
With a flick of a switch, the computer whirred to life. The computer loaded quickly and Lynn was just about to open her email program when the front office door swung open. The anger in the two men's faces was explosive. If she didn't know them, she would have been worried. Reaching for her steaming cup of coffee, she looked at each man. "Good morning, and no, Tommy isn't here."
"Where is he?" Sly demanded. "I've been calling his place all night."
Jordan began to pace around the office. "Emily's called his cell repeatedly, left messages and still nothing."
"How is Emily?" Lynn asked. She missed having Jordan's calmer half in the office. Emily's leave of absence had shifted more of the workload into Lynn's lap. She didn't mind the extra work, but with Tommy gone most of the time, the office was lonely.
The expression on Jordan's face softened. Most of the anger diminished and he smiled. "She's doing okay, but keeping her at home right now is almost impossible."
Lynn smiled. "I can just imagine." She then looked at Sly. "And Lark? The due date isn't too far away, right?"
Sly blushed. "She's okay, too. I'm sorry about bursting in here like that, Lynn."
"So am I," Jordan added. He sat down on the edge of his wife's desk. "It's just that… We need to know that Dawn and Noelle are okay. We heard about the shooting yesterday."
"Yeah," Sly added, "and we've been trying to call her and Lorenzo. And nothing."
"And, well….we know that she's back with Nikolas and if anyone knows what's going on with Nikolas, it would be Tommy," Jordan said. "We just want to know what's going on, you know?"
Lynn nodded. She set her coffee mug down on her desk. Her mouth opened to speak and another interruption burst into the room.
"Lynn!" Lorenzo greeted in a rush, not noticing his cousin and his friend, "how is that cross reference coming? Did anything come up, yet?"
"At least we know he's not dead," Sly bit out sarcastically.
"Sly," Lorenzo said. "Jordan. I didn't see you there. What's up?"
"Why don't you tell us?" his cousin suggested. He sat down on the other end of Emily's desk. "What is Lynn cross-referencing for you and what does it have to do with Dawn and Noelle being shot at?"
Lorenzo shook his head. "It has nothing to do with that."
"Man, please," Jordan said. "Give us credit for having a brain. We know you know what's going on."
Lorenzo raised his hands. "I don't know anything. I'm as much in the dark as you are."
Sly grunted. "You're lying."
Jordan nodded in agreement. "We'll leave you alone if you answer two questions for us."
Lorenzo sat in the guest chair in front of Lynn's desk. He looked at her. She shrugged. He asked, "What are the questions?"
"Were they hurt?" Jordan asked.
Lorenzo shook his head.
"Are they still in danger?"
"Possibly," Lorenzo murmured. "More than likely, yes."
"What can we do to help?" Sly asked.
"That makes it three," Lorenzo said, pointedly.
"Jordan made that deal with you. Besides, none of us made a pinky swear so it doesn't count," Sly told him. "Is there anything we can do?"
Lorenzo shrugged and then shook his head. "I don't think so. Just keep your eyes open and your noses clean. The less people involved the better and don't you have a houseful to worry about?"
Sly blushed again. "I can take care of my wife and my kids and still have time to help out some friends."
Silence filled the room until Jordan quietly broke it. "Is it like the last time? When you and Dawn were kidnapped?"
"No," Lorenzo said, a pained expression on his face. "This time it's worse."
"Are you sure this place was fumigated?" Dawn asked, following Nikolas inside their room in the decrepit waterfront hotel. She looked around at the tattered wallpaper, the strangely colored carpet and the makeshift furniture. Pushing the door closed behind her, she didn't move from the doorway. "Sir Goldilocks, who's been sleeping in that bed?"
Nikolas set their things on the table and looked around the room, too. His mouth twisted slightly. "It's not that bad."
"Baby, I doubt if you've seen worse," she mumbled. "I thought places like this only existed on soap operas."
He held out his hand and she went to him, placing her hand inside his. "It's fine," he assured her. "Tommy made sure of it."
"Did he have enough time?" she asked. "He would have only had less than 24 hours."
"He didn't even need that much time," Nikolas said. "This is his building. He uses it for surveillance and some of his informants stay here."
"It wasn't safe to come here." Dawn frowned at Nikolas. "I dyed my hair purple to come stay down here when Tommy owns the building. We won't be incognito here."
"It's not in his name. If someone tried to trace it to him, they wouldn't be able to," Nikolas explained. He tugged on a curl of purple hair and chuckled. "Lady Barney, we are very much incognito here."
She smirked. "One day you'll have to clue me in as to when T-bird became 007. What you and he can accomplish with a simple phone call boggles my mind. Is Father aware of all of this?"
"To a degree," Nikolas replied with a shrug. He kissed her cheek and then released her. He held out a chair for her to sit. "Please, be my guest."
Dawn shook her head. "I don't trust it."
Nikolas laughed. "Tommy's not a slumlord. This is all a cover, sweetheart, but I won't force you to sit if you don't trust it."
"Thank you." She folded her arms across her chest and waited.
Nikolas sat on the chair and then patted his lap. "You trust this, don't you?"
She accepted his offer and sat on his lap. Reaching inside one of the bags, she pulled out a notepad and pen. While Nikolas drove, she and he had brainstormed about Dominik's abduction and the shooting in the park. There was no doubt that it was related, but who was behind it? With Helena and Luke dead, they couldn't think of anyone who hated them enough to destroy their family. Obviously someone did. But who?
"Are you sure that you don't have any fans who have a bizarre fixation on you?" Nikolas asked. "You said that some have sent you marriage proposals."
"Yeah, but they were mostly kids…preteens. If a fan took those pictures to break us up, why would he force me to tell you that Lorenzo and I are lovers?" she asked. "Why wouldn't he make his move on me instead of focusing on you?"
"Focusing on me…" Nikolas murmured. "Hmm…"
"Noelle and I were the targets, not you. If it was a fan and I'm the person he's after, he wouldn't have aimed at me. That bullet whizzed right by my head! I felt it. If I hadn't moved, it couldn't have hit me or N-Noelle…"
She trembled and Nikolas gathered her close to him. "You're right," he said softly. His hands tenderly stroked her back. "The shooter would have been after me. I think we were separated on purpose. Whoever's doing this is targeting you. I should have seen it before."
"I can't imagine anyone hating me this much. Even my dad didn't go that far," she responded. "He only slapped me. He never shot at me."
"Maybe it would be a good idea for you to join Noelle-"
"No." She rose from his lap and turned around to face him. "I'm not going anywhere until Dominik is found."
Nikolas stood up to. His face flushed with sudden anger, he stared at her. "What if the next bullet hits its target? What if the goal is realized and they kill you?"
"If it means that Dominik will be safely returned to his family, it's a chance I'm willing to take," she said with calm authority. Returning her husband's stare, she stood her ground. "I will not leave until this is over. We will get our son back. No matter what it takes."
She turned away from him and began to unpack. He watched her familiarize herself with the room, slowly trusting that everything was clean. Her movements seemed normal. He had watched her perform that task at least a hundred times over the years. Never before had he ever felt a strong urge to make her stop. To maybe shake her into listening to him. But she was obstinate. Force could erect a wall between them, but it wouldn't make her understand that the risk she was willing to take was too great for him. Being separated from her for six months had been unbearable. Spending an eternity without her was unthinkable. Their kids needed her. So did he!
"Dawn," he croaked. Standing behind her, he placed his hands on her shoulders. She closed the cupboard and leaned against him, allowing him to wrap his arms around her. "Before we make any rash decisions about you laying down your life-"
"Please, hear me out," he whispered harshly. She nodded and was quiet. "Let's think this through. Let's work on the list again. We can solve this."
"Okay," she said, nodding again. "Our marriage was hit first. I was told to make you divorce me. You wouldn't and they invaded our home in Greece, videotaping you and the children asleep. They sent it to me to let me know how easy it was to get to you. Dominik was removed from his bedroom. We were both there and neither of us heard a thing. He didn't even cry out…"
"I never thought of that," Nikolas said. "We were right downstairs. If he had cried out, we would have heard him."
Dawn moved out of his arms. Facing him, she said, "Unless he was drugged first or…"
"He knew who took him," Nikolas finished for him.
"And he trusted who took him," she said quietly.
Nikolas frowned. "This certainly narrows the list down."
"I'll say it does," she said, her mouth drawing into an angry line.
He looked at her in surprise. "You have someone in mind?"
"There's only one person who comes to mind. Her name is Sarah. Sarah Webber hates me, wants you, and Dom trusts her. There is no one else who fits all three requirements."
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